Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, Remaining Stages, House of Commons, 23 and 28 November 2022

We are deeply concerned that the proposed risk-mitigation measures in clause 71 of the Bill potentially give the Secretary of State significant powers to intervene in a local authority. There is a danger that the formula-based approach outlined in the Bill could impact more widely than intended.


Key messages

  • The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill acts upon long running asks from councils and the LGA for further devolution in England. We are pleased that the Government has proposed to speed up the process and make good on its commitment to offer all of England the opportunity to benefit from a devolution deal by 2030. It is also important that councils of all sizes are engaged in the devolution process.
  • The Bill includes (Part 1, Clause 4) information on draft metrics proposed in the Levelling Up White Paper to measure progress towards the twelve missions. This is a good first step, but they still fall short of the full breadth of what is needed to create thriving and inclusive communities. The LGA is supporting amendments which ensure that progress towards the missions is followed closely.
  • We support the measures, set out in clauses 72 and 73 of the Bill, which give councils more power to charge premium council tax for long term empty and second homes as it will give councils more power to influence local housing markets.
  • We are deeply concerned that the proposed risk-mitigation measures in clause 71 of the Bill potentially give the Secretary of State significant powers to intervene in a local authority. There is a danger that the formula-based approach outlined in the Bill could impact more widely than intended. It is vital that the Government undertakes full engagement with the sector, including full consultation before enacting the regulations arising from the Bill. Advice from the sector could assist the Government in preserving the key concept of prudential borrowing while ensuring the new arrangements address genuine government concerns. We therefore supported amendment 45, tabled by Alex Norris MP, which would ensure that the Government undertakes a consultation with all local authorities before making regulations for all the subsections of 12b (2). We welcomed assurances from the Minister that the government would consult more widely before laying the regulations and look forward to hearing further detail.
  • The LGA supports the Government’s plans to introduce a permanent pavement licensing regime. It is welcome that officials at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) have engaged with councils to make improvements to the temporary regime and that this Bill increases pavement licence fees, provides a longer consultation and determination period, and improved enforcement powers for councils. However, we would support amendments to create a specific offence for pavement licence breaches to enable councils to take effective enforcement action.
  • Clause 74 sets conditions for councils when changing street names. The LGA is seeking to remove the clauses in the Bill, and replace with new clauses which allow for Regulations to be laid (or statutory guidance published), requiring local authorities to undertake a referendum in order to change street names, including setting out the precise detail for how those referenda should be run (for instance, who would be eligible to vote on an alteration; the threshold needed for the number of residents to vote; and the threshold needed for supporting the alteration). The LGA proposed alternative clauses which would require local authorities to consult residents and the wider community before making changes to street names, and to have regard to the outcomes, allowing flexibility over the method adopted to consult. The original clause would be unworkable in practice and too narrow as it may exclude those who use a street but not live there. The Minister has given assurances that the Government will be setting out clear, transparent and robust arrangements for the consultation process in secondary legislation.

 

Planning

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill also introduces a number of reforms to the planning system:

