Summary: This blog considers a new wave of planning reforms in the Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech on 18 May 2016.

Hot off the heels of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 which received royal assent last week, comes a new wave of planning reforms announced in the Queen’s Speech on 18 May 2016 to be introduced by the Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill (“the Bill”). The measures in this new Bill build on existing themes to support and promote the Government’s housing and infrastructure ambitions.

Measures included in the Bill relate to:

Neighbourhood Planning

Neighbourhood planning is seen by the Government as an effective tool for increasing housebuilding activity in a way which is supported by communities. Provisions in the Bill will aim to strengthen the neighbourhood planning process and give more powers to local people, increase the transparency of the local government duty to support neighbourhood groups and improve the process for reviewing and updating plans. The details of these new processes will be set out when the Bill is introduced in Parliament.

Planning Conditions

The March 2016 Budget indicated the Government’s intention to tackle the overuse and misuse of planning conditions through legislation to ensure pre-commencement conditions can only be used with the agreement of developers or in exceptional cases. The excessive use of pre-commencement planning conditions is considered to slow down and delay development after the grant of planning permission. The Bill will limit local authorities’ use of these conditions and it is expected that agreement on pre-conditions will become part of the application process. Whilst this could slow down the front end of the planning process, the details contained in the Bill will indicate how successful these measures are likely to be. It is not clear at this stage whether this restriction will apply to consents for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects.

Compulsory purchase

A second wave of reform to the CPO procedure to follow those in the Housing and Planning Act 2016 was originally announced in the March 2016 budget. The Housing and Planning Act 2016 focussed on the right to survey land, clarification of time limits for notices to treat, general vesting declarations and the possession of land, advance payments of compensation and disputes where there is a ‘material detriment’ suffered by claimants. The measures in the Bill will set out a new framework for agreeing compensation to consolidate and clarify the existing compensation code which is based on over 100 years of conflicting statute and case law. The new statutory framework is intended to provide a clearer way to identify market value when agreeing levels of compensation and will be based on the principle that compensation should be based on market value in the absence of the scheme underlying the CPO.

National Infrastructure Commission

The existing National Infrastructure Commission (‘NIC’) was set up by the Government as an independent body in October 2015 to look at the UK’s future needs for National Infrastructure Projects over the next 10-30 years. The measures in the Bill will maintain the independence of the NIC but will establish it as a statutory body. Its remit will be to provide the Government with expert independent advice on infrastructure issues to ‘unlock the economic potential of the UK and ensure growth opportunities are distributed across the country, boosting productivity and competitiveness through high quality infrastructure’.

Whilst most of the planning reforms announced in the Queen’s Speech did not come as a surprise, as with all new legislation the devil will almost certainly be in the detail of the Bill and any secondary legislation introduced under it. The measures relating to compulsory purchase reform are particularly welcomed and if the drafting of the legislation can deliver its objective, then this is likely to be seen as a major achievement in this area of law.