The Levelling-up and Regeneration Act (‘the Act’) received Royal Ascent on 26th October 2023. It proposes some wide-ranging changes to the planning system. It brings together proposals from both the Levelling-up White Paper and the ‘Planning for the Future’ White Paper (often referred to as the ‘Planning White Paper’). Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, has stated that the Government’s “landmark Levelling-Up and Regeneration Act will deliver more homes for communities across the country and unleash levelling up in left-behind places.”
We set out a summary of the key points of this important new legislation below.
Introduction of Section 73B
The Act introduces a new Section 73B to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, expanding existing powers under sections 73 and 96A to vary or remove planning conditions attached to planning permissions or non-material amendments to planning permissions. Section 73B offers a new way of varying an existing planning permission, allowing greater flexibility for making ‘non-substantial changes’ to extant planning permissions. Consideration can only be given to the specific changes which have been applied for under a Section 73B application (as is the case with current Section 73 applications).
Local planning authorities will now be required to have a design code in place covering their authority areas. These area-wide codes will act as a framework, for which subsequent detailed design codes can come forward, led either by local planning authorities, neighbourhood planning groups or by developers as part of planning applications. Design codes can be included in Local Plans or as Supplementary Plans (see below).
National Development Management Policies
In regard to the hierarchy of planning policy, the Act proposes the introduction of National Development Management Policies (NDMPs), meaning that ‘issues that apply in most areas’ will now be covered by a new suite of national policies, rather than through Local Plans. The scope of local plans will therefore be limited to ‘locally specific matters’, which should, at least in theory, make Local Plans quicker and easier to produce.
As set out in the supporting legislation text, “general policies on issues that apply in most areas (such as general heritage protection) will be set out nationally and contained in a suite of National Development Management Policies (NDMPs), which will have the same weight as plans, so that they are able to be fully taken into account in decisions.” Ministers will be required to have regard to the need to mitigate and adapt to climate change in the preparation of the NDMPs. Once published, the NDMPs will be subject to public consultation.
Duty to Co-Operate and Supplementary Plans
The Act abolishes the principle of ‘Duty to Co-Operate’, which requires LPAs to co-operate with each other during the plan-making process, and replace Supplementary Planning Documents (SPDs) with Supplementary Plans, which will be used to identify site-specific policies or area-wide design codes. Unlike SPDs, Supplementary Plans will carry the same weight as Local Plans in the determination of planning applications.
Commencement and Completion Notices
The Act will make it easier for local planning authorities to issue a completion notice to require developers to complete their projects. The changes to the completion notice system (Section 112 of the Act) are designed to speed up the completion notice procedure, make it more efficient, and use it as a mechanism to encourage developers to progress construction works.
In addition, Section 111 of the Act introduces commencement notices which will need to be served on a local planning authority by the person proposing to carry out a development, before it is commenced. The expected commencement date of the development is to be given. A local planning authority will be able to serve a notice requiring the relevant information to be provided if a developer is not forthcoming with a commencement notice. The introduction of Section 111 is designed to address perceptions of land banking and slow build-out rates by larger development companies.
New ‘Clause 67’ will allow local planning authorities to decline to determine planning applications from applicants who have previously not implemented a permission or who have sought to carry out the development “unreasonably slowly”.
Section 106 planning obligations and the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) are to be replaced with a new ‘Infrastructure Levy’. The Act sets out the basic legislative framework for this, although the mechanics of the changes will be delivered separately through the introduction of a new Section 204A to the Planning Act (2008). The new levy is expected to be introduced over a ten-year period, and ultimately be compulsory for all local planning authorities (unlike CIL). Like CIL, however, rates and thresholds will be set at the local level, enabling them to be tailored to local circumstances.
One of the more controversial aspects of the legislation is the introduction of a ‘street votes’ system that will enable residents to propose development on their street and hold a vote on whether planning permission should be given.
Timescales and Legislation
Although the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill achieved royal assent in late October, there remains much consultation and secondary legislation to bring it into force. We await a clear timeframe for implementation of these proposals from the Government and anticipate there will at least be further revisions to the NPPF, alongside the production of new documentation which will contain the proposed National Development Management Policies. As always, Firstplan will keep a close eye on any further policy and legislative developments.
The above article is designed to provide a briefing/overview which may be of interest to our clients. It does not constitute formal planning advice. Please speak to a member of the Firstplan team if you require any further information.
Article by Joshua Hindle