Chelgate Local Newsletter – May 2022

levelling up


This month we have four articles looking at this week’s local elections, levelling up, planning gain reform and the current shape of the local plan system. We also have our local plan updates and an invitation to a seminar on Housing Policy and Older People. Please do feel free to get in touch and share your thoughts.


2022 Local Elections It is that time of year again

By Michael Hardware, Director of Planning and Property

It is that time of year again: tomorrow sees a plethora of district, borough, city and parish elections, together with all the London Boroughs and some other mayoral elections.

The national polls are important in predicting outcomes as many voters do not distinguish between local and national politics. Currently, the Conservatives are trailing Labour by around six per cent when last May they were leading by seven per cent. That suggests a swing to Labour of more than 10 per cent and the Conservatives predicted to lose some 800 seats. Local politics do, however, have credible other parties locally which can and do muster significant support so that swing may well be diluted by LibDem, Green, resident and independent groups. Local politics do play their part, where there are significant and/or controversial issues. The Chesham and Amersham by-election last year is an example where local issues overrode national.

Usually, mid-term local elections are punishing for the incumbent party in government, but that trend has not continued in recent years. Major national issues such as BREXIT and the Labour leadership have changed that pattern and it does not look as though it will return for this May’s elections.

Recent national politics have been dominated by the Ukraine war and COVID, both of which the Government’s responses have been perceived as good, although the electorate are renowned for having short memories. ‘Partygate’ has had some traction, with the opposition parties, understandably, focused on it and will attempt to extend it as a long as possible, helped of course by the media. Now we have ‘Beergate’ which is not helping Labour.

Attitudes on the doorstep are actually quite ambivalent so a large swing is not expected. The results will likely follow the existing political preferences with a swing away from the Tories more in the region of 5% expected diluted with the other parties. That is not to say there will not be surprises, there always are, and there are some particular battlegrounds around the country where councils will be won and lost.

Key will be the postal votes as a growing proportion of voters now have them. They came out after Easter and all parties worked hard to ensure their voters return their ballots. The Conservatives and LibDems usually do well with postal votes and less so on polling day itself. Whereas the opposite is true of Labour.

Although the media is trying to hype the local elections into a huge battle, they may well prove to be fairly unremarkable with a fairly low turnout. The LibDems are the ones to watch as they may do better than expected.

Levelling Up?

By Michael Hardware, Director of Planning and Property

The Levelling Up white paper was published in February. It was not quite what everyone was expecting, and only partially explained what levelling up was and will be. The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill is likely to be in the Queen’s speech on 10 May, setting out the Government’s legislative plans for the coming year.

Levelling UpThe Levelling Up white paper provided 12 new missions across a broad range including productivity and living standards, opportunity and improving public services, restoring a sense of community, local pride and empowering local leaders. It also committed to consultation on how progress in these 12 new missions should be measured what success is.

Of particular interest were the planning elements, especially as a separate Planning Bill is now unlikely, despite a planning white paper having been published in 2020. Any changes in planning regulations will be encapsulated into the Levelling Up Bill.

A key provision is the revisions to planning gain, reforming S106, creating a new infrastructure levy. There is some debate as to how this will be defined, whether a flat rate or a percentage of development value, or whether set nationally or locally. The aim is to allow planning authorities to capture value from development more effectively, but that may be at the expense of flexibility and the ability to reflect local needs.

Other aspects to be included will be a revision of the government’s standard method of assessing housing need – Michael Gove MP, the DLUHC Secretary of State has indicated that he is looking at how these numbers are created. Stuart Andrew MP, the new housing minister, has also indicated that the compatibility of the five-year supply policy with the levelling up agenda is being looked at. As to whether the housing need numbers are mandatory remains to be seen.

Other elements include the digitalising of the planning system, to make it more accessible, and more emphasis on Neighbourhood plans, taking decision-making closer to residents. There could be a change to the way planning committees are run: following on from the experience during the pandemic when there was far greater participation in planning committees, the white paper talks about “more accessible” part virtual, part face-to-face models for planning committees. Could this mean the Government is going to allow hybrid planning committees? Now that would be a step forward.

Things not covered, but likely to be included, are S106 obligations for contributions from PD rights projects, and provisions to enable faster build out rates of existing permissions. The former is a sensible approach which many councils have been calling for, but the latter reignites the debate about land banking, which the Government’s own commission debunked.

One element which many have overlooked is local government reform. It is a long term aim of this Government, in fact a manifesto pledge, to reform the way local government works, to replace the two-tier system with unitary and combined authorities and elected mayors. This partly comes from the pandemic when Government had to talk to 333 local councils around England whereas talking to 29 regional mayors would be far easier and more efficient.

Whereas indications were that Government was going to implement local government reforms, the white paper leaves it as voluntary, saying that those councils which want to create unitaries, and then combine into regional mayors, can do if they wish. The devolution carrot being dangled is more powers and more money. It will be interesting to see what councils voluntarily come forward.

Planning Gain Reform

By Michael Hardware, Director of Planning and Property

Next week’s Queen’s speech is expected to include legislation to reform S106 payments and ‘affordable’ homes provision, replacing it with a flat-rate tariff, according to a report in The Daily Telegraph on 16 April (behind paywall).

