Localism Bill

Memorandum submitted by Stratland Management Limited on behalf of Colonnade Land LLP (L 171)

1. Introduction

1.1 Colonnade Land LLP ("Colonnade Land") is an investment partnership established in 2007 to serve an institutional fund vehicle to invest in UK strategic land opportunities. Known as Cordea Savills UK Property Ventures No.1, this fund is operated by Cordea Savills and its assets are managed by Stratland Management Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary of the Cordea Savills Group. The Colonnade Land portfolio is extensive, with in excess of 3,000 acres of land under ownership or long term control, and comprises development opportunities at various stages of the planning process.

1.2 Colonnade Land welcomes the objectives of the Localism Bill ("The Bill") and supports the proposals to devolve power to elected local authorities and for greater consultation with stakeholders during all stages of the planning process. Colonnade Land is already working closely with local communities to understand their views on development and will continue to do so as the Bill progresses through Parliament in advance of Royal Assent.

1.3 On behalf of Colonnade Land, Stratland Management ("Stratland") does have particular concern regarding elements of the content of The Bill as it is presently drafted, in that if enacted these reforms could leave the local planning system with the ‘least worst’ option, which would be the appearance of local control but the reality of continued inadequate housing delivery. This would be counter to the principles of sustainable development upon which the Government’s Localism agenda is stated to be founded. Within the following section (2.), Stratland identifies particular points of concern and proposes laterations and changes that it considers will be beneficial.

1.4 Stratland’s overall concern with the content of The Bill is how the reforms will ensure the delivery of sustainable development and in particular contribute to UK economic growth. There are real concerns that Localism could delay the UK’s economic recovery.

1.5 Stratland also has concern with the preparatory process which has been followed in this instance:

a. Unlike many other important pieces of planning and development legislation in recent years, there was no White Paper stage allowing for full open and transparent consultation with the industry and the public before the Localism Bill was published.

b. C ertain significant elements of the Bill need clarification and additional detail before it is possible to make anything but general comments . This has been a common response from the industry and local authorities .

See page 5 for a summary of our proposed changes

2. Content and proposed changes to the Bill

Stratland’s specific concerns and proposed changes (which for ease of reference are summarised in section 3.0) are as follows:

2.1. The removal of the Regional Strategies has left and will continue to leave the planning system without a strategic tier. Therefore, it is vital that the delivery of development through local authorities working together is addressed through the strengthening of the duty to cooperate in The Bill, and bringing forward the proposed National Planning Policy Framework ("NPPF") in conjunction with the Localism Bill. It is not possible to fully evaluate the one without the other.

2.2. The NPPF should be in place when the Bill becomes law; the importance of the Planning Policy Statements and Planning Policy Guidance should be made explicit in the interim. The failure to put in place the clear transitional arrangements promised in Open Source Planning puts the development industry at risk of a further period of confusion.

2.3. Furthermore, it is vital that the NPPF itself is given a statutory basis and included in the Bill. This would provide local authorities with a clear and robust set of guidelines to assist them in making the right decisions for their areas to ensure timely delivery of sustainable development and economic growth.

2.4. The key issue that should underpin the planning system moving forward is that of accurate evidence. In order to deliver sustainable development, economic growth, and new housing where it is needed, local authorities must be subject to a statutory duty in the Bill to maintain an up to date evidence base (that has been subject to full consultation and scrutiny) to drive development, supported by an independent process of verification for that evidence. We refer, in particular, to the necessity for accurate assessments of local housing need and availability of housing land supply.

2.5. A robust evidence base provides a crucial tool for local authorities in defending controversial schemes that may have limited public support but are vital for providing locally required housing and other developments. The requirement is referenced in the PPSs and PPGs but given its importance it should be in both the NPPF and The Bill. There should also be a duty for local authorities to take full account of, represent and use the evidence accurately in making decisions and writing policy. Where decisions are taken which are not in accordance with the evidence base, these should be justified. This should also apply to Inspectors, particularly when judging whether a plan is sound. The effect of the way The Bill is currently drafted in this respect leaves key matters such as local housing need and housing land supply as far too passive, and thus too open to alternative interpretation. Without accurate evidence on which to base policies and strategies, outcomes are at risk of variance and failure of fitness for purpose.

2.6. This evidence based approach should also be used to support a statutory definition of soundness which reflects the importance of sustainable development and economic growth. Given that Inspectors’ reports on local plans will no longer be binding on one hand, but that councils will only be able to adopt reports considered sound on the other, clarity over what is or is not a ‘sound’ plan would assist councils in taking account of and responding to Inspectors’ reports. This would also potentially help reduce the scope for legal challenges in the event of disagreements.

