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Jeremy's Blog 13th May: Levelling Up Bill

This article by Jeremy Moody first appeared in the CAAV e-Briefing of 12th May 2022

England’s Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill was published yesterday, the day after the Queen’s Speech. Already 338 pages, it covers subjects from English devolution to “Combined County Authorities” to the power to review RICS governance and pavement licences. With a mixture of complex provisions and enabling powers requiring later regulations to give them shape, most aspects will require careful analysis and time to see what they might really mean – some significant parts may not have had publicity. In reality, much might turn on how local government uses the new powers, including for compulsory purchase for regeneration.

The object of “levelling up”, the Government’s flagship phrase, is defined as to “reduce geographical disparities in the United Kingdom significantly” with targets to be set for “missions” to do this. With the While Paper not settled until February, this is perhaps where the shape of levelling up will come to be seen

Partly another Planning Bill, shorn of 2020’s radical approach to housing allocation, it starts with digitising data and then covers development plans with design codes, plan making and neighbourhood plans. Power is given to set rules for “street votes” on developments in a street. A structure of development commencement and completion notices is created. Detailed points include extending the enforcement period for works from four years to ten. Councils are to maintain comprehensive historic environment records. In deciding applications, statutory regard would be had to scheduled monuments, historic gardens, protected wrecks and World Heritage Sites.

With Brexit, Environmental Outcomes Reports would replace the inherited EU-designed Environmental Impact Assessment rules. With detail to come, it is expected to re-design the rules and focus more on hedgehogs than newts.

A mandatory Infrastructure Levy on development to fund infrastructure, widely defined with affordable housing, awaits all details but is now to be set locally, not nationally. Ss.70, 106 and 278 could be amended and CIL might be restricted to London.

For house building, there are so far little-noticed powers for identifying “locally-led development corporations” for new towns. As Michael Gove backs away from the annual target of 300,000 houses, this may be the only answer left for housing, perhaps drawing on the Letwin Review of Housing Build Out. The mechanism to drive using this tool is not yet seen. Failing this

Following the increased business rates threshold for holiday lets and in keeping with other trends, Council Tax could now be doubled where a furnished dwelling is temporarily vacant.

Changes to compulsory purchase include amending the recently enacted “no-scheme” rule and powers to extend the three years for notices to treat and to agree postponing a vesting date.

Councils could force a “rent auction” of vacant commercial property in designated high streets. This may be “more bark than bite”, better seen as prompting redevelopment using earlier relaxations of Use Classes and permitted development rights.

Mirroring measures for companies, regulations could require information about the ownership and control of land and the details of transactions in it with fees potentially charged for providing it.

At least half-way through its term, waylaid by the pandemic, the Government is only now setting its hand to this scale of work with its proclaimed ambition and scale of implementation. Expecting the Bill to develop further in Parliament, we have yet to see what is for show and what may drive change and how.

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