  • A new Infrastructure Levy. It is vital that new occupants of homes and wider communities get the infrastructure they need, and that councils can access sufficient funding for this infrastructure in line with the ambition in Local Plans. However, we would urge the government to reconsider the timing of the levy. Charging the levy at the point of the occupation is beneficial to developers, but does not help local authorities ensure infrastructure first as a key pillar of place-making.
  • New powers for councils to bring vacant properties back into use, which is also an encouraging step. We will work with the Government to ensure that these are simple, inexpensive and effective for councils to use.
  • A proposal to introduce a new approach to environmental assessment, we will be taking action to ensure that it strengthens environmental protections whilst ensuring that councils can still deliver the new homes and supporting infrastructure that the country needs.
  • Changes to neighbourhood planning and digitalising the system in an attempt to make local plans more accessible.
  • Supporting councils to build a new generation of high-quality, energy efficient council homes also has to be a national priority if levelling-up ambitions are to be met. This needs to include urgent reform of the Right to Buy scheme to allow councils to keep 100 per cent of receipts from sales of homes and the ability to set discounts locally. We will be working with MPs to seek an amendment which would remove all clauses relating to the sale of vacant higher value local authority housing in the Housing and Planning Act 2016 (Clauses 69-79). This will implement the Government’s commitment to not take forward the powers to require councils to sell higher value council homes outlined in the Social Housing Green Paper (Page 8) – “We will not require local authorities to make a payment in respect of their vacant higher value council homes and are exploring new flexibilities over how they spend Right to Buy receipts.” 
  • We are also seeking an amendment to ensure that that one of the key principles of the planning reforms - ‘a genuinely plan-led system’ - is enshrined in the Bill.  The amendment would support local democracy underpinned by community engagement. The local development plan is subject to robust and extensive testing during its preparation, which includes a thorough examination process to establish its soundness. Therefore, the development plan should carry full legal weight and particularly over policies and plans that is not subject to the same level of scrutiny. In addition, the development plan addresses specific local issues that meet the needs of communities that live in that local area. In contrast, the national development management policy will cover generic planning issues. Therefore, the amendment ensures that planning policy will be tailored to local circumstances and that the rights of communities that have shaped the local development plan are upheld. 
  • It is disappointing that no tangible powers were brought forward in the Bill to enable councils to encourage developers to build-out. We would urge the Government as a matter of urgency to empower councils to take decisive action on this issue.
  • We broadly welcome the announcement to remove the requirement for a rolling five-year land supply as it will curb speculative development and it will give more weight to local plans when making decisions on planning applications. However, we urge the Government to urgently revoke Permitted Development Rights in order to strengthen the role of Local Plans.
  • The introduction of measures that will genuinely make the Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) process more efficient for councils is an encouraging step. It is good the Government has stated its intention to reform the hope value (the term used to describe the market value of land based on the expectation of getting planning permission for development on it), which will make CPOs easier to use when required by councils. However, we urge the Government to introduce further legislation to enable regeneration by making CPOs easier to navigate.
  • We recognise that centralising policies that apply in most geographical areas in the form of National Development Management Policies will speed up the production of plan-making at local level. However, we are concerned that setting policies at national level will leave councils unable to tailor such policies to local circumstances. Flexibility must be built into the system to enable councils to respond to local, complex and changing circumstances. We are even more concerned that a determination would be made in favour of the national policy, when there is conflict with the local development plan. This undermines a local, plan-led system and the Government’s aspiration to empower local leaders and communities. We urge the Government to reconsider this proposal and we want to work with the Government to ensure that nationally set policies are workable at local level.
  • We support the principle of councils being able to set up locally-led urban development corporations for the purpose of supporting regeneration projects and also the principle of being directly accountable to councils, rather than the Secretary of State. It is good that the cap on the number of board members and the aggregate borrowing cap are to be removed. We have long been calling for the removal of the borrowing cap, which limits the scope of Development Corporations, creates uncertainty about investment beyond the cap and affects the delivery of Local Plans. We would also welcome powers to enable the creation of zero carbon and nature-rich places; the power to use a CPO; and ensure there is clear guidance and policy support in place for councils looking to establish successful Development Corporations.
  • While it is welcome that the Government are urging communities to have more say over planning matters, the “Standard Method”, which uses a formula to identify the minimum number of homes expected to be planned for, is still used by the Government and councils are also expected to use it. Algorithms and formulas can never be a substitute for local knowledge and decision-making by councils and communities who know their areas best. We would urge the Government to consider how the Standard Method is currently used and whether it fits with the Government’s messaging on involving communities in planning decisions.

Progress of levelling-up missions

Amendment 8 tabled by Lisa Nandy MP which would place a responsibility on the Government to commission an independent body to scrutinise their progress against levelling-up missions and amendment 10 tabled by Lisa Nandy MP which would require the Government to publish an action plan alongside a statement of levelling-up missions which sets out how they will deliver the missions.

LGA view on Amendments relating to progress of levelling-up missions

  • The LGA supports these amendments which relate to monitoring the progress of the Government’s levelling-up missions.
  • The draft metrics proposed in the Levelling Up White Paper to measure progress towards the twelve missions are a good first step. However, we have previously stated we are concerned they still fall short of the full breadth of what is needed to create thriving and inclusive communities.
  • The establishment of an independent body that can provide reports on the Government’s progress on levelling-up missions and outline recommendations for their future delivery will further ensure that progress towards the missions is followed closely.
  • We want to work with the Government to ensure that the metrics used to produce an annual report on the Levelling Up missions are fully consulted on and reflect the diverse needs and aspirations of communities across the country.

