An End to Unnecessary Pre-Commencement Conditions?

A necessary evil or an unnecessary evil, whatever your view, planning conditions are part and parcel of the challenges of development. From the 1st October, an update to the Town and Country Planning Act may help to ease the pain, it will make it mandatory for Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) to liaise with applicants over the wording of pre-commencement conditions. Whilst it may not have gained as much publicity as the revised NPPF, this small legislative change is still a potentially significant shift in the operation of the planning process.

These changes mean that a LPA will be required to provide an applicant with the suggested pre-commencement conditions prior to determining an application. Applicants must be given at least 10 working days to provide a “substantive response”, only after this can an application be determined.

Potentially, great news for developers and applicants who will now hopefully be given a meaningful say in the drafting of pre-commencement conditions. Planning officers are only human like the rest of us and under pressure mistakes are sometimes made. This should stop drafting errors, duplicates or wrong conditions being imposed on planning consents that all result in delays to delivery. Contaminated land conditions, with their multiple stages seem particularly vulnerable to confusion as to what can reasonably be undertaken pre-commencement. It is also hoped that this will rationalise the pre-commencement conditions thereby saving time and money.

There are potential benefits for LPAs as it forces a review of standard pre-commencement conditions to ensure they are still; necessary, enforceable, precise and reasonable, it should also help to speed up decision making. LPAs will need to review their standard conditions and put procedures in place to ensure that applicants are given notice of proposed pre-commencement conditions in a timely manner.

These legislative changes will have to be factored into determination timeframes and it would be prudent of applicants to ask for conditions early (if possible) to avoid last minute delays. If you are an applicant or agent, it may be worthwhile contacting planning officers to confirm they are aware of this change to avoid any surprises.

We welcome this change, however, only time will tell whether this will become just another tick the box exercise or whether this will facilitate meaningful dialogue about the suitability of pre-commencement conditions, reduce the number of pre-commencement conditions and ultimately speed up delivery.

While the Government’s intention was to reduce the time lag between grant of planning permission and site start, will the law of unintended consequences mean that it will simply delay the issue of the planning permission?