Design and Access Statements are the latest part of the planning system to receive a snip from the Government’s red tape scissors.
As of 25th June, in non-designated areas, a Design and Access Statement will only be required for major applications* and listed building applications. In designated areas, such as conservation areas, the threshold for requiring a Design and Access Statement will be lower - one or more dwellings, or more than 100 square metres or more.
Good news or bad?
We have often found the validation process frustrating, with local authorities insisting on the submission of a document or report that we know will not materially influence the decision. Such a rigid approach to validation can place unnecessary financial burdens on applicants.
The change to the requirements for Design and Access Statements puts into practice the requirement, contained in both the National Planning Policy Framework and the Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013, that the documents to be submitted with applications should be proportionate to the nature and scale of the development, and material to the application.
Whilst we welcome the Government’s drive to introduce more flexibility and pragmatism to the validation process, we do not believe this should herald the end of Design and Access Statements for minor developments. Just because they are not required by statute does not mean they are not needed to secure planning permission, as design can be a significant issue in all scales of development. As a result, we anticipate that there will be cases when we will be advising our clients to submit a statement, even where there is not a statutory requirement for one.
Even though there has been a change in when the statement is required, there has not been a weakening in the importance of good design. The promotion of good design is one of the 12 core principles of the National Planning Policy Framework – it emphasises that permission should be refused for developments of poor design that fail to take the opportunities available for improving the quality and character of an area.
In this policy context, it is essential that the design approach is properly explained and justified, especially given the subjective nature of design. We have found that, when done right, Design and Access Statements can be an excellent means to communicate the merits of a development. It is often the first, and sometimes only, document that people will look at, especially those less familiar with the planning system. In this way, they can help to sell a scheme to local residents and councillors who will play a part in the application process. This also applies to planning and design officers, who without the benefit of the narrative provided in a Design and Access Statement, may be less likely to support the particular design approach proposed.
In making this change, the Government has passed responsibility down to applicants, who will need to decide on a case-by-case basis whether design considerations are sufficiently material to warrant the submission of a Design and Access Statement, and to local authorities, who will need to ensure that design is properly assessed even in those cases where a statement has not been submitted. We continue to believe that the submission of a well prepared Design and Access Statement enhances the prospects of planning permission.
*Major developments are 10 or more dwellings, buildings of more than 1,000 square metres; or a development on a site of more than 1 hectare.
(Simon Roberts for Alsop Verrill Ltd)