Council tax

NC30 tabled by Theresa Villiers MP uncompleted dwellings subject to Council Tax from the day that planning permission required them to be completed.

LGA view on Amendment relating to council tax

  • To improve the build-out rates of homes with planning permission and reduce the number of stalled sites, councils should be able to charge developers or landowners full Band D council tax for every unbuilt development in these situations, as opposed to having to wait for the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) to list developments following their completion. 
  • LGA analysis suggests that over one million homes granted planning permission since 2010 have not yet been built. This is equivalent to three years’ worth of Government’s target number of homes to be delivered each year.

Compulsory purchase powers

NC34, tabled by Teresa Villiers, would require the Government to review powers of compulsory purchase and whether they are adequate to meet its levelling-up and regeneration objectives. 

LGA view on Amendments relating to compulsory purchase powers  

  • The LGA supports this new clause. It is right that the adequacy of compulsory purchase powers are kept under review, particularly following the introduction of the reforms in the Bill. The most proportionate policy position for all parties is for land to be purchased at its existing use value. This protects the human rights of the landowner by receiving the payment that the land is worth in its current form, while also allowing councils to deliver their statutory responsibilities by acquiring land as a last resort. 

Planning fees and charges

NC36 tabled by Theresa Villiers MP would enable the Government to allow local planning authorities to vary planning fees and charges to cover their costs relating to planning, which could include the employment of qualified planners. 

LGA view on Amendment relating to planning fees and charges 

  • The LGA supports this new clause. This would put councils in a stronger position to address the issue of resourcing in the planning sector including a shortage of qualified planners. While we welcome the increase in planning fees announced alongside the Bill, it does not go far enough to deliver a well-resourced planning sector.

Local development plans

Amendment 6 tabled by Theresa Villiers MP would require any conflict between a local development plan and a national development management strategy to be resolved in favour of the local development plan.

LGA view on Amendment related to local development plans

  • The LGA supports this new clause. This amendment will ensure that one of the key principles of the planning reforms - ‘a genuinely plan-led system’ - is enshrined in the Bill.
  • The amendment supports local democracy underpinned by community engagement. The local development plan is subject to robust and extensive testing during its preparation, which includes a thorough examination process to establish its soundness. Therefore, the development plan should carry full legal weight and particularly over policies and plans that is not subject to the same level of scrutiny.
  • In addition, the development plan addresses specific local issues that meet the needs of communities that live in that local area. In contrast, the national development management policy will cover generic planning issues. Therefore, the amendment ensures that planning policy will be tailored to local circumstances and that the rights of communities that have shaped the local development plan are upheld.

Infrastructure Levy

Amendment 7 tabled by Theresa Villiers MP would enable Infrastructure Levy (IL) charging authorities to require a developer to pay their full IL liability, or for infrastructure funded by IL associated with a development to be built, before development may commence.

LGA view on Amendment relating to the Infrastructure Levy

  • The LGA supports this new clause. The timing of the Levy must be brought forward from the point of occupation to protect cashflows and to deliver the infrastructure communities need with financial assurance.

National Planning Policy Framework

NC21, tabled by Theresa Villiers MP would require a revised NPPF within six months to provide that housing targets are advisory not mandatory and that the five-year housing land supply rule will no longer apply.

LGA view on Amendment relating to National Planning Policy Framework 

  • The LGA supports this new clause. The national supply of housing is currently not sufficient to meet the housing need. We need to increase and accelerate the delivery of affordable housing – largely at social rent. It is our view that 100,000 new social rented home per annum is required to meet the housing needs of communities.
  • However, decisions on housing developments should be taken at local level, underpinned by local knowledge and decision-making by councils and communities who know their areas best. Top-down mandatory housing targets cannot replace this and is at odds with the principles of the Bill in relation to empowering local leaders and communities.
  • The “Standard Method” is still used by the government and councils are also expected to use it. For example, councils in the 20 largest cities are required to plan for a 35 per cent increase over and above the number generated by the Standard Method. However, algorithms and formulas can never be a substitute for local knowledge and decision-making by councils and communities who know their areas best. We would urge the Government to consider how the Standard Method is currently used and whether it fits with the Government’s messaging in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill on increasing community participation in planning decisions. 
  • In addition, councils currently plan for building new housing based on the Office for National Statistics’ 2014 population projections. However, the most recent 2022 projection, which is based on the population estimate from 2020, indicates that population forecasts for both mid-2030 and mid-2045 are at its lowest point in eight years. The Government may understandably wish to provide stability and certainty for plan-making and to not provide a barrier to planning for delivering the new homes that are needed. But there is a concern amongst councils that disregarding the latest evidence undermines the principle in planning that the latest evidence should always be used. Although it is our view that targets should be set locally, if the top-down system is retained, we would urge the government to align its housing delivery target with the latest 2020-based projections.
  • We welcome the government’s proposed removal of the five-year land supply in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill as it will curb speculative development and ‘planning by appeal’, as well as giving local plans more weight when making decisions on planning applications. It is right that this is reflected in the National Planning Policy Framework.

