1 The Bill will “drive local growth”
Yesterday’s Queen’s Speech, delivered by Prince Charles due to his mother’s increasing infirmity, only devoted two lines to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. “A bill will be brought forward to drive local growth, empowering local leaders to regenerate their areas, and ensuring everyone can share in the United Kingdom’s success. The planning system will be reformed to give residents more involvement in local development,” he said.
Background notes provided by Downing Street were rather more extensive.
2 Reform to environmental assessment is promised
The government said that one of the main benefits of the bill will be “improving outcomes for our natural environment by introducing a new approach to environmental assessment in our planning system. This benefit of Brexit will mean the environment is further prioritised in planning decisions.”
No other detail has been offered, though environment secretary George Eustice has promised reforms to Habitats Regulations assessments for years. Long a bugbear of the Tory right, the rules were castigated as “newt-counting delays” by the prime minister two years ago. The reforms could also affect the environmental impact assessment and strategic environmental assessment regimes.
3 But it is likely to be limited
But the scope of reform appears to be much less radical than the government was considering only two years ago. “The scaling back of environmental assessments and removal of community objection rights, amongst other proposed measures, in the Planning White Paper made it a blueprint for widespread environmental damage. Its apparent abandonment is to be welcomed,” said Carl Bunnage, senior policy officer for planning at the RSPB and the chair of Wildlife and Countryside Link's Planning for Nature Advocacy Group.
“The new bill should present an opportunity to take a very different approach to planning reform – one that delivers for example the right homes in the right places, whilst contributing to nature’s recovery and creating thriving green and blue spaces to make communities better to live in,” he added.
4 It’s essentially an English bill
The bill will apply “in the main” to England alone, though with “some provisions extending and applying across the UK”.
5 More regional mayors will be created
The bill will lay the foundations for all parts of England to negotiate a devolution deal by 2030 – “giving local leaders the powers they need to drive real improvement in their communities”. It follows nine cities and regions such as Greater Manchester, Liverpool and the Tees Valley setting up combined authorities with directly-elected mayors since 2017. A new model of combined authority, the ‘county deal’, will also be established.
6 Changes to the planning regime are expected
The bill says that the planning system will be reformed “to give residents more involvement in local development". The notes add that the law will make sure that “developments are beautiful, green and accompanied by new infrastructure and affordable housing”.
As expected, major developments will be charged a locally-set and non-negotiable levy, rather than negotiating section 106 deals to provide supporting community infrastructure such as schools and libraries. Doing so will capture "more of the financial value created by development", it adds.
Local plans will be simplified and standardised to allow them to be produced more quickly, with communities able to influence them more easily.
Quoting a government source, the Times reported yesterday that ministers “will also examine how the planning inspectorate enforces local housing need targets. Areas that are constrained by greenbelt land or areas of natural beauty will no longer be expected to reach unrealistic targets if they can produce a plan that is ‘well evidenced and drawn up in good faith".