Prince Charles delivered the Queen's Speech to open Parliament on 10 May 2022. Credit: House of Lords 2022, photography by Annabel Moeller

Queen’s Speech: Levelling Up Bill meets mixed reaction

“The devil is in the detail,” as Peter Tooher, executive director at Nexus Planning, put it – adequately summing up the industry’s cautious reception of the star piece of legislation from the state opening of Parliament.

Property professionals praised some aspects of the bill, including its hints of a shift away from Section 106 agreements, and criticised others – namely the lack of planning reform.

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill was one of several mentioned in the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday. The speech was delivered by Prince Charles.

Property leaders shared their reaction on more than the Levelling Up Bill, commenting on the Energy Security Bill and the Procurement Bill as well.

Read on to see their analysis of the Queen’s Speech. Comments have been edited for clarity and brevity.

The Levelling Up Bill has ‘something for everyone to get upset about’

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will be one of the flagship bills of the next Parliamentary session and, of all the bills announced in today’s Queen’s Speech, it promises to be one of the most controversial. It will require all of Michael Gove’s skills to steer it intact through Parliament and a significant amount of DLUHC’s bandwidth, perhaps explaining why we haven’t seen expected legislation on topics such as leasehold reform this time around.

Spanning local government reform, a new local plan process and protection of rights to alfresco dining, the bill will have something for everyone to get upset about. Whilst the levelling up elements of the legislation including the ‘County Deal’ devolution and the establishment of levelling up missions should proceed reasonably smoothly, some of the proposed planning reforms could be far more challenging.

In particular, the reform to environmental assessment will involve substantial changes to speed-up infrastructure delivery as promised by government in the Energy Security Plan. Reforms to Section 106, to create a locally-set non-negotiable levy could also prove tricky. Proposing greater local consultation on planning will always be popular with Conservative backbenchers, but there is a risk this could see housing growth thrown under the bus in order to appease local communities, just days after Gove admitted the housing crisis is costing his party votes.

When considered together as a whole, these provisions risk losing the clarity of the levelling up mission that was such a vote winner for the Government in 2019. The next twelve months may end up highlighting just how impossible it is for the Conservatives to protect their base while delivering on levelling up promises.

  • Peter Hogg, UK cities director at Arcadis

Energy bill does not go far enough

Encouraging all buildings to be energy efficient will help alleviate fuel poverty and work toward net zero targets. Decarbonising the grid in favour of renewable energy sources is a positive step but alone it does not go far enough to tackle the heart of the issue and needs to be balanced with improving existing building stock and strengthening regulation to ensure highly sustainable new buildings are brought forward.

  • Andrew Leaver, director at tp bennett

Planning Reform Bill is dead

Almost two years since the Planning White Paper was published, today’s Queen’s Speech gave a clear signal: the prospect of a standalone Planning Bill is no more. Planning reform will instead feature in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, with a focus on giving communities more say over design.

It will be interesting to see what impact this approach has on the speed of the planning process – a significant concern in the industry. We also look forward to seeing more on commitments in the Levelling Up White Paper to simplify local plans, given the growing number recently paused or halted.

  • Beth Park, account director at SEC Newgate North

Overhauling planning system ‘is a double-edged sword’

The intention for the Government to overhaul the planning system to give residents “more involvement in local development” is a double-edged sword. Whilst we welcome the planning reform itself, addressing it single-sided is naive and ultimately dangerous to resolving the fundamental need for new homes across the UK. There is an ongoing trend with local planning committees that seem to serve a minority of the community with antiquated processes, turning a blind eye to those in younger generations who welcome redevelopment. The statement of intent is one thing, we will look to measure the impact once the implementation strategy has been released.

  • Simon Finlay, development director at Castle Green

Forcing landlords to auction empty shops for rent is a ‘piecemeal fix’

What the history of successful regeneration projects tells us is that collaboration between local authorities and landowners is essential. As equally critical is the need to view streets and neighbourhoods holistically as part of a long-term plan and not one asset at a time.

In this light, the proposal to force landlords to auction off empty shops for rent feels like a short term and piecemeal fix that risks creating adversarial relationships that jeopardise collaboration, and increases the perceived future risk for potential new investment partners. Indeed, the enhanced CPO powers also mooted are likely to offer a more purposeful route to change – with local authorities having a greater say over how empty units are redeployed.

  • Tom McWilliams, head of development from JLL in the North

New powers to force the renting of commercial properties is based on a misconception

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill aims to give local leaders powers to revitalise town centres, with new legislation forcing landlords to rent out commercial properties to revitalise highstreets, “rejuvenating town centres, and restoring community pride in their home towns”.

This seems to be based on a misconception that landlords are deliberately keeping shops closed. Exactly how this is going to be achieved isn’t clear.

Call me sceptical but short of switching off the internet and taxing Amazon out of existence, it’s difficult to see how being forced to let property to an unwilling tenant is achievable. The only way to enhance the high street’s chances is to scrap business rates on retail properties until such time as the high street can stand on its own two feet.

