Localism Lift-off

The coalition Government has been in power for less than two months and has already begun to make its mark on the planning system.

A new team is in place at the Department for Communities and Local Government. Eric Pickles has been appointed as Secretary of State with Grant Shapps and Greg Clark appointed as Housing and Decentralisation Ministers respectively.

The coalition government seems set to bring forward measures to implement the Open Space Planning agenda set out in the Conservative party Green Paper prior to the election.

The Queen's Speech on 25 May 2010 announced that a Decentralisation and Localism Bill will be bought forward in this Parliament to:

"devolve greater power of Councils and neighbourhoods and give local communities control over housing and planning decisions"

The main elements of the Bill will include measures:

* To abolish Regional Spatial Strategies;

* To return decision making powers on housing and planning to local Councils; and

* To abolish the Infrastructure Planning Commission.

On 27 May 2010 Eric Pickles wrote to the leaders of all local authorities setting out his intention to abolish Regional Spatial Strategies and advising that this intention should be taken into account as a material consideration by local planning authorities and the Planning Inspectorate with immediate effect when determining planning applications. The Planning Inspectorate has subsequently issued guidance on this issue.

It will be interesting to see how the impact of the abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies manifests itself - particularly in relation to housing land supply issues. Whilst the Government proposes to incentivise local authorities to deliver housing through other (monetary) means there is potential for the system to descend into chaos at a local level without an overarching policy context.

Hot on the heels of this announcement, followed the amendments to PPS 3 introduced on 15 June 2010 which provide that private residential gardens are now excluded from the definition of previously developed land in an effort to put a halt to "garden grabbing".

In addition the national and indicative minimal density requirement for residential development of 30 dwellings per hectare has been abolished.

It is clear that this is only the very start of the process and that in the long term further radical reform is promised to implement the localism agenda. Developers will need to be alert to this reform as and when it is bought forward. The spectre of third party rights of appeal still looms large...


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