Localism Bill

Memorandum submitted by the National Farmers Union (NFU) (L 81)

Introduction

The NFU represents more than 55,000 farming members in England and Wales. In addition we have 41,000 countryside members with an interest in farming and the countryside. They are regular users of the planning system.

A commitment to smaller government and increased local delivery of decision-making is instinctively attractive to the majority of farmers. Smaller government, for example, offers the prospect of more streamlined regulation and less burdensome red tape. This will help to save businesses costs and free farmers to focus on where the risks really are, and what outcomes are needed, rather than the processes associated with heavy-duty reporting. It is in that context that the NFU have considered the impact of the Bill.

Strategic overview

1. In its provisions reforming the planning system, one of purposes of the Bill is to provide a better framework to deliver much needed development. DCLG minister Greg Clarke, in a speech on the 18th November, made this clear when he said, "planning should enable, rather than impede, the right kind of development that our communities and businesses are crying out for." However, it is not clear how this overall objective sits with the principle of local decision making. It is hoped that the proposed National Planning Policy Framework, which remains outside the scope of this legislation, will set out the necessary guidance on issues of national importance.

2. We are also concerned about how Local Enterprise Partnerships will function in the new system. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has indicated they will have a strategic planning function. However, they too are not included in the Bill, and it is not clear what role they will play, particularly where strategic planning decisions need to be made. The NFU hopes that this issue will be clarified during consideration of the Bill.

Areas of concern within the Bill

Assets of Community Value (Part 4, Chapter 4)

3. The NFU have serious concerns about this part of the Bill which proposes that each local authority should maintain a list of ‘Assets of Community Value’. When the owner of the asset proposes to dispose of it the local authority will have to be notified and there will then be a moratorium on the sale so that community groups can submit a bid.

4. This part of the Bill is very vague, and assessing the practical outcomes of its provisions is therefore very difficult. There is no definition of what constitutes an ‘Asset of Community Value’ as it is intended that this will be set out in regulations. However, we believe, for the sake of certainty and to allow legislators to be clear as to the effects of the Bill, this definition should be included on the face of the Bill.

5. We are also concerned at the possible effects of a moratorium on a potential sale of such an asset. Depending on the definition (as discussed above), this could act as a major problem for a farmer seeking to manage his land in the most efficient way possible.

6. The NFU believes this part of the Bill needs greater clarity over its intentions, whilst striking the right balance between legitimate community expectations and the ability for land to be managed without unnecessary red tape.

Community Infrastructure Levy (Part 5, Chapter 2)

7. The Bill contains a number of amendments to the Community Infrastructure Levy. The principle of the levy is based on the uplift in land value that is assumed to occur on the grant of planning permission. The NFU, working with other organisations, has submitted to DCLG sufficient evidence to demonstrate on a national basis there is no uplift in land value when planning permission is granted for agricultural development. This evidence has not been refuted.

8. In preparing a charging schedule each authority has to demonstrate it has carried out a viability assessment on different types of development. In the interests of efficiency, cost-savings and reducing red tape, it is completely unnecessary for each local authority to have to confirm what the national evidence has already shown, and instead agricultural development should simply be exempted from the Community Infrastructure Levy. The NFU believes the Bill should be amended to this end.

Neighbourhood Planning (Part 5, Chapter 3)

9. This section of the Bill is overly complex and somewhat confusing. The relationship between Neighbourhood Plans, Neighbourhood Development Orders and the Community Right to Build is not clear. The complexity is likely to increase the costs of using the new procedure. The NFU hopes that during debate on these provisions, the benefits of a more streamlined system become clear, as there does appear to be a real opportunity to allow rural communities to decide on what is needed in their local area.

10. The role that national policy objectives such as increased food production and investment in renewable energy will play in local decision making must be clarified.

February 2011