Background

Following the May 2015 General Election, the newly-elected Conservative Government announced several planning related proposals. These included commitments to letting local people “have more say on local planning and let them vote on local issues”; supporting locally-led garden cities and towns; encouraging delivery of much-needed housing; ensuring greater redevelopment of surplus brownfield land; and introducing changes to the compulsory purchase regime. Many of these changes have become a ‘reality’ via the new Housing and Planning Act, which received Royal Assent on 12 May 2016.

However, in the Queen’s Speech – delivered to both Houses of Parliament on 18 May 2016 – it has now been announced that the Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill (the Bill) will be considered as part of the parliamentary session ahead. It is one of 21 new bills that have been announced.

Walker Morris’ Planning & Environment team provide a brief overview of the Bill’s proposals.

Overview

The Government states that the purpose of the Bill is support its ambition to deliver one million new homes, while protecting valued areas (such as Green Belt); ensure the homes and infrastructure the country requires are forthcoming; and radically alter the way that major infrastructure projects are planned for and delivered. The Bill’s headline states: “To support the economic recover, and to create jobs and more apprenticeships, legislation will be introduced to ensure Britain has the infrastructure that businesses need to grow“.

In a briefing note issued to coincide with the Queen’s Speech, the Government explains the Bill’s main benefits will include:

  • providing greater power for local communities to plan for the homes and infrastructure they require;
  • steering more efficient and effective delivery of housing and infrastructure, with a clearer, faster and fairer process;
  • supporting long-term economic growth via a wide-ranging and independent assessment of the nation’s long-term infrastructure requirements; and
  • helping to delivery the Government’s previous manifesto pledges to deliver new homes and invest over £100 billion in the country’s infrastructure during this Parliament.

Main Provisions

Neighbourhood Planning

  • To further strengthen neighbourhood planning and give even more power to local people.
  • To give greater power to neighbourhood planning by making the local planning authority duty to support groups more transparent.
  • To improve the process for reviewing and updating neighbourhood plans.

Planning Conditions

  • To ensure that pre-commencement planning conditions are only imposed by local planning authorities where they are absolutely necessary.
  • To tackle the overuse, and in some cases, misuse of certain planning conditions – so as to ensure that development (including new housing) can get underway without unnecessary delay where developments have planning permission but are otherwise being slowed-down or stopped.

Compulsory Purchase

  • To make the compulsory purchase order process clearer, fairer and faster for all those involved.
  • This is to include reform of the context within which compensation is negotiated, which is often a very significant and complex part of finalising a compulsory purchase deal. This will follow on from proposals that the Government has already consulted upon, to consolidate and clarify over 100 years of conflicting statute and case law.
  • To 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.

National Infrastructure Commission

  • To establish the independent National Infrastructure Commission on a statutory basis. The Commission would provide the government with expert, independent advice on infrastructure issues by setting out a clear, strategic vision on the future infrastructure that is needed to ensure the UK economy is fit for 2050.
  • To unlock economic potential across the UK and ensure that growth and opportunities are distributed across the country, boosting productivity and competitiveness through high-quality infrastructure.

Land Registry

  • To bring about privatisation of Land Registry – thereby supporting the delivery of a modern, digitally-based land registration service benefitting customers, such as people buying or selling their home.
  • It is also intended that the Land Registry could return a capital receipt to the Exchequer to help reduce national debt.

Comment

Criticisms have already emerged that the proposals detailed throughout the Queen’s Speech are ‘watered down’, reflecting the close proximity of these announcements to the European referendum to be held in June. However, the Cabinet Office Minister (Matthew Hancock) has defended it as an “ambitious Queen’s Speech packed full” of new plans. The main planning announcements follow-on in a relatively logical way from previous announcements and changes. Little in the Queen’s Speech was completely unexpected, with many of the proposals having been in the pipeline for some time.