Government seeks the power to stop builders building
The Government announced last week (on 14th February 2022) a proposed change to its Building Safety Bill, allowing a Government Minister to stop a named developer from doing development. This would be with no recourse for appeal or compensation, even where planning permission has been granted.
The Building Safety Bill is a piece of legislation introduced by the Government following the Grenfell Tower disaster, which is intended to protect and keep people in or about buildings safe. This sits alongside the Government continuing to try and persuade developers to contribute a further £4 billion towards the remediation of unsafe cladding (for which the residential property developer tax was also introduced).
The latest amendments proposed by the Government come as the Bill is about to reach its committee stage in the House of Lords (on 21st February 2022).
The proposed amendment would give the Secretary of State the power, by regulations, to prohibit a person from carrying out development of land in England. Such prohibition may be applied even if planning permission had been granted. There is no mention of any compensation being available either. Further, the Secretary of State would also have the power to impose a ‘building control prohibition’ – effectively prohibiting a person from applying for building control approval and being granted building control approval.
These extreme steps may be imposed for one of two purposes, namely:
(1) in connection with securing the safety of people in or about buildings in relation to risks arising from buildings; or
(2) in connection with improving the standard of buildings.
The second of these is very broad indeed. Whilst the motivation may currently relate to concerns about fire safety and cladding the language appears to go much further.
Whilst we would hope that any such power would be very rarely used, and in order to control cowboy builders, this idea runs the risk of undermining confidence in the planning system whilst ignoring the role that poor regulation played in this whole scandal to begin with.
There is a risk that such a draconian power could be misused for political gain. Any developer would be under threat of their businesses being shut down, if the Minister acts against them: lobbying could occur by the unscrupulous to have a Minister cause mischief to competitors: or an aggressive approach could be taken by an anti-development or ‘greener’ government.
Questions are being asked about whether this is just a bluff by the government to secure the £4 billion they have asked for, but for now we will wait to see whether this does actually end up on the statute book for the future.