The background briefing notes to the Queen's Speech 2021 were published yesterday as a policy paper and provide more details of the government's legislative programme. It's fair to say that there's quite a lot for the real estate sector to engage with but equally a number of elements need further input.
While the government has not yet published its response to the consultation, the legislative programme includes a Planning Bill, that will extend to the whole of the UK, but with the majority of provisions to apply to England only. The details on what the bill will contain are so far scant. The policy paper states that the key provisions will be:
- Changing local plans so that they provide more certainty over the type, scale and design of development permitted on different categories of land.
That relates to the consultation proposals to which land would be split into three categories: for growth, renewal or protection. For more detail see our briefing link provided above.
Significantly decrease the time it takes for developments to go through the planning system.
Alongside standardisation of some planning application documents, the consultation included the proposal to place the 8 and 13-week determination periods on a statutory footing and to incentivise determination within those. The policy paper provides no further information for now and until the government's response to the consultation is published we will not know if this is being taken forward.
- Replacing the existing systems for funding affordable housing and infrastructure from development with a new more predictable and more transparent levy.
Last year's consultation proposed replacing Section 106 and CIL with a nationally-set 'Infrastructure Levy' (IL), to be charged on the final value of the development and levied at the point of occupation. As above, until more detail is known the policy paper provides no further information.
- Reforming the framework for locally led development corporations to ensure local areas have access to appropriate delivery vehicles to support growth and regeneration.
Last year's consultation document included the proposal that areas identified as "growth" areas, being areas identified as "suitable for substantial development", in the new local plan would automatically have outline approval for the principle of development conferred by the adoption of the new local plan. The consultation also suggested that for "exceptionally large sites such as a new town where there are often land assembly and planning challenges", the government was exploring whether a Development Consent Order (DCO) under the NSIP regime could be an appropriate route to secure consents. At the same time government was also looking at how the planning powers for Development Corporations could be reformed to reflect this new framework.
Although the policy paper provides very little by way of further information, it would appear that the government will be reforming the planning powers for development corporations. Again we will need to await the government's response to the consultation and detailed legislative proposals.
- "Simplify and enhance" the EU derived framework of environmental assessments for developments.
Last year's consultation stated that government intended, post Brexit, to design "a quicker, simpler framework for assessing environmental impacts and enhancement opportunities". The policy paper provides little more information, bar that this is being taken forward via the Planning Bill. It will be interesting to see how the changes will sit with the government's aim to address what it describes as "a long-term and persistent undersupply of housing".
The focus of the Bill appears to be on housing delivery and infrastructure with little focus – as with the planning white paper – on other sectors including commercial. We have already seen a degree of opposition amongst politicians and stakeholders to the proposals and away with interest to see the bill once published.
Homes and housing
The Queen's Speech stated that the government would "help more people to own their own home whilst enhancing the rights of those who rent" and in addition to the Planning Bill the legislative programme includes, a Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill to ensure leaseholders of new, long residential leases cannot be charged a financial ground rent for no tangible service. A Building Safety Bill will be brought forward to establish in law a new Building Safety Regulator.
The legislative programme did not, for now, include a specific bill, but it does contain a section headed 'Renters' Reforms' which outlines some proposed changes to deliver a fairer and more effective private rental market in England. The policy paper states that the government will change the law around evictions, outline proposals for a lifetime tenancy deposit model, and changes to ensure effective enforcement against criminal landlords. A White Paper detailing this reform package is promised for the autumn, with legislation to follow in due course.
The Queen's Speech confirmed that the much delayed Environment Bill is carried over into the new legislative programme. The government’s accompanying statement said that three new measures on storm overflows, announced earlier this year, would be added by a government amendment to the bill.
The three duties are: a duty on government to publish a plan by September 2022 to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows; a duty on government to report to parliament on progress in implementing the plan; and a duty on water companies to publish data on storm overflow operations on an annual basis.
Last year, we took a look at the proposed changes to the environmental impact assessment and the other environmental aspects of the planning white paper in this briefing and if you would like a refresher of the other consultation proposals last year read our briefing here.
It is clear from the policy paper that the government is committed to investing in infrastructure as a short term economic stimulus post Covid and to drive long term productivity.
The policy paper reiterates a number of commitments set out in the National Infrastructure Plan and references the Project Speed measures to date.
There is no 'infrastructure' bill but a number of the bills included in the legislative programme include proposals the effects of which will in due course be felt by the infrastructure sector.
An interesting proposal is contained in the Judicial Review Bill. The policy paper suggests that the government will give the courts more flexibility in JR cases by giving them the power to suspend quashing orders, to allow defects to be remedied. The paper states that the court would be able to suspend, for a specified time, the effect of an order quashing (rendering of no legal effect) a decision or action. This would then give the public authority time to rectify the identified errors, but if the errors are not rectified within the specified timeframe, the quashing order would become effective.
The policy paper states that this "may help ensure that, for example, a large infrastructure project is not delayed because an impact assessment has not been properly done."
Rail and bus reform
The policy paper set out a number of commitments that further reinforced the government's plans for investing in infrastructure and transforming connectivity by rail and bus. We now know that the long-awaited Williams Review White Paper on rail reform will be published shortly. And there is a pledge to end the complicated rail franchising model and create a simpler, more effective system. But wasn't that effectively announced last September when the ERMAs were introduced?
It is good to see that the government is pushing ahead with the next stage of the HS2 network between Crewe and Manchester. But urgent clarification as to whether the Eastern Leg of HS2 will be included in forthcoming legislation is now needed. The publication of the Integrated Rail Plan for the Midlands and North (including backing the full NPR network) also has to be a priority.
As for buses, the government mostly reiterated its commitments from the recently published National Bus Strategy. Of interest are the comments coming from the recently elected Mayors. Bus franchising is to be completed in the next three years in Manchester and is to be brought in at the earliest opportunity in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. Liverpool and West Yorkshire are also considering taking public control of the buses.
Government will introduce a Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill and the policy paper states that government intends to reform the Electronic Communications Code to support faster and more collaborative negotiations for the use of private and public land for telecommunications deployment. The paper states that the government wants to put a framework in place that would see the number of new sites and installations needed reduced, by ensuring the use of existing apparatus and equipment is optimised.
Subsidies and procurement
A couple of further Bills, principally affecting the Public Sector may also be worth keeping an eye on. The section headed 'Benefitting from Brexit', includes the statement that the PM has established a Better Regulation Cabinet Committee, chaired by the Chancellor, to ensure the Government is "driving an ambitious programme of regulatory reform". In particular, a Subsidy Control Bill to implement a domestic UK subsidy control regime, providing a legal framework within which public authorities make subsidy decisions and providing for judicial oversight and enforcement of the granting of subsidies.
In addition, a Procurement Bill that consolidates the 300 plus EU derived regulations and creates a single, uniform framework, including defence procurement, to allow more freedom for suppliers and the public sector to innovate and work in partnership with the private sector.
Finally, elements of legislation supporting Freeports will be delivered via provisions in a National Insurance Contributions Bill albeit those provisions will only apply in England with discussions ongoing with the devolved administrations for the proposals across the UK.
Quite a lot to keep an eye out for going forward!