Summer Of LURB

What progress has there been on the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill since it was introduced into the House of Commons on 11 May 2022 (see my 14 May 2022 blog post Does LURB Herald A More Zonal Approach to Planning After All?)?

The Second Reading debate was held on 8 June 2022 and I have just been reading the Hansard transcript– it wasn’t particularly edifying and I should just have relied on Nicola Gooch’s excellent summary in her 9 June 2022 blog post Tainted LURB: What can we learn from the Levelling Up & Regeneration Bill’s Second Reading?

I was left feeling that the nuances of how our wretchedly complicated, but still, at some level, functional system are lost in the political chatter. Of course, these sessions aren’t “debates” as such but in large measure a long succession of disjointed interventions and special pleading. Has anyone yet coined the term NIMC? There was certainly a lot of “not in my constituency” and very little discernible appreciation of the utter reliance of this country on private sector risk-taking and funding for most new homes (regardless of tenure) and employment-generating development. How can the development of 300,000 homes a year (confirmed by Michael Gove in Select Committee on 13 June 2022 still to be the target) be remotely possible in this political and fiscal climate? So many MPs assert the case for a lower target for their particular constituency: we know what underlies the clamour against centralisation of power (a theme we’ll come back to shortly). Development is held again and again to be the culprit for failing public services, lack of infrastructure, waiting lists at GPs’ surgeries and so on – ahem, it’s new development that ends up paying for much of this – existing residents should look rather at the ways in which the Government chooses to manage and fund  the provision of health care and other services.  And if the complaint is not that new residents are overwhelming local services (not true) it’s that developers are securing permissions and then choosing not to building them out (not true, although there are certainly unnecessary delays largely caused by the clunkiness of the planning system itself: you want to amend your development proposals to reflect the inevitable market changes or regulatory requirements since you first applied for planning permission years ago? Well that’s not going to be a simple process at all my friend). (Beauty as a way to securing greater acceptance of development? Despite the Government having alighted upon that particular agenda, driving the proposals around local design codes for instance, that issue seemed to receive little airtime).

Rant over. 

The Bill entered Committee stage on 21 June 2022. The Public Bill Committee first heard evidence from various witnesses and then started line by line consideration of the Bill on 28 June 2022. They have not yet reached the planning provisions but the transcript of the discussion so far is here.

The Levelling-up, Housing and Communities Select Committee, chaired by Clive Betts MP, is holding a mini inquiry into the Bill. Michael Gove MP, Stuart Andrew MP and Simon Gallagher all gave evidence on 13 June 2022, which was slightly more illuminating. For instance, an exchange in relation to design codes from the session:

“Chair: Are we going to have the same level of consultation on the supplementary plans and design codes [as on the local plan]?

Simon Gallagher: Yes. One of the objectives of design codes is that they are locally popular, which is going to require a degree of engagement. Supplementary plans are created as one of the vehicles by which there would be opportunity for proper engagement, or legal force design codes. One of the problems with design codes at the moment is that they are often produced as supplementary planning guidance, which has no legal force.

One thing we have done in the Bill, subject to Parliament’s views, is to create something that is a legal device, a supplementary plan, which must be consulted on. Design codes must be provably popular and we are using the Office for Place to champion the best means of that community engagement.

One of the themes that has dominated discussion of the Bill has been a concern that it could lead to a centralising of power, for instance by way of the requirement that decisions should be made in accordance with national development management policies (as well as local plans), unless material considerations “strongly” indicate otherwise – thereby putting this potentially amorphous concept of national development management policies (the extent of which is for the Government to determine and which can be added to or amended by the Government with as little prior consultation as it chooses) on the same level as statutory local plans. 

Landmark Chambers barristers Paul Brown QC and Alex Shattock have created some waves with their 30 May 2022 briefing note on the provisions in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill concerning public participation in the planning system for the campaign group Rights Community Action:

“a) The Bill represents a significant change to the existing planning system. It undermines an important planning principle, the primacy of the development plan, by elevating national development management policies to the top of the planning hierarchy.

b) Unlike development plans, which are produced locally via a statutory process that involves considerable public participation, the Bill contains no obligation to allow the public to participate in the development of national development management policies.

c) The Bill also introduces two new development plan documents, spatial development strategies and supplementary plans. The Bill provides for very limited opportunities for public participation in the production of these documents.

d) The Bill introduces a new mechanism to allow the Secretary of State to grant planning permission for controversial developments, bypassing the planning system entirely. There is no right for the public to be consulted as part of this process.

e) Overall, in our view the Bill radically centralises planning decision-making and substantially erodes public participation in the planning system.”

Clive Betts pursued this theme with the witnesses on 13 June 2022:

“Chair: I am told that this is new in the way it is written into legislation. We have had very interesting legal advice from Paul Brown QC and Alex Shattock from Landmark Chambers, and it might be helpful if the Committee wrote to you with some of the questions that they have raised, which are pretty serious accusations of a centralisation that these measures are bringing about.

Michael Gove: Of course, I would be more than happy to explain the position and, indeed, any distance that these proposals place between themselves and the existing practice. I do not believe that they do significantly, but I am very happy to engage with the advice that the Committee has sought, and with others as well.

Simon Gallagher: Just to add to that, the Secretary of State referred a few minutes ago to the national planning policy framework prospectus that we were going to publish in July. We intend to set out in that how we can use these powers most effectively. That will give us the basis for proper engagement. I accept that, on the face of the Bill, it is a bit hard to read our intentions, so we need a little bit more detail and explanation out there, which will help.”

There was a further session on 20 June 2022, with evidence given by Victoria Hills RTPI), Hugh Ellis ((TCPA)and Chris Young QC. 

Clive Betts’ has subsequently written to Michael Gove asking for his response by 4 July 2022 to a number of points in the “opinion” by Paul Brown QC and Alex Shattock (NB for what it’s worth, it’s not an opinion – barristers are careful in their use of language, it’s just a briefing note). 

This month we can also expect to see the Government’s prospectus as to its intended approach to revising the NPPF as well as how it intends to draw up its national development management policies. 

We are going to be running our own discussion on Clubhouse on the “who will have the power?” question, at 6 pm on 19 July. More details soon but do join here. Indeed, if you would like to speak do let me know – we would like a diverse range of voices and views. 

I will also be speaking at the National Planning Forum event “The good, the bad and the beautiful – the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill – a planning panacea?” on 5 July and hope to explore the issues a little further alongside an excellent panel of fellow speakers.

Simon Ricketts, 2 July 2022

Personal views, et cetera

Pic courtesy AARP

Does LURB Herald A More Zonal Approach to Planning After All?

I’ll explain what I mean in a moment.

But first some preliminaries.

LURB of course seems to be the now accepted acronym for the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, laid before Parliament on 11 May 2022.

The Bill proposes a wide range of legislative measures across local government, regeneration, planning and compulsory purchase.

Aside from the Bill itself it’s worth having to hand:

⁃ the Explanatory Notes

⁃ the Government’s policy paper

⁃ the Government’s response to the Select Committee report on the planning white paper

My Town Legal colleagues have put together a fantastic (I think) 17 page summary of the main planning and compulsory purchase provisions of the Bill. Thanks Safiyah Islam and the following contributors:

• Part 3, Chapter 1 – Planning Data – Aline Hyde

• Part 3, Chapter 2 – Development Plans – Emma McDonald

• Part 3, Chapter 3 – Heritage – Cobi Bonani

• Part 3, Chapter 4 – Grant and Implementation of Planning Permission – Lucy Morton

• Part 3, Chapter 5 – Enforcement of Planning Controls – Stephanie Bruce-Smith

• Part 3, Chapter 6 – Other Provision – Stephanie Bruce-Smith

• Part 4 – Infrastructure Levy – Clare Fielding

• Part 5 – Environmental Outcomes Reports – Safiyah Islam

• Part 6 – Development Corporations – Amy Carter

• Part 7 – Compulsory Purchase – Raj Gupta

* Relevant clauses in Part 2 (Local Democracy and Devolution), Part 8 (Letting by Local Authorities of Vacant High-Street Premises), Part 9 (Information About Interests and Dealings in Land) and Part 10 (Miscellaneous) Victoria McKeegan

If you would like to receive further detailed updates from time to time please email town.centre@townlegal.com.

I held a Clubhouse session on 12 May 2022 where I discussed the changes and their possible implications alongside Catriona Riddell, Phil Briscoe, Nick Walkley and Meeta Kaur. It is available to listen to here.

