December 11, 2012

Commercial property e-Brief: Growth & Infrastructure Bill – What is it?

The Planning Minister has unveiled a broadening of the fast-track regime for large developments which promote economic growth.  The proposals are only in respect of major developments such as science parks, distribution centres, minerals extraction schemes, chemical works, R&D facilities and major industrial developments.  The regime was initially implemented under the Planning Act 2008 for Nationally Important Infrastructure Projects (“NSIPs”).  NSIPs are dealt with by the Planning Inspectorate but planning permission is ultimately granted by the Secretary of State.

HOW WILL IT WORK?

Developers will be able to choose the fast-track option for their applications which are not NSIPs but which are still ‘major development’ by submitting it directly to the Planning Inspectorate bypassing the Local Planning Authority altogether. Which developments will qualify is still the subject of inter-governmental discussions.

WHAT IS INCLUDED?

Although we await the definition of what types of development can use the new fast-track system, Department for Communities & Local Government have stated that it is for “economically essential development like manufacturing parks or big leisure parks”.  A National Policy Statement is expected and there will be a clear criteria set for which developments qualify.  These applications would be decided within 12 months of submission.

WHAT IS NOT INCLUDED?

No matter how large, residential schemes will not qualify.  However, Eric Pickles will be expected to ‘call-in’ these applications more often for a decision by him.  This is contrary to what the Government had indicated and it is not clear why housing, which is greatly needed, is being excluded.

WILL THE BILL INTRODUCE ANYTHING ELSE?

  • A new test of reasonableness in relation to information required for an application
  • A tightening up of the rules on registering town and village greens to prevent locals using it as a tool to hinder development 
  • A broadening of the Secretary of State’s ability to recover appeal costs
  • Draft stopping up orders to be introduced at planning application stage
  • Easing of restrictions on Councils disposing of land for development
  • Renegotiation of s106 obligations where they render developments economically “unviable”

OVERALL?

This all sounds like welcome news in terms of speeding up major developments.  However, the amount of pre-application work for the present major infrastructure projects regime means that in reality timescales are little changed from the development’s conception to the granting of permission.  As always we are awaiting a lot of detail and criterion so the proof of how effective these proposals will be remains to be seen.

If you would like to talk to someone about the implications of the Bill on a development, please contact Rob House, Solicitor in the Commercial Property (Planning) team on 0113 227 2128 or at rob.house@gordonsllp.com.