The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill

4th July 2022

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has announced plans to transform struggling towns and cities. The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill seeks to build on the Levelling Up White Paper from February 2022, and the government have suggested that this will potentially have a significant impact on the planning system. The changes are identified under three main areas and here we consider what these changes are and what they could mean for future development proposals.

Levelling Up

The Government states that its defining mission is to level up the UK by increasing and spreading prosperity and opportunity. The Bill seeks to achieve this by:

  • The introduction of “National Development Management Policies” which will outweigh local planning policies in the event of a policy conflict;
  • Local planning authorities will not have to demonstrate a five year supply of housing land where their plan has been updated within the past five years;
  • Planning applications will need to be made in accordance with the development plan but with the added proviso “unless material considerations strongly indicate otherwise”;
  • Planning application fees will be increased by more than a third;
  • The replacement of Strategic Environmental Assessment (including Sustainability Appraisals) and Environmental Impact Assessments with a new form of Environmental Outcome Report;
  • A new clause, 73B, will be introduced into the Town and Country Planning Act to allow more flexibility to vary non-substantial changes to planning permissions (including to the description of development and imposed conditions);
  • The time limit for enforcement of planning control breaches in England is to become 10 years for all types of breaches;
  • Further restrictions on appeals against enforcement notices to include only one chance to obtain planning permission retrospectively within the last two years;
  • Increase in fines for planning breaches from £2,500 to an unlimited amount.

The changes to land supply provision are intended to reduce speculative planning applications in the interests of allowing for ‘proper planning’, which in turn may provide some welcome clarity whilst incentivising LPAs to keep their Local Plan updated. Whilst it could also lead to LPAs hurrying to allocate land, this potentially provides an opportunity for site allocations to be expedited, avoiding the need for speculative applications.

There is certainly an emphasis on new enforcement powers, notably the unlimited increase in fines. The setting of 10 years for a breach would set a level of consistency and avoid confusion as to which time limit applies to which breach. Currently it is just four years for operational development breaches (and change of use to a single dwelling house).

Regeneration

The Bill aims to give local leaders the power they need to regenerate their communities and transform their high streets and town centres.  This will be achieved by:

  • A new Infrastructure Levy (IL) will be rolled out which will largely replace the existing Community Infrastructure Levy (Mayoral CIL in London will remain) and much of the section 106 system with a new, locally set levy, charged on the final value of the property when its sold;
  • Communities will also receive a share of the revenue raised – as long as they have a parish or town council;
  • New powers for local leaders to run High Street Rental Auctions, where they can auction off tenancies in shops that have been vacant for over a year;
  • Councils will also be able to double council tax on empty and second homes;
  • The ‘al-fresco dining revolution’ will be made permanent;
  • Legislation to make it easier for councils to regenerate their town centres through compulsory purchase orders.

The new Levy is intended to catch more financial value and will be locally set and non-negotiable. This will hopefully create a greater level of certainty for developers and households alike for the financial expectations arising from development.  Section 106 will be retained and used on the largest projects, but there is no definition yet as to what the ‘largest projects’ include. There is certainly a feeling of ‘Groundhog Day’ to the proposed changes, and it is not yet known how they will work with other planning obligations. As ever, the devil will be in the detail.

Right Homes in the Right Places

New reforms to the planning system will be introduced to ensure new development is “more beautiful, produces more local Infrastructure, is shaped by local people’s democratic wishes, improves environmental outcomes, and occurs with neighbourhoods in mind.” The measures to achieve this include:

  • Introducing “Street Vote” powers to determine if the proposals should be given planning permission;
  • A digitised planning system making plans and planning applications fully available by smartphone;
  • Stronger protections for the environment in local plans, empowering councils to make better use of brownfield land and protect Green Belt land;
  • Local design codes will be made mandatory so that developers have to respect styles drawn up and favoured locally – from the layout or materials used, to how it provides green space.

“Street Votes” have the potential to create more complexity in the planning system, rather than simplifying it. There is very little detail of how this will work, but it would enable the community to have more say in the planning process.  Experience suggests that this will hand power to NIMBYS and those who oppose development, but fundamentally, design and design codes will carry full weight in decision making and will be an even more important key component in future development proposals.

Next Steps for the Bill

The changes unveiled have the potential to change several, long established ways of working within the planning system.  The proposals appear to rely on an input of significant resources and it is unclear where these resources will come from, despite the proposed increase in planning fees. As with the White Paper from February 2022, these proposals appear to be little more than another political play by the Government and include little of great weight. Clearly, simplification of the planning system would be welcomed by all of those involved with it, but the introduction to the bill would require significant changes to national policy.  There may be some alterations and additions as the Bill moves through Parliament, so, watch this space.

Peter Thomas, Principal Planner

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