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Planning bill makes parliamentary progress

by on December 16, 2015

MPs last week completed their line by line scrutiny of the Government’s flagship housing and planning bill. The amended legislation has emerged unscathed from opposition attempts to change the measures. The bill will now have its report stage in the Commons on 5 January in three weeks’ time before being passed on to the Lords.

During the final exchanges last Friday MPs queued up to urge ministers to ensure planning departments were better resourced, including allowing councils to set their own planning charges.

Planning minister Brandon Lewis reminded them that section 303 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 already provides for the Secretary of State to permit local planning authorities to set their own level of fees up to cost recovery. “We are therefore already technically in possession of the powers to enable local fee setting” he insisted.

Lewis reiterated his stance that councils had sufficient means to resource planning departments which should be treated as a key local authority service. However he also chided local authorities for not doing enough to make savings by pursuing out-sourcing and shared services.

However the minister did promise to look at ideas about fast-track planning applications and having a more competitive planning process suggested by MPs. “That, rather than a focus on raising fees alone, is the type of innovative thinking that needs to be brought to the resourcing debate” he said.

He also committed to consider planning’s contribution to protecting live music venues, a high-profile issue at present. He said the minister for culture and the digital economy had arranged for him to meet music industry campaigners “shortly”.

The bill was amended by the Government to enable the Secretary of State to ask the Mayor of London or a combined authority to prepare a development plan. The Mayor or combined authority will be responsible for having the document examined and approving it.

Lewis explained that currently, where it is necessary for the SoS to intervene over a development plan, his only option is to take over responsibility for the process of preparing, examining and approving.

“Our proposals will move more power back to a local level and enable more targeted and appropriate intervention where a local planning authority has failed to take action to get a plan in place, despite having every opportunity to do so.”

The planning minister also made it clear that the Government had no intention of allowing the new concept of permission in principle (PiP) to be used for some of the things that people are concerned about, like fracking or waste development.

“We want to ensure that the local authorities are able to grant permission in principle for mixed-use developments that promote balanced and sustainable places” he stressed.

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Roger Milne

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