Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill – will May deliver?

A forthcoming Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill was mentioned on 18th May during the Queen’s Speech. It was just one of 21 new bills announced to help simplify planning rules and kick-start the former Prime Minister’s goal of providing one million new homes by 2020. ‘Substantive’ provisions during the government briefing will apply across England and Wales, the brief stated, but with the UK now in the midst of national and political upheaval, will planning reform be pushed to the back of the queue or be promoted by the May government?


The Bill

The purpose of the bill is to:

  • Support the government’s ambition to build one million homes by 2020
  • Transform the planning process for big infrastructure projects in the UK
  • Support economic recovery
  • Create jobs and apprenticeships
  • Ensure Britain has the infrastructure that businesses need to grow

Key briefing points - Source: The Queen’s Speech 2016 background notes 

Neighbourhood Planning

  • To further strengthen neighbourhood planning and give even more power to local people.
  • The new legislation would also strengthen neighbourhood planning by making the local government duty to support groups more transparent and by improving the process for reviewing and updating plans.

National Infrastructure

  • A new statutory basis for the independent National Infrastructure Commission, to help invest in Britain’s long-term future.
  • Measures to reform and speed up the planning process by minimising delays caused by pre-commencement planning conditions.
  • Streamlined processes supporting neighbourhoods to come together to agree on plans that will decide where things get built in their local area.
  • To establish the independent National Infrastructure Commission on a statutory basis.
  • The Commission would provide the government with expert, independent advice on infrastructure issues by setting out a clear, strategic vision for future infrastructure that is needed to ensure the UK economy is fit for 2050.

Planning Conditions

  • To ensure that pre-commencement planning conditions are only imposed by local planning authorities where they are absolutely necessary.
  • The new legislation would tackle the overuse, and in some cases, misuse of certain planning conditions, and thereby ensure that development, including new housing, can get underway without unnecessary delay.
  • To make the compulsory purchase order process clearer, fairer and faster for all those involved.

Land Registry

  • The new legislation would enable the privatisation of Land Registry, which would support the delivery of a modern, digitally-based land registration service that will benefit the Land Registry’s customers, such as people buying or selling their home.

Industry reaction 

  • Stephen Wilkinson, Vice-President of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), said, “We welcome the government’s continued commitment to housebuilding in England, although a greater recognition of the variety of factors affecting the rate of building new homes would give a clearer picture of all the challenges we face and need to get to grips with.” 
  • The Council for British Archaeology raised concerns about the impact on the identification of heritage assets of archaeological interest, as well as protections for wildlife.
  • The Telegraph echoed the above sentiments by stating that ‘requirements that force developers to carry out archaeological and wildlife surveys before starting housing projects are to be swept away in a new Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill. Restructuring the Department of Energy and Climate Change so that it will now sit inside a wider business department will either provide the negotiation skills and resources that are needed to ensure that the environment will be better protected, or the move will simply bury an already struggling department.’
  • Jeremy Blackburn, Head of UK policy at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), said, “Nobody is in any doubt that we are in the grip of a housing crisis, and it will take some radical reforms to ensure that we are delivering the housing and infrastructure that this country needs. To that end, there is much merit in the proposed Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill.”
  • Officials in May claimed that “excessive pre-commencement planning conditions can slow down or stop the construction of homes after they have been given planning permission”, and that the new bill will “tackle the overuse, and in some cases, misuse of certain planning conditions, and thereby ensure that development, including new housing, can get underway without unnecessary delay”.
  • On the subject of government policy after the appointment of a new PM, Rob Whiteman, Cipfa’s chief executive and a former senior civil servant and council chief executive, was apprehensive that families would not get the homes they need because of continuous changes to housing policy.  “The situation is desperate,” he claimed this July.


Will planning reform overcome Brexit disruption?

Any plan formulated this year must now be discussed in the context of Brexit, and whether reforms can survive after the vote. With a new Prime Minister in Number 10, with her own cabinet and outlook on how the UK should manage its finances, will the planning bill be prioritised or be suspended temporarily?

A crucial part of the bill, and a major challenge moving forward will be providing local authorities with the resources to successfully deploy the bill. Staffing levels in local authority planning departments have dropped by 37% during the past five years. Sufficient resources to meet forward planning measures must be addressed.

As The Telegraph points out, reform of Britain’s ‘Byzantine’ planning laws should be an urgent priority for the new government to stem a deepening housing crisis and productivity deficit - particularly as the construction industry became one of the first casualties of the Brexit result. Policy details for a May government have not yet been finalised, however, her first speech as Prime Minister outside Number 10, which discussed the wavering ideology of a One Nation Government, and addressed difficulties amongst young people to buy a home of their own, gave early indications that housing will be a priority.

Rhetoric must now be transferred to reality, with the provision of social and affordable homes brought into the fold alongside subsidised home ownership schemes. The new minister for housing and planning, Gavin Barwell, has said that he is looking forward to “working with councils, housing associations, developers and investors to ensure we build the homes people need and deserve”. Planning organisation RTPI has already called on Barwell to value the critical role of the planning profession within the UK’s housing policy framework. When quizzed about the development of the UK green belt, Barwell and new ministers in the Department for Communities and Local Government pledged to protect the land, with the former claiming that the majority of green belt development is “inappropriate” and “should be refused planning permission except in very special circumstances.”

The government is keen to continue the overriding takeaway from the Queen’s Speech that policy should work toward economic stability, so the promotion of reform could be prioritised to meet that need. The pledge to “further strengthen neighbourhood planning and give even more power to local people” has been largely welcomed, but the next question is whether a May government can deliver devolution and localism on a much larger scale in order to put the ‘Neighbourhood’ into the ‘Neighbourhood planning and Infrastructure bill’.

Further high-level market information and analysis

LD Events will be hosting the next crucial Viability and Planning conference on 27th September at ETC Venues, St Paul’s. Now in its 9th year, the annual conference has been completely updated to provide a fresh look at the current viability & planning position in Residential Development. Industry professionals will discuss the effects of the Housing and Planning Act, what it will mean for residential development, the view of the private sector, and how developers will respond to new policy, amongst other agendas.

Last year this event sold out more than a month in advance. We have a bigger venue this year but we expect that this event will sell out too; please book early to guarantee your place.