For a deeper dive into the compulsory purchase elements, do join our next Clubhouse session at 6 pm on Tuesday 17 May 2022, where my colleagues Raj Gupta and Paul Arnett will be leading a discussion with special guests Charles Clarke (DLUHC, previous chair of the Compulsory Purchase Association), Henry Church (CBRE, and current chair of the Compulsory Purchase Association), Caroline Daly (Francis Taylor Building), Virginia Blackman (Avison Young) and Liz Neate (Deloitte). Some line up! Join here.

Raj and Paul have also started a blog, Compulsory Reading, focused on CPO issues. The first post is here and, guess what, this will be compulsory reading if your work touches at all on the intricate and changing world of compulsory purchase law.

Phew! So what was I getting at in the heading to this post? Surely any fule kno that there was once a government white paper in August 2020 that, amongst other things, proposed a more zonal approach to planning – with local plans throwing all areas into three hoppers: protected, restricted and growth – but that the political lesson learned was that this would be a vote loser and so the zonal approach was abandoned by incoming Secretary of State Michael Gove in the wake of the Chesham and Amersham by-election?

The idea of growth areas (where allocation would amount to automatic development consent) has certainly been abandoned, but the consequence of a number of the proposals in the Bill in my view leads us more towards a system where there is much less decision making flexibility in relation to individual planning applications and appeals. Instead, planning decisions will need to be made in accordance with the development plan and national development management policies “unless material considerations strongly indicate otherwise”.

So developers will need to make sure that:

⁃ development plans (local plans, neighbourhood plans) etc allocate the necessary land.

– the associated mandatory local design codes are workable

⁃ they can work within the constraints of whatever national development management policies the Government arrives at.

If development accords with these requirements, planning permission should be a doddle. If not, you plainly need to overcome a heavy presumption against. Our current flexible system (sometimes good, sometimes bad) will take a big lurch towards being rule-based or, dare I say it, zonal.

This may be a Good Thing or it may be a Bad Thing. Much depends on whether development plans, local design codes and national development management policies are properly tested for their realism. There will be even more focus on testing the soundness of local plans.

However, when it comes to local plan making, there are some major unresolved uncertainties:

⁃ First, what housing numbers do local authorities need to plan for? The Government still aspires to a 30 month local plan preparation to adoption timescale but that is only going to work if you have a largely “plug in and play” approach to the numbers, as was envisaged in the White Paper. What will happen to the standard methodology? We don’t get know. The Government’s policy paper says this:

The changes in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will require a new National Planning Policy Framework for England. The Government continues to listen to the representations of MPs, councillors and others on the effectiveness not only of the formula but the surrounding policies. Alongside Committee stage of the Bill, it intends to publish an NPPF prospectus setting out further thinking on the direction of such policies.

What numbers are we planning for as a country? Are we still targeting 300,000 homes a year? The Government’s response to the Select Committee report on the planning white paper says this:

The Government is determined to create a market that builds the homes this country needs. Our ambition is to deliver 300,000 homes per year on average and create a market that will sustain delivery at this level. There is compelling evidence that increasing the responsiveness of housing supply will help to achieve better outcomes. There seems to be consensus that 250,000 to 300,000 homes per annum should be supplied to deliver price and demand stability. For example, a 2014 joint KPMG and Shelter report highlighted that 250,000 homes per annum were needed to address price and demand pressures.”

⁃ Secondly, what will replace the duty to co-operate, which will be abolished? What will the new duty to assist really amount to? Can authorities adjoining urban areas with high unmet housing needs simply turn away from meeting those needs?

⁃ Thirdly, what if the allocations in the plan prove to be undeliverable or do not come forward? The safety net/potential stick of the five year housing land supply requirement (and presumably the tilted balance) in the case of up to date plans is to be abolished according to the policy paper:

“To incentivise plan production further and ensure that newly produced plans are not undermined, our intention is to remove the requirement for authorities to maintain a rolling five-year supply of deliverable land for housing, where their plan is up to date, i.e., adopted within the past five years. This will curb perceived ‘speculative development’ and ‘planning by appeal’, so long as plans are kept up to date. We will consult on changes to be made to the National Planning Policy Framework.”

Much is to be resolved here before we can begin to work out whether the proposals in the Bill will be an improvement on the present position.

Of course, the Government recognises that more work is needed. The following forthcoming consultation processes are identified:

Technical consultations on the detail of the Infrastructure Levy and changes to compulsory purchase compensation.

• A consultation on the new system of Environmental Outcomes Reports which will ensure we take a user-centred approach to the development of the core elements of the new system, such as the framing of environmental outcomes as well as the detailed operation of the new system.

• A technical consultation on the quality standards that Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects will be required to meet to be considered for fast-track consenting and associated regulatory and guidance changes to improve the performance of the NSIP regime.

Proposals for changes to planning fees.

Our vision for the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), detailing what a new Framework could look like, and indicating, in broad terms, the types of National Development Management Policy that could accompany it. We will also use this document to set out our position on planning for housing, and seek views on this, as well as consulting on delivering the planning commitments set out in the British Energy Security Strategy.”

I hope this serves as some sort of introduction to the Bill and a taster as to some of the issues which will be occupying so many of us as the Bill passes through its Parliamentary stages. I don’t expect it to be on the statute book before early 2023, with a fair wind, and most of its provisions will not be in force until 2024 at the earliest. Final health warning: Bills change – we can expect plenty of amendments, omissions and additions over coming months.

Aside from my earlier plugs for our newsletters and the Planning Law Unplanned clubhouse sessions, I would also recommend two other blog posts: those of Nicola Gooch and Zack Simons . None of us has come up with a satisfactory LURB pun yet but I’m sure we all have our teams working on it.

Simon Ricketts, 14 May 2022

Personal views, et cetera

Beauty, Infrastructure, Democracy, Environment, Neighbourhoods

When The Wind Blows

Relax – this blog post is about on shore wind turbines rather than nuclear fallout.

But there is somewhat of a “dig for victory” feel to our current conversations about energy. If we all just turn down our thermostats by one degree and so on.

Against the urgent need for greater energy security, against the escalating costs of energy and fuel (which make “levelling up” a side show) and of course against the largest and most relentless horseman of the apocalypse, climate change – there is one central question: How can we reduce our energy requirements and maximise the potential of our “home grown” sources of energy?

Following this 8 March Government press statement UK to phase out Russian oil imports (phasing out to be by the end of this year), we await a statement from the prime minister next week on the future of UK energy supply. He was quoted last week as follows:

We need to intensify our self reliance as a transition with more hydrocarbons, but what we also need to do is go for more nuclear and much more use of renewable energy,” he said. “I’m going to be setting out an energy strategy and energy supply strategy for the country in the days ahead.”

This is not going to be uncontroversial, both by reference to “more hydrocarbons” (see eg Johnson hints UK oil and gas output must rise to cut dependence on Russia (The Guardian, 7 March 2022)) but also unfortunately in relation to renewables, the further encouragement of which should surely be a no-brainer.

We had a wide-ranging clubhouse discussion back on 8 February 2022, Renewable energy and using less energy: are you plugged in? which is worth listening back to (it includes discussion of energy reduction and of what is happening in relation to off shore wind energy which this blog post will not), and there is also my 23 October 2021 blog post Net Zero Strategy: We Can Have Cake & Eat It, but all that seems a long time ago set against recent events.

Warning: this blog post only considers England’s, particularly troubled, policy position, rather than the rest of the United Kingdom.

The July 2021 update to the NPPF did not contain any specific changes in relation to planning for climate change. Paragraph 152 (previously paragraph 148) still reads:

The planning system should support the transition to a low carbon future in a changing climate, taking full account of flood risk and coastal change. It should help to: shape places in ways that contribute to radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, minimise vulnerability and improve resilience; encourage the reuse of existing resources, including the conversion of existing buildings; and support renewable and low carbon energy and associated infrastructure.”

When the update was published the Government’s response to consultation stated that 20% of respondents to that draft section of the framework “recognised the importance of climate change and indicated a need for stronger terminology to reflect this, such as specific references to the net zero target and emphasis on renewable energy” and stated that the Government is “committed to meeting its climate change objectives and recognises the concerns expressed across groups that this chapter should explicitly reference the Net Zero emissions target. It is our intention to do a fuller review of the Framework to ensure it contributes to climate change mitigation/adaptation as fully as possible, as set out in the [planning white paper].”

