Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill May 2022
Summary of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill May 2022 – Robert Wilson MSc (Dist) BA (Hons) MRTPI
The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (LU&RB), was given its first reading on 11th May 2022. It incorporates some of the proposals for planning reform outlined in the earlier Planning for the Future White Paper (August 2020), where they support the approach to Levelling Up.
Also, on 11th May the Policy Paper: Levelling Up and Regeneration: further information, was also published on line and an Explanatory Note for the Bill was published.
On 12th May 2022 the Government published the: “Government response to the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Select Committee report on The Future of the Planning System in England”.
This note highlights the main implications from the LU&RB for the planning profession.
Implications for Local Plans
The Bill proposes to ensure that Local Plans focus on just locally specific matters and the proposed new national development management policies will enable local plans to be more concise and have reduced scope. They will not be allowed to duplicate national development management policies.
The proposed national development management policies are a clear move to national control. As for the weight of Local Plans in decision making, they will have added weight except where there is conflict with the national DM policies as the national DM policies will take priority.
As the Local Plan is given statutory weight, then the new national DM policies will also need to be given the same weight particularly if they outweigh Local Plans in the event of conflict. This is confirmed in the Explanatory Note under “Clause 84 National development management policies: meaning”.
The 2020 Planning White Paper proposal to make clear the timescale of 30 months for preparing and adopting a Local Plan is carried forward in the LU&RB. There will be new “gateway checks” to assist councils as they prepare their Plan.
The 5-year housing land supply requirement will no longer apply if a council has adopted its local plan in the last 5 years. This is seen as an incentive for all local authorities to progress the local plan.
The duty to co-operate is removed (largely because it has been ineffective) and it is to be replaced by a “more flexible alignment test”, which will be the subject of a future consultation. It is significant that the duty to co-operate was introduced to “paper over the massive cracks” left when the Government scrapped regional plans.
Commissioners will be appointed to take over local plan preparation if a council fails.
New types of plans
There will be now voluntary Plans: Supplementary for specific sites and they will carry more weight than the Supplementary Planning Documents currently used.
Voluntary spatial strategies cutting across more than one authority or multiple authorities are also proposed.
New Urban Development Corporations
These will be locally led and accountable to local authorities rather than the Secretary of State and they can have local plan making powers.
The LU&RB introduces the idea of local authority-wide design codes and proposes to make them mandatory. More detailed codes would sit below the authority wide DC. This is a major new task for local authorities.
A new Priority Statement will be introduced to assist Neighbourhood Planning groups making it simpler and allowing for improved engagement with the local planning authority about what the Neighbourhood group seek in the Local Plan.
One of the most controversial proposals- where if a resident proposes an extension and some design principles then there will be a street vote to decide if it should get permission!
What is missing from the LU&RB?
There is no mention of housing needs assessments. It was expected that there would be an announcement about changing the standard methodology but it is not in the LU&RB!
The LU&RB proposes rebalancing the housing and land markets by increasing transparency, addressing second and empty homes, and giving smaller builders greater opportunities to enter the market.
Changes to environmental assessments
The LU&RB claims it will improve the process used to assess the potential environmental effects of relevant plans and major projects, through a requirement to prepare ‘Environmental Outcome Reports’. These will replace the existing EU-generated systems of Strategic Environmental Assessment (including Sustainability Appraisals) and Environmental Impact Assessment and introduce a clearer and simpler process where relevant plans and projects (including Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects) are assessed against tangible environmental outcomes set by government, rather than in Brussels.
Currently these are delivered through the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) and Section 106 agreements. The main change proposed in the LU&RB is to replace CIL with a new Infrastructure Levy which will be mandatory for all local authorities and it will be based upon a percentage of gross development value rather than the current CIL which uses floorspace. CIL will remain in London and Wales and Section 106 agreements will also continue. The introduction of the Infrastructure Levy will be subject to further consultation and “test and learn pilots”, and is expected to have a long-term introduction. It will move viability negotiations onto arguments about gross development values and at the moment local authorities are ill equipped to deal with this.
These are increased 35% for major applications and 25% for minor. Retrospective applications will have their fees doubled. Breaches of planning permission will also have increased fines. The increase in fees must lead to a better service.
There is reference to combined county authorities, changes to compulsory purchase orders to “auction” vacant High Street properties and an aim to prevent loopholes which stop enforcement action being effective.
A proposal to fast track nationally important infrastructure projects is also contained in the LU&RB.
Progressing the Bill
In the Policy Paper explains the changes to planning procedures will begin to take place from 2024, once the Bill has Royal Assent and associated regulations and changes to national policy are in place.