Wednesday02 September 2015

Localism will change your life

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New legislation is set to transform the development process in the UK. Make sure your firm is prepared


Richard Brindley, director, RIBA membership and professional support

Richard Brindley, director, RIBA membership and professional support

Nobody knows yet how the new localism bill will work and what its impact will be, least of all the government. It is a major change of legislation, reflected in its length and complexity, and is currently being knocked into shape by parliament. Much of the detail will be released incrementally, as the bill progresses, over the next few months and as wider consultation on the proposed National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is carried out next year.

What is clear is that it is intended to be a big shake-up of the planning system and an enormous leap of ideological faith by the coalition government, seeking to devolve power for planning policy and development control from central and regional government to local authorities and local communities.

Key measures of the bill include:

More power to local authorities

Allowing them greater freedom to decide and do almost everything themselves and extending powers to even more local parish councils and community groups. But also imposing a duty on local authorities to co-operate with others on wider cross-boundary strategic planning issues, in the absence of the abolished Regional Spatial Strategies.

Community empowerment

Extending rights to voluntary and community groups to take on local services, to raise capital and buy local assets (post offices, pubs, parks etc) and to demand referendums on local issues.

Neighbourhood planning

It introduces rights for local communities to shape their local areas through Neighbourhood Development Plans and Orders (NDPs and NDOs).

An NDO grants planning permission in a particular neighbourhood for a specified development, without the need to apply for specific planning permission. Any qualifying body – a parish council or an organisation or body designated as a neighbourhood forum – can request an NDO from the local planning authority.

An NDP sets out policies on the development and use of the land in a neighbourhood that can be requested by the qualifying body.

In addition the bill creates community right to build orders (CRBOs), a particular type of NDO that gives community organisations the ability to take forward development in their area without the necessity of applying for planning permission if certain conditions are met.

Community infrastructure levy

Reforming the existing levy on developers to enable some of the funds to be passed directly to local neighbourhoods to fund locally controlled infrastructure and community facilities.

Community consultation

Requiring prospective developers to consult local communities before submitting planning applications for larger schemes.

Alongside the localism bill the government is proposing a major planning reform, including the NPPF, Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), relaxation of use classes, streamlining of planning application processes, enterprise zones, presumption in favour of “sustainable development” (to be defined) and fast-track planning processes for major infrastructure projects.
Some of these seem to contradict the localism agenda, so it needs to be sorted out how all these initiatives will work together.

Change offers many new opportunities for architects, even at a time of economic hardship. The shift to localism will make the UK development process and architect’s role very different, with the onus now on community engagement and influence. Being aware of these changes, spotting the opportunities and repositioning the services “offer” of architects’ practices, to take advantage of these opportunities, is essential to prosper in the future.

The shift to localism will make the architect’s role very different

So gen up on all the changes, review your future business plans and get involved with your local communities. The RIBA is working on several fronts to influence the development of the new policies and legislation to ensure that design quality and value of good architecture and architects is not diminished, but enhanced.

It is also developing an awareness building and upskilling programme (campaigns, training, toolkits, CPD etc) for the profession, wider development industry, local government and communities, to enable this change to happen positively.

Richard Brindley, director, RIBA membership and professional support


Patrick Perry, partner with London law firm Barlow Lyde and Gilbert

Patrick Perry, partner with London law firm Barlow Lyde and Gilbert

One of the key issues in the localism bill for architects relates to what the Communities & Local Government department calls “a radical reboot of the planning system”. Among other things the bill implements the changes below:

  • It imposes a duty on local planning authorities to co-operate with each other in relation to sustainable development and use of land for strategic infrastructure;
  • It contains new planning enforcement measures.
  • It contains changes to the nationally significant infrastructure project.

The government’s proposed NPPF, which will consolidate policy statements, circulars and guidance documents into a single text, is intended to be localist in its approach. It has carried out a consultation and intends to publish a draft for further consultation later this year.

There have been voices for and against the proposals contained in the localism bill, and it will be subject to further debate in parliament. Recently, the Communities & Local Government committee expressed concerns there was a real risk local authorities would fail to address key issues of long-term strategic planning at a larger-than-local level, in its report, Abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies: A Planning Vacuum? For example, the committee’s report flags that it is questionable how planning for environmental concerns, for waste management or transport will take place. Various concerns have also been raised that the emphasis on placing design issues in the hands of local communities may lead to less innovative designs being implemented.

The bill has now to complete the report stage and third reading in the Commons and then pass through the Lords, although the final stage, royal assent, is expected to take place later this year. The act may then not come into force immediately, and it will be necessary for the government to make various regulations in relation to the detail of the measures in the act.

Patrick Perry, partner with London law firm Barlow Lyde and Gilbert


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