Planning Law Is Finally Rising Up the Agenda

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Veale Wasbrough Vizards. June 2013. Photographer Freia Turland e:info@ftphotography.co.uk m:07875514528

The Conservative Party Conference generated headlines – £10bn to extend the Government’s “Help to Buy” scheme and £2bn of funding for more Council homes.

The headlines underscored the agenda – that more homes must be built.  However there are other factors that will have more of an effect in the West of England (WoE).

Local plans and strategic planning in the West of England

Our authorities have been working together to a much greater extent in recent years and since the last round of Local Plans.

The creation of Local Plans – showing the number of proposed houses and their location – are devolved to councils.

Historically each council’s Local Plan will have been created largely independently, with only a cursory consultation with the others.

Despite the existence of a duty to co-operate (Localism Act 2011), too often this has been done as an after-thought.

The WoE Local Enterprise Partnership has played a strategic role and has led on the most recent region-wide housing report.

The new mayor for the WoE combined authority has powers over strategic planning and will be able to broker deals with North Somerset.

The next round of Local Plans, combined with a strategic development plan covering the region should see more co-ordinated decisions on development.

The measures put in place in the WoE should help the councils tackle some difficult choices on development – the green belt is very likely to be reviewed, and none of the individual councils can do that alone.

This is a necessity though, as the next round of Local Plan creation will require councils to produce statements of common ground with their neighbours.

The use of existing compulsory purchase powers

The Government is producing a new guide on the use of existing compulsory purchase powers. They see councils taking the lead on regeneration.

Many commentators had hoped the Government would strengthen their hand with wider powers – particularly to allow for purchase of land at a discount from headline values.  This has not happened this autumn.

Councils across the country are looking at setting up their own arms-length “property companies” to work with the private sector to stimulate house building – especially social housing.

How is the government acting on local plans?

Our councils need to do this.  The Government has started to flex its muscles in this area.  Recent legislation has reserved to the Secretary of State powers to intervene in Local Plan creation and even may start stepping in the planning application process – especially major applications.

The Government is currently collecting statistics but has made it clear that it will start using these powers.  For example, councils will face a housing delivery test from November; they may face sanctions if housing isn’t being delivered against a baseline.

Those missing the bar will also be challenged by a presumption in favour of sustainable development which will make it easier for applicants to argue for development – sometimes even in contradiction to the Local Plan.

David Bird is a Partner in the Planning Law team at award-winning regional law firm, VWV.  David can be contacted on 0117 314 5382 or at dbird@vwv.co.uk.

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