On 6 August 2020, alongside the Planning White Paper, the government launched a consultation called Changes to the current planning system. In our blog of 11 September 2020, we reported on one of the four proposals in the consultation, the new affordable housing product called First Homes. Here we focus on the proposal to extend the current Permission in Principle (PiP) to major development, discussing what PiP is, how it is already in use, and the potential implications of the proposals for developers.

What is PiP?

PiP was introduced in 2017 as an alternative route to obtain planning permission for “housing-led development”. “Changes to the current planning system” explains that PiP:

“give[s] up-front certainty that the fundamental principles of development are acceptable before developers need to work up detailed plans and commission technical studies. It also ensures that the principle of development only needs to be established once”.

There are two stages to obtaining full permission through the PiP route: the “permission in principle” stage establishes the principle of whether a site is suitable for housing led development; and the “technical details consent” stage then assesses the detail of the development proposals. PiP is also available to non-housing development provided that the majority of the floorspace in the scheme overall is housing and the non-housing development is compatible with the proposed residential development.

What types of development can currently be granted PiP?

Currently there are two routes for obtaining PiP: by submitting a valid application to the local planning authority (LPA); or through entry of a site in Part 2 of the LPA’s brownfield land register. PiP cannot be granted through either route for habitats development, householder development or EIA development. At the moment, PiP for “major” development can only be granted through entry of a site in Part 2 of the LPA’s brownfield land register, whereas PiP for other development on previously developed land can be granted PiP through the application route. “Major” development is development of 10 or more houses, or a building or buildings where the floor space to be created is 1,000 square metres or more, or on a site with an area of 1 or more hectares.

What are the proposed changes?

The government proposes to make PiP available to larger scale housing-led development by removing the major developments exception from the application route.

Why? The government points to town centre sites that are suitable for development and would support regeneration but, because they can be developed at a high density, could support more than 10 dwellings and are therefore not currently eligible for the PiP application route. A developer could apply for such a site to be listed on the LPA’s brownfield register, or could apply for full planning permission, but either option takes time and/or significant resources which can hold back development. The Planning White Paper proposes that land which is allocated for substantive development in local plans (identified as “Growth areas”) should be automatically granted outline planning permission. Acknowledging that these proposals will take time to implement, the government wants to implement these changes now.

Will this change really make a difference to the availability of PiP for major sites?

Perhaps not. The government itself says:

“We envisage that a change of this kind will particularly benefit small and medium-sized developers who tend to focus on building smaller major developments”.

This is because the existing prohibition on using PiP for habitats or EIA development will remain, which means that PiP still can’t be used for sites of 5 or more hectares or which will deliver more than 150 dwellings. Bearing in mind that PiP is available only for housing-led development, this may restrict its application even for mixed-use schemes. However, if a mixed-use scheme can qualify, it may benefit from another element of the government’s proposal which is to remove the current limit on the amount of commercial development that can be included (currently set at 1,000 sq m or 1 hectare). It may also benefit from the government’s proposal to reduce the fees payable for major site PiP applications to encourage development to come forward using this route.

What other changes are proposed?

The government is also considering whether to impose a maximum height threshold on major schemes consented through the PiP route, and whether to allow the use of social media to widen the publicity of major site applications.

The consultation closes on 1 October 2020. If you are interested in responding to the consultation and would like discuss this further, please get in touch.

For more information please contact:

Matthew White
Matthew White
Partner and head of UK planning practice, London
+44 20 7466 2461
Fiona Sawyer
Fiona Sawyer
Professional support lawyer, planning, London
+44 20 7466 2674