Obstacles to Development

Posted by Guthrie McGruer on
It was not that long ago when you could register your planning application by simply lodging the local authority's application form and a location plan together with the requisite fee.

In fact, some of us can still remember when even planning fees were not required. However, since the introduction of the 1APP form in 2008 LPAs have been able to add to the mandatory requirements their own local list of specific documentation which they need before the application will be registered.

This has led to some criticism, not least from the Government itself, that some LPAs are being deliberately too rigid in their validation requirements in order to assist their own workloads. The only remedy an applicant has for an intransigent LPA not registering an application is to apply to the High Court for Judicial Review of that decision which of course is a hammer to crack a nut and in practice has never happened to my knowledge. What I have noticed recently is that at least two LPAs in the South East have required the applicant to lodge a s106 agreement or unilateral undertaking with their application documents before the application is registered.

It is hard to see how this assists the validation process nor how it will help LPAs deliver much needed housing (for that is the usual application to which such a requirement will apply); indeed, it is hard to see any benefit at all other than delaying the process of validation. I have even come across one LPA who have insisted on this approach but when their Legal Department was passed the document, they simply reverted to their own preferred form and started from the beginning. Except in the simplest of cases, a financial contribution for example, s106 agreements are often complex documents which demand considerable negotiating sometimes over many months. There is nothing to be gained by insisting on the applicant submitting his own draft – which will inevitably reflect only the applicant's wishes – when the application has yet to be consulted on. Such issues will only become clear during this process.

Local lists should be proportionate requests for information and should not use invalidation to prevent the start of the assessment period when an applicant has taken reasonable steps to fulfil the information requirements set out on the local list (para 27 of DCLG's guidance on information requirements and validation). Let us hope that common sense will prevail and that such requirements do not become the norm.

About the Author

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Head of the firm's Planning team based in Oxford, Guthrie undertakes advocacy in planning inquiries and is skilled in negotiating consents with planning authorities.

Guthrie McGruer
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