Growth and Infrastructure Bill

Memorandum submitted by Local Government Association (LGA) (GIB 16)

About the Local Government Association

1. The Local Government Association (LGA) is the national voice of local government. We work with councils to support, promote and improve local government. We are a politically-led, cross party organisation which works on behalf of councils to ensure local government has a strong, credible voice with national government. We aim to influence and set the political agenda on the issues that matter to councils so they are able to deliver local solutions to national problems. The LGA covers every part of England and Wales, supporting local government as the most efficient and accountable part of the public sector.

Summary of evidence

2. This Bill is an opportunity to empower local areas to drive economic growth. However as currently drafted the Bill will miss that opportunity. To deliver a real impact, the Bill should focus on initiatives that can tackle the actual barriers to growth, of which planning is not one. The LGA has a number of suggestions on more effective measures, which we strongly recommend parliament consider incorporating within the Bill.

3. The LGA welcomes some of the Bill’s measures , particularly around aligning the Town and Village Green legislation with the planning system. Similarly, recognition of the value of broadband to economic growth, and the move to offer businesses certainty by postponing the revaluation of business rates. However, as detailed in this paper, we have strong concerns on a number of the key provisions.

4. The Bill’s focus on planning is misguided and will not tackle the real barriers to growth. This is backed by research which shows:

· There is a building backlog of 400,000 new homes with planning permission, but yet to be built by developers;

· Approval for residential / commercial applications are at a record ten year high – 87% of applications were approved in 2011/12;

· The construction industry agrees with councils that planning is not the problem. A joint LGA / British Property Federation report [1] published last month recommends that government "avoid uncertainty caused by further major reforms of the planning system".

5. The Bill in its current form will undermine local democratic decision making and is at odds with the Government’s localism programme. It provides sweeping new powers for the Secretary of State to take away decision making from locally and democra tically accountable councillors, and thus from their communities.

6. The Bill is centralising in nature. It proposes a massive shift of resources from councils to the Planning Inspectorate (PINs), an unelected quango, which is likely to result in delays to planning applications and removal of local accountability, as well as significant expansion in the scale and role of the Inspectorate. This is likely to result in a vicious circle as resources are diverted from improving local decision-making and channelled into second-guessing it from Bristol where the Inspectorate is based.

7. The measures to remove local choice and influence in favour of central decision making are likely to be counterproductive in terms of stimulating growth.

· Removing local decision making over planning applications and renegotiation of developer contributions risks seriously denting trust at the local level meaning some communities may be increasingly reluctant to accept new development in their areas.

· Proposals to allow appeal mechanisms for section 106 obligations will also unnecessarily introduce delay and unnecessary bureaucracy into the process, contrary to the aims of the legislation.

8. The Bill includes redundant clauses that will have no impact on growth:

· For example, the requirement for councils to only ask for information that is "reasonable" to support an application. This is legally redundant (given that public bodies that act unreasonably are at risk of judicial review) , undermines the General Power of Competence and is unnecessary given the clear policy steer in the NPPF . It also rests on the wholly unevidenced assumption that councils ask for information without having a reason.

9. Further measures which the LGA would recommend the Committee adopt within the Growth and Infrastructure Bill can be found detailed in Annex A. Some of these measures would in our view have a more immediate and powerful effect in unlocking sustainable development through planning than the measures in the Bill; others look at wider barriers to growth, especially the financial context.

Housing and development finance – tackling the real barrier to growth

10. A large scale barrier to growth is access to housing finance, both to build and to buy. It is addressing this issue which the LGA recommends Parliament focus the provisions of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill.

