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Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill - an update July 2022

Vicky Marr
By Vicky Marr
14th July 2022

The long-awaited Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill has now been published and received its Second Reading at the beginning of June.

It is now in its Committee Stage in the House of Commons, which provides the opportunity for Members of Parliament to challenge the content and put forward amendments. There will not be time for it to complete all stages before Parliament goes into recess. It is not clear whether a new Government will proceed with the bill as drafted in the autumn.

In the meantime, CPRE are continuing to work with the ‘Better Planning Coalition’, a group made up of 27 organisations working across the housing, planning, environment, transport and heritage sectors, to influence decisions as much as possible.

Together, we have developed 6 key tests by which to judge the proposed planning reforms. The 6 key tests cover areas such as; local democracy and community engagement, affordable housing, climate and sustainable development, biodiversity, and nature recovery, beauty and heritage, health and well-being and finally access to green space.

At 340 pages, the information around the bill is long, but there is still a huge amount of detail we haven’t yet seen. We believe there are two fundamental problems with the bill as it currently stands.

The bill is virtually silent in the biggest challenge of all, the climate emergency. Most local plans, despite many councils declaring a climate emergency, are still not setting measurable targets for delivering net-zero. CPRE want the bill to require other national and local planning to be subject to a “net zero test” to address this.

Secondly, the bill does not give local authorities new powers to influence the amounts and types of housing built in their areas. Local planning authorities will still have housing targets imposed on them by central government, making local plans more difficult to deliver and increasing the amount of large scale, car dependent development on greenfield sites. All of which does nothing to address the real need for social housing.

In addition CPRE have a number of other areas of concern.

  • The bill provides for new National Development Policies (NDMPs) which in principle could make local plans simpler. However, a clause in the bill gives NDMPs legal primacy over existing local plans. This, in turn, could seriously undermine local democratic scrutiny of planning policy.
  • The bill proposes to replace the current EU requirement for Strategic Environmental Assessments and Environmental Impact Assessments with a new Environmental Outcomes Report. This is clearly a consequence of Brexit; the bill does state that the new Environmental Outcomes Reports will not result in a lowering of environmental standards. However, CPRE have 2 major concerns over this.
    1. CPRE are concerned that with the Secretary of State having the powers to amend or repeal legislation in the future without needing to bring it to parliament, this could, over time, lead to the UK diverging from international law and weakening current safeguards in for wildlife and pollution.
    2. In addition, the new NDMPs are not to be subject to the new Environmental Outcomes report. This means that a local plan or neighbourhood plan, which is assessed, could be prevented from fulfilling its environmental commitments by national NDMPs which are not assessed. At CPRE we think this makes no sense.

However, there is also some good news in all of this. Largely as a result of campaigning by CPRE and others in our planning coalition, two of the original controversial proposals included in the 2020 planning white papers have now been dropped: the setting of mandatory top down housing targets via “the mutant algorithm” and the zonal approach.

Other good news included is:

  • the bill will make Compulsory Purchase Orders easier which should enable local authorities to bring more brownfield sites forward and to acquire more land for social housing.
  • The new infrastructure levy should also, in theory, channel developer contributions into providing more affordable housing especially in rural areas.
  • The planned digitisation of the planning system should also make the whole process more accessible, which will be a welcome step forward.

With progress and work continuing, please visit the keep your eyes peeled for further CPRE updates.

Update from Carole Oldham (CPRE Hampshire) based on report from Andrew Woods (CPRE) – July 2022