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  • TP Editorial Team

In His Mother’s Seat – Planning Aspects of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill

It had been a long time since Charles had been let out alone but at his mother’s insistence, he agreed to represent her as Master of Ceremonies. The occasion? The announcement of the latest menu of reforms at Café Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities. Surely the tinkering has to stop, he mused but as his mother said, this would be a good networking opportunity and a chance to raise his profile. After all, what could go wrong and perhaps this was a sign of things to come.

Dressed in his finery he was shown to a gilded seat that had been reserved for him in the Parliament banqueting hall. Suddenly the Maître D appeared and thrust a hastily scribbled note in his hands:

Apologies your Majesty, last minute change of plans. Chef has had a meltdown after all the private parties he’s had to cater for, and the 2020 Planning White Paper and Planning Bill are now off the menu. We’ve just had time to put together some ‘specials’ to replace them. A number of them are from our Levelling Up White Paper menu published in February 2022 but I don’t think anyone will notice. I just hope you can read my handwriting.”

Charles scanned the note. At first reading, the aims of the menu certainly looked appetising:

  • Level up the UK, grow the economy in the places that need it most and regenerate our towns and cities – giving people the opportunities they want, where they live.

  • Improve the planning system to give communities a louder voice, making sure developments are beautiful, green and accompanied by new infrastructure and affordable housing.

So far, so good. Reading on he looked at the Appetisers and amongst them he noticed a couple of tasty treats:

Requirement to assist with plan making - the Bill introduces a requirement for a prescribed public body to assist a plan-making authority in relation to the preparation or revision of a relevant plan by the authority and must do everything that the plan-making authority reasonably requires of the body to assist the authority in relation to the preparation or revision of the relevant plan.

Local Design Codes - A local planning authority must ensure that, for every part of their area, the development plan includes requirements with respect to design that should be met for planning permission for the development to be granted. Residents will be able to have a say on drawing up local design codes for housing developments.

Street Votes - The Secretary of State may make provision for a system that permits residents of a street to determine, by means of a vote, whether that development should be given planning permission, with some conditions.

Moving on to the Main Courses, four items caught his eye:

Environmental Impact Assessments - A new approach to the environmental assessment of planning applications and projects. Following Brexit, the Government has previously committed to streamlining and improving the process of Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). There is no detail yet of how these rules will be changed, and it seems that the Government is still in the early stages of developing options on which to consult, with the Chief Planner in her May 2022 newsletter asking for people with experience of the planning system to step forward and share knowledge to help develop and test opportunities for EIA and SEA reform. This information will inform proposals which she said will be progressed this year.

Infrastructure levy - A new Infrastructure levy to capture more of the financial value gain created by development. It would be locally set and be non-negotiable. It would be spent on housing, schools, GPs and new roads – this new levy had been expected but there was no confirmation as to whether it would actually replace affordable housing delivery through s106 (as had been hinted at in the past). Initial proposals in the Planning White Paper published in August 2020 were for a nationally set levy, but from the limited details announced this proposal sounds more akin to an extension of a locally set CIL.

Certainty of decision making - The Bill proposes to amend section 38 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 in England. The existing section 38(6) provides that planning determinations must be made in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise.

A new section 38(5B) would strengthen this, so that planning determinations must be made in accordance with the development plan and any national development management policies unless material considerations strongly indicate otherwise.

In addition, a new section 38(5C) would provide for the primacy of national over local policy:

If to any extent the development plan conflicts with a national development management policy, the conflict must be resolved in favour of the national development management policy.

The clear purpose is to increase certainty for developers and reduce the likelihood of subjective decision-making by decision-makers. The change maintains room for argument and local influence and so avoids concerns that had been raised about the proposed “wholesale” changes that might have removed local discretion altogether.

Local Plans - Simplifying and standardising the process for local plans so that they are produced faster and are easier for communities to influence – this is an interesting announcement but details of the extent of these changes are limited at this stage. The 2020 Planning White Paper proposed fundamental changes and included detailed proposals on changes to the examination of local plans, their evidence base and their digitisation, and (controversially) how general development management policies would be stripped out to be contained only in national planning policy, and ‘zoning rules’ introduced. The details published alongside the Queen’s Speech don’t say whether any of these proposals will be taken forward in the Bill, or exactly how local plans will be changed, although zoning does appear to have been abandoned, for now at least. However, the changes could have important implications for all developments.

Understandably perhaps the selection of desserts was somewhat sparse, but one dish did catch his eye:

Neighbourhood Plans - the bill states that new plans may include policies which relate to the amount, type, location and timetable for development. The plans will also be able to include details of any infrastructure requirements needed to make a development.

Disappointingly there was no mention of Duchy shortbread, but the Devolution Deal looked tempting and al fresco dining was set to become permanent at least.

OK, so there were no prices, details of ingredients, or any allergy information and he wasn’t certain what customers would think of the proposed menu, if or when it would ever get launched, but at least it sounded comforting.

Taking a deep breath, Charles rose to speak...

For further details of the full menu please contact the TPP Planning Team.


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