Concerns raised over neighbourhood plans and lack of support for housebuilders

Communities secretary Eric Pickles unveiled one of the government’s flagship programmes today, billed as a major transfer of power from Whitehall to communities.

The Localism Bill has been broadly welcomed by the industry, but concerns have been raised with aspects of the radical package.

Will neighbourhood plans work?

Liz Peace, chief executive of the BPF, said: “It is essential that neighbourhood plans do not simply add another level of bureaucracy. The neighbourhood plan pilot schemes planned by government whilst the bill is going through will be crucial in finding solutions to these issues.”

Bob Robinson, a partner at independent planning consultancy DPP said: “The government’s Localism Bill is great in principle, but is based on the assumption of commonality in purpose in communities which I am not sure exists.

“There is a danger that those more articulate and better educated interests within communities – for example, incomers to rural communities who perhaps want the village to stay the same as it is – will carry more weight in planning decisions. The losers are likely to be those less well educated and articulate communities that currently struggle to have their voice heard.

“There is a danger that the Localism Bill’s ‘Big Society’ agenda will continue to favour those with a big voice.”

Kate Henderson, chief executive of the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA), said: “In order for a neighbourhood plan to be a meaningful choice, communities are going to need intellectual as well as financial support.”

Is there enough support for housebuilders?

Chris Cobbold, head of residential practice at global real estates services firm DTZ, welcomed the government’s flexible tenures proposal. He said: “With the freedom to let property on flexible tenancies, local authorities will be able to draw in additional private investment funds to get new homes built in areas the market would not currently touch. 

“A secure and predictable income in the short run, combined with a clear mechanism for capital repayment with the prospect of capital growth, will appeal to many investors. The flexible tenancy proposals in the Localism Bill are key to such innovation.”

Imtiaz Farookhi, chief executive of NHBC said: “One of the tests of this Bill’s success is whether it leads to more homes being built in areas where they are most needed.”

Empowering local authorities

Simon Randall, a consultant at law firm Winckworth Sherwood and former elected member of Bromley Council, said: “Powers of general competence may not sound particularly exciting, but it will allow local authorities to do what they want, when they want as long as they can afford it.

“The Bill will allow local authorities, town and parish councils to carry out any lawful activity, undertake any lawful works, operate any lawful business and enter into any lawful transaction.

 “The provision is intentionally vast and the government hopes it will usher in a new attitude amongst councillors and voters. If you want something to change in your town or village this provision allows that to happen without having to involve central government.”

Pre-application consultation could cost the industry

Peter Weatherhead, director of development consulting at global real estate services firm DTZ, said: “The legal requirement to consult at length with local communities is bound to front-load the planning process and elongate the timeframes for delivery of much-needed development.