The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill
The Levelling up and Regeneration Bill (the Bill) aims to reverse geographical disparities between different parts of the UK by spreading opportunity more equally. This wide-ranging Bill has at its heart planning reform. It seeks to change the way powers can be devolved to local authorities and introduces reform to the planning system in England. Many of the provisions in the Bill take forward the proposals set out in the 2020 Planning White Paper.
The Bill will place a duty on the government to set levelling up missions for a period of no less than five years, through a levelling up mission statement, and produce an annual report updating the country on the delivery of these missions.
However, the Bill has been criticised as being too broad and lacking in detail, especially with regard to sustainable development. Hence, comprehensive consideration by way of pre-legislative consultation and scrutiny is expected and it is hoped that this will result in clearer clauses detailing how green development such as making homes more energy efficient will be achieved. The remaining sections of the Bill that are not dealt with via consultation and amendment will be delivered by secondary legislation.
The main beneficiaries of the Bill are home owners, local businesses and residents. Hence, the Bill will impact the following lines of business: construction, real estate, local authorities and their insurers.
Purpose of the Bill
The Bill aims to “promote local growth” and “empower local leaders”. The government has therefore pledged to:
- Support 20 towns, starting with Wolverhampton and Sheffield and undertaking green regeneration projects in the style of Kings Cross.
- Fund brownfield sites in the North and Midlands (£120 million).
- Build more genuinely affordable social housing and publish a social housing regulation bill to deliver commitments made following the Grenfell tragedy in 2017.
- Launch £1.5 billion Levelling Up Home Building Fund which will provide loans to SMEs and support the UK Government’s wider regeneration agenda in priority areas.
The Bill prioritises a green regeneration scheme using green principles, methodologies and technology/innovation to transform local areas to beautiful communities that achieve net zero emissions. The key to delivering these communities will be planning reform.
Key measures of the Bill
The derived outcomes of the Bill is to:
- Introduce a street vote system giving residents the chance to propose new developments, such as extensions to an existing house, and hold votes on whether they should be given planning permission.
- Introduce a new infrastructure levy for developers to pay, charged on the value of property when sold by the developer with rates and thresholds set locally by planning authorities.
- Replace the Environmental Impact Assessment and Strategic Environmental Assessment regime with a new system of environmental assessment; Environmental Outcomes Reports (EORs).
- Require local areas to produce a 'design code' to inform planning decisions to further the aim of clear design standards. This will include the requirement for developers to produce EORs.
- Make changes to compulsory purchase orders to support the green regeneration of brownfield sites.
- Digitally transform planning services to increase the use of high-quality data and digital services in the planning process. This includes powers to require compliance with data standards and make planning data publicly available through an open licence.
- Ensure local plans are simplified to speed up the planning process.
- Strengthen enforcement powers for local authorities when dealing with those who fail to comply with EOR rules.
The Bill was introduced to the House of Commons on 11 May 2022 and is currently at committee stage in the House of Commons.
Both Conservative leadership candidates, Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss have made public commitments to continue levelling up, but have said little about the Bill, specifically. Truss has commented that she would level up “in a Conservative way” and Sunak has pledged to support growth by offering tax breaks. As such, depending on who wins the contest to become the next prime minister, the Bill as currently drafted may look rather different by the time it comes into force.