11. In order for the housing and development market to recover two things need to happen:

I. supply and demand need to balance out under the new market conditions at a new price level: compared to the peak of the market; and

II. investors such as banks, building societies, and property companies need to be able to act in the market again: that means they must rebuild their balance sheets so that their liabilities balance their the new level of house prices

Until those two things have happened, a normal market in the assets cannot restart. In the UK, neither of those things has yet fully happened. On the contrary, the Governor of the Bank of England has said "I am not sure that advanced economies in general will find it easy to get out of their current predicament without creditors acknowledging further likely losses, a significant writing down of asset values and recapitalisation of their financial systems [2] "

Asset prices are still adjusting, and the pace and current direction of house price adjustment is unclear. Secondly, the balance sheets of financial institutions have not yet been repaired. Taken together with the continuing affordability barrier – average house prices are still more than 4 times earnings, which is high for a time of economic slowdown - this makes it extremely hard for would-be buyers, especially first-time buyers, to access the mortgage market. The average size of deposit has risen as a proportion of earnings from 37 per cent to 79 per cent. [3]

12. There are four features of the current situation that are stifling housing supply:

I. the housing market is still far from stable and it is not yet unambiguously in the interest of firms with residential property on their balance sheets to increase the availability of cheap housing;

II. balance sheet and regulatory constraints on lenders mean that they are obliged to take a very restrictive approach to lending, which means that even with low interest rates stimulating demand for lending, that demand is not being met;

III. the absence of a significant house price adjustment so far, combined with the fragility of company balance sheets, means that there is still a lot of risk left in the system; and

IV. house builders cannot afford to sell houses cheap to get the market going. If they did, they would have to write down the book value of their unsold houses and unused plots. That could adversely affect their financing, their shareholders and lenders.

13. There are three policy conclusions to draw from this:

I. measures need to be taken to stimulate prudent and sustainable lending to housebuyers;

II. measures need to be taken to stimulate housebuilding; and

III. when considering the barriers to development and growth, planning is not even part of the discussions. The financial facts are enough to demonstrate that the housing market is not going to be improved in the short term by planning policy.

14. In light of these conclusions, the LGA is focussed on finding ways in which planning can be used as a positive tool to unlock development; and councils can step into the breach created by the inability of commercial lenders and developers to finance the housing market.

Designation of councils and determination of planning applications by the Secretary of State (Clause 1)

15. The LGA believes the measures to remove planning decisions from the local level are counterproductive and centralist. The proposals are at odds with the Coalition’s localism programme and we would strongly encourage the Committee to support amendments which would delete this Clause from the face of the Bill. This clause substantially expands the role of the Planning Inspectorate and will necessitate a significant injection of funding to the Inspectorate in order to ensure speedy decision making. It would be more logical to prioritise proper funding for swift decisions at the local level rather than to expand an unelected quango to run this process.

16. The clause is unnecessary given that councils are overwhelmingly saying ‘yes’ to development through the planning system:

· Last year councils hit a ten year high in the percentage of applications approved for all types of development (with 87% of applications receiving approval) [4] .

· In 2011/12 this equated to an estimated 2,536 residential schemes granted planning permission [5] .

· In 2011/12 approvals for major office, general industry and retail distribution applications hit over 90% and those for minor applications of the same nature were approved in 99% of cases [6] .

17. The government proposes to give the Secretary of State a wide ranging power to remove planning decisions from councils, but provides no detail of the criteria used to do so. At a minimum, we would urge the Committee to secure firm details from Ministers as to what the criteria will include and which councils will be affected before discussing this Clause.

Limiting the information that local planning authority can require to that which is ‘reasonable’ (Clause 4)

18. It seems to us that asking Parliament to limit councils’ ability to request information unreasonably is redundant. It is a general principle of public law that public bodies may not act unreasonably and restating that lengthens the statute book to no purpose. In any case, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) says that information required for planning applications be proportionate, relevant, necessary and material [7] . This clause therefore represents a waste of parliamentary time. We would encourage the Committee to press for clear evidence as to why this measure is necessary. As it stands, the LGA will support amendments which seek to delete this clause from the Bill.

Modification or discharge of affordable housing requirements secured through Section 106 agreements (Clause 5)

19. The LGA believes that this measure is unnecessary and would support its deletion from the Bill. The proposals could result in severe delays in getting development underway as developers wait for the new regime to be put in place, therefore delaying economic recovery.

