With the publication of this week's Planning Bill, the government has ticked off a number of items from its "must do" list in last summer's White Paper and proposed a number of small scale but welcome changes to the existing system. This bulletin summarises the main provisions, including the provisions on the Community Infrastructure Levy, and suggests where the Bill may face problems in its passage through Parliament.

Development Control Changes

The Bill may be dominated by the new regime for major infrastructure projects, but these changes to the existing system are likely to have the most immediate impact:

  • Local Authorities will be able to approve non-material amendments to planning permissions, after the permissions are granted, including imposing new conditions and removing or altering existing ones;
  • The proposal to allow officers to determine some applications, and have those decisions reviewed by the local authority rather than the Secretary of State may create space within the system for dealing with the applications that remain;
  • Section 237 of the 1990 Act is amended so that it authorises the use of land acquired or appropriated for planning purposes, even where this interferes with existing interests, rights and restrictions;
  • The existing power to decline to determine an application is extended to apply to circumstances where an appeal has been made but has been either withdrawn or abandoned before being determined;
  • A power is introduced for regulations to be made enabling local authorities to charge for the performance of any of their functions including anything "conducive or incidental" to that function, and for fees to be charges for planning appeals.

Community Infrastructure Levy

This is the Government's latest attempt to find a simple, fair, process which secures necessary public infrastructure without removing all of the uplift value from a development. As with their predecessors in the 2004 Act, the relevant clauses rely heavily on yet-to-be-drafted regulations, but some details are clear:

  • CIL must be determined at the point planning permission is granted;
  • It must be paid whether or not the value of the land has increased;
  • It must be applied to funding infrastructure (not yet defined);
  • It may be applied outside the area of the charging authority;

Planning Policy Changes

As with development control, there are small-scale but welcome changes to the existing system proposed:

  • The formal requirements for producing and adopting supplementary planning documents are significantly reduced;
  • The High Court is given the power to direct that a strategy, plan or document can be returned to a local authority for amendment rather than quashing the whole or part of the document in question.
  • There is also a new duty on local planning authorities to include policies for mitigating and adapting to climate change in all of their development plan documents.

Major Infrastructure Projects…

The new regime for these projects is very much what was promised in the White Paper

  • A new set of "National Policy Statements" will be issued, which may prescribe the amount, type or size of development, and suitable and unsuitable locations for it;
  • A new system of "development consents" is being introduced for nationally significant infrastructure projects, including energy, transport, water and waste;
  • The duty to consult, publicise and take account of representations, is with the applicant, rather than the determining authority;
  • Applications for these projects will be decided by an independent Infrastructure Planning Commission unless there is no national policy statement in place, in which case they will make recommendations to the Secretary of State. There will be public "hearings" in some circumstances;
  • The existing range of consents will be replaced by a Development Consent Order authorising a wide range of operations and activities including compulsory purchase of land, stopping up of highways, cutting down trees, and road tolls;
  • Compensation will be available where land is blighted through an application or designation in a National Policy Statement.

What Next?

The Bill leaves some issues unresolved and ignores others – such as the Government's recent commitment to replace the current definition of commencement with a requirement for a "substantial start on site". We will provide further updates as it progresses through parliament.