The Growth and Infrastructure Bill is due shortly to get its second reading in Parliament. The National Trust has a close interest in the passage of this piece of legislation, and we are watching the debate closely.
The context for the Bill is the economy. Although the UK is now emerging from recession, there is still much more to be done to get the country working again. The Bill explicitly aims to promote growth, and makes further changes to the way planning works. This comes on the back of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which aimed to reduce over a thousand pages of planning policy to just over fifty and to enshrine the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’.
Some questions arise from our initial reading of the Bill, which we hope will get answers as the Bill progresses through the House. While we recognise the importance of getting the economy moving, the Bill as drafted contains quite a few new powers for the Secretary of State and it remains far from clear how these will be implemented or that there are sufficient checks and balances in place.
Our questions in particular are:
- Where the Bill introduces the option (Clause 1) to make applications direct to central Government when a local authority has been designated as a poor performer, how will this process work in practice? How are local people to be consulted on applications not assessed by local planning officers?
- Similarly, some business and commercial applications are set to be dealt with under the national infrastructure system rather than through the local planning authority (Clause 21). What criteria will be used to assess them, and in the absence of a National Planning Statement for business or commerce, what is the policy framework against which decisions will be made?
- Clause 7 makes changes to the things Government must take into account when making rules to regulate communications operators and their ability to locate telecommunications equipment on other people’s land. Specifically by: introducing consideration of the need to promote economic growth when making electronic communications regulations and removing consideration of the need to conserve the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage in National Parks, AONBs. This is time limited until April 2018. What will be the impact of these two measures? Can the Government confirm that it will not weaken the overall protection for special landscapes?
- Also, clause 13 introduces new limits on the designation of village greens over land which is already subject to an application or has been designated for development in a local plan. How will this work in practice? Will there be sufficient public notice given in advance of the trigger events (eg submission of applications, or making of local plans) that then impact on the freedom to apply for designated status?
We will be seeking answers to these questions from the Department as the Bill progresses, and keeping a close eye on the situation as it develops.