UK: Further Changes To Localism Bill

Last Updated: 30 September 2011
Article by Angus Walker

This is entry number 279, published on 27 September 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 latest status of the Localism Bill.

The National Planning Policy Framework controversy has rather eclipsed the other instrument of significant change in the planning sphere - the Localism Bill.  This has continued its progress through Parliament with over 180 further amendments either already made to it or in the pipeline.

Seven days' debate have been allocated at report stage in the House of Lords.  Four of these have taken place and the remaining days are on 10, 12 and 17 October, after the 'conference adjournment'.

Here is a summary of what the government amendments do (i.e. the only ones that will be made to the Bill).  The amendments are listed in various documents on this page, but it is difficult to keep track of them as the Bill progresses.

Generally, a few powers to make delegated legislation are substituted with the specifics that would have been in the delegated legislation - the government may have been stung by criticisms that it was reserving over 100 powers to itself.

A suite of clauses allows the transfer of public functions to local authorities, economic prosperity boards and combined authorities.  Even government functions can be transferred, as long as they do not involve making legislation, so this could be used quite creatively and is intended to lead to more autonomous cities.  The transfers have to be made by the government, however, on the application of one or more local authorities, so we are not about to see Manchester declaring UDI.

The general power of competence is extended (in a constrained way) to Integrated Transport Authorities, Passenger Transport Executives, Economic Prosperity Boards and combined authorities.  Constrained, because these bodies have a specific remit - e.g. transport - and so the general power must be exercised within that overall purpose.

There are lots of minor amendments to schedule 2 (local authority governance arrangements).  The most controversial issue, the establishment of shadow mayors, was removed earlier, at committee stage.

Local authorities will be able to change between whole council elections to elections by thirds etc. (or vice versa) more flexibly but no more frequently than every five years.  I have heard that elections by thirds cause problems because it is the run up to an election a lot of the time, which makes decision-making difficult.

There are several changes to the requirement for a register of members' interests and the disclosure of pecuniary interests.

There is a major revamp of the EU fines provisions, where the government can pass fines down to local authorities and other public bodies.  These include the government having to publish policy on when it will pass on EU fines, and more on which non-local authorities can be subject to fines.

On the 'community right to challenge', local authorities rather than the government will be able to set out periods for inviting expressions of interest to take over council services.

On 'assets of community value' (wrongly called the 'community right to buy'), what is community value is spelt out more clearly.  A phrase I haven't seen in legislation before - 'it is realistic to think' - is used to test whether something not currently of community value but could be in the next five years.  The definition also refers to 'non-ancillary uses' - perhaps trying to scope out uses like private land that hosts the village cricket match, another complaint about the current draft. 

There is an extensive list of types of disposal of land that do not trigger the delay in sale.  The lengths of the delay periods are to be fixed rather than left to regulations: the period within which expressions of interest may be made is to be six weeks, a bid can be made within six months, and the sale must take place within 18 months to avoid triggering the delay again.

There are changes to 'planning assumptions' amendments.  These are to do with working out what planning permission land might have had that is subject to compulsory purchase, for the purpose of calculating compensation.

Finally, and unusually, there is an amendment to the 'long title' of the Bill (which summarises what it does).  This doesn't happen very often, and is only a minor correction - to change the 'Local Commission for Administration' to the 'Commission for Local Administration' - but is worth noting for its novelty.

After the remaining three days of report stage, a third reading debate will take place in the Lords (which could be more than one day, and further amendments may be made).  The Bill then returns to the Commons to approve the amendments made in the Lords and sometimes goes back to the Lords if any are not approved or more are made.  This is the Parliamentary equivalent of version control and is known as 'ping pong'.  Finally, the Bill will receive Royal Assent, probably in November or December, and we will have the Localism Act 2011.

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.

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