Planning permission

NC29, tabled by Theresa Villiers MP. This new clause is intended to clarify the powers of the Secretary of State to intervene where planning permissions remain unbuilt.

NC30, tabled by Theresa Villiers MP. This new clause would make uncompleted dwellings subject to Council Tax from the day that planning permission required them to be completed.

NC48, tabled by Michael Gove MP. This new clause provides that certain planning permissions for residential development must be subject to a condition which requires development progress reports to be provided to the local planning authority in whose area the development is to be carried out, and makes related provision. The new clause will be inserted after clause 100.

NC67, tabled by Michael Gove MP. This new clause allows local planning authorities in England to decline to determine applications for planning permission in cases where an earlier permission has not been implemented or the development has been carried out unreasonably slowly. The new clause is to be inserted after clause 100 in Chapter 4 of Part 3.

LGA view on Amendments relating to planning permission 

  • The LGA supports this. We would support innovative powers being brought forward to enable councils to incentivise a timely build-out of development.
  • We know that if we are to deliver the homes the country needs, it’s crucial that councils work with developers to build the homes that the country needs at pace. Planning is not the barrier to housebuilding with nine in 10 applications being approved by councils since 2010.
  • The LGA has previous lobbied for councils to have the power to charge a Levy on developers that are withholding land by not building out within 12 months of planning permission being granted.
  • We would urge the Government as a matter of urgency to empower councils to take decisive action on this issue.

Plan-led system

Amendment 75 tabled by Richard Fuller MP which would place importance on a plan-led system.

LGA view on Amendment relating to plan-led system

  • The LGA supports this amendment. It is vital that a local, plan-led planning system underpinned by ongoing community engagement remains in place. Development should not undermine local plans.
  • It is clear that through the Bill, the government is seeking to empower local leaders and communities to shape the area in which they live and work. This amendment will further embed these principles.

Street votes

57, tabled by Michael Gove MP. This amendment amends new section 58B of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (as inserted by clause 92) to provide an exception to the duty to have regard to certain heritage assets when the Secretary of State is considering whether to grant planning permission under a street vote development order.

NC60, tabled by Michael Gove MP. This new clause amends the Planning Act 2008 to make provision in relation to the community infrastructure levy charged in relation to development under a street votes development order (see NC69). The new clause will be inserted into Chapter 4 of Part 3 after NC69.

NC69, tabled by Michael Gove MP. This new clause amends the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (“TCPA 1990”) to make provision for street vote development orders. The orders will grant planning permission in relation to street areas in England. The provisions confer regulation-making powers relating to the preparation and making of an order, including provision for independent examination and a referendum. The clause also amends the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 to apply requirements under those regulations to street vote development orders. The new clause will be inserted into Chapter 4 of Part 3 to replace the current placeholder in clause 96.

LGA view on Amendments relating to street votes 

  • We do not support the proposals for street votes as it could add another layer of complexity to the planning system, stifling the production and implementation of local plans and the delivery of affordable housing.
  • We want to work with the government to enhance opportunities for engagement and reach a wider audience within the process of developing local plans.
  • But if street votes are to be introduced we would support measures that allow street votes to be used as a mechanism to meet the affordable housing and infrastructure needs of communities set out in local plans.
  • We welcome the Bill’s commitment to strengthen the critical role the planning system plays in protecting the historic environment and the general commitment to the current local authority led heritage protection system.

Resourcing in the planning sector

NC64, tabled by Michael Gove MP. This new clause allows the Secretary of State to make regulations permitting certain public authorities to charge fees for the provision of advice, information or other assistance in connection with applications for development consent orders (or changes to such orders) and other prescribed matters to do with nationally significant infrastructure projects, and makes connected provision. The new clause will be inserted after clause 110.

