On Thursday 26 October, the final day before Parliament was prorogued ahead of its state opening on 7 November, the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill was given Royal Assent, becoming the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 (“LURA”). Whilst the final version of the Act is yet to be published, it contains significant and radical changes to the planning system and the roles and responsibilities of local planning authorities.
The government has stated that it aims to “speed up the planning system, hold developers to account, cut bureaucracy, and encourage more councils to put in place plans to enable the building of new homes”, and is “at the heart” of Michael Gove’s long-term plan for housing.
The statement also claims that the provisions of LURA will ensure that new development is “built more beautiful, produces more infrastructure…is shaped by people’s democratic wishes, enhances the environment and creates neighbourhoods where people want to live and work”. How LURA will in practice require more infrastructure (such as schools and GP surgeries) to be built is currently unclear, with the government noting that further details on this “will be set out shortly”.
The stages of the bill
The bill had its first reading in the Commons on 11 May 2022, after about two years of planning reform speculation in, albeit, ultimately, a departure from, the 2020 ‘Planning for the future’ White Paper. The bill then progressed through Parliament amidst much political turmoil and uncertainty. It was considered by the House of Lords between 19 December 2022 and 21 September 2023, before returning to the House of Commons for the final ping-pong stage, with each house considering the other’s amendments.
This ping pong stage lasted for two days, ending on 25 October 2023, with the government rejecting all amendments, save for agreeing on including a provision in the bill requiring councils to have regard to climate change policies in national development plan policies – it was previously tabled by the Lords as a requirement in all planning decisions, and a compromise was reached to limit consideration to national development plan policies.
Key changes in the Act
- A new Infrastructure Levy (IL) is introduced, replacing the current s106 and Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) regime. The new levy would be introduced through a ‘test and learn’ system over a 10-year period.
- The EU-derived processes of environmental impact assessment (EIA) and strategic environmental assessment (SEA) will be replaced by environmental outcomes reports.
- Local plans will be limited to ‘locally specific’ matters, with other issues that apply ‘in most areas’ are to be covered by a new suite of National Development Management Policies (which must have regard to the need to mitigate, and adapt, to climate change).
- Local planning authorities will be required to have a design code in place covering their entire area, setting our where homes will be built and how they will look.
- The duty to cooperate is scrapped, time limits are prescribed for stages of plan preparation, and, where authorities have adopted a local plan, they will no longer have to maintain a five-year housing supply.
- The introduction of street votes (allowing residents on a street to bring forward proposals to redevelop their properties) and community land auctions.
- A new power to refuse to determine applications where a developer has a history of not building out previous permissions or building them out slowly.
- A new power to amend planning permissions through “s73B”, allowing permissions to be granted where they are not substantially different in effect to a previous permission granted on the site, with consideration only given to the proposed changes.
- The enforcement period is raised to ten years for all breaches of planning control.
- The concept of ‘hope value’ is removed in some instances when calculating compensation for compulsory purchase orders.
It is worth noting that LURA does not include the government’s proposed amendments on nutrient neutrality after they were blocked by the House of Lords in September, which would have meant local planning authorities would have to assume that wastewater from developments would not adversely affect a habitat site. The government has since pledged to table a new bill to resolve the logjam created at the ‘first available opportunity’, with Rishi Sunak ‘determined’ to axe the nutrient neutrality rules. There was, however, no sign of this new bill ahead of parliament’s prorogation last week and there have been recent reports that a new bill will no longer be coming forward.
It is expected that there will be a whole host of further consultations, secondary legislation and guidance in order to bring the provisions in LURA into effect. This marks just the beginning of change, with much of the detail as to how the new policies will be finalised and implemented yet to be seen.
An updated NPPF, as promised by the government following their consultation held last December, was previously confirmed by Rachel Maclean to be published “as soon as the [LURB] receives Royal Assent”. These changes remain awaited, with the government confirming in their statement when LURA was passed that they will publish their consultation response “in due course”. The letter from Gove to local planning authorities dated 8 September 2023, which has now been published online, also mentioned “the publication of the refreshed NPPF in the autumn”.
Whether or not all of the proposed changes in the LURA will be implemented is dependent on implementation timings and the outcome of the next general election, which could be called within the next 12 months (and, in any event, by January 2025). Labour have previously confirmed that they would scrap the government’s levelling up missions, reverse many of the proposed changes to the NPPF, and reintroduce housing targets, with Matthew Pennycook also noting that a forthcoming Labour government would scrap the new Infrastructure Levy proposals.