Unecessary Confusion and Complication Abounds Over Permission in Principle

The English planning world seems in much confusion over the pending introduction of permission in principle, especially as there has been no guidance or proposed amendments to the GPDMO since the concept was introduced in the Housing and Planning Act 2016.  We were promised this this summer, we are waiting.

Much of the confusion rests with commentators not reading or speed reading the documents supporting the Act at Bill stage.  A particular myth is that it only applies to units of 10 or less houses; no that only applies to the application route not to the approval through documents (Local plan or brownfield register route).

The second confusion abounds over the bills quite deliberate refusal to extend the principle of outline permissions, and deliberately not make grant of PiP approval of a planning permission.  As this diagram from the guidance makes clear.

Permission in principle + technical details consent = planning permission

Hang on though consider this route implied by the GPDMO

Outline permission+ approval of all reserved matters = full planning permission

Indeed if technical consent was on all fours with reserved matters all we would need was a one liner in a speech from Anchorman and a very simple amendment to the GPDMO and we would be away.  After all the principles of outline and reserved are very well tested in caselaw and well understood.

The government has gotten itself into a pickle by not going down the simple route and introducing unnecessary complication of a parallel consent regime.

The reasons for this can only be speculated on but surely must relate to the history of outline permissions.  There has been concern for a number of years that the concept has drifted away from the original concept of ‘redlining’ the principle of development, with introduction of regulatory minima on indicative layout, scale and point of access which in part arise from caselaw on large scale applications, impact on heritage assets etc.  Also LPAs have the power to request further details if they wish, often abused to make them pretty much pure full applications.

The term ‘permission in principle’ comes from Scotland where it has been the law for a number of years and replaced outline permissions.  Having said that it is the same as outline permissions but with is reserved at the discretion of the LPO.  So they have the ability in suitable cases to grant a pure ‘redline consent’.

In 2001 London proposed to replace outline consents with statements of development principles which would be material on submission.  The development industry successfully resisted these as not being real permissions.

Alongside this we have seen the gradual moves towards the global zoning and subdivision system.  What is the government doing – allowing in effect LPAs to grant themselves the equivalent of outline permission  as a first step on the Zoning and Subdivision route or setting up something new?

In the long term we may need something new but simply boosting outlines would have been the simple and obvious first step.  More radical reform may take years, it would require I think devolving land registry powers to local authorities, having each responsible for a parcel fabric (necessary anyway if we are to have any form of land tax), having registration for a ‘Torrens’ type cadastral system (as used by almost all countries with Z &S systems, and making subdivision development.

What is the government thinking?  One can only speculate,  after all the Housing White Paper didn’t even mention these reforms?  If it wants to go down the ‘pure redline’ route it will gets itself into a mess, the slightest issue over impact on a heritage asset or whether EIA is required will render PiPs subject to JR.

My advice.  KISS – Keep it Simple Stupid.  In the short to medium term make PiP outlines in all but name and TDC reserved matters in all but name, and remove the power in the GPDMO to allow free discretion on further details as it is so abused.  This could all be done within the GPDMO quickly and easily.





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