Planning reforms set out in Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill

Legislation Update
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The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (all 338 pages of it) was published yesterday (11 May 2022).  Whilst the proposed planning reforms contained within the Bill do not fit within the ‘rip it up and start again’ category (as promised in the 2020 White Paper), the measures are nonetheless sufficient to still be classed as ‘reforms’ – albeit it of the lighter-touch variety.

Many of the proposed measures will require secondary legislation, so much of the Bill sets out the changes at a high level.  The detail of each of the measures will be all important, and we will update you further as these emerge.  In the meantime, we briefly outline below some of the key measures:

A digital transformation – one of the sole survivors of the White Paper, the Bill includes measures to digitalise the planning process, including powers to set common data standards and software.
Changes to the enforcement regime – Without an effective enforcement process, the planning system does not work.  In recognition of this, the Bill proposes various measures to improve the current system, including extending the period for taking enforcement action to ten years in all cases (i.e. removing the current ‘four-year rule’ which applies to some specific types of development) and increasing fines for certain planning breaches.
Streamlining Local Plans – The Bill introduces ‘national development management policies’ – with the idea being that ‘general’ development control policies are taken out of Local Plans and are, instead, centrally-set.  The suite of National Development Management Policies will have the same weight as plans and Local Plans will not be able to repeat them. Local planning authorities will also have powers to prepare ‘supplementary plans’ where policies for specific sites or groups of sites need to be prepared quickly.  It is not clear as yet what implications these changes will have on emerging Local Plans.
– The Bill also tweaks the current test for the determination of planning applications to give more weight to Local Plans, confirming any planning application in England ‘must be made in accordance with the development plan and any national development management policies, unless material considerations strongly indicate otherwise’.  
A new Infrastructure Levy – The Bill replaces the current s106 and CIL system for securing developer contributions with a ‘simple, non-negotiable, locally set Infrastructure Levy’.   Section 106 agreements will be retained in some, more targeted form.  It remains to be seen if it is indeed possible to design a ‘simple’ levy – which is perhaps why the government is proposing a ‘test and learn’ approach to its introduction.
Street Votes – The idea that took the headlines.  The Bill allows for regulations to be made for a system that permits residents of a street to proposed development on their street and determine, by means of a vote, whether that development should be given planning permission.
Environmental Outcome Reports – It is proposed to replace Strategic Environmental Assessments and Environmental Impact Assessments with ‘Environmental Outcome Reports’.  The idea is to create an ‘outcome-based approach’, allowing the government to reflect its environmental priorities directly in the decision-making process.
Heritage protection – The Bill includes further measures to further protect the historic environment with, among other measures, designated heritage assets, such as registered parks and gardens, to be given the same statutory protection in the planning system as listed buildings.

This summary does not detail of all the planning reform measures in the Bill but does give a flavour of some of the key changes.  We will be publishing further briefing notes over the coming days covering the various proposals in more detail.   In the meantime, if you have any queries regarding the proposed planning reforms, please feel free to contact one of our team.