Update – 26 October 2023 – Royal Assent
The Levelling up and regeneration Act received Royal Assent on 26 October. The Department for levelling up, housing and communities stated the aim of the Act is to "deliver revitalised high streets … speed up the planning system, hold developers to account, cut bureaucracy and encourage more councils to put in place plans to enable the building of new homes".
As can be seen, the Act (containing over 530 pages of detail) is wide ranging and ambitious, undertaking a series of major reforms across the built and natural environment. As such, the Act is presented as a framework legislation with more detailed regulations to follow by way of secondary legislation.
All of our previous updates are located at the bottom of this briefing note.
The Levelling up and Regeneration Bill
17 August 2022
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.
Update - 22 December 2022 – Consultation on the National Planning Policy Framework launched
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has launched a consultation on its proposed approach to updating the National Planning Policy Framework. The Government is also seeking views on National Development Management Policies, the development of policy to support levelling up, and how national planning policy is currently accessed by users. The consultation will close on 2 March 2022.
Update - 5 December 2022 – Government waters down housing targets and wind farm restrictions
Following the third reading of the Bill, the Government has watered down housing targets that were originally outlined in the Bill by giving local authorities more flexibility over meeting the new housing requirements. Furthermore, restrictions on new onshore wind farms will be eased and the Government is expected to consult on proposed changes to national planning policy on onshore wind development. The Bill has now completed all its stages in the House of Commons and will now go to the House of Lords for consideration.
Update - 22 November 2022 - Report stage delayed
The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (the Bill) is currently and has been at the report stage since September 2022. The Public Bill Committee have recently sent the Bill back to the House of Commons with their revisions and it will now undergo further amendments. In the circumstances, the third reading will be deferred to a later date.
Following the election of Rishi Sunak as Prime Minister, Michael Gove has been reappointed Secretary of State at the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, signalling that the levelling up agenda is back as a main priority for this government. This was earlier confirmed by the Prime Minister in his first speech who committed to sticking to the 2019 Conservative Party Manifesto, which put levelling up as one of the main policy objectives.
Michael Gove, in his statement of 17 November 2022, committed to building sustainable developments and will ensure that every local authority has a design code which can set high standards that reflect local views on sustainable development. He will also announce more details shortly on the Office for Place, a new body to be set up to uphold high aesthetic and sustainable standards in architecture (provided for within the Bill).