Neighbourhood Planning Bill: Will it help or hinder the Government’s housing targets?

The Neighbourhood Planning Bill was announced last week and is currently in the process of working its way through Parliament. Once the Bill receives royal assent, it is expected to facilitate housebuilding across the country, and give residents more say over developments in their area.

The Housing and Planning Minister Gavin Barwell MP commented that the Bill will help to quicken the development of more houses nationwide saying, “we have already built 900,000 homes since 2010 and now this Bill will help speed up delivery of the further new homes our country needs”.

The Government claims the Bill will also strengthen neighbourhood plans while simplifying how they can be revised when circumstances dictate. Furthermore, Compulsory Purchase Orders will be made clearer and fairer, whilst pre-commencement conditions will require written agreements from developers prior to any building work taking place.

An interesting development concerns the omission of the word “infrastructure” from the Bill. When it was first announced in the Queen’s Speech the Bill was referred to as the ‘Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill’ but, since then, the infrastructure element has been dropped. With the Prime Minister keen to establish her own premiership and policy initiatives, this could be seen as a move to distance herself from one of George Osborne’s flagship policies: the National Infrastructure Commission. As seen with the decision to delay Hinckley Point and the decision to spread the Northern Powerhouse much wider that initially planned, Mrs May is not afraid to make her own decisions and, as such, some are expecting that she will push ahead with her own infrastructure agenda instead, meaning the National Infrastructure Commission may not be receive statutory status within the foreseeable future.

With regards to housing, perhaps the sweeping changes to neighbourhood plans represents a move to hand more power to local residents. Based on the first few months of Mrs May’s reign, it could be argued that her Government is keen to hand more power to the people. For example, changes were made to the Shale Wealth Fund proposals to ensure that proceeds will go direct to local residents rather than councils. Nevertheless, with the neighbourhood planning process now being streamlined, it will be easier for local communities to influence development practices directly. But does this improvement to neighbourhood plans present a risk to housebuilding?

To some extent yes, as neighbourhood plans could limit development within specific areas if residents feel housing needs are currently being met. On the other hand, these plans could speed up housebuilding in areas which have high demand and need, proving invaluable considering the current lack of housing stock in certain authorities. Whether Mrs May’s housing targets are met then could depend on the success or failure of these neighbourhood plans and the power handed to residents.

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