HGH Consulting


On the Right Track?

Proposed fast-track planning applications may seem offer a more speedy outcome, but be aware of potential pitfalls, says Bridget Miller, hgh Associate.

The Government has launched a consultation on its proposals to speed up planning decisions. Whilst ambitions to accelerate the planning system are welcome, some of the proposed measures risk unintended consequences.

The consultation proposes a (potentially mandatory) fast-track application route for major commercial or mixed-use developments providing 1,000sqm+ employment space. This would have a shortened determination period of 10 weeks rather than 13, and could be rolled out to other development types in future, including EIA development. The application would be subject to a higher application fee but the full fee would be refunded if the application was not determined in 10 weeks.

It also recommends prohibiting repeat extensions of time (EOTs) to a planning application’s determination period. However, the flexibility that EOTs offer is important. Even with all the best intentions, it is not always possible for a local authority to determine an application before its statutory deadline. Common obstacles include receiving consultation responses from statutory consultees; submitting amendments to the application scheme afterwards; waiting for a slot at oversubscribed planning committees; and completing Section 106 agreements.

Often, these delays are due to overstretched local planning departments and other public bodies. This is why it seems illogical for the government to discourage Planning Performance Agreements (PPAs) in the same consultation. By funding the Council to resource the application and setting an agreed timetable to work to, in the right circumstances, PPAs can be valuable tools for working collaboratively towards planning permission.

Hasty Refusals?

Ultimately, placing stricter targets on local authorities to determine applications on time and discouraging EOTs and PPAs raises the likelihood that local authorities will simply refuse planning applications with outstanding – but resolvable – issues before the application deadline. Resubmitting an application or making a planning appeal risks overburdening Council planning departments further. Hasty refusals would be further incentivised with the promise of automatic fee refunds for applications not determined on time, and especially now the ‘free go’ for resubmitting an application has been withdrawn.

The consultation closes on 1st May 2024.

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