So we expect changes to the NPPF to strengthen planning policies on climate change. Can we expect any change of policy in relation to on-shore wind in particular?

If you recall, following its 2015 election manifesto pledge, the Government significantly toughened its stance in relation to on shore wind. Greg Clark issued this written ministerial statement on 18 June 2015:

“I am today setting out new considerations to be applied to proposed wind energy development so that local people have the final say on wind farm applications, fulfilling the commitment made in the Conservative election manifesto.

Subject to the transitional provision set out below, these considerations will take effect from 18 June and should be taken into account in planning decisions. I am also making a limited number of consequential changes to planning guidance.

When determining planning applications for wind energy development involving one or more wind turbines, local planning authorities should only grant planning permission if:

· the development site is in an area identified as suitable for wind energy development in a Local or Neighbourhood Plan; and

· following consultation, it can be demonstrated that the planning impacts identified by affected local communities have been fully addressed and therefore the proposal has their backing.

In applying these new considerations, suitable areas for wind energy development will need to have been allocated clearly in a Local or Neighbourhood Plan. Maps showing the wind resource as favourable to wind turbines, or similar, will not be sufficient. Whether a proposal has the backing of the affected local community is a planning judgement for the local planning authority.”

New subsidies for on shore wind were also ended.

The stance flowed through to the NPPF and the relevant paragraph remains – supportive of renewable energy in principle but with a killer footnote in relation to on shore wind:

158. When determining planning applications for renewable and low carbon development, local planning authorities should:

(a) not require applicants to demonstrate the overall need for renewable or low carbon energy, and recognise that even small-scale projects provide a valuable contribution to cutting greenhouse gas emissions; and

(b) approve the application if its impacts are (or can be made) acceptable 54 . Once suitable areas for renewable and low carbon energy have been identified in plans, local planning authorities should expect subsequent applications for commercial scale projects outside these areas to demonstrate that the proposed location meets the criteria used in identifying suitable areas.”

Footnote 54:

(54) Except for applications for the repowering of existing wind turbines, a proposed wind energy development involving one or more turbines should not be considered acceptable unless it is in an area identified as suitable for wind energy development in the development plan; and, following consultation, it can be demonstrated that the planning impacts identified by the affected local community have been fully addressed and the proposal has their backing.”

BEIS’s December 2021 document Community Engagement and Benefits from Onshore Wind Developments – Good Practice Guidance for England is, I suspect, largely wishful thinking without a remotely encouraging policy position. Is anyone aware of many (any?) local or neighbourhood plans which actually do identify suitable areas for wind energy development?

It seems that the wind could soon be changing if these media pieces are to be believed:

Relaxing rules on wind farms could ease gas crisis (The Times, 9 March 2022)

BEIS to tackle onshore wind planning restrictions in England (renews.biz, 10 March 2022)

The Government has of course been consulting on its suite of energy national policy statements, which set the policy basis for the determination of development consent order applications for nationally significant infrastructure projects. The draft national policy statement for Renewable Energy Infrastructure (EN‐3) (September 2021) is not currently relevant to on shore wind, as on shore wind projects were entirely removed from the NSIP system. However, could we see a volte face on that restriction too?

It was interesting last week to read the detailed 9 March 2022 House of Commons briefing paper research paper on large solar farms and the Hansard transcript of the Westminster Hall debate on the subject. As with on shore wind, there are of course conflicting priorities to be weighed up – with on shore wind it is most often issues as to effect on protected landscapes and heritage assets and with solar farms most often the use of productive farm land (after all, food security is possibly as important as energy security). I wonder whether the position in relation to solar farms would be clearer if the NPPF reflected the language of the draft renewable energy infrastructure NPS (which of course only applies to solar farms of 50 MW capacity or above):

Whilst the development of ground mounted solar arrays is not prohibited on sites of agricultural land classified 1, 2 and 3a, or designated for their natural beauty, or recognised for ecological or archaeological importance, the impacts of such are expected to be considered […]. It is recognised that at this scale, it is likely that applicants’ developments may use some agricultural land, however applicants should explain their choice of site, noting the preference for development to be on brownfield and non-agricultural land.”

But back to the big picture – what direction are the prime minister’s announcements likely to take? This is such a precarious moment for the country’s approach to the climate crisis, with siren calls from the likes of Farage for a “net-zero referendum” and from some, equally opportunistically, even for a reversal of the Government’s ban on fracking.

Dangerous times.

Simon Ricketts, 12 March 2022

Personal views, et cetera

PS no Clubhouse this week, due to MIPIM for some. We return on the 22 March – subject yet to be announced!

Oligarchs Out

In the 21st century, London has increasingly been a safety deposit box for the wealthy of the world – so many people with incomprehensible amounts of wealth, including (but not exclusively) the so-called Russian “oligarchs” (“one of a small group of powerful people who control a country or an industry”).

Just look at some of the properties we’re talking about: The London mansions owned by Russian oligarchs from ‘Billionaire’s Row’ pad to estate almost size of Buckingham Palace (MyLondon, 4 March 2022). See also this BBC piece this morning (5 March 2022): The mega-rich men facing global sanctions.

Obviously, if you come by your wealth legitimately so be it, but the sums these people apparently own would suggest at best that something is wrong with the very structure of capitalism, and at worst…well draw your own conclusions. And to what extent is this all assisting the evils of the Putin regime – and its equivalents briefly eclipsed in the news cycle?

The UK financial sanctions list (4 March 2022) currently identifies 196 Russian individuals, with the reason for each person being on the list.

For a good introduction to the complex and evolving world of sanctions, I found DAC Beachcroft’s 4 March 2022 briefing UK Sanctions – The Evolving Response to the Russian Invasion of Ukraine and what it means for UK businesses particularly useful:

Prior to 10 February 2022, the Regulations allowed the UK Government to ‘designate’ (that is, to impose sanctions on) a person who is or has been involved in ‘destabilising Ukraine or undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty or independence of Ukraine’. Individuals and entities that are so ‘designated’ are listed on the UK Consolidated Sanctions List (“the UK Sanctions List”) along with confirmation of the reasons for designation.

Asset freeze” sanctions “seek to impose prohibitions or requirements for the purposes of:

1. freezing the funds or economic resources owned, held or controlled by certain individuals and entities;

2. preventing financial services being provided to or for the benefit of certain individuals or entities;

3. preventing funds or economic resources from being made available to or for the benefit of certain entities or individuals; or

4. preventing funds or economic resources from being received from certain individuals or entities.

On 10 February 2022, the UK Government expanded its power to designate entities and individuals from a wide variety of sectors as it gave itself the power to designate persons ‘involved in obtaining a benefit from or supporting the Government of Russia’, including:

1. Carrying on business as a Government of Russia affiliated entity

This will include any entity which is owned directly or indirectly by the Russian Government or in which the Government of Russia holds directly or indirectly a minority interest or which has received some form of financial or other material benefit from the Government of Russia.

2. Carrying on business of economic significance or in a sector of strategic significance to the Government of Russia

This includes the Russian, chemicals, construction, defence, electronics, energy, extractives, financial services, information and communications and transport sectors.

3. Owning or controlling directly or indirectly or working as a director or trustee of a Government of Russia affiliated entity or an entity falling within any of the other above categories.

As described in Commons Library briefing Countering Russian influence in the UK (25 February 2022), the so-called “golden visa” scheme has now been scrapped:

On 17 February, the Government announced the immediate closure of the Tier 1 (Investor) visa to new applicants. The visa offered up to five years’ permission to stay in the UK and a route to permanent residence, in return for a minimum £2m investment. A review of all investor visas granted between 2008 and April 2015 was announced in 2018. The Government has said results will be published “in due course”.

Russians are the second most common nationality granted investor visas since 2008, although they accounted for a much smaller proportion of applicants since 2015. Just over 2,500 investor visas have been issued to Russians since 2008 (roughly one fifth of all such visas issued). People granted investment visas before 2015 may have now completed the residence requirement for permanent residence (and possibly British citizenship).”

Events have of course prompted the Government belatedly to fast-track the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill. Its 2nd Reading will be on 7 March 2022. As set out in its explanatory notes, the Bill’s main objectives are to:

Prevent and combat the use of land in the UK for money laundering purposes by increasing the transparency of beneficial ownership information relating to overseas entities that own land in the UK. The Bill therefore creates a register of the beneficial owners of such entities. The register will be held by Companies House and made public.

