Yesterday, 15 November, the Localism Bill received Royal Assent, paving the way for the third set of fundamental reforms to the planning system in a decade. Having begun its journey through Parliament nearly a year ago – First Reading in the Commons took place on 13 December 2010 – the Bill enjoyed a smoother passage than some had expected, and in the end the final stages were completed swiftly and with surprisingly little controversy.
The Localism Act 2011, as it now is, contains a set of fundamental planning reforms with wide-reaching implications. Designed to introduce into land use planning the concept of the Big Society, the reforms share a common theme – community involvement. But, whilst the Act is broadly consistent with the thrust of the Conservative Party's green paper published in February 2010, Open Source Planning, nevertheless it will be criticised both by those who argue it goes too far (there remains real doubt in some quarters, for example, that neighbourhood planning will ever amount to more than a mouthpiece for nimbyism) and at the same time by those who claim they were promised more (CPRE, for example, continues to clamour for the introduction of a third party right of appeal).
Here at Hogan Lovells we are preparing, for publication in due course, a handy guide to the Localism Act – setting out the new arrangements in a manner that invites quick reference and provides short answers. Below, in the meantime, is a brief summary of those parts relevant to the planning system.
- At the heart of the Act is the concept of neighbourhood planning – conferring plan-making powers at the community level for the first time, and inviting involvement by local people in the approval of certain types of development through neighbourhood development orders and community right to build orders.
- The regional tier of planning is to be abolished, with Local Enterprise Partnerships and a new duty to cooperate set to take its place.
- New pre-application consultation rules are to require greater contact with communities before the submission of applications for large schemes, whilst constraints on the conduct of councillors determining planning applications are to be relaxed by new laws on predetermination.
- Measures such as the right to buy assets of community value and the community right to challenge will allow local groups to delay the sale of some local land and buildings and to trigger and participate in tendering processes for valuable local services, respectively.
- Financial considerations such as the New Homes Bonus are to become statutorily-designated material considerations in decision-making for the first time.
- The existing arrangements for the Community Infrastructure Levy are to be the subject of minor amendments, including relaxation to the rules governing the purposes for which collected funds may be used.
- In a move to allow councils more power to combat unlawful development that has been deliberately concealed, new enforcement measures are to alter the 4 and 10 year rules on immunity.
- The Infrastructure Planning Commission, currently responsible for determining applications for nationally significant infrastructure projects, is to be incorporated within the Planning Inspectorate as the Major Infrastructure Planning Unit, with the Secretary of State being handed the final say on such proposals.
Not in the Act, because they were dropped from the Bill, and rightly so, are provisions to introduce a general community right to hold a referendum on local issues. Also not in the Act, because they never made the leap from Open Source Planning to the Bill, are a number of other provisions, including third party rights of appeal, limits to the existing applicants' right of appeal, measures to allow developers to compensate neighbours for their loss of amenity, and others.
As mentioned above, here at Hogan Lovells we intend to produce more detailed guidance on the Localism Act 2011 in due course. For more information on the new arrangements in the meantime, and to discuss how they could affect your operations, contact a member of the Planning Team using the details above.