UK: Planning Act Blog 226: Localism Bill - Pause For Reflection

Last Updated: 31 March 2011
Article by Angus Walker

This is entry number 226, published on 22 March 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 current status of the Localism Bill.

The Localism Bill makes changes to the regime for authorising nationally significant infrastructure projects as well as introducing a raft of new concepts into the world of planning and local government that will have an impact on such projects.

The Bill has completed its committee stage in the House of Commons and has recently been reprinted to take account of the amendments made there, so this is a good time to take stock of what has happened so far. The current version of the Bill can be found here.

The Bill is awaiting a date for the next stage, which is known as the 'Report Stage'. This is a debate that takes place on the floor of the House of Commons and is so called because the committee is technically reporting what happened during its the committe stage. Further amendments may be made to the Bill at Report Stage, however, which give the MPs who were not on the Committee a chance to try to change the Bill.

No date has been fixed for Report Stage, and only two days remain unprogrammed before the Easter adjournment, namely 4 and 5 April - if the Bill is not timetabled for either of those days then it will be at least 26 April before it progresses.

Amendments to the Bill

The government amendments that were tabled during the Committee Stage and described in this blog entry have all been made, and no other amendments have been made. In particular the regime for planning and authorising nationally significant infrastructure projects is entirely unchanged, save for one technical amendment to delete a redundant definition, which I passed on after it was spotted by a blog reader.

Likely forthcoming amendments

Having said that, several amendments, or at least undertakings to consider making amendments, were promised during the committee stage, and these are summarised in what follows.

Several amendments to the infrastructure planning part of the Bill - drafted by yours truly and a colleague - were tabled and debated. Although none got through, the government minister Greg Clark MP promised to look at them and potentially bring in government amendments to do similar things when the Bill gets to the House of Lords. More details of the amendments can be found in this blog entry.

Duty to co-operate

Another area that Greg Clark has promised to strengthen is clause 90 - the duty placed on local authorities to co-operate with each other in planning for sustainable development. This is the only provision in the Bill designed to replace the tier of regional planning that is being dismantled, although three other measures outside the Bill are also part of the replacement:

  • the creation of Local Enterprise Partnerships consisting of groups of local authorities
  • the drafting of a National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF); and
  • the introduction of a New Homes Bonus to incentivise new houses to be built from the bottom up rather than from the top down.

Indeed, there have been calls for all three of these measures to be included in the Bill, with varying degrees of success.

The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has been conducting a campaign to strengthen the duty to co-operate, which it considers to be rather an anodyne tick-box provision at present. The RTPI's proposed amendments prompted Greg Clark to announce that the government would consider suggestions on improving the clause.

He also confirmed that the Bill will make an explicit reference to the proposed NPPF, on the scope of which consultation closed at the end of last month. This is supposed to be a replacement for all the Planning Policy Guidance and Planning Policy Statements that currently exist.

Neighbourhood planning

The current minimum size of a neighbourhood forum of just three people is to be revisited, and an increase to 20 has been mooted. The Walker family may be unable to become its own neighbourhood after all.

The Bill provides that if a neighbourhood forum successfully creates a 'neighbourhood development order', this would override protection of listed buildings in the area it covers. This has caused much complaint from heritage interests and the government has promised to look at it again.

London

The London provisions allow the Mayor to create 'Mayoral Development Corporations' which could have their own planning powers, without recourse to the Greater London Assembly or the Secretary of State. Bob Neill MP said that the government would look at perhaps allowing the former body to have a say in the matter.

CIL

Finally, the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) is being retained and tweaked by the Bill but cannot be spent on affordable housing, actually an amendment to the Planning Act made by the previous government. Greg Clark promised to 'reflect' on whether to change it back.

Incidentally there are at least four proposals to introduce CIL being consulted upon - in London, Redbridge, Newark & Sherwood and Shropshire. It looks like CIL is finally taking off - and the draft charging schedules don't look too dissimilar to the dummy one I created back in September 2009.

Other amendments

There do not seem to have been promises to revisit the other measures in the Bill, such as the general power of competence, local referendums, the community right to challenge, the list of assets of community value, and the duty of pre-application consultation, although flesh has been put on the bones of some of them. This blog entry covers consultations on implementing two of these powers and this one sets out the expected take-up of various powers in the Bill.

THe Environmental Audit Committee of the House of Commons, among others, have called for a definition of 'sustainable development' to be included in the Bill (or at least a commitment to define it), but this has been resisted so far.

Previous entry 225: likely delay to nuclear, and other NPS - and MPS - news

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