Reform the UK’s Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO) regime to enable law enforcement to investigate the origin of property and recover the proceeds of crime. The measures in the Bill aim to strengthen the UK’s fight against serious economic crime; to clarify the scope of UWO powers; and to increase and reinforce operational confidence in relation to UWO powers.

Amend financial sanctions legislation, including the monetary penalty legal test and information sharing powers to help deter and prevent breaches of financial sanctions.

However, is this going far enough? There have been pieces in the media reporting that the French government had “seized” a Russian oligarch’s yacht. There is no detail as to what the precise legal status of that action was – there would need of course to be a solid legal basis for confiscation (presumably without compensation) but it is interesting that Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have been reported to be looking at the potential to bolster the Economic Crime Bill so as to facilitate the confiscation of UK property owned by Russian oligarchs (see for instance Michael Gove calling for UK to seize London homes of Russian oligarchs CityAM 27 February 2022 and Michael Gove considers options for seizing oligarchs’ property The Times 3 March 2022). Is this just tough talk and no action? I know you may not want to hear this but… any legislation, and individual decisions made under it, would need to be tightly framed to be consistent with the European Convention on Human Rights (and in a rule of law based, democratic, society that is surely right):

Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.” (Article 8).

Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law.

The preceding provisions shall not, however, in any way impair the right of a State to enforce such laws as it deems necessary to control the use of property in accordance with the general interest or to secure the payment of taxes or other contributions or penalties.” (Article 1 of the First Protocol)

Of course, confiscation without compensation may be properly framed as necessary in the public interest but this will need care.

The London Mayor issued a press statement on 26 February 2022, Mayor demands seizure of property connected to oligarchs, supporting the confiscation of assets but going further in terms of measures to seek to minimise the number of empty homes in the capital (surely these measures are essential to ensure that we can look in the eye those who say that there is no need for additional new homes?) and to penalise foreign buyers more generally (jury out as far as I’m concerned – baby, bathwater etc):

“The Mayor has previously criticised the Government’s failure to deliver on the promise of a register of overseas property ownership and has now set out further measures to charge those who buy property in the UK with no intention of living here and leave them empty while London faces a housing crisis.

As well as the register of overseas ownership, the Mayor is calling for:

Seizure of property assets held by allies of President Putin

Raising the amount overseas owners have to pay for leaving their home empty by increasing the council tax ‘empty homes premium’

Raising capital gains tax on overseas buyers from 28 per cent to 40 per cent

Increasing the taxes paid by overseas companies investing in property by increasing the Annual Tax on Enveloped Dwellings

For further reading, there is this article in yesterday’s edition of the Economist: The rise and fall of Londongrad (behind pay wall, 5 March 2022).

Finally, there are some ways to support the people of Ukraine.

This week’s Clubhouse event will be at a slightly earlier time, at 5pm on Tuesday 8 March. Its theme is “BREAK THE BIAS – women in planning/law”, to mark this year’s International Women’s Day theme. We have various speakers including Meeta Kaur, Nikita Sellers, Caroline Daly, Nicola Gooch and Zenab Hearn. Link here.

Simon Ricketts, 5 March 2022

Personal views, et cetera

Liberty Leading The People (Delacroix)

Devolver

Tomorrow never knows. The Levelling Up white paper was due to be published next week but won’t now appear until early 2022.

Here, there and everywhere. If the leaks are to be believed, we may be in line for some radical reforms, indeed sounding much like proposals from the Centre for Cities that I referred to in my 25 September 2020 blog post The Devolution Dance: The Planning White Paper & Local Government Reorganisation, Neighbourhood Planning.

Ministers plan sweeping changes to local government as part of levelling up agenda, leaked paper reveals (Independent, 10 December 2021)

The government plans to radically alter local government in England, replacing it with a single-tier mayoral-style system.”

The ambition is to strip back layers of local government and replace them with a single-tier system, as in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, but the government is already braced for a backlash to the plans, according to one senior official.”

The plans proposed in the draft paper would mean a huge overhaul of local government, and either scrapping or merging England’s 181 district councils and 24 county councils.”

The step towards single tier local government would need to be under way by 2023 in order to coincide with changes in funding for regions. A new Local Growth Funding Roadmap detailing how this will work will be released in 2022, and then enforced in 2023, according to the paper.

The document lays out 13 missions with which to “anchor” the agenda, which the prime minister has described as the central purpose of his administration, and all come with a 2030 deadline.”

Several parts of the draft paper show that key decisions from the levelling up cabinet committee and the Treasury have yet to be signed off.”

Ministers examine shake-up of regional development in England (FT, 7 December 2021)

Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) appear to be for the chop.

American-style Governors could level up England (The Times, 4 December 2021)

Is the concept of a “governor” going to be any more attractive for local electorates than that of a Mayor?

County deals” (see this Institute for Government explainer) seem to be the reported carrot/stick.

There is also, groan, the possibility of a “statutory levelling-up quango”.

For no-one. I reported in my 24 September 2021 blog post Levelling Up Is… on the BEIS Commons Committee’s 22 July 2021 report Post-pandemic economic growth: Levelling up. On 3 December 2021 the Government published its response, which, ahead of publication of the white paper, is largely unspecific.

I want to tell you. With interesting timing, the County Councils Network published on 8 December 2021 its report prepared with assistance from Catriona Riddell, the future of strategic planning in England: effective decision making and robust governance, with proposals for an accountable strategic planning body which would prepare a strategic growth plan and a strategic planning advisory body to test and advise as to whether its vision is being delivered.

She said she said. Even though she has admitted that she doesn’t like the Beatles, I’m delighted that Catriona has agreed to be our special clubhouse Planning Law Unplanned guest at 6pm this Tuesday 15 December 2021, which will be a great opportunity to see if all of this thinking can come together. Do we need to get back to strategic or at least county level planning, and in place of LEPs something more resembling the old RDAs? I would love you to join us, link to app here.

Got to get you into my life. Do also listen back to our planning enforcement chat last week, now available on replay. Given how the conversation ended up, yes of course we should have called it “Everybody’s got something to hide, except me and my monkey”.

Good day sunshine.

Simon Ricketts, 11 December 2021

Personal views, et cetera

Net Zero Strategy: We Can Have Cake & Eat It

For years, going green was inextricably bound up with a sense that we have to sacrifice the things we love. But this strategy shows how we can build back greener, without so much as a hair shirt in sight. In 2050, we will still be driving cars, flying planes and heating our homes, but our cars will be electric gliding silently around our cities, our planes will be zero emission allowing us to fly guilt-free, and our homes will be heated by cheap reliable power drawn from the winds of the North Sea. And everywhere you look, in every part of our United Kingdom, there will be jobs. Good jobs, green jobs, well-paid jobs, levelling up our country while squashing down our carbon emissions.”

More cakeism from our prime minister, this time in his foreword to the Government’s Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener (19 October 2021).

The document is of course hugely important. Together with the Government’s heat and buildings strategy published the same day, this is the detailed plan, presented to Parliament pursuant to the Climate Change Act 2008, which sets out how our country will achieve its net zero carbon target by 2050. But it has a wider role ahead of next month’s COP 26 event in Glasgow, both pour encourager les autres and, more formally, to be “submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as the UK’s second Long Term Low Greenhouse Gas Emission Development Strategy under the Paris Agreement.

It’s a detailed document, 368 pages – full of initiatives, science, business exhortation, more acronyms than you could shake a stick at and a fair degree of management consultancy/policy wonk speak (for instance, repeated use of “no regrets” and “low regrets” options terminology). After an evening’s scrolling I’m in no place to determine whether it’s brilliant or bonkers in its world-leading optimism. In fact, as someone always in need of a mental map as to how these sorts of strategy fit into the wider international and national legislative and policy framework, it was a relief to get to the technical annex (from page 306) and the client science annex (from page 362), which made for refreshingly clear if bracing reading.

The document largely dismisses any idea that there are any hard choices ahead. We have all seen the media gossip as to internal differences of view within the Conservative party, for instance UK meat tax and frequent-flyer levy proposals briefly published then deleted (Guardian, 20 October 2021) and Tempers fray as Tories fail to unite for Cop26 climate talks (The Times, 23 October 2021). The withdrawn BEIS research paper Net Zero: principles for successful behaviour change initiatives – key principles from past government-led behavioural change and public engagement initiatives makes interesting reading but is hardly any smoking gun.

