Britain’s impending departure from the European Union may be dominating the headlines, but local government can expect plenty of non-Brexit legislation from Theresa May’s government as 2017 gets under way. Mike Indian, senior political analyst at LGC’s sister political intelligence service DeHavilland, looks at the state of play for the remaining months of this parliamentary session.
De havilland logo
Aside from the Local Government Finance Bill, published on Friday, three key laws with far-reaching implications for councils are due to come into effect this year relating to planning reform, bus franchising powers, and measures to tackle homelessness.
Neighbourhood Planning Bill
The Neighbourhood Planning Bill begins this year having completed its passage through the Commons.
Key parts of this bill have not survived the parliamentary passage.
Ministers have abandoned plans to put the National Infrastructure Commission on a statutory footing and U-turned on the widely-resisted proposed privatisation of the Land Registry.
During committee stage, new measures were added to the bill relating to intervening in local plans. This included a warning from housing and planning minister Gavin Barwell that he expected all local authorities to have plans in place by early 2017.
The government also saw off an attempt by Labour to amend the bill during report stage to ensure that the proposed demolition of, or change of use to, public houses or drinking establishments had to be subject to planning permission. Mr Barwell claimed that to allow the amendment would have been a misuse of planning conditions.
It is scheduled for its second reading in the Lords tomorrow (17 January), after which peers will turn their forensic gaze on it.
Bus Services Bill
Buses mega menu
Moving in the other direction, the Bus Services Bill has arrived in the Commons after a journey through the Lords that proved interesting at times.
Ministers had been defeated by opposition peers in the removal of Clause 21 from the bill, which would have prevented local authorities from setting up municipal bus companies. Labour peers made this a point of contention throughout the legislation’s long passage of the Lords.
Peers also succeeded in amending the bill to require ministers to publish a National Bus Strategy.
Now that the bill has entered the Commons, the government has a chance to redress the balance by re-inserting the clause. However, in doing so, it risks a confrontation with the upper house.
A date for the second reading has not yet been set, but it is expected to be soon.
Homelessness Reduction Bill
It is a firm maxim of parliamentary life that private members’ bills stands little chance of becoming law without government backing.
Conservative MP Bob Blackman struck gold back in October when ministers confirmed they would throw their weight behind his Homelessness Reduction Bill.
The legislation will place new duties on councils to take action to prevent homelessness, although the duty to provide emergency temporary accommodation for 56 days to people with a local connection but who are not in priority need and who have nowhere safe to stay, was removed.
It has been in committee stage since November and the government has used the opportunity to amend the legislation. Local government minister Marcus Jones has ensured that any new codes of practices issued to local authorities for reducing homelessness under the bill will be laid before parliament for approval.
Ultimately, the government’s endorsement of the Homelessness Reduction Bill will help smooth its passage into law. It still, however, has to navigate through the House of Lords before parliament is prorogued in the spring.
DeHavilland is the leading provider of UK and EU political intelligence, providing fast, accurate and relevant information on the latest policy developments.