Planning System features in Government’s new Levelling Up White Paper

Apex Planning Levelling Up White Paper

The planning system is playing a major part in a new white paper aimed at making opportunities equal across the country…

There has been a lot of focus in the planning press recently on the emphasis of the planning system in the new Levelling Up white paper.

The paper aims to show how the government will ‘spread opportunity more equally across the UK’. The aim is to ensure that everyone has equal social and economic opportunities wherever they live – or as the government puts it: ‘transform the UK by spreading opportunity and prosperity to all parts of it.’

It is no surprise then, that the planning system, which covers everything from types of houses to infrastructure provided for communities would feature so highly.

The white paper was announced by the Secretary of State, who announced that levelling up was ‘core to the Government’s mission and the planning system has a key role to play.’

Levelling up aims

Its main aims include:

  • Growing the private sector in a bid to boost productivity, pay, jobs and living standards (especially in areas that are behind in these categories)
  • Improving public services and spreading opportunities – again in areas where this is needed
  • Restoring local pride and a sense of community and belonging in areas where this has been lost
  • Empowering communities and local leaders.

Planning points

The paper features some key points around planning, including:

  • Simplifying local plans in a bid to make them transparent and easier to engage with
  • Considering new models for a new infrastructure levy
  • Introducing a range of new policies and powers that would help planners to support town centre regeneration
  • Improving democracy and engagement in planning decisions
  • Supporting environmental protection.

The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has also welcomed the move. Victoria Hills, Chief Executive of RTPI, said: “It is right that planning features prominently in today’s announcement because it is an essential public service driving health, prosperity and sustainability so that communities can level up.

“We believe that, by working collaboratively, the RTPI can help to iron out the finer details of this white paper to ensure we level up the least wealthy, healthy and sustainable communities.”

However, she also said that the Institute had a number of comments to add:

  • We estimate that pre local plans cost up to £1million per authority and therefore grants should be made available
  • Planning must reflect community priorities, which is why the RTPI strongly supports Government’s call to increase community engagement upstream at the plan-making stage as well as preserve the voice of local communities on individual applications
  • Support for hybrid planning committees to support a broader range of the public to engage with the system and continue the innovation we’ve seen during the pandemic
  • Increasing the number of local authorities to benefit from the expertise of the High Street Taskforce in areas such as placemaking, planning and design is encouraging. This combined with Compulsory Purchase Order powers for empty shops can help to support the regeneration of high streets and town centres
  • We are looking forward to seeing the proposals on Infrastructure Levy reforms. It is vital that the Levy works well in all parts of England, including areas with lower land values
  • We await the Government’s formal response to the planning White Paper and promised comprehensive resources and skills strategy for the planning sector
  • Continuing support for plantech and locally set design codes is welcome.

The Ox-Cam Corridor

Another subject that has been popping up in the planning press is the fact that Central Government’s support for the Ox-Cam corridor is falling away.

While previously government was supportive of the scheme and appeared to be leading its promotion, now (perhaps because of Backbench revolts and acknowledgment of recent bi-election losses that are attributed to people rallying against perceived government support for ‘development’ – eg. ‘houses across our fields of green and plenty’) it has stepped away.

At Apex Planning Consultants we have little faith in the prospect of the ‘corridor’ coming together. This is mostly due to the fact that it is now reliant on a large number of individual local authorities working together, and developers and landowners/promoters planning and promoting it.

As far as we are concerned, this is more likely to happen with the benefit of strategy provided through a National Planning Policy Statement that sets out exactly how it should be achieved.

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