Thursday, 17 April 2014

Shout it from the rooftops

Further planning rules under the Localism Act could increase the need to consult residents, says Ben Halsey, senior associate at Lewis Silkin

Social landlords and everyone involved in development projects will need to keep a watchful eye on changes to planning rules regarding community consultation.

The Localism Act received royal assent on 15 November 2011. As is well known, the act covers a wide range of topics of relevance to the housing sector - the stated central aim of the new legislation is to ‘disperse power’ and ‘help people and their locally elected representatives achieve their ambitions’, according to the government.

Planning for change

One of the main areas feeling the winds of change is the planning system (part six of the act). In particular, section 122 of the act introduces a new duty to consult local communities before submission of certain planning applications - more precisely, the effect of section 122 is to incorporate a new provision within the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

As is the case with much UK legislation, not all the provisions of the new act became effective on the date it received royal assent. The new duty to consult will therefore, in practice, only come into force once communities secretary Eric Pickles makes further secondary regulations specifying the types of planning applications and the relevant thresholds to which the new duty will apply. A further statutory consultation will be required for such additional regulation.

Broadening the category

The original impact assessment for this part of the act mooted that the duty to consult would apply to planning applications in respect of the provision of more than 200 residential units or more than 10,000 square metres of non-residential floor-space. As a rough guide, those figures would equate to 3,000 of some half a million planning applications submitted annually (quite a small percentage).

It has been widely suggested that, in order for the new duty to have any real effect, the thresholds need to be lowered. However, until further consultation is conducted on this aspect, we won’t know what the final thresholds will be. But we can predict that it is likely that it will be lowered.

Reach out to the community

While further details are yet to unfold, it is already clear that under the new duty applications must be publicised in a manner that is likely to draw the attention of a majority of residents who live near the development site. The applicant will need to include contact details for comments on or attempts to collaborate with the design of the proposed development and timescales for comments to be submitted. This might, for example, involve setting up websites whereby people can respond.

Social landlords will need to ensure that, when the new duty comes into force, relevant projects adhere to the new requirements.

ben.halsey@lewissilkin.com

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