This week the government introduced the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill into parliament, following the publication of the Levelling Up White Paper earlier this year.
Much of the Bill is centred around reforms to the planning system, following the Government's decision to scrap the Planning Bill. It intends to “improve the planning system to give communities a louder voice, making sure developments are beautiful, green and accompanied by new infrastructure and affordable housing”. This seems to suggest that the government is prepared to act to achieve its housing delivery targets.
There is a pressing need for power to be devolved to local areas. It is therefore promising to see that levelling up remains a key government priority.
The Bill will enable areas to directly elect a leader or governor under county deals rather than only using the term mayor. This is a positive first step for local areas, giving them the opportunity to create a bespoke system - something we have long called for.
We also welcome the development of local design codes and encourage measures that allow local residents to become more involved in planning in their area. Now the government must ensure these guides actually simplify the planning process rather than adding another layer of complexity. We're committed to working with stakeholders to support this.
The Bill also introduced the idea of ‘street votes’, which will give residents the power to propose new developments on their street and enable neighbourhood residents to take planning powers into their own hands. The wider community can then hold a referendum on whether the project should receive planning permission or not.
Building work would be approved if a third of neighbours do not object, and the new development adheres to "styles favoured locally to make sure that it complements the local area".
The government’s proposals for ‘street votes’ have been met with scepticism. There is a chance that the policy will create more complexity in the planning system. The success of this scheme must be monitored to ensure that any unintended consequences are identified and addressed. It is also vital that local authorities are supported with the powers they need to manage these changes, and we will continue to call on government to ensure this.
The government has also proposed the introduction of a new infrastructure levy, to replace the current Section 106 and Community Infrastructure Levy. The new levy is intended to capture more of the financial value created by large development. It will be locally set, non-negotiable and used to deliver more community infrastructure, a key issue for communities welcoming new developments. It's thought that such a levy will increase certainty in planning and speed up the development management process.
However, the success of the levy will be dependent on trust, transparency and a functioning market. Local circumstances will dictate how funds are spent. While in some areas there will be a clear case for direct investment in new affordable housing, in other areas investment in the renewal of existing housing, the expansion of infrastructure or environmental improvements may be more appropriate. But there should be a minimum requirement to fully detail and explain the decisions being proposed.
What happens next?
We will continue to work with the government to ensure that adequate funding is given to local authorities to achieve planning and levelling up targets. We will be doing deep dive analysis into different elements of the Bill over the coming days.