Levelling Up: Missions for Development

4th February 2022

The Levelling Up White Paper has been presented as an opportunity to reset the relationship between national and local government. The Government’s aim is to improve opportunities in all parts of the country and puts councils at the heart of delivering 12 ‘Missions’ by 2030.  The core strategy is to create a devolution revolution, empowering regions and giving them access to “London Style” mayors or governors should they want one.

The planning and development industry is going to be imperative to achieving a number of these ‘Missions’. On a national level, the Government’s White Paper presents a long term vision and highlights their proposed steps to achieve it:

  • A focus on supporting 20 towns and city centres to undertake Kings Cross style regeneration projects, initially in Wolverhampton and Sheffield.
  • Homes England, in addition to its existing functions, will be repurposed to regenerate towns and cities.
  • Brownfield funding will be directed to transform sites in the North and Midlands.
  • All homes in the private rental sector will have to meet a minimum standard – the Decent Homes Standard.
  • Homeownership will be boosted by a new £1.5 billion Levelling Up Home Building Fund, providing loans to SMEs.
  • A commitment will be made to building more genuinely affordable housing.
  • Exploring initiatives to make the High Street thrive once more.
  • An Office for Place will pioneer design and beauty, prioritising better architectural aesthetics.

The paper also seeks to address issues at a more local level by:

  • Retaining the ability to have a meaningful say on planning applications;
  • Making changes to the planning system to improve democracy and engagement in planning decisions;
  • Making local plans simpler and shorter;
  • Empowering local leaders to reimagine their urban green space and improve access to it;
  • Encouraging hybrid models for planning committees;
  • Developing a new ‘infrastructure levy’ to capture land value;
  • Giving power to local authorities to require landlords to rent out long term vacant properties to prospective tenants such as local business or community groups.

The new White Paper seems to support many initiatives that are already underway – for example, the push for affordable housing and to help regenerate existing brownfield sites. An Office for Place has existed since July 2021 and should be providing clarity over what constitutes ‘beautiful and sustainable places’ as well as helping to achieve it.

We are hopeful that a coordinated but more local approach will offer the additional funding and the momentum needed to deliver these transformations. Additionally, with Homes England taking the High Street under their wing and new local policies to avoid vacant buildings, we can perhaps expect a new and proactive approach to revitalise our town centres.

Michael Gove acknowledges that it “will not be an easy task” but “will drive real change in towns and cities across the UK, so that where you live will no longer determine how far you can go”.

Although reform is very much needed, at this stage, the White Paper does not seem to be saying much that is new. It appears to have replaced the Government’s ‘Planning for the Future’ White Paper, taking a new and broader direction with less emphasis on planning and practicalities. Similarly to what we said in response to the previous White Paper back in 2020, this again feels like political play with lots of big ideas but a lack of detail for how to actually deliver it.

Nevertheless, these Missions are all set for a 2030 target and we await the finer detail of how all these will work in practice.

For planning advice, please get in touch.

Peter Thomas, Principal Planner

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