Royal Town Planning Institute calls for transitional arrangements as Localism Act receives Royal Assent

The Royal Town Planning Institute has hit out at the failure of the government to include proper transitional arrangements to the new planning system under the Localism Act, which received Royal Assent today.

Richard Summers, RTPI president, said the Act, which paves the way for a new tier of neighbourhood planning and the abolition of housing targets, will fail to deliver a workable planning system unless key issues are resolved, including robust transition arrangements.

He added that the planners will also have to be adequately resourced to enact the changes.

Summers said: “The real test of the Localism Act will be its implementation and the resources made available to enable the planning system to deliver it”.

“Many issues still need to be clarified, some by legal challenge and others through guidance, but the key issue will be to reduce the continuing uncertainty, cost and delay for the planning system and the development industry.”

As well as the abolition of spatial strategies, the Act also abolishes the Infrastructure Planning Commission set up to decide major infrastructure projects, in favour of the creation of a new unit within the Planning Inspectorate.

The Act has garnered controversy from housebuilders opposed to the abolition of the regional spatial strategies which contain housing targets, as well as from environmental campaigners unhappy at the failure to use it to introduce third party rights of appeal pledged by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties before the election.

Lord Colin Boyd QC, head of public law at UK law firm Dundas & Wilson, said the abolition of the Regional Spatial Strategies, the creation of the New Homes Bonus, the creation of neighbourhood plans and the new National Planning Policy Framework will add uncertainty into the system for developers. “There are inherent tensions between the government’s desire for development-led economic growth and local communities expectations of a major say in how and where development takes place. How these tensions are resolved will be key to how the new legislation works. The fear must be that many disputes may end up in the courts with all the cost, delay and uncertainty that that entails.”

 In addition planning groups have hit out at the inclusion of a clause which will formally allow councils to take account of financial considerations when making planning decisions, a move which the Campaign to Protect Rural England said was corrupting the basis of the planning system.

The reforms to neighbourhood planning will allow groups of local residents, or businesses in business districts, to develop neighbourhood plans governing development in their areas, as long as minimum local targets are met.

However, the Act comes as the government has pledged to re-work proposals for the National Planning Policy Framework which will sit behind the legislation, under pressure from environmental groups.

The passing of Royal Assent for the Act has been welcomed by others. Ian Baker, group managing director at housebuilder Linden Homes said the Act will help the firm. “First, we will start to see coherent proposals from communities which set out how they want to grow and to which we can respond. Second, the process should draw in a wider cross-section of people – those who are looking to build sustainable communities over the longer term and not just those who are flat opposed to new homes being built.”

Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said: “We welcome the government’s recognition of the need for localism to support sustainable economic growth. We look forward to the government now realising the full potential of localism by pressing ahead with other measures that can empower local communities such as greater local retention of rate revenues and tax increment financing.”

In addition to planning reforms the Act also allows for the reform of the social housing rent regime in order to allow councils to invest in repairs without government help, the abolition of the social housing regulator and the introduction of referendums for locally elected mayors.