The Queen’s Speech 2016
By Jon Power
So… it’s that time of year when the Queen gathers her entourage and heads for Westminster to set out the Government’s agenda for the parliamentary year, under the ceremonial pomp that is the State Opening of Parliament. This year, amidst accusations that David Cameron has ‘watered down’ his reforms to support his EU referendum stance, the Queen outlined 21 new Parliamentary Bills across a number of priorities; ranging from reforms to prisons, universities, adoption and the care system…to proposed legislation that supports spaceports and driverless cars!
So amidst the raft of new proposals, what is on the horizon for the planning industry…?
The Planning and Infrastructure Bill
First and probably of foremost relevance to us as planners is the new ‘Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill’, which proposes further reforms to those made by the Housing and Planning Act. In line with the Government’s core planning objectives, the Bill is aimed at making the planning system simpler, clearer and more efficient, whilst continuing to strengthen the longstanding localism agenda.
At the core of this Bill is a vision “To support the economic recovery, and to create jobs and more apprenticeships, legislation will be introduced to ensure Britain has the infrastructure that businesses need to grow”. Whilst, as always, there is little ‘meat on the bones’ in terms of detail, the Bill can be distilled into 5 key elements which are summarised and briefly assessed as follows:
1. Neighbourhood Planning – provisions are proposed to strengthen neighbourhood planning by making the local government duty to support groups more transparent and by improving the process for reviewing and updating plans. Whilst the detail of this proposal is extremely vague and any increase in transparency should be welcomed, it is critical that improvements to neighbourhood planning work in parallel with the Government’s wider growth and housebuilding agenda to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.
2. Planning conditions – the new legislation will seek to ensure that pre-commencement planning conditions are only imposed when they are ‘absolutely necessary’ in order to prevent ‘excessive’ conditions delaying the building of new homes. These measures will undoubtedly be widely welcomed across the planning and development industry, where overly onerous planning conditions can often generate heavy cost burdens and unnecessary delay. The detail on how the Bill is interpreted and, importantly, on how it will be enforced at a local level will be keenly awaited by the planning industry.
3. Compulsory Purchase – the Bill will seek to make the CPO process ‘clearer, fairer and faster’, including the implementation of a new Statutory Framework for agreeing compensation. Whilst the devil will be in the detail, this proposal clearly seeks to support the Government’s wider agenda to reduce the complexity of bringing forward major infrastructure projects, such as HS2. This will also be an important one to follow for those involved in major regeneration schemes.
4. A National Infrastructure Commission – the Bill will seek to establish the independent National Infrastructure Commission on a statutory basis. The new Commission would provide the Government with expert, independent advice on infrastructure issues by setting out a clear, strategic vision on future infrastructure to 2050. In conjunction with the streamlining of CPO, driving the Government’s infrastructure agenda will be critical in stimulating growth across the North West and the UK. It will be interesting to monitor how the structure, composition and governance of the new NIC develops and whether it will have the influence and weight to deliver on the Government’s bold infrastructure aspirations.
5. Land Registry – the new Bill will seek to ultimately privatise the Land Registry in order to support a modern, digitally-based registration service. This proposal supports the Government’s ongoing consultation with regard to the privatisation of the Land Registry and, moving forward, it will be important for us to understand whether these proposals impact on the security and impartiality of the current status quo.
Also worthy of a mention
Other legislative proposals and briefs announced during the Queen’s Speech are also likely to have an impact on how we operate and do business in the North West. A snapshot of these reforms and commitments includes:
• The Local Growth and Jobs Bill – which is seeking to stimulate local growth by allowing Local Councils to retain 100% of business rates revenue.
• The Bus Services Bill – which will offer London-style powers to Local Mayors, such as in Manchester, to franchise and improve local bus services.
• High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands Bill) – a continued Bill, this will give the Government deemed planning permission for the railway between London and the West Midlands and set the platform for HS2 to Manchester and the North.
• The Northern Powerhouse – whilst not a Bill, the Queen’s Speech reiterated the Government’s support for the Northern Powerhouse via a non-legislative brief that outlines the ongoing commitment to the investment and infrastructure required to deliver the Northern Powerhouse agenda.
The Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill, alongside other reforms proposed by the Government, comes hot on the heels of the Housing and Planning Act (which received Royal Assent on 12th May 2016) and will add yet another layer of proposed legislative change to the ever moving feast that is the world of ‘planning’! Crucial to the industry will be….. detail, detail and more detail! It will be important as an industry to closely monitor how these proposals play out as the Bill is pushed forward, especially around the streamlining of planning conditions and further reform to neighbourhood planning. We will all be keeping a keen eye on the Government over the coming months!