Date laid: 4 June 2018
Parliamentary procedure: affirmative
Summary: The House may be interested to see that the Government have now brought forward these Regulations, to implement the policy change agreed in the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017 which allows the transfer of specific functions related to the oversight of new town development corporations from the Secretary of State to a local authority or authorities. Putting this change into practice may take some time, since it depends on the readiness of local authorities to take on the role. It remains to be seen whether the resource implications of doing so will influence their readiness. The Government intend to publish guidance prior to Parliamentary debates on the Regulations.
We draw these Regulations to the special attention of the House on the ground that they give rise to issues of public policy likely to be of interest to the House.
1.The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has laid these draft Regulations with an Explanatory Memorandum (EM). MHCLG says that the main purpose of the Regulations is to transfer specific functions related to the oversight of new town development corporations from the Secretary of State to a local authority or authorities.
2.The Regulations have been laid under the New Towns Act 1981 (“the 1981 Act”), in particular under provisions (section 1A) which were inserted into that Act by the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017. The House may recall that this was effected by an amendment moved by Lord Taylor of Goss Moor, and accepted by the Government, at Third Reading of the Neighbourhood Planning Bill. Lord Taylor made the point that the 1981 Act was “from a period when central government was much more involved in local delivery and when that was accepted”, and he contrasted that with the current “era of localism”, when the Secretary of State should have the capacity “to hand over the role of the corporations that will be set up to deliver these new settlements to the local councils that would bring them forward”.
3.In the EM, MHCLG explains that, while powers to create new town development corporations accountable to the Secretary of State remain on the statute-book, the Government consider that, alongside this, an oversight mechanism needs to be created which reflects the locally led approach to new garden towns and villages in the Government’s current programme. MHCLG says that the Regulations propose to transfer functions from the Secretary of State to the oversight authority, in a way that is consistent with ensuring that these new town development corporations are genuinely locally led.
4.MHCLG says that the Housing White Paper published in February 2017 contained a commitment to create such corporations which would be accountable to local authorities. We obtained additional information from the Department about the extent to which local authorities may be interested in making use of the Regulations, which we are publishing at Appendix 1. MHCLG has told us that it has not received any firm proposals, but that a number of current garden communities have informally expressed interest, and that the most advanced proposal is from North Essex Garden Communities who may submit a formal proposal seeking designation in early 2019.
5.Noting that consultation on the draft Regulations lasted only four weeks, between 4 December 2017 and 2 January 2018, we asked MHCLG why it set such a tight timetable. In its answer, the Department has told us that one reason for limiting this period was concern that a delayed laying date “could risk the Regulations coming into competition with Brexit legislation and potentially delay them for a considerable time”. MHCLG received five complaints about the short turnaround from individuals, and one local authority stated that the timescales meant that they were unable to provide a considered response to some questions. We have often made clear our view that Government Departments should allow at least six weeks for consultation periods, and MHCLG’s experience in this case highlights the difficulties caused by shorter timescales. It also incidentally throws light on the impact which Government preparations for Brexit legislation are having on “business as usual” work.
6.In the EM, MHCLG says that it will be producing guidance on the application of the Regulations. It has now published a summary of responses to its consultation. In the summary, MHCLG flags up a number of issues raised by respondents and indicates that these will be covered in the guidance. In response to our question as to why the guidance had not yet appeared, MHCLG has told us that it has been unable to publish it alongside the draft Regulations “as we are still engaging with a number of stakeholders over the content. However, we intend to publish it prior to the Parliamentary debates”.
7.MHCLG also says in the EM that creating locally led new town development corporations may result in additional costs for local authorities compared to other delivery vehicles for large scale housing development. In response to our question as to whether these costs could act as a deterrent, MHCLG has commented that it does not expect such corporations to be appropriate for smaller garden communities below around 10-15,000 homes. It has added that it will seek to offer financial support and advice, where appropriate, to local authorities making robust proposals for delivering new garden communities, but that ultimately it will be for the authorities proposing such corporations to ensure they have the resources necessary to do the job.
8.The House may be interested to see that the Government have now brought forward Regulations to implement the policy change agreed in the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017, to allow local authorities to have oversight of new town development corporations. Putting this change into practice may take some time, since it depends on the readiness of local authorities to take on this role. It remains to be seen whether the resource implications of doing so will influence their readiness.