Silver Lining Amid Policy Shifts - Last Chance to Harness ‘Free Go’ to Value Engineer Your Consent

As the 'free go' planning mechanism disappears, developers are presented with a brief opportunity to capitalise on fee exemptions and negotiate Viable Planning Obligations or more generally, 'value engineer' their developments.

This article unpacks sunset clauses in the Fee Regulations and outlines how you can still benefit from the 'free go' provisions before they vanish. Act swiftly - strategic insights ahead could save you considerable costs on your next planning application.

The term “free go” refers to a fee exemption policy that benefits developers when resubmitting a planning application for a similar project on the same site within 12 months. This policy recognises the dynamic nature of development projects, which often change in response to market demands and community or official feedback. By removing the financial penalty on resubmission, developers were incentivised to improve and adapt their projects without the deterrent of increased costs, thus fostering better and more suitable developments.

From December 6, 2023, the “free go” mechanism in UK planning permissions has been abolished, requiring new fees for all applications. According to policy-makers, this change aims to encourage more thorough pre-application discussions and higher-quality initial submissions. However, it does not fully account for the complex and political nature of planning processes, where rejections can stem from more than just proposal inadequacies, such as shifting local political dynamics or unpredictable officer recommendations. This policy shift also raises concerns about the potential for LPAs to be incentivised to reject applications simply to collect fees on subsequent submissions, challenging the fairness of the planning approval process.

The changes to the “free go” mechanism include a 'sunset provision'. Developers can still benefit from fee exemptions under certain conditions, providing a silver lining and an opportunity to get ahead of anticipated policy shifts from the anticipated labour government. Specifically, planning applications granted or refused between July 6, 2023, and December 6,2023, can apply for a free go within 12 months of the original decision date. Withdrawals are similarly covered if the original submission was validated between those same dates. This provides a buffer as the industry adjusts to the new fee structures, which at the moment cost £578 - £624 per dwelling.

The window to capitalise on the “free go” policy is closing as the transitional period expires. This transitional period offers a unique opportunity for developers to value engineer by resubmitting applications under the current viability policy environment. We strongly encourage our clients to act swiftly to take advantage of these cost-saving measures which are particularly useful where a 'fall back' consent has already been granted meaning there are no downside risks to seeking to reduce previously agreed S106 Obligations. Our team is well-prepared to assist you in navigating these changes efficiently, ensuring your applications are compliant.

Let us help you optimise your project’s potential during this crucial time — reach out today to discuss how we can support your planning needs.

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