20. Housing developments are stalled now [8] . The country cannot afford to wait for this Bill to receive Royal Assent, and the resulting appeals to take place. There is a need for councils and developers to work together on s106 agreements now to unlock them. Councils have demonstrated a very high appetite for responding to changed economic circumstances, including renegotiating s106 agreements voluntarily. For example, on average councils are willing to accept a level of affordable housing around a third lower [9] and all but two per cent of councils feel they would be able to renegotiate s106 agreements [10] – the vast majority are proactively seeking opportunities to discuss and act on viability concerns with developers, often before agreeing s106 contributions (see annex C).

21. The government’s current approach risks putting too much power in an unelected quango. Viability is not a science and is dependent on many varied factors. The decisions about the viability of local sites are best made at the local level. We are concerned that Secretary of State guidance to PINs on viability of affordable housing within a Section 106 will take no account of judgements and assessments made on the viability of a site at the local level.

22. There is a lack of understanding within the sector as to why this clause only addresses affordable housing. We would recommend the Committee seek clarity on why, of all the things s106 might pay for, affordable housing has been identified as the most dispensable.

23. Changes to s106 will not address the wider market issues relating to demand and access to mortgage and development finance and will not therefore address the underlying barriers to increasing housing supply.

Amendments to the Communications Act (Clause 7)

24. The LGA supports the consideration of economic growth in respect to broadband roll-out. This will not however tackle the real barrier; that Government does not yet have EU state aid clearance to spend the £530m it wants to on broadband – securing this is an urgent priority. The Committee may wish to ask Ministers what action they are taking to secure clearance.

25. These proposals must be read alongside the Government announcement on 7th September 2012 which would extend permitted development rights to take the right away from people to have a say over the location of six-foot high junction boxes and overhead poles in the hearts of their communities. Decisions on where to place broadband infrastructure must consider the local environmental impact. The clause is linked to this proposal but goes far beyond it by potentially removing councils’ ability to set conditions on communications infrastructure which is not subject to planning permission, especially in conservation areas and ancient monuments.

26. As currently drafted the clause relates to any telecoms infrastructure, not just broadband boxes (the LGA understands this is for reasons connected with EU law). We would encourage the Committee to seek a firm statement from the government that it is not opening the door to uncontrolled building of mobile masts in beauty spots, historic locations, or next to schools, and an explanation of how that statement of intent will be given effect.

Registration of town and village greens (Clause 12-14)

27. The LGA welcomes the measures to align the town and village green regime with the planning system. This will ensure that discussions about the future of a site take place primarily and appropriately through the planning system.

28. Town and village green legislation is too often used by opponents of particular schemes to block or stall development. Such a technique can delay a scheme for years and cost the council significant sums of money.

29. The current financial climate makes the resolution of this issue increasingly urgent. The administrative burden involved with processing applications is substantial whilst there is currently only a nominal cost to the applicant. A recent example from a county council cited costs of legal advice at £32,000 for one case alone. It is therefore helpful that the Bill will enable a fee to be charged locally. This should be levied at a rate that is still feasible for local groups – we suggest that this is best determined locally (see annex D).

Extending the Major Infrastructure Planning Regime to include commercial and business projects (Clause 12-14)

30. This clause could result in planning decisions of major local importance and interest to residents (for example on shopping centres and leisure complexes) being removed from local authority hands and placed with the unelected Planning Inspectorate.

31. The LGA would encourage the Committee to press for further details of this measure (for example the definition of what constitute business and commercial development) so an informed debate can be held. Clarification will be necessary, for example, on mixed dwelling projects. Without such detail, it is not possible to properly comprehend the impact of this clause.

32. The Government press statement accompanying the Bill indicated that decisions on such large scale commercial projects will be fast tracked within 12 months. This would not represent a fast track scheme given that Councils are already determining and approving over 90% of major applications for major commercial and business applications [11] within 52 weeks [12] .

Annex A: LGA recommendations on paper on new clauses to stimulate economic growth

This Bill is an opportunity to extend councils’ powers to promote economic growth. The LGA has numerous proposals which it is urging Parliamentarians to consider. These proposals would have a wide ranging positive impact on growth, and include:

A. Removal, or relaxation, of the housing borrowing cap: Local authorities have demonstrated their ability to borrow prudently and councils’ borrowing is not significantly increasing, unlike central government’s. Continuing to impose a cap, specifically on housing borrowing, is unnecessary and anti localist (and is driven by a quirk of the UK’s public accounts which other governments do not apply). Relaxation of the limitations here would allow for some authorities to double or treble their development programmes providing both much needed affordable housing and a huge stimulus to the local construction industry (see Annex B).

