By Helen Tilton, Associate
The Queen has delivered her speech in the House of Lords chamber at the State Opening of Parliament (11th May).
Notwithstanding recent accusations that Government has ‘given up on levelling up’ we should perhaps be optimistic that Her Majesty’s opening statement expressly referenced the importance of a national recovery from the pandemic and levelling up opportunities across all parts of the UK. Indeed, the Queen’s Speech briefing document (‘the Briefing’) refers directly to the forthcoming ‘Levelling up White Paper’ that will be published later this year.
This all sounds very promising, but to deliver on ‘levelling up’ the proposed Planning Bill has some heavy lifting to do if it is to support the faster delivery of homes and the wider Government ambition expressed around strategic, joined up, economic growth and infrastructure.
Although technically a Bill for the whole of the UK, the majority of the provisions in the Planning Bill will apply only to England. Not so the proposed Environment Bill, where over half of the provisions will also apply to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The convergence of provisions is an interesting one considering proposals to (among other things) mandate biodiversity net gain in the planning system (Environment Bill) and simplify the EU-derived framework of environmental assessments to, in theory, provide quicker, simpler frameworks for funding infrastructure and assessing environmental impacts and opportunities (Planning Bill).
It is evident that a good deal of last year’s ‘Planning for the Future White Paper’ is to be progressed through the Planning Bill. We are once more being assured that Government will deliver on its promise to enable more people to own their own home, with laws to modernise the planning system to make it simpler and faster; ensuring homes and infrastructure, including schools and hospitals, can be delivered more quickly.
The core commitments remain: creating a framework with simpler, faster procedures for producing local plans, approving major schemes, reforming the framework for locally led development corporations, and replacing the existing systems for funding affordable housing and infrastructure from development with a new more predictable and more transparent levy. Also included, is provision of a digital and map-based planning service, allowing more active and meaningful public engagement.
What the Briefing omits, however, is almost as interesting as what it includes. Some might have expected to see at least a line or two covering off some of the more inclusive elements of local public engagement that were inferred in Planning for the Future (instead, there are some interesting notes on neighbourhood planning to be found separately, in MHCLG correspondence of 10th May).
More minor politically convenient detail certainly made it into the Briefing, exemplified by the inclusion of: ‘We will give communities a greater say in the protection of local trees’ (Environment Bill)).
Perhaps most notable of all is the fact that the Briefing doesn’t make express reference to the most politically aggravating words of ‘zoning’ or ‘growth’ and ‘renewal’ areas. That said, the principle doesn’t seem to have gone away and there remains a commitment to: ‘Changing local plans so that they provide more certainty over the type, scale and design of development permitted on different categories of land’ and creating ‘…clear land allocations in local plans and stronger rules on design’.
Significant change to the planning system now appears to be a given, but zoning per se and how it will be implemented, is an extremely contentious matter that continues to cause disquiet in the Tory shires and beyond. Boosting housebuilding was always going to be tricky here, and currently leading the chorus of criticism is Theresa May, who told the Commons that legislation making it easier for developers to secure permission for new housing regardless of the objections of existing neighbours would “put the wrong homes in the wrong places”.
If nothing else, this makes the forthcoming debate and final detail of the Planning Bill all the more interesting…