The Queen's Speech contained a number of Bills which will affect planning. With the Housing Bill the Government will bring forward legislation to increase home ownership and housing supply. It was also confirmed that in this Parliament the schools reforms will be bolder still with the Education and Adoption Bill facilitating opening 500 more Free Schools.
The Energy Bill (and further measures to increase energy security) will implement planning changes for onshore wind and aimed to fulfil the manifesto pledge to give local communities the final say on all onshore wind applications. The changes will remove the Secretary of State’s power to determine onshore projects above 50MW in England and Wales so that in future the primary decision maker for onshore wind consents in England and Wales will be the local planning authority. The Conservative’s pledge to end new subsidies for onshore wind will be delivered separately. In a blog entry on DECC's priorities following the Queen's Speech, Secretary of State Amber Rudd stated: "DECC’s priorities are clear: keeping the lights on and powering the economy; keeping bills low for families and businesses and getting a climate deal in Paris this year."
The Government will introduce a Wales Bill. This will devolve powers to Welsh Ministers over consenting for energy developments in Wales up to 350 Megawatts for both onshore and offshore projects. The Wales Bill will also devolve the licensing for onshore oil and gas exploration to Wales, enabling the Welsh Government and the National Assembly to decide whether exploration for shale oil and gas takes place in Wales. The Bill is expected to be published in draft form in the Autumn.
The Government will introduce a Cities Devolution Bill which will allow certain cities to bid for an elected metro mayor, with additional powers over planning, transport, policing and health. Together with the HS2 Bill it will enable the Government to drive forward its plans for a Northern Powerhouse. The Cities Bill will provide new primary legislative powers to deliver the Greater Manchester deal and other future deals – both in large cities which choose to have elected mayors and in other places.
The Government will introduce legislation to increase home ownership and housing supply. The legislation will cover England and Wales, but will initially be applied only to England. Any application to Wales will be a decision for the Welsh Government. The provisions relating to planning will apply only to England.
The main elements of the Bill are:
- To enable the extension of Right to Buy levels of discount to housing association tenants.
- To require local authorities to dispose of high-value vacant council houses and put the money into building affordable homes. The intention is for this to help fund the Right to Buy extension discounts and the building of more affordable homes in the area.
- To provide the necessary statutory framework to support the delivery of Starter Homes. The document states that "we will build 200,000 discounted Starter Homes for young first-time buyers".
- To take forward the Right to Build, requiring local planning authorities to support custom and self-builders registered in their area in identifying suitable plots of land to build or commission their own home.
- To introduce a statutory register for brownfield land, to help achieve the target of getting Local Development Orders in place on 90% of suitable brownfield sites by 2020.
- To simplify and speed up the neighbourhood planning system, to support communities that seek to meet local housing and other development needs through neighbourhood planning.
- To give effect to other changes to housing and planning legislation that would support housing growth.
Energy Bill and measures to increase energy security
The Government will introduce an Energy Bill the main elements of which are twofold; to implement announced changes relating to onshore wind, and to establish the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA). It is stated that the Bill will give effect to planning changes for onshore wind and aimed to fulfil the manifesto pledge to give local communities the final say on all onshore wind applications.
- The changes will remove the Secretary of State’s power to determine onshore projects above 50MW in England and Wales. This will mean that in future the primary decision maker for onshore wind consents in England and Wales will be the local planning authority.
- These changes will be supported by changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).
- It is stated that the changes will not impact on the planning regime in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Government states that it is considering how the changes will apply to Wales in the context of the St David’s Day process. Changes proposed by the Silk Commission would mean that Wales will in future have the power to decide how they wish to manage planning applications for onshore wind up to 350MW
The briefing document confirms that the Conservative’s pledge to end new subsidies for onshore wind will be delivered separately. It is stated that DECC “will be announcing measures to deliver this soon.” Further the Government “will consult with the Devolved Administrations on changes to subsidy regimes for onshore wind farms.”
The briefing document states that the Government is working to introduce measures that will increase energy security. It states that it is working with National Grid to put in place an effective plan to secure electricity supplies and that it will continue to reform the electricity market to ensure the necessary investment is made to transition to a low carbon electricity system at the lowest cost to consumers, whilst maintaining security of supply.
The document confirms that, to ensure our energy security, the Government are also investing in new energy infrastructure such as new nuclear and new renewables, as well as exploring for gas.
