New housing bill brings changes

The Government has published its Housing and Planning Bill which gives ministers powers to introduce substantial changes to the planning system including permission in principle, wider use of development orders and registers of certain types of land.  The 119-page, 145-section Bill makes extensive use of enabling powers with wide discretionary provisions for ministers.

Measures to strengthen the neighbourhood planning process, including new powers for the secretary of state to intervene and prescribe time periods for councils to hold referendums on neighbourhood plans, have been included in legislation published yesterday.

It does not specifically mention brownfield or previously developed land but allows the communities secretary to require councils to publish registers of land of “a prescribed description” or “prescribed criteria”.  Announcing the Bill, housing minister Brandon Lewis made much of its provisions to increase home ownership through the right-to-buy and starter homes.

“The Housing Bill will allow us go even further by kick-starting a national crusade to get one million homes built by 2020,” he said.  “It truly is an historic moment that will help deliver the homes hard-working people rightly deserve, transforming generation rent into generation buy.”

It would, however, give ministers draconian powers to write local plans and to demand councils give “automatic planning permission” for brownfield housing.

Section 102 of the Bill proposes amending Sections 58, 59 and 70 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to allow “permission in principle” and to approve “technical details for them for land development, in England though not in Wales, and gives wider scope to development orders.

Section 103 would amend the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 to give the communities secretary powers to require councils to prepare registers of land in their area.  But they would be “permitted” some flexibility to decide which land meets criteria, to consult or to omit qualifying sites, though they would have to explain why.

But the communities secretary would have reserve powers to force publication or updating of registers and to demand information.  A great deal of the detail is likely to be included in regulations or guidance, making it hard to assess the detailed effects of the Bill at this stage.

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