Current Developments in Planning Law

The field of Planning Law is undergoing rapid and radical change at present under the Coalition Government. There are a number of reasons for this among which is a focus on simplifying and speeding up what is perceived to have become a cumbersome system over the years with successive Governments adding further layers during their terms of office. A second element of important change has been implementation of the Governments “Localism” agenda aimed at giving local communities more influence in planning decisions. Last but not least is the acknowledged need to increase housing supply which many commentators believe has been and continues to be obstructed by the workings of the Planning system. As regards simplification of the system, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) published in March 2012 is a demonstration of the Government’s intentions being in the words of the Ministerial Foreword a replacement of “..over a thousand pages of national policy with around fifty [pages]”. Since the NPPF to be fully comprehensible has to be read now in conjunction with the official online Planning Practice Guidance finalised in March 2014 clearly the assertion of reduction to fifty pages is somewhat of an exaggeration. There is no doubt from a practitioner’s perspective, however, as a statement of a general framework within which the planning system should operate the NPPF does have value. Another area where it is envisaged by the Government that the planning application process will be speeded up is in the application by local authorities of the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL). This replaces the existing Section 106 Agreement negotiated means of securing of financial infrastructure mitigation contributions with a pre-calculated sum based on the size and type of development. If unpaid, the amount becomes a liability debt enforceable by the local authority in much the same way as a Council Tax debt thus avoiding the much longer drawn process of pursuing an unpaid contractual debt through the Courts. In the implementation of the “Localism” agenda, three important areas introduced by the Localism Act 2011 are Neighbourhood Planning, Community Right to Build and Community Right to Bid. Neighbourhood Planning gives the power to designated local bodies such as Parish Councils to prepare development plans for their specific area which will then feed into the overall development plan for the whole local authority area. The Community Right to Build gives groups of local people the ability to bring forward small developments in their local areas for example new homes, businesses and shops. The Community Right to Bid allows local groups to bid for listed Assets of Community Value when put up for sale by their owners. On increasing housing supply, there is a raft of measures in train both arising out of reform of the planning system and otherwise in for example providing financial support to prospective buyers. As regards planning, a controversial area for the future is a greater possibility of residential development on previously undeveloped green field land and Green Belt areas. With respect to the Affordable Housing aspects, there is a great deal of focus on providing various types tailored to the housing needs of specific individuals and areas. Delivery of such housing will continue to be through negotiation of Section 106 Agreements in parallel to CIL charging Since there is a great deal of new and untested in what the Government is implementing at present,        areas of uncertainty abound in the application of planning legislation. Thus, despite the Government’s declared aim of simplifying and speeding up the system, there is in planning matters a continuing need for specialist Planning lawyers to assist clients whether these are professional developers, local authorities, Housing Associations, individual householders or otherwise.   Kevin Breslin Consultant Planning Solicitor