On 18 October 2012, the Government published the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, which gives legal effect to a number of the proposals announced in September's written Ministerial Statement on housing and growth.

The Bill introduces new measures to:

  • allow applicants to put applications immediately before the Planning Inspectorate in instances where local planning authorities (LPAs) are in 'special measures' due to poor performance in speed or quality of decisions
  • enable applications to modify or discharge planning obligations for affordable housing in section 106 Agreements to make development viable
  • enable applications for stopping up/diversion of highways and public paths to be made before planning permission is granted (rather than downstream after planning permission is received)
  • make substantive changes to the Commons Act 2006 to qualify the right to apply for proposed development sites to be registered as a town or village green
  • limit local planning authority powers to require information with planning applications
  • make changes to the award of costs (PINS will have further powers to award costs
  • between parties and to recover its own costs to discourage unreasonable conduct)
  • amend the scope of the nationally significant infrastructure projects regime to include significant commercial and business development
  • postpone the next business rate revaluation in England from 1 April 2015 to 1 April 2017

Second Reading of the Bill took place on 5 November 2012. During the debate, Labour opponents of it quoted David Cameron, who previously said: "If you could legislate your way to growth, obviously we would. The truth is you can't."

Shortly after the Bill was published, Lord Heseltine's report No Stone Unturned: Growth was also published.

It says that although the Government is moving in the right direction in its reforms of the planning system, 'more can be done'.

In particular, Lord Heseltine recommends the following measures:

  • PINS should be given more powers to call in any application after six months where it considers it is being dealt with inefficiently
  • for any application still undecided after three months, the LPA should publish a clear and unbiased statement of what the issues are in order to help all parties to understand what is standing in the way of a decision

The Government has confirmed that they are looking in detail at these recommendations and how they can further devolve power and funding

What is clear is that the Government will need to act swiftly to ensure that the uncertainty caused by the proposed changes (and any further changes to be rolled out following Lord Heseltine's recommendations) does not drive a freight train through the Government's overarching aim, which is to streamline and simplify the planning process.

The Government will also need to ensure that LPAs and PINS are adequately resourced to cope with the proposed changes.