The State Opening of Parliament 2022: What are the implications for Planning?
With yesterday’s State Opening of Parliament presenting 38 separate bills, it is possible to overlook key issues arising for planning. Jack Gandy, Senior Planner at Bidwells, has reviewed the latest announcements to help understand the Government’s intentions for the planning system, and found much reduced ambitions for reform.
There was a predominantly economic-focused agenda to the Queen’s speech, presented by the Prince of Wales on Her Majesty’s behalf for the first time. It was made clear from the outset that growing and strengthening the economy is the Government’s central priority – perhaps understandable against a backdrop of covid, the continued implications of leaving the European Union and the onset of the cost of living crisis.
Planning reform is to be incorporated within a Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. A dedicated Planning Bill taking forward the ambitious proposals of the Planning White Paper of August 2020 has officially fallen by the wayside – there was no mention of it whatsoever. The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will instead focus on growth, regeneration and the empowerment of local leaders through new county level growth deals. Further empowerment of local residents through a strengthened neighbourhood planning process and a more accessible, digitised system was also promoted, but detail was limited. Prior to the session being held, speculation suggested further measures increasing the use of design codes would be proposed, but there was limited commentary on this matter within the State Opening speech.
Perhaps the most significant of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill’s proposals for planning is its intention to capture more of the value created by development through a new locally-set, non-negotiable levy for the delivery of infrastructure. This could fund a wide range of infrastructure, including affordable housing, new schools and roads. We will have to await the Bill itself to understand the detail, and the full implications for the current S106 and CIL regimes.
Elsewhere on the legislative agenda, the Energy Bill will be pushed forward to transfer energy uptake through cleaner, greener and more secure fuels, building on from the Cop26 summit from last year. The uptake of these fuel types would not suggest fracking opportunities would remain but given the uncertainty around securing energy resources, it cannot be reasonably discounted.
Investment in transport infrastructure within the Transport Bill is to come forward, especially to secure more innovation within services as well as cleaner and safer services. The same Bill may open further opportunities into investing in infrastructure, which planning can extract further benefits, notwithstanding local level transport investments.
The speech included reference to sustainable investment in public services, whilst being supported on a foundation of appropriate management of public finances. This is a broad response across the diverse range of services provided by the public sector, but local planning authorities continue to remain under-resourced. Investment in under-resourced planning departments is essential if the objectives of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill are to be achieved.
Planning reform remains a political football. Successive governments talk about delivering more housing through reform of the planning system, but delivery falls away at the local level due to concern from local residents about house building. The electoral shock delivered to the Conservatives by the Chesham and Amersham by-election, where concern over development in the home counties was key to Lib Dems taking a safe Tory seat, appears to have led to significant change in the Government’s approach. Less change to the planning system is on the horizon, which is not necessarily bad news for the development industry if the current system can properly resourced so that it works effectively. The Government’s intention to reform the use of CIL and S106 infrastructure funding remains a bold move, however, and we await with interest the detail to be presented in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill in the near future.