No sooner had the prime minister delivered his speech on the planning system than the Housing and Planning Bill was introduced in the House of Commons last week.
The measures are much more wide-reaching than expected and once again we have a government that believes it’s the nuts and bolts of the planning system that need fixing.
One of the proposals is a new consent to be called a planning permission in principle.
This will sit alongside the existing outline and full permissions and the prior approval permissions that have started springing up under the General Development Order.
“What we will have therefore is a sort of ‘outline’ outline approval”
It appears that permission in principle will be granted to land identified for development in local or neighbourhood plans, or if identified in brownfield registers.
The consent will not be subject to conditions and land that benefits from it will not be capable of being developed until technical approval has also been granted.
One thing is clear in that technical approval cannot be refused on grounds of principle.
What we will have therefore is a sort of ‘outline’ outline approval. Just how useful this will be for developers is a matter of question.
Until the details are resolved – in terms of infrastructure required, density, layout, affordable housing, etc – it may be impossible to place a value on the land.
We can also expect a whole range of queries to arise as to how the new consent will dovetail with existing elements of the planning system.
When, for example, is an EIA to be undertaken? When is CIL payable? Will section 106 agreements apply in the same way? Can permissions be varied?
Let’s hope some thought is given to all of the issues before royal assent is given.
Will PM wield Local Plan stick?
Another plank of the bill is the increased powers of intervention in the plan-making process.
“Does the PM know what it takes to make a local plan?”
The prime minister has said that unless councils publish up-to-date local plans by 2017, the government will ensure plans are drawn up for them.
While some 82 per cent of English councils have published plans, only two-thirds of authorities have fully adopted them, and nearly a fifth of councils have yet to produce one.
To be clear, the secretary of state has always had powers of intervention in local plans, though admittedly these new powers are tougher.
However, does the PM know what it takes to make a Local Plan?
Unless he has an army of planners waiting to be unleashed on local authorities, the likelihood of this stick actually being wielded against more than a handful of foot-dragging local authorities looks remote.
Some of the provisions of the bill are indeed a surprise. If some of them are ever used it will be even more surprising.
John Bosworth is a partner at Ashfords