It is all change. Again. The Housing and Planning Bill, published on 13 October 2015, sets out a number of reforms to the planning regime recently mooted by the government and most recently in the chancellor's 'Fixing the foundations: Creating a more prosperous nation'. It contains numerous provisions ranging from putting the supply of a specific tenure of housing, Starter Homes, on a statutory footing to government intervention measures to progress the adoption of local plans. Although bold, these provisions were expected. Surprisingly, the proposals in the Bill dealing with powers to grant 'automatic permission in principle' go beyond those set out in the chancellor's paper which sought "to grant automatic permission in principle on brownfield sites identified on those registers, subject to the approval of a limited number of technical details".
New legislation will give the government power, through a development order, to grant permission in principle for development on land that is allocated for such development in a 'qualifying document'. The development order itself will set out the details of what constitutes a qualifying document but, according to the Bill's explanatory notes, the Government intends that this will not just benefit land allocated in a new brownfield register but will also include development plan documents and neighbourhood plans.
As it currently stands, the Bill could provide a blanket, central government 'top down' planning consent regime which bypasses local planning authorities. The potential impact of this is staggering. The scope of its application could be quite wide, although the development order itself is likely to set out restrictive parameters, including limitations on the size and types of developments and applicable locations. The devil will of course be in the detail, raising several questions. For example, would it permit the equivalent of outline planning permission only and would 'technical details' include important matters such as design?
The Bill is a rather blatant acknowledgement that the ability of the localism agenda to deliver development and economic growth is limited. It illustrates the tension between central government's objective to increase economic development though house building and other forms of development and local government's desire to maintain control over delivery of development in its area. No doubt central government will say that localism remains supreme through the local plan and neighbourhood planning processes, however, the allocation of land is not good enough unless the development for which is has been allocated is actually delivered.
Please contact Anita Rivera if you have any further queries or would like advice on these issues.