How could this be delivered? Repeal s171(b) of the Localism Act 2011 [13]

B. Devolve economic powers to drive local growth. The Localism Act included provision to allow for devolution of such powers, for example (skills and transport). This is being taken forward in some areas through City Deals; however devolution has been limited so far. Skills funding is an example of where more wholesale devolution could support local growth. Too often there is a mismatch of skills between local provision and local labour market demand. We need to find ways to make local skills providers more responsive to local employers’ needs now and in the future. Local partners should have more scope to adjust the financial incentives (currently under BIS and the Skills Funding Agency control) to make the system more locally responsive.

How could this be delivered? By introducing a "right to challenge" for local authorities to allow councils to bid to take over functions and services delivered by Government departments, or by inserting a duty on the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to act on clauses 15 and 16 Localism Act 2011.

C. Improve powers to bring properties back into use and to unblock stalled sites: The compulsory purchase scheme could be used to better effect to bring empty properties [14] back into use and unlock stalled sites. We would like to discuss with government how we can speed up the process and reduce liability for costs up front.

How could this be delivered? Amend s17(4) [15] of the Housing Act 1985 to insert a new clause directing councils to begin the CPO process at the same time as the planning consent process, coupled with appropriate indemnities against potential costs.

D. Allowing councils to set their own permitted development framework: A national approach to permitted development and changes of use [16] will inevitably lead to unintended consequences and adverse impacts in different localities. Encouraging investment of a particular type by relaxing permitted development rights or encouraging change of use may be right for one area and not for another. The current system allows central government to set out permitted development rights and provides local authorities limited tools to amend this. However these tools are cumbersome and expensive and as a result are not well used. We propose that a local authority is provided with powers to set out permitted development rights locally – subject of course to consultation and a local impact assessment.

How could this be delivered? Amend the Town and Country Planning Act to give councils powers to determine permitted development rights locally; or to make Local Development Orders and Article 4 directions easier to use.

E. Removal of the current power held by Highways Agency to give directions to restrict the granting of planning permission, by local planning authorities (if they impact upon the strategic network). For example, the Agency has blocked big planning applications, which might have increased demand on motorways. We acknowledge the legitimate role of the Agency to keep the strategic road network operating safely and effectively, however the veto is an unnecessary centralist control over the planning authority. The Highways Agency is already a statutory consultee on planning applications that may impact on the strategic road network, and a named partner under the duty to cooperate in the Localism Act. They should be required to negotiate appropriate transport solutions rather than being able to veto development unconditionally.

How could this be delivered? Amend Article 24 and 26 and Schedule 5 of the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (England) Order 2010

F. Improvements to statutory consultee system. (i) When consultees are late in offering their submission this can cause delays. Consultees could be forced to pay costs if they are late. The requirements to re-consult with statutory consultees in cases of minor amendments to permissions (via Section 73 notices) are disproportionate. (ii) Reform could be achieved through amendments to the application process, which would ensure consultation only with those, that are affected by the amendment.

How could this be delivered? (i) Through the insertion of a new clause to the Bill which would make provision for secondary regulations, which allows local authority to impose a penalty on statutory consultees if they fail to provide specified information in the specified period. (ii) Revoke Section 2.(6)(2) of the Amended Town and Country Planning (General Development Procedure) Order 2009

G. Require water companies (and other utilities subject to economic regulation) to have regard to future housing numbers in planning infrastructure.

How could this be delivered? Amend Section 110 of the Localism Act 2011, to create a new duty on key utility companies and Ofwat to have regard in their investment plans to housing figures, which are agreed as part of an adopted Local Plan, which are relevant to their area(s).

H. Improvements to Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMOs), to make them a useful tool, quicker, and less bureaucratic.  Currently local authorities have to apply to the Residential Property Tribunal to seek authorisation to make an interim EDMO.  This is time consuming and bureaucratic. It would be helpful to allow local authorities to proceed with an Interim EDMO without reference to the Tribunal.

