The new Levelling Up and Regeneration Act – how will it affect the planning system?

31 October 2023

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (LURB) received royal assent on 26 October thereby becoming an Act (LURA). Whilst the new law is intended to change the planning system, most of its provisions rely on secondary legislation, and therefore more consultations and technical work.  As such these provisions are not yet in force.

The following article will summarise the main reforms to the planning system brought about by the Act.  and provide an analysis of how these reforms will translate into practice.  

What are the main changes?

1. Local planning authorities will be required to have a design code in place covering their entire areas. The Act confirms that the area-wide codes will act as a framework, for which subsequent detailed design codes can come forward, with the am of ensuring that good design is considered at all spatial scales.

2. A new levy will replace section 106 planning obligations and the Community Infrastructure Levy.  This levy will be set and raised by the LPAs rather than nationally.

3. A requirement will be placed on local authorities to prepare infrastructure delivery strategies. This is to ensure that developers deliver forms of infrastructure that are integral to the design and delivery of a site.

4. Increased weight to be given to local plans, neighbourhood plans and spatial development strategies during the decision-making process.

5. Local plans will be limited to locally specific matters with more general issues to be covered by a new suite of National Development Management Policies (NDMP). The NDMPs, which will be the subject of consultation, will have the same weight as plans and so will be fully taken into account in decisions. They will have regard to the need to mitigate, and adapt to, climate change, taking into account the range of climate scenarios and risk relevant to the policies being developed.

6. The emphasis of the National Planning Policy Framework will shift to guiding plan-making. Policies in the current National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) that are intended to guide decision-making will be stripped out to form the basis of the promised National Development Management Policies.

7. Duty to cooperate will be dropped and time limits prescribed for different stages of plan preparation. 

8. The EU processes of environmental impact assessment and strategic environmental assessment will be replaced by ‘environmental outcomes reports’.  The notes confirm that the Act, introduces an “outcomes-based approach that will allow the Government to set clear and tangible environmental outcomes which a plan or project is assessed against”. This will “allow decision-makers and local communities to clearly see where a plan or project is meeting these outcomes and what steps are being taken to avoid and mitigate any harm to the environment”. These outcomes will be set following consultation and parliamentary scrutiny but will, for the first time, allow the government to reflect its environmental priorities directly in the decision-making process.

9. A simpler way to prepare neighbourhood plans.  A new tool called the ‘neighbourhood priorities statement’ will provide communities with a simpler and more accessible way to set out their priorities for their local areas.

10. A ‘street votes’ system will permit residents to propose development on their street and hold a vote on whether planning permission should be given. 

11. Reinforcement of the duty to act in accordance with the development plan and national policies.

12. Planning enforcement powers to be strengthened.

13. Registered parks and gardens will receive same level of planning protection as listed buildings.

14. Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPO) to be streamlined.

15. Planning authorities will obtain the power to instigate auctions to take leases on vacant high street properties. 

16. A council tax premium on second homes will be introduced.   

17. New measures introduced with the intention of making land ownership more transparent.

18. Planning application fees to be increased by more than one-third and a charge to be made for advice relating to Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project applications.

19. Completion notices will be made easier for LPAs to issue.

20. Community land auctions.   Landowners will be able to submit their land into an allocation process as part of an emerging local plan, offering the local planning authority an option on the land at a price set by the landowner. The local authority will allocate land based on both planning considerations and the option price. It will then auction the development rights onto a successful bidder once land is allocated in the adopted plan. The difference between the option price offered by landowners, and the price offered to develop allocated land, will be retained by local authorities for the benefit of local communities.

21. Councils will have the power to decline to determine applications from applicants who have been slow to implement previous permissions. 

22. New duty on councils to grant sufficient permission for self- and custom-build housing.  This calculation must include pre-existing unmet demand for this housing.

23. Short term rental properties must be registered.

24. Planning appeals can be held remotely.

How will the reforms translate into planning practice.

Whilst the Bill obtaining Royal Assent is a big achievement, there is still a significant amount of work to do.  Most of the sections within the new Act, particularly those related to development management and plan-making have not commenced and will require secondary legislation.  This will mean that in effect we can expect an increasing number of public consultations with much of the detail yet to be provided. The Act is therefore not designed to be an immediate replacement for the current system.

The Government’s intention to encourage build-out and the facilitation of tracking of housing delivery is noted by the introduction of commencement notices and completion notices, power to decline to determine applications in cases of earlier non-implementation and a condition requiring development progress reports.  However, whilst most of these sections have come into force in so far as they confer to make regulations, necessary legislation relating to the detail of these issues is still required.

Environmental outcome reports, which will replace environmental impact assessments, will come into force in two months’ time, however as with the above, secondary legislation is still required to address matters of detail.

We are firmly of the opinion that the government must now engage frequently with planners to ensure that the new regulations work as intended to deliver more homes in sustainable locations.

We are however expecting local plans to start coming forward over the next year or so and in the meantime, we await, with some interest, confirmation regarding changes to the NPPF.

Should you require further information regarding the new legislation, please contact Annepawsey@morganelliot.co.uk

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