Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Queen's Speech

As expected, the 22 Bills listed in the government’s legislative programme, as set out in the Queen’s Speech today, will include a Bill to devolve greater powers to Councils “and neighbourhoods” [?] and give "local communities" [sic] control over housing and planning decisions.

This Bill will take the form of a “Decentralisation and Localism Bill”. It will not be among the first measures to be introduced in this new parliament, but will start its passage through the legislative process after the summer recess. This does not necessarily imply that we can expect to see the draft Bill in October or November; previous planning bills have often been delayed.

The new Bill (the third planning bill within a six or seven-year period) will be piloted through the Commons by the DCLG’s ministerial team, headed by Eric Pickles, and the new Bill will be the vehicle for the necessary legislative changes to give effect to those policy priorities which have already been announced. But in the way these things have of growing like Topsy, we could possibly see quite a rag-bag of legislative proposals thrown into the Bill, including second and third thoughts as it wends its way slowly through the parliamentary procedures of the Commons and the Lords. Expected contents currently include scrapping Regional Spatial Strategies, the Infrastructure Planning Commission and the Standards Board. Regional Development Agencies will also go, to be replaced with “local enterprise partnerships”.

It remains to be seen exactly what is meant by the stated intention of “handing back decision-making powers on housing and planning to local councils”, beyond the scrapping of RSS [but see my afterthought below], although (again as previously announced) Councils are also to be given a general power of competence, and this too will be included in the proposed Bill. One area of remaining uncertainty is exactly how powers are to be further devolved to “neighbourhoods” (or “communities”). No doubt all will be revealed when the draft Bill emerges.

One afterthought is causing me some disquiet. I was puzzled by the reference to "the return of decision-making powers on housing and planning to local councils", bearing in mind that these powers have not in fact been removed from them. Is this a coded way of referring to an intention to do away with the current appeals system, I wonder? Threatened abolition of PINS has certainly been mentioned by the Tories. But why not spell it out, when other proposed changes have been openly announced? Do they fear the reaction if they come out with it openly at this stage?


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