Additionally, local authorities can only place a restriction to prevent sale of land in the land registry while the EDMO is in place. Consequently, if the local authority has an EDMO in place, but the owner fails to meet his mortgage commitments, the Bank can repossess and sell the property, having given the local authority only 24 hours notice to comply with the restriction. If this happened the bank would secure their funds and the local authority would be highly unlikely to recover their costs. It would be helpful to allow local authorities to instead register a charge in the land registry.  This charge would take priority over the bank, as it is created under the Housing Act 2004.

How could this be delivered? Amend the Housing Act 2004 to:

· allow local authorities to proceed with an Interim EDMO without reference to the Tribunal (s133(1)(b)) [17] [1].

· allow local authorities to register a charge in the District Land Registry as soon as works are completed.

Annex B: Relaxing the borrowing cap to increase local growth

Stroud District Council has a stock of just over 5,200 properties.  As part of the new HRA Self Financing regime the council borrowed £91.7 million and will now keep all future surpluses. Stroud has planned to invest over £23 million over the first 5 years in catch up repairs to obtain Decent Homes Standard.  Over the same period SDC is looking at utilising the £10 million ‘Headroom’ it has to build over 100 new council owned properties to extend and increase its Council House owned stock.

If rules for authorities were closer aligned to those for associations it would provide an environment in which authorities could adopt a more ambitious / aggressive approach to developing new homes to  help stimulate the economy (both nationally and locally), assist those in most need and replace those homes purchased under the Right To Buy programme.  It would also encourage authorities to participate more actively in the new. RTB rules as they would not be financially disadvantaged by selling their existing stock.

Stroud would like to retain all capital receipts under the right to buy scheme (to be utilised for new build) and also to be able to borrow through the HRA based on the future rental (50% Loan to Value). These changes would put authorities on a par with Associations and in Stroud’s example would enable it to build an extra 188 properties making a total of 288 properties whilst at the same time giving a definite and positive stimulus to the local and national economy.

Based on the above, on a national basis, this could lead to almost a trebling of the new build programmes and create a real stimulus and boost to the economy whilst being financially prudent and providing much needed social housing.

West Devon District Council has taken the opportunity to use the ‘borrowing headroom’ provided by the new HRA funding arrangements from 1st April 2012 to support housing growth. The additional funds have enabled a number of initiatives including the exchange of contracts on stalled sites to produce new homes and refurbish long term empty properties. A net spend of approximately £4m will generate an additional 83 homes for the community, without grant or subsidy from the HCA or other bodies.

One of the stalled sites had planning permission but the developer was unable to raise finance due to the changed economic circumstances. Additionally the lack of a financially sustainable development undermined the CPO for part of the land that was integral to the scheme. The council has divided the scheme up and taken direct ownership of 10 long term empty homes to allow those to be refurbished and added to the housing stock. The council also holds some revenue monies in the HRA totalling approximately £1.5m that will be used to purchase properties from local builders and support the local construction industry.

The restriction on council borrowing under HRA is limiting the amount of housing growth they are able to deliver. If councils were provided with true local democratic freedom and the prudential borrowing code applied to the HRA, West Devon could develop 1,000 homes over the next 10 years. This would represent an increase of over 30% in retained stock from 3,100 to 4,100.

Annex C: Renegotiating Section 106 agreements

Ashford Council was approached by the developers of a key site which has permission for a development of 1100 dwellings. The original section 106 obligation stipulated that the development include a new junction to connect it to the southern orbital road prior to the occupation of 50 dwellings – in effect, at the start of building. However, the cost of the junction was £9 million and the developer couldn’t make the payment. Because the junction is a critical piece of infrastructure without which the development could not proceed, the council still required it. However, it agreed to an interim upgrade that would provide sufficient capacity for the first 500-700 dwellings, at a much lower cost of £1.5 million for implementation, and supported a bid by the developer to the Get Britain Building fund to finance the full junction. In February the scheme was awarded pre-commissioned status

Bristol City Council proactively seeks requests from developers to renegotiate Section 106 agreements on schemes that have become unviable since planning consent was granted. Requests are considered by the planning committee in a process that includes an open book appraisal of viability by the developer. Examples include Finzel’s Reach (a £200 million mixed-use development site in central Bristol), which is a high quality regeneration scheme on a strategically important site. Within this context, Bristol negotiated a revised Section 106 package that met some, although not all, of the demands put forward by the developer. The revised position incentivised the developer to deliver the development to their timescale by reducing the Section 106 package by around a third (£4.5 million).

