Parliament, Purdah, Planning

The pre- general election “purdah” period starts at midnight tonight (21 April). What this means is set in Cabinet Office guidance published yesterday, 20 April.
The guidance says:

“During the election period, the Government retains its responsibility to govern, and Ministers remain in charge of their departments. Essential business must be carried on. However, it is customary for Ministers to observe discretion in initiating any new action of a continuing or long term character. Decisions on matters of policy on which a new government might be expected to want the opportunity to take a different view from the present government should be postponed until after the election, provided that such postponement would not be detrimental to the national interest or wasteful of public money

So don’t hold your breath for any decision letters to be issued. 
In relation to current consultation processes, the guidance says:

“If a consultation is on-going at the time this guidance comes into effect, it should continue as normal. However, departments should not take any steps during an election period that will compete with parliamentary candidates for the public’s attention. This effectively means a ban on publicity for those consultations that are still in process. 


As these restrictions may be detrimental to a consultation, departments are advised to decide on steps to make up for that deficiency while strictly observing the guidance. That can be done, for example, by: 


– prolonging the consultation period; and


– putting out extra publicity for the consultation after the election in order to revive interest (following consultation with any new Minister).

Some consultations, for instance those aimed solely at professional groups, and that carry no publicity will not have the impact of those where a very public and wide-ranging consultation is required. Departments need, therefore, to take into account the circumstances of each consultation.”

There are currently six DCLG consultation processes which are still open:

* Review of park homes legislation: call for evidence

* Running free: consultation on preserving the free use of public parks

* Banning letting agent fees paid by tenants

* 100% business rates retention: further consultation on the design of the reformed system

* Fixing our broken housing market: consultation

* Planning and affordable housing for Build to Rent

the last two of course being particularly important for us in the housing and planning sector. 

The Department for Transport is currently consulting on its draft Airports National Policy Statement in relation to the expansion of Heathrow and on reforming policy on the design and use of UK airspace.

Surely these consultation processes will all now be extended. Can any of them be said to be “aimed solely at professional groups”?
The Government faces an interesting dilemma in relation to its awaited consultation draft air quality plan. Garnham J had ordered on 21 November 2016 that the draft be published by 24 April 2017 following previous deadline breaches summarised in my 4.11.16 blog post. The announcement of the election and consequent purdah period does not automatically extend that deadline. Will we see a draft by the deadline or will ClientEarth be back before the court?
Notwithstanding purdah, Parliament will continue to sit until 2 May 2017. The outstanding Bills are:
• Bus Services Bill

• Children and Social Work Bill 

• Digital Economy Bill 

• Health Services Supplies Bill

• Higher Education and Research Bill 

• National Citizen Service Bill

• Pension Schemes Bill

• Technical and Further Education Bill

and of course the Neighbourhood Planning Bill, which is at its final stages, with final consideration by the House of Lords on 25 April 2017 of amendments made by the Commons. Whilst technically there is therefore the time available before Parliament dissolves, the BBC website  has an interesting analysis of the practical constraints that there will be on Parliamentary time during this final period. My understanding is that public Bills cannot be held over and so the Bill would fall. 
Finally, as we wait for the parties’ manifestos and various pressure groups compose their letters to Santa, this is a collection of some of the commitments which some Town Legal colleagues would personally like to see (tongue in cheek – what votes in many of these one wonders?). We will be jotting up the scores once the manifestos are published but a more than a 10% convergence would be doing pretty well I suspect…
1. Revised NPPF as previously signalled, but with consultation on final wording.

2. Real sanctions for local planning authorities which continue to delay in preparing plans or which do not plan adequately to meet housing requirements. Statutory duty to make local plans every 10 years. 

3. Review of green belt boundaries in the south east should be obligatory at least every 20 years. Where there are no green belt boundaries fixed because there are no local plans in place , the Secretary of State should appoint PINS to lead a plan making exercise at the expense of the defaulting council with step in rights if the Council wants to come back into the fold.

4. Review of effectiveness of Localism Act 2011 procedures, including neighbourhood plan making.

5. No weakening of environmental protections via Great Repeal Bill.

6. Urgent conclusion to CIL review, with short-term remedial measures, including greater flexibility for local planning authorities and developers in relation to strategic sites.

7. Enabling urban extensions and new settlements of true scale (eg 10,000 to 15,000 homes plus associated infrastructure and development) to proceed by way of NSIP.

8. Introduction of duty to cooperate to apply as between the London Mayor and local planning authorities.

9. Reform of rights to light law to reflect modern realities.

10. Greater flexibility for local authorities to dispose of land for less than best consideration.

11. Require better coordinated forward planning with statutory undertakers and infrastructure providers.

12. General commitment to consultation and piloting prior to legislative changes in relation to planning.

13. Increased resourcing in relation to the planning system so as to achieve better quality, more consistent, more timely and more efficient outcomes.

14. High speed Broadband and electric car charging should be a standard requirement.

15. Clarity on approach to viability and review mechanisms.

16. A more stable system with no more changes for the next two years at least (save for these ones!)

Back to the day job…

Simon Ricketts 21 April 2017

Personal views, et cetera

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