The Localism Act (the ‘Act’) was granted Royal Assent on 15 November 2011 with the Government hopeful that many of the provisions will come into force in April 2012.
The Act puts in to practice the Coalition Government’s decentralisation agenda moving power from central government back into the hands of individuals, communities and councils and contains certain changes which will affect the property industry, in particular to planning practitioners.
Below is a summary of the main principles:
Abolition of Regional Strategies
The abolition of the regional tier of planning policy will increase power at the local level. However these provision will not be given effect until the government has carried out the necessary strategic environmental assessments.
Duty to co-operate
The duty to co-operate provides that local authorities, county councils and other public bodies are now obliged to work together on the planning of sustainable development. It is hoped that this will help with co-operation between authorities on proposals that cross local boundaries.
Neighbourhood Plans and Development Orders
As a key part of the Government’s agenda, the Act introduces a right for communities to have an influence on the future of the places that they live and work in. It is intended that communities will be able to suggest how new developments should look and where they should go.
Requirement to Consult
Before an application is submitted developers will now have to publicise the proposed application and consult local communities. Whilst in many case this may already be taking place, developers will increasingly find the need to develop relationships with communities in order to be certain of support.
Reforming the Community Infrastructure Levy
This Act introduces provisions to provide for funds raised from the levy to be passed on to neighbourhoods where development has taken place.
The Act encourages local authority councillors to play an active part in local discussions (including planning applications) without the fear of being liable to legal challenge on the basis of predetermination.
Enforcement rules to tackle planning abuse
Tougher powers are given to planning authorities in order to deal with planning abuse. Cases such as Fidler v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and another  have shown the difficulties local authorities experience in pursuing guilty parties where a developer has intentionally concealed a breach where the breach becomes known after the time limits have expired. The Act allows Local Planning Authorities to apply for a Planning Enforcement Order to take enforcement action after the statutory time limit has expired. A Planning Enforcement Order will be granted by the Magistrates’ Court if it is satisfied that on balance it appears that deliberate concealment of a planning breach has taken place. This allows the relevant Local Planning Authority to take planning enforcement action at any time in the enforcement year.
Other features of the Act include the formal abolition of Home Information Packs for residential conveyancing and changes to business rates controls. As to the latter, the Act gives Councils greater control over rates with more freedom to offer discounts, while also preventing unfair backdated business rates and simplifying the procedure for claiming small business rate relief.