Local Government Lawyer rounds up the sector’s reaction to this week’s Queen’s Speech.
The main proposals relevant to the sector can be viewed here.
Cllr James Jamieson, Chairman of the Local Government Association, on the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill
“Over the last decade, England has taken steps towards greater devolution, but areas outside our city regions have remained stuck in the 'devolution slow lane' and the UK remains one of the most centralised countries in the democratic world. There is an urgent need to turbo charge the speed at which we are devolving powers to local areas so we are pleased that the Government has used the Queen’s Speech to make good on its commitment to offer all of England the opportunity to benefit from a devolution deal by 2030.
“Turning levelling up from a political slogan to a reality will only be achieved if councils have the powers and funding they need to address regional inequality, tackle concentrations of deprivation and make towns and communities across England attractive places to live, work and visit.
“To deliver on levelling up ambitions and ensure councils can deliver the right types of homes in the right places with appropriate infrastructure, a local, plan-led system is integral. It is good to see that any new Infrastructure Levy will be set at a local level, and we want to work with government to ensure that it is a success and can deliver more affordable housing and infrastructure contributions at a local authority level than the existing systems for developer contributions.
“Empowering councils to bring vacant properties back into use is also an encouraging step. National permitted development rights, allowing conversion of offices, shops and restaurants into houses without the need to provide any affordable homes or infrastructure funding, also need to be removed so councils can ensure the right homes are built in the right places, and deliver on local ambitions to revive and reimagine our high streets and town centres.
“As well as ensuring that existing homes are high quality, energy efficient and safe, building new, high-quality council homes has to be a national priority. This needs to include urgent reform of the Right to Buy scheme to allow councils to be able to keep 100% of receipts from sales of homes and the ability to set discounts locally.
“Councils and the LGA look forward to working with parliamentarians to shape the proposed legislation as this Bill is brought forward.”
Steve Crocker, President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS)
“Children should be at the top of the government’s agenda. However, for years Brexit and more recently the pandemic has dominated government’s time, attention, and its legislative programmes. The focus on children, children’s rights and children’s services was limited in the Queen’s speech, therefore, some urgent issues remain unaddressed.
“We welcome the government’s ambition to level up society, however, this will ring hollow without investment in children, the full range of services they rely on and the issues many of them face - in particular early help and family support services that can prevent problems becoming more serious. Today, millions of children live in poverty, this is damaging their lives and life chances. Rising food and energy costs will only make things harder for many children and their families. Now more than ever we need a child poverty reduction strategy, England is the only country in the UK without one.
“We are pleased education was a focus of today’s Queen’s speech. The Schools Bill reaffirms many commitments already made by the government, including for all schools to be part of a strong, multi academy trust, and a register of children not in school. A register in and of itself will not keep children safe, but it is an important step in helping us to find out the number of children being educated other than at school and identifying children who are vulnerable to harm. In addition to this, a duty will be placed on local authorities to support home schooling families, any such duty would need to be fully funded and reflect the size of this growing cohort. Catering to the needs of all learners and inclusivity must be at the heart of the government’s new education reforms if all children are to benefit, whatever their needs, wherever they live. We look forward to working with government and others as the Bill progresses.
“Most mental health problems begin in childhood so ensuring children get the right help and support at the earliest opportunity is crucial. For too long children have been facing long waits to access help and support with many being told they are not ill enough, or too ill to access local services. Furthermore, the pandemic has created a tidal wave of need for adequate mental health support for children. We await further detail on the draft Mental Health Bill, at present it is unclear whether the draft Bill will include children and young people’s mental health services – a system which is ripe for review.”
Cllr Tim Oliver, Chairman of the County Councils Network
“We are pleased that the government has today introduced a Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill which will put in place the legislative framework for a new approach to devolution through county deals, which the County Councils Network (CCN) has long called for. This bill will be crucial in delivering the Levelling Up White Paper’s proposals for a more flexible and pragmatic approach to devolution, devolving powers directly to county and unitary authorities, enabling the formation of upper-tier combined authorities, and providing greater flexibility over the title of a directly-elected mayor.
“CCN will support the government in developing and implementing this important legislation, alongside helping to deliver the 10 county devolution deals currently being negotiated. We urge the government to complete negotiations with these areas as soon as possible to enable the next tranche of counties to benefit from devolved powers and ensure levelling up truly reaches all four corners of England.
“It is vital that reforms to the planning system, seek to not only give residents a greater say over development, but to ensure there is enough funding in the pot for local infrastructure to be built in tandem with new developments. A survey of CCN members found that over two-thirds of county authorities felt the pressure on their infrastructure as a result of development was ‘excessive.’ While funding for affordable housing through the new infrastructure levy is important, it must provide the necessary funding to upper-tier councils to provide the vital infrastructure that makes new development both viable, and importantly, acceptable to local residents.