2.7. In addition to this, the presumption in favour of sustainable development should be included in the Bill, as well as in the NPPF as announced by the Government. There should also be a focus on the importance of sustainable economic development in this presumption, as the Government has stressed the importance of sustainable development in these reforms alongside their laudable aim that the reforms in the Bill should aid economic growth. Furthermore a clear definition of what constitutes sustainable development is required to guide local authorities’ decision making.

2.8. The primacy of the local plan should be made clearer in the Bill and there should also be a presumption that where there is no plan or up to date plan, the NPPF and the principles of sustainable development and economic growth should guide decision making.

2.9. The neighbourhood planning proposals need clarification, particularly in terms of the criteria for neighbourhood groups. While we welcome new powers for democratically elected councils including towns and parishes, it is important to ensure that very small unrepresentative community groups do not attain undue influence. A community group of three members is far too small. As with the local development plans, the Bill should include a specific requirement for the new neighbourhood plans to be tested against the principles of whether they will deliver sustainable development and economic growth which in addition to conformity with the local plan would form the basis of whether they are considered sound, and by whom. Furthermore, there should be more detail on the financing of neighbourhood planning to ensure that development interests are not expected to fund the preparation of neighbourhood plans that may work against them.

2.10. The local referendum proposals need to have more detail to give local authorities more powers (and confidence) to reject calls for (or the results of) these referendums. Local authorities will come under a great deal of political pressure to accept the outcomes even if they go against the local plan, the principles of sustainable development, or endanger the delivery of vital housing or infrastructure. An independent system to resolve conflicts is needed, and should be included in the Bill. Ideally, local referendums should be absorbed into the Local Development Framework process, to ensure that these do not take place at all times of the year and are not allowed to be single issue campaigns to derail development sites or schemes that are identified in a local plan or by the elected local authority as appropriate.

2.11. Finally, if the reforms do cause demonstrable and sustained delays in the delivery of housing, there will need to be the capability for a swift review of the changes made to the system. Stratland also believes that there should be an evidence based review process included in The Bill that could be triggered when local authorities consistently fail to deliver the development that their areas need, based on the up to date evidence base that the authority itself has a duty to maintain and represent. There should also be local powers to improve incentives (e.g. New Homes’ Bonus and CIL) if they are deemed not to be working. Research shows that while local people understand the need for new development, fewer and fewer want development in their areas [1] .

The risk is that these reforms leave the local planning system with the ‘least worst’ option, which would be the appearance of local control but the reality of continued inadequate housing delivery and stalled economic growth. This would be counter to the principles of sustainable development upon which the Government’s Localism agenda is apparently founded.

3. Summary of key proposed changes

Recommended change


Statutory duty to maintain and to represent an evidence base, including an up-to-date and accurate assessment of local housing need and housing land supply.

To demonstrate the success (or otherwise) of the provisions in the Localism Bill and provide a framework for ensuring delivery of housing and other development where it is clearly required. This evidence and the principles of sustainable development and economic growth should underpin the planning system.

System for verification of the evidence base.

To provide the public and the development industry with confidence that local authorities will be accountable for the figures they publish and decisions they make.

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) should be given a statutory basis and brought forward to coincide with the Localism Act.

The NPPF should form the central reference point of the Government’s planning and development policies to ensure that the Localism Bill’s provision can be made to work. The NPPF must therefore be prepared in time for the reforms in the Localism Bill to become law.

A statutory definition of soundness for local plans.

This would assist local authorities in responding to Inspectors’ reports and reduce the scope for legal challenges.

The presumption in favour of sustainable development should be made a statutory duty.

This presumption should guide the planning process and have a particular focus on sustainable economic development and growth.

The primacy of the local plan must be clearly explicit in the Bill.

To ensure that the principle of the plan-led system is not undermined through piecemeal implementation of neighbourhood plans.

Neighbourhood groups need to have stricter criteria and neighbourhood planning should have a formalised and transparent financing system.

It is important that very small unrepresentative groups are not able to contradict the evidence based decisions of an elected local planning authority or the wishes of other local people. The appropriate sources of financing for neighbourhood planning should be set out in The Bill.

Local referendums should not become tools to derail development.

Locally elected councillors need to be able to reject referendums and results where they run contrary to the local evidence base and the principles of sustainable development. Referendums should not able to contradict the plan-led system.

A review process is required if not enough development is delivered to meet identified need.

Investment in land opportunities will be discouraged unless there is an independent system in place to review the impacts of Localism and the actions and policies of local authorities that are not providing the housing needed locally, thus damaging the delivery of sustainable development.

March 2011

[1] YouGov survey, 2010. 81% recognised the need for new housing, but only 50% would welcome new homes near their own. The latter represents an 8% decrease from 2007: http://www.hbf.co.uk/We-welcome-the-Localism-Bill-now-communities-need-to-welcome-new-homes-ce2048f