One of the most important recent planning headlines was the new ‘Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill’, published after the Queen’s Speech at the opening of parliament (11/5/22). This forms part of the government’s broader agenda to boost productivity, spread opportunities, improve public services, restore a sense of community, and empower local leaders and communities.

As such it is a wide ranging bill but the key highlights include:

– Simpler and faster Local Planning decisions
– New local Infrastructure Levy to replace Section.106 contributions and CIL payments
– Street votes on planning applications

Local Planning

The bill proposes more of a plan-led system, with a change to section 38 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 from the requirement that ‘planning determinations must be made in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise’, to ‘planning determinations must be made in accordance with the development plan and any national development management policies unless material considerations strongly indicate otherwise’. By providing a higher presumption against proposals outside the plan, it creates more certainty in the planning process and reduces speculative development.

To help make the content of plans faster, policies on issues that apply in most areas (such as general heritage protection) will be set out nationally. These will be contained in National Development Management Policies, and mean Local plan content will be limited to ’locally specific matters’. In the event of any conflicts, the proposed national development management policies have more weight than local policies, in a top-down approach. This is likely a response to allow issues in the national interest such as build back better to be able to over-ride local policy.

New local infrastructure levy

The Bill proposes an amendment to the Planning Act 2008 to provide a new funding regime for infrastructure. This was first raised in the Planning White Paper. The rates would be set locally and provide funding for infrastructure and affordable housing. The rates will be set as a percentage of gross development value rather than based on floorspace, as with the Community Infrastructure Levy at present.

The indications are that Section 106 agreements, which can require additional financial contributions to mitigate the impact of a development, often following long drawn-out negotiations, will likely be retained in a more streamlined form.

Street votes

Perhaps the Bill’s more controversial proposal is the idea of ‘street votes’. This would potentially allow residents of a street to ‘determine, by means of a vote, whether that development should be given planning permission, on condition that certain requirements prescribed in regulations are met.

Many concerns have been expressed about the impact this may have on neighbourhood relations with a greater allowance for subjective influence. The exact details of how this would work are unclear, so this concept is still a work in progress, however, it is already apparent how this would change the approval landscape. Currently it doesn’t matter how many people object to a planning application as long as it complies with planning policy. Introducing a vote means communities have the ability to organise and determine whether they thought it was acceptable and could create idiosyncratic planning decisions at a very local level.

It’s worth noting this is also at odds with the government’s stated desire for more centralised policy making regarding developments and building.

Other changes

Two other proposals in the Bill are worth mentioning. Firstly, it seeks to strengthen the role of planning in protecting the natural and historic environment, making planning’s role proactive rather than preventative.

The Bill also proposes improving council resourcing by increasing planning fees for major and minor applications by 35% and 25% respectively. Better funded and resourced councils should be able to provide more effective and efficient services.

For further information, contact Hayden Todd, Associate Director, on 01442 291786 or via email to hayden.todd@argroup.co.uk.