I know we all lose bits of legislation down the sofa.
The Government’s 24 September 2022 guidance on investment zones in England said this:
“The government will look to introduce primary legislation in order to enable the offer on tax and simplified regulations. The final offer will be subject to the passage of that legislation through parliament.”
There really isn’t much clarity as to the nature and extent of any primary legislation that will in fact be required to deliver the regimes envisaged for each investment zone (potentially bespoke for that investment zone). When you add this to the wider confusion as to the relationship of the proposed Planning and Infrastructure Bill with the current Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill (with much of what was trailed for the former either already within the latter – eg environmental law reform – or shortly to be added by way of amendments.- eg amendments to NSIP processes – or able to be secured by way of secondary legislation), some clarity from Government is urgently needed.
Turning to the question of what amended planning regimes may be appropriate for some investment zones, people have rightly pointed to the potential use of local development orders, which for example the Government has previously encouraged in relation to enterprise zones and freeports.
However I’m wondering whether, instead of further primary legislation to set out some unspecified new procedure (which sounds slow and impractical), the Government has considered whether two provisions which are already on the statute book are in fact sufficient: simplified planning zones and planning freedoms schemes. Are ministers even aware of them? I would be interested in people’s experiences with either.
Simplified Planning Zones were introduced by way of section 82 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 which provides as follows:
“(1) A simplified planning zone is an area in respect of which a simplified planning zone scheme is in force.
(2) The adoption or approval of a simplified planning zone scheme has effect to grant in relation to the zone, or any part of it specified in the scheme, planning permission—
(a) for development specified in the scheme, or
(b) for development of any class so specified.
(3) Planning permission under a simplified planning zone scheme may be unconditional or subject to such conditions, limitations or exceptions as may be specified in the scheme.”
See also the Town and Country Planning (Simplified Planning Zones) Regulations 1992.
This is a good explainer, with examples: How simple are Simplified Planning Zones? (Local Government Lawyer, 4 February 2016) and here is some information about Slough Borough Council’s Slough Trading Estate SPZ.
Planning freedom schemes were introduced by section 154 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016.
From the explanatory notes to section 154:
“Section 154: Planning freedoms: right for local areas to request alterations to planning system
441 This section enables the Secretary of State, by regulations, to make planning freedom schemes in England. Planning freedom schemes may only be made following a request from the local planning authority for the relevant area and only if the Secretary of State considers the scheme will lead to additional homes being built.
442 Before bringing forward proposals for a scheme the local planning authority must consult in their local area.
443 Such schemes will operate for a specified period (although subsection (7) includes the power to bring schemes to an end early, for example, where the local planning authority asks the Secretary of State to do so).
444 Planning freedom schemes will apply in relation to a specified planning area which will be the area of a local planning authority or an area comprising two or more adjoining areas of local planning authorities. The Secretary of State may restrict the number of planning freedom schemes in force at any one time.”
Is anyone aware of this, extremely open-ended, power ever having been used?
Planning legislation is full of these false starts and dead ends. I’m sure there’s plenty more that you can point to. Regardless of any substantive changes, a spring clean of the whole legislative framework is well overdue. Although who knows what we’ll find.
I hope people enjoyed listening to the clubhouse chat with Hashi Mohamed last week. If you missed it you can listen back here.
Simon Ricketts, 8 October 2022
Personal views, et cetera