Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Localism Bill – Committee stage concluded

Pressure of work has prevented my posting to this blog as frequently in the past couple of weeks as I had done in the past, and to be perfectly honest I have rather lost interest in the Localism Bill, for a number of reasons.

The committee stage of the Bill resumed on 1 March with the continuing debate on Schedule 9, centred around the mechanics of neighbourhood planning, specifically the means by which it can be ensured that any group of people seeking to be designated as a neighbourhood forum are genuinely representative of the neighbourhood, and not just a group of three or four people down at the bar of the ‘Dog & Duck’. The committee then progressed rapidly, but very superficially, through the remainder of Part 5, which they completed the same day. The committee stage finished as planned on 10 March and awaits the Report stage on the floor of the House.

As debate continued on Part 5, Ministers had signalled a number of concessions and amendments which they are likely to put forward at the Report stage, designed to meet the cogent criticisms which have been made in the course of the debates in committee. But whether these concessions will satisfy critics of the Bill will depend on what emerges in the tabled amendments.

One aspect of the debates in committee which I found particularly disappointing was MPs’ failure to get to grips with the various provisions on enforcement, on which I commented in detail in this blog in December and January. Stephen Gilbert (a Liberal Democrat) raised a point on Clause 103 to which the Minister’s reply was, I believe, entirely mistaken. I simply have not had the time to get my head round it properly since then, but I believe the drafting is such that this clause has precisely the opposite effect to that which the Minister assured the committee was intended. This would certainly bear more careful consideration.

As for Clause 104, the dangerously wide drafting of the provisions on ‘concealed development’ was not debated at all, while the committee gave only the briefest attention to the lengthy and complex provisions of Clause 105. Clearly one cannot expect these clauses to be discussed at the Report stage, and so it is to be hoped that the Lords will look more carefully at these three clauses and will ensure that the drafting is corrected to avoid the unintended consequences which may well arise if they are passed in their present form.


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