Planners at Cheshire West and Chester are clear that the Winnington Urban Village proposal ‘ticks all the boxes’ for what it wants to achieve in Northwich, where the proposal is located. It includes 1200 new homes on a large brownfield site close to the centre of the town, which would contribute to meeting housing demand, help implement a policy to support retail-led regeneration of Northwich town centre, stimulate the wider local economy and promote sustainable locations in preference to edge-of-town greenfield sites. In January 2012 the council negotiated a revised section 106 package for the Winnington Urban Village. Although not yet finalised the outcome is likely to include a waiving of the affordable housing requirements, and education and some transport contributions. Even with these concessions the development has viability challenges, but the developer consortium has agreed to proceed.

Exeter City Council has adopted a fair and flexible approach to their S106 negotiations ensuring that the maximum amount of affordable homes are delivered in context to the constraints associated with each and every individual development. The Council has been pro-active in working closely with them to deliver as much affordable housing as possible without prejudicing the overall development viability. In the last 12 months the Council has varied S106 terms to change the mix, tenure and number of affordable homes on two large developments to enable them to proceed to completion. In one instance it involved the transfer of 11 of the affordable homes direct to the Council for £1 each including 4 wheelchair homes. This was instead of the house builder providing 26 affordable homes on site to be transferred to a Registered Provider which they could not economically afford to deliver.

The London Borough of Haringey accepted that with Hale Village, a large residential-led mixed-use redevelopment, a weakened housing market made it reasonable to rethink the mix of tenures on the site, and the S106 obligations. Planning permission (with S106) was granted in October 2007, just before the housing market stalled. The original obligation made provision for a range of contributions including £7.7 million towards local infrastructure. The Planning Committee approved a revised package that reflected the changed economic circumstances, while also allowing the council to capture contributions should the market circumstances change. Apart from an initial payment of £3.1 million, future payments are tied to the development achieving agreed sales values, once other debts are paid. Data to monitor performance is being certified by the Homes and Communities Agency. The officer report acknowledges that while the revised obligation could mean that the council potentially receives a total of £10.2 million in section 106 payments, it is ‘unlikely to receive this full sum… unless the private housing market picks up substantially’. 

Leeds City Council has been proactive in setting realistic amounts of affordable housing around the city, and has used its powers under s106 to unlock many large sites.  In February 2011 the Council’s Executive Board introduced an interim affordable housing policy to reflects the findings of an Economic Viability Assessment which provided an up to date assessment of what affordable housing could be delivered in the current market. This policy significantly reduced the amount of affordable housing required in the vast majority of the city, which rendered many s106 renegotiations unnecessary, as the Council was already operating under market viable levels of affordable housing.

South Queen Street Mill was originally granted planning permission in August 2007, but development stalled and the planning permission expired.  The developers submitted a new request for planning permission in 2010. They paid for an independent viability assessment, as required by the Council, to show that it was not viable to provide affordable housing and a full green space contribution.

The Council agreed to a new s106 agreement, removing the affordable housing and reducing the green space element, in order that the development could progress. The new s106 agreement provides for "recession proofing", that is if the site is not substantially developed (50% of the flats substantially completed) within 2 years, a revised financial viability statement is to be resubmitted, and if the market has picked up, then some affordable housing (and even enhanced green space contribution) would be required. This has allowed for delivery of 42 flats and two houses.

Temple point was initially refused planning permission as the s106 contribution did not meet the Council’s requirement.  After the rejection the Council met with the applicant and site owners to discuss the position. As a result a substantially improved offer of 85 per cent of the total was proposed. 

