The Government released their ambitious “Levelling Up the United Kingdom” white paper on 2 February (“the LUWP”). This outlines a radical programme to make the UK “more prosperous and more united” by tackling the regional and local inequalities and encouraging greater private sector investment. It also offers a few tantalising glimpses of possible planning reforms that might still make it into the ever elusive Planning Bill.

The top 5 clues to what might be included:

  • Empowering Communities – the Government is pushing hard for communities to have more involvement in shaping their neighbourhoods and high streets. Early support for introducing zoning powers has been ebbing away since the idea was first mooted in the Planning White Paper “Building for the Future” back in August 2020. This was largely on the back of concerns raised that zoning would undermine local engagement. Instead, attention has shifted to encouraging greater collaboration between citizens and public servants to pave the way for positive regeneration and the LUWP warns that the Government will be launching a full review of neighbourhood governance including neighbourhood planning and empowering communities to have more say in shaping regeneration and development plans. It will also encompass more accessible hybrid models for planning committees.
  • Local Plans – reforming Local Plans remains at the heart of the proposed planning changes. The LUPW makes it clear that changes are still to be introduced to make them shorter and simpler.
  • Digitalisation - the Planning White Paper recognised the need for greater digitalisation within both the decision making process and the formation of Local Plans. The LUWP confirms the development of new planning software for councils and digital agencies will progress following the launch of The PropTech Engagement fund last October.
  • Infrastructure Levy - the LUWP reiterates that the Government is still looking to introduce a new single Infrastructure Levy. Details remain vague but they are exploring how to capture part of the uplift in land value from the permitted development as well as securing affordable housing and community benefits.
  • Brownfield Land - the LUWP confirms that £1.8bn is being invested in brownfield and infrastructure projects across England. This is to be used to regenerate underused land, deliver transport links and community facilities with a proportion distributed to local authorities to unlock smaller brownfield sites. To support these aims the Government will be reshaping compulsory purchase powers.

From the above, we can see that the Planning Bill is shaping up to be something less radical than a “levelling” of foundations as originally promised in 2020. However, whether it will amount to more than “painting over damp patches” is still not yet known. Until that pesky Planning Bill is revealed in full it remains the Government’s favourite Scarlet Pimpernel.