  •  Richard Roberts, managing director at Roberts Vain Wilshaw

Plans to attack high street vacancies could be an ‘interesting tool’

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill is a positive step to review and reform the planning system, targeted to give local residents more involvement in developments in their neighbourhoods.

The ripples from the pandemic on both retail and leisure are still being felt and the high street continues to suffer with vacancy rates on high streets remaining high at 13.5%.  So in scenarios where there are empty premises, having powers to bring these back into use will be an interesting tool if used correctly.

I query whether these premises are vacant by choice or more a sign of the times. If they are brought back into play, it is vital that in doing so thought is given to the placemaking piece and how these premises can best serve the community and complement what is already there/planned.

  • Thomas Pearson, head of real estate commercial at JMW

Shift of focus for S106 could be a good thing

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill suggests that the replacement of lost habitat from development will be a key environmental driver in future planning decisions. We may see movement away from S106 contributions funding social housing and focusing on key local infrastructure instead.

Our consent at Cowley Hill glassworks for 1,100 new homes shows these objectives can be delivered, as our S106 contribution was focused on habitat off-setting and funding of local highway improvements.  Overall, I find that supporting these types of local improvements is very much welcomed by existing stakeholders.

  • Gary Goodman, director of BXB Land Solutions

This could end Section 106 agreements

Today’s announcement could see the demise of Section 106 agreements as we know them. While not without its flaws, the existing system allows for flexibility and certainty of delivery, especially on non-financial planning obligations, such as those securing affordable housing delivery.

The new locally set, non-negotiable levy must enable swift decision making that offers flexibility and certainty if it is to succeed. Local authorities and their planning departments must also be provided with the resources to manage the levy and ensure that obligations are delivered.

We have to make sure the planning system is working efficiently – enabling local authorities and developers to bring forward the scale and mixed-tenures of housing the UK needs, with the accompanying infrastructure and community facilities that will truly level up those areas of the country that have fallen behind. Adding an additional level of scrutiny in the form of ‘street votes’ has the potential to run counter to the swift and effective decision making these reforms are aiming to facilitate.

  • David Mathias, planning partner at Shoosmiths

More change is needed

The government states it wants to speed up planning decisions, and yet, the introduction of local design codes set out in the Planning Bill will only add to delays in both the policy making – and decision making – process.

Levelling up is not just about process. Local authorities need greater powers and financial freedoms to deliver the changes they know are needed.

Decentralising control and redistributing monies, overhauling the CPO process, and changing funding formulas are all critical for local government to achieve the levelling up agenda.

Few – if any – of those initiatives seem likely to flow from headlines in today’s proposed bill.

  • Jeremy Hinds, director at Savills

Metro Mayors should feel empowered

There are plenty of positives that our sector can take from today’s speech, with the Procurement Bill in particular sure to give companies like ourselves further opportunities to work on large-scale public contracts distributed by local and central government…

The levelling up agenda has faltered since its introduction in 2019 and in the North West, we have campaigned for months for more transparency. With the government now legally required to report on its progress on bridging the gap between the North and the South, our Metro Mayors including Steve Rotherham and Andy Burnham should now feel empowered to further fly the flag for investment and business in our cities.

  • Sean Keyes, managing director at Sutcliffe

Queen’s Speech alludes to game-changing infrastructure investment

For commercial property, the most important message was embedded in the idea of exploiting opportunities arising from the UK departure from the EU.  No details were provided, but ‘legislation to strengthen UK financial services for all may’ be an oblique reference to the Solvency II consultation formally launched by the Treasury on April 28th.

Described as reform of the prudential regulation of the UK insurance sector, the consultation is set to close on 21st July 2022. This reform has the potential to release tens of billions of pounds of investment in UK infrastructure and regional regeneration across the UK by effectively reducing capital buffers and risk metrics for insurance and pension funds.

This arises directly from the UK departure from the EU and is likely to result in legislation later this year. Though it receives little attention in the press, it is fundamental to scaling up the levelling up agenda. If the pageantry associated with the Queen’s Speech is meant to suggest, if only symbolically, a ‘fresh start’ to government business, then pursuing such an agenda is a worthy point of fresh departure.

  • Walter Boettcher, head of research and economics at Colliers

More focus is needed on transport-linked regeneration

The government’s move to accelerate regeneration will be key to supporting the levelling up agenda. But as well as revitalising our high streets, local authorities should look to transport-linked land as another opportunity to drive development.

Executed well, transport-focused regeneration can help to deliver new homes and create jobs for a local area. We have seen this through landmark examples such as the regeneration of King’s Cross and St Pancras, which is now held up as the archetype for regeneration.

But these benefits can be achieved on any scale. Transport-linked sites bring with them the connectivity to help make any new development a success, and can act as a catalyst for wider investment in regional regeneration – a critical factor at a time when the delivery of new homes is so important.

