What is planning permission in principle?

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Planning Legal Director Matthew Scudamore explains what the new concept of ‘planning in principle’ (PIP) is and whether it is available to housebuilders.

The concept of permission in principle (PIP) was introduced by the Housing and Planning Act 2016, the Town and Country Planning (Brownfield Land Register) Regulations 2017 and the Town and Country Planning (Permission in Principle) Order 2017.

PIP is an alternative way of obtaining planning consent for housing led development.  It separates the consideration of the principle of planning permission from the technical detail of the permission, and so is split into two stages.

The first stage is for the approval of ‘planning permission in principle’, which establishes that a site is suitable for residential development. The second stage is ‘technical details consent’, which is when the specific development proposals are assessed. Very loosely, this process is analogous to the outline and reserved matters procedure.

Not every element of the development under PIP must be for housing, but it should be housing led i.e. the residential element must occupy the majority of the floorspace. Furthermore, any non-residential element should be compatible with the residential element.

How do you get PIP?

There are three different ways to get PIP.

  1. Inclusion on the local planning authority’s brownfield register.
  2. By direct application to the local planning authority.
  3. Inclusion in a development plan document or neighbourhood plan.

Are all of these routes currently available?

Not yet. At present you can only obtain PIP through inclusion on the brownfield register.

You will be able to apply directly to the local planning authority from 1 June 2018, when the relevant legislation comes into force.

How is PIP obtained through inclusion on the brownfield register?

All local planning authorities were required to publish a brownfield land register by the end of 2017.  These registers are divided into two parts. Part 1 is for sites that are categorised as ‘previously developed land’ and which satisfy a list of criteria relating to the site’s suitability, availability and achievability of housing development.

If the local planning authority decides that a site within Part 1 can be allocated for residential development, then it must put that site on Part 2 of the brownfield land register. At that point, the site then benefits from PIP.

The PIP in these circumstances will have effect for five years, so technical details consent must be granted within that period.

How will PIP be obtained through direct application (once it comes into force on 1 June)?

Applications can be made for minor housing developments i.e. nine residential units or fewer, with less than 1000sqm of commercial floorspace, and/or on a site of less than 1ha.

Applications for PIP will be made on a form published by the Secretary of State (or a form of substantially of the same effect). The local planning authority will have five weeks to make a decision, and there is a right of appeal.

The PIP will have effect for three years, so technical details consent must be granted within that period.  Technical details consent will also have a time limit of three years.

How do you obtain Technical Details Consent (TDC)?

You make an application to the local planning authority. Such applications have to be determined in accordance with the terms of the PIP for the site.  In addition, the usual considerations for planning permission apply i.e. the decision must be in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise.

Where the TDC application is for major housing development the local planning authority must determine it within 10 weeks (or 16 weeks if the application is subject to an environmental impact assessment).  For minor development the time period is 5 weeks.

The local planning authority can impose conditions on the TDC, and section 106 planning obligations can also be required at that stage.

Will the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) apply?

CIL may apply in the same manner that it would to the traditional planning permission, once TDC has been granted and development commences.

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and habitats protection

The following types of development are exempt from being included in PIP:

  • development falling within Schedule 1 Environmental Impact Assessment and development within Schedule 2 Environmental Impact Assessment which has been screened as EIA development;
  • development that would be prohibited under habitats protection legislation.

If the local planning authority identifies at the technical details consent stage that the development should be subject to EIA, the PIP remains valid. The requirements of the EIA regulations must then be complied with before technical details consent can be granted.

Looking forward

It remains to be seen whether PIP will become common.  The government clearly thinks it will assist in delivery of housing but the housebuilding industry’s response so far has been lukewarm.

Further details and FAQs about PIP are available on the National Planning Policy Guidance.

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