Further planning changes highlighted in the Queen’s SpeechPrint publication
The Queen’s Speech was delivered to both Houses of Parliament on 4 June, outlining the intended legislative programme for the 2014-2015 session and the various bills to be introduced by the Government before the next general election in May 2015. The speech highlights a number of changes promised by the Coalition administration, which further impact on the current planning regime, and bring implications for those with responsibility for developments of all shapes and sizes.
Announcing an Infrastructure Bill, the Queen stated: “My Government will introduce a Bill to bolster investment in infrastructure and reform planning law to improve economic competitiveness. The Bill will enhance the United Kingdom’s energy independence and security by opening up access to shale and geothermal sites and maximising North Sea resources. Legislation will allow for the creation of an allowable solutions scheme to enable all new homes to be built to a zero-carbon standard and will guarantee long-term investment in the road network.”
But what will this bring in practice? The Infrastructure Bill is wide-ranging in scope, reflecting its underlying aim of supporting investment in infrastructure, improve funding options and streamlining administrative processes.
The Infrastructure Bill
Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects
Following concerns voiced by developers, the process for making changes to Development Consent Orders (DCOs) under the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) regime is to be improved by speeding up non-material changes to a DCO and the introduction of simplified processes for material alterations. In particular, the examining authority (the planning inspectorate) is to be appointed immediately after acceptance of an NSIP application, with only two inspectors allocated per panel – easing both time and resources.
The Highways Agency is to be turned from an executive agency of the Department for Transport into a government-owned company, so as to ensure that necessary long-term funding is secured, running costs are reduced, and cohesive road network planning is achieved going forward. This move may reflect previous questioning by MPs of earlier Highways Agency reforms, particularly those which were introduced without accompanying access to new funding streams. Divisions within Passenger Focus and the Office of Rail Regulation will represent the interests of road users, effectively taking on the role of overseer of the new company’s performance and efficiency. Governance will no longer simply be the responsibility of the Secretary of State and Parliament, with this new accountability to those who use and rely on the strategic road network.
Deemed discharge for certain planning permissions
Certain types of planning conditions will be discharged upon application by a relevant party if the local planning authority has not notified the developer of their decision within a prescribed time period. While exact details are awaited, this serves as potentially welcome news for developers who experience unnecessary delays (with associated negative cost and resource implications) on the part of their local authority.
Shale and geothermal sites
The Bill intends to make it possible for oil and gas companies to conduct underground exploration and extraction of oil and gas from shale deposits below land in the ownership of third parties.
While the Government points out that this legislation remains dependent on the outcome of their current consultation exercise, the relevant press release stresses the Government’s enthusiasm for going ahead with “full and rapid implementation” to deliver “at least 3-4 billion barrels of oil…bringing over £200 billion additional value to the UK economy”. The Bill is seen to put the principle of maximising economic recovery of petroleum in the UK into statute.
Statutory responsibility for the local land charges register and delivery of local land charges searches is to be transferred to the Land Registry from local authorities.
The change may cause a degree of uncertainty for land purchasers, their solicitors, homeowners and local authorities themselves during the transitional period.
Increasing housing supply
Following a number of announcements in the 2014 Budget, the Queen’s Speech also saw the Government renew its commitment to housing delivery.
Secondary legislation will again see amendments, making it easier for empty and redundant buildings to be converted and used in a productive way via alterations to Schedule 2, Part 3 of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995. Brownfield regeneration is also to be supported via such legislative alterations.
Development finance is to be provided via the £525 million Builders’ Finance Fund, for smaller builders when developing new homes. In addition, a £150 million repayable fund is envisaged to support approximately 10,000 new service plots for custom-build homes. The intention is for this to be supported by a new Right to Build scheme, so custom-builders will have a right to land in their local area – albeit a consultation on this is all that is proposed at this stage.
Other Bills of interest
Governance of National Parks (England) and the Broads draft Bill
This draft Bill intends to enable the composition of National Parks authorities and the Broads Authority to be broadened in the future, by an order of the Secretary of State. The draft Bill would provide for local elections to be held so that eligible residents of the Parks and Broads could directly elect some of the Authority members.
This proposal assumes some importance in light of the fact that National Park boards act as statutory planning authorities for their relevant areas. Each Board’s role involves controlling and influencing land/building development within its boundaries. To this end, it must balance the statutory duties and purposes of the National Park, safeguarding of the natural environment, safeguarding the existing built heritage, individuals’ needs, and the local population as a whole, including rural communities and local businesses. With each Board dealing with and determining significant development in its Park, the opportunity for local residents to influence Board appointments could make the obtaining of consent for certain more controversial developments of greater difficulty in the future.
High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill
The hybrid bill (the High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill 2013-14) was published on 25 November 2013. As it is anticipated that the HS2 Bill could take approximately two and a half years from being introduced into Parliament to receiving Royal Assent, a carry over motion has been agreed.
Little in the Queen’s Speech was completely unexpected, with many of the proposals having been in the pipeline for some time. However, the Infrastructure Bill in particularly has an extensive scope and its impact will be felt in a variety of ways.