“CCN has long argued that local authorities continue to have a significant role to play in education, working effectively with academies in a mixed economy of local schools. The ability for councils to set up their own local authority academy trusts is a positive step, but it is imperative that the process of setting up such structures is, where locally desired, straightforward and efficient.
“Previous efforts to introduce a more equitable schools funding formula have resulted in an uplift in funding for schools in county areas, but did not substantially close the gap between urban and rural schools. We are pleased the Schools Bill contains a commitment to fund schools on the same basis, wherever they are and we urge the government to ensure that the new formula genuinely seeks to rebalance schools funding which has had an undue focus on city and urban schools for too long.
“Many of the biggest challenges that are placing enormous pressure on county authorities are beyond the scope of legislation, such as children’s services and adult social care reform, and the ongoing cost of living crisis. It is imperative that government works with local councils to find solutions to some of these issues going forward, and keep the funding issues exacerbated by higher inflation under constant review.”
Jonathan Carr-West, Chief Executive, LGIU
“Many across local government will be left feeling somewhat underwhelmed by the measures announced in today’s Queen’s speech. Enhanced powers to regenerate high streets through compulsory purchase and a new infrastructure levy will be welcome. Giving local communities more say over development is right, in principle.
“However, we will need to be clear that this represents a net democratic gain compared to current practice and does not empower some parts of the community at the expense of others.
“Overall this feels like incremental rather than transformative or systemic change.”
Cllr Sam Chapman-Allen, Chair of the District Councils’ Network
“District councils have a critical role to play in delivering levelling up through the work we do to grow local economies, shape and regenerate our local places, and tackle social inequality.
“District councils are working tirelessly to support our local high streets as they recover from the pandemic. We’re investing more than £1.3bn of Government renewal funding and attracting investment from the private sector. This is why we welcome the measures announced in the Queen’s Speech to give councils the powers they need to tackle empty commercial units on our high streets. It’s something we’ve long been calling for and it will help local town centres prosper into the future.
“We also welcome the change of direction on planning reform and are pleased that the Government has seen the sense of retaining a system with local plans and local democracy at its heart. District councils play a vital role in delivering the right homes for local residents, including affordable homes for those who need them the most. The new Bill stands to give us greater powers to do that and to ensure that local communities are involved in shaping their local areas for the better. On the face of it, the commitment to deliver better community infrastructure through a new local levy is positive. We look forward to working with the Government on the detail and delivery of these proposals.
“It’s important we do all we can to help level up the country and empower local communities to thrive. We believe devolution can play a positive role in giving local areas the powers they need to tackle economic and social inequality. However, we continue to call on the Government for stronger recognition of the valuable role districts must play in devolution and explicit provision for districts to be equal partners in county deals in all areas.”
Jonathan Allen, senior associate at law firm Browne Jacobson
“Despite the fanfare on the wholesale reform of the planning system, pushback from backbenchers means that most major proposals have either been removed entirely or lack detail to such a level as to be meaningless.
“A prime example are the proposals on a national infrastructure levy. Beyond setting out that the levy will be ‘locally set’ and ‘non-negotiable’, there is no suggestion that the government has an answer to the difficult questions of how such a scheme would work in practice.
“For example, how will a standardised levy make development viable in economically deprived or brownfield sites? How will it fairly assess the increased infrastructure needs of larger sites? Or the complicated needs of city centre developments? How will it secure affordable housing and local allocation rights? How will it deal with viability issues on stalled sites?
“Everybody knows the s.106 process can be infuriatingly slow for developers, but the truth is that successive governments have failed to come up with a suitable alternative replacement. They don’t seem to have the answer yet.
“At the same time, they have failed to deal with the fundamental issue of local planning authorities resourcing issues. Until this is addressed, the reality is timescales for decisions are only likely to go one way.”
Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce
“The Human Rights Act confirms and protects the rights and freedoms of people in the UK and provides robust protection in British courts. Dismantling it will have far-reaching consequences, conferring greater unfettered power not just on the government of today, but also on future ruling parties, whatever their ideology.
“If the new Bill of Rights becomes law, it would make it harder for all of us to protect or enforce our rights. The proposed changes make the state less accountable. This undermines a crucial element of the rule of law, preventing people from challenging illegitimate uses of power.
“Weakening rights for some would weaken rights for everyone and undermine the UK’s international reputation for justice and fairness.”
Chair of the Bar Council Derek Sweeting QC
“The standout item in this Queen’s Speech is the Government’s intention to ‘renew democracy’ and ‘restore the balance of power between the executive, legislature and the courts’. But the evidence for the claim that this balance has been lost is lacking.
