WHAT'S THE POLICY CONTEXT?
Under the Coalition Government, planning policy is being affected by its desire to shift decision making to a local level, and away from regional bodies. This has seen the move towards localism and the abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies feature in a raft of policy changes. The move towards community led development is being balanced by a policy focus to facilitate growth and economic recovery, which is exemplified by the current emphasis on simplifying the planning system through more extensive use of Enterprise Zones and Local Development Orders.
The Localism Act 2011 includes significant changes to the planning system. The Government has made it clear that, wherever possible, planning decisions should be made at the local level. The Localism Act includes a requirement for developers to consult communities before submitting planning applications, which is intended to speed up the planning system and increase the influence local communities have on development in their area. Further amendments to planning policy through the Localism Bill include changes to enforcement:
Local Planning Authorities will have the power to decline retrospective planning applications once an enforcement order has been served.
Applications for a planning control order can now be made up to six months after evidence of a breach is made available. Orders can only be made by a Magistrates Court and the maximum fine for a breach of condition will increase to a Level 4 fine.
Abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies
Regional Spatial Strategies were introduced to provide planning frameworks for the English regions outside of London. The revocation of the RSS was announced by the Government on 6 July 2010.
In advance of the formal National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), DCLG provided interim guidance to local planning authorities which included:
‘Local planning authorities should continue to develop LDF core strategies and other DPDs, which reflect local people’s aspirations and decisions on important issues such as climate change, housing and economic development.’
‘Local planning authorities will be responsible for establishing the right level of housing provision in their area, and identifying a long term supply of housing land without the burden of regional housing targets.’
Select Committee Report
In March 2011, the report ‘Abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies: a planning vacuum?’ was published by the DCLG all party commons select committee. The report expressed concerns that the abolition of the strategies may hinder the country’s economic recovery and delay housebuilding. The report also highlighted concerns about a lack of robust and consistent evidence to support local development plans, and requested that the Government bring forward transitional arrangements.
National Planning Policy Framework
In July 2011, the Government published the Draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) for consultation. This consultation ended on 17 October 2011 and the Government intends to publish the final version of the NPPF by April 2012. Requirements to consult planning authorities outside of the immediate vicinity are reduced in the draft NPPF, however it highlights the duty to co-operate introduced in the Localism Act. The draft NPPF includes a presumption in favour of sustainable development, which is intended to create opportunities and move away from a focus on barriers to development. The NPPF indicates that in the absence of an up-to-date and consistent plan, planning applications should be determined in accordance with the national Framework, including its presumption in favour of sustainable development.
The draft NPPF expects local planning authorities to have a rolling five year supply of deliverable housing sites, with an additional 20% to ensure choice and competition in the market for land. It also makes clear that local circumstances should be considered in planning policy and decisions, including, for example, local housing market conditions.
Local Development Framework
Local planning authorities must prepare a local plan known as the Local Development Framework (LDF) which includes Development Plan Documents (DPDs), with the principal one being the Core Strategy. These must be taken into account when deciding planning applications. Independent planning inspectors examine all DPDs prepared by local authorities in England. DPDs must be founded on a robust and credible evidence base, this is the focus of the examination, they must be ‘sound’2 in terms of their content and the process by which they are produced. Before examination, the process should have fully involved everyone who has an interest in the document and given them the chance to comment.
Changes to the planning system are intended to give more flexibility and power to councils in order to make planning decisions that fit with the best interests of the local area. Neighbourhood planning has been introduced through the Localism Act (to be enacted following approval of the regulations). This allows community groups to work with local authorities to draw up local plans. Plans will be approved following independent examination if they receive more than 50% of votes cast in a local referendum. A Neighbourhood Development Plan will set out the policy in relation to development and land use in a neighbourhood.
Local people can choose whether to draw up a local plan or a local development order or both. Any town or parish council or body designated as a neighbourhood forum within the specified criteria in the Localism Act is entitled to initiate the process to make a Neighbourhood Development Order (NDO). A local development order will allow communities to approve development without requiring normal planning consent.
A number of authorities are working on neighbourhood plans as ‘front runners’, further information can be found on the PAS website. Some discussion of the neighbourhood planning pilot areas and their progress is available in an article on the Planning Portal website.
Community Right to Build
The Community Right to Build Order is consistent with the approach for NDOs. It will be available to communities to help them shape future development in their area. As with the NDOs, the Community Right to Build Order is subject to an examination and referendum. However there are some notable differences. For example, to apply for a Community Right to Build Order a community must form a corporate body, to ensure that benefits of development are properly managed for the wider community. Prior to making an application for the Community Right to Build Order, the community group would be expected to publicise their proposals and consult with a small number of consultees on their proposals. Development proposals that would potentially require an Environmental Impact Assessment or would potentially affect European protected sites would not be eligible for a Community Right to Build Order.
Community Right to Challenge
Local authorities are required to draw up, hold and publish a list of assets (including land) of community value. Voluntary and community bodies, employees of a relevant authority (generally a local authority) or a parish council can bid to run a service where they feel they could do it better. The local authority will have a duty to consider an expression of interest to do so.
New Homes Bonus
In April 2011, the Government introduced the New Homes Bonus as an incentive for housing growth. The Bonus is a grant to local authorities which equals the additional council tax revenue generated on each new home for a period of six years. The scheme provides councils with the opportunity to plan in advance to use the bonus to increase housing supply, for example by subsidising new affordable housing. In the South West, only a few authorities have formally committed to using the New Homes Bonus for this purpose.
Community Infrastructure Levy
The Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) is a new charge that local authorities can choose to make on new developments in their areas. The money can then be used to support development or local improvements. The levy applies to most new buildings and charges are based on the size and type of development. In April 2011, the Community Infrastructure Levy (Amendment) Regulations 2011 came into force, providing local authorities with more control over the process by removing central payment arrangements and thresholds for in kind land payments. The Secretary of State has the power to require local authorities to pass CIL onto other bodies (for example, parish councils).
Some local authorities in the region have already reached agreement over their intent to introduce CIL within their area. Plymouth City Council for example include this statement on their website.
Changes to Regional Structures
Infrastructure Planning Commission
The Localism Bill includes the abolition of the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) from 1 April 2012, and a return to the position where final decisions on major infrastructure proposals of national importance are taken by the Secretary of State. Appointed persons within the Planning Inspectorate major infrastructure team will make recommendations on applications to the relevant Secretary of State. Further information is available on the IPC website.
The National Planning Casework Unit (NPCU)
The Government has established The National Planning Casework Unit (NPCU) to take responsibility for planning casework following the closure of the Government Office Network. The responsibilities for the NPCU are outlined in the letter to local planning authorities from the Chief Planning Officer (available from DCLG website).
National Housing and Planning Advice Unit (NHPAU)
The NHPAU was set up to help increase the supply of affordable housing and offer impartial, evidence based, expert advice and research on the impact of planned housing provision on affordability. As part of the Government’s rationalisation of advisory bodies to save costs the NHPAU has closed.
Regional Leaders Boards
Government funding for the regional planning function held by the regional Leaders Board (previously the Regional Assembly) ceased in 2011. Local authorities need to put in place new arrangements for data collection, the historic planning data and research held is still available to local authorities, much of which is available on the SWO website. There is an opportunity for the South West Observatory and the HCA to assist with this through the South West Strategic Information Providers network.
Local Enterprise Partnerships
No planning powers have been given to Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), but they will be encouraged to have an important strategic role in planning in addition to administering some key funding streams, including the Growing Places Fund. It has been proposed that Core City LEPs become statutory consultees on planning applications.