This is entry number 290, published on 31 October 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 reports on the final steps towards the enactment of the Localism Bill.

Today is the Third Reading of the Localism Bill in the House of Lords.  Unlike the Commons, amendments can be made at this late stage in the Lords, and the government has used this opportunity to lay a further 80 amendments to the Bill.

The full list of amendments is here; the government amendments (which will be made) are in the name of Baroness Hanham.  Having said before that the government amendments would be the only ones to be made, I was then tripped up when the government allowed backbench amendments through that abolished general referendum-holding powers, so I will not be so categorical about the other amendments this time.  They are still unlikely to be made, though.

There are several amendments on councillors' interests and EU fines, and a few on housing and Mayoral Development Corporations, but amendment 53 is worth particular comment as it affects infrastructure planning.  It amends the recently notorious section in the Planning Act 2008 that introduces a Parliamentary stage to applications that affect undertakers' and local authorities' land.  Although a step in the right direction, the amendment does not go far enough, in my view.

Amendment 53

The first application to get a green light from the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC), for an energy from waste plant at Rookery South in Bedfordshire, must now go through a Parliamentary stage where further objections can be made to the application that must be considered by a committee of MPs and peers, known as Special Parliamentary Procedure (SPP).  This is likely to happen to all applications where the project promoter is not itself a local authority or statutory undertaker, where land owned by such bodies is to be acquired compulsorily.

At the moment, SPP kicks in if a statutory undertaker or local authority is having land acquired and has made any sort of representation about the application (even one of support), by the end of the examination of the application.  This late government amendment to the Localism Bill will mean that SPP will only kick in if the statutory undertaker's representation contains an objection to the compulsory acquisition of the land in question.  It makes the same amendment to the taking of National Trust land.

This is helpful in that it removes irrelevant circumstances from those that cause SPP to be invoked. However, in my view there is no need for SPP at all, particularly given that the Planning Inspectorate on behalf of the government, rather than the independent IPC, will be examining applications.  Lord Berkeley is having another go at removing it altogether (amendment 87).

My reasoning is this: objections to the compulsory acquisition of statutory utility and local authority land will already have been considered during the examination of the application.  In the case of statutory undertakers' land there is yet another process where the project promoter must get the government to certify that the land can be taken. Why, then, have a third opportunity for a different body to examine objections on the same issue, with the attendant delay to a project that the government will have already approved?

Even if the procedure was to be retained, why do the objections only need to be made 'before the completion of the examination of the application'?  There is a procedure laid down for making representations before the start of the examination that everyone else must adhere to - it is unfair and uncertain to allow late objections to be made in particular cases.

Final steps

Next Monday, the House of Commons will consider the multitude of amendments made to the Bill in the Lords - getting on for 500, by my reckoning.  If it accepts all of them, then the Bill will go on to enactment - the Queen has a bill-signing session booked for 15 November.  If it rejects any, these will have to go back to the Lords for them to agree not to insist on the amendments being made.  It is not possible to introduce new amendments at this stage, although if the two Houses disagree, amendments that represent a compromise between the two positions could be introduced.

It is unlikely that there will be any great disagreement between the two Houses, and so we are likely to see the Localism Act 2011 emerge in two weeks' time.