HM Queen Elizabeth II has announced the legislative programme that the Government will pursue over the next year in her annual speech at the state opening of Parliament.
Amidst the pomp, circumstance and one or two more light-hearted moments (Dennis Skinner MP, the Labour member for Bolsover and a prominent republican, delivered his now-traditional heckle, opting this year for ‘Hands off the BBC!’) around 20 bills were pledged, covering issues from tackling extremism to buses.
The Government was keen to stress that these efforts were possible due to the ‘strengthening economy’, and would enhance both the nation’s defences and ordinary peoples’ chances in life.
One of the key bills announced was the Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill (NPIB). While listeners to the speech itself could be forgiven for missing it – the Queen’s only reference to it was a brief sentence promising that “legislation will be introduced to ensure Britain has the infrastructure that businesses need to grow” – the NPIB is expected to introduce further changes to the planning system.
As the dust continues to settle now that the Housing and Planning Bill has become the Housing and Planning Act, the NPIB proposes a number of important changes to the planning system. Once again, the Government will attempt to encourage faster delivery of housing by ‘streamlining’ pre-commencement conditions. This comes amid fears that some local authorities are using complex conditions as a deliberate obstacle to development.
However, it remains to be seen how this pro-development approach will square with the bill’s other key component: a commitment to give more weight to ultra-local (and often anti-development) neighbourhood plans.
Another key element of the NPIB is a plan to give the National Infrastructure Commission – announced in October 2015 – a formal footing in law. This will ensure the future of the commission, which would be mandated to provide independent advice to the Government on the state of the UK’s infrastructure and help it to meet the challenges that are expected by the middle of this century.
The NPIB is also expected to introduce measure to make compulsory purchase orders ‘clearer, fairer and faster’, and allow for the privatisation of the Land Registry, although more is expected on these measures.
As ever, the legislative devil is in the details. It remains to be seen if the NPIB will equip the Government to tackle the housing crisis – and if it can avoid the acrimonious ‘ping pong’ that characterised debates over the Housing and Planning Act.