The lack of any emphasis being given to the planning system as a mechanism for helping to deliver change and regulate against unwelcome outcomes is telling. I was dutifully gathering the snippets but I then read this very good piece by Michael Donnelly which pieces them together very much how I would have liked to have done: Net zero strategy promises to ’embed’ transport decarbonisation in spatial planning and reiterates NPPF review (Planning magazine, 20 October, behind paywall).

The fullest and most direct reference to planning in the whole strategy is probably on page 267:

National planning policies already recognise the importance of sustainable development and make clear that reducing carbon emissions should be considered in planning and decision making. The National Model Design Code provides tools and guidance for local planning authorities to help ensure developments respond to the impacts of climate change, are energy efficient, embed circular economy principles, and reduce carbon emissions. The government is considering how the planning system can further support our commitment to reaching net zero. We will make sure that the reformed planning system supports our efforts to combat climate change and help bring greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. For example, as part of our programme of planning reform we intend to review the National Planning Policy Framework to make sure it contributes to climate change mitigation and adaptation as fully as possible.”

There is no indication of how the planning system can help, or when the NPPF is to be reviewed. Of course the twin dangers are of, on the one hand, a set of changes in the near future that address net zero and then a further set of changes to reflect whichever changed direction planning reform more generally is to embark upon following the pause to the white paper thinking, and, on the other hand, a long long wait, whilst everything is knitted together.

The role of the planning system is of course intertwined with the various proposals within the Environment Bill, given plenty of airtime in the document, and, after all this is policy bingo, there are plenty of references to levelling up.

The present vacuum ahead of any hard news on the NPPF or wider reforms is of course being filled with noise, suggestions, exhortations (see eg There’s a climate emergency, and the planning system is not helping (Andrew Wood, CPRE, 18 October 2021) and, particularly recommended, joint guidance published on 19 October 2021 by the RTPI and TCPA on planning and climate change). You’re at a gig and the lights have gone down, the background music has been killed and there’s the occasional roadie scuttling across the stage.

Normal people can stop reading at this point and jump to the end. But for the cut and paste junkies, here are some other quotes from along the way:

Deliver four carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) clusters, capturing 20-30 MtCO2 across the economy, including 6 MtCO of industrial emissions, per year by 2030

Following the Phase 1 of the Cluster Sequencing process, the Hynet and East Creating the skilled workforce to deliver net zero and putting UK Coast Clusters, will act as economic hubs for green jobs in line with our ambition supply chains at the forefront of global markets to capture 20-30 MtCO2 per year by 2030. This puts Teesside and the Humber, Merseyside and North Wales, along with the North East of Scotland as a reserve cluster, among the potential early SuperPlaces which will be transformed over the next decade.”

“We will also take a place-based approach to net zero, working with local government to ensure that all local areas have the capability and capacity for net zero delivery as we level up the country. And Government is leading the way – embedding climate into our policy and spending decisions, increasing the transparency of our progress on climate goals, and providing funding to drive ambitious emissions reductions in schools and hospitals.”

“These opportunities show that net zero and levelling up go hand in hand. Delivering net zero allows us to boost living standards by supporting jobs and attracting investment in the green industries of the future, which can be in areas that need this the most. Crucially, delivering net zero also involves supporting workers employed in high carbon industries that will be affected by the transition, by giving them the skills they need to make the most of new opportunities in the green economy. But the link between net zero and levelling up is wider than just the economy, net zero can deliver wider benefits for people and communities across the UK by helping spread opportunity and restore pride in place.

We are already taking action to make the most of these opportunities. We have embedded a net zero principle in our levelling up funding initiatives, such as the Levelling Up Fund and the Towns Fund, so that these schemes can contribute to meeting our net zero targets and help places to reduce their carbon impacts. Later this year, we will publish a Levelling Up White Paper. This will build on the actions the government is already taking to both deliver net zero and level up across the country, including the ones set out in this strategy, and set out new interventions to improve livelihoods and drive economic growth in all parts of the UK.”

The characteristics of the net zero challenge – requiring action by multiple parties across the public and private sectors, delivery at pace, and management of large uncertainties – underline the need for strong coordination in policy development and clear signalling to markets. Government taking a systems approach to policy will help to navigate this complexity. We must consider the environment, society, and economy as parts of an interconnected system, where changes to one area can directly or indirectly impact others. This will help to ensure we design policy to maximise benefits, account for dependencies, mitigate conflicting interests and take account of learning as we go. It reduces the risk of unintended consequences, ensuring individual decisions designed to help achieve net zero do not end up hindering it or other important objectives.

New standards and regulation.

In certain areas government will need to support and complement market-led decarbonisation with standards and regulation to ensure that, where appropriate, green options are pursued, while high carbon options are phased out. This will help to accelerate low regrets areas like energy efficiency, such as ensuring our homes are built to new standards, and high impact areas like zero emission vehicles. It will also ensure suppliers of higher-carbon technologies and fuels provide low carbon alternatives, driving deployment at scale.

Planning and infrastructure.

Low carbon solutions rely on transforming the infrastructure needed to deliver them. Increasing electricity generation needs to be accompanied by building out a flexible grid. Alongside dedicated hydrogen infrastructure, new CO2 transport and storage infrastructure is needed for the use of CCUS which will require investment of around £15 billion from now to the end of the Carbon Budget 6 period. We need to ensure that low carbon energy generation can be connected to sources of demand geographically, which means improving knowledge of local circumstances and opportunities for generation. We also recognise the importance of the planning system to common challenges like combating climate change and supporting sustainable growth.

Sustainable use of resources.

Net zero will mean maximising the value of resources within a more efficient circular economy. It will need a significant increase in the use of certain types of resources – critical minerals like lithium, graphite, and cobalt, as well an increased demand on resources like copper and steel – from manufacturing green technologies to building large-scale infrastructure. This will require new robust supply chains and provide economic opportunities, but there will be environmental trade-offs, and potential negative impacts on habitats, biodiversity, and water resources to be managed carefully. For example, ammonia emissions from anaerobic digestion, which can use waste as a feedstock, can also affect biodiversity and health.

Understanding land use trade-offs.

Like other resources, our land is finite and competition for it will need to be managed as we rely on natural resources and use land for multiple new purposes, such as perennial energy crops and short rotation forestry for energy generation, while allowing for afforestation and peatland restoration to sequester and avoid emissions. We will also need to ensure net zero is compatible with wider uses of land such as agriculture, housing, infrastructure, and environmental goals. These land use challenges are exacerbated by the impact of climate change on the availability of productive land and water in future.”

“New Buildings. We will introduce regulations from 2025 through the Future Homes Standard to ensure all new homes in England are ready for net zero by having a high standard of energy efficiency and low carbon heating installed as standard. This should mean that all new homes will be fitted with a low carbon heat source such as a heat pump or connected to a low carbon heat network. To reinforce this, we will consult on whether it is appropriate to end new gas grid connections, or whether to remove the duty to connect from the Gas Distribution Networks. As an interim measure to the Future Homes Standard, we plan to introduce an uplift in standards, effective from June 2022, for England that would result in a 31% reduction in carbon emissions from new homes compared to current standards. We will also respond to our consultation for the Future Buildings Standard for new non-domestic buildings.”

“47. We are driving decarbonisation and transport improvements at a local level by making quantifiable carbon reductions a fundamental part of local transport planning and funding. Local Transport Plans (LTPs) – statutory requirements that set out holistic place-based strategies for improving transport networks and proposed projects for investment – will need to set out how local areas will deliver ambitious carbon reductions in line with carbon budgets and net zero.

48. We will embed transport decarbonisation principles in spatial planning and across transport policy making. Last year, the government set out proposals for a new and improved planning system, central to our most important national challenges, including combating climate change and supporting sustainable growth. The National Model Design Code, published in July this year, guides local planning authorities on measures they can include within their own design codes to create environmentally responsive and sustainable places. The National Model Design Code provides tools and guidance for local planning authorities to help ensure developments respond to the impacts of climate change, are energy efficient, embed circular economy principles and reduce carbon emissions.”

