Levelling Up bill gets cynical response

Development groups have hit out at the government for failing to overhaul the planning system in the Queen’s Speech.

Instead the government’s Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill pledged to “give communities a louder voice” in developments.

Prince Charles – deputising for the Queen – said: “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.”

But Nick Sanderson, chief executive of Audley Group, said: “What happened to an overhaul of the planning system?

“Planning reform which focuses on local residents being able to have more involvement and input is neither radical, nor in any way going to address the fundamental problems that persist within the housing market.

“It should be a given that residents are able to hold local planning teams to account and have a say in how they want their locality to take shape.

“But yet again the government has missed an opportunity to take the strong action that it needs to in order to solve our housing crisis.

“We need a complete overhaul of both the system and how we think about it and central to this is the type of housing that needs to be built.”

Audley Group, which specialises in retirement villages, said expanding housing options, including those for older people, should be a key part of the process.

Sanderson added: “Supporting specialist housing providers with regulatory change, like assigning Integrated Retirement Communities with a standalone planning classification or mandating the provision of housing for older people in local planning land allocation would allow them to get on and do the job of building housing that helps older people live independent, healthy lives in thriving communities, which in turn frees up valuable housing stock elsewhere. Once again, tricks have been missed.”

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill – details

The Levelling Up bill has committed to giving all of England the opportunity for a devolution deal by 2030.

The bill pledged to create a new model of combined authority: the ‘County Deal’ which will provide local leaders with powers to join up services, make decisions, and increase their ability to reflect local preferences in arrangements including directly elected leaders’ titles.

It vowed to capture more of the financial value created by development with a locally set, non-negotiable levy to deliver the infrastructure like housing, schools, GPs and new roads.

Meanwhile it confirmed news about enabling local authorities to bring empty premises back into use by instigating compulsory rental auctions.

Finally it said the neighborhood planning system should be digitiised to make local plans easier to find, understand and engage with.

How will this speed up housing delivery?

Al Watson, real estate partner at law firm Taylor Wessing said: “Localism – or localism-ish – makes a return after its previous difficulties as a concept. Via digital planning technology to bring about informed engagement, government wants local people to consider for themselves what local development should look like – subject of course to Government having the final say. We all need to question how this will speed up the delivery of housing.

“And spatial planning and delivering a Net Zero Carbon future?

“The 1980s and the vision of Heseltine is proved right again – central government clears the ground, and it is the private sector that delivers and builds. The Levelling Up Agenda and the Levelling Up Bill, at its heart, wants and needs private sector engagement, investment, and skills. Government needs to remind itself of those facts and use the Bill to promote confidence and certainty for the private sector to commit and invest.”

Infrastructure levy – more of the same?

Claire Dutch, partner and co-head planning at Ashurst said: “There is scant detail on the proposed infrastructure levy.  For developers, this is a big one.  We are told to expect a “locally set, non-negotiable levy” which sounds remarkably similar to the system we currently have!

“The age old debate of the extent of community involvement in our democratic planning system has come to the fore again.  There is scant detail in the Queen’s Speech but it appears that “giving the communities a louder voice” and strengthening neighbourhood planning will be a priority going forward.”

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