Welsh Government have announced a series of changes to the development management system, Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations and Use Classes Order following consultation last year.
The changes range from minor alterations to the introduction of new procedures for major planning applications. While some of the changes that are being implemented will make the Welsh planning process more straight forward and less onerous for developers as certain thresholds have been relaxed, new requirements will add significantly to the obligations on developers and will undoubtedly affect project programmes.
A number of the changes solely relate to ‘major’ development – please see foot note for definition of ‘Major’ development.
In summary, the following changes are being implemented, the date at which these changes will be implemented is indicated in brackets:
Compulsory minimum 28 day public consultation period prior to submission of a major planning application and the need to submit a ‘Pre-application Consultation Report’ (PAC) (1st August 2016).
This is the most significant change and introduces a new validation requirement for planning applications while bringing Wales closer to requirements in England. A separate Client Advice Note has been prepared on these new requirements.
Local Planning Authority Pre-Application Services & Standard Fee (16th March 2016)
This change requires all local planning authorities in Wales to provide a pre-application service, charge a standard fee (householder apps = £25; minor development = £250; major development = £600 and large major developments = £1000) and provide a response within 21 days of registration (unless an extension is agreed). Written responses are required to contain a minimum amount of information and the response rate will be monitored by Welsh Government on a quarterly basis. This change will regularise the current pre-application advice processes which differentiate across Welsh authorities.
Design and Access Statement Requirements (16th March 2016)
From the 16th March only ‘major’ developments and those within Conservation Areas and World Heritage Sites for residential development or new floorspace over 100 sqm will be required to submit Design and Access Statements (DAS). This represents a relaxation from current requirements where the majority of applications require a DAS. Where a DAS is required the scope of which can be agreed at the pre-application stage. As part of these changes the content of DAS’s has been clarified to state that they must clearly state the design principles and concepts of the developments; demonstrate the steps taken to appraise the context of the development and how the final design accounts for this and explain the policy approach to access. While a Design & Access Statement may no longer be a requirement for minor applications a supporting statement to explain the proposals may still be necessary in order to justify the scheme.
Notice to Commence Works & Display a Site Notice for Major Developments (16th March 2016)
Applicants of ‘major’ developments granted from the 16th March will be required to notify the local authority of the commencement of development and must display a notice/plan on site, this notice must remain in place for the duration of development. This new requirement therefore puts added pressure on developers to discharge all ‘pre-commencement of development’ conditions prior to works starting in order to avoid potential enforcement action.
Invalid Application Notices and the Right to Appeal (16th March 2016)
While at present where LPA’s require further information to validate an application applicants/agents may be notified via email, a letter or via a telephone call. The changes seek to formalise this procedure and will require LPA’s to issue ‘Invalid Application Notices’ outlining why it is considered that an application is invalid and cannot be validated. Applicants will then have the right to appeal this decision within 2 weeks of the date of the letter. The Planning Inspectorate will have a 21 day target period to consider and determine the invalid decision.
Consultation in Respect of Certain Applications (16th March 2016)
Where a LPA receives an application for the variation/removal of conditions, approval of conditions, or reserved matters from 16th March they will have the discretion to decide whether to consult statutory consultees for their views. Where a statutory consultee is contacted they now have a duty to respond within 21 days.
Post Submission Amendment Charges (16th March 2016)
Where an applicant wishes to amend a planning application following its submission a new fee of £190 is required. The LPA will have a statutory additional 4 week period (if required) to consider the new information before making a determination.
‘Living’ Decision Notices (16th March 2016)
At present, applications/agents are notified that details submitted to discharge a condition are acceptable via a letter. The new requirements will mean that each time a condition is discharged or reserved matter approved the decision notice must be updated and re-issued stating the date any amendments/updates were made. This change is intended to make it easier to keep abreast with the progress of the discharge of conditions or changes made to a planning decision notice. The change will only apply to decision notices issued after 16 March 2016 (not retrospectively).
Permitted Development and Use Classes Order (including Houses in Multiple Occupation) (25th February 2016)
A new use class (Class C4) will be introduced for houses in multiple occupation (tenanted accommodation occupied by 3 to 6 unrelated people who share one or more basic amenities, as their only or main residence). This means that houses in multiple occupation (HMO’s) will be removed from Class C3 which will now be defined as a single household and planning permission will be required where a change of use is proposed. The changes are intended to avoid the loss of family housing and the creation of large concentrations of HMO’s.
Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations (1st March 2016)
The Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) (Wales) Regulations 2016 include a number of changes of note including the following:
Screening thresholds for development that could have significant impact on the environment have been reduced for industrial estate developments from where the area of the development exceeds 0.5 hectares to areas exceeding 5 hectares. For urban development projects 3 categories have been added:
- The development includes more than 1 hectare of urban development which is not dwellinghouse development; or
- The development includes more than 150 dwellings; or
- The overall area of the development exceeds 5 hectares.
Despite the changes it should not be presumed that developments above the indicative thresholds should always be subject to assessment, or those falling below these thresholds could never give rise to significant effects, especially where the development is in an environmentally sensitive location. Each development will need to be considered on its merits.
The regulations also now make reference to changes or extensions to existing projects that meet the EIA thresholds and may significant adverse effects on the environment. This changes relates to a judgment from the High Court of Justice that any applicable screening threshold apply to the development as a whole once modified, and not just to the change or extension as provided previously. When considering the effect of this development it should be undertaken in the context that development consent already exists for the development as originally granted.
A restriction that a Local Development Order could not be made for development falling within Schedule 2 of the Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) (Wales) Regulations 2016 has now been removed.
 ‘Major’ development is defined as development invloving any one or more of the following: winning or working of minerals, or use of the land for mineral working deposits; waste development; the provision of more than 10 dwelling houses or the site is 0.5ha or larger; the provision of building or buildings where the floor space to be created by the development is 1000sq m or more; or, development carried out on site having an area of 1ha or more.