CIOB Analysis of the Levelling Up & Regeneration Bill – Rhetoric vs Reality
Following the Queen’s Speech in May 2022, the UK Government finally unveiled the latest instalment of its flagship domestic agenda – the ‘Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill’. As the Bill progresses through the legislative process, it is timely to remind ourselves of the social and economic issues it seeks to address; and consider where CIOB requires further detail from Government.
The concept of ‘levelling up’, while not entirely new, (re)-appeared on our political radar in 2019, during Boris Johnson’s first speech as Prime Minister; where he pledged to ‘build prosperity, strengthen and level up every part of the country… through higher wages and productivity’.
In the two Queen’s Speeches that followed, the Government reiterated its commitment to levelling up and set out plans to publish a White Paper. Initially scheduled for publication in October 2021 alongside the budget and spending review, the White Paper did not materialise until February 2022.
Weighing in at over 400 pages, the much-anticipated White Paper set out a framework for the Government’s plan of action; this comprised of 12 ‘missions’ to reduce geographical disparities. These included, empowering local decision makers though greater devolved powers, securing paths to homeownership, improving the interconnectivity of communities new and existing, investing in research and development, and increasing the number of people completing high-quality skills training, amongst others.
By structuring the levelling up agenda around a series of missions, this indicates the Government’s intention to collaborate across multiple departments and agencies. Enhanced devolution arrangements also present an opportunity to strengthen the relationship between central and local government and empower councils to deliver for their communities and economies.
However, part of the challenge in implementing legislation targeting left-behind regions and communities includes balancing the different responsibilities managed by various legislators across England, both at a local and national scale. To facilitate the transition of the Levelling Up White Paper into practical policy, its ongoing development and delivery is currently being supported by the Levelling Up Select Committee. CIOB welcomes cross-party, central and local government efforts to implement an integrated and cohesive approach.
As the Bill progresses onto its second reading in the House of Commons on Wednesday 8 June 2022, a key question of the CIOB, is to what extent will a joined-up approach become embedded into our policy ecosystem?
Breaking the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill down
Levelling Up Missions
Whilst we are yet to glean much detail from Government on the content of the twelve levelling up missions that are to be included in the first iteration of the Bill, CIOB believes that the construction industry is well-placed to advise on immediate and long-term strategies for future regeneration, improving the quality of housing and building the necessary knowledge and skills to match the levelling up ambition.
However, the absence of an Employment Bill to support such initiatives is a cause for concern, COVID-19 has exacerbated the persistent labour and skills shortages across construction. This has implications for those employed and seeking employment, as without a future pool of talent, any ambitions to build the necessary homes and infrastructure will cost more, and potentially reach a hard stop within a short space of time.
The Government should therefore work with the industry to develop unique, sustainable, employment skills and opportunities that reflect local priorities; as well as ensure construction projects provide opportunities that create social value, and support local economic growth. Concerted efforts on these fronts, will deliver growth and jobs in the industry. CIOB would like to see a commitment from Government early in the process to work with industry experts and professional bodies to establish the requirements and capacity of the construction industry to deliver on the key levelling up missions.
After years of speculation, it has been confirmed that aspects of the proposed planning reforms will be incorporated into the Levelling Up & Regeneration Bill. These reforms have been much anticipated after they were scrapped amongst backlash from backbench Conservative MPs in the previous parliamentary session. It is difficult to provide an initial analysis of the planning reform aspect of the Bill as it is unclear how the reforms will operate and what impact they will have on the existing planning system.
CIOB would like to understand how the new planning system would work in tandem with the existing system of Permitted Development Rights which has been an area that CIOB has provided comment on in the past.
The Levelling Up & Regeneration Bill will include the implementation of a new Infrastructure Levy as a cost to create the associated infrastructure necessary to build better communities. The new infrastructure levy will be required as part of the planning application process. The system will operate in a similar way to the existing Section 106 and Community Infrastructure Levy that applicants are required to pay on obtaining a successful planning application. At present it is unclear how this system will be operating in conjecture with the existing systems noted above and whether applicants will be required to contribute to three different infrastructure schemes.
CIOB is concerned about the proposals for a new infrastructure levy and are calling on Government to provide more detail on this. SMEs are continuing to struggle to compete with large scale housing developers as the costs of land and materials continues to rise. With an additional infrastructure cost associated with new developments the Government runs the risk of pricing SME housebuilders and developers out of the market even further.
A key area that CIOB will be expecting more detail on is the various heritage protection measures that are proposed to be included within the planning reform aspects of the Bill. CIOB considers the protection of important heritage assets globally to be a key priority of any Government and we are pleased to note that when considering whether to grant planning permission for new homes or infrastructure in England considerable weight must be given to the preservation of existing heritage assets.
Environmental Outcome Reports
As part of the Levelling Up & Regeneration Bill there will be a phased replacement of the existing environmental assessment regime. In part, this is a way for Government to further distance itself from previous EU rules that governed the necessity for planning applications to contain an assessment of the environmental impacts of any given scheme. However, the Government will not be scrapping this system entirely. Instead, it will be replaced with Environmental Outcome Reports.
It is likely that further details on the nature of the reports will come forward in secondary legislation. However, CIOB is keen to understand the contents necessary in the reports and how they will differ from the existing system. It is crucial for the environmental impact of a scheme to be considered in full prior to granting planning permission. In the wake of COP26 and with the knowledge that the UK must meet its legally binding carbon neutrality targets by 2050, the Government must do all it can to ensure that the natural environment is protected whilst simultaneously ensuring that housing and infrastructure delivery is consistent.
Levelling up provides significant opportunity for construction and building product companies, commercial and residential subsectors, and related supply chains to develop strategies and capabilities that fuel innovation and growth – to reinvent the ways we operate, invest, plan, and deliver future construction projects, so that they consider and benefit the built, social, and natural environment, and which support the UK’s current and future regeneration and affordable housing needs.
However, to avoid levelling up and regeneration policies becoming a political football, where the need for constant ‘improvement’ reflects moving goal posts, cross-party consensus, sustained over multiple Government’s is necessary. The country cannot level up on rhetoric. A programme to address regional inequalities requires urgent action, a long-term commitment, and investment at scale, which goes beyond 2030.
CIOB’s policy and public affairs team will monitor the progression of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill closely, to understand the possible implications for the built environment, and to ensure that future legislation reflects the industry and public’s interest.
Should you have any questions, want to learn more, or help form our positions, then please contact Tallulah Eyres, CIOB Policy & Public Affairs Officer – North on [email protected].
You can also find more information and follow the Bill on the Parliament website.