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The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill – UK Government unveils plans to transform Planning

May 20, 2022

By Laura Potts MRTPI, CAD Planning

UK Government unveils plans to transform planning – the biggest shake up for 30 years

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, published at the state opening of parliament on 10th May 2022, includes a raft of reforms to local planning and infrastructure regulations. The Bill is expected to receive its second reading in the House of Commons shortly.

An accompanying policy paper has also been published setting out details of further measures which will accompany the Bill proposals and forthcoming consultations on aspects of the Bill.

It is now two years since the Government’s Planning White Paper and so this long-awaited Bill is welcome. Although some of the more radical ideas in the White Paper have been dropped, this Bill includes some transformational changes to the planning system in England, the most significant changes for 30 years.

Although additional measures will doubtless be introduced through amendments as the Bill goes through parliament, the Bill includes a comprehensive package of planning and related measures, which should be welcomed in principle by communities, property developers, property owners and local authorities. Here is a brief summary of the key changes proposed in the Bill:

Devolving power to local authorities

In line with the Government’s pledge to provide a devolution deal to every part of England that wants one, a new type of combined authority is proposed, known as a ‘combined county authority’. This will consist only of upper tier local authorities, such as county councils and unitary authorities. The Bill would simplify the processes for establishing and amending these and also enable local authorities to change their governance model to include, for example, a directly elected mayor. The Bill also provides a framework for local authorities to engage in capital investment without taking on excessive risk from borrowing and investing. The aim is to conclude the first set of negotiations over changes to local authorities later this year.

There are also for example proposed new powers for local planning authorities to prepare ‘supplementary plans’, where policies for specific sites or groups of sites need to be prepared quickly (e.g., in response to a new regeneration opportunity), or to set out design standards. These plans will replace the ‘supplementary planning documents’ which councils produce currently, but which do not carry the same weight.

New locally-led development corporations

The Bill includes measures to allow local authorities to bring forward proposals for the designation of an area of land for the purpose of establishing a “locally-led” urban development corporation or new town development corporation.

The decision to establish these corporations will sit with the secretary of state, who must be satisfied that it is “expedient in the local interest” for the area to be developed by the development corporation. The new corporations will then be accountable to their local authorities.

The detail of how this oversight will happen in practice will be left for secondary legislation to be published at a later date.

Local infrastructure levy

The Bill provides for a “simple, non-negotiable, locally set” infrastructure levy intended to ensure that developers “pay their fair share to deliver” the infrastructure that new developments require, including affordable housing, schools, GP surgeries and roads. Locally produced ‘infrastructure delivery strategies’ will determine where and how infrastructure spending is allocated. The levy will be charged on the value of property when it is sold and applied above an as-yet undefined minimum threshold. This new levy will replace much of the Section 106 payments system, designed to mitigate the impact of major development on local infrastructure. A consultation on the detail of the proposals will be issued and will include proposals for regulations which will give local authorities an ability to say what portion of the levy they should receive ‘in-kind’ as onsite affordable homes, through a new ‘right to require’.

There will however be a retained role for Section 106 agreements to support delivery of the largest sites. In these instances, infrastructure will be able to be provided in-kind and negotiated, but with the guarantee that the value of what is agreed will be no less than will be paid through the Levy. Sites permitted before the introduction of the new Levy will continue to be subject to their CIL and Section 106 requirements.

It is planned to introduce the local levy through a “test and learn” approach, rolling it out nationally over several years to allow for monitoring and evaluation.

Digital transformation of planning services

As part of the UK Government’s wider digital delivery programme, the Bill sets out measures to increase the use of high-quality data and digital services in the planning process – including powers to require compliance with data standards and make planning data publicly available through an open licence, as well as prescribe the use of specific types of planning data software. The overall objective here is to make planning applications faster and more efficient, as well as avoid any data breaches.

New design standards

The government will strengthen the role of the ‘national model design code’ across the UK, to ensure that locally informed and clear design standards are in place in all parts of the country. To achieve this, the Bill will require every local planning authority to produce a design code for its area, which will have full weight in making decisions on development. The overall aim will be to deliver high quality design and protect our heritage.

The Bill also includes new ‘street vote’ powers, which will allow residents on a street to bring forward proposals to extend or redevelop their properties in line with their design preferences. Where prescribed development rules and other statutory requirements are met, the proposals would then be put to a referendum of residents on the street, to determine if they should be given planning permission.

Measures in the Bill will also strengthen the critical role the planning system plays in protecting the historic environment. The Bill will make changes so that designated heritage assets, such as registered parks and gardens, World Heritage Sites, protected wreck sites, and registered battlefields, enjoy the same statutory protection in the planning system as listed buildings and conservation areas. It will also put Historic Environment Records on a statutory basis, placing a new duty on local authorities to maintain one for their area.

New Local Plans as well as National Management Policies

Under the proposed legislation, plans for the future development of a local area – known as ‘local plans’ and drawn up in consultation with the community – will be given more weight when decisions on applications are being made. The change will mean that there must be strong reasons to override a local plan.

Policies on issues that apply in most areas, such as green belt and general heritage protection, will however be set out nationally to help make the content of plans “faster to produce and easier to navigate,” ministers said. These will be contained in a suite of National Development Management Policies, which will have the same weight as plans so that they are taken fully into account in decisions. Such policies will be published in a suite of ‘national development management policies’ and will be the subject of an upcoming consultation.

Environmental assessment

The government has set ambitious goals to improve our natural environment and tackle climate change, with last year’s landmark Environment Act marking a critical step in taking these ambitions forward. The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill sets out to deliver on these goals. It improves 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.

A consultation will be published on the proposals for the new system. The government will consult on a number of changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to improve environmental outcomes and protect the historic environment

Compulsory purchase and compensation

The Bill includes proposals to strengthen existing compulsory purchase powers, which allow bodies with public functions to acquire land or property without the consent of the owner if they can demonstrate that there is a compelling case in the public interest. The government said the changes would improve transparency around land ownership and help local authorities make better use of brownfield land. Ministers will launch a technical consultation on proposed changes to compulsory purchase compensation later this year.

Streamlining and improving the planning system

In addition, there are some further specific proposals related to streamlining and improving the planning system which are likely to be of interest. These include, amongst other measures:

· Changes to planning enforcement

In terms of enforcement, the Government want to ensure that planning enforcement works effectively by: extending the period for taking enforcement action to ten years in all cases; introducing enforcement warning notices; increasing fines associated with certain planning breaches; doubling fees for retrospective applications; extending the time period for temporary stop notices from 28 to 56 days; and giving the Planning Inspectorate the power to dismiss certain appeals where the appellant causes undue delay. The scope for appeals against enforcement notices will be tightened so that there is only one opportunity to obtain planning permission retrospectively.

· Changes to planning fees

To improve capacity in the local planning system, the Government intend to increase planning fees for major and minor applications by 35% and 25% respectively, subject to consultation. Increasing fees must lead to a better service for applicants.

· Changes to variation of planning permissions

The existing framework for varying planning permissions is often seen as confusing, burdensome, and overly restrictive by applicants and local planning authorities. A new route to vary an existing planning permission to allow greater flexibility for making non-substantial changes to planning permissions is proposed to address these complexities.

Although there are likely to be significant further revisions to these plans as the Bill makes its way through the House of Commons and the various lengthy consultations take place, there is no question that this Bill marks a significant step forward for the planning system in England.

At CAD Architects, we can offer specialist planning consultancy services and would be happy to provide advice as to how your planned development is likely to be affected by the changes outlined in the Levelling up and Regeneration Bill.

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You can find more information on the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill at these links.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill:

Explanatory Notes:

Further Information: