What are the top five planning considerations for asset managers?

Written on 12 Jul 2021

Compliance with planning during the lifetime of an asset may appear to be passive, but there can often be ongoing obligations for investors and asset managers. It is vital to consider planning law both before acquiring and while holding an asset. As well as potential risks, planning law can offer an asset manager opportunities to enhance an asset and/or protect its value. Here are five planning considerations that asset managers should bear in mind.

1. Consider opportunities to extend or enhance your developments

You should consider what planning options exist that would allow you to maximise the value of your developments. A development with open space surrounding it might have the potential for expansion, while permission might be obtainable for a wind farm to add extra turbines. It is important to be aware of what planning permissions already exist for your site, in case these have not been maximised. The existing planning permissions should also be considered, particularly relating to any conditions imposed, when considering whether to apply for planning permission to make extensions and enhancements.

2. Consider extending the life of your planning consent, if required

Solar and wind developments are usually subject to time limited planning permissions, generally for a period of 20 or 25 years. Many schemes are starting to approach their time limits. Bearing in mind the time taken to obtain planning permission, a sufficient lead-in time for renewal of planning needs to be built in to undertake environmental reviews, pre-application discussions and consultation and the planning submission process. This is particularly acute if the redevelopment or extension is likely to be contentious.

3. Consider biodiversity net gain requirements

While mainly relevant to new development, the upcoming Environment Bill introduces obligations to provide biodiversity net gain. The provisions will require a biodiversity net-gain plan as part of developing a site which will need to set out how "net gain" in biodiversity terms will be achieved.

For existing assets that already have consent, there may be opportunities to provide net gain when considering further development of the site, either for expansion or repowering. Where a site can accommodate net gain but it is not required, there may be opportunities to transfer net gain to other development schemes in the area that cannot provide onsite gain as part of that development.

4. Be aware of infrastructure developments near to your site

When purchasing or reviewing a development, other infrastructure developments in the local area could impact your site. For example, a new highway scheme could cut across the site and take some or all of the site for development. Highways schemes often include the compulsory purchase of surrounding land. Taking into account what schemes might come forward in the longer term can assist in considering whether to invest in, repower or extend an asset.

5. Be mindful of upcoming planning reforms

Upcoming  planning reforms may significantly alter the planning process in the UK. While relevant to new development, asset managers should be conscious of conflicting development and new infrastructure projects. New development will create opportunities including demands for power, which could provide opportunities to expand or repower existing assets.

The proposed Planning Bill is expected to be brought before Parliament in autumn 2021. It is likely to build on the proposals in the Planning for the Future White Paper. The Queen's Speech on 11 May 2021 outlined some of the main elements of the Planning Bill, which included enhancing the framework for environmental assessments for developments.