UK: Planning Act Blog: 210: MPs Gather Evidence On Localism Bill

Last Updated: 2 February 2011
Article by Angus Walker

This is entry number 210, first published on 31 January 2011, of a blog on the Planning Act 2008 infrastructure planning and authorisation regime. Click here for a link to the whole blog. If you would like to be notified when the blog is updated, with links sent by email, click here.

Today's entry reports on the Localism Bill Committee's four evidence-gathering sessions.

On Tuesday and Thursday last week, the Localism Bill Committee of the House of Commons asked a lot of questions (286) of a number of witnesses (45) about the Bill. The Hansard reports of the four (morning and afternoon) sessions can be found here: session 1 session 2 session 3 session 4, but here are some of the themes that emerged.

Purpose of the Bill

Those representing voluntary groups and parish councils were most in favour of the Bill, two professors were most against it, saying it should be called the Centralism Bill and would achieve the exact opposite of what it set out to do. Neil McInroy of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies made several insightful comments including that the Bill may well be sufficiently radical as to have unintended consequences.

The figure of 142, or sometimes 127, reserved powers for the government was oft quoted. Greg Clark said in response that the powers would be examined one by one during the committee stage, and that in fact some were to allow further flexibility, such as to relax restrictions on the general power of competence, and to waive the requirement for a referendum when council taxes needed to be raised in an emergency.

Another issue that was raised more than once was the tension between the powers being given to local government in the Bill and the powers being given to bodies outside local government such as community groups, or as it was sometimes put, representative democracy versus participative democracy. One professor suggested that local authorities should be given a duty to develop community empowerment and involvement, rather than the Bill giving powers to 'any old group'.

Neighbourhood planning

There was concern that the power to create neighbourhood plans was being given to potentially very small groups - only three people needing to live in the local area. Witnesses were concerned that these would not be accountable, and would not have to declare interests. One witness was worried that neighbourhood areas might overlap and conflict with each other.

There was confusion as to the relationshoip between neighbourhood planning and local authority plans - whether the former could go against the latter - some witnesses saying that they could not (which would seem to defeat the concept of localism), and others being not so sure.

Business organisations wanted businesses to be able to consitute neighbourhood forums and do their own neighbourhood planning, so that they could get on with developing business parks, for example.

General power of competence

The general power for local authorities to do anything that individuals normally do attracted a lot of comment. Most of it was that the power was still too restricted. Some said that the criminal law should be the only thing stopping councils doing anything at all, and that the government should not need to keep checks on the power. The British Chambers of Commerce were concerned that the power could crowd out private enterprise.

Infrastructure planning

Business groups were worried about uncertainty introduced by changes to the Planning Act regime that they were only just getting used to.

Liz Peace of the British Property Federation thought that the three month limit for ministerial decisions should not be able to be extended, to give more certainty to the business community.

Duty to co-operate and the abolition of regional strategies

There was a considerable party political battle about what policies would produce more house building, without much resolution. None of the witnesses was prepared to say explicitly that they supported keeping regional strategies, but some did seem to imply that was their view. The housebuilders said that the change to localism could delay house-building by a year or two, and take six or seven years to get back to pre-recession levels.

There was a lot of debate on the duty in the Bill for local (and eventually other) authorities to co-operate on sustainable development. This was felt by most to be an inadequate substitute for strategic planning. As the eloquent Hugh Ellis of the Town and Country Planning Association put it, abolishing regional strategies did not get rid of issues at a strategic level, such as climate change and housing.

One suggestion that gained some currency is that Local Enterprise Partnerships, the ad hoc bodies not mentioned in the Bill but set up to replace regional development agencies, should be charged with the policing of the duty to co-operate.

EU fines

The ability for the government to pass fines imposed by the European Court of Justice down to local authorities was resisted. It was thought that someone should arbitrate on who was to blame and in what proportion, and apportion the fine accordingly.

Community right to challenge

This is where a community group can challenge the provision of a service by or on behalf of a local authority and kick off a procurement exercise. Some witnesses noted that if a community group launches a challenge, it may well not win the subsequent procurement exercise, which will have to be open (although the procurement need not be 100% decided on cost, but in Hackney they had been warned off only accepting bids that offered a 'London living wage'). Others were concerned about whether there would be any control over the size of the service that was challenged.

One witness suggestd that this should be extended to central government services as well.

List of assets of community value

Also known inaccurately as the 'community right to buy', this is where land can be put on a list kept by a local authority of assets of community value, which delays sale of the land until a community group has time to say it is interested in bidding.

This attracted a fair amount of criticism (and fundamental objection from the Country Landowners' Association), on the grounds that it would be used as an anti-development tool, and that it affected people's rights to deal in their own property as they wished. On the other hand, one witness suggested that local authorities should develop policies against the change of use of land on the list.

Adrian Penfold of British Land and his eponymous review of non-planning permissions said that this right could be a 'tank trap' that could thwart development at the last minute. He thought there should be restrictions on when it could be exercised, and not be an additional post-planning permission hurdle.

Duty of pre-application consultation

The concept of statutory consultation before an application is made is extended from major infrastructure projects by the Bill, although the scope of the extension is not yet known. There was concern that the threshold would be too low, and companies would be having to consult on 'hanging baskets'. There was also concern about the area across which consultation would be necessary for larger projects.

Local referendums

Sir Simon Milton, one of Boris Johnson's deputies, said that to hold a referendum that did not already coincide with an election in London would cost about £11m, 15% of the Greateer London Authority's annual budget. In other words, local referendums were rather expensive to hold.

Community infrastructure levy

There was some concern from the business community that this would be set too high and discourage development.

Mayoral development corporations

Sir Simon also said that the power to create mayoral development corporations in London was really only in relation to the Olympic Park, but that the power had been made general to avoid the Bill becoming hybrid (a technical issue about Bills that I know far too much about that would allow outside bodies to object to it as for the Crossrail Bill).

Things not in the Bill

All those on the development side did not wish there to be an ability to challenge the grant of planning permission (the so-called third party right of appeal), which is indeed not in the BIll. Some environmental groups thought it should, however, in limited circumstances such as when the approval went against the local plan.

Planning Minister Greg Clark said that the right had not been introduced since it would be the community appealing against the policies in the plan it had developed, although that does not answer the environmental groups' point.

Another matter not in the Bill that was called for was a presumption in favour of sustainable development, although I suspect there were different interpretations of what this would mean. Minister Bob Neill said that was best left to policy and guidance rather than statute. Apparently the forthcoming national planning policy framework will say more.

The business community wanted to keep a uniform business rate across the country and did not want to see local authorities being able to set their own levels.

Analogy of the day: making a planning application was like hitting a golf ball - it was only a small moment of the whole process that went before it of stance, swing, etc.

The committee will start its line-by-line examination of the Bill tomorrow. Not that many amendments have been tabled, but at least there is more than one.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Angus Walker
In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.