Planning law update – November 2016

Posted on: November 1st, 2016

Thanks for reading the first in our series of monthly updates aiming to bring you legal insight on important current planning issues. There are a few updates on some of the interesting issues emerging in the planning-local government legal world this month.

Housing and Planning

Planning for future housing needs continues to be one of the most important issues of our time, with the Government unable to resist tinkering with the planning system to provide solutions.

The Neighbourhood Planning Bill continues to work its way through the Parliamentary process and a recent proposed amendment may introduce a power to order local authorities to jointly prepare local plans, which may assist in providing co-operation on cross boundary housing numbers.

Also, at the start of October, at the Conservative Party Conference, it was announced that there will be a new £5bn fund for getting Britain building, principally used to release public land and provide loans to stimulate new schemes. Further proposals are expected in a White Paper which is due imminently and may include details on how modular housing will be part of the solution.

Affordable Housing Contributions in Section 106 Agreements

There have been some interesting developments with regards to how Inspectors are treating Local Authorities who still insist upon requiring a section 106 obligation comprising an Affordable Housing contribution on development sites of 10 units or less.

Some will have seen the verdict in the recent Reading and West Berkshire case as re-establishing the Government’s policy of preventing a requirement to pay Affordable Housing contributions on developments of less than 10 units. However, the Inspector in a recent appeal case involving South Cambridgeshire District Council upheld the Local Planning Authority’s approach in determining that specific local policy considerations applied and therefore the contribution for Affordable Housing could still be required.

This will continue to be of concern to builders and promoters of schemes involving less than 10 units, and whilst there are a number of local authorities who are no longer requiring a financial contribution in such cases, there are as many local authorities which are.

Combined Authorities

Given Portsmouth, Southampton and the Isle of Wight are moving forwards with their proposal for a Combined Authorities it is worth considering some of the issues at stake:

  • The co-ordination of efforts between local authorities on issues of economic development and transport makes sense.
  • If the only prospect of getting some additional funding from central government and having more freedom in terms of potential future devolved powers (such as the administration of business rates) is to put in a bid for a Combined Authority, this also makes sense.
  • A key responsibility that Combined Authorities could take on is Strategic Planning, which is one of those missing links in the planning system that the Government should seek to rectify by introducing this as a priority for Combined Authorities.

However, there are questions remaining; will the creation of Combined Authorities lead to some future reorganisation of local authorities and responsibilities in an ad hoc fashion, rather than this being planned – and what does this mean for authorities who have performed well in terms of their historic and legislative functions but do not fit with the geography of the new authorities?

The big issue for local authority budgets now and in the next few years is the increasing battle to keep control of the costs of Adult Social Care. Some form of local government reorganisation would not be able to ignore this whilst concentrating on issues that are more ‘interesting’ for local business.

Paul Grant is an Associate Solicitor in the Planning and Environmental team at Coffin Mew.