Labour plans new PINS powers

Labour has backed proposals to give the secretary of state powers to intervene if councils are too slow to prepare local plans, persistently under-deliver on housing or fail to cooperate with adjoining authorities to meet local housing needs.

Housebuilding: proposals would enable intervention where councils ucooperative
Housebuilding: proposals would enable intervention where councils ucooperative

The party last week backed proposals in the much-anticipated Lyons Housing Review, which includes plans to increase the supply of new homes in England to more than 200,000 a year by 2020.

Among the recommendations, the report outlines a December 2016 deadline for authorities to submit their local plans for examination.

"If this requirement is not met, the secretary of state will have the power to direct the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) to intervene and ensure an acceptable plan is produced in cooperation with local residents and partners including the local authority," the report says.

The review, by former BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons, also proposes powers for the secretary of state to direct authorities in a particular housing market area to complete a cross-boundary plan setting out housing and employment requirements "where cooperation is not forthcoming". It also advises powers for the secretary of state to "intervene to ensure improved performance" where under-delivery on housing persists (see panel, right).

But Catriona Riddell, convenor for strategic planning at the Planning Officers Society, warned that the plans to penalise councils for failing to prepare a plan by December 2016 are "reactive rather than proactive".

She added: "You have to know the area to plan for it. Part of the planning system is about democracy, so how can you have an independent inspector come in and do a plan? How can you hand it over to a non-accountable, non-elected body?"

Bhavash Vashi, planning director at consultancy Barton Willmore, said he welcomed the proposed deadline. However, he described the timeframe as "very ambitious" given councils' record of local plan delivery.

He added: "The other question mark is PINS. What would be its purpose, how would it be involved and does it have the capacity and resources to get involved in what is a quite detailed process of local plan preparation, involving examination and public consultation?"

Beverley Firth, partner at law firm Mills & Reeve, also said the proposals may result in a "democratic deficit". She added that she would like to see "staging posts" introduced ahead of the final 2016 deadline.

She said: "The concern will be resourcing and accountability. But we are talking here about a near crisis in national housing delivery, so maybe something is required. Of course, most authorities will try very hard to meet those targets."

Meanwhile, Ben Frodsham, associate at consultancy Indigo Planning, said the deadline may give councils the extra nudge needed to get their local plans in place.

But he cautioned: "If the secretary of state directs PINS to intervene, its interpretation of the council's evidence may lead to a higher housing target being imposed than was originally planned for."

However, Malcolm Sharp, the immediate past president of the Planning Officers Society and a Lyons Review commissioner, commented: "I think that PINS would hold local authorities' hands in doing the local plans. What the proposals do is to draw attention to the importance for housing delivery on getting plans in place."

Hilary Benn, Labour's shadow communities secretary, said: "If a council refuses to live up to its responsibility of having a proper plan to meet local housing need, then someone else will have to take on the task. The Lyons report suggests that this should be the inspectorate.

"Whether this ever happens, however, will be entirely down to councils themselves. The decision is in their hands, and this is in keeping with the spirit of localism and strong local democracy."

Five Key Proposals from the Lyons Review

1. Local plan deadline mooted Local authorities should be required to submit a local plan to the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) by December 2016. The secretary of state would otherwise be able to direct PINS to ensure that a suitable plan is prepared with residents and partners, including the authority.

2. A 'right to grow' The secretary of state could oblige neighbouring councils to prepare a strategic housing market plan where cooperation is not forthcoming and housing need unmet.

3. 'Use it or lose it' permissions The life of a planning permission should be reduced to two years with higher fees for renewal of expired consents.

4. Spatial dimension for policy framework A national spatial dimension should be introduced in the National Planning Policy Framework to identify opportunities for substantial housing growth created by national infrastructure investment. The guidance would inform local plans and major developments.

5. Beefed-up special measures In areas of persistent under-delivery, the secretary of state would have power to intervene to ensure improved performance. Measures available would include designation of a council under the special measures regime currently used for performance on deciding major planning applications.

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