Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, Committee Stage, House of Commons, 19 July 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. It is vital that the Government undertakes full engagement with the sector, including full consultation before enacting the regulations arising from the Bill.


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.
  • 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 will be seeking an amendment to the Bill 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 (amendments 70,71 and 72), 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 occupations 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.

Amendments relating to referendums on planning decisions

NC48, NC49 and NC50, tabled by Rachel Maskell, would require planning applications for large and strategic sites to be subject to approval by residents in a referendum; that applications which have already been granted are subject to approval by referendum after a certain period of time for large sites; and would subject planning applications for less affordable housing to approval by residents in a referendum

LGA view

  • The LGA does not support these new clauses. Local Planning Authorities have a duty to ensure that planning applications are compliant with its local plan policies, before permission is granted. This includes, as one example, the number of affordable homes delivered on-site. In addition, the local plan is subject to robust and extensive testing from residents during its preparation. Therefore, subjecting planning applications to a referendum will duplicate the consultation and engagement that has already taken place with residents and put an unnecessary administrative burden on already stretched planning departments. Further, the referendum could also be undemocratic if the referendum blocks development which complies with the local plan, which in turn would undermine the rights of those residents that participated in the local plan-making process.
  • If these new clauses were to be introduced it risks stifling the production and implementation of local plans, which will prevent the fast delivery of the affordable homes and the infrastructure that communities need. We would welcome alternative measures which seeks to enhance opportunities for engagement with residents, and critically reach a wider audience, within the process of developing local plans.

Amendments relating to affordable housing

NC41, tabled by Tim Farron, would enable local authorities to mandate that new housing under their jurisdiction is affordable, and to define “affordable” for that purpose.

LGA view

  • The LGA supports this new clause. We must accelerate the delivery of a new supply of much-needed affordable homes on-site to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping; enable residents to continue to live in their community and not be forced to move away due to unaffordable housing; and enable young people and families to get on the property ladder. But crucially, to achieve this we need to maximise the number of affordable homes private developers are building as a proportion of their overall scheme. This amendment will further empower councils to mandate more affordable housing and go some way to realise our housebuilding ambitions.

Amendments relating to permitted development rights

NC43, tabled by Rachel Maskell, would review of permitted development rights (Rachael Maskell)

LGA view

  • The LGA supports this amendment. We would welcome a review of the impact of permitted development rights (PDR) within 12 months of the introduction of the Act. There is much to welcome in the Bill, however it is at odds with the existence of the PDR policy – including the Government’s principles on a genuinely plan-led system and empowering local leaders and communities. If the Government is serious about ensuring that local plans are not undermined, then we would urge the Government to revoke permitted development rights which disenfranchises local leaders and communities.
  • We know that PDR has undermined housing targets, with more than 18,000 affordable houses have been lost as a result of office-to-residential conversions under permitted development. In addition, we are concerned about the quality of developments implemented via PDR, as developments that go through the planning system are subject to more stringent quality assurance.
  • The removal of PDR would empower councils to realise the ambitions set out in the Bill including reimagining high streets and town centres.

Amendments relating to local planning authorities

Amendment 116 and New Clause 36, tabled by Matthew Pennycook, -would require the Secretary of State to provide sufficient additional resources to local planning authorities to enable them to implement the changes required by Chapter 5 of Part 3.

LGA view

  • The LGA supports this amendment. Any new responsibilities placed on Local Planning Authorities as a result of the Bill, must be assessed and sufficiently resourced by way of new burdens. This is critical because the Government has already acknowledged that planning departments are under-resourced through the introduction of a planning skills strategy alongside the Bill.

Amendments relating to compulsory purchase powers

NC26, 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

  • We support this as we would welcome a review of compulsory purchase powers, particularly in relation to considering how purchase can be accelerated and the adequacy of powers in relation to purchase of unoccupied properties. 
  • We believe that the Government may undertake further reforms than what is currently being proposed in the Bill, to empower councils to use the power to full effect by reducing the cost of using the power and the time taken to implement a CPO.

Amendments relating to the Infrastructure Levy

Amendments 145 and 146, tabled by Matthew Pennycook, would give charging authorities discretion over the basis on which infrastructure levy rates are calculated.

Amendments 163 and 164, tabled by Matthew Pennycook would prevent the Secretary of State imposing a nil rate, differential rates, reductions, or a minimum threshold below which IL is not charged and ensure that rates are set by the charging authority.

LGA view

  • Local Planning Authorities must have discretion to set their own charging schedules and minimum thresholds, that will be most appropriate for their local authority area. This should not be set centrally. If this were to be generic and set nationally, there would not be flexibility in the system to respond to local circumstances.

Amendment 169, tabled by Rachel Maskell, would broaden the scope of inserted section 204N(5), which defines “infrastructure” for the purposes of the Infrastructure Levy.

LGA view

  • We welcome this amendment to broaden the definition of infrastructure in the Bill, which would provide further clarity on what would be delivered via the Levy. This would go some way to addressing our concern that the wording of the Bill and the definition currently offered in relation to infrastructure, risks seeing some of the provision that is delivered through Section 106 fall through the gaps as we move to the new Levy system. As a minimum, the Levy must deliver all of the provision that is delivered through Section 106 agreements.

Amendments relating to progress of levelling-up missions

Amendment NC1 tabled by Judith Cummins MP, which would require the Secretary of State to establish an independent body that can provide reports on the Government’s progress on levelling-up missions and outline recommendations for their future delivery.

LGA view

  • 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.

Amendments relating to flood management and mitigation

Amendment NC2 tabled by Emma Hardy MP which would require the Government to set minimum standards for flood resilience, flood mitigation and flood waste management in building regulations.

LGA view

  • 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.

Amendment NC3 tabled by Emma Hardy MP which 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

  • 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.

Amendments relating to rough sleeping

Amendment 1 tabled by Nickie Aiken MP, which would leave out clause 187, which allows the Government to use regulations to create criminal offences similar to those under the Vagrancy Act 1824, disregarding the repeal of that Act by the Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Act 2022.

LGA view

  • Every instance of homelessness is a tragedy, and councils work hard to prevent rough sleeping and homelessness from happening and offer support to those who unfortunately find themselves in a difficult situation. We support an approach that ensures that people are offered the right support at the right time, rather than criminalisation.
  • Some of the people rough sleeping, especially in large urban areas, are not homeless but are taking part in a street-based lifestyle which can have aspects of anti-social behaviour such as drug use and aggressive begging.
  • Individuals who are not homeless, and not meeting the threshold for ASB intervention from councils often fall outside of the remit of local authority services. This can make enforcement difficult where an individual is adequately housed but engages in street-based activities.
  • The Government held a consultation on an effective replacement for the Vagrancy Act – (which closed in May 2022)– and we await the Government response outlining the proposed next steps. We would welcome clarification whether the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill is the vehicle in which the Government are using to replace the Vagrancy Act, despite it being repealed in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, which reached Royal Assent in April 2022.
  • We want to work with the Government on the urgent implementation of a cross-government homelessness prevention strategy, associated multi-year funding, that looks at tackling the drivers and levers of homelessness within central government policy.

Contact

Laura Johnson, Public Affairs and Campaigns Adviser

[email protected]