Thursday, 19 May 2016
Yet another Planning Bill in the Queen’s Speech
It seems that a Bill that makes further changes to planning legislation is now an annual event. This year it is to be a “Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill”
The very brief mention of the Bill in the Queen’s Speech has been supplemented by a briefing note from the government that doesn’t really give us much more to go on, although there is enough there to show that the contents won’t be exactly what it says on the tin. They seem to be a fairly miscellaneous rag-bag of further planning changes, and yet more changes to CPO procedures.
The meaningless guff about the purpose and alleged benefits of the Bill is best ignored. The headline provisions of the Bill relate to further amendments to the Neighbourhood Planning process which, it is claimed, will further strengthen neighbourhood planning and give “even more power” to local people. [Excuse my cynical snigger as I type this.] The new legislation, they say, would also strengthen neighbourhood planning by making the local government duty to support groups more transparent and by improving the process for reviewing and updating plans.
A more interesting proposal concerns the imposition of conditions on planning permissions. The intention is to ensure that pre-commencement planning conditions are only imposed where they are absolutely necessary. The government recognises that excessive pre-commencement planning conditions can slow down or stop the construction of homes after they have been given planning permission. The Bill will tackle the over-use, and in some cases, misuse of certain planning conditions, with the aim of ensuring that development, including new housing, can get underway without unnecessary delay. This deserves at least one small ragged cheer. LPAs have ignored ministerial advice on the appropriateness of planning conditions for far too long. Legislation is certainly needed to enforce this discipline on the planners.
In this Bill the government will also embark on yet another attempt to make the compulsory purchase order process clearer, fairer and faster. This will include reform of the context within which compensation is negotiated – often a very significant and complex part of finalising a compulsory purchase deal. The proposals are intended to consolidate and clarify over 100 years of conflicting statute and case law. The government hopes to establish a clear, new statutory framework for agreeing compensation, based on the fundamental principle that compensation should be based on the market value of the land in the absence of the scheme underlying the compulsory purchase (a long-established principle that is well understood by professionals practising in this field).
The opportunity will also be taken in this Bill to establish the independent National Infrastructure Commission on a statutory basis. Chronic under-funding of public infrastructure by successive governments has been a national disgrace for a generation. Unfortunately, past performance, coupled with the present government’s insane insistence on hair-shirt austerity does not engender any confidence in their willingness or ability to deliver the public infrastructure the country really needs, despite the fine words with which they have trumpeted the provisions of this part of the Bill.
Finally, the government intends in this Bill to press ahead with their controversial and dangerous proposal to enable the privatisation of the Land Registry (which handles the official registration of all landholdings in this country, and the official records of all transactions affecting land and buildings, including people’s own homes). The risks to property owners and to people buying or selling their home will be huge if this proposal goes ahead. This is one proposal in the Bill which I hope will be seen off by a combination of expert opinion and back-bench opposition. The government has already been forced into a series of U-turns in response to increasingly assertive back-bench opinion, compounded by their comparatively modest working majority in the Commons, and it is to be hoped that this is one more daft idea that will bite the dust. Aux barricades, citoyens!
© MARTIN H GOODALL