In the midst of the chaos following the announcement of a snap General Election, due to take place on 8th June, the Neighbourhood Planning Bill, which was published in May 2016, received Royal Assent on Thursday 27th April. Given that Parliament has now been formally dissolved, it is good to see that planning remained a focus until the very end of the 2015-2017 term.
It is the Government’s intention that the Act will speed up the delivery of housing by reducing the time lag between the granting of permission and physical works beginning, notably by including provisions relating to pre-commencement conditions. It also seeks to strengthen the Neighbourhood Planning process as well as improve the operation of Compulsory Purchase Orders.
This brief intends to summarise the key aspects of the Act.
Over 2,000 communities have taken the decision to produce a Neighbourhood Development Plan and the Act requires that planning decisions take account of well advanced Plans and also establishes that they have full legal effect after being passed at the referendum stage. Previously, there was a time lag between approval at referendum and adoption by the LPA. The Act also makes it easier to modify a Neighbourhood Development Plan or change a neighbourhood area. 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 locally in a referendum.
Schedule 1 of the Act includes schedule A2 ‘Modification of Neighbourhood Development Plans’ to be added to the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. It sets out the new procedural arrangements for the review and modification of Neighbourhood Development Plans providing powers for the Secretary of State to make regulations setting out more detailed procedures.
The Act states that Examiners are expected to only hold Hearings for the examination of Neighbourhood Development Plans in exceptional circumstances.
It is hoped that the provisions set out in the Act relating to Neighbourhood Plans will lead to the identification and allocation of additional housing land, which will positively contribute towards the Government’s pledge to build 200,000 houses a year.
LOCAL DEVELOPMENT DOCUMENTS
The Act includes measures which seek to ensure that Local Planning Authorities identify the strategic priorities for the development and use of land in their areas in up-to-date plans. It also includes for interventions in areas where Development Plan Documents are not in place, for example a County Council now has the ability to step in and prepare a Plan where a District Council has failed to do so.
The Act also amends the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 to give significant power to the Secretary of State to direct the preparation of Joint Development Plan documents across two or more authority areas where it would facilitate the more effective use of land in one or more of those authorities. Provisions are also set out to ensure that adopted Development Plans are reviewed regularly.
These measures seek to strengthen the plan-led system by ensuring that all local planning authorities in England identify the strategic priorities for the development and use of land in their areas in an up-to-date plan. It provides for effective interventions to be made where documents are not in place and seeks to improve the involvement of communities and others in plan-making.
This is encouraging, however at a point in time where Council resources are increasingly stretched, LPA’s may be concerned about resourcing this additional work.
It was this area of the Bill which saw a significant amount of contention in both houses (Lords and Commons). Essentially, the Secretary of State can now make regulations restricting what kind of planning conditions can be imposed and in what circumstances, specifically pre-commencement conditions, by ensuring only those with written agreement from the developer are included in a planning decision and are only used “where strictly necessary”. What became known as “onerous planning conditions” were cited as causing significant delays in development starting, thus being a barrier to housing and other development delivery.
The Act also proposes, in addition to achieving prior agreement with the applicant, for the Secretary of State to be able to expressly prohibit the use of certain planning conditions in certain circumstances via the introduction of new legislation.
Clearly, removing and reducing unnecessary planning conditions will be hugely beneficial for developers and will allow quicker start times on site. However, there is a risk that when holding negotiations between an applicant and LPA to agree on the content of pre-commencement conditions that disagreements could occur causing delays to issuing planning permission.
It should be noted that the Act states that before any regulations are made on the restrictions on power to impose planning conditions, the Secretary of State must carry out a public consultation. Therefore there will be an opportunity to submit representations on this matter.
PERMITTED DEVELOPMENT RIGHTS RELATING TO DRINKING ESTABLISHMENTS
In an amendment from the House of Lords, the permitted development rights associated with A4 Use Class (drinking establishments), for change of use to A1 (shops), A2 (financial and professional services) and A3 (restaurants and cafes) Use Classes as well as demolition, will be removed. The Act also includes provisions that allow pubs to be used for a mixture of A3 and A4 Use Class.
These amendments have been heralded as a measure to attempt to halt the decline of the number of pubs in England after the Government was put under pressure from Labour peers, led by Lord Kennedy and pressure group the Campaign for Real Ale.
The General Permitted Development Order will be revised ‘as soon as reasonably practicable’ to remove all permitted development rights relating to drinking establishments, as described above. It should be noted that it does not apply to change of uses which have already been implemented before the revisions to the Order come in to force.
Essentially, this means that planning permission will have to be obtained for developments of drinking establishments in respect of:
• Change of use to A1, A2 and A3 Use Class;
• Demolition of the building.
The Act allows the Secretary of State to require information and data on specified prior approval applications or notifications for permitted development rights to be included on the planning register kept by LPA’s. This is targeted at gathering information on the number of housing units created from Change of Uses under Permitted Development Rights so that the contributions these measures are making to achieve the Government’s housing targets will be accurately recorded and reflected.
A new Development Order is required to cover the provisions of the Act relating to Planning Registers, although this is still outstanding.
Following the reforms introduced by the Housing and Planning Act 2016, the Act also includes provisions intended to improve the operations of compulsory purchase orders. It does this by clarifying case law that determines compensation for landowners as well as outlining the appropriate notice procedure.
The Neighbourhood Planning Act contains measures relating to planning and compulsory purchase and should contribute to the Government’s aim of making sure the housing market works for everyone. The Act arrived just before the dissolution of Parliament ahead of the General Election. It will be interesting to see how planning will be prioritised in politics over the coming weeks and months and what the new Government will do to ensure land is freed up for housing and the delivery of new homes sped up, which the Neighbourhood Planning Act aims to achieve.
The Act requires the preparation of secondary legislation in a number of areas to refine specific details. These may be subject to further discussions and consultations so there could be opportunity to provide representations in relation to your specific interests. Timescales for this remain uncertain and we await further information on this.
If you have any questions, please do get in touch.