LGA view on Amendments relating to resourcing in the planning sector 

  • The LGA supports this new clause. It is well-documented that the planning sector is experiencing resourcing challenges. While we welcome the proposed increase in planning fees, this increase on its own will not be enough to comprehensively address the issue of resourcing in the planning sector.

Energy efficiency measures

NC87 tabled by Richard Fuller MP would ensure the Secretary of State makes regulations about the use of energy efficiency measures in listed buildings and improve energy efficiency use in these buildings.

LGA view on Amendment relating to energy efficiency measures

  • There is a need for greater clarity, advice and support on how residential listed properties can improve their energy efficiency and decarbonise space and water heating while protecting the listed status.
  • This is support that would be helpful to residents, to industry, to local authorities and their planning teams, and to other bodies protecting and promoting heritage.
  • The amendment does not provide any detail on what this might look like and how it would work, we would be pleased to engage to explore the detail.

Solar panels

NC3 tabled by John Stevenson MP would require new homes in England from 1 April 2025 to have solar panels.

LGA view on Amendment relating to solar panels

  • The LGA supports the Future Homes Standard for new homes, as this standard is a vital tool for achieving national net zero by 2050.
  • Councils have a vital role to play in supporting the delivery of the country’s net zero mission and it is right that councils are able to set and require the higher energy efficiency standard for new homes.
  • We are supportive of proposals which seek to enhance the technical standards of the FHS, which in addition to decarbonising homes, will improve housing quality, create more resilient communities and support the growth of supply chains.
  • Any new requirements for the installation of carbon technology should be included in the FHS.
  • It is vital that the government continues to work with councils to ensure the implementation of the standard is done with the consumer and the property in mind and seeks to address any challenges associated with capability, capacity and cost.

Flood mitigation

NC15 tabled by Emma Hardy MP would require the Government to set minimum standards for flood resilience, flood mitigation and flood waste management in building regulations.

LGA view on Amendment NC15

  • We support this amendment. It reflects LGA’s past calls to ensure building regulations include mandatory flood protection measures in new builds such as raised electrical sockets, fuse boxes and sealed floors.  

NC16 tabled by Emma Hardy MP would place a duty on the Government and local authorities to make data about flood prevention and risk available for the purpose of assisting insurers and property owners.

LGA view view on NC16

  • The LGA does not support this amendment. We are concerned that local authorities are already facing funding and resourcing pressures, and this would place an additional duty on councils to publish data.  
  • We are additionally unsure of how much data councils would be able to provide on flood risk. Residents are already able to request data from the Environment Agency about the flooding history of their property, and many councils provide flood risk maps and data to guide residents. Data from strategic level flood risk assessments may not be suitable for use at the individual property level. 

Virtual council meetings

NC35 tabled by Theresa Villiers MP would enable planning committees to meet virtually. It is based on the Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panels (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority and Police and Crime Panel Meetings) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020, made under s78 of the Coronavirus Act 2020.

LGA view on Amendments relating to virtual council meetings

  • Over the course of the pandemic, councils conducted all of their council business remotely. Councils reported to us that virtual meetings allowed for critical decisions to be made democratically and without delay during this emergency period.  
  • Key benefits include the resilience of democratic processes and reduced reliance on delegating decisions to officers in times of crisis and flexibility, resulting in better councillor attendance and drastically increased resident engagement with council meetings. 
  • Councils also noted that physical meetings can be a barrier to attendance for some individuals and that virtual meetings can be more accessible. People with caring responsibilities or working commitments can find virtual meetings easier to access and attending virtually can be the only way some disabled people can access meetings - this applies to residents and councillors alike.
  • If the flexibility to hold online meetings is restored to councils it is essential that the Government avoids being overly prescriptive about the circumstances under which councils can use virtual and hybrid meeting formats. 
  • Councils and councillors are best placed to decide how and when to use different meetings formats to balance the advantages and disadvantages of different meeting options and reflect the variety of local authority types and governance arrangements. Councils will need considerable flexibility for local determination as to how and when to utilise virtual and hybrid meetings to ensure they can realise the benefits of different meeting options to suit their local context. 
  • We continue to urge the Government to publish the findings of the consultation as quickly as possible.  

Contact

Laura Johnson, Public Affairs and Campaigns Adviser

[email protected]