The new Localism Bill
You may have read quite a bit about the new Localism Bill over the past few months.
First, some background:
It has been relatively high profile since in July 2010 the new coalition Government ripped the South East Plan and all Regional Spatial Strategies up, arguing that top-down housing targets do not make sense.
For context the South East Plan was the primary policy guide for the South East of England over 2006 – 2026 for planning, new housing targets, economic growth priorities and infrastructure investment.
So no South East Plan has meant no housing targets and no policy document.
In November 2010 the housing developer Cala Homes took the Government to court and won a judgement that the RSS dissolution was ‘unlawful’. The next steps are unclear. The Government is effectively ignoring the judgement and saying that the new Localism Bill will fill the planning and housing target void in the absence of the RSS. Meanwhile the Planning Inspectorate cannot adjudicate on major projects.
So what does the Localism bill include?
The bill is 450 pages long and the BBC gives a very succinct overview.
It is clear that the Bill forms a major part of the ‘Big Society’ vision we’ve heard a lot about, since it aims to move decision making from Westminster to your local area.
The Financial Times says the moves to decentralise power to grass roots levels is “ambitious, radical – and requires a giant leap of faith”.
In terms of planning and housing issues:
- The Planning Inspectorate’s powers appear to have been curtailed slightly – now they can only assess a council’s local plan for soundness and advise on issues when asked.
- The ‘Neighbourhood Plans’ enable a community to vote on whether a development should go ahead.
- If 50% of people vote for a development, it does not need planning permission under the ‘Community Right to Build’. This is a dramatic change from the status quo. The 50% figure is also a shock: the signals coming out of the Dept of Communities and Local Government put this at 75% and the 25% change is quite a step.
- For larger developments, the onus is now put on developers to show they have considered local opinions before submitting a planning application
- We cannot see any replacement for the old new build housing targets – it seems that the mantra is ‘bottom-up, bottom-up’ with decisions starting at the local level and going from there.
Initial reactions seem to indicate a polarisation: those in favour of the Bill agree that planning decisions should be as localised as possible since the local community knows the need for a new scheme.
Opponents fear that the planning process could be dominated by those with interests in a particular outcome and this could especially hinder planning permission for new build.
Of particular interest is the ominous sounding ‘General Power of Competence’ which allows councils to undertake any action they deem necessary to improve the economic or social wellbeing of their community. This seems incredibly vague and potentially very dangerous.
We’ll need to reflect on the Bill more as many questions arise:
- When does a local scheme move from being part of the ‘Community Right to Build’ to needing planning approval?
- Exactly how can the Planning Inspectorate influence major planning decisions now?
- What does this mean to Green Belt protection?
- Is the 50% required the 50% of voters or 50% of residents as defined by the last census or another mechanism?
- Exactly what powers and limits are in place related to the ‘General Power of Competence’?