Planning and Localism

The Trusts review of  key measures affecting local planning and development:

Local planning reform
Councils and communities will receive greater control over their local development with the Planning Inspectorate weakened in its ability to re-write local plans. Authorities will only be able to adopt plans judged ‘sound’ by the inspector, but this new measure means that inspectors will only be able to suggest changes, not impose them.

Neighborhood planning
These will enable communities to permit development – in full or in outline – without the need for planning applications. It will be for communities to identify suitable land, sources of finance and secure support for their proposals.

Neighborhood plans
Local people will be given new rights to shape the development of the communities in which they live.

The Abolition of regional strategies
As expected, the Localism Bill includes specific primary legislation to abolish the RSSs (Regional Spatial Strategies).

Community Infrastructure Levy
Local authorities will need to allocate a proportion of Community Infrastructure Levy revenue back to the neighborhood from which it was raised. The council will also have the ability to set its own levels of levies justified by local need and evidence.

Strengthening of enforcement
The Localism Bill places a greater emphasis on tackling retrospective planning activity and gives greater powers to councils in this area.

General Power of Competence
The Localism Bill will give local authorities a General Power of Competence, allowing them to do anything which is not specifically prohibited by law.

Community ‘right to challenge’
This will enable voluntary and community groups, parish councils and certain public sector employees, to request to take over the running of any service the local authority currently delivers. This means that local communities will be able to get more involved in the delivery of public services and shape them in a way that will meet local preferences.

Community right to buy
The Bill will give communities powers to save local assets threatened with closure, allowing them to bid for the ownership and management of community assets.

The rules around predetermination are to be relaxed. Councillors will be free to campaign, to express views on issues and to vote on those matters, without fear of being unjustly accused of having a closed mind on a particular issue because of it. Planning is specifically used as an example, what is not clear is if the relaxation will apply to members of the planning committee.

These proposed reforms are current to planning legislation and the localism bill, which are being scrutinised in the House of Commons. Much of the all-important detail is not known because a significant amount remains to be determined in the secondary legislation that will follow.

Neighbourhood planning and the development of neighbourhood plans Neighbourhoods led by parish councils or ‘neighbourhood forums’ will be able to develop plans and development orders which will after independent examination and a 50% endorsement by referendum have to be adopted by local authorities and incorporated into their plans. Neighbourhood development plans are a new sub-local authority tier of planning policy and development orders are a means of granting planning permission. The aim is for local communities to shape a vision for their area into the future, it will not be compulsory so in any given neighbourhood it will happen if there is a desire for it.  Some neighbourhoods will have neighbourhood plans and others won’t. Neighbourhood planning will permit development on a generally small scale. The government also wants greater community involvement in the planning of larger schemes. Developers will have a duty to conduct pre-application consultation with locals on ‘significant developments’ (probably around 200 residential units and 10,000m2 for other schemes) and allow for collaborative design through charettes and methods such as Inquiry by Design. The government expects this to help communities see the benefits of new development and the end of the adversarial nature of planning.

Whilst the localism bill is being scrutinised, it is being criticised for the absence of crucial detail, without which parliamentarians are voting on a piece of legislation they cannot fully understand. Both the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) are expressing their concerns. For example no mention is made of the proposed National Planning Policy Framework, which is intended to harmonise existing planning guidance, the government’s overriding planning priorities, and how these relate to its core objectives of promoting economic growth and tackling climate change. Nor is there any reference to the much-vaunted Presumption in Favour of Sustainable Development, something many Developers want it to include. Its view of strategic planning is vague. The proposed duty to co-operate merely requires local authorities to engage ‘constructively’ with one another, but gives few details.

Aside from a duty to consult on large developments, there is no mention of design in the legislation itself. It is clear, however that the neighbourhood planning process aims to give communities greater influence over the design of developments and the parameters for neighbourhood proposals are very broad but there is little detail on how communities will navigate this complex system – to create a coherent vision for their locale and communities will need access to the right support and professional expertise. Resources are an issue, the bill provides that public money can be made available to support neighbourhood planning but it is not a requirement. The sums so far mentioned to support pilot projects are small and apart from funding presumably there is a need for people with professional skills to undertake the work. With these rights come responsibilities but the bill exempts neighbourhoods from the same responsibilities that local authorities have to promote sustainable and good design. The Royal Institute of British Architects is promoting for stronger measures on strategic planning, greater emphasis on the importance of design in neighbourhood planning and meaningful support for communities to make sure that they make informed decisions.

The St Ives Trust will be organising a series of informative talks from invited speakers representing the views and positions of the local planning authority, the related professions and the government responsible for the introduction of this legislation. Details of speakers and subjects will follow.

ED 200311

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