Beware of reliance on ‘Drop-in’ applications for easy amendments

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Last month the Court of Appeal cast doubt on the use of ‘Drop-In’ applications as a tool for making smaller self-contained amendments to a larger consented scheme.

A ‘Drop-In’ application (a term used to describe a stand-alone planning application, submitted to change one small part of a wider development approved at an earlier date), is often used when making alterations to an existing larger consent where a Section 73 Variation of Condition application would be more time-consuming and cumbersome.  Full planning permission granted in this way can allow a smaller area of development to proceed quickly without triggering wider issues.

But in Hillside Parks Limited v Snowdonia National Park Authority (3 November 2020), the Court of Appeal ruled a 1967 permission for a residential scheme of 401 units can no longer be relied on as it cannot be physically implemented due to the number of changes that had taken place via the use of multiple Drop-In applications over the years. Lord Justice Singh reached this decision despite an earlier court ruling, in 1987, on the same site that said the original 1967 permission was still implementable.

In essence, the Court of Appeal found that somewhere between 1987 and 2020 a line was crossed meaning the development, as built out to date, was so different to that originally approved in 1967 it could no longer be said to be the 1967 approved scheme. This had the effect of invalidating the entire original 1967 consent (and not just the smaller area to which the ‘Drop-in’ applications related) as it was no longer capable of being implemented due to the number and nature of differences.

The Hillside decision confirms that planning permissions must be viewed holistically and ‘construed as a whole’ and highlights the need for caution where a site has overlapping permissions.  The decision does not mean there is no longer a role for Drop-In applications, but it will be imperative to ensure that the original consent will still be implementable once a Drop-In permission is itself implemented.  This would typically involve submitting a Section 73 variation to the approved scheme, to create a ‘gap’ into which the Drop-In proposal can sit without jeopardising the original consent.

If you have any queries regarding the use of ‘Drop-in’ applications or the Hillside decision, please feel free to contact one of the Firstplan team.