Friday, 6 March 2015

Catching up

Continuing work on “The Book” (actually a writing project involving several different titles), combined with a recent holiday, has resulted in a more than usually lengthy delay since my last post here.

There is quite a backlog of topics on which I could write, but still being very short of time, I will just make a few passing comments on some topical issues.

The government, and their various opponents, are now in full election mode, with only three weeks left before parliament is dissolved, when the so-called ‘short’ campaign (a full five weeks of it) commences. There is clearly going to be quite a bit of unfinished business left over, the ultimate fate of which is going to depend on the outcome of the election.

Rather surprisingly, Eric Pickles’ current PPS threw doubt the other day on the government’s intention to go ahead with their previously enthusiastic proposal to make permanent those permitted development rights that are currently due to expire on 30 May 2016. These comprise the authorisation of larger domestic extensions and the residential conversion of offices that fall within Use Class B1(a). So even if we get a Conservative, or Conservative-led, government after 7 May, it seems there is now some doubt as to whether these temporary permitted development rights will be extended to 30 May 2019, as the government had proposed, and then perhaps be made permanent.

Despite ministerial harrumphing (and Uncle Eric is very good at doing that, if nothing else), relaxation of the restriction on short-term lets in Greater London still remains in doubt. The Bill on which this depends (which is expected to become the Deregulation Act 2015), having proceeded at a snail’s pace through the House of Lords, had its Third Reading there on 4 March and now awaits what our parliamentarians delight in calling “Ping-pong” (consideration of Lords’ amendments by the Commons, return of any rejected amendments to the Lords for further consideration, and so on – hence the name), which is due on 10 March.

Royal Assent should follow quite quickly after that, possibly even the very next day (11 March) but the new Act will not actually amend the 1973 Act, which prohibits short-term lets in Greater London; it will simply give the Secretary of State power to make a statutory instrument amending or modifying that prohibition. Up to yesterday, I had been under the impression that there is no longer enough time left in which to lay such subordinate legislation before parliament in this session, but I see that the Civil Enforcement of Parking Contraventions (England) General (Amendment) Regulations 2015 were made yesterday, laid before Parliament today (just 25 days before parliament is dissolved), and will come into force on 6 April, i.e. in one calendar month from now.

If the Deregulation Act receives Royal Assent next week, on the day after a very quick consideration of Lords amendments, we already know that the relevant section will come in to force immediately on the passing of the Act; so could Uncle Eric make the requisite Order on 12 March, lay it before parliament on 13 March and bring it into force on 13 April? That would allow no more than 18 days for theoretical consideration of this statutory instrument before the dissolution of parliament. I don’t have access to a copy of Erskine May, so I don’t know whether this is procedurally permissible or not. Perhaps the Opposition could put a spanner in the works by proposing a negative resolution in that event.

However, if I was right in my previous assumption that by the time the Deregulation Bill receives Royal Assent it will then be too late to lay fresh subordinate legislation before parliament, or if it can be de-railed by the tabling of a negative resolution, then it will be entirely dependent on the view on this issue that is adopted by the ministers who are in office after 7 May as to whether this ever comes forward. Ministers have not in any event said that they will wholly revoke the restriction on short-term lets in Greater London, and so any amending order that may be made could be quite limited in its effect, and be hedged around with various ifs and buts.


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