The Localism Bill – impact on planning law

Out-Law Guide | 04 Aug 2011 | 10:13 am | 4 min. read

This guide was last updated in August 2011.

The Localism Bill, which comes into force in 2011, aims to move land use planning away from central government decision-making by introducing new powers, control and influence at a local level.

Main planning features of the Bill

The planning provisions are contained within Part 5 of the Bill. The main points are:

  • the introduction of a presumption in favour of sustainable development set out in the National Planning Policy Framework
  • the abolition of regional spatial strategies (RSS) as part of the planning framework and the return of powers over housing and planning matters to local authorities. The London Plan will be retained in London;
  • a statutory duty for local planning authorities and 'public bodies' to cooperate with each other on matters relevant to land use planning;
  • the retention of the Community Infrastructure Levy, which local authorities can charge on new developments as a way of funding new infrastructure, with some minor modifications which give more control over the levy at a local level;
  • an amendment, currently being blocked by Liberal Democrat peers, which would enable planning officers to consider local finance arrangements - including the Community Infrastructure Levy - when making decisions on planning applications;
  • the introduction of neighbourhood development plans and neighbourhood development orders which will give local communities the opportunity to shape development in their area;
  • a legal duty on developers of larger scale developments to consult local communities before submitting a planning application;
  • a power for local planning authorities to refuse to make a decision on a retrospective planning application while enforcement action is taking place;
  • a new 'planning enforcement order', which can be used at any time where there has been a deliberate deception or concealment of development in order to get around planning rules;
  • the Infrastructure Planning Commission, which is the independent body that examines applications for nationally significant large infrastructure projects, will close and be replaced with a 'Major Infrastructure Planning Unit' within the Planning Inspectorate. Applications for development consent for these projects will now be decided by the Secretary of State, on the recommendation of a planning inspector from the Major Infrastructure Planning Unit;
  • in London, the London Development Agency will be abolished and its main powers will be transferred to the Greater London Authority (GLA). Powers relating to funding housing will be transferred from the Homes and Communities Agency to the GLA. New powers will be given to the Mayor to enable him to further the GLA's work, including the power to establish Mayoral Development Corporations.

Implications of the proposals for those involved in development

Presumption in favour of sustainable development: this is clearly good news for developers, subject to establishing the meaning of 'sustainable' and depending on how local planning authorities (LPAs) will implement the policy locally.

The presumption will be both a benefit and a burden to local authority planners, depending on whether a particular scheme is one the local authority is keen to promote. It will make it more difficult for LPAs to block development.

Abolition of RSS: removing the regional tier will increase the importance of local policy, and there is likely to be some loss of consistency in terms of standards and approach. This also paves the way for Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), which will involve more private sector involvement. These new LEPs may also have a role in developing infrastructure strategy across sub-regional areas.

Local communities will have more say through neighbourhood planning. Working well, this could help deliver low cost housing to local people in areas where this is scarce.

Duty to cooperate: developers will need to continue to be aware of the range of political and commercial pressures within localities and ensure that they form close relationships with those bodies that may promote their schemes.

Central Government will expect local authorities and 'public bodies' to act in a collaborative manner on strategic planning matters and development plans. This will encourage these bodies and authorities to ensure full consultation. LEPs may also have a role to play here.

The duty to cooperate may also result in a better planned approach to development across an area, with the potential for local communities to feel more influence than under the previous process.

Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL): this should help provide greater clarity and consistency for the cost of developments in any given area, however there may well be area and sector differences in charging schemes and in a general approach to the provision of infrastructure. This could make some areas and sectors more attractive to developers.

Developers will also need to be aware that development site-specific planning obligations are likely to still be requested where site-specific needs are not met through the levy.

LPAs should find CIL a little more flexible with the proposed changes, although they may be forced to spend some CIL within the locality of the development rather than being able to decide where to spend it anywhere in their area. A 'meaningful proportion' of revenue raised through the levy in each neighbourhood should be delivered back to that neighbourhood, allowing the community to work closely with the authority to decide what infrastructure is required in that neighbourhood.

Neighbourhood Plans and Development Orders: developers will need to carefully monitor the neighbourhood plan process in areas in which they have an interest, so that they can take action if necessary to ensure their proposed developments can be brought forward. There may be opportunities for developers or property owners to take central roles in neighbourhood forums, and help shape the area.

It will be essential for the local authority to engage with local communities in the process of preparing the neighbourhood plan so that it can try to influence its content and ensure it is consistent with the local development plan of which it will become part. This is a real opportunity for neighbourhoods to gather together and shape planning policy in an area. However, the intention is that neighbourhood plans will enable development, not prevent it - and expectations within communities will need to be managed accordingly.

Pre-application consultation with communities: developers will need to ensure that their consultation process is robust to avoid challenges. Although most large-scale developers have traditionally engaged in pre-application discussion, the move to make this compulsory is likely to involve additional time and cost at the pre-application stage in some instances, as well as a need to ensure careful compliance with requirements. Local authorities will have an important role to play in making sure that adequate and effective consultation takes place.

Communities will have the opportunity to raise early objections, with a view to shaping a developer's proposals. The consultation process may also provide a means of challenging proposals if it is not adequate.