Proposed Sections 96 to 100 of the Housing and Planning Bill slightly modify the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (PCPA) and the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.
These Sections provide, among other matters, enhanced powers which will allow the Secretary of State to intervene in the plan-making process.
It is proposed directions made in respect of Local Development Schemes will allow a local planning authority to have regard to the subject matter of documents specified in their Local Development Scheme (rather than being limited to the geographical coverage of their areas).
This will remove current concerns that the existing section is too narrow in scope.
Additionally, it is proposed that the Secretary of State (SoS), be given additional powers to direct an Inspector to 'suspend' the examination of a development plan document to enable other matters or representations to be considered.
The SoS will be required to specify in a notice to the Inspector which matters, people or other procedural steps are to be considered.
Other more substantial amendments created by the Bill will enhance the powers that allow the government to step in where a local planning authority (LPA), fails to produce a 'Local Plan' for their area.
Many LPA's still do not have an up to date plan yet the government considers Local Plans to be critical if housing land supply is to meet local need.
It is anticipated that government will require LPA's to have their Local Plan for new homes in place by 2017.
If a LPA fails to do so, the Bill provides for the intervention of the SoS if they think that the LPA is failing or omitting to do everything necessary when preparing, revising or adopting a development plan document.
This means that the SoS may take over this process and recover the costs of its intervention from the LPA.
It is expected that the SoS will delegate any plan preparation or revision to a panel of planning consultants, rather than it prepare and/or revise the plans themselves.
Additionally, the existing situation where a whole development plan document has to be called in for review by the SoS is to be revised. This is because it is not always necessary to call in the whole plan and the Bill proposes that only part of a development plan document be called in if required.
However, it is not clear whether this would apply to situations where an intervention requires a development plan document to be prepared from scratch.
Generally, the draft Bill proposes intervention to enable plans to be put in place more quickly. In our view, however, that process must ensure that it does not compromise the quality of development plan documents.
Intervention must also not dilute the test of 'soundness' of Local Plans. To that end can Plans created by intervention really be considered to be 'local' plans?
The proposed changes to the Local Plan process anticipated by the draft bill do raise a number of questions and potentially some unintended consequences.
No doubt these will be the subject of much debate by commentators as the Bill progresses through the Commons and the Lords.