The levelling-up of the planning system and the regeneration of town centres

6th December 2023

The Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 recently came into law. This is a landmark piece of legislation which the government believes will speed up the planning system, hold developers to account, cut bureaucracy, and encourage more councils to put plans in place to enable the building of new homes.

A key objective of the government enshrined within the planning provisions of the Act is to ensure new homes are built where they are needed in urban areas, rather than concreting over the countryside. This will additionally enhance and protect the national network of beautiful, nature-rich protected landscapes that can be enjoyed across the country.

As part of the focus for new homes in urban areas, new powers are provided to councils to help them transform town centres such as giving powers to work directly with landlords to bring empty buildings back into use by local businesses and community groups.  Councils will also have the power to increase council tax on empty homes to encourage such homes to be occupied. The temporary relaxation of rules on outdoor seating for cafes, pubs and restaurants during the pandemic are also made permanent to help local businesses to thrive.

For developers there are provisions to encourage them to get building with obligations to provide updates on the progress of development and give councils the chance to consider slow build-out rates when approving planning.

It also aims to speed up delivery of housing by cutting burdensome environmental EU-red tape for developers by introducing new tailored environmental assessments to better reflect the current pressures on the environment and meet the nation’s environmental priorities.

The Act also includes a new infrastructure levy which can be used to fund projects such as affordable housing and open spaces (in lieu of a section 106 agreement). Additionally through amendments to the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 Homes England can be designated the charging authority for such levy where it is the planning authority for a designated area.

The government has so far invested £12.9bn in levelling up projects across the UK. Over the summer an additional £37.5m was invested for councils to bolster staffing, including a new £24m to tackle backlogs which is a major obstacle to the timely delivery of new housing and regeneration in many local areas. It is considered that the Act will complement such investments and the regeneration of left behind areas.

There is no doubt that the new provisions in the Act will shake up the planning system and give greater powers to councils. However, time will tell if it will be successful in achieving the levelling-up and town centre regeneration across the country that the government believes it will deliver.

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