Planning lawyers concerned over uncertainties in New Planning bill

Planning lawyers this week urged the government to think again over proposals to give ministers powers to introduce secondary legislation on planning obligations.

The new powers have been inserted into the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill, allowing ministers to introduce new legislation governing planning agreements. The proposals would include new alternatives to planning agreements, such as developers paying a contribution to the local authority involved rather than having to address the impact of their developments themselves.

“We’re concerned that such an important aspect of the town and country planning system should be framed in secondary legislation,” commented Peter Williamson, President of the Law Society. “We’re also concerned that, when it emerges, the secondary legislation may fail to address the fundamental question of the scope of the legislative basis for planning obligations.” These concerns were raised in the Law Society’s briefings on the bill for the House of Lords and in the Law Society’s Planning and Environmental Law Committee response to the Government’s consultation ‘Contributing to Sustainable Development’, which was submitted to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister this month.

The committee was “disappointed” that the government did not include “new and amending provisions whilst it had the opportunity” with the Parliamentary passage of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill. It concluded: “The committee would urge the Government to bring forward both primary legislation and revised guidance on planning obligations as a matter of urgency. The uncertainties surrounding the current system are undoubtedly one factor in the complaints of developers, that the town and country planning system acts as a drag on economic progress.”

The committee identified one particular difficulty with planning obligations, which was the uncertainty as to whether they could deal with land transfer, green travel plans and other matters. It argued that this should be addressed by an addition to Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, which allows planning authorities to negotiate deals with developers, in which they fund local features or projects in return for planning permission.

“It is a very significant defect because, even though lawyers are ingenious people and aim to solve people’s problems, the agreements are convoluted and slow down the whole process,” commented David Brock, a planning partner at Mills & Reeve, who was involved in the committee’s response. “The Government is simply not addressing the difficulties that are there in the inadequacies of the powers.”