This is entry number 211, published on 2 February 2011, of a blog on the Planning Act 2008 infrastructure planning and authorisation regime. Click here for a link to the whole blog.

Today's entry analyses a suite of impact assessments published on the Localism Bill.

The government published no fewer than 33 assessments of the impact of the Localism Bill on Monday, which can be found here. The assumptions made in costing the impacts of the Bill give a useful indication of the take-up of the Bill powers that the government expects, as well as other information about how the Act will operate.

Pre-application consultation

The Bill extends the requirement for pre-application consultation that applies to nationally significant infrastructure projects to other applications, albeit to a lesser degree. For the first time, the impact assessment provides an indication of which developments will be caught by this requirement.

The requirement is proposed to apply to all residential developments of at least 200 units (or 4 hectares) and all other developments taking up at least 10,000 square metres (or 2 hectares). This is expected to apply to 3000 planning applications a year. Thus the scope of types of planning application is all types, and the threshold will apply to only the top 0.6% of applications.

General power of competence

The impact assessment drily notes that despite being given a general power of competence, local authorities will still not be able to 'wage thermonuclear war' (apparently an Eric Pickles joke).

Community right to buy

The impact assessment calls it this, even though it is nowhere near a 'right to buy' - it is a right to say you would like to be allowed to make an offer (and even falls short of actually being invited to make an offer).

The government considered giving community groups a right of first refusal, but decided against it given the complexity of doing so, and the impact it would have on owners of the affected property.

Community right to challenge

Not much on this, save to say that the government estimates that 500 challenges will be launched per year. The government did consider giving the challenger the right to take over the service without a procurement exercise, but decided not to pursue such an option for several reasons, not least that there would be no guarantee that the challenger would be any better than the previous provider.

Local referendums

The average cost of a local referendum is estimated to be £70k each if the referendum is held on the same day as another election, or £250k if not, based on data compiled by Tower Hamlets. This contrasts with the figure of £11m given by Sir Simon Milton last week of an off-election referendum being held across the whole of London (£250k x 33 authorities being about £8m).

The government estimates that 10% of local authorities will have a referendum each year, on average.

The government has decided that referendums should not be binding, arguing that this would undermine the principle of representative democracy (vs participative democracy, see previous blog entry), the objective being to influence rather than control local authorities.

Regional planning

The Localism Bill substitutes regional planning with a duty on local authorities to co-operate on planning, which mainly affects housing, since regaional strategies contained housing targets. The impact assessment argues that the link between targets and delivery was weak anyway, and that the negative and positive results of abolishing them (e.g. some lower housing targets, but greater acceptance of schemes) won't make much difference. This is somewhat at variance with the housebuilders' evidence to the Bill Committee last week (see previous blog entry).

Neighbourhood plans

The Bill is not clear on whether neighbourhood development plans can conflict with the local authority's planning policies in its local development framework, and if so, which takes precedence. The impact assessment sheds some light on this.

Neighbourhood development plans (NDPs) are to be in general conformity with just the 'strategic elements' of the development plan, and this phrase will be defined in national planning policy framework. An NDP can be thrown out by the local authority if it conflicts with these strategic elements, or national policy, or legal requirements. No news on how conflicts between a neighbourhood plan and the 'non-strategic' elements of the development plan are resolved, though.

The assessment also says that if a local planning authority adopts a neighbourhood plan that proposes less development than identified within the development plan, it may be revoked by the government.

The assessment estimates that the average neighbourhood development plan will cost £63,000 to set up, and that there will be nearly 2000 of them in five years. The total of £126m is a bit more than the £3m it has set aside for them so far.

There are expected to be as many neighbourhood areas as there currently are local government wards, i.e. 7613, assuming that the average area will be the same size as a ward. That may be a good estimate but for the wrong reasons - I would guess that less than the whole country will be covered by neighbourhood areas, but that neighbourhoods will be on the whole smaller than wards.

Infrastructure planning

Not much to report here, all well known and well reported in this blog. Apparently the estimated cost saving of not having to publish Statements of Community Consultation in full is £2.7m over 10 years.

Community Infrastructure Levy

65% of local authorities are expected to introduce a CIL by 2016.