Planning Permission in Principle: Why not Planning Permission in Practice?

Constanze Bell and Freddie Humphreys, are planning barrister at Kings Chambers, ranked one of the country’s leading sets. Here, they discuss how effective Planning Permission in Principle has been to date.

From 1 June 2018 the Town and Country Planning (Permission in Principle) Order 2017 has included the ability to apply to a local planning authority (‘LPA’) for permission in principle.

Planning permission in principle is an alternative means of obtaining planning permission for housing-led development. The consent route separates the consideration of matters of principle for proposed development from the technical detail of the development.

DCLG’s Policy Fact Sheet on Planning Permission in Principle, which was designed to give Members of Parliament further information about the aims of the Housing and Planning Bill, advised:

Permission in principle will make an important contribution to the delivery of new homes by giving applicants greater certainty that the suitability of land for an amount of housing development is agreed and the confidence to invest in the technical detail without fear that the fundamental principles of the development will be re-opened. The result will be a quicker and more predictable planning process.

To date, the result has not been a quicker and more predictable planning process.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that there is little real interest or enthusiasm for this method of obtaining planning permission. Developers are not making applications for planning permission in principle. The lukewarm interest and limited uptake seem to be attributable to the difficulty in distinguishing between the benefits offered by planning permission in principle and outline planning permission. Put simply, permission in principle is not a radical new policy proposition nor does it offer obvious practical benefits.

The new paragraph 38 of the NPPF urges local authorities to make use of permission in principle:

Local planning authorities should approach decisions on proposed development in a positive and creative way. They should use the full range of planning tools available, including brownfield registers and permission in principle, and work proactively with applicants to secure developments that will improve the economic, social and environmental conditions of the area. Decision-makers at every level should seek to approve applications for sustainable development where possible.

This addition to the NPPF clearly illustrates central government’s enthusiasm for permission in principle but will it actually lead to a surge in applications for permission in principle? The authors consider that this is unlikely. Paragraph 38 appears to be nothing more than a statement of desire and intent. It does not include any carrot to seduce developers into applying for permission in principle; nor is there any stick to threaten LPAs should they fail to proactively make use of permission in principle themselves.

Further, it is hard to understand the stage of the planning process at which LPAs can honour the NPPF objective of utilising permission in principle. It is not a relevant policy for individual applications (in so far as it contains no policy test) nor is it obviously pertinent to plan making. The LPA’s role, it seems, is restricted to noting the existence of the planning permission in principle tool and determining any applications which rely on this new consent route.

Permission in principle has yet to deliver planning permission in practice.