The Neighbourhood Planning Bill ("the Bill") was introduced to the House of Commons on 7 September 2016. The second reading of the Bill took place in the House of Lords on 17 January 2017 and Members of the House of Lords expressed a mixture of support and concern for the proposals outlined in the Bill.

Below, we outline the possible implications that these proposals may have for developers.

Overview

The overall aim of the Bill is to initiate a more efficient planning system, which also helps communities plan for the homes that they require. Some of the key objectives include:

  • helping to identify and free up more land to build homes
  • giving communities increased certainty regarding when and where developments will take place
  • speeding up the delivery of new homes by reducing time between planning permission being granted and work commencing.

In November, Burges Salmon published a brief overview of the Bill, highlighting two main provisions which may implicate developers. However, we now focus on some of the broader implications arising out the revised proposals.

Engaging communities

The Bill intends to strengthen neighbourhood planning and make the planning process more accessible to everybody.

One proposal ensures that planning-decision makers must have regard to neighbourhood plan policies, where they are material to a development proposal. The Bill also encourages more communities to consider planning issues in their local area, by immediately including neighbourhood plans within the statutory development plan for the area (alongside any adopted local plans).

The Bill also ensures that all Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) in England identify priorities for an up-to-date local plan. Only 74% of LPAs currently have an adopted local plan and the Bill aims to increase this number. The second reading of the Bill emphasised that producing local plans should be a 'shared endeavour', meaning that developers, local communities and LPAs should be increasing their collaboration on this matter.

Clause 13 of the Bill makes small amendments relating to the monitoring of the use of permitted development rights. The proposal will provide the Secretary of State with powers to enable information relating to permitted development rights applications for prior approval, to be placed on the planning register. This will increase transparency within the planning process and allows the public access to information about prior approval applications.

The Bill ensures that communities and neighbourhood planning groups will become much more integral to the development process and developers must consider neighbourhood planning policies much more seriously.

Speeding up the planning process

Part 1 of the Bill aims to speed up the planning process, by helping to ensure that, once planning permission has been granted, development starts on site as soon as possible.

At the second reading, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth suggested that frequent causes of delay at the interim planning stages were a result of the 'misuse...of pre-commencement planning conditions', which prevent development starting until detailed aspects of the development have been approved and discharged. The Bill aims to ensure that pre-commencement conditions are only used by LPAs when this has been expressly agreed with the applicant.

Clause 12 of the Bill proposes a power which will allow the Secretary of State to prescribe the circumstances under which certain pre-commencement conditions may be imposed, to ensure consistency with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). At the second reading, Lord Bourne highlighted evidence from (among others) a Home Builders Federation report, which suggests that current pre-commencement condition practices often fail to meet the various policy tests within the NPPF, or are overly restrictive.

While these amendments to pre-commencement conditions may indeed speed up the period of time before developers are able to begin construction works, some Members of the House of Lords queried the proposals. Lord Kennedy of Southwark stated that he, as a member of a planning committee, had ‘never had a developer come and make a fuss…about pre-commencement planning conditions’ and that 'they actually speed things up by enabling planning permission to be secured without finalising the full details.' He concluded by stating that it is not ‘very sensible for the Government to seek to address issues which are generally accepted as not being a problem, while failing to address issues that are.’

The compulsory purchase system

Part 2 of the Bill proposes to reform the compulsory purchase system.

The reforms to the system are occurring in two separate stages:

  • Stage 1 is being delivered through the Housing and Planning Act 2016.
  • Stage 2 is being delivered through the Bill.

The Bill seeks to codify the current non-statutory compensation regime for compulsory purchase system, in an effort to achieve clarity over how to identify the true market value of land. Lord Bourne stated that these reforms are needed to make the compulsory purchase process ‘clearer, fairer and faster for all.’ The Bill also seeks to bring clarity to the area surrounding temporary possession in respect of when it can apply and for how long.

The proposals to the compulsory purchase system were generally welcomed by Members of the House of Lords at the second reading, with a number of Members agreeing that the proposals may genuinely help to speed up the compulsory purchase process.

Landowners and developers are likely to welcome these changes, which attempt to clarify what is currently a complicated regime.