The Queen's Speech and The Levelling Up Bill: Commonplace thoughts
By David Janner-Klausner | 19/05/22 11:54
3 min read
We are all still digesting the Queen’s Speech announcements on planning as well as the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (2022) published a day later*. Alongside it, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities also published useful “Further Information”**, which provides further details and relates the Bill to the previous Planning White Paper.
The Levelling Up Secretary gave a bit more information about the intention - if not the mechanics - of the proposals to make changes to the planning system. He then set the cat among the pigeons by stating that the quality of homes mattered more than the sheer quantity built. Setting this controversy aside, the key question raised (as it was with the “Beauty Commission”) is, who gets to be the arbiter of appropriate development for a locality?
The Planning White Paper made a call on this: The Zone would decide. The new proposals suggest that rather than a zoning system, the pendulum swings in the opposite direction, to allowing for very granular involvement by neighbourhoods or even residents of individual streets in deciding the shape of desirable development.
Many of the details of the proposals - and the eventual divisions of power and responsibility - will emerge through the legislative process. The Bill has just been tabled and will have to pass Committee Stages in the Commons and Lords that may well alter its ultimate mandates. Yet even if only part of the intentions survive, it will be a fascinating change.
The bill and planning
Although the word “Planning” is not in the title of the Bill, it clearly has designs on the planning system and the balance of power within it. Schedule 7 of the Bill is devoted to “Plan making” and is 46 pages long, including provisions relating to joint strategies; local design codes and much more.
Proposed changes to the planning system purport to enhance local democracy: the DLUCH web page says that one of the aims is:
“Improving the planning process, so that it gives local communities control over what is built, where it is built, and what it looks like, and so creates an incentive to welcome development provided it meets the standards which are set.”
Digitalisation is to play a part in this democratisation, and the two taken together are of strong interest to the aims and business of Commonplace. DLUHC’s “Further Information” talks about increasing transparency and accountability and creating:
“Opportunities for communities and other interested parties to influence and comment on emerging plans will be retained, with the digital powers allowing both plans and underpinning data to be accessed and understood more easily.”
Furthermore, “Local planning authorities will have a new power to prepare ‘supplementary plans’, where policies for specific sites or groups of sites need to be prepared quickly (e.g., in response to a new regeneration opportunity), or to set out design standards. These plans will replace the ‘supplementary planning documents’ which councils produce currently, but which do not carry the same weight.”
Neighbourhood Planning: Street Voting
Neighbourhood-level planning will also get a boost, with two particularly interesting ideas: firstly, neighbourhood planning forums will have an option to produce a simpler ‘neighbourhood priorities statement’ compared to a full neighbourhood plan, which presumably is designed to increase the accessibility of neighbourhood planning. If it works it will be a very good thing.
Secondly, the Bill introduces new ‘street votes’ powers which will:
“allow residents on a street to bring forward proposals to extend or redevelop their properties in line with their design preferences. Where prescribed development rules and other statutory requirements are met, the proposals would then be put to a referendum of residents on the street, to determine if they should be given planning permission.”
The street votes idea was developed by PolicyExchange, and it remains to be seen how it would be implemented or what its effect would be. Broadly speaking it presents the opportunity to increase local influence on planning, which could be positive. But the devil will be in the detail on exactly how it works in different places.
Community engagement in planning
The Bill also sets out more rigorous requirements for community engagement at the various stages of planning, particularly using digital tools. The exact scope of this is yet to be fleshed out but the accompanying notes state that:
- Local plans should be produced within 30 months and updated every 5 years
- There will be at least two stages of public engagement during the plan-making stage
- There will be new guidance on community engagement in planning, describing the different ways in which communities can get involved and highlighting best practices, including the opportunities that digital technology offers
- Any new digital engagement tools will sit alongside existing methods of engagement (such as site notices and neighbour letters)
- For deciding planning applications, the Bill will require pre-application engagement with communities before a planning application is submitted
Finally, there will be a new set of planning data standards, to which all plans and planning software will need to adhere. And there is also a power to make planning data publicly available. It’s not yet clear what the universe of the planning data will look like, or what the standards may include.
Commonplace is currently engaged with several innovative projects funded by two rounds of DLUHC PropTech grant funding to local authorities. These projects include a complete revamp of the way planning applications are presented to the public for consultation (Watford); inclusion of voice-recording as a means of commenting on a proposal (Dacorum); integration with 3D, virtual reality models so people can clearly grasp the visual impact of new proposals ADD MORE
We will continue to lead the field and look forward to working with our existing and new partners to bring the best possible digital engagement to the mix. We believe that the goals of accountability and transparency are ideally supported by digital tools. By using transparency to build trust, we help create better places with less attrition and delay.
* The bill is available online here: https://bills.parliament.uk/bills/3155
** The Department’s explanations are here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/levelling-up-and-regeneration-further-information/levelling-up-and-regeneration-further-information