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Class distinction

With a flurry of planning reports coming in at the end of 2003, we examine some of the key issues

CafÚ culture

As so often with attempts at simplifying planning, it ends up the other way around. The government's intention to reduce the number of use classes (which categorise uses, so allowing changes within classes without express permission) by amalgamating A1 (retail) and A2 (offices such as branch banks which are principally for visiting members of the public) have been thwarted.

Planning minister Keith Hill has announced 1that by the summer, not only will the number of use classes not be reduced, but - guess what - it is to be increased.

Pubs and bars are to be given a new class - A4 - and hot food takeaways - A5. Restaurants and cafÚs remain in class A3, and a new D3 class is to be created for nightclubs (their proposed definition remains a matter of mystery. If a club is a function of being a facility for its members, eg a rowing club, does rowing after dark make it into a 'nightclub'? We shall see).

The consequence will be a new requirement for permission to convert restaurants into licensed pubs and bars, though A4 and A5 uses will be allowed free changes to A1, A2 or A3. All this stems from the increasing duplication and overlap of controls such as the fact that environmental and noise issues are often used to justify planning regulation issues.

Keith Hill also said that A1 was being modified to include internet cafÚs, warehouse clubs are to become sui generis and motor vehicle showrooms will no longer be allowed freedom to change to A1. Sadly, B1 (business use) and residential are not to be merged to allow the continental practice of using apartments either as offices or as flats, also reducing the complications of home-working.

If there was a serious intention to simplify planning, the use classes order would be a good place to start.

A strict discipline of letting it deal only with planning matters that are not addressed under other legislation would enable the necessary pruning.

But since there is no immediate prospect of this happening, it may be best just to buy shares in licensed premises, takeaways and nightclubs, since the incumbents will benefit from another turn of the screw of rationing by planning.

ACA pro-forma

In 'A Quick Fix for Planning' (AJ 27.11.03), I reported the reduction from six to three months of the period during which an appeal may be lodged on applications made from 5 September. The three months is counted from the end of the eight-week (13 weeks for major applications) period notified when an application is registered. However, it may be extended by agreement evidenced in writing. Many years ago, authorities would automatically send out a form seeking the applicant's agreement to an extension of time for the processing of an application.

The Association of Consultant Architects has met with the Planning Inspectorate and is publishing a 'Certificate Agreeing to an Extended Period for Consideration of a Planning Application'.

2Designed to cover all principal types of application, the certificate requires authorities to reply in writing within 14 days unless they wish to proceed on the understanding they have agreed to the extended period.

The government's 'planning delivery grant' and the consequent pressure to make timely decisions has boosted the proportion of refusals (see Planning in London's January issue 3for details in London). The appeals queue is therefore lengthening appreciably and the reduction by three months of the appeal opportunity for deemed refusals is going to accelerate this tendency. Use of the ACA Certificate will reduce and often eliminate the need to appeal and the need to make duplicate applications.

The Planning Inspectorate owes the ACA a debt of gratitude and may even save the planning minister (who recently described the planning system as the 'slowest way of saying no') from some of the consequences of his own naivety.

Dogged Barker

The interim report by Kate Barker to the Chancellor of the Exchequer last month brings a fresh analytical approach to bear on the housebuilding industry and on planning 4.She sees the key issue as the lack of housing supply, now at its lowest for more than 50 years, which, she says, constrains economic growth. She puts some of the blame on the planning system which 'is complex, timescales are often unacceptably long, and the requirements of planning can be used to prevent development'.

The report calculates that refusals for permissions for major housing developments went up from 15 per cent in 1996-99 to 25 per cent in 2002.

'The present planning framework is not always able to balance appropriately the true social costs and benefits of development. In part this is because these costs and benefits are not accurately reflected in the incentives offered to and the pressures faced by decision makers'.

Barker cites:

the lack of sanctions facing authorities who fail to provide regional housing numbers;

financial benefits to local authorities from increased population growth that are slow to materialise;

that those in housing need are less likely to have a strong voice in the political process compared to those already housed;

that the established belief that house builders are hoarding land is mistaken - as they say 'it is reasonable' that they retain only 18 months' supply with full permission.

Brian Waters is principal of The Boisot Waters Cohen Partnership, email brian@ bwcp. co. uk, or visit www. bwcp. co. uk.

Footnotes 1. www. odpm. gov. uk 2. from ACA, tel 020 8325 1402 3. www. planninginlondon. com 4. Full report at www. barkerreview. org. uk

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