The UK has a limited amount of land and delivering net zero will require changes to the way this land is used, for example, for afforestation, biomass production, and peat restoration. Opportunities for land to be used for multiple purposes, such as agroforestry will help to make sure land use for decarbonisation purposes is balanced with other demands, such as housing development and food production. These changes are likely to have varying effects on wider environmental outcomes and may completely alter the character of some landscapes and rural livelihoods (see section below). Land use change must be designed in a systemic, geographically targeted way with appropriate local governance and delivery structures which consider the complex range of interacting social, economic, and demographic factors. To support this, government is developing a Net Zero Systems Tool which aims to allow key decision makers to gain new insights and understanding, by highlighting dependencies and trade-offs within the land use system, as well as by demonstrating the knock-on effects of proposed policies. In addition, through the Environment Bill, the Government is introducing Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRS), a spatial planning tool for nature, allowing local government and communities to identify priorities and opportunities for nature recovery and nature-based solutions across England. The Bill includes a specific duty on all public authorities to “have regard” to relevant LNRSs and the spatial information they provide will support the development of local plans and other land use change incentives. Delivery of priorities and opportunities identified in LNRS will be supported by a range of delivery mechanisms including our environmental land management schemes, and in particular, the Local Nature Recovery scheme. By 2028, Defra’s current plans are for total spend to be evenly split between farm-level, locally tailored, and landscape-scale investment within ELM.”

“Local green infrastructure and the environment

34. Government will launch a new National Framework of Green Infrastructure Standards in 2022. This will support local areas and regions to deliver well-designed green infrastructure where it is most needed to deliver multiple benefits. These networks of green and blue spaces and other natural features, including trees, provide an opportunity to benefit local economies and bring about long-term improvements in people’s health and wellbeing. At the same time, it can help us to mitigate and adapt to climate change, through capturing and storing carbon, shading and cooling, and reducing flooding.

35. The Environment Bill is also creating a new system of spatial strategies called Local Nature Recovery Strategies to target action for nature and to drive the use of nature-based solutions to tackle environmental challenges like climate change. It is expected that there will be approximately 50 Local Nature Recovery Strategies covering the whole of England with no gaps and no overlaps. Preparation of each Strategy will be locally led and collaborative, with local government taking a critical role. This will provide local government with a new tool through which they can work with local partners to identify where effort to create or restore habitat would have greatest benefit for climate mitigation, whilst also having positive benefits for nature and the wider environment. Between 2021 and 2027, we will be doubling our overall investment in flooding and coastal erosion to £5.2 billion.

36. In addition, £200 million will be invested in the Innovative Flood and Coastal Resilience Innovation Programme. This will help over 25 local areas over six years to take forward wider innovative actions that improve their resilience to flooding and coastal erosion. The Environment Agency is also working with coastal authorities on a £1 million refresh of Shoreline Management Plans.”

Normal people you can start reading again…

I hope that was at least a taster and I recommend that you dip into the document itself. Whatever happens to the planning system, the initiatives set out in the document are undoubtedly going to be central to our lives and work over the years to come.

We’re going to be discussing all this for an hour or so from 6 pm on Tuesday 26 October 2021 on clubhouse. I’ve never been to a book club session but maybe it’ll be a bit like that, without the tortilla chips or wine. Join us. Link to the app here.

Simon Ricketts, 23 October 2021

Personal views, et cetera

Extract from photo by Angèle Kamp , courtesy Unsplash.

Levelling Up Is…

I’m reminded of those interminable “love is…” cartoons.

Levelling Up is…

…regenerating high streets?

… tackling obesity?

…investing in culture?

…increasing numbers of police officers?

…funding roads?

…establishing freeports?

…local devolution?

et cetera.

Maybe it would be easier to define what it isn’t?

From the ITV website today (24 September 2021): 58% of Brits don’t know what ‘levelling up’ policy is while ministers also unclear, reports find.

See also these tweets today from the Daily Telegraph’s chief political correspondent Christopher Hope (thank you for alerting me, Mike Best):

Congratulations to the 42% in the ITV poll but for the rest of us this is all no surprise. The House of Commons BEIS Committee’s 22 July 2021 report Post-pandemic economic growth: Levelling up lays it bare:

From the introduction:

“On his appointment as Prime Minister in July 2019, Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP said in a speech, on the steps of Downing Street, that he would “answer the plea of the forgotten people and the left behind towns” and “level up across Britain” by unleashing the “the productive power not just of London and the South East but of every corner of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland””.

From the summary:

Levelling up—meaning, in our view, the spreading of economic and social opportunities more evenly across the country—is laudable and should be a priority for any Government.

However, whilst recognising the understandable impact the pandemic has had on Government capacity, we are disappointed at how little detail has been put forward to explain what the Government sees levelling up to mean and how it will be delivered.”

As such, we have made several recommendations to Government, including recommendations to:

Urgently publish the Levelling Up White Paper, so that we are clear on what the Government defines levelling up to mean and what its priorities are.

Work with the Office for National Statistics, the Cities and Local Growth Unit in the Business Energy and Industrial Strategy department and the National Audit Office to agree a set of metrics for the routine reporting of progress in delivering levelling up priorities.

Establish the functioning of a Cabinet Committee on levelling up, that collaborates with devolved, regional, and local leaders.

Recognise that inequalities exist across the whole of the UK, including within cities, and that levelling up priorities should therefore not be focussed on only some regions or sub-regions of the UK.

Ensure that each region in England has the capacity to competitively bid for Government funding, given that some areas in England have a greater capacity to engage with Whitehall than other areas.

The levelling up agenda has been described by the Government as its ‘most important mission’. It is now imperative for Ministers to translate this from a political promise into a deliverable programme for Government. The forthcoming Levelling Up White Paper, which we understand will now include the previously announced Devolution White Paper, gives the Government the opportunity to be bold and progressive. We look forward to its publication and, in future, engagement with Ministers on their delivery of levelling up.

From the main part of the report:

“Giles Wilkes, former industrial and economic special adviser to former Prime Minister Rt Hon Theresa May MP, noted that the Government’s use of the phrase levelling up was so widespread that it had become nothing more than a generic term for “make things better”. Rafael Behr of the Guardian referred to levelling up as a “rhetorical zeppelin”, which was “floating on the political horizon, carrying no cargo of policy”.

“The current available documents on the policy instruments the Government aims to use to level up—the Conservative Party Manifesto, its submission to this inquiry and the 2021 Queen’s Speech—show a wide ranging and disjointed programme of random policies from an obesity strategy, an increase in police officers, to funding on A roads and the creation of Freeports. Although these policies are all very interesting and welcome, it is difficult to see how they all tie together under one over-arching strategy. The cohesion of the whole has not been well described to identify how these fit together. If the Government is serious about levelling up and for it to be a substantive strategy rather than merely a slogan, it must spell out a coherent ‘plan’ as a matter of urgency”

Is this unfair? Possibly not. Motherhood is good and it’s clear from the Conservative 2019 manifesto that levelling up is good:

“Our plan means making sure people have access to world-class public services, that they feel safe on the streets, that working families get to keep more of their own money, and that we help with cost of living pressures.

But it also means making sure that we share prosperity across the country, addressing the longstanding economic challenges in parts of the country. We will invest responsibly and prudently in the infrastructure that can make a difference, and ensure communities in every corner of the United Kingdom are pleasant, safe and prosperous. And we will invest far more in helping workers train and retrain for the jobs and industries of the future. Investing in people, restoring the fabric of our towns and cities, building the homes we need, supporting science and industry, strengthening the great Union between the United Kingdom’s four nations – that is how we will unleash our country’s full potential.”

“…in his first months as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has set out an agenda for levelling up every part of the UK – not just investing in our great towns and cities, as well as rural and coastal areas, but giving them far more control of how that investment is made. In the 21st century, we need to get away from the idea that ‘Whitehall knows best’ and that all growth must inevitably start in London. Because we as Conservatives believe you can and must trust people and communities to make the decisions that are right for them.

There is of course the £4.8 billion Levelling Up Fund, announced as part of the 2020 Spending Review. As set out in the March 2021 Levelling Up Fund Prospectus:

The Fund will focus on capital investment in local infrastructure thereby building on and consolidating prior programmes such as the Local Growth Fund and Towns Fund. It will have a visible, tangible impact on people and places, and support economic recovery. In doing so, it will also create opportunity across the country, prioritising bids that invest in regeneration and growth in places in need and areas of low productivity and connectivity.

The first round of the fund is focusing on smaller transport projects; regeneration and town centre investment, and cultural investment : £4 billion for England for the next four years to 2024-2025 and at least £800,000 for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Save in Northern Ireland, funding will be delivered via local authorities. The fund is jointly managed by HMT, DLUHC and DfT.

The prospectus was published alongside a list of local authorities by priority category. There is also a June 2021 prioritisation of places methodology note. The Good Law Project secured permission from Bourne J on 19 August 2021 to take to a full hearing its judicial review of the methodology, which is reported to be based on its allegations that (according to the news piece) “the Government is using the £4.8bn fund to funnel money into regions and towns of political benefit to the Conservative Party. The not-for-profit legal group alleges that the Government is guilty of ‘pork barrel politics’. They cite, for example, the fact that 22 of 26 places that received funds from the Towns Fund are represented by Conservative MPs.”

