Nothing quite gets the planning and property world as morbidly excited as the promise of huge planning reform in the week of a Queen’s Speech. Especially following the scrapping of last year’s Planning Bill, we've all been waiting for the hotly anticipated Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill.
What may have felt a brief summary in Westminster has certainly been embellished in the 338 page Bill containing 196 Sections and 17 Schedules alongside 248 pages of Explanatory Notes that were introduced to Parliament this week.
But if you came here looking for the detail, I’m afraid you’re not going to find it. Not through lack of trying to seek it out, the Bill and its Explanatory Notes are still, as we expected, lacking in some of the fundamentals. Ironically, this is especially the case for the flagship proposals that have already made the headlines.
So here’s what we can’t tell you… all of this will be reserved for another day following consultation:
They’re coming, we just don’t know in what form as the matter is given a “placeholder clause”.
However, this doesn’t seem to be the much speculated ability of rallying a cabal to vote against your neighbour’s householder extension. Rather, the principle appears to be much more like a mini-Neighbourhood Plan, with residents being able to propose development on their street and then vote on it.
Goodbye CIL (unless you’re in London), see you sometimes Section 106, hello Infrastructure Levy (IL). Again, the devil will be in the detail with this which is still to follow and will no doubt undergo rigorous consultation.
What we do know is that it is intended for IL rates to be set locally and charged based on final gross development value, as opposed to the CIL regime based on floorspace. And Section 106 seems here to stay in some form, with Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) suggesting it will be retained for larger sites, recognising their complexity.
How affordable homes will be secured is not 100% clear, but there is a suggestion alongside the Bill of a ‘right to require’ to allow LPAs to offset a portion of the IL against in-kind receipt of affordable homes onsite.
Environmental Outcome Reports
Essentially a new form of environmental assessment to replace the EU-generated regime of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). We don’t know yet what it will entail, but there are guarantees that the new approach will “deliver more, not less, for the environment”. This will be a staggering overhaul of the current system, so one we hope will come with adequate transitional arrangements!
Planning Application Fees
Alongside the Bill, there is a stated intention to increase application fees by 35% and 25% for major and minor applications, respectively. This is subject to consultation and any increase, we are advised by DLUHC, would be on the proviso that it leads to an improvement in service.
National Planning Policy
In my view, this is the most impactful area of reform announced this week. We don’t yet know what the policies will be, but think of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) (to be updated) as effectively a national core strategy and the intended national development management policies as a proxy national plan.
Fundamentally, the Bill proposes to change the legal basis for decision making, putting forward a clause to give statutory weight to these national development management policies set nationally. And not just any old weight… if there is a conflict between a local plan policy and a national development management policy, the national policy has primacy and material considerations will now have to “strongly indicate otherwise” for any deviation.
Quite a lot to get your head around for proposals still awaiting detail, isn’t it? It’s not surprising, and indeed welcomed, that all of the above needs to undergo further consultation. I’m sure there will be many that will welcome the opportunity to share their view on these proposals.
Let’s also briefly examine what we can learn from the announcements.
Despite the headlines suggesting a double down on localism, for me, the over-riding principle of this Bill will see a nationally driven policy agenda, putting most of the power back into the hands of Central Government.
I also can’t help feeling that for a Bill focused on ‘levelling-up’, it is severely lacking on any commitments to affordable housing. There is in reference to: “The desirability of ensuring that the supply of affordable housing is maintained at a level which delivers the same amount of affordable housing as over a previous specified period”
No ‘shall’, ‘must’ or even ‘should’ to be seen, but rather a ‘desire to ensure’ the status quo. In the context of the current cost of living crisis, should Central Government not be looking beyond just ‘maintaining’ if we are truly seeking to level-up the country?
Cick here to contact Nicol Perryman, Associate Planner.