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An update on and summary of the LURB

To breach the inequality gap between the south-east and the rest of the country, the government has put forward a “Levelling Up” programme. Rishi Sunak has pledged that “Levelling Up” funding will disproportionately benefit the north, with the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (LURB) aiming to improve public services and empower communities. 

What does the LURB actually say?

The bill is rather large so here’s our summary of the top ten planning proposals to keep an eye out for:

1. New National Development Management Policies (NDMP)

The government wants to make plan-production more efficient - by introducing a new NDMP policy document at national level to tackle generic issues (such as Green Belt policies), thereby allowing local plans to focus on locally relevant issues.

Despite the flavour of the bill pushing towards local empowerment, national planning policy is to be put on a stronger foothold – with the NDMP to take precedence over local plans and to be complied with unless material considerations strongly indicate otherwise.

2. New Infrastructure Levy

The bill sets out the framework for a new levy – to be used instead of securing certain payments via a s.106 agreement and largely (but not entirely) replace the Community Infrastructure Levy.  Payments are to be based on the final GDV of a development, intended by the government to better capture the actual uplift in land value.

Regulations will be needed to set out the detail, but it’s likely the format will follow the Community Infrastructure Levy with major London projects potentially needing to pay Mayoral Community Infrastructure Levy, the new Infrastructure Levy, and s.106 contributions (for site-specific mitigation).

3. A tighter enforcement regime

The bill proposes a range of measures to toughen up the planning enforcement regime as part of the government’s agenda to tackle what it perceives as slow build out and land-banking.  These include stricter penalties for breaches, and measures to encourage implementation and completion of developments.

The government even plans to consult on the imposition of a financial penalty against developers building out too slowly, whilst it is currently asking for views on whether past inappropriate behaviour by developers should be taken into consideration when determining planning applications (see our consultation on the NPPF here).

In our view these measures are at risk of putting off developers from engaging with the planning system in the first place rather than guaranteeing faster build out. 

4. 10-year immunity period

The bill proposes to standardise the immunity period (i.e., the time one needs to hit before a planning breach becomes immune from enforcement) for all breaches at 10 years. 

Clients benefitting from the current 4-year period should therefore consider the appropriateness of an application for a Certificate of Lawfulness before the change takes effect.

5. Focus on design

The bill requires every local planning authority (LPA) to introduce a design code, as part of the government’s objective to encourage beautiful building.

6. Environment regime changes

The Environmental Impact Assessment regime is to be replaced with a new form of “Environmental Outcomes Reports”.  Regulations will be required to enact the proposed measures, which are to be consulted on separately.

7. Encouragement of regeneration

LPAs will have powers to compulsory purchase land for regeneration purposes, although extensive powers are already available. The bill also gives LPAs the power to prevent high streets from sitting vacant via the implementation of rental auctions of certain commercial properties.  The government has been keen to publicise this proposal, however in practice LPAs may be reluctant to use such measures (at the cost of antagonising local landlords).

8. Historic environment protection

The bill imposes a new duty on LPAs to give certain heritage assets (scheduled monuments, world heritage sites, and registered parks and gardens) special regard. For the first time these assets will be given the same level of statutory protection as listed buildings and conservation areas.

9. Empowerment of communities

The bill will require increased community consultation, give further weight to neighbourhood plans and introduce street votes. Street votes are a tool designed to give residents a way of allowing development on their street, with proposals to be put forward, voted on in a referendum and then vetted by an examiner.

10. Housing delivery

The government has recently re-stated its commitment to its target of 300,000 homes a year.  The government anticipates that the LURB will help achieve this, through more efficient plan adoption and community engagement.

This aim, along with many of the above key takeaways from the LURB, will be factored into a wider review of national planning policy once the LURB is in force.

What’s happening right now with the LURB?

The bill was introduced to the House of Commons on 11 May 2022, recently had its second reading in the House of Lords and will be examined at committee stage in February and March. A number of amendments have been proposed. The bill will then return to the House of Commons for further consideration. It therefore remains to be seen what form the final bill will take.

The bill has proven to be controversial, with backbench ministers taking the opportunity to express their concerns regarding the planning system in general and the direction of travel. That has led to a limited consultation on specific aspects of various aspects of the planning system (see our articles here and here for details).

After this consultation finishes, the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee is also planning to review the proposed reforms.  It is likely that the committee will run an evidence session with stakeholders in March, covering the changes to the NPPF, new National Development Management Policies and other reforms coming out of the LURB.

The indication given in the ongoing consultation on the NPPF is that the bill will receive Royal Assent in spring 2023. However, that will depend on the degree of amendments sought by the House of Lords.

What can we expect after the LURB?

Many of the changes (such as the imposition of the new levy) included in the LURB will require changes to existing primary and secondary legislation. Therefore, even if the bill were to pass in spring 2023, the wider planning regime will still take some time to adapt.

Once LURB receives royal assent, a further consultation on a revised National Planning Policy Framework (as well as detailed proposals for National Development Management Policies) will be undertaken. We can therefore expect a number of additional consultations in the coming year.

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