What is Levelling Up, you say? According to the White Paper published last week, it’s the government’s plan to ensure the talent that is “spread evenly across our country” has an equally even spread of opportunity. Levelling up means “giving everyone the opportunity to flourish…people everywhere living longer and more fulfilling lives and benefiting from sustained rises in living standards and wellbeing.”
Much has been made of the 2030 targets and measures of success, but what does it mean for the built environment?
At a glance
- £1.7bn temporary business rates relief for 400,000 businesses
- Freeze in business rates multiplier worth £4.6bn over five years
- High Street Task Force support for 152 local authorities
- New powers for local authorities to force landlords to rent out vacant units
Successive governments have identified high street rejuvenation as a central plank in their strategy to revitalise town centres and generate greater pride in place. As such, it is no surprise that it forms (a small) part of the Levelling Up strategy. But, whilst oft-discussed measures like giving local authorities the power to require landlords to rent out vacant units are put forward, there is no detail on when such policies will be legislated.
Similarly, whilst previously announced funding pots and an extension of the support provided by the High Streets Task Force will be welcomed, it is not clear what comes after the 2022-2023 window in terms of new funding.
Fundamentally, although there is mention of already announced business rates relief, the long-term success of this part of the strategy will likely be defined by broader reform to the system.
At a glance
- £9m Levelling Up Parks Fund for 100 green spaces
- £30m parks fund for at least 30 projects
- Commitment to 10% Biodiversity Net Gain
- £750m investment in tree planting and peatland restoration in England
The strategy reiterates a commitment to protecting the greenbelt, which is an implicit part of the overall levelling up approach – spreading opportunity outside of London and the South East will alleviate pressures on this most precious (for Conservative voters, at least) of spaces.
In addition, there is an emphasis on creating more green spaces within towns and cities, underlining a total of £39m in funding for the improvement and refurbishment of existing parks.
There is also mention of the already existing requirement for a 10% biodiversity net gain in new developments.
Again, there is little by way of new policies or funding to support green spaces, short of the strategy itself delivering (it hopes) a sufficiently levelled up UK that will reduce demand and strain on the greenbelt in the Southeast.
At a glance
- 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s
- £1.8bn for unlocking up to 160,000 homes on English brownfield sites
- £11.5bn Affordable Homes Programme to deliver 180,000 homes (75% outside of London)
- £1.5bn Levelling Up Home Building Fund to provide loans to SMEs working on regeneration in priority areas
- Increase number of low deposit mortgages
- 30% discount for first-time local buyers through the First Homes scheme
- Legislation to limit competition for new homes, prioritising first-time buyers
- A new digital resource for homebuyers to simplify processes
- 100% empty home premium
- Continued financial support for Neighbour Planning
The big one. Whilst many of these measures have already been announced, housing is possibly the most critical part of the levelling up strategy, which acknowledges the disparity between house prices and wages not only in London but across the UK.
The manifesto commitment of delivering 300,000 homes a year remains (albeit with a bit more flexibility by referencing the mid-2020s*) and brownfield and affordable housing investments are taken from the Spending Review.
The most striking and populist policies are those that target the reduction in competition for new build homes, with local people given first dibs as new stock comes on the market. The strategy stresses that such measures will be consulted upon and delivered alongside the industry, but such interventions are a significant departure from Conservative orthodoxy.
Much like the Planning for the Future White Paper (more on that below), such measures could be watered down by Free Marketeer backbenchers.
In addition, with interest rates rising ahead of schedule, some of the above policies may need to be bolstered to further grease the wheels of the first-time buyers’ market.
*The next General Election is scheduled for 2024…
At a glance
- New local design codes
- Digital transformation of planning process
Little to no change on this front. As the industry continues its long wait for DLUHC’s response to the consultation on its Planning for the Future White Paper (PFWP), the Levelling Up strategy keeps this section short and broad.
New digital technology to upgrade the planning process is mentioned but, interestingly, no funding commitment is referenced. The Chancellor’s Spending Review signalled £65m would be made available for such investment.
Equally, whilst design codes formed a central plank of the original PFWP, it is unclear how much impact they will have following the long-anticipated watering down of the proposals.
Roll-on PFWP 2…