The Government announced a new Planning Bill on Wednesday, focused on tackling obstructive pre-commencement planning conditions.
The Bill was announced in the Queen’s Speech, which set out the Government’s legislative priorities over the coming year. The briefing note accompanying the Speech set out the three main parts of the Bill as follows:
To further strengthen neighbourhood planning and give even more power to local people. The new legislation would also strengthen neighbourhood planning by making the local government duty to support groups more transparent and by improving the process for reviewing and updating plans.
To ensure that pre-commencement planning conditions are only imposed by local planning authorities where they are absolutely necessary. The new legislation would tackle the overuse, and in some cases, misuse of certain planning conditions, and thereby ensure that development, including new housing, can get underway without unnecessary delay.
To make the compulsory purchase order process clearer, fairer and faster for all those involved. We would establish a clear, new statutory framework for agreeing compensation, based on the fundamental principle that compensation should be based on the market value of the land in the absence of the scheme underlying the compulsory purchase.
The Compulsory Purchase shake-up seems to be the source for the Financial Times’ suggestion two weeks ago that ‘‘Councils are set to receive greater powers to seize land and approve large-scale housebuilding.’’ The Bill would also make the National Infrastructure Commission a statutory body and would privatise the Land Registry.
Remarks made by Housing and Planning Minister Brandon Lewis MP following the announcement suggest that the Bill’s community-focused title may not be the best reflection of its content. In a House of Commons speech welcoming the Bill Mr Lewis swiftly passed over its neighbourhood planning component, saying:
”It will simplify and streamline the neighbourhood planning process and give communities confidence and certainty that their voices will be heard as soon as possible.”
It’s worth remembering that the Campaign to Protect Rural England and some Conservative backbenchers have been calling for emerging neighbourhood plans to have more weight. Streamlining the neighbourhood planning process is not quite the same thing.
In contrast to his brief description of the neighbourhood planning component of the Bill, Mr Lewis went to some length to set out the need for, and potential scope of, the pre-commencement condition changes:
”When sites that have gained permission are drowned with pre-commencement conditions, disillusion with the entire planning system sets in. Frankly, it is toxic… Our intention is that many issues will be resolvable at the same time that the building is under way, making sure that any legitimate concerns are addressed without holding up production of the houses that we need.”
”If we want a much wider range of developers to play their part in building the homes and infrastructure we need, we must remove risk from the process of planning and land acquisition. Needless uncertainty does nothing to protect the countryside or to guarantee good design. What it does is restrict home building to the biggest players.”
We will have to wait for more details on the Bill to emerge over the coming months, but at first viewing the neighbourhood planning title may mask legislation that is all about reducing developer risk in order to hasten housing delivery. The Government has a target of 1 million new homes by 2020 to meet….