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Queen’s Speech confirms devolution, housing and HS2 bills

Words: Laura Edgar

Planning industry professionals have welcomed city devolution and housing bills, “but the devil will be in the detail”.

A Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill aimed at helping to build a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ and bringing “different parts of our country together” was announced in the Queen’s Speech.

The provisions outlined in the bill include an elected mayor for each combined authority’s area. The mayoralties would “enable local authority governance to be streamlined as agreed by councils”.

Alongside the Localism Act 2011, the Queen said the bill would enable the government to empower towns and cities, building on the coalition government’s Growth Deals.

A bill would also be introduced to support home ownership, as confirmed in The Planner yesterday.

The Housing Bill aims to help housing association tenants to buy their own home through the Right to Buy scheme, increase the supply of Starter Homes for first-time buyers under the age of 40, and ensure that “local people have more control over planning”.

A promise to introduce a register for brownfield land - as well as the simplification and speeding up of the neighbourhood planning system - also featured in the bill.

A bill for High Speed rail from London to the West Midlands was also been included in the Queen’s Speech. Legal powers to build and then operate phase one of the line have been provided in the bill.

Additionally, the bill allows the government to “compulsory acquire or temporarily take possession of land” needed for the scheme.

An Energy Bill states that changes will be made so that the secretary of state’s consent for wind farms of more than 50 megawatts won’t be needed. Instead, local planning authorities in England and Wales would be able to make decisions on wind farm planning applications. Changes highlighted in the Queen’s Speech will therefore be made to the National Planning Policy Framework to reflect this.

A round-up of the reaction to the Queen’s Speech:

“The RTPI welcomes more powers devolved to cities as outlined in the Queen’s Speech, including the widening of the functions of combined authorities. But it is also vital that areas and towns between cities are not left behind and can benefit from planning that looks beyond political boundaries.

“The RTPI urges future elected city mayors and local authorities to cooperate and plan more strategically on issues such as housing, renewable energy, transport, health and education by entering into partnerships. We hope the opportunities presented through the new City and Local Government Devolution Bill will lead to more cross-border cooperation.

“The RTPI will look carefully into the package of measures aimed at increasing housing provision. We continue to champion quality as well as quantity, and the vital role that planning plays in ensuring they are built in the right place, with good access to transport, jobs, broadband and other infrastructure.”

Janet Asket, president, Royal Town Planning Institute

“It is welcome to see the announcement of a housing bill. The government has a huge task on its hands if it is to deliver enough new homes to house future generations, and must focus on supply-side solutions to meet demand. The devil will be in the detail, and there is an opportunity for innovative suggestions to drive forward supply.

“The announcement of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill is a welcome step forwards.

“We would like to see the government take this forward by appraising government initiatives and build on those growth and city deals that are already in place such as City Deals and Local Enterprise Partnerships, and to focus on devolution across the whole country, not just in relation to the Northern Powerhouse. We urge government to allow all areas of the UK, not just those with a Mayor, to be able to benefit from these new devolved powers.”

Melanie Leech, chief executive, British Property Federation

“The Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill offers a real opportunity to rebalance the political and economic landscape of the UK away from Westminster.

“But we would like to see devolution go further - to include real fiscal devolution of the sort our local authority members tell us they want and need.

“We know that if councils are really to grow local economies and reform local services, they need the ability to raise and spend money locally - by varying business rates, for example, and not just to manage devolved budgets from central government.

“We would also like to see devolution go wider to include the counties and other parts of the country outside the major cities. Those areas are to be offered a variation of the Growth Deal programme from the last Parliament, we’d like to see this allow a similar level of ambition to city devolution.”

Local Government Information Unit

“It’s positive to see housing and city devolution at the top of the government’s legislative agenda, but we’ve yet to see any practical means of delivering either.

“As previous governments have shown, delivering new housing supply is not easy. Rather than rehashing old policy, we would like to see a full rethink on the real barriers to development and this has to include a proper acknowledgement from government that release of some less valuable green belt land is required in order to tackle the housing deficit.

“In terms of the city devolution bill, we want to see more detail from George Osborne on what exactly defines this ‘Northern Powerhouse’. If it is a tool to unlock investment into certain sectors and other economic benefits including housing delivery, we would like to see the slogan supported by an economic-led plan that includes fiscal stimulus measures that will encourage businesses to commit, and measures to push devolved authorities to work together rather than focusing on their own delivery targets.”

Ian Anderson, executive director, Iceni Project

“Story Homes welcomes the government’s plans for Starter Homes which will help to provide more houses for first-time buyers - who are the lifeblood of the housing market.

“How these homes are restricted to specific housing schemes needs to be looked at carefully however.

“Too many restrictions may see too few sites being developed to meet the criteria for Starter Homes. If not enough properties are developed they will obviously make a limited impact on the housing market.

“The government needs to make sure that these schemes are viable in terms of the market value homes available for sale, and the development sites which can be used for these properties, to make sure developers come on board to build them.”

Steve Errington, chief executive, Story Homes