Strengthened neighbourhood planning regime passed by UK parliament

Out-Law News | 04 May 2017 | 9:52 am | 3 min. read

Legislation intended to strengthen the role of neighbourhood planning, restrict the use of pre-commencement conditions and to clarify compensation for compulsory purchase has been passed by the UK parliament.

The Neighbourhood Planning Act received royal assent last week, just before parliament was dissolved ahead of the early general election on 8 June. The new government will be required to bring many of its provisions into force by way of regulations and further consultation will be required around some of the detail, particularly around pre-commencement conditions.

"The act, which has had general cross-party support, brings into effect changes aimed at providing more flexibility for those involved in making planning applications," said planning law expert Kate Brock of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com. "It picks up on themes contained in the Housing White Paper, which is currently being consulted on, and a number of the provisions will provide a statutory basis for these proposals."

"Views of local people will be given more weight through a strengthened neighbourhood plan system; permitted development rights are amended to strike a balance between enabling new housing and providing for local employment needs; and simplified compensation rules for compulsory purchase are introduced to achieve consistency," she said.

Brock said that, overall, the legislation would be "welcomed by developers, for whom certainty is key".

"However, the outcome of the Housing White Paper consultation is expected shortly, and further changes are likely as a result," she said.

Once fully in force, the act will make neighbourhood plans part of the development plan for an area as soon as they have been approved by local people and businesses in a referendum, without having to be brought into legal force officially by the relevant local planning authority (LPA). The act will also require LPAs to have regard to any 'post-examination' draft neighbourhood plan when determining planning applications, so far as material to the application - essentially a plan where it has been agreed a referendum will be held.

LPAs will be able to make minor modifications to neighbourhood plans with the agreement of the body that brought the plan forward, without the need for public consultation or further examination. Parish councils and neighbourhood forums will automatically be notified of any new or amended planning applications covered by their neighbourhood plan ensuring they have an opportunity to comment if they wish to.

The government will be given new powers to direct two or more LPAs to prepare joint development plans, where this will "facilitate the more effective planning of the development and use of land in the area of one or more of those LPAs".

Housing needs of older and disabled people will be the subject of guidance to be produced for LPAs which they will have to take into account when preparing local development documents. Focus to the needs of this group was also given in the Housing White Paper, so there are likely to be further proposals around the provision of adequate housing following the consultation response.

The legislation also aims to speed up the delivery of new housing by limiting the ability of LPAs to impose pre-commencement conditions on applicants for planning permission without first obtaining the applicant's written consent, and by banning the use of some conditions that do not meet the tests set out in the National Planning Policy Framework altogether. The conditions to be banned, and the circumstances in which conditions may be imposed without the applicant's consent, will be set out in regulations, which will, following an amendment to the act proposed by the Lords, be subject to consultation. The provisions will not apply to planning permission granted by development order, including a local, mayoral or neighbourhood development order.

On compulsory purchase, the act gives statutory force to a number of principles and assumptions established by case law to do with the calculation of compensation for so-called 'no scheme' land and interests. This requires the courts to disregard any increase or decrease in the value of the land which is solely attributable to the scheme to which the compulsory purchase relates. The act also makes a number of technical changes to compulsory purchase law, for example introducing a six-week time limit for issuing notices of confirmation. A new power extends the right for the temporary possession of land to a wider group of bodies with compulsory purchase powers.

The act also required the government to introduce new rules protecting pubs, bars and other 'drinking establishments' from demolition or conversion to other high street uses by way of permitted development rights. These will come into force on 23 May under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order, which was approved by the outgoing parliament late last week. The order will also introduce a new permitted development right allowing class A4 'drinking establishments' to extend their food offering.