The rumour is that planning is getting easier. It is a delightful idea but the more the Government seeks to simplify, the greater the devil in the detail.
Take permitted development rights for example; the now consolidated 2015 General Permitted Development Order is a minefield. In the context of barns to be converted in to houses allowed by permitted development, there is great inconsistency of decision making, what one authority deems acceptable another will regard as “otherwise impractical and undesirable”. The Government wants to see lots of house built but there is no surprise that in areas where Community Infrastructure Levy has been introduced there is complexity and confusion with continued tinkering with the regulations and charging schedules. A further blow has been the recent High Court judgment which swept away the exemption for affordable housing payments for less than ten units. Interestingly this judgement is being challenged by two local authorities. Again, other authorities are resorting to old policies to ensure section 106 Agreements come in to play with contributions for affordable housing even on conversion of existing buildings; this was something the Government was seeking to end. The jury is out on the policy announced by the Government in July “Fixing the Foundation: Creating a More Prosperous Nation” which includes the idea of a “zonal system” to give automatic planning permission for all suitable brownfield sites. Historically farm yards were not regarded as brownfield sites so it will be interesting to see whether any change is proposed. On a positive note the Governments “Rural Productivity Plan” which has just been announced which recognises the substantial and vital contribution that is made by rural areas to the tune of about 16% of England’s total output. The document sets out a ten point plan which includes recognition of the vital part played by the broadband in the rural areas, the need for high quality mobile coverage, improved transport connections through road investment strategy, fairer funding for schools in rural areas with reshaping of post sixteen skill provision as well as an emphasis on apprenticeship. The document also recognises the value of Enterprise Zones. There is a stated intention for better regulation and improved planning for rural businesses and an intention that the government will introduce a fast track planning certificate for the principle of development for minor development proposals. Emphasis is given on planning for housing and the value of the Neighbourhood Plans. Although this is very laudable we have seen similar initiatives before but at least the focus is on the rural economy and does recognise the vital part played by the rural areas. Alas the Plan provides no way of dealing with some of the die-hards in Town Halls who find flexibility of thought very difficult . Additional pressure is exerted by the Government’s further cuts reducing staff and morale in the public sector.