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Updated May 13, 2022

Details of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill revealed

The Government has published the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, which aims to help to reduce geographical disparities across the UK and to improve equality. The Bill also contains several provisions aimed at altering the planning system in order to promote regeneration and delivery of homes.

Underpinning the Bill is the desire to support struggling towns and cities and also to help local leaders take back control of regeneration, to find tenancies for vacant high street shops and to deliver quality homes.

Levelling-Up Secretary, Michael Gove, said "This Bill puts in place the reforms we need to level-up. It enshrines our levelling-up missions in law, which will shift resources and focus throughout this decade to the parts and people of the country who need it most. It enables every part of England which wants a London-style mayor to have one. It empowers local people, not the big developers, to take back control of regeneration in their community.

He added, "It shifts power out of Whitehall by giving local leaders the powers they need to tackle the blight of empty shops on high streets and to regenerate their communities. This is underpinned by a firm belief that by far the best placed people to level-up communities are the people who live there. We want everyone to be given the opportunity to stay local but go far."

Standing at over 300 pages, the Bill covers a lot of different issues. We've summarised the main points below.

Levelling-up

Part 1 of the Bill addresses levelling-up missions.

The Bill requires that a statement of levelling-up missions is laid before both Houses of Parliament, containing information about how the Government will aim to reduce geographical disparities in the UK within a specified period, and details of how progress will be measured.

Each statement must be reviewed within five years of publication. The review will consider whether the levelling-up missions are contributing to the reduction in geographical disparities and, if not, what other levelling-up missions should be pursued.

Part 2 allows regulations to be made to establish combined county authorities for certain areas in England. They will only be created if it will improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of those who live or work in the relevant area.

Planning

The Bill contains a number of provisions relating to planning reform. Provisions include:

  • making design codes mandatory so that developers reflect styles drawn up and favoured by the locality. This includes specifications on layout, materials and use of green space;
  • giving more legal weight to local plans, whilst also making them easier to produce in order to increase the amount of local plans actually produced;
  • stronger protection for the environment in local plans, meaning better use of brownfield land;
  • requirement that planning authorities handle planning data in accordance with approved data standards;
  • requiring local planning authorities to use approved planning data software in England;
  • updating current provisions relating to development plans in order to reflect other changes proposed in the Bill;
  • requiring that planning decisions in England must be made in accordance with the development plan and national development management policies, unless material considerations strongly indicate otherwise - tightening up the rules about when decisions can go against the development plan;
  • new provisions setting out what can be included in a neighbourhood plan, including land allocation for development, land use and development policies, infrastructure and affordable housing requirements and design requirements;
  • requirements that neighbourhood plans are designed to secure the development and use of land in the area and also contribute to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change;
  • a requirement that specific bodies assist in the plan-making process, if requested to do so;
  • a specification that local planning authorities must have special regard to the desirability of preserving or enhancing a heritage asset or its setting when making planning decisions in England - the Bill defines what is considered as a relevant asset, and specifies how significant each asset is;
  • new powers to introduce temporary stop notices in England where works to listed buildings are not complying with conditions attached to listed building consent, or are being carried out without consent;
  • allowing regulations to be made to introduce "street votes", which involves a system that allows residents of a street to propose a development on the street and to determine, via a vote, whether the development should be given planning permission;
  • introduction of "commencement notices" in England, imposing a duty on the person wanting to carry out development to serve a commencement notice on the local planning authority before beginning the development. The notice must specify the date on which the development will begin, and further commencement notices must be given if the development does not start on the date previously given;
  • allowing completion notices to be given by local planning authorities in cases where planning permission has been granted subject to a condition that the development must begin before a particular date, and the development has started but not been finished. The notice can state that the planning permission will cease to have effect at a specified time, aiming to encourage the completion of the development (though it is unclear what might happen if the completion notice deadline passes and the development is only half finished);
  • extending, in England, the time limit to take planning enforcement action from four years to 10 years;
  • a new power to create enforcement warning notices in England where there has been a breach in planning control but an application for planning permission is likely to be granted for it. The notice will require a planning application to be submitted;
  • a reduction on the ability to lodge an appeal against an enforcement notice in England, but only regarding certain grounds of appeal;
  • a provision to make the pre-application consultation requirements in the Localism Act 2011 permanent - currently the provisions are due to expire on 15 December 2025;
  • new provisions to facilitate electronic planning applications.

Infrastructure levy

The Bill proposes to restrict the current Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) to London and Wales, whilst introducing a new Infrastructure Levy format. Whilst charging CIL is at the discretion of the charging authority - usually the local planning authority - the new Levy will be mandatory.

The proposed levy is designed to ensure that the costs incurred in supporting the development of an area are funded in part by owners and developers of land. The Levy must be spent on the development of the local area by providing, improving, replacing, operating or maintaining infrastructure. The finer details will be published in regulations at a later time.

Environmental outcome reports

Part 5 of the Bill allows regulations to be made to set "specified environmental outcomes", against which relevant consents and plans will be assessed.

Further regulations could require the preparation of environmental outcome reports for relevant plans and consents. This establishes an outcomes-based approach to assessment where anticipated environmental effects are measured against specified environmental outcomes.

Such a report should assess:

  • the extent to which the proposed relevant consent or plan would impact on the delivery of environmental outcomes;
  • any steps required for the purpose of:
    • increasing the extent to which an environmental outcome is delivered,
    • avoiding the effects of failure to meet an outcome to any extent,
    • mitigating the effects, should an outcome not be met,
    • remedying those effects, if it cannot be mitigated;
    • compensating for the failure, if the effects cannot be mitigated or remedied;
  • any proposals on the impact of the consent or plan on the environmental outcome.

Compulsory purchase

Local authorities have the power to acquire land compulsorily if it will help development, re-development or improvement of the land. The amendments in the Bill help to give local authorities greater confidence that they have the power to acquire land by compulsory purchase to support regeneration schemes.

Vacant high-street premises

The Bill allows local authorities to designate a street in its area as a high street, if it is important to the local economy.

Once designated, if a property on the high street remains vacant for at least one year, the local authority can begin issuing letting notices on the landlord. If, following the final letting notice, no tenancy or licence has been granted, they can carry our a "rental auction" in order to find people willing to take a tenancy of the premises.

Regulations will contain the finer details of the process.