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Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill will radically centralise planning decision making and erode public participation, MPs warn

The Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee has said government proposals to reform the planning system would "radically" centralise planning decision-making and "substantially" erode public participation in the planning system.

The committee's chair, Clive Betts MP, said that changes set to be introduced by the Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill would undermine the primacy of the development plan and diminish public participation.

Mr Betts also raised concerns over a mechanism in the bill that would allow the Secretary of State to grant planning permission for controversial developments, "bypassing the planning system entirely".

In a document announcing the bill, titled Levelling Up and Regeneration: Further Information, the Government said the bill would create a "genuinely plan-led system", ensure new developments meet clear design standards and introduce wider improvements to planning procedures.

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The new plan-led system would entail getting "simple, meaningful local plans in place faster that give more certainty to communities that the right homes will be built in the right places," according to the document.

New design standards will "reflect community views, a strengthened framework of environmental outcomes, and expanded protections for the places people value".

Wider improvements to planning procedures will be in the form of the "digital transformation of planning services, alongside wider improvements to speed up procedures and deter breaches of planning control," the Government said.

However, a legal opinion from Paul Brown QC and Alex Shattock of Landmark Chambers on the reforms has raised a number of concerns, according to Mr Betts MP.

In his letter, Mr Betts asked the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to comment on the following key points made in that legal opinion:

  1. The bill represents a significant change to the existing planning system. It undermines an important planning principle, the primacy of the development plan, by elevating national development management policies to the top of the planning hierarchy.
  2. Unlike development plans, which are produced locally via a statutory process that involves considerable public participation, the bill contains no obligation to allow the public to participate in the development of national development management policies.
  3. The bill also introduces two new development plan documents, spatial development strategies and supplementary plans. The bill provides for very limited opportunities for public participation in the production of these documents.
  4. The bill introduces a new mechanism to allow the Secretary of State to grant planning permission for controversial developments, bypassing the planning system entirely. There is no right for the public to be consulted as part of this process.
  5. Overall, in the authors' view the bill radically centralises planning decision-making and substantially erodes public participation in the planning system.

Mr Betts MP asked that the department responds by 4 July.

The letter and the opinion can be viewed here.

Adam Carey

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