Briefing Note: Permission in Principle (PiP)

Policy Update
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Permission in Principle (PiP) was first introduced via the Housing and Planning Act 2016, with the application route being established in June 2018. Intended to accelerate housing-led schemes by providing upfront certainty in terms of a high level approval concerning location, land use and quantum of development prior to working out detailed plans, the current regime allows two ways of securing a PiP: the first route involves the Local Planning Authority (LPA) allocating land exceeding a quarter of a hectare for at least 5 dwellings in Part 2 of their Brownfield Land Register; alternatively, a PiP consent route consists of an initial PiP application to establish whether a site is suitable for development and is restricted to a maximum of 9 dwellings on a site not exceeding 1 hectare. Full planning permission is subsequently granted by an ensuing Technical Details Consent stage whereby detailed proposals are assessed.

The current take-up of PiP has been somewhat lower than anticipated despite the PiP application route involving a quick procedure with a decision being issued in 5 weeks. The idea of being able to quickly establish whether the principle of housing on a site is acceptable is certainly an attractive option for many developers. However, in practice, the current PiP mechanism can be undermined if an LPA seeks detailed information up front. On the other hand, if as intended, detailed planning matters are left to the Technical Details Consent stage there remains the danger that an unforeseen technical issue could emerge which renders a development undeliverable.

Current Planning Practice Guidance seeks to clarify what matters should be considered with a PiP application but leaves some room for interpretation:

‘The scope of permission in principle is limited to location, land use and amount of development. Issues relevant to these ‘in principle’ matters should be considered at the permission in principle stage. Other matters should be considered at the technical details consent stage. In addition, local authorities cannot list the information they require for applications for permission in principle in the same way they can for applications for planning permission’.

Despite these challenges, the Government still envisage PiP as playing a key, and indeed expanded role, in the planning system. Hence, in conjunction with the wider planning reforms proposed under ‘Planning for the Future’, the Government has simultaneously released a consultation paper for changes to the current system in the interim, one being an extension to the current PiP consent regime.

The MHCLG consultation, running until the 1st October, proposes to utilise the PiP mechanism for major developments of up to 150 units with no limit on the amount of commercial floorspace within a scheme.  This represents a significant uplift from the current limit of 10 units and linked commercial development of 1,000 sqm within 1 hectare. Although housing-led, PiP by application may include retail, office or community space uses. The Government is promoting the proposals on the basis that they will provide both landowners and developers with a quicker and more cost-efficient route to establishing the principle of housing developments without having to submit detailed plans upfront, thereby aiding SMEs and in turn supporting the economic recovery post Covid. To retain the attractiveness and increase the uptake of PiP, timeframes are to be maintained and an amended fee scale for a differential rate per hectare is proposed. Increased publicity is suggested for bigger sites and an additional maximum height threshold parameter may be introduced. However, EIA and Habitats restrictions remain.  The same information requirements would apply: the minimum and maximum dwellings proposed and a site map. The amended regulations are expected to come into force by the end of the year.

With regard to longer-term reforms set out within the White Paper, confusion remains over the exact wording of the proposals; it is unclear at this stage whether the proposed ‘Growth Areas’ are to automatically allow PiP development or outline planning permission. Nevertheless, it is apparent that the government seeks to retain the principle of PiP, although it will not be a continuation of the current process.

We await the upcoming guidance referenced within the PiP consultation paper and are ready to assist with any queries relating to this matter.

A link to the PiP consultation document can be found here.

The Planning for the Future White Paper can be accessed here.