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16th February 2012

Housing and Planning Bill Update

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We previously reported on the Housing and Planning Bill which contains some key changes to the planning system.

We previously reported on the Housing and Planning Bill which contains some key changes to the planning system. The Bill is currently at the committee stage in the House of Lords and has undergone some significant amendments since it was introduced to Parliament.

Alternative providers

The first key amendment is the introduction of provisions to allow for the processing of planning applications by “alternative providers”, rather than the local planning authority. The purpose of this is to enable the Secretary of State to introduce pilot schemes to test the benefits of introducing competition in the processing of planning applications. The Bill will enable regulations to be put in place allowing certain applications to be processed by a “designated person” if the applicant chooses. The regulations will set out the eligibility criteria for “designated persons”, including whether other local planning authorities could act as the alternative provider, as well as other details such as procedure, fees, performance standards, conflicts of interest and complaints procedures. Although they will have responsibility for processing the application and compiling a recommendation report, the designated person shall not be responsible for determining the planning application, which will remain the responsibility of the local planning authority.

New Definition of Affordable Housing

A second addition to the Bill is the introduction of a new definition of “Affordable Housing” to the Town & County Planning Act 1990. This will be new dwellings in England that (a) are made available for people whose needs are not adequately served by the commercial housing market or (b) are Starter Homes as defined by the Bill. As discussed in our previous article, Starter Homes are new dwellings available for purchase by qualifying first time buyers only, sold at a discount of at least 20% of the market value and subject to a price cap of £450,000 in London and £250,000 in the rest of the UK. This change will mean that developers will be able to build Starter Homes as part of their on-site affordable housing provision, and will compliment the local planning authorities’ new duty to promote the supply of Starter Homes and proposed amendments to the National Planning Policy Framework. It is likely to mean, however, that there will be a reduction in the provision of other types of affordable housing, such as social rented and shared ownership housing.

Dispute Resolution Procedure for Section 106 Agreements

A new provision has been added to the Bill to introduce new procedures for settling disputes relating to the negotiation of planning obligations. The Secretary of State will be required to appoint someone to resolve such issues where there is a request to do so, usually from the local planning authority or from the applicant. This process will have to be participated in fully before the applicant may appeal against the planning obligations or the local planning authority can refuse the application. There will be an obligation upon the parties to fully cooperate with the appointed person and comply with all reasonable requests by them to supply relevant documents and participate in meetings. The appointed person would also have to set out in a report their recommendations about what obligations would be appropriate and the local planning authority would not be able to refuse permission if the applicant has agreed to the obligations. Similarly, if the recommended Section 106 Agreement is not entered into within a certain period of time, the authority must refuse the application.

New Default Plan-Making Powers

Finally, new provisions in the Housing and Planning Bill will enable the Secretary of State to invite the Mayor of London or a combined authority to prepare a development plan document for a local planning authority where the Secretary of State believes that the local planning authority is failing or omitting to do what is necessary for them to do in connection with the preparation, revision or adoption of such a document. The Mayor or combined authority will have the power to take over responsibility for preparing/revising the development plan document and having it examined. The Mayor or combined authority will then be able to approve the document or direct the respective local planning authority to consider adopting it. This new power will incentivise local planning authorities to produce their own local plans, or risk having one enforced upon them by the Mayor or a combined authority, and may help to align local plans within regions.

The Housing and Planning Bill is still being debated within the House of Lords, and may be subject to further amendments. A summary of points raised during the second reading of the Bill in the House of Lords can be found here.

For more information please visit our Planning service page or click here to email Gemma Dudley.