Despite its 217 sections and 20 schedules, the Housing and Planning Act 2016 is in places the merest of sketches – nowhere more so than the illusive idea of “permission in principle” in sections 150 and 151. Here are just some of the things we don’t know:
1. What does “housing-led development” mean?
2. What types of land will be able to be included in the new register envisaged, promised by the Act’s explanatory notes to be a register of brownfield land suitable for housing, but without any such constraint in the Act itself?
3. What procedures will govern the process for selecting land for the register, allowing both proponents and opponents a fair hearing? The Act simply refers to “consultation and other procedures”. In which ways will the procedure be any speedier than any development plan process whilst complying with the European Convention on Human Rights and SEA Directive?
4. Categories of land on the register, or designated in other plans, will have automatic permission in principle for development by way of a general development order but what will be the categories and in relation to what categories of land will specific applications for permission in principle be needed? The explanatory notes suggesting that applications will be limited to minor development (ie fewer than ten dwellings) but presumably the general development order will allow for much larger development to have automatic permission in principle (with EIA, where necessary, being carried out at some undetermined stage in the process?)?
5. How detailed will be the development parameters set out in the permission in principle, given that LPAs will only be to take into account limited criteria in determining subsequent applications for technical details consent? The explanatory notes suggest that “the parameters that can be granted permission in principle are limited to location, the uses (which must be housing-led) and the amount of development”. Will that be enough to give developers something bankable in terms of predictable value/cost? The explanatory notes suggest that permission in principle cannot be subject to conditions, so how will the parameters be documented in a way which sufficiently precise?
6. In practice, will LPAs require land owners and developers to make all the running as at present, justifying that development would be acceptable with necessary supporting information and technical work, or will land owners be able to sit back, let the LPA take the local flak and wait for permission in principle to pop out of the sausage machine in place of getting a developer on board to secure planning permission? Will land owners accordingly retain more land value gain?
7. Are matters that go directly to value and viability, such as social and physical infrastructure requirements and affordable housing numbers and tenure, to be determined at permission in principle stage or technical details approval stage? The explanatory notes simply suggest that “the Secretary of State may also specify in the regulations, certain types of information for inclusion into the register alongside the entries …. For example, the site reference, address, size, an estimate of the maximum number of dwellings that the site would be likely to support, and its planning status.”
More generally, is there an Act with such blatant Henry VIII clauses, ie Parliament passing an Act with its fingers crossed behind its back so that it can amend the provisions in the statute without primary legislation? Section 2(10) takes the biscuit (“Regulations under this section may amend this chapter”), giving future Governments carte blanche to mutate the Act’s starter homes provisions in whichever way they choose. (Read “Why Henry VIII clauses should be consigned to the dustbin of history” by Richard Gordon).
Simon Ricketts 11.6.16
Personal views et cetera