The Localism Bill has been making steady progress through the Parliamentary process. Now in the House of Lords, consideration at Committee Stage took place in June and July, during which there was a vast number of amendments tabled. We will report in detail on the Bill in due course, once this process of amendment has come to a close. At this stage, however, a number of points warrant mention.
First, the Government has at last, it appears, recognised the need to relax the proposed changes to the enforcement regime, introduced to prevent developers from acquiring immunity from enforcement by deliberately concealing unlawful development and relying on the 4- and 10- year rules. As originally drafted, the new rules would have applied to all breaches of planning control concealed either deliberately or "by inaction", thereby exposing many of "innocent" breaches to the perpetual risk of enforcement and introducing damaging uncertainty into the property market. Advisedly bowing to pressure from the Law Society and others, the Government has now introduced a further change. This will require evidence of deliberate concealment - in effect, fraud - before the new rules can apply. This is a welcome move that addresses concerns expressed in previous Hogan Lovells publications on this topic.
Second, in relation to neighbourhood planning, provisions have been included to allow LPAs to remove a Neighbourhood Forum designation where the Forum in question ceases to meet the requirements set out in the Bill (i.e. that it is established for certain purposes, that its membership meets the statutory criteria, and so on). This is another positive development addressing concerns set out in a former edition of this Bulletin.
Third, the concept of the "business neighbourhood" has been introduced to describe an area whose character is "wholly or predominantly" business in nature. Where such areas are designated by LPAs, businesses will have a more powerful role in neighbourhood planning. In particular, there is the prospect of LPAs allowing the aspirations of business groups to override the views of residents when it comes to neighbourhood planning.
Fourth, the Government promised to revisit the wording of current clause 124, which requires decision-makers to take into account financial considerations - in particular the New Homes Bonus - when determining applications, in order "to ensure that it does not inadvertently place local finance matters in any particular place in the pecking order of material considerations." The current wording has proved controversial, particularly amongst amenity groups, who foresee the buying and selling of otherwise unacceptable development.
Finally, there are changes to the procedure for applications for nationally significant infrastructure projects, proposals to the rules for calculating compensation in some CPO cases, and a host of other more technical amendments. The much-discussed proposal for a third party right of appeal did not find its way into the Bill. Surely we can assume that this is no longer an issue, at least as far as the foreseeable future is concerned.
Report Stage is now scheduled to commence on 5 September, meaning that Royal Assent before the end of the year remains a distinct possibility.