The Localism Bill became the Localism Act on 15 November, passing into law after it was given royal assent by the Queen in the House of Lords.
The long awaited and ‘far-reaching’ changes to the planning system such as the abolition of the Regional Spatial Strategies, the New Homes Bonus, neighbourhood plans, the new National Planning Policy Framework (currently in draft form) and the obligation for developers to carry out pre-application consultation for major development schemes will gradually come forward although it will be some time before the new system is finally in place. The provisions will start to be introduced through secondary legislation during 2012 with the abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies likely to be one of the first actions to be carried out through the new Act.
There will however be a significant transition period between now and the full provisions of the Localism Bill coming into effect which is likely to extend the general uncertainty around planning for both developers and local authorities. The emphasis will be on the government to deliver its promises about empowering local communities whilst facilitating growth and will undoubtedly begin to focus on local authorities to react positively and proactively to the provisions of the Act.
A key element of the governments aims for the planning system is the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) that has been out for consultation in its draft form during 2011. The stated aim of the reforms is to simplify the planning system and to give communities greater control over planning and housing decisions although the draft has been subject to intense scrutiny and objection from bodies such as the National Trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) due to the fears that it will lead to a weakening of current policy protecting the countryside and sensitive areas.
There has been a prolonged period of uncertainty in the planning system since the then opposition announced their intention to reform the planning system in early 2010 and in particular to remove regional housing targets through the revocation of Regional Spatial Strategies. The challenge for the Government now is to ensure that the Act and NPPF together produce a comprehensible system which delivers quicker and more certain outcomes to stimulate development and economic growth, help ease the current housing shortage and empower local communities as promised.