The Localism Bill is currently making its way through Parliament and with 171 pages, it deals with a range of local governance issues, including a general power of competence, non domestic rates, Council Tax, local referendums, and housing and planning issues. Here, we highlight points of interest to those involved in town and country planning.

Community Planning

A key objective is to devolve power to local councils and neighbourhoods through community empowerment and neighbourhood planning. Some have suggested that it is a charter for NIMBYs. John Howell MP, the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the planning Minister, at a recent seminar, stated that if the Minister receives neighbourhood plans which have the flavour of a NIMBYs Charter he will not be approving those documents as sound plans.

However, the Localism Bill is only part of the story. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) (which is in the process of being composed and is intended to replace all current planning policy, circulars and guidance) will provide the general policy criteria which developers will have to comply with. It is intended that the Localism Bill and the NPPF will be adopted at the same time but in the absence of a draft NPPF it is difficult at this stage to understand the relationship between national and local planning policy.

What is clear is that the landscape of England will change dramatically because developments permitted are intended to reflect community interests, and (where they are adopted) community plans. Where there are no such plans there will be a general presumption in favour of development and, subject to compliance with the NPPF, developers will be able to obtain planning permission "wherever and for whatever" they want. The government is clear in its aspirations that there is nothing wrong with propagating different communities throughout the country. "Communities" could include not only residents but also businesses, retailers and developers.

Local authority empowerment

The pro-development changes mentioned above are tempered by restrictions, such as:

  • the ability to protect "Assets of community value" through a moratorium on sale preventing owners of such assets from selling them freely in the market.
  • local authorities being able to set their own tariffs for Community Infrastructure Levy (without Examination Inspector scrutiny);
  • local authorities being able to enforce "concealed" planning breaches outside the usual 4/10 year time limit. The current wording in the Bill could have the effect of doing away with the time limits entirely.

The devil will be in the detail but it will be interesting to see whether the prospect of facing unchecked development will drive community engagement. Much change is afoot which will need careful scrutiny as it unfolds.