The Localism Bill (‘the Bill’), published in December 2010, is a wide-ranging bill set to affect local and rural communities. It seeks to achieve a substantial and lasting shift of power from central government to local authorities and communities in a bid to reduce bureaucracy and inefficiency for rural and local communities and authorities. The following policies are most relevant for estate and property owners.
It is proposed that planning officers can take enforcement action in relation to breaches of planning controls, irrespective of whether the statutory time limits have expired. Such a policy is likely to have an impact on both the buying and the selling of properties and require additional due diligence and attention to planning issues.
Acquisition of community assets
The Bill will impose a duty on local authorities to compile and maintain a list of assets which have value to the community. The community itself can make nominations, and lists are likely to include village shops, pubs and leisure centres. If community assets come up for sale, it is proposed that community groups should be given adequate time to put in a bid and raise money to purchase the asset. This raises questions as to how a scheme would actually operate in practice. The government is currently considering regulations to compensate landowners to address the period of protection offered to community groups. Estates with extensive and diversified land holdings could, in the future, find themselves with properties subject to ‘community asset’ designation, which may discourage landowners from making property available for specific community needs, eg village cricket.
The most recent guidance suggests that transfers on death will be excluded from the provisions, however, it is less clear whether a lifetime gift will benefit from a similar exemption.
Neighbourhood Development Orders
The Bill intends to give communities the power to take forward development by way of neighbourhood development orders (‘NDO’s’). NDOs will give developments planning permission but within carefully set parameters and safeguards. Only limited groups will be able to apply for NDOs and each application for an NDO will be subject to independent examination. If there is more than a 50 per cent vote in support from the community, then planning permission will be granted (unless inconsistent with EU obligations). It is anticipated that there will be a community right to build orders (which will be a form of NDO), but these will grant planning permission for specific developments on specific sites.
Community Infrastructure Levy
The Community Infrastructure Levy the (‘CIL’) is a charge on new buildings meeting requirements set by councils. The payments received from the CIL are then used to finance local and sub-regional infrastructure projects which are in the councils’ development plans. The Bill intends to allow the CIL to be used towards the cost of maintaining current infrastructures (as well as new infrastructure) and to give greater powers to determine the level of the CIL paid.
The above is only a taster of what is to come but it is clear that the Bill proposes significant changes.