Neighbourhood Planning Bill proposes limits on use of conditionsPrint publication
The Neighbourhood Planning Bill 2016-17 (the Bill), is now steadily progressing through Parliament. Having been introduced on 7 September 2016, the Bill had its second Commons reading on 10 October. It is expected to be passed in early 2017, with its substantive provisions applicable across England and Wales. The Bill’s overall intention is to speed-up the delivery of new homes, supporting the Government’s ambition to deliver a million new homes while protecting much-loved areas of land. Part 1 of the Bill includes provisions to tackle what ministers have referred to as “overly restrictive and unnecessary conditions” that are being “routinely attached” to planning permissions. But what does this plan to limit the use of conditions mean for local planning authorities (LPAs) and applicants for planning consents?
The Bill introduces two key changes to the imposition of conditions on a permission. It proposes that:
- pre-commencement conditions are not to be imposed without the prior written agreement of the applicant; and
- the Secretary of State will have the ability to prohibit the use of conditions in “targeted circumstances”.
In a statement issued to accompany the Bill and linked consultation, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) stated that the measure will “guarantee the opportunity for a discussion on pre-commencement conditions before they are imposed”. DCLG also notes: “This is a sensible measure that builds on existing good practice and will ensure these conditions are only used where absolutely necessary”.
The Bill does not limit LPA’s ability to impose conditions they regard as necessary to achieve sustainable development, in line with the National Planning Policy Framework. However, it is intended that the process of discussing and agreeing pre-commencement conditions before a decision is issued should become a routine part of the dialogue between the applicant and the LPA.
Alongside the new stipulations relating to planning conditions, the Bill includes a number of proposals to stimulate residential development, improve the neighbourhood planning process, and streamline compulsory purchase.
The Government’s manifesto commitment was to “encourage communities engaged in neighbourhood planning to complete the process and to assist others to draw up their own plans”. The Bill looks to strengthen neighbourhood planning by ensuring that planning decision-makers take account of well-advanced neighbourhood development plans when dealing with applications, so neighbourhood development plans will gain full legal effect earlier. The Bill also introduces a process for modifying neighbourhood development orders and plans, as well as altering actual neighbourhood areas where an order or plan has already been made. The Bill makes the duty on LPAs to support neighbourhood planning groups more transparent – so LPAs will have to review their statements of community involvement every five years and publicise their policy approach in these statements.
The Bill gives the Secretary of State power to make LPAs record prior approvals for permitted development rights on the planning register, as is already the case for normal planning applications. It is hoped this will enable the collection of information on the number of new homes allowed via permitted development, so their contribution to the Government’s housing targets can be more accurately recorded.
Following the reforms introduced by the Housing and Planning Act 2016, the Bill makes further changes to the law on compulsory purchase. This does not alter the fundamental basis on which compensation is assessed – i.e. based on the market value of the land and not taking into account the scheme underlying the compulsory purchase. However, the Bill looks to clarify the statutory framework for compensation. It also makes further technical changes, such as introducing a general power to obtain temporary possession of land and a requirement to bring compulsory purchase orders into operation within a set period of time. These measures were the subject of a public consultation ending on 15 May 2016.
As the Bill progresses through Parliament, DCLG is seeking detailed views on proposed regulations to implement the Bill’s neighbourhood planning provisions. The consultation considers:
- suitable procedures for modifying neighbourhood plans and orders;
- the approach to modify designated neighbourhood areas where a neighbourhood plan has already been made in relation to that area; and
- the plan for LPAs to review statements of community involvement.
It is hoped the Bill will effectively prevent the excessive use of pre-commencement conditions, which often seem to be imposed as a default approach by many LPAs. The effect is that an ever-increasing amount of information and detail regarding development proposals has to be submitted before work on-site is commenced. If or when the Bill comes into force, a more measured approach will be required, rather than the indiscriminate application of standard pre-commencement conditions without due consideration. However, the need for discussion and agreement on conditions before permission is granted (most notably the element of a “written agreement”) could unduly delay the formative stages of the planning application process.
The Bill is still at its very early stages before receiving Royal Assent and being confirmed as law, with the possibility of further amendments and changes. There remains considerable discretion with the Secretary of State to subsequently introduce regulations that link to the Bill, with much of the detail being absent. The outcome of the consultation will also have a bearing on the end result. It is a case of ‘watch this space’ to see what form the proposals and provisions will finally take.
For further information or advice on the changes and their impact, contact the Planning & Environment team at Walker Morris LLP