New Government consultation: ‘An Accelerated Planning System’

Print Page

On 6th March 2024, the Government published a consultation outlining its proposals for an “accelerated” planning service for major commercial applications, including introducing a 10 week time limit on decision making. Other matters in the consultation include a review of planning performance measures, extensions of time, expedited appeals and section 73B applications. The consultation is open until 1st May 2024 and can be viewed on the Government website here: Accelerated Planning System Consultation.

Key highlights are as follows:

Planning Performance and Extension of Time Agreements

The consultation proposes that all local planning authorities in England would be required to offer a new “accelerated” service for determining major commercial planning applications. This would apply in the first instance to applications for major commercial development which create 1,000 sqm or more of new or additional employment floorspace. This would also include section 73 and section 73B applications. The definition of “employment” floorspace for which the accelerated service would be applicable covers offices, storage and warehousing, retail, general industry, research and development, light industry and advanced manufacturing.

The consultation states that in exchange for a 10 week determination period applicants would be required to pay a higher application fee and if the application is not determined within the time frame, the fee would be refunded. However, certain types of major commercial development would be excluded from this service, such as retrospective applications, mineral and waste development, listed building consent applications and applications that are subject to habitats regulations assessments or are “screened as EIA development’.

The consultation also notes that if the entire fee is refunded, the local authority will have no further incentive to determine the application. To mitigate this, an alternative option has also been put forward for a refund of part of the fee – or 50% of the whole fee could be refunded. The purpose of this is to ensure that major applications are prioritised and that with the higher planning fee local planning authorities have the resources to meet this service. However, this would mean that the onus will be on the applicant to notify statutory consultees in advance that a planning application under the Accelerated Planning Service is being submitted.

The consultation seeks views on two different options whereby an Accelerated Planning Service could be introduced:

— Option 1 is a Discretionary Accelerated Planning Service. Under this route, applicants would need to provide a set of additional prescribed information requirements with their planning application to ensure the application can be determined quickly. Without this additional statutory information, the application would be treated as a normal application for major development.

— Option 2 is a Mandatory Accelerated Planning Service with the APS representing a mandatory route for a clearly defined category of major commercial applications. This route would still offer a 10 week determination period in return for a higher fee, with a refund if no decision is made within that period. Any applications that meet this criterion will be required to submit under this route.

Monitoring Speed of Decision Making

The consultation identifies that currently approximately only 10% of local planning authorities determined 70% or more non-major applications within the statutory 8 week time limit, and 1% of local planning authorities determined 60% or more of major applications within the statutory 13 or 16 week time limits. The Government wishes to see this improved, and consequently the consultation proposes a “new performance measure for speed of decision-making for the proportion of applications that are determined within the statutory time limit only”. The proposed new performance thresholds are:

— major applications – 50% or more of applications determined within the statutory time limit; and

—  non-major applications – 60% or more of applications determined within the statutory time limit.

These measures are significant because if local planning authorities do not meet targets, they would be at risk of “designation” for speed of decision making. Where a local planning authority is designated, applicants may apply to the Planning Inspectorate (on behalf of the Secretary of State), rather than the local planning authority, for the category of applications (major, non-major or both) for which the authority has been designated.

Removing Extension of Times for Householder Applications

The Government considers that extension of time agreements are being used for smaller and less complex householder applications without good reason. The consultation is seeking views on the use of repeat extension of time agreements for the same application and whether this is something that should be prohibited.

Simplifying Written Representation Appeal Process

The Government proposes that existing time limits for lodging appeals would remain unchanged, but the process would remove opportunities for both parties to provide additional information at appeal stage, in a bid to reduce pressure on local planning authorities. This could potentially mean applicants would need to provide more information upfront at application stage to compensate for this. In addition, it is proposed that the accelerated appeals process would be expanded to cover more types of appeals including appeals relating to:

— planning permission or reserved matters;
— listed building consent;
— lawful development certificates;
— the variation or removal of a condition;
— the approval of details reserved by a condition; and
— modifications or discharge of planning legal agreements

Varying and Overlapping Consents

As has been announced previously, the Government proposes to amend the use of Section 73 (S73) applications and to instead deal with proposals for general material variations to development with ‘Section 73B’. Under these proposals, S73s would focus on variation of specific conditions and S73Bs would be used for changes to the design of the development. The consultation gives the following example:

“if an applicant wants to make some changes to a development granted planning permission (such as minor alterations to the total number of flats and the size of the building of an apartment block following further design work), they would use section 73B (rather than current section 73 route where it is possible); but if an applicant only wants to vary a specific condition (such as a condition about building materials), section 73 would be used”.

In addition, the consultation recognises the complexities with the recent Hillside Supreme Court Judgement and the implications of ‘drop in’ planning applications. The consultation recognises that the S73B route may not always be appropriate and the Government are keen to explore alternative options to facilitate overlapping permissions. One option could be to create a framework through a new general development order. This would deal with overlapping permissions in certain prescribed circumstances.

Any questions? Talk to us

The Firstplan team are always happy to advise clients on policy matters. Our team can be reached on


Article prepared by Raveen Bhamra

Raveen Firstplan