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Planning minister defends localism as the government unveils bill

Planning minister Bob Neill has insisted localism will not stand in the way of sustainable development, after the government introduced its flagship bill.

The Conservative MP told H&V News the development community had nothing to fear from revisions to the planning system.

Mr Neill said: “Localism is not anti-development. On the contrary, if you read the Localism Bill and the national planning policy framework together, what you have got is a very strong pro-development stance.

“One of the key things in the reforms is the presumption in favour of sustainable development, and that is not just warm words but is actually central to the reforms and is linked with incentives.”

The Localism Bill outlines a series of changes to the planning system designed to give decision-making to local councils and communities.

Fears have been raised that such powers will make it harder to get approval for development.

But Mr Neill said that localism is pro-development because the current centralised planning system does not work, as it raises obstacles while being bureaucratic and costly.

Under the Localism Bill, the government would seek to motivate councils to allow development by matching council tax benefits and allowing them to keep business rates raised as a result.

But the industry fears this will not be enough of an incentive for more affluent councils.

Mr Neill agreed the legislation may have the “benign effect” of spurring development in the north rather than the south of the UK, but argued that this will help remove barriers to development outside the South-east.

The lack of defined funds or planning powers for Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) has been heavily criticised but Mr Neill said this was designed to enable areas to shape their LEP according to local priorities.

He said: “We are not saying the LEP is going to be a planning authority. It’s not - the district councils or the unitary authorities will be the planning authority.

“But those authorities are going to be talking regionally about where they are in their infrastructure plans and their LEP is going to be the forum through which they can successfully do that.”