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Planning Bill: What's left after the NIC's removal?

Perhaps the most significant thing to note about the Neighbourhood Planning Bill published yesterday was not what was in it, but what was not.

Notable by their absence were provisions to privatise the Land Registry and to make the National Infrastructure Commission a statutory body. Indeed, the word ‘infrastructure’ has been dropped altogether from the name of the bill.

When this bill was announced in the Queen’s Speech, we were enthused to see that government was really putting infrastructure at the heart of its agenda.

Infrastructure is not just a catalyst for regeneration and an opportunity for the development and construction industries, but it is also an attractive asset for inward investors and gives our country a competitive edge – both of which are paramount, given the ongoing uncertainty surrounding Brexit negotiations.

In light of this, we were surprised to see the NIC dropped from the bill. Making the commission a statutory body was something we supported; it would have provided greater certainty to ensure that an ambitious, forward-thinking infrastructure programme was delivered.

We hope the plans will be taken up by another government department before too long.

Planning shifts still positive

Despite the mysterious disappearing act of the NIC, however, there are other parts of the bill that herald good news for infrastructure projects, namely the proposed reforms to the CPO system.

“We should see a much more efficient and streamlined CPO system that will provide clarity for local authorities, developers and residents”

The bill makes further changes to the law on compulsory purchase following the reforms introduced by the Housing and Planning Act 2016. These changes will seek to clarify the statutory framework for compensation known as the ‘no scheme’ principle and introduce a number of other technical changes, including a general power to obtain temporary possession of land and a requirement to bring forward CPOs within a set timeframe.

Provided these changes make it through both houses, we should see a much more efficient and streamlined CPO system that will provide clarity for local authorities, developers and residents, and help speed up the delivery of infrastructure projects where they are needed most.

The relationship between development and infrastructure is a symbiotic one, each acting as a catalyst for the other.

Despite the fact the NIC did not appear in the bill (and we do expect to hear from government soon as to what the next steps will be), it looks as though the government understands the importance of infrastructure and is undertaking meaningful reform to ensure it delivers.

Stephanie Pollitt is assistant director (real estate) at the British Property Federation

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