Property industry welcomes publication of Localism Bill

13 Dec 2010

Policy area: Planning

In the wake of the publication of the Localism Bill the British Property Federation (BPF) has welcomed greater community involvement in planning, but warned it must be introduced carefully so as not to put a leash on economic growth.

The Bill, presented in Parliament today, proposes to devolve planning and housing decisions to councils and neighborhoods, and announces a package of incentives aimed at rewarding councils and local communities who work with developers.

It has been described by the government as “a ground-breaking shift in power to councils and communities overturning decades of central government control”.

Liz Peace, chief executive of the BPF, said: “We support the broad objectives of the Localism Bill. As one of the most centralised countries in Europe a good dose of localism is needed to redress the balance.

“But the government has to perform a delicate balancing act between promoting greater community engagement and unleashing nimbyist tendencies that could hold back economic growth.

“One of the keys to getting the balance right will depend on whether the government can successfully complement the new emphasis on neighbourhoods with greater incentives to local authorities to back development. The introduction of a presumption in favour of sustainable development should be helpful as long as it is not so hedged around with caveats and exemptions as to be totally meaningless. 

“It is also crucial that the government presses ahead with plans to allow local authorities to retain business rates generated in their areas so that they are directly rewarded for backing new commercial development. The New Homes Bonus that will reward authorities for providing new housing can help, too, but this has to be backed up with a clear obligation on local authorities to define and meet the housing needs of their communities.

“Getting the level of neighbourhood involvement envisaged in the Bill will be very difficult. Questions remain about, who will contribute to and work up the proposed neighbourhood plans, what status they will have, how such plans will relate to wider local authority plans and how neighbourhoods will be defined. For example, will businesses also have their voice heard?

“It is essential that neighbourhood plans do not simply add another level of bureaucracy. The neighbourhood plan pilot schemes planned by Government whilst the Bill is going through will be crucial in finding solutions to these issues.”