I won’t comment on that allegation but do note that there is an unusual bidding criterion for local authorities, which gives MPs an important role in the allocation of monies:

We expect bidding authorities to consult local Members of Parliament as part of their bid; though such support from local MPs is not a necessary condition for a successful bid. MPs can have a positive role in prioritising bids and helping broker local consensus. When considering the weighting given to bids, the expectation is that an MP will back one bid which they see as a priority, and any bid may have priority backing from multiple MPs and local stakeholders. But Members of Parliament may also want to support any or all schemes that would have a benefit to their constituencies in the usual way.

The levelling up agenda is currently a potent political theme for Conservative MPs, 40 of whom formed a “Levelling Up Taskforce” in September 2020, the launch of which was marked by the publication by Onward of a report by MP Neil O’Brien, Measuring up for levelling up.

Neil O’Brien was subsequently appointed in May 2021 by the prime minister as Levelling Up Adviser. The announcement was made within a 4 May 2021 government press statement which referred to a “landmark” levelling up white paper “later this year, articulating how bold new policy interventions will improve opportunity and boost livelihoods across the country as we recover from the pandemic.” “The White Paper – which will be led by the Prime Minister – will focus on challenges including improving living standards, growing the private sector and increasing and spreading opportunity.” This white paper of course will partly be a rebadged version of the white paper which was originally promised for publication last year on “devolution and local recovery”. As of the date of the press statement, a “new No10 – Cabinet Office Unit [was to] be set up to drive through work on the White Paper.”

I am not sure how much “driving through” has since taken place but Neil O’Brien of course has been now appointed as a minister within the new Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. In the Government’s 19 September 2021 press statement announcing the name of the new Department (massively symbolic in itself) and make-up of its ministerial team it was stated that former Bank of England chief economist (and incoming chief executive of the RSA) Andy Haldane has been appointed as a permanent secretary in the Cabinet Office for six months to “head up the Levelling Up Taskforce that will report jointly to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

“The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson MP, said:

This government is committed to uniting and levelling up every part of the UK and I am determined that as we build back better from the pandemic we are geared up with the teams and expertise to deliver on that promise.

Andy is uniquely qualified to lead our efforts to raise living standards, spread opportunity, improve our public services and restore people’s sense of pride in their communities. I look forward to working with him, and with my new ministerial team, to deliver the opportunities this country needs.”

Andy Haldane is a serious individual and it is a significant appointment, if only for a short period of time – blink and it’s gone.

I’m sure I’m not the only person utterly frustrated that the main engine of government in our specialist area of interest is now named, for party political reasons, after such an amorphous concept. I’m still not clear as to what levelling up is (or, rather, what it isn’t) but I sense that for the Government it is at the very heart of its political agenda in a way that will define its priorities in terms of housing and economic growth (and therefore its thinking in relation to reform of the planning system). I’m sorry to reduce it to this because the aspirations are, as the BEIS Committee said, laudable but… is it about any less than “making things better” in such a general sense as to be meaningless, or about any more than focusing on issues are relevant to voters in marginal seats in such tactical ways as have no strategic coherence?

Insights very welcome.

Simon Ricketts, 24 September 2021

Personal views, et cetera

For our Planning Law Unplanned clubhouse event at 6pm on Tuesday 28 September, we are picking up on a comment made by DLUHC minister Eddie Hughes this week that there would be a “full review” of the NPPF. Our theme is NPPF “full review”: what to expect in reality/your dreams? and our special guests will include Steve Quartermain, Nicola Gooch and Mike Best as well as our usual stellar panel. Link to app here.

“We Can Take Some Of The Edges Off That Are Upsetting People”

A personal rant, with apologies. Did you see that quote in the Daily Mail about the long awaited Planning Bill?

“A Government source said ministers would be in ‘listening mode’ on the issue when Parliament returns in September, adding: ‘We’ll listen and we’ll move.

We can take some of the edges off that are upsetting people and still get some important changes through.

‘The bottom line is we have got to get more houses built. The average age of a first-time buyer is 34. We have to get that down and give younger people a chance to get a stake in society.’”

Listening to whom, do we think? Backbench Conservative MPs of course and voters in relevant constituencies of course. Anyone else? Shrugging shoulders emoji.

Does the Government really believe that it can make changes that materially accelerate the delivery of homes, without upsetting voters and therefore backbench Conservative MPs? (I’m only focusing on the Conservative party because it is in Government – Labour MPs are hardly falling over themselves either to support development in their constituencies, and as for the Liberal Democrats…). I see it all around me, the social norm/knee jerk reaction to a development proposal being to object and being to assume that everyone else will want to object too – whether green field development (it should be on a brown field site) or the development of a brown field site (oh not there, too high, setting, infrastructure etc etc). Of course it is hoped that exhortations as to design will make a difference in making development less unpopular, but, even travelling optimistically, that is going to take a long long time.

So what are the “edges” that are going to be taken off the white paper proposals?

It’s obvious isn’t it? No doubt the idea that national housing targets will actually, perish the thought, have to be planned for by each local authority on a local basis, let alone find their way through to consents and development, isn’t just out of the window, it’s jumped down onto the pavement and skipped half way down the street by now.

One leading rebel said: ‘If this ends up being a developers’ free-for-all, it will be utterly toxic for Tory MPs everywhere – not just in the South East.

‘If ministers get this wrong we can kiss goodbye to our new electoral success.

‘We will be doing the Lib Dems’ job for them across the Midlands, the South and the suburbs where we’ve had massive growth in recent years.

‘People are fed up. Being seen as the party concreting over our countryside or ramming housing estates into suburban green spaces will be electoral suicide. Boris needs to get a grip on this.’ Rebels want the idea of mandatory house-building targets replaced with voluntary ones.

They also want ministers to drop ‘growth zones’ in which planning applications would be automatically approved.”

Can we be clear: no-one I know in the development and planning world wants a fudged, bodged, old failed ideas re-branded, camel of a Planning Bill. Forget the whole thing rather than waste valuable time on a set of reforms based on political trade-offs and trying to be all things to all people. If as a politician you can’t focus on the objectives – climate change, providing everyone with a decent home, a functioning economy – because you’re just worrying about holding onto power and a job, forget it, don’t even start: with that frame of mind you will make things worse not better.

Without (1) a clear articulation of how many homes need to be built across the country, with a published evidence base to support that number (whether that’s 300,000 a year, or lower, or – probably – higher) and (2) those numbers somehow being divided out across the country without local opportunities for prolonged delays, obfuscation and special pleading (a year on from the white paper it is still really difficult to work out how this can be done), the system will continue to meander on its way – through the interminable plan making local politics, through the lengthy, unpredictable, too detailed and yet too light touch, examinations and through the inevitable court challenges.

The incoming coalition government in 2010 tore up top-down planning, in the form of the regional strategies, before the system even had time to prove itself. Yes it was an slow and over-engineered process, but there was at least the opportunity for democracy at the regional level in setting and apportioning numbers. The return to a bottom up approach, together with the let’s cross our fingers and rely on the duty (not really) to co-operate, and with a semi voluntary, almost unmappable, ad hoc patchwork of local authority combinations and alliances, has led to local plans being mired in endless debates as to numbers. Even with a supposedly standard method for calculating local housing need, those endless debates continue in every green belt local authority area – see Cherwell Development Watch Alliance v Cherwell District Council & Secretary of State (Thornton J, 30 July 2021) for the most recent example.

How are we going to get out of that mire, plan quickly and positively, stabilise spiralling house prices, reduce the age at which adult working offspring can leave the parental home to live somewhere convenient (let alone buy their own home – that’s a first world problem compared to the need for an affordable home in the first place), if local housing numbers are going to be left for local authorities and communities to determine?

Pray tell, “Government source”.

Simin Ricketts, 6 August 2021

Personal views, et cetera

Two great clubhouse Planning Law Unplanned events coming up:

⁃ 6pm Tuesday 10 August: Stonehenge road tunnel consent quashed: why, how, what next – discussion led by junior counsel to Save Stonehenge, Victoria Hutton. Link to invitation here.

