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      What next for Planning now the Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill has landed?

      Hot on his heels of last week’s Queen’s Speech, the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill was unveiled promising to deliver radical reform. Truth be told, the status quo is likely to continue for some time to come, says Planning Partner, Jonathan Bainbridge and his Bidwells colleagues, as they reveal the potential impacts of the Bill.

      16 May 2022

      Housing Targets  – Jonathan Bainbridge, Partner, Planning

      The Bill is unlikely to gain Assent until 2023 and many of its fundamental proposals will require secondary legislation or changes to national policy, be that revision or new. The Government itself is stating that many of these changes will not be in place until 2024. I can’t help but notice that aligning nicely with the political cycle.

      Alongside change to the law, Mr Gove was quickly doing circuits of the media outlets. Despite being amid a housing crisis worsened by today’s economic pressures, he has highlighted a weakening of the manifesto commitment to deliver 300,000 homes a year with that now being an “ambition” to deliver 300,000 homes per year “on average”.

      There is no doubt that his mission of ‘gentle densification’ placing beauty, infrastructure, democracy, environment, and neighbourhoods at the heart of the planning system is at least in somewhat responsible.

      Development Plans – Alice Maguire: Planner, Cambridge

      First and foremost – the ‘plan-led system’ remains firmly in place. But the definition of the plan sees two key revisions. Firstly, when determining application, regard must be had to the development plan and now also national development management policies. Giving the cold shoulder to localism, where conflicts arise, they must be resolved in favour of the national policy.

      Secondly, decision makers must now determine applications in accordance with the development plan and any national development management policies, unless there are material considerations which strongly indicate otherwise.

      ‘Nationalising’ development management policies should theoretically lead to a more reliable and robust planning system and help focus and simplify the role of the local plan.

      The process of preparing local development plans has also seen significant revision. To assist in achieving the ambitions 30 months’ timeframe for local plan production, the duty to cooperate is scrapped replaced with a yet unknown policy requirement, and ‘gateway checks’ are proposed to take place during the plan making process enabling the process to be more streamlined and to reduce the likelihood of plans being found unsound.

      In London, the Bill proposes more precise wording as to the function of the London Plan, limiting it to matters of “strategic importance to Greater London” and being “designed to achieve objectives that relate to the particular characteristics or circumstances of Greater London”.

      Finally, the Bill seeks to encourage more neighbourhood planning with the creation of ‘neighbourhood priority statements’ which will summarise the principal needs and prevailing views, of the community in the neighbourhood area.

      In summary, the proposed changes are a significantly different approach to the system currently in place. The changes to the plan making process should theoretically create a more simplified planning system with local plans being faster and easier to get through. The legal presumption ‘in favour of the development plan’ is to be replaced with a legal presumption in favour of national policy with an aim to be more streamline and result in better decision making across the country. The bill concluded with verbal confirmation that there will be a consultation for a revised National Planning Policy Framework.

      Development Contributions – Christian Milner: Planner, London

      The long mooted Infrastructure Levy is proposed to supersede Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 as well as Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), although it is noted that Mayoral CIL will be retained within Greater London and some of the largest schemes can continue to utilise the S106 regime.

      The most notable difference is that the levy will be charged as a percentage of the Gross Development Value and applied above a minimum threshold. The percentage will be outlined in charging schedules, to be set by each individual local authority.

      The new regime will include for affordable housing requirements. Crucially, the Bill states that it will ensure that the level of affordable housing and level of funding provided by the developers is “maintained at a level which, over a specified period, is equal to or exceeds the level of such housing and funding provided over an earlier specified period of the same length”, although there is a lack of detail around how this will be quantified.

      The Bill will require Local Authorities to prepare strategies that will determine the infrastructure delivery needs of the area and how the levy should be spent.

      As with CIL, the mechanics of the system will be set out in future legislation. There is much more detail to come…

      Design – Martina Sechi: Associate, Head of Landscape & Townscape Assessment, Cambridge

      Following the publication of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission’s report ‘Living with beauty’, the National Design Code was published and NPPF revised to put the quality of place at the heart of sustainable development. Through the Bill, the importance of “good design” is once again stressed. It creates a new framework which requires local Design Codes to be adopted and given full development plan or supplementary plan status. Such is the importance of this, that the SoS may give directions to planning authorities in order to comply with this requirement where it fails to do so locally.

      Evidently, these documents will not only be fundamental to the determination of planning applications, but will become a central aspect of baseline analysis against which landscape and townscape assessments will consider the proposals. 

      The Environment – James Alflatt: Partner, Norwich

      Building upon the ambitions of the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan and the Environment Act 2021, the Bill seeks to go further to introduce a clearer and simpler process of Environmental Impact Assessment and Strategic Environmental Assessment through a new requirement to prepare Environmental Outcome Reports (EORs).

      Whilst this will be subject to subsequent changes to existing Regulations in due course, on the face of it the purpose and proposed content of the EORs appear to be consistent with current requirements. There remains an expectation that these assessments will need to be undertaken and prepared by personnel with suitable qualification, thereby continuing the current theme of ‘competent experts’. The Bill does provide a great opportunity to streamline and avoid the existing duplication between development plan and project level assessments.

      In the case of project level assessments limiting the number of projects that are triggered by the EOR requirement can only be positive and will hopefully ensure that it is only those projects giving rise to likely significant environmental effects that will be caught by these EOR requirements.

      The devil will be in the detail, however this does not appear to be the opportunity to rip up the EU rule book and to sacrifice the importance of environmental protection to speed up planning decisions, far from it. The Bill is clear that there will be non-regression in levels of environmental protection to that which already exists. For now, EIA/SEA continues, but need to keep an eye on what lies ahead as the Bill continues through its various readings and consultations, with the potential transitional arrangements that may well be put in place as part of any enactment of these changes.

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