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  • Writer's pictureDavid Marlow

How far will the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act do ‘what it says on the tin’?

Twenty months after the publication of the Levelling Up White Paper (LUWP), on 26th October 2023, the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act is now law (LURA23). In our current affairs episode for the month, David and Mike discussed whether the Act is likely to meet the lofty ambitions of the White Paper, or whether huge changes in context and the position we now are in the political cycle, are likely to significantly moderate its impact.

Unbalanced set of scales

What are the main provisions of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act?

This 538-page Act references the LUWP missions and how progress on them will be reported. It also sets out arrangements for the next iteration of Combined Authorities – including Combined County Authorities (CCAs). However, the bulk of the Act is on reforms to planning, housing, environment, and physical regeneration. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Streamlined' 30-month plan-making system, including supplementary development plans and area-wide design codes

  • Financial incentives for councils to produce local plans

  • New fast-track planning process for major infrastructure projects

  • More power for planning authorities to refuse planning applications that are not in line with their local plans

  • More power for central government to intervene in planning decisions where local authorities miss deadlines or decisions conflict with the levelling up missions

  • New Environmental Outcomes Reports to replace the present Environmental Impact Assessments, Sustainability Appraisals and Strategic Environmental Assessments

  • A new Infrastructure Levy on new developments (IL) to replace Section 106 and CIL commitments / charges on developers

  • Giving local authorities the power to fine developers that fail to meet their planning obligations

  • Introducing a new database of planning applications and decisions

Many of these reforms will require secondary legislation, and it remains to be seen whether they will be enacted before a general election – especially given the potential for planning reforms to overlap with live development disputes and galvanise local opposition.

What sort of long-term impact might LURA23 have?

With the Government ‘mood music’ very much on the physical development side of the Act, there might be a temptation to underplay both the Levelling Up and the Devolution dimensions. However, the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 (LDEDCA09) also came toward the end of the 2005 political cycle and the long period of Labour government. Yet it very much laid the legislative foundations for much of the push by George Osborne and the Coalition Government for Combined Authorities and the current shape of the England sub-national system today.

In principle, the LUWP missions, the devolution provisions, the planning, development, and environmental reforms provide potential for a more effective system for physical investments. One of the key barriers to this, though, dealt with in our second item of the October round-up – infrastructure planning and delivery - will be the financing and implementation of physical change.

Where does all this leave reducing regional disparities and addressing left-behind communities?

Whether LURA23 will in time be seen as a key legislative transformer will almost certainly depend on the priorities and operating styles of the next national government, post-general -election. Serious regional levelling up requires major investment that current fiscal projections suggest will be hard to deliver. Turning around left behind communities requires social and economic policies that go well beyond the physical approach to development on which LURA23 focuses.

For local and regional leadership teams, there is enough in LURA23 to respond to opportunistically this side of the election. But it is to be hoped they leave space to increasingly focus on their offer and ask of the incoming government, presumably next year.


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