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Planning

Published: 02 May 2017
Area of Law: Planning, Planning Consultancy

Neighbourhood Planning Act becomes law

The Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017 received Royal Assent and became law on 27 April 2017. In this short blog, we’ll consider some of the changes to the planning system made by the new Act.

Despite its title, there are in fact only seven sections of the Act that relate to neighbourhood planning. Nonetheless, those provisions are significant and continue the Government’s efforts to expand and strengthen the system of neighbourhood plans.

Most importantly, the effect of the Act is to make a neighbourhood plan that has been approved in a referendum, but not yet formally adopted by the local planning authority, part of the development plan for its area. This elevates such plans from their previous status of ‘material considerations’ and means that the starting point for decision-making is that planning applications should be decided in accordance with the plan unless there is some good reason not to. The Act also simplifies the process of modifying adopted neighbourhood plans. The intention here is to make the system quicker and more flexible, enabling it to adapt to changes in local circumstances. Like the process for formulating and adopting neighbourhood plans, this is much less onerous that that governing statutory development plans.

New powers for joint development plans

There are other changes to the planning system more generally. The Secretary of State gains new powers to direct two or more local planning authorities to prepare a joint development plan document. This should increase co-operation across local government boundaries and is perhaps a tacit admission that the existing ‘duty to co-operate’ is insufficient for that purpose. Transparency will be increased in relation to permitted development rights as local planning authorities will be required to include more detailed information (to be set out in subsequent regulations) on prior approval applications on their statutory planning registers.

Change of use or demolition of pubs

Permitted development rights for the change of use or demolition of pubs are to be removed. Regulations implementing these changes have already been made and they will come into force on 23 May 2017. These changes come after lobbying from a number of MPs who felt that the existing law had seen the loss of too many local pubs to redevelopment. The ability to designate pubs as ‘assets of community value’, which was introduced to offer communities a tool to protect valued local amenities like pubs, is felt by many to be cumbersome and does not appear to have been widely used. Proposals to demolish or change the use of pubs will now require planning permission.

Restrictions on granting planning permission

The changes of most immediate relevance to developers are likely to be the restrictions on the ability of local planning authorities to place conditions on grants of planning permission. Forthcoming regulations and statutory guidance will set these out in detail, but the Act prohibits local authorities from imposing “pre-commencement” conditions on grants of planning permission without the applicant’s written consent. This will hopefully do something to curtail the growing use of such conditions by local authorities of the past few years.

What the Neighbourhood Planning Act really means

Overall, developers are likely to remain sceptical of the neighbourhood planning system, but the new Act demonstrates that neighbourhood plans are set to grow in importance in the years to come. More positive for the development industry are the restrictions on the imposition of planning conditions, which should help to streamline the system by minimising the numbers of onerous or unnecessary conditions that can hold up development.

The remainder of the Act contains changes to the law and procedure relating to compulsory purchase, which will be considered in a future blog. The full text of the Act can be found here.

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