“The panel which looked at the judicial review system did not identify a ‘growing tendency’ for judicial overreach. The judicial review process is central to access to justice for the public. We are concerned that some of the proposed reforms are far-reaching with insufficient time allowed for consultation or scrutiny.”
Victoria Hills, Chief Executive of RTPI
“We welcome government recognition that a strong planning system will be essential to levelling up. We hope that such a system will help communities better shape the places they live, work and enjoy.
“Our members stand ready to support the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to develop a system. But, if we’re going to achieve the overall ambitions of Levelling Up and regeneration, we need to ensure we’re building the right home in the right places.
“It is essential that any reform comes forward as soon as possible to help prevent further delays. It is also key that all local areas have an up to date local plan, are sufficiently resourced, and open to a dialogue with their local communities, including businesses and residents current and future.”
“Planners will be particularly interested in key elements of Government’s plan to improve how new communities are built, known by the acronym ‘BIDEN’: beauty, infrastructure, democracy, environment and neighbourhood.”
Cllr Darren Rodwell, housing spokesperson for the Local Government Association
"We are pleased that the Government has committed to introducing legislation through the Renters Reform Bill to strengthen protections for private renters and abolish 'no-fault evictions'. This is something the LGA and councils have been calling for the Government to introduce since it was included in its 2019 manifesto."
James Prestwich, director of policy and external affairs at the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH)
“CIH fully supports the government’s aim to strengthen tenants’ rights through a social housing reform bill and is pleased to see a commitment to it in this Parliament. This is an important legislative step to ensure residents are empowered to have increased influence over decisions about their homes, underpinned by stronger powers for the regulator on consumer standards. As the professional body, we will continue to work with our members and residents to deliver on this important agenda.
“We also welcome the news that a renters’ reform bill will put legal duties on landlords to meet the Decent Homes Standard and introduce the promised abolition of section 21 no fault evictions, bringing increased security for private renters. When the nation faces a worsening affordable housing and cost-of-living crisis, this change is long overdue. However, we’re disappointed that the government is not taking more concerted action to provide direct support to people struggling with day-to-day costs.
“We support the government's strategy to address inequalities across the country with a levelling up and regeneration bill. We welcome elements of the proposed planning reforms - increasing people’s involvement in the planning process and measures to provide local communities more powers over regeneration. However, at a time of chronic housing shortages, the government must ensure that the planning system supports the continuous delivery of new housing, including much needed social rented homes.
“We look forward to working with the government to ensure any changes to the planning system deliver the number and types of affordable homes the country desperately needs.”
Kate Henderson, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation
“Every person in this country deserves to live in a safe, secure, good quality and affordable home; and to have a voice and clear route to redress if their home isn’t up to standard. We fully support the government’s aim to strengthen tenants’ rights through the Social Housing Regulation Bill and housing associations stand ready to work with their residents and the government to ensure every home delivers on the high standards they expect.
“We agree with the government’s strategy to address the huge disparities in the economies of towns and cities across the country through levelling up, and we welcome the decision to give local communities, who know their area best, more powers over regeneration. Housing associations also share the government's net zero ambition and will do everything in their power to support the transition to cheaper, cleaner and more secure energy.
“We face a grave affordable housing crisis which continues to worsen, with 4.2 million people currently in need of social housing in England. We look forward to working with the government to ensure any changes to the planning system deliver the number and types of affordable home the country desperately needs."
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter
“The Queen’s Speech shows the government has listened to the voices of renters, who have been fighting for a long time to be heard. For years private renters have said they need more security, so they don’t have to live in constant fear of a no-fault eviction. And for years social renters have tirelessly campaigned to be taken seriously when they say something is wrong. It's been five years since the fire at Grenfell tower, and we’re now one step further on the road to justice.
“These vital bills could finally give renters a system that is fair and safe – with the scrapping of Section 21, a new property portal that allows people to check their landlord is decent, and regulation to strengthen the rights of social tenants. But these promises will remain words on page until they become law. Now the government needs to get the job done.”
Donna McCarthy, partner at Devonshires, on the housing regulator being given powers to impose emergency repairs
“This announcement raises more questions than it answers. How likely is it that the regulator will have the appetite to get its tool belt on and get involved in carrying out repairs? What is an emergency repair? What would the threshold be to be a ‘serious issue’ and how likely is a landlord going to be unwilling or unable to act? In my experience a landlord being unwilling or unable to act is very rare, so I anticipate that this legislation would most likely hardly ever be used. I believe the devil will undoubtedly be in the detail and I am fully expecting landlords to be asking what this means for them moving forward.”