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Reforms to make the planning system more democratic and effective

Nationally significant infrastructure projects

Some planning decisions are so important to our overall economy and society that they can only be taken at a national level. These include decisions on nationally significant infrastructure projects such as major train lines and power stations. Previously these decisions lay in the hands of an unelected public body, called the Infrastructure Planning Commission which is not directly accountable to the public.

The Government thinks that these important decisions should be taken by Government ministers, who are democratically accountable to the public. The Localism Act abolishes the Infrastructure Planning Commission and restores its responsibility for taking decisions to Government ministers. It also ensures the national policy statements, which will be used to guide decisions by ministers, can be voted on by Parliament. Ministers intend to make sure that major planning decisions are made under the new arrangements at least as quickly as under the previous system.

Abolition of regional strategies

'Regional strategies' were first required by law in 2004. These strategies set out where new development needs to take place in each part of the country. They include housing targets for different areas, set by central government. Local communities had relatively limited opportunities to influence the strategies.

The Localism Act has abolish regional strategies and replaced them with a range of new local duties.

Duty to cooperate

In many cases there are very strong reasons for neighbouring local authorities, or groups of authorities, to work together on planning issues in the interests of all their local residents. This might include working together on environmental issues (like flooding), public transport networks (such as trams), or major new retail parks. The duty requires local authorities and other public bodies to work together on planning issues.

Reform the way local plans are made

Local planning authorities play a crucial role in local life, setting a vision, in consultation with local people, about what their area should look like in the future. The plans local authorities draw up set out where new buildings, shops, businesses and infrastructure need to go, and what they should look like.

The Government thinks it is important to give local planning authorities greater freedom to get on with this important job. The Localism Act will limit the discretion of planning inspectors to insert their own wording into local plans.

Key to formation of local plans and the local planning decision making process is the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which now underpins local decision making. The purpose of planning is to help achieve sustainable development.

Sustainable means ensuring that better lives for ourselves don't mean worse lives for future generations. At the heart of the NPPF is a presumption in favour of sustainable development, which should be seen as a golden thread running through both plan-making and decision-taking.

Neighbourhood Planning

Neighbourhood plans give communities the ability to work with local authorities to develop a shared vision for their neighbourhood and deliver the sustainable development they need. To facilitate neighbourhood plans, local planning authorities need to set out clearly their strategic policies for their area and ensure that an up to date local plan is in place as quickly as possible. Neighbourhood plans should reflect these policies and neighbourhoods should plan positively to support them. Neighbourhood plans should not promote less development than set out in the local plan or undermine its strategic policies.  The Neighbourhood Planning Regulations  outline how the scheme works.

Community Right to Build

As part of neighbourhood planning, the Act gives groups of local people the power to deliver the development that their local community want. They may wish to build new homes, businesses, shops, playgrounds or meeting halls. A community organisation, formed by members of the local community, will be able to bring forward development proposals which, providing they meet minimum criteria and can demonstrate local support through a referendum, will be able to go ahead without requiring a separate traditional planning application. The benefits of the development, such as new affordable housing or profits made from letting the homes, will stay within the community, and be managed for the benefit of the community. For more information on how to set up a scheme please see the Community Right to Build guidance from the Department of Communities and Local Government.

Requirement to consult communities before submitting certain planning applications

To further strengthen the role of local communities in planning, the Act introduces a new requirement for developers to consult local communities before submitting planning applications for certain developments. This gives local people a chance to comment when there is still genuine scope to make changes to proposals.

Strengthening enforcement rules

For people to have a real sense that the planning system is working for them, they need to know that the rules they draw up will be respected. The Localism Act will strengthen planning authorities' powers to tackle abuses of the planning system, such as deliberately concealing new developments.

Reforming the community infrastructure levy

Local authorities are allowed to require developers to pay a levy when they build new houses, businesses or shops. The money raised must go to support new infrastructure - such as roads and schools. This is called the community infrastructure levy.

The Localism Act will change the levy to make it more flexible. It will allow some of the money raised to be spent on things other than infrastructure. It will give local authorities greater freedom in setting the rate that developers should pay. The Community Infrastructure Levy Regulations and amendments provide detail on how this will work.

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