After months of speculation the Localism Bill returned to the House of Commons for its third reading this week with a fresh set of amendments. The wide ranging Bill which proposes to radically alter the planning system and give more power to local communities has been met with mixed reviews from the property industry. There are over 200 government amendments being put forward, so rather than give you each amendment in detail, below are the key ones to effect the property industry.
The criteria for setting up a neighbourhood forum have changed. Previously only three people were needed, but now after much pressure from various bodies this has been increased to 23. In addition the role of the Neighbourhood Plans has now been widened to include the promotion of doing business in the local area. Clearly this is a step in the right direction and has been welcomed by many, but in certain areas this will no doubt lead to some heated debates between the local civic society and chamber of commerce.
A further amendment is that local authorities will now require forums to demonstrate they have tried to recruit from a broad section of the local community. How this will work in practice is still open for discussion and will no doubt be debated further.
Finally, criteria will be put in place to deal with the potential concerns that a neighbourhood plan could override conservation area or listed building protection. This seems like a sensible and much needed addition to the Bill.
It would seem common sense has prevailed here and any consultation carried out before the Act comes into effect will be taken into account as part of the new requirement to consult.
Buying planning consent?
Probably the most controversial amendment of them all will be that financial contributions will become a material consideration when deciding a planning application (e.g. Community Infrastructure Levy). This is clearly an attempt to make the incentives such as the New Homes Bonus viable, however, this has already been met with concern and no doubt will be raised in the House.
On the face of it these amendments on the whole seem to improve the Bill and give it the much needed business focus it had been lacking. However, much more work is needed if the Bill is going to truly promote sustainable development as the government would like. For instance there is little to tell us how the government proposes members of the community other than local councillors and members of the civic society will be actively encouraged to join neighbourhood forums and ensure they are truly representative. Until then many within the property industry and on the opposition benches will see this as nothing other than a NIMBY charter.
What they say…
British Property Federation
“Businesses, including property owners, are as much a part of the community as residents and their involvement will be vital if government is to realise its aim of using the planning system to boost economic growth.”
“Further changes are needed it some of the key aims of the Bill are to be realised such as enabling communities to develop their vision for the future of their area through neighbourhood plans, to enable priorities for investment to be decided at both the local and national levels and to tackle the challenges of climate change, sustainable economic growth and social inequality.”
Campaign to Protect Rural England
“This amendment (regarding financial consideration) is a brazen attempt to legalise cash for sprawl. Many may have criticised the UK planning system in the past, but at least decisions were, on the whole, made on merit and not money.
“Councils are currently facing hard financial choices. In these circumstances it is very tempting to seek to fill shrinking coffers by permitting any development, regardless of its environmental impact or the views of local communities.”