Growth Bill's 'special measures' clause amended in Lords

The government has amended its flagship growth bill to make clear that developers will be able to submit only major applications directly to the Planning Inspectorate where councils have a poor record in planning performance.

Parliament: Growth and Infrastructure Bill debated yesterday
Parliament: Growth and Infrastructure Bill debated yesterday

Under proposals in the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, councils with a poor track record in the speed of decisions or the proportion of applications overturned on appeal will be placed in "special measures".

Where councils are subject to this designation, developers would be given the option to submit applications directly to the Planning Inspectorate, the bill proposes.

Yesterday, during the bill’s report stage in the House of Lords, a series of government amendments to the bill were agreed.

Communities minister Baroness Hanham told peers that one of the government amendments to clause 1 – the bill’s "special measures" clause – "will ensure that applications for major development only can be submitted directly to the secretary of state".

She said: "What we are doing now gives the secretary of state the power to prescribe what ‘major development’ means for this purpose. We intend to use the existing definition found in secondary legislation; for example, 10 houses or more or an equivalent amount of commercial space."

Hanham said that a separate government amendment to the clause would provide a "powerful safeguard against any perceived future misuse of the powers that clause 1 confers on the secretary of state".

She said that the agreed amendment made clear that only authorities "not performing adequately" in determining planning applications would be subject to special measures. Hanham added that the amendment "requires that the criteria for designating authorities - and, indeed, for lifting any designation - must be laid before both houses for a period of 40 sitting days before they come into effect only if there has been no vote in either House to the effect that the document should not be approved".

During the debate, Hanham confirmed that the authorities would be placed in special measures if they "have had 20 per cent or more of their major decisions overturned at appeal, or that have decided 30 per cent or fewer of their major applications within the statutory period".

It remains the government’s intention to make any initial designations in October 2013, Hanham said.

She added that the government is considering the "most appropriate period" over which to assess performance for the first designations. She said that the release of planning statistics for April to June would be brought forward "so that this information can be taken into account in assessing performance for those first designations".

Hanham said that there had been 227 responses – many of them from planning authorities – to the government’s consultation on the thresholds for poor performance, which closed in January. "There were, inevitably some differences of view," she said.

The minister said that the government has agreed with the Local Government Association that it will develop new arrangements for the governance of the Planning Advisory Service that "will give local government a clearer leadership role in developing a vigorous and effective package of support" to ensure authorities avoid designation and move out of designation as quickly as possible.

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