The Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017 received royal assent on 27 April 2017 and will introduce a number of important changes to the planning system once brought into force. We consider some of the key provisions below.

Neighbourhood planning

The government remains committed to neighbourhood planning. New provisions, not yet in force, may increase the weight to be given to neighbourhood plans ahead of formal adoption and streamline the provisions for amendments.

  • The neighbourhood plan will become part of the formal development plan against which applications are considered following a positive referendum, ahead of formal adoption.
  • Where a neighbourhood plan has been examined and the examiner has recommended that the plan should be made (whether or not with modifications) or (following intervention after delay by the authority) the Secretary of State has required a referendum by direction, then the planning authority is required to have regard to the draft plan on determining a planning application. Draft plans can already be material considerations in any event.
  • Local planning authorities must notify the Parish Council of applications for planning permission, permission in principle and reserved matters that relate to land in the neighbourhood area if there is an adopted or advanced plan in place.
  • The Act streamlines the procedure to amend neighbourhood plans. Where the modifications are not so significant or substantial as to change the nature of the plan, a lighter touch process can be followed.

The government has also indicated that it will make further funding available to neighbourhood planning groups, and that groups will have access to technical consultancy support to “health check” draft plans prior to submission for examination.

Development plans

A number of changes are also to be introduced to the development plan system to increase the options for government intervention.

  • The Act arms the Secretary of State with the power to direct local planning authorities to prepare a joint development plan to facilitate more effective planning of the development and use of land.
  • The Secretary of State may ‘invite’ County Councils to intervene where a district planning authority is failing or omitting to do anything necessary in connection with the preparation, revision or adoption of a development plan document. The County Council may prepare or revise the document and must hold an independent examination, the cost of which could all potentially be charged back to the lower-tier authority.
  • The Secretary of State must issue guidance for authorities on how the development plan or supplementary guidance should address housing needs resulting from old age or disability.

Authorities will also be required to identify strategic priorities in theirdevelopment plan documents, unless such priorities are covered by the London Plan or a strategic plan produced by a combined authority.

Other changes

The Act includes numerous other changes to the planning system.

  • The Act strengthens the protection of drinking establishments by requiring the Secretary of State to remove permitted rights for demolition and for changes of use away from use class A4. Planning permission will be required to change the use of a pub to a restaurant or cafe, financial or professional services or shop.
  • A new permitted development right will also be brought into effect allowing A4 uses to increase their food offering so as to become a mixed A3 / A4 use, without needing planning permission.
  • Once in force, new provisions will require that pre-commencement conditions can only be imposed with the written agreement of the applicant. An application can be refused where an applicant does not agree to the condition, in which case an appeal may be pursued. Regulations will provide further details, but a government consultation paper proposes a default period of ten working days following which the applicant’s agreement would be deemed to be given if no response is received.
  • The legislation also empowers the Secretary of State to introduce regulations about the kind of conditions that may or may not be imposed on a permission.
  • The Act contains substantial changes to compulsory purchase legislation including a new power to take temporary possession of land.

Secondary legislation will be required to bring into effect many of the changes. The timescale for such legislation remains uncertain, particularly in light of the upcoming general election. A new government or even a shuffle of government roles and responsibilities could lead to a new direction of travel for planning policy and it remains to be seen whether the Act will be brought into force in its entirety.