RTPI pressure helped shape Localism Act

Our work helped to improve the Act and now we'll push for its sound implementation, vows James Butler.

Members of the Royal Town Planning Institute can look at the institute's year-long efforts to influence the planning provisions in the Localism Act knowing that, although far from perfect, the legislation is better than what was originally proposed.

Meeting ministers, opposition frontbenchers and peers ensured that policy-makers understood the RTPI's concerns. Chief executive Trudi Elliott's appearance before the Localism Bill committee, which scrutinised the bill line by line, ensured that planners' voices were heard directly by key MPs.

Throughout the course of the bill, we produced detailed briefings to suggest improvements to the bill and point out potential problems, many of which were referred to directly in debates.

A media and communications strategy ensured that our concerns were reported in the press. With input and support from members, and strong links with sister institutes and partners, we successfully pressed for a number of changes to the bill.

Government revised the duty to cooperate along the lines of our suggested amendment. There is now a duty on local planning authorities to cooperate in relation to planning sustainable development. Serious consideration will have to given to working together on joint plans where there is a need for it, and plans can be found to be unsound if they do not do this.

The purposes of neighbourhood forums changed - following the laying of an amendment promoted by the RTPI and Civic Voice. This has the effect of requiring business-led neighbourhood forums to take a wide view of the social, economic and environmental wellbeing of their area rather than a narrow economic view.

Those undertaking neighbourhood planning will have a duty to consult before submitting a neighbourhood development plan or order. Regulations relating to neighbourhood planning will specify the arrangements for consultation.

Although not withdrawn as we pressed for, the controversial clause introducing finance considerations into the planning system has been amended. Incentives such as the New Homes Bonus should not have additional weight over other considerations when planning applications are being decided. However, we maintain that the clause is confusing and will lead to legal challenge.

The RTPI also promoted two amendments in the House of Lords to set out the nature of the transitional arrangements needed to make sure the new system is implemented smoothly. The government has since accepted the principle of transitional arrangements.

Yet, there is more to be done. The key test of the Localism Act lies in its implementation. The creation of the National Planning Policy Framework is set to replace over 600 pages of planning policy statements and guidance. In addition, there are upwards of 6,000 pages of planning guidance of various kinds. We are in discussion with the government and others to pinpoint what is needed in future, and who is best placed to produce it.

James Butler is communications and public affairs officer at the RTPI.

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