Following the Queen’s Speech last week the Government officially unveiled the new Levelling Up & Regeneration Bill. Here we will summarise the main points and look at what it might mean for the property market.

According to the Government, the Levelling Up & Regeneration Billis part of a programme designed to reduce inequality and close the gap – in productivity, health, incomes and opportunity – between much of the south east and the rest of the country.

The Bill sets out four broad objectives for achieving this. They are to boost productivity, pay, jobs and living standards by growing the private sector. To spread opportunities and improve public services. To restore a sense of community, local pride and belonging. To empower local leaders and communities. It is intended that the measures will specifically target those places that are weakest in these areas.

The Bill incorporates some of the proposals for planning reform outlined in the Planning for the Future White Paper from 2020, while ditching some of the others.

The Levelling Up & Regeneration Bill acts on several fronts to create a ‘levelling up framework’:

* It aims to widen the devolution of power to more areas of England.

* It aims to empower local leaders to regenerate towns and cities.

* It aims to improve the planning process.

* It also sets a legal basis for measuring the success of the measures.

Now let us look at some more specific proposals within the Bill:

Measures to give more power to local leaders

All local areas of England that want them will be able to take devolved powers – not just cities as has previously mostly been the case – giving them more control over budgets, transport and skills. New ‘combined county authorities’ will be able to be formed.

These measures will empower local leaders to grow their local economies and improve public services as well as other measures.

Measures to make better places

This is a planning-related measure, designed to make it faster and easier to produce Local Plans (as well as Neighbourhood Plans) and give them more weight in the planning process.

It will allow groups of local authorities to collaborate on a spatial strategy. It will even allow local residents to vote on planning applications in their immediate local area.

Measures to deliver infrastructure

This will introduce a ‘simple, non-negotiable’, locally set Infrastructure Levy to ensure that developers pay a ‘fair share’ to deliver the infrastructure that communities need. It will change the current Community Infrastructure Levy and Section 106 system by which this is decided. There are few details on which this will work. However, local authorities may be able to auction development rights and keep the profits.

Measures to create beautiful places and improve environmental outcomes

This measure will mean every area will need to have a design code, which will reflect local views, and will regulate new developments. It will also offer more protection to historic environments.

Regeneration

These measures are designed to support the regeneration of brownfield sites and to rejuvenate town centres.

Specific proposals include extended compulsory purchase powers for local authorities and to allow locally-led Urban Development Corporations to be set up. It will also give local authorities the power to auction off the leases of empty shops.

Market reform

These proposals include a diverse range of measures. It will allow the Government to collect and make public information on the ownership of land and the activities of developers, and to provide more insight into what is often called land banking. It will enable more provision for self built and custom housing, perhaps aiding small developers. It will allow local authorities to charge more Council Tax on empty homes and second homes.

Wider improvements to planning procedures

The Bill includes a number of measures to allow the use of high quality data and modern, digital services across the planning process, including powers to set data standards and software requirements. It also provides for technical changes to the planning process to make it work more smoothly and reduce the administrative burden on local authorities and others. Alongside this planning application fees will rise significantly.

So what might the Levelling Up & Regeneration Bill mean for the property market?

It’s probably fair to say that the measures are aimed more at ‘getting things moving’ than ‘levelling up’.

It’s also fair to say that some of the measures will modernise the planning system and bring it into the 21st century.

But the measures are very far from the simplification of the planning system by the introduction of zoning that was proposed back in 2020. (And which proved unpopular with voters in certain areas.)

The proposed measures could create a lot more bureaucracy and administration and thereby make the planning system more complicated and slower. Many local authorities struggle to create Local Plans and run their planning systems (on very limited budgets) as it is. New proposed developments are already often delayed and even halted by local objections and these measures could exacerbate that. They could potentially even slow much-needed new housebuilding.

Some measures, such as the ‘forced renting’ of empty shops, are revolutionary but potentially very problematic and could diminish town centres.

Some areas have struggled to agree and introduce local devolution. This is particularly the case in spread-out and rural areas which the Bill seems to target.

It’s important to remember of course that the Bill is just a Bill. It’s not yet an Act or a law. Some of the detail in the Bill is a bit sketchy. It will be interesting to see the further detail that emerges, and what changes might be made to it, as it passes through the system and what aspects of it actually become law.

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