By Angus Walker
Today's entry reports on the publication of the government's
Growth and Infrastructure Bill.
Yesterday, the government took the first step towards
implementing the planning reforms announced in the 6 September statement by Eric Pickles
MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, by
introducing the Growth and Infrastructure Bill in the
House of Commons.
I give more detail on the changes to the infrastructure planning
and consenting regime introduced by the Planning Act 2008 but I
will give a quick summary of the whole bill since it is highly
relevant. There are no explanatory notes yet (but there is a
background note) so this is all
gleaned from a fairly superficial read of the Bill, but should give
you a flavour of it. [UPDATE: explanatory notes now available here]
The title of clause 1 could also be 'the death of localism' but
is 'option to make planning application directly to the
Secretary of State'. The content of the clause isn't a
complete free-for-all, however, since it is only 'prescribed' local
authorities that can be bypassed and development of a 'prescribed'
description. That means that the government can set out later
in regulations which are the naughty local authorities and which
types of development can make use of this power.
Clauses 2 and 3 expand the powers to award costs in relation to
planning and compulsory purchase matters (where people might have
to pay the other side's costs if they behave unreasonably).
Clause 4 adds a test of reasonableness to information a local
authority can request in connection with a planning application, to
prevent excessively burdensome requests. The inserted subsection
starts 'Also, ...' - very modern!
Clause 5 allows requirements to provide affordable housing to be
reduced on application.
Clause 6 allows the government to decide that a whole category
of land held by local authorities can be disposed of for less than
the best price that can reasonably obtained, rather than having to
decide each case individually.
Clause 7 seems to allow the government to relax restrictions on
installing electronic communications equipment in national parks
until April 2018.
Clause 8 introduces a complicated schedule about reviews of
mineral planning permissions.
Clauses 9 and 10 appear to make it easier to stop up public
paths and bridleways if a planning application would need them to
be stopped up.
Clauses 11 to 14 are about making it easier to stop roads
becoming public highways by being used for 20 years and for open
spaces to become village greens through being used for sports and
Clause 15 starts to get onto infrastructure. The need to
tell the government that a power station is to be fuelled by petrol
or gas is removed.
Clause 16 is about payments to gas licence holders by other gas
Clauses 17 and 18 allow generating station consents (under the
Electricity Act 1989, not the Planning Act 2008) to be varied on
application, and allow planning permission to be deemed (i.e. not
to need to be applied for separately) when applying for a
generating station consent. The variation power would mean
that existing Electricity Act consents that needed changes would
not need to start again with a Planning Act application.
Clause 22 delays the compiling of the five yearly list of
rateable values of property from 2015 until 2017.
Clause 23 is going to be the headline controversy clause - I
wasn't expecting it in this Bill. It is the provision where if you
are declared an 'employee owner' of a business, you give up
employment rights such as the right not to be unfairly dismissed.
You and your employer must both agree that you are an
'employee owner' and you must receive shares worth between £2000
and £50,000 at the time. Mr Pickes thinks this is compatible
with Convention Rights, so that's all right.
The rest of the Bill except the three clauses below are the
usual ones about order-making, commencement etc.
Planning Act provisions
Three clauses amend the Planning Act regime. Clause 19
repeals the sections of the Planning Act 2008 that require special
parliamentary procedure (SPP) to be undergone if a statutory
undertaker or local authority has objected to its land being taken
and the applicant is not itself a statutory undertaker or local
authority. The government has heeded my (OK, and others')
call to GET RID OF SPP.
It hasn't got rid of it altogether, though. Clause 19 also
allows the government to certify that SPP need not apply when open
space land is being acquired and not replaced in individual cases,
and National Trust land remains subject to SPP.
Clause 20 modifies SPP itself so that only the issue that
triggered SPP can be considered in Parliament - it doesn't re-open
the whole application, as is currently happening to the Rookery
Clause 21 is entitled 'bringing business and commercial
projects within the Planning Act 2008 regime' and does what it
says on the tin. The section of the Planning Act where you
can ask the government to declare that your project should come
within the Planning Act regime is replaced altogether to add
'business or commercial project(s) of a specified description'
(i.e. we must wait for regulations to find out what types of
project are included). Boris must consent if the business or
commercial project is wholly or partly in London.
The test is that the government thinks the project is of
national significance on its own or in combination with other
projects of the same kind (oddly, an infrastructure project and a
business one couldn't be considered together, even though they are
The clause adds a new procedural section 35ZA to the Planning
Act (if you insert a section between sections 35 and 36 you call it
35A, and then if you insert a section between 35 and 35A the
convention is that you call it 35ZA).
So that's it. Getting rid of the worst application of SPP is an
important improvement and adding flexibility to include other
projects is a welcome endorsement of the regime.
Like the Localism Bill, what's in there is good as far as it
goes in respect of the Planning Act regime, but there could be
more. One disappointment is that (so far) the Bill doesn't
remove all the additional certification procedures thrown in at the
end of the Planning Act authorisation regime. Why, for example,
does the Secretary of State have to certify to the Secretary of
State that land can be taken from a statutory undertaker without
serious detriment when the Secretary of State has already examined
this? That made sense when the Infrastructure Planning
Commission was examining applications and taking decisions, but not
now. The business and commercial threshold could have
included 'complexity' as an alternative to 'national significance'
The Bill is supposed to be being rushed through in time to hit
the statute books in April 2013, but let's hope there's time to
expand its provisions a little more.
Planning Act 2008 Blog Home
19 October 2012