The Energy Bill will also include measures to formally establish the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) as an independent regulator charged with the asset stewardship and regulation of domestic oil and gas recovery. The document confirms that the Bill would transfer the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change’s existing regulatory powers to the OGA, but not the regulatory functions in relation to the environment.
The Government will introduce a Wales Bill. This will devolve powers to Welsh Ministers over consenting for energy developments in Wales up to 350 Megawatts for both onshore and offshore projects.
The Wales Bill will also devolve the licensing for onshore oil and gas exploration to Wales, enabling the Welsh Government and the National Assembly to decide whether exploration for shale oil and gas takes place in Wales. The Bill is expected to be published in draft form in the Autumn.
The intention is that the licensing of onshore exploration and extraction of oil and gas will also be devolved in respect of Scotland. The Scotland Bill is expected to be published very shortly and is expected to follow the draft legislation laid out by David Cameron and Alistair Carmichael in Edinburgh at the beginning of the year. A new fiscal framework for Scotland will be negotiated alongside the Bill. The Bill would also devolve responsibility for Air Passenger Duty and the Aggregates Levy to the Scottish Parliament.
Cities and the Northern Powerhouse
The Government will introduce a Cities Devolution Bill which will allow certain cities to bid for an elected metro mayor, with additional powers over planning, transport, policing and health. The main elements of the Bill are:
- The Bill would provide new primary legislative powers to fulfil the Government’s manifesto commitments; to deliver the Greater Manchester deal and other future deals – both in large cities which choose to have elected mayors and in other places.
- Together with existing powers under the Localism Act 2011, the Bill would also enable the Government to empower towns and counties, building on the programme of Growth Deals which the Government implemented in the last Parliament.
- The provisions in the Bill would be generic to be applied by order to specified combined authorities and their areas. The provisions would enable:
- An elected mayor for the combined authority’s area who would exercise specified functions and chair the authority.
- The mayor to undertake the functions of Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for the area.
- The remove the current statutory limitation on its functions (currently these are limited to those on economic development, regeneration, and transport).
The High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill will provide the Government with the legal powers to construct and operate phase 1 of the High Speed 2 (HS2) railway. The Bill will give the Government powers to compulsorily acquire or temporarily take possession of land required for the scheme, and construct and operate the railway. On becoming an Act, it would give the Government deemed planning permission for the railway between London and the West Midlands.
The Queen's Speech reads like a list of the Conservative's manifesto pledges with which we are all familiar, but also provides a little more detail on how some of those pledges will be implemented in practice.
Both the Cities Devolution Bill and the HS2 Bill will assist in bringing forward the Government's plan to build a Northern Powerhouse. Also the devolved powers for cities offers the opportunity for local growth, but it is not yet clear how it is intended that LEPs and metro mayors will work together.
If it was not clear before, it is now, that onshore wind will be taken out of the NSIP process. The timing for the changes and any transitional arrangements to be put in place are unclear. However, we know that Amber Rudd sees the changes to onshore wind as a priority and has indicated changes will be in place as soon as May 2016. Therefore onshore wind schemes looking to benefit from the NSIP process might speculate that, at the very least, an NSIP application would need to have been accepted before this date.
Changes are also proposed to the NPPF, specifically in the context of onshore wind. Since the Framework was first published on 27 March 2012 the Government has not made any changes to it. It was published after extensive consultation which included Parliamentary Select Committee inquiry on the Framework during the consultation period, to provide additional democratic scrutiny. Subsequently, the Communities and Local Government Select Committee carried out an inquiry into the operation of the Framework publishing its report at the end of 2014. The Government rejected most of the recommendations for changes in February 2015. However, it remains to be seen, perhaps with the original architect of the NPPF back in post at CLG, if any changes will now be brought forward, or if the Government will continue to make any changes only to the accompanying Planning Practice Guidance (PPG). The renewable energy element of the PPG had been published separately in July 2013, but was incorporated in the online PPG in March 2014. This already provides that "as part of a neighbourhood plan, communities can also look at developing a community energy plan to underpin the neighbourhood plan".
The proposals to extend the Right to Buy have been controversial and might be delayed in favour of some of the 'easy wins' of supporting starter homes and custom-build homes, and bringing forward the brownfield register. There's also little detail on the other changes to housing and planning legislation proposed to support housing growth. However, we would speculate that changes to the CIL regime will be amongst them.