The Localism Bill, finally published in full this morning (14 Dec), despite promises of clarity and after months of speculation, raises more questions than answers in crucial areas of planning reform and is currently being scruitinised by the Institute. What is clear is that Ministers need to act quickly and urgently, sit down with planners and other stakeholders to come up with solutions to make the proposals in the Bill work for communities.
Ann Skippers, President of the Royal Town Planning Institute, said:
"We have waited a long time for the Bill but there is still great uncertainty about key planning reforms, the issue of financial incentives and no implementation plan, all of which are likely to have an unwanted impact in stalling much needed economic recovery because no one knows how the planning system will work. The key area of neighbourhood planning in particular remains unclear, with huge questions remaining over how communities will be supported to achieve effective plans. We will need to spend more time studying these proposals in detail and will be providing further views."
The Institute advocates that the Bill is revised to take account of the need for certainty and a seamless transition from the present system. Among the many suggestions that RTPI will make to the Secretary of State there are three which are of prime importance:
- There is the need to ensure the coordination of planning at a national level. The Coalition has proposed introducing a National Planning Policy Framework. There is no reference to this in the Bill but is essential that this document is properly coordinated with the National Policy Statements (including the Marine Policy Statement) and the National Infrastructure Plan and established as part of the statutory development plan for England.
- Where government is proposing to establish a duty to cooperate on local authorities this needs to involve a much firmer requirement to work together on the delivery of infrastructure and other major projects which provide for more than one local authority area.
- While the production of neighbourhood plans is to be offered as a right to local communities, there needs to be greater clarity of their scope and of the process whereby they become established as part of the development plan. It is particularly perplexing the grant funding for Planning Aid is being ended after March 2011 when communities are going to need its services more than ever.
The Institute welcomes the retention of the expertise of the IPC and the democratisation of its decision making. The introduction of a duty to consult on proponents of major development is a consolidation of good practice and the strengthening of the enforcement of planning decisions should enhance the reputation of the service to the public.
Our pages on the Localism Act are here.