Planning hits the front page

With the Localism Bill and the presumption in favour of sustainable development making waves, few can remember a time when planning was so prominent a fixture in national headlines.

January

The Northern Ireland executive announces plans to allow development that breaches usual planning policy if the profits are used to help restore heritage assets. A consultation ended in May, but the policy is yet to be adopted.

February

Plans for a "superdairy" in Lincolnshire are withdrawn by operator Nocton Dairies after warnings from sustainability watchdog the Environment Agency that the proposal could contaminate groundwater.

The Northern Ireland executive and Irish government release a joint consultation on a high-level cross-border framework for spatial development.

Research by Planning shows that ministers could be forced to top-slice £1.5 billion a year from councils' main funding pot to pay for the New Homes Bonus aimed at encouraging housebuilding in England.

March

Prime Minister David Cameron describes tardy planners as "enemies of enterprise", while business secretary Vince Cable blames the planning system for hindering social mobility and business growth. Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) president Richard Summers hits back in a letter to the Times.

More than 60 per cent of voters back a referendum to allow the Welsh Assembly to pass laws in devolved areas without reference to Whitehall. The result opens the door to a Welsh planning bill.

Chancellor George Osborne's second Budget unveils plans to make it easier to convert offices into homes and to allow firms to draw up the neighbourhood development plans proposed in the Localism Bill. (In October, the bill is amended to require business-led neighbourhood forums to consider the social, economic and environmental wellbeing of their areas.) Osborne also unveils the first 11 of a new wave of English enterprise zones, with another 11 following in August. Planning rules are to be eased in the zones to try to boost economic growth.

Housing minister Grant Shapps and decentralisation minister Greg Clark urge councils to renegotiate section 106 planning gain agreements to help restart stalled housing schemes.

Northern Ireland passes a Planning Bill, but is unable to introduce key reforms due to wrangles over separate legislation to restructure local government. In September, the executive announces that it will introduce a separate bill to allow some parts of the original legislation to be enacted regardless.

April

Town and parish councils, residents' associations and heritage organisations are among the first wave of bodies selected to pilot new neighbourhood planning powers. Three more waves are subsequently announced, bringing the total number of neighbourhood forums to 126 at the end of the year.

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg unveils the first 50 projects to share £450 million from the first round of the Regional Growth Fund, which is aimed at encouraging economic growth in parts of England suffering public sector job losses. A second round of £950 million is announced in November.

Tributes pour in after Sir Simon Milton, the London mayor's deputy mayor for planning, dies at the age of 49. Milton had previously served as leader of Westminster City Council and chairman of the Local Government Association.

May

Planning reveals that regeneration quango the Homes & Communities Agency will take control of the majority of assets owned by England's soon-to-be-abolished regional development agencies, with the rest being offered for open market sale. The coalition confirms this "stewardship" scheme in July.

Ministers announce proposals to make local finance considerations material to planning applications, sparking accusations of a move to "cash for sprawl". Later in the year, a government amendment to the Localism Bill makes it clear that cash considerations should not outweigh other factors.

June

Grant Shapps unveils plans to build 100,000 homes by 2015 on publicly owned brownfield land in England. This is up two-thirds on the target for 60,000 new homes on such land over this period, announced in April.

A white paper from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs proposes introducing nature improvement areas that would focus efforts to nurture ecological systems on a strategic scale rather than at individual sites.

The Court of Appeal rejects developer CALA Homes' claim that the government's intention to revoke England's regional strategies should never be a lawful material consideration in planning decisions, but says that the intention would only be a material consideration in a small number of cases.

July

An amendment to the Localism Bill results in the need for two referendums on neighbourhood development orders produced by business-led neighbourhood forums. Referendums will now have to be held among both local businesses and residents.

The draft National Planning Policy Framework for England is released. This proposes relaxing restrictions on building offices outside town centres, removing brownfield targets for housing and reintroducing a single local development plan for councils. The plan to introduce a presumption in favour of sustainable development creates a national debate.

The government signals a U-turn by announcing it will consult on allowing Community Infrastructure Levy receipts to be used for affordable housing. Housing bodies voice concern that there will be insufficient money to be spread between infrastructure and affordable homes.

Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones announces that the Welsh government will introduce a planning bill by 2014. A white paper on the proposed changes is to be published next year, he says.

August

The Department for Communities and Local Government promises to impose sanctions on councils that take more than a year to decide planning applications. But the RTPI points to figures showing that this would only apply to 0.7 per cent of applications.

Stevenage Borough Council challenges an inspector's decision to reject its core strategy because North Hertfordshire District Council suspended work on a joint housing strategy. In December, the council learns its High Court challenge has failed.

Plans to speed up the system for determining planning appeals relating to small-scale developments such as extensions, garages and fences are unveiled by the Welsh government.

September

An amendment to the Localism Bill is adopted, giving ministers the right to devolve regeneration powers to English cities without needing further legislation.

A report from spending watchdog Audit Scotland says that the gap between the cash councils earn through planning fees and the cost of processing applications has become unsustainable. The Scottish government responds in November by announcing it will consult on reforms.

October

The Welsh government announces the creation of an advisory group to review how planning in Wales should be delivered in the future.

Planning minister Bob Neill reacts to pressure by announcing transitional arrangements will be developed to give councils that lack an up-to- date local plan time to adapt to the planning reforms.

Riot police move in to help enforcement officers evict the illegal travellers' development at Dale Farm in Essex. The operation brings to an end a ten-year legal battle that Basildon Borough Council says has cost up to £8 million.

November

The Commons communities and local government select committee produces a withering report into government regeneration policy, saying it has "little confidence" in the coalition's strategy.

The Localism Bill receives royal assent, introducing a raft of changes including neighbourhood planning powers, referendums on elected city mayors and a community right to build.

The government announces its housing strategy for England, which includes plans to enable developers behind stalled residential schemes to force councils to reconsider planning obligations agreed prior to April 2010 after two years rather than five at present. It also announces £400 million to help deliver residential schemes hit by the downturn.

In his Autumn Statement, George Osborne announces a review of the planning appeals process to try to make it faster and more transparent.

December

Mary Portas' review of how high streets can be best supported makes 28 recommendations. Among them, she supports "town centre first" development and calls for secretary of state "exceptional sign off" for all new out-of-town schemes.

Mayoral vehicle announced

London mayor Boris Johnson announces that the work of the Olympic Park Legacy Company will be handed to a new mayoral development corporation that will cover an extended area taking in the Olympic Park and surrounding land.

Scots boost planning profile

In a historic election victory, the Scottish National Party wins a majority in the Scottish Parliament and promises to boost the profile of planning. It says it will place the recovery of the development industry at the heart of its economic strategy.

Riots prompt security moves

Civil disturbances sweep England, prompting the government to consult on making it easier for firms to install security shutters. London Borough of Haringey planners have to relocate after their offices in Tottenham are targeted.

High-speed rail delay

Transport secretary Justine Greening confirms that the government will delay its decision on whether to go ahead with the controversial high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham until early next year.


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