Planning conference reveals Localism Bill is not necessarily a NIMBY Charter – Experts say, however, space for confusion remains.
Planning experts from No5 Chambers and King Sturge hosted a Planning Conference in Nottingham, which included Bob Neill MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at Communities and Local Government (CLG), among keynote speakers. 
“This was our inaugural East Midlands’ planning event, and the theme of ‘Decentralisation and Localism: Freedom or Gridlock’ was clearly in tune with the constituencies we serve as the event was very well-attended,” says Ian Dove QC, a barrister specialising in planning issues, member of the Planning and Environment Bar Association and Deputy Head of No5 Chambers. 
“The introduction of the Localism Bill by the coalition government led to a sharp intake of breath by developers and planners, largely due to concerns about what impact it would have on projects and investment going forward, and the advice we need to provide our clients from both the private and public sector. 
“These worries were key factors behind our decision to host the stimulating forum that was our conference. We were therefore delighted to welcome Bob Neill, who helpfully looked to explain the coalition government’s thinking in promoting the Localism Bill.
“However, that position does assume that everyone fully understands the Bill, which is something of a leap of faith, particularly given that there are further developments and amendments to follow. It’s therefore not surprising that members of the development community are interested in the opportunities that legal remedies, such as judicial reviews, present.” 
Elle Cass, partner in the King Sturge Planning and Development Department, echoes Ian Dove’s comments, adding: “I was particularly pleased to see a good balance of attendance by delegates from the public and private sectors and recognition among all that there is a need to find ways to make localism work. Key to that is appreciation of how the legislation is to work at grass roots level and arriving at that is likely to require a fairly large scale communication programme. 

“It will be interesting to see how the new regime plays out with the public. Developers will need to engage with neighbours about proposals before drawing up plans and this might make interested parties feel they have been truly consulted and thus be stimulated to buy-in to a project. However, there is a danger that others may feel that consultation process is an open invitation to object.

“A significant point made by Mr Neill was that, while the Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS) and housing targets will go with the planned revocation of RSS, the evidence-base needs will remain at least for the time being. In addition, the primacy of the local plan will also remain, which should ensure that NIMBY objection does not reduce housing delivery below currently adopted levels. In some areas it could mean that neighbourhood plans seek development levels over and above that originally required by the RSS.”

Feedback from delegates with whom Elle interacted suggested a feeling that the industry had to engage early in a bid to fill the void left by RSS and help the localism process work as public sector funding would be low. 

“The overall mood of the conference in relation to the Localism Bill was that, while it might not be as controversial as some headlines may have suggested to date, there was a clear hunger for more detail,” continues Ian Dove. 

“The CLG vision of devolution of power to local authorities is both exciting and worrying to planning professionals in equal measure, particularly with the desire for input from community groups, some of whom may have motivations which could be at odds with the needs of other community members. 

“Continuity is offered by neighbourhood plans having to follow the strategic objectives of local plans but, while this reassures us that the Bill is therefore not a charter for ‘nimbyism’, uncertainty remains regarding how policies will be developed and the new powers in the Bill be used. A typical example would be the opportunity to designate assets deemed to be of community value. There is no appeal against this and so there would be a need for judicial review to remedy it. In addition, what are the implications on the ground of communities being able to permit development without planning applications? The opportunity for confusion is disconcerting and will, again, likely give rise to parties seeking legal services’ support.
“The government, to my mind, is keen on promoting housing delivery and growth and benefiting from the contribution to the economy and this is to be applauded. However, I have a certain empathy with developers who feel that they are operating in what is an uncertain landscape in terms of rising costs and new and evolving regulation and legislation. 

“I should therefore welcome the opportunity of more consultation with and clarification from Bob Neill and his colleagues and, I am sure, delegates at our conference will accept Bob’s invitation to submit their views on the CLG’s approach.” 

Among the subjects discussed during the conference were designing for success, the role of localism in relation to housing delivery, the economic outlook for new development, the Regional Administrative Court, how local is too local and an update of planning and environmental law. 

Respected speakers included Andrew Whitaker of the Home Builders Federation, architect Glenn Howells, Rob Salmon of Derby City Counci, Rosemary Thomas Deputy Director of the Welsh Assembly and former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, who delivered an after dinner address.
Ian Dove concludes: “I hope that we are able to organise more such conferences in the not too distant future where planning and development professionals can get together with government to share pragmatism and vision.”
Anyone seeking further information about the successful conference or requiring direction on planning matters should contact the Planning and Environment team at No5 Chambers via or +44 (0) 845 210 5555.