Yes, the bill is ambitious but, if used correctly, could have a very positive effect on housing production
The scope of the bill is hugely ambitious and is an attempt to reposition the planning system to a local level. The abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies is proposed in the Bill, but alongside this abolition, there is now a statutory duty to co-operate on planning matters, and already a number of councils have begun to set up liaison groups.
These changes have caused a great deal of hand wringing amongst professionals used to the current system. However, the coalition have made a number of important concessions, while at the same time encouraging developers to consult more extensively and earlier with local communities. For example, no rights of appeal for third parties have been introduced in the bill and the current rules for appeals by applicants against council planning decisions remain unaltered.
A target of November 2011 has been set for the bill to be passed, whilst regulations to set out individual policies – including the important “presumption in favour of sustainable development” – will be published in regulations and the National Planning Framework in April. John Howell, parliamentary private secretary to minister Greg Clark, has signalled that this will define the presumption in favour, and that it will provide a safeguard for developers against ultra nimbyism – local councils not willing to accept the challenge of additional development.
For developers and their professional advisors, the past is a foreign country and they must attune to the new mood. For the coalition government, the challenge for the new bill is to demonstrate that the housing bonus scheme, and returning decision making powers on housing and planning to local councils, will make a positive difference to housing production. The introduction of a third neighbourhood tier currently looks ill thought out.
Housebuilders may also be encouraged that the evidence base so painstakingly put together in the regional strategies is not easy to discard. In Oxfordshire, a key growth area in the South East, recently published core strategies show councillors prepared to support the original housing figures.
Nigel Moor is director at Planning Pilots and author of The Look & Shape Of England: How Politics Has Influenced Its Appearance Over The Last Century