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Government promises new local plan reforms in Bill

Published: Thursday, 27th October 2016

Planning Minister tells MPs what he wants to achieve with amendments that are planned for the Neighbourhood Planning Bill as it is scrutinised in the Commons…

Planning minister Gavin Barwell has confirmed a slew of government amendments on plan-making will be introduced to the Neighbourhood Planning Bill currently under line by line scrutiny in the Commons.

He told MPs the amendments would do four things. “First, they will place beyond doubt the requirement for all local planning authorities to have a plan, but with greater freedom on the detail in those plans, providing that they address strategic priorities such as housing and infrastructure.

“We will do that by requiring every local planning authority to have a development plan document, the documents that collectively make up a local plan, which sets out policies to deliver the strategic priorities for the development and use of land in the area.

“Local planning authorities will have the flexibility to rely on the spatial development strategy, if they wish to do so. Additionally, they will be required to review those documents at intervals determined by the Secretary of State.

“Secondly, the amendments will see more collaboration to address issues that require solutions across geographical boundaries, keeping plan making at the lowest level of government possible. We will do that by enabling the Secretary of State to direct two or more authorities to work together to produce a joint development plan document where that would ensure effective local planning in an area, for example, to address housing needs.

“Thirdly, the amendments will see plans made at the lowest level of government, keeping things local where possible, by enabling the Secretary of State to invite a county council in a two-tier area to prepare or advise on a local plan where a district council has not done so.

“Fourthly, the amendments will allow us to take the opportunity to improve the accessibility of plans to local communities and others. We will do that by enabling the Secretary of State to set data standards for certain planning documents.”

Barwell stressed that the county council power was “not something I would anticipate using regularly, but if you look at the parts of the country in which there has been a struggle to produce local plans, it is often because you have two or three districts where land use is heavily constrained, because large amounts of the land are green belt or protected in some other shape or form.

“Hypothetically, there may be cases in which having a county council look across the county and ask, ‘Where in the county could the housing need go’ might be a way to deal with it.”

The minister insisted that he had no wish “to be the person writing plans for local communities. As the minister, my job is to say to local councils, ‘It’s your job to produce the vision and aspiration for the area.’ I have one role in the process, which is to say, ‘I’m not going to let you duck the tough choices.’”

During the committee stage of the Bill Barwell reassured MPs that by the time it got to the Lords all the draft regulations and policy statements would be published. He also said the government’s stance on planning fees would be set out in the forthcoming housing White Paper, due later this year.

He publicly praised local authority planning departments. “Despite the financial restrictions they have been under, they have raised their game significantly.”

Read more information on the Neighbourhood Planning Bill

Roger Milne