There is considerable confusion amongst the English Planning Profession about ‘permission in principle’. How will it work, what use is it, will it remove the ability of LPAs to negotiate through the early granting of development rights?
Much of this confusion is due to the ‘bolt on’ nature of the measure – which introduces a ‘zoning and subdivision’ type measure within the legal framework of a discretionary planning system.
I remain of the view that it offers the potential to considerably speed up and improve the end quality of schemes – based on international experience. The proposal will not work well however if just seen as granting outline planning permission with all matters reserved in development plans.
The real value of permission through zoning – a better terminology in my view – is that it provides early certainty as to the end quantum and value of land aiding its financing and infrastructure. To be of use in this regard it must do more than specify land use, it must specify the quantum of land use permitted as well as the amount of land needed to be handed over for public purposes (what is internationally known as exaction) neither of which fit conventionally within the outline/reserved matters paradigm.
Zoning needs to be seen within a philoosophy where planning regulates the growth of cities through several layers of granualrity
-First the land use alone – the 2D City – by itself of little use – it doesn’t specify opacity or numbers
-Second the land use and bulk of zoning districts – The 3D city – which requires land use exaction (implying networks of open space roads and community facilities). and ‘bulk zoning’ the broad volumetrics of land per use.
These first two layers require some kind of zoning plan – what is known as ‘structural’ zoning – whereby you allocate strategic open spaces and community facilities, as well as roads networks down to local collector (local distributor in England) level – but not local facilities and local roads. Modern maps are ‘form based’ that is defining the broad type of building typology permitted in each district, rather than relaying solely on some kind of FAR based rule.
This requires a zoning plan which sets out the broad direction. phasing and volume of land uses. It enables accurate predictions of population, facilities and infrastructure required and because it defines the main road network also enables main storm drains, wet and dry utilities networks to be defined and broadly costed. It is what is needed to plan for the rapid growth of areas. They also provide all of the information needed to do traffic impact assessments at a strategic level.
Alongside this zoning regulatory map – which can easily be incorporated in an English Policies Map – the only other ‘must have’ internationally is a schedule of zoning districts by use showing the zoning rules for that district – uses, setback, build to lines bulk, height etc. In theory a plan could be on two sides of an A0 sheet. In practice however it is useful to set down a short strategy document explaining how the plan came about and certain topic specific policies that cant easily be set down in the schedule. Zoning however shifts the emphasis firmly to the zoning map. It is also helpful to set down a illustrative plan illustrating the broad types of form and open space permitted by the regulations – as a visual steer.
Once a developer has this ‘permission in principle’ they then need to convert it to permission for a specific scheme. Here again the principle of building the built form of a place in layers comes in handy.
-The next layer is the superblock concept – this is where approval can be granted for the roads and utilities networks including local roads. It does not yet include parcelisation, rather it is divided on a superblock scale. it is optional
-The next layer is the schematic plan – where buildings and parking areas are set out and lots parcelled according to subdvision rules which need to be defined by the planning authority. Only once you have this can you start selling parcels.
-The final layer is the detailed plan – with details of buildings and utilities which enable tenders to be issued. A master developer need not define these for buildings they can sell plots on to be developed by development control regulations, what is known in England as a Design Code.
Note these dont neatly follow the reserved matters used as the model of technical details. Rather layout is determined in stages and subdivision is not included. Hence subdivision and the structure of future consents for layout need to be set down in standard conditions granted when permission in principle is granted.
This will be a learning process for local planning authorities, and the DCLG would be well advised to run a number of pilots in areas of rapid growth to get the details right. They will certainly need to issue interim regulations to enable LPAs to issue standard conditions in cases where they have not yet been included in development plans.
Is all of this necessary? It shouldn’t even be necessary to ask this question. Unless you have zoning without planning, where you just guess whether the end form will be acceptable as a place – it is all needed.