The Localism Act 2011 contains a range of measures that may have an effect on the planning, authorisation and implementation of infrastructure projects. Apart from the changes to the Planning Act 2008 itself, which are all beneficial, the provisions in the Act often have the potential to cause projects difficulties. Almost all of the Act will be in force by 1 July thanks to a further 'commencement order' published earlier this month.
What has already come into force
Most of it, including the infrastructure planning changes, which as we all know, came into force on 1 April this year. Neighbourhood planning is in force, but as far as I know only one neighbourhood plan has reached the stage of being examined by an inspector - for Dawlish in Devon. The inspector recommended that it did not proceed to a referendum. mainly because the local authority's local plan had not been settled yet, which was a bit of a downer.
What is coming into force around now
The latest commencement order brings two main areas into force: the revised local authority standards regime and the 'community right to challenge'.
The first of these gives local authorities more scope to develop their own standards of conduct for councillors, while beefing up the offences if pecuniary interests are not declared.
The second of these allows voluntary organisations to challenge the provision of local authority services with a view to taking them over themselves. However this has an Achilles heel that if challenged, a service will have to undergo a general procurement exercise open to anyone, and so the voluntary organisation may not end up running it after all - the challenge process could be a Trojan horse for large service companies (which nearly isn't a mixed metaphor).
What is left to come into force
The following major provisions have yet to come into force (there are also some more minor ones):
- the standards regime changes applying to police authorities;
- the offloading of EU sanctions from the government to local authorities and other bodies applying in Wales;
- the 'assets of community value' regime intended to protect village pubs, post offices etc.;
- the duty of pre-application consultation applying to larger planning applications generally (familiar to Planning Act aficionados, but not as onerous); and
- some of the housing provisions such as homelessness duties and the housing ombudsman.
The power to abolish regional strategies (planning documents at a regional level, setting things like housing and renewable energy targets) came into force the day the Act was passed last November. Given the election commitment to abolish them 'rapidly' and the first attempt to do so nearly two years ago on 6 July, you might have thought they were long gone. But no, they are still in force. Indeed this decision letter from Mr Pickles a mere two days ago still feels that only limited weight should be placed on their impending revocation - see paragraph 11.
It is not just with the Planning Act regime that things take longer than you might think, it seems.