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New amendments to the Localism Bill could allow councils to refuse to hold referendums in “special cases.”

Developers have expressed concerns over the original drafting of the Localism Bill, which included a right for a community to put local issues to a referendum after a strong response to a petition.

But amendments, tabled by Baroness Hanham yesterday, could mean councils can refuse a referendum if it has already been subject to a similar referendum in the last four years, if its officers think a referendum is too expensive to hold, or if there is already a process available for consultation, appeal or review of the matter in question.

The move goes further than an amendment tabled by the Earl of Lytton last week that would give local authorities the power to exclude planning applications from local referendums.

Following the Earl’s proposals, Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said: “We have a democratic planning system in which an application is submitted, those with a legitimate interest have opportunities to object and a decision is reached by elected local councillors.

“The Localism Bill strengthens the degree of pre-application consultation that will be required. It would be wholly unreasonable as well as a waste of local resources if local referendums could seek to influence or overturn planning decisions taken by a democratically elected authority.”

Although moves to keep planning decisions within local authorities have been broadly welcomed, concerns remain over how such a complicated bill can ever be implemented.

John Fosbraey head of planning and development at Doherty Baines said: “The practicable enforceability of various recent government amendments to policy don’t seem to have been considered and instead of speeding things up, there is every chance they will slow them down.

“I don’t think developers really know where they stand at the moment and which policies are going to be used to assess their proposals.”

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