This is entry number 216, published on 16 February 2011, of a blog on the Planning Act 2008 infrastructure planning and authorisation regime. Click here for a link to the whole blog.

Today's entry reports on Parliamentary progress on the Localism Bill.

The Localism Bill

The Localism Bill is one of the main vehicles that is to deliver the 'Big Society', defended by David Cameron at the weekend. It is of interest to this blog mainly because it makes changes to the regime introduced by the Planning Act 2008, but also introduces 'localism' measures that will have an impact on major infrastructure projects:

  • allowing sub-local authority planning policies to be developed ('neighbourhood planning');
  • allowing land to be declared as an asset of community value, which delays its sale;  
  • giving councils more freedom to deal with developers and others;  
  • extending pre-application consultation duties to 3000 planning applications or so each year; and  
  • retaining but tweaking the Community Infrastructure Levy.  

Progress on the Bill

The Localism Bill is being considered by a committee of 28 MPs, where they go through each of the 207 clauses and 24 schedules in turn. They have given themselves until 10 March to complete this consideration. After four (morning and afternoon) sessions interviewing witnesses, they have had ten sessions examining the Bill, with ten to go. At this half way stage they have considered 89 clauses and seven schedules. They are therefore a bit behind schedule, but will probably speed up in any case, as the more significant provisions of the Bill are earlier on.

Clause 89 is the first of the clauses on planning - in fact the infamous clause abolishing regional strategies (more on which later), so they have just started to deal with the pure planning measures in the Bill. During the debate on clause 89, the Minister (Greg Clark) signalled that he would be willing to consider amendments to clause 90 (the duty on local authorities and others to co-operate on sustainable development), which is the government's subsitute for the removal of the regional planning tier. He also commented on the amendments to the duty proposed by the RTIP and the TCPA, preferring a 'lighter touch' rather than prescriptive approach. Links to the transcript of this and every other session of the committee can be found on my links page.

Amendments made

This will be a short section - after just less than 24 hours of debate on the Bill, the committee has yet to make a single amendment. The Bill has thus survived entirely unscathed so far.

Having said that, the government has now tabled 30 of its own amendments, which will almost certainly be made. Here is a summary of what they do.

The first eight are drafting amendments, making it clear that local authorities can only deal with their own neigbbourhood development orders, not other authorities'.

The ninth corrects a reference to a neighbourhood development order that should be to a community right to build order.

The tenth corrects an error that a blog reader spotted and I passed on to the government - the blog changes the law! Actually it is a defined term that was no longer used that is now repealed, so it doesn't have any legal effect, but makes the Bill slightly shorter.

The next five deal with housing provisions, which are outside the scope of this blog.

The next two are material changes - they allow the Mayor of London to consult on creating a 'mayoral development corporation' and on giving it rate relief powers before the Localism Bill becomes an Act (or so that it is not retrospective, it allows consultation carried out before the passing of the Act to count). The Mayor is planning on creating a mayoral development corporation to deal with the Olympic park after the Olympics - covering parts of the London Boroughs of Newham, Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Waltham Forest.

After another very minor drafting amendment, the next three tidy up order-making procedures in relation to Scotland and the following one extends order-making procedures to Northern Ireland. The final six amendments make changes to the dates that parts of the Act come into force. Some provisions come into force immediately the Act is passed, some two months later, and the rest are left up to the government to decide when to bring into force.

Other developments

CALA Homes again  

Last week the High Court finally issued its judgment on the latest twist of the long-running litigation on the abolition of regional strategies - the CALA Homes series of cases. The latest judgment by Mr Justice Lindblom can be found here. This time round the government won. The November statement by Eric Pickles that the Localism Bill will abolish regional strategies (which it does in fact currently provide and this survived the committee stage yesterday) can indeed count as a material consideration when local authorities decide planning applications.

In plain terms, that means that councils have slightly more justification for turning down applications for new houses, so not a total CALAmity for the housebuilders. CALA Homes has said it will seek permission to appeal the decision, but losing litigants always say that - we shall see if they actually do, and are allowed to.

Appealing planning permissions

Two of the Lib Dem MPs on the Localism Bill committee have tabled an amendment to include a limited 'third party right of appeal' (in other words the ability to appeal against the grant of planning permission rather than just its refusal, as at present). The right would be limited to local councillors, parish councils and neighbourhood forums and would only be when the application went against the council's planning policies. As it is a new clause, it will be debated and voted upon after nearly all the existing clauses have been considered, i.e. on or just before the last day of committee sittings on 10 March. Given that there are three Lib Dem MPs on the committee, it depends how the third Lib Dem, minister Andrew Stunell, votes, and whether the often but not always absent Ulster Unionist does not turn up. He would need to vote with his colleagues and be supported by Labour, plus a DUP vote or absention, for the government to be defeated.

Officers' pay

Eric Pickles has suggested today that the provisions in the Bill about councils voting on senior executives' pay should start at a threshold of £100,000.