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Freeing up householder applications

AJ for August 2006 by Brian Waters

The head of planning at DCLG (Department of Communities and Local Government _- successor to the ODPM) reporting last month to the National Planning Forum on the long-awaited Householder Development Consents Review (HDCR) saying that it was "now more imminent than it was last time we said it was imminent"! Well, Sir Humphrey has delivered. The Steering Group report* was slipped out the same day as the interim Barker Review of planning, early in July.

That over half of all planning applications - some say over 80% - are not made by architects, has long been a cause for comment.   Householder applications (relatively small domestic extensions etc.) are an increasing proportion of applications. They represented340,000 of 645,400 applications in 2004/5 and increased by 114% against 7.6% for the others over the previous ten years.

A very high proportion - 87% - get permission. They weigh down the whole system and, in the view of the Association of Consultant Architects, could be largely taken out of the hands of local authorities, being treated as agreements between consenting neighbours after the model of Party Wall agreements. Whether local councillors will be prepared to let go of them remains to be seen.

The ACA contributed to the HDCR and its Steering Group's recommendations go some way to meet the aspiration of the ACA/AJ campaign to introduce competition into the processing of applications. The Steering Group concludes that it should be easier for people to improve their homes and that this could be achieved by simplifying the current system of regulation and removing those household developments which have little or no impact on neighbours or the local environment.

The Group's recommendations fall under three headings: regimes to be made more proportionate and more user friendly and the introduction of alternative service providers and working methods (see box).

-----------------b o x -----------------

1. The Steering Group recommends that:

Regimes are made more proportionate:

1. A new and simplified Permitted Development Order for Householder Developments should

be prepared. This would be based on Parts 1 and 2 of the existing Order and would move

from the present volume-based approach towards one based on impact. It should be

issued with a plain-English user guide.

2. ODPM should develop model Local Development Orders to illustrate how they can help

Local Planning Authorities to extend permitted development rights in their areas.

3. A streamlined process should be developed for cases where planning consent is required

but neighbours do not object. Nevertheless, the scope should be retained in such a

process for Councils to refuse permission.

4. ODPM should issue clear guidance on the procedures for processing householder planning

applications.

5. Further work is required to develop a model to demonstrate how mediation can lead to the

more efficient and effective regulation of householder development.

6. The Tree Preservation Order system should be revised to provide a more modern system of

tree protection that regulates with a lighter touch. Blanket TPOs should be time-limited and

allowed to lapse.

2. The Steering Group also considered how the customer experience of

householders could be improved. It recommends that :

Regimes are made more user friendly

7. A working group should be established which will collate best practice in customer care

and develop strategies for its wider adoption.

8. The immediate priority for the alignment of regimes is to improve the interface between

planning consent and building control. This should include the development of a standard

application form and further consideration of ways by which presentation and co-ordination

of the two processes could be improved.

In the longer term the feasibility of merging these regimes - in particular those which are

planning based (e.g planning, conservation area, listed building consents etc) should be

examined as a way to reduce the regulatory burden confronting householders and to cut

local government bureaucracy.

3. Providing greater choice and raising standards through alternative service

provision was also considered by the Steering Group. It recommends that :

Alternative service providers and new working methods are introduced

9. ODPM should continue the dialogue with policymakers, practitioners, current and potential

suppliers about the role of alternative provision and new ways of working in the processing

of planning applications.

10. In the short term, ODPM, the Planning Advisory Service and the Regional Centres of

Excellence should examine the overall demand for and supply of temporary planning staff.

They should consider options for increasing the efficiency and competition of supply and

ensure that these arrangements provide good value for money.

In the longer term, ODPM should build on the work that is being done in partnership with

the Planning Advisory Service, the Local Government Association, Association of London

Government, the Royal Town Planning Institute and other bodies to encourage the

recruitment and placement of planning staff in Local Planning Authorities, particularly in

London and the South East.

11. Once a new GPDO has been drafted (Recommendation 1) the scope for deregulating the

certification of Lawful Development to approved third parties should be fully examined .

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I anticipate that wholehearted introduction of these proposals will result in a freeing-up of development control departments, a rapid growth in the involvement of architects and other professionals in householder developments (the 11th recommendation in particular) and, ultimately, similar innovations feeding into the processing of larger schemes together with the merger of building control with planning regulation as 'sustainability' issues infiltrate both.

If DCLG holds back then H M Treasury's move on planning under the banner of the Barker Review could turn into a rout. But more on that next time!

*Download from www.communities.gov.uk. Send your comments to householderconsents@communities.gsi.gov.uk

Brian Waters is principal of the Boisot Waters Cohen Partnership, see www.bwcp.co.uk