The Localism Bill became the Localism Act on 15 November 2011. Redwood has been following the progress of the Localism Bill through to its enactment and has summarised what the new Act means for developers and provided regular commentary on how it affects the property sector.
The Localism Act introduces a number of measures which seek to increase local powers to influence development. This includes, amongst others, changes to pre-determination rules, Neighbourhood Plans and mandatory public consultation.
One crucial aspect of ensuring success with responsible developments is to secure the support of elected members. Councillors are critical to the successes of any application and Redwood Consulting has a reputation for effectively managing these relationships on behalf of our clients. The Localism Act effectively reverses the counterproductive rules governing predetermination and provides opportunities to effectively engage with councillors. This really can lead to tangible improvements in development plans, as developers are able to really get to the bottom of what motivates those members and communities that will be living with these schemes. Developers will be able to use this information to decide whether to withdraw or amend an application before determination which can maximise the chances for success, avoiding costly appeals.
Neighbourhood Plans are created by residents and will have statutory planning powers to circumvent the need for a planning committee determination. Proposed Neighbourhood Plans will only be adopted if they are approved by both the council and local people through a referendum and must be in conformity with the district-wide Local Plan. Neighbourhood Forums, which can be anything from a local Town or Parish Council to a local community group or association, will therefore have far greater powers and responsibilities for their local area. How will they respond to these new competencies? Will they embrace a responsible approach to development, or will they sink into entrenched opposition?
Clearly, any new Act focusing on grass-roots decision making will require enhanced engagement between developers and local people. The Act makes it mandatory for developers to consult local communities before submitting applications for larger residential or commercial schemes. It will no longer be sufficient to hold closed discussions with local authorities and developers will be expected to engage with local residents almost to the point of exhaustion. Failure to do this could leave a developer open to a Judicial Review by a Neighbourhood Forum.