Thursday, 24 February 2011

Localism Bill – Commons committee debate (2)

Due to pressure of work, I am still playing ‘catch-up’ on the Localism Bill. The Committee resumed its debate a week ago, on Thursday 17 February, when it raced through Clauses 90 to 96 and began its discussion of Schedule 9 (Neighbourhood Planning).

Ministers showed a surprising willingness to take on board various criticisms of the Bill, with offers of possible amendments at the Report stage. Thus although Clauses 90 to 96 were all ordered to stand part of the Bill, we can expect to see some government amendments to these clauses introduced in due course.

Clause 90 will introduce a duty to co-operate in relation to the planning of sustainable development. This will take the form of a new Section 33A in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. Clause 91 deals with Local Development Schemes, and will introduce amendments to Section 15 of 2004 Act (dealing with the preparation, revision and promulgation of local development schemes). Clause 92 relates to the adoption and withdrawal of development plan documents and will make further amendments to the 2004 Act, while Clause 93 will change the requirements as to local development monitoring reports (by amending Section 35 of the 2004 Act, which requires a local planning to make an annual report to Secretary of State). Clauses 94 and 95 are concerned with the Community Infrastructure Levy; Clause 94 will amend Sections 211 to 212A of the 2008 Act dealing with the approval of charging schedules, while Clause 95 deals with the use of moneys raised by CIL (by further amendments to the 2008 Act). It was in relation to these provisions in particular that ministers indicated a willingness to allow greater flexibility in passing on CIL contributions.

In kicking off the debate on Schedule 9, Jack Dromey put forward an amendment which would require at least 20% of electors to vote in a referendum on a neighbourhood planning scheme in order for the result to be binding. He said: “The Government’s proposals are wholly inadequate and run the risk of being utterly undemocratic in how they work in practice. Under the proposals, bizarrely, it is possible for only three people from a community to be involved in the creation of a neighbourhood plan. As I have described, that could be three men or three women and a dog in the Dog and Duck. Only three people have to be members of a neighbourhood forum, and only one of those members would be required to vote through the plan in a referendum. As the legislation stands, it runs the risk of producing an outcome that is both undemocratic and farcical. The plans have the potential to affect the lives of thousands of people living in a community. We therefore believe that it is only right that such actions should be backed by at least a significant minority of that community.”

Further debate was then adjourned to the next session of the Committee. You might think that the Committee will be hard at it day after day until 10 April. Not a bit of it. After sessions on Part 5 of the Bill on 15 and 17 February, the committee has now adjourned until 1 March, while ‘School’ is out on its half-term hols.


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