Housing bill amendments branded ‘privatisation of planning’
5 JANUARY, 2016 BY DAVID PAINE
Copied from Local Government Chronicle online
Concerns have been raised that the government is privatising the planning service after it tabled a number of major last-minute changes to the Housing and Planning Bill.
Amendments put forward by the government this morning include plans to let developers choose who processes planning applications.
Also planned are changes to let local authorities set their own planning fees, a new section 106 dispute resolution process, and giving ministers the power to force councils to sell off land.
MPs are due to debate the bill, and 100 pages of proposed amendments, in the House of Commons this afternoon.
New clauses proposed by communities secretary Greg Clark will allow planning applications to be processed by an approved “designated person” if an applicant “so chooses”. While local authorities will still be responsible for the final decision on any planning application, regulations will in due course outline the circumstances under which an external recommendation by a “designated person” will be “binding” on a local authority.
Hugh Ellis, head of policy at the Town & Country Planning Association, called the amendments “extremely controversial”.
“It raises the prospect whereby the advice of a private consultant on a planning application could be more or less binding on a planning committee,” Mr Ellis told LGC. “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out that what’s happening here is a fundamental assault on the public interest objectives of planning.”
A part of the amendments will force local planning authorities to share relevant information, such as the planning history of the land to which an application relates, with the designated person as well as the communities secretary.
Mr Ellis called the amendments “very worrying” and added: “People have talked about the privatisation of planning services and I think that’s probably what this is.”
He added: “I do wonder if people, particularly local councillors, who haven’t got their heads stuck in the Housing and Planning Bill will wake up to a particularly nasty shock over what this legislation has resulted in overall.”
Another government-proposed amendment will let councils locally set planning fees. The District Councils Network has repeatedly called for that, and in a briefing document on the latest amendments the Local Government Association voiced its support.
However, the proposed wording of the legislation gives the communities secretary the power to “prevent the charging of fees that he or she considers excessive”.
Plans to amend the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 and give the communities secretary the power to direct councils, and other public authorities, to dispose of the land they hold were condemned by the LGA.
“Councils are best able to manage locally their assets to meet the needs of communities and are on track to bring forward significant levels of development on their land up to 2020,” it said. “Local authorities should retain the flexibility to manage their own assets.”
Another proposed new clause would give the communities secretary the power to impose “restrictions or conditions on the enforceability” of how many affordable homes, including ‘starter homes’, local authorities want built on a site.
The LGA said that should be for councils to “determine locally”.
The LGA also expressed concern over government plans to introduce a new dispute resolution procedure in relation to section 106 negotiations. The amendments will allow for an appointed individual to oversee disputes.
“Strengthening requirements for the upfront negotiation of S106 agreements would be a more effective means of avoiding delays than offering an alternative route for resolution,” the LGA said.