⁃ 6pm Tuesday 17 August: AN END TO UGLY: The Office for Place & NMDC unpacked – special guests Nicholas Boys-Smith (chair, Office for Place), Dr Chris Miele (Montagu Evans) and Vicky Payne (URBED). Link to invitation here.

‘Twas The Week Before Recess

The House of Commons and House of Lords both rise on 22 July 2021 and are due to return on 6 September 2021, which means that each year this week and next we always see many documents published and announcements made. Much festivity.

This week last year the Planning White Paper was eagerly awaited of course but ran late, eventually being published in the first week of August. At one stage we had expected an update by the Government on progress by now, including its response to last year’s consultation process but Robert Jenrick announced back at the beginning of the month that we will not see this until the Autumn and there will be no Bill until some time after that. (For a summary of MHCLG’s current priorities, see his 6 July 2021 speech to the Local Government Association, or indeed Nicola Gooch’s 16 July 2021 blog post on the speech).

But there have already been various other announcements and publications and in this post I will just pick randomly from them, Quality Street style.

Of particular interest is the Department for Transport’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan (14 July 2021) which sets out the road map (no, wrong expression) for reducing transport’s greenhouse gas emissions to net zero. It is a turbo-charged (no, wrong expression), “high ambition”, plan covering all modes of transport. There is a wide-ranging series of commitments over 220 pages of text.

What is there that directly refers to the planning system? Aside from confirmation that the Government will be reviewing the National Networks National Policy Statement, there is a wider commitment to “embed transport decarbonisation principles in spatial planning and across transport policymaking“. Pages 156 to 160 address this in detail and I am going to no more than set out below large sections of this section:

…The planning system has an important role to play in encouraging development that promotes a shift towards sustainable transport networks and the achievement of net zero transport systems.

Traffic issues have often caused opposition to housebuilding. There is a legacy of developments that give people few alternatives to driving, are difficult to serve efficiently by public transport and are laid out in ways which discourage walking and cycling. Developments which are planned to minimise car use, promote sustainable transport choices, and are properly connected to existing public transport could help make new building more publicly acceptable.

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) makes clear we already expect sustainable transport issues to be considered from the earliest stages of plan-making and development proposals, so that opportunities to promote cycling, walking and public transport are pursued. Planning policies should already provide for high quality cycling and walking networks and supporting facilities such as cycle parking (drawing on Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans). The NPPF also outlines that new developments should promote sustainable transport, taking opportunities to promote walking, cycling and public transport. However, while many local plans already say the right things, they are not always followed consistently in planning decisions. Developments often do little or nothing meaningful to enable cycling and walking, or to be properly and efficiently accessible by public transport. Sometimes they make cycling and walking provision worse. We can and must do better.

Last summer, the Government set out its vision for a new and improved planning system in the Planning for the Future White Paper, a vision to make good on the Government’s pledge to build back better, build back faster and build back greener. The White Paper set out how the planning system is central to our most important national challenges, including combating climate change and supporting sustainable growth.

A reformed planning system can assist in achieving the ambition of a zero emission transport future. The planning reforms will provide an opportunity to consider how sustainable transport is planned for and importantly how it is delivered to support sustainable growth and drive more sustainable use of our existing built environment e.g. planning for new development around existing transport hubs, for all developments to be easily and safely accessible and navigable by foot and cycle, and to make existing cycling and walking provision better. Through good design and proper consideration of the needs of our communities, we can better connect people, making communities more accessible, inclusive, safe, and attractive as well as promoting the principles of 20-minute neighbourhoods. We are working with the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government and the Local Government Association to place cycling, walking and public transport provision at the heart of local plan making and decision taking for new developments. In doing so, we recognise the particular challenges faced by rural and remote areas in this regard, and will work, including through the upcoming Future of Transport: Rural Strategy, to ensure policies recognise differing geographies.

The National Model Design Code sets out a process for developing local design codes and guides, with supporting design guidance on movement and public spaces including streets. It outlines an expectation that development should consist of a well-connected network of streets with good public transport and an emphasis on active travel modes including walking and cycling. Building on this, we will also ensure that an updated Manual for Streets aligns with these principles and is routinely used for plan making and decision taking to secure better outcomes for our streets and public realm. These documents can play a key role in delivering high quality, accessible, secure and safe cycle storage. We will work with Active Travel England and other key stakeholders to ensure that the importance of securing high quality cycling and walking provision is embedded within the planning system.

We recognise that the Government has a role in helping Local Planning and Highways Authorities to better plan for sustainable transport and develop innovative policies to reduce car dependency. We need to move away from transport planning based on predicting future demand to provide capacity (‘predict and provide’) to planning that sets an outcome communities want to achieve and provides the transport solutions to deliver those outcomes (sometimes referred to as ‘vision and validate’). We will continue to work with MHCLG to identify how we can best support local authorities to develop innovative sustainable transport policies as part of the planning process, how this can be used to better assess planning applications, and better monitor local transport outcomes to deliver on our ambitions for sustainable transport use.

Achieving these ambitions will require a long-term collective effort across government, local authorities, communities, businesses, and developers. We are exploring with MHCLG how the planning system can be designed to facilitate better collaboration and planning for growth across local authority boundaries, with all key stakeholders involved, to ensure that we align that growth with both strategic and local infrastructure delivery to make good on our manifesto commitment to put infrastructure first and drive growth sustainably.”

The next day, 15 July 2021, we had the Prime Minister’s florid Levelling Up speech, although for actual announcements it might be better to go straight to, for example, a press statement issued the same day: PM sets out new ‘County Deals’ to devolve power to local communities in Levelling Up speech (15 July 2021).

“New ‘County Deals’ to take devolution beyond the largest cities, offering the rest of England the same powers metro mayors have gained over things like transport, skills and economic support.

County Deals will be bespoke to the needs of individual places, bringing decisions closer to people and places, potentially allowing more places to benefit from strong, high profile local champions. County Deals will give places the tools they need to pilot new ideas, create jobs, drive growth and improve public services.

Further detail will be set out in the Levelling Up White Paper, but as the Prime Minister set out, county deals will not be one size fits all, and government will take a flexible approach to allow more places to agree devolution.”

The same day there was also the press statement Government strategy to regenerate high streets (MHCLG, 15 July 2021), with various announcements, including the publication of Build Back BHS – apologies: Build Back Better High Streets. Compulsory purchase practitioners will be interested to see this passage:

“We are […] encouraging councils to use Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs) for long-term empty properties and where property owners are stalling regeneration plans. We want to:

• Ensure councils have the right Compulsory Purchase Order enabling powers to support the transformation of high streets and other regeneration projects so that they can acquire vacant and derelict buildings in order to attract new private investment.

• Ensure as part of our planning reforms that Compulsory Purchase Orders can support more effective land assembly to facilitate the development of growth areas identified in the new-style local plans, particularly when they support town centre regeneration.

Strengthen the capacity and support for local authorities to ensure they are able to use these new Compulsory Purchase Order powers and rights to support the transformation of high streets.”

As regards the conversion of high streets to homes, the following passage was eyebrow raising. So how would this work with the operation of permitted development rights then? And the provision of “green infrastructure” a justification for development intensification?

Where high streets are being repurposed for homes, green infrastructure and improved public space should be integral. We will explore how reforms to the planning system can ensure green infrastructure is better incorporated into new development. Development of homes, businesses and community space could be intensified on parts of sites to free up land for green infrastructure provision.”

And just to keep practitioners on their toes, there was the Planning Inspectorate’s announcement Plans to resume in-person events (15 July 2021). In one part of the policy forest there’s the transport decarbonisation plan, in another part, brmm brmm, off we go back to in person inquiries from 13 September:

“For hearings and inquiries taking place from 13 September we will be reverting to the pre-pandemic approach of them being arranged by local authorities. In-person events will be possible, but where participants (including the inspector) need to present their evidence or participate virtually this will need to be facilitated by the local authority.

Where in-person elements are planned, the local authority will need to be prepared for the event to be held fully virtually in case pandemic restrictions change.

Let’s see what more announcements the coming week brings…

Simon Ricketts, 16 July 2021

Personal views, et cetera

This week’s clubhouse Planning Law Unplanned session (6pm Tuesday 20 July) is on the theme “A Green Recovery”: what does it mean; what opportunities? Lucy Wood (Barton Willmore) will lead the session, which will take a good hard look at the government’s green policy agenda (including the transport decarbonisation plan) and what it means for business, councils and communities, alongside special guests including Neil Collar (Brodies) and others still to be confirmed. An invitation to the app and event is here.

(Public transport = tick).