First raised in the planning white paper in 2020, the proposals aim to simplify the system making developers pay one flat rate tariff into an infrastructure fund which councils can then spend on local infrastructure including new council houses.

The new Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Homes and Communities, Michael Gove MP, is anticipated to raise £7bn through the new levy. TheLevelling Up report says he “has held talks with industry about the proposals” and a “formal consultation could be launched within weeks”.

The report also claims that the new levy will cost the same as developers currently spend on affordable homes. This is, of course, wrong, as S106 covers more than just affordable housing.

According to the report, the new “consolidated infrastructure levy” would “charge developers a fee set as a proportion of the value of their housing project”. This is not new as a number of councils use Community Infrastructure Levies (CIL), although there are usually still S106 payments in addition to the flat-rate CIL charged on each new house.

Introducing a blanket rate is indiscriminate, producing a sum of cash which the council can then decide to spend how it wishes. The current system, although cumbersome, is specific in terms of what affordable housing and what other S106 sums are to be provided, and then ensuring they are spent.

Without seeing any of the detail, it does seem this new approach will remove the flexibility of tailoring the S106 to the development or area. That said, it shifts responsibility for delivering the infrastructure to the planning authority which many councils will favour.

It is likely that the new levy will be factored into the land deal with it coming off the land value and not the developer’s margin. Some done deals may well not be able to accommodate the changes, making some developments unviable.

The Queen’s speech is on Tuesday 10th May, although the detail of the legislation announced can take some time to come forward after the speech. The changes do, however, have one last hurdle: they have to be approved by Cabinet before being included in the speech.


Is the local plan system about to go into meltdown?

By Michael Hardware, Director of Planning and Property

There have been a spate of local plans failing, being withdrawn or delayed in recent months. Most recent have been Basildon and Castle Point; the former withdrawing before the examination in public and the latter deciding not to adopt after the inspector had approved it. These on top of Havant Council, which withdrew its plan in March, and then Hertsmere and Welwyn Hatfield pushing their plans publicly into the long grass. Many others are delayed such as Swale, in Kent, which took a step back, deciding to re-do its Reg 18 consultation. It is clear more and more councils are going to go down the same path undermining the local plan process.

It is no secret that the government’s push to achieve 300,000 new homes per year for the next 10 years has not been popular with many Conservative councils which feel they are being unduly put upon, especially in the south east. Many now have their eyes on the 2024 General Election. But Government has been adamant that this is needed to address the long-running housing crisis, and has been pushing all councils to have an up-to-date local plan by the end of 2023. Recently, however, mixed messages have been coming out of Government.

First, we had comments made by the Prime Minister at last autumn’s Conservative conference about not building on the green belt which many Conservative councillors took at face value. Then there have been various comments about the efficacy of the Standard Methodology for determining housing needs, not helped by the Office for National Statistics issuing revised figures which show population growth plateauing in the coming years. Then there was the Levelling Up White Paper which talks about the need for development on green belt.

Basildon’s discussions with Department for Levelling Up Housing and Communities (DLUHC) only last month about its potential withdrawal added to the confusion – whereas DLUHC talked about the Standard Methodology being the start and not the target for housing need, it being up to the council to determine the final figure, the inspector at Basildon was adamant that the OAN determined by the Standard Methodology was the figure to be used.

To avoid a meltdown of the entire process, the new Secretary of State, Michael Gove MP, needs to get a grip. Previous SoS have issued numerous warning letters, even creating a ‘naughty step’ of councils being watched closely, but has not yet acted in taking away plan-making powers. Although DLUHC has issued ‘directions’ in South Oxfordshire and Thanet, it needs to make an example of a council as this will have impact and will bring other councils in to line.

This is not beyond the realms of possibility as DLUHC did flex its muscles recently – earlier this year it took planning powers away from Uttlesford District Council due to its poor performance – the first time the Department has taken powers away from a council since 2014. Similarly, in his letter to Basildon council ahead of the local plan being withdrawn, the new housing minister, Stuart Andrews MP, reserved the right to issue a direction Essex County Council to make their plan for them.


Local Plan updates

Chelgate Local brings you Local Plan updates for:

Basildon, Brentwood, Castle Point, East Cambridgeshire, Elmbridge, Epping Forest, Harlow, Maidstone, Medway, Mole Valley, Rochford, Runnymede, Sevenoaks, Spelthorne, Thurrock, Uttlesford, Watford, Waverly and many more…

The impact of the Planning White Paper and planning reforms could have a major impact on future Local Plans – keep up to date with our monthly summary!


Seminar: Housing Policy and Older People

Are our housing policies serving our entire community? Are we providing enough options for older people?

Come and hear senior politicians and the industry discuss these issues at a seminar being held on the morning of Tuesday 24 May at Warfield Park in Bracknell, Berkshire.

For more information and to sign up, click here!


Contact Us

If you would like to know more information about levelling up reforms or any of the above content please contact  Chelgate Local or speak to Liam Herbert or Michael Hardware