As the Housing and Planning Bill completes its Committee Stage in the House of Commons, this second part of our Q&A considers how the amendments to the Mayor of London’s call-in powers (Clause 110) and the Secretary of State’s power to determine applications (Clause 114) will influence local decisions.

Call-in powers for the Mayor of London

What are the Mayor’s current powers?

The Mayor can call-in, or direct a local planning authority to refuse, applications of potential strategic importance for Greater London. “PSI applications” are restricted to large scale developments or major infrastructure projects, as defined in The Town and Country Planning (Mayor of London) Order 2008.

What would change?

The wider powers would require London boroughs to consult the Mayor before determining specific applications. Directions to consult would apply to applications for development on safeguarded wharfs or developments that would affect key London sightlines, embodying the promised devolution of control over these developments to the Mayor.

PSI applications would also be broadened, allowing developments to be called-in on the basis of the elements of the London Plan, or other development plan documents. This would allow different thresholds for PSI applications to be set for Growth Areas identified in the London Plan, giving the Mayor greater influence over development in those areas.

Applications direct to the Secretary of State

What would the Bill change?

Clause 114 would expand the Secretary of State’s existing powers to determine planning applications for poorly performing local planning authorities. These are currently limited to “major development”, but the changes would broaden this to any type of application that the Secretary of State may specify.

Why are the changes required?

Clause 114 is part of a range of measures illustrating the Government’s increasingly tough talk on authorities with a track record of slow or poor-quality decision-making. The changes are part of the effort to give teeth, on paper, to the 2017 deadline for Local Plan adoption, and other amendments proposed in the Bill enabling the Secretary of State to take a more active role in plan-making noted in the first part of our Q&A.

Whilst Clause 114 and other sections of the Bill are designed to provide a practical alternative to the local route, there are some missing links:

  • the possibility that some overstretched authorities may happily cede the administrative burden of, and responsibility for, applications to the Secretary of State;
  • the way that a process for obtaining an independent view on objectively assessed needs and housing land supply could do more to promote investor confidence.