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Localism Bill endures Commons battle

The government came under fire from all sides last week as the controversial Localism Bill finally cleared the House of Commons.

Opposition politicians, planners and development bodies mounted a renewed attack on one of the government’s flagship policies as the bill passed by 300 votes to 216.

More than 100 amendments were considered by Parliament as the bill moved through the report stage, with key concessions won on both sides of the house. It will now move to the Lords.

A crucial Liberal Democrat amendment that will force the government to produce a definition of sustainable development in planning policy was among the concessions forced on decentralisation minister Greg Clark.

The government intends to produce a “presumption in favour of sustainable development” to guide local authority planning decisions.

Mr Clark said the government did not disagree with the “classic definition” of sustainable development, that development undertaken by one generation should not compromise the ability of future generations to live their lives.

Mr Clark also agreed to strengthen the duty to co-operate on planning issues to include the Homes and Communities Agency, the Mayor of London, transport bodies and Natural England.

He agreed to raise the minimum number of people required to discuss local planning decisions in a neighbourhood forum from three to 21.

A government amendment to make New Homes Bonus receipts a material consideration in planning approvals was also accepted.

However, a key amendment tabled by Labour to remove clause 130 of the Bill - enshrining short-term tenancies in social housing - was defeated by 298 to 223 votes.

Critics hit out at the ever changing shape of the legislation and the vast number of amendments.

Town and Country Planning Association chief planner Dr Hugh Ellis said: “Quite apart from the level of confusion that fast-moving changes to the planning system are creating, there is increasing concern that the new planning system will not be able to deliver the kind of high-quality housing or low-carbon economy the nation desperately needs.”

Concerns were also raised about an unofficial draft national planning policy framework released by government advisers last week.

The draft NPPF is likely to guide the government’s work towards an official NPPF, which will eventually replace all existing planning guidance and act as a guide to interpreting the system enshrined in the Localism Bill.

TCPA chief executive Kate Henderson said: “This draft NPPF has identified a number of important priorities, but does not provide all the necessary key principles or practical tools to face those challenges.”

Royal Town Planning Institute president Richard Summers said: “It is a denial of the concept of sustainable development to give overriding emphasis to the approval of development proposals without ensuring that they are economically, socially and environmentally sustainable.”

However, groups including the British Property Federation and the Home Builders Federation welcomed the draft, arguing it would help deliver the growth the country needs.

BPF chief executive Liz Peace said: “Councils have for too long taken planning decisions with little knowledge of the viability issues that surround development and with little regard to the economic impact on their area.”

Shadow housing minister Alison Seabeck said there was much for the Lords to “chew over” when it received the Localism Bill.


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