Last night the Housing and Planning Bill was reviewed in the House of Commons. The Bill will now pass back and forth between the Commons and Lords until agreement can be reached on the remaining amendments of contention.
Despite work by CIfA and colleagues in the sector to brief Members of the Lords - which led to Government conceding ground and proposing an amendment to improve the clarity on some of the proposals which were of concern to CIfA, the Bill still contains provisions which will introduce uncertainty into the process of archaeological assessment of sites which are granted ‘planning permission in principle’ (PiP) by their inclusion on a Brownfield Registers, or allocated in Local or Neighbourhood plans.
This provision for PiP, CIfA believes, will undermine the process by which land is currently assessed for archaeological significance and could create problems of extra burdens on local authorities. As previously reported, CIfA is concerned that this implication of a greater burden on authorities will mean an in practice erosion of archaeological assessment on sites which are granted PiP. This will create the potential for sites of high archaeological interest to be revealed after PiP has been granted, providing a much reduced scope for archaeological mitigation and preclude that a site be preserved without development without paying large sums of compensation to developers to revoke or modify the site’s permission.
In addition to these concerns, a late amendment, which received little debate in either chamber, has come to the attention of CIfA and has prompted considerable concern. The amendment deals with proposals for a ‘planning freedoms scheme’ which would grant the right to the Secretary of State to disapply or modify specified planning provisions in a given area. This amendment means that any local authority can request a special exemption from planning regulations if it is agreed by the Secretary of State that there is a need for a significant increase in the amount of housing in the area concerned. The main concern is the lack of opportunity to debate this proposal and to develop an understanding of the potential use of the provision. For instance, we have no idea whether a planning freedoms scheme could ‘disapply’ statutory protections for the historic environment, including even those for scheduled monuments or listed buildings.
These clauses provide further evidence of the overall character of the Bill, which represents the government’s clear intention to tear up the planning rulebook in order to facilitate greater rates of development. The concern of CIfA is that planning protections for the historic environment will be overridden in the eagerness to achieve the stated objective. CIfA disagrees that the planning system is the main factor limiting the rate of house building in England, and believes that the potential consequences of the Bill as it stands could undermine the primacy of the planning system in the determination of sustainable development.
CIfA will continue to monitor the progress of the Bill and will aim to shape the guidance which will define how the Bill is used in practice, as the provisions are further explored. We will also be engaging with the 73 local authorities which will be piloting Brownfield Registers across England in the coming months. If CIfA members have any insights into particular pilot areas, we would welcome their observations.