Neighbourhood Planning Bill introduced to Parliament

The Neighbourhood Planning Bill has received its first reading in the House of Commons.

The Bill was announced by DCLG in May and is intended to strengthen community participation in the planning process, and to help the Government deliver on its commitment to build 1 million new homes by 2020. The uneasy tension between the two aims has been evident from the start…

As it currently stands the Bill focuses on two areas – neighbourhood planning and pre-commencement conditions.

The community participation part of the Bill is somewhat scanty – it proposes that post-referendum plans become material planning considerations, and would require councils to set out in their Statement of Community Involvement how they will support neighbourhood plan making.

The major change proposed to neighbourhood planning has a somewhat different character. The Bill proposes that:

‘‘A local planning authority, with the agreement of the relevant qualifying body, would be able to make minor modifications to a neighbourhood plan or Order at any time without the need for public consultation, examination or referendum (in the same way that the authority can currently correct errors).

‘More significant modifications to a neighbourhood plan that are not so significant or substantial as to change the nature of the plan may be made through a streamlined procedure. There would be no referendum, with the examiner’s recommendations being binding in most cases. The local planning authority will decide if proposed modifications are appropriate for this process and the examiner will confirm this.’’

The Bill is similarly robust when it comes to pre-commencement conditions, suggesting that in future:

‘‘It would be the responsibility of the local planning authority to seek the written agreement of the applicant to any pre-commencement conditions. The authority would be able to choose the most appropriate time to seek agreement, but would not be able to grant planning permission subject to pre-commencement conditions unless agreement had been given.’’

Other smaller measures in the Bill include a requirement for local authorities to record the number of new homes delivered through office-to-residential schemes, and a number of technical changes to compulsory purchase regulations.

The published Bill is a little different from what was initially announced in May – the Bill was to have been called the ‘Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill’ and was to have included measures to strengthen the National Infrastructure Commission. These have been dropped – perhaps because, following Theresa May’s accession, responsibility for infrastructure has been moved from DCLG to the new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Proposals to privatise the Land Registry have also disappeared from the Bill after coming under some criticism when first announced.

Overall however the character of the Bill remains intact – with limited measures to increase community participation on planning mingling uneasily with more bullish policies to allow Councils to modify neighbourhood plans, and to allow applicants to contest pre-commencement conditions. Behind the neighbourhood planning title, the Bill’s focus on efforts to hasten housing delivery is clear.

The Bill will be read for a second time in the House of Commons on 10 October and can be read here.

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