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The Localism Bill, which includes measures for major reform of the planning system in England, is now waiting for Royal Assent, having completed its scrutiny by Parliament.

The legislation abolishes regional strategies, establishes new plan-making in the shape of neighbourhood plans, creates a new duty on neighbouring planning authorities to “cooperate” on issues which cross council boundaries, brings in compulsory pre-application scrutiny and abolishes the Infrastructure Planning Commission, paving the way for the commission's functions to be carried out by a new unit in the Planning Inspectorate and decisions to be made by minsters who are democratically accountable to the public.

When the commission is abolished next April, decisions on nationally significant infrastructure projects like power stations and new reservoirs will be considered by a yet-to-be established Major Infrastructure Planning Unit in the Inspectorate, which will make a recommendation to the relevant Secretary of State who will make the final decision.

During the final consideration of the Bill in the Commons, Decentralisation Minister Greg Clark insisted there was now considerable political consensus over much of the legislation.

He told the Commons, which approved all the most recent Lords amendments: “It is important to say that we want to see more planning, not less.

“We feel that over time the imposition from above has stood in the way of local communities expressing their own vision of the future of their community. That is what we want to give them a greater chance to do.

“At the heart of that is the need to achieve sustainable development. Section 39 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 provides a duty on those preparing local plans to do so with the aim of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development.

“Amendment 370 extends that principle to neighbourhood planning, with an explicit condition that it should contribute to the achievement of sustainable development. The duty to co-operate will require that public bodies should co-operate effectively on sustainable development.”

Clark also made it clear that although sustainable development was not defined on the face of the Bill it would be in the National Planning Policy Framework, the final version of which is planned for publication in April 2012.

You can learn more about the Localism Bill and track its progress on the Parliament UK website.

Roger Milne
10 November 2011

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