The areas identified as priority by Ward Members were the full 15% affordable housing, primary and secondary education contributions and the provision of a toucan crossing. The Council believed that the negotiated contribution reflected these priorities. This will bring forward 86 homes of family housing which can be delivered in the short term as the housebuilder wants to develop units on this site straight away. 

Wealden District Council has been working with developers for the past two and a half years to unblock stalled developments, by negotiating s106 agreements on a viability basis. To do this, Wealden enables developers to pay for an independent viability assessment. This has been taken up by many developers and has allowed 20 + small to large schemes progress. It also allowed developers to use a viability assessment during initial negotiations, with a view to preventing stalled developments. Any application to re-negotiate goes back to the planning committee. Wealden has also brought forward affordable housing by re-evaluating where houses are positioned within a site. For example, although as standard the affordable housing is scattered through a development, Wealden has sometimes relaxed this requirement in order for development to go ahead.

Annex D: Use and impact of the existing Town and Village Green (TVG) registration system.

1. North East English Unitary, Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council

· A development in a North East English Unitary was blocked after being granted planning permission following an application to declare the land as a village green.

· The scheme would have delivered around 340 dwellings, as well as community facilities including a new leisure centre, medical centre, retail units, visitor centre and youth centre.

           2. Welsh Unitary, Pembrokeshire County Council 

· Since the implementation of Section 15, a Welsh Unitary council has received 5 applications to register land in its ownership as a common or town/village green, which relates to 2.478 ha. The Council has also lost 0.638ha (with 1.84 ha pending decision) of land that had been purchased many years before to provide social/affordable housing, employment sites and other facilities required by the wider community.

· For example, two recent applications relating to Council-owned land alone has meant the loss of capital receipts estimated to be in the order of £400,000.

· This Council is concerned by the way Section 15 of the Commons Registration Act 2006 has impacted on the Council’s ability to utilise land purchased with public money for public benefit, and particularly the way that the statutory provisions have been interpreted by the Courts (many judgments pre-dating the 2006 Act) and provide precedents for the operational consideration of the legislation [18] .    

3. South East Shire District, Wycombe District Council 

· Slate Meadow – the Council own 2.7 ha of land that forms half of a ‘green buffer’ between Woburn Green and Bourne End. The land was largely ‘scrub’ and had long been held for potential additional housing. It had been identified in the Local Plan as Safeguarded Land for future development.

· The Council did not adequately ‘police’ the land (with fencing/signage) and turned down an offer from the Parish Council to lease it as playing fields. Subsequently, in 2004, local residents, some of whom presumably entered upon the land for dog walking, mounted a Village Green campaign and were successful, ‘freezing’ it for all time.

 4. South West English Unitary, Borough of Poole 

· The Borough of Poole has received two applications in the last year, one of which has been determined (the application was unsuccessful), and the other for which is awaiting determination. The one that was determined cost the Council circa £70,000, including staff costs and legal bills, and a further £5,000 defending the threat of judicial review – should a judicial review be allowed, there could be a further cost of circa £30,000.

· The applications related to land already designated for park or recreation purposes. One was prompted following an application for development on a recreation ground, which was subsequently refused at the planning stage.

November 2012


[2] Sir Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England , 24 October 2012


[3] From:



[4] Esondevelopmentcontrolst/

[5] Taken from Glenigan research, commissioned by the LGA ‘ An analysis of unimplemented planning

[5] permissions for residential dwellings’

[6] Of decisions made. DCLG Live Planning Application Statistics:


[7] NPPF, paragraph 193

[8] There is a building backlog of 400,000 new homes with planning permission,

[9] Than set in their local plan

[9] /journal_content/56/10171/3750535/ARTICLE-TEMPLATE

[10] Than set in their local plan

[10] /journal_content/56/10171/3750535/ARTICLE-TEMPLATE

[11] office/research and development, general industry/storage/warehouse and retail distribution and servicing


[13] c ted

[14] There are 700,000 in England existing homes sitting underused with many in poor condition and empty for long extended periods of time.


[16] This would a llow local reforms to the use-class system which would aid local authorities in

[16] tackling the clustering of the same type of outlet (such as betting or fast food shops) where they are

[16] experiencing such issues, whilst promoting localities that are attractive to economic investment.



Prepared 21st November 2012