Is the clampdown on ‘extension of time’ agreements the solution to the problem?

04.4.24 3 Minute read

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Time is a valuable thing. We all value our time and appreciate a timely planning application decision (no matter how rare they might feel at present).

Extension of time agreements are not uncommon. They allow applicants further time (beyond the statutory limit) to submit additional information, and the same goes for authorities in deciding a planning application. With an extension of time in place, an appeal for non-determination cannot be lodged.

In December 2023, Michael Gove, The Levelling Up Secretary announced the Government’s plans to limit Council’s use of extension of time agreements to prevent Local Planning Authorities using them to obscure underperformance. The use of extension of time agreements has significantly increased in recent years. Gove stated that if we were to:

"Strip these agreements out of the system, and in the two years to September, only nine per cent of local authorities determined 70 per cent or more of non-major applications within the statutory eight-week period."

It was also announced during his December speech that National Government has intentions to publish league style tables revealing Local Planning Authorities ‘actual performance’. Forget Premier League, I wonder which Local Planning Authorities will be top of the EoT League.

More recently on 6th March 2024, the government published a consultation on ‘An Accelerated Planning System’ which is currently running until 11:59pm on 1st May 2024. Within this, they propose new ‘special measures’ involving stripping Local Planning Authorities of their planning powers if they fail to decide enough applications within the statutory determination period.

From October 2024, Councils will be required to achieve 60% of decisions of major planning applications within the statutory time limit or with an agreed extended period of 50% within the statutory time limit disregarding any extensions. The target for minor applications is 70% and 60% alike.

However, there is a concern that it may lead to more refusals in an attempt to determine applications prior to being ready within the statutory period. This may ultimately lead to an increased number of appeals and delays.

With the recent removal of the fee exemption (the ‘free go’) for repeat planning applications, extension of time agreements are vital in the absence of a fallback position which allowed resubmission under the fee exemption.

Despite attempts to engage with Local Planning Authorities at various stages in the planning application process, we have seen several decisions being made beyond the statutory determination period. We are definitely not unfamiliar with an extension of time or two. For certain projects, this has allowed consultee comments to be sufficiently addressed and comments considered in full prior to the Council making a decision.

The statutory consultation period in most cases exceeds the 21 days, which as a result leads to delays in determination which is where an extension of time may be beneficial. If not permitted, this could see Councils refusing decisions as they are unable to make an informed decision within the statutory timescales.

There is value to extension of time agreements, particularly where sites may have undergone extensive pre-application prior to submission or perhaps securing a positive outcome is of strategic importance for allocated sites. In this case, an extension of time is in the best interest of the applicant and Local Planning Authority. An extension of time should not be used as a tool to mask the failure to properly consider an application within the statutory period. However, granting an extension of time for a short period to allow a planning application to make it onto the agenda for a planning committee date that month would be welcomed by applicants. If extension of time are to be removed altogether, can assurance be provided that an application will be determined at committee by way of a scheme of delegation perhaps?

With the average length of appeals currently ranging at 32 weeks for Written Representations to 39 weeks for Inquiries (February 2024), it is seeming as though this could lead to an increased rate of application refusals and appeals as a result.

Ultimately, we could see live planning applications go on forever, but with best actions and an active line of communication, there may be place for them still. With so much national uncertainty, it is certainly a question whether this will make a positive contribution and solution to justified decision making.

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India Chard

Senior Planner, Planning

Engaging and diligent, India delivers planning services on a range of projects within the Oxford to Cambridge Arc.

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