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Government Order streamlines information requirements for planning applications

A new Order to amend the Development Management Procedure Order's existing rules on the information which must be submitted with a planning application will come into force on 31 January.03 Jan 2013

The Order removes existing national requirements for information on layout and scale to be provided with outline applications where these are reserved matters to be determined at a later date.

Current rules require applications in which the layout is a reserved matter to state the approximate location of buildings, routes and open spaces. Where the scale is a reserved matter, the application must state the upper and lower limit for the height, width and length of each building.

The Order also provides that a local planning authority's 'local list' of information requirements for planning applications will only apply to a specific application if the list has been published within two years prior to the date of the planning application.

The Government consulted (44-page / 520KB PDF) on the proposals in the summer 2012, saying it aimed to support the 'localist' approach by removing information requirements imposed nationally that are not needed for every application.

The Government said in its consultation response (9-page / 83KB PDF) that although it recognises that it may be beneficial to provide details of layout and scale at the outline application stage, it does not "consider it necessary to nationally mandate this" in all cases where layout or scale has been reserved.

"We consider that local planning authorities are better placed to judge the information required on a site-by-site basis and this proposal will allow for greater flexibility and proportionality, having regard to the complexity and specific context of a particular application," the response said.

"The Order is extremely short, but its legal effects will be wide-ranging" said Marcus Bate, planning expert at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind "The volume of information required to be submitted with outline planning applications could be significantly reduced, resulting in cost savings for applicants and speeding up determination by local planning authorities. This should help to address the gradual decline in the use of outline applications following the erosion of the gap between costs and information requirements for outline and detailed applications."

"Many of the aims underpinning these changes should be applauded. Parties will be encouraged to focus on the acceptability of the development in principle rather than getting bogged down in the detail.  Information requirements should be more proportionate, particularly now that the unrealistic requirement to provide building-specific details has been scaled back," Bate said,

"However, the flip side of this localist approach is that practice will become less consistent and the scope for disagreements will increase," the expert added. "Developers can expect many local planning authorities to continue asking for details of reserved matters at the outline stage, whether through statutory requests or through the formulation of their local lists. Local planning authorities will still need to be satisfied that they have sufficient information to determine whether the scheme would result in sufficient design quality and acceptable environmental impacts." 

"Implementation is likely to be trickiest on this last point, since these changes make no difference to the existing regulations on environmental impact assessment.  For larger schemes qualifying as EIA development, the provision of scale parameters at the outline stage will still be necessary. In addition, the Government's failure to make consequential changes to the legislation and guidance on design and access statements results, in the short term, in applicants still needing to provide information at the outline stage regarding the design principles and concepts applied to the scale and layout of the development," Bate said.