The next stage must be a move to champion collaboration by all stakeholders required to make regeneration a success – devolved authorities, councils, transport executives, government agencies, developers and landowners.  The development of Mayfield, in Manchester, is a prime example of how organisations from across different sectors have come together to transform a previously dilapidated site into a new community in the city.

  • Peter Hawthorne, chief executive of LCR

 ‘The devil is in the detail’

It is positive that the Government continues to reference ‘levelling up’, however as ever, the devil is in the detail. It is however, possibly concerning that the levelling up agenda is sharing the same legislative process as regeneration, which already appears to have been watered down. Power to local leaders and communities is always a good thing, but it has to be backed up by real planning.

  • Peter Tooher, executive director at Nexus Planning.

Lack of major planning reform is a ‘missed opportunity’

It is encouraging that the Queen’s Speech has hinted at steps to be taken to further tackle geographical inequality.  However, the absence of major planning reforms is perhaps a missed opportunity for securing real ‘levelling up’.

We need to remove barriers to make it easier for developers to construct new homes, especially if ambitious targets are to be met.  The types of housing being delivered also need to meet society’s demands.  There do not appear to be any specific proposals to help to close development viability gaps for areas, of which there are many in the North West, most in need of regeneration, or for delivering the much needed associated infrastructure to service regeneration.

In terms of commercial property, it remains to be seen if the idea to provide local leaders with increased powers to revitalise high streets will bring sweeping change.  Ultimately, there needs to be a strategic and holistic vision, with viable opportunities and related demand for them, whoever makes the decisions.

  • Darren Ashworth, real estate partner at Trowers and Hamlins

Levelling Up Bill needs to respond to ‘on the ground’ issues

There is much speculation in the media over the possible content of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill from a town planning perspective (particularly given the recent ‘scrapping’ of previous reforms).

The bill is expected to reflect the measures found in the white paper, including ‘street votes’ on local design codes; fast-track applications for small builders; and, boosting design quality. As always, however, the effectiveness of any measures will be wholly dependent on the detail of these proposals and whether they respond to the ‘on the ground’ issues faced by the profession – most notably, the urgent need for additional resources in Local Planning Authorities.

  • Euan Kellie, founding director of Euan Kellie Property Solutions

Great news for training company

The Queen’s Speech has shone a spotlight on the green agenda and the government’s long-term energy strategy, which is fantastic news for HybridTec, with our company working with numerous eco-friendly employers throughout the Liverpool City Region and beyond, to provide the very best renewables training and qualifications, in gas, plumbing and electricals.

The levelling up and regeneration bill will also help to bring more business and infrastructure towards the North West, with boosting economic growth, halting the rising cost of living for young people and supporting skills and training arguably more important now post-Covid than ever before.

  • Sophie Park, managing director at HybridTec

Expect a consolidated infrastructure levy soon

Whilst not explicitly mentioned, we expect a new consolidated Infrastructure Levy will represent a tool in the government’s proposed Levelling Up inventory to capture land value uplift via the planning system with the objective of funding a step-change in affordable housing delivery, wider community infrastructure, and facilitating local authority-led regeneration as part of a wider package of measures that could also include enhanced CPO powers.

  • Matt Spilsbury, senior director of planning at CBRE

Lack of government intervention to combat inflation will exacerbate construction problems

The Regeneration Bill and changes to planning laws will also go some way towards improving productivity and the pace of delivery in our industry. However, despite there being more focus on high paid and high skilled jobs, I believe a more balanced workforce and skills consideration is required across the board, with the move towards more modern methods of construction (a part of the Government’s Construction Playbook) in particular requiring a much larger manufacturing capability and capacity.

With inflation due to rise to 10% in the short-term, I believe more pressure will be placed upon the construction industry and project viability; and despite the general view being that this’ll drop in 2023, no further government intervention now could exacerbate the problem, especially if a backlog of projects coming to market is created next year.

  • Chris Waine, director of Hive Projects

Your Comments

Read our comments policy

Why do these articles, never, ever feature quotes from public sector bodies – the other half of the equation facilitating regeneration and over seeing the planning process.

All we hear are the same old moans about the planning system and spurious claims linking it to the lack of affordable housing or delivery of housing numbers. In reality there are an abundance of unimplemented planning consents indicating that the problem is less the planning system and more the use by central government of blunt housing targets on the one hand; and the way land is assembled and the risk averse nature of listed volume house builders, where market actors effectively operate as an oligopoly.

The best reform the government could enact would be to smash the current system of vested interests which extracts too much value to the detriment of the consumer and local communities.

By Anonymous

Levelling Up was a slogan thought up to win an election, governments mainly only pursue strategies to get electoral benefits, and we can see them now putting jobs and money into their redwall seats, or in areas like Manchester where they can use it as an example of success even though they`ll never prise it from Labour

By Anonymous

Old fashioned and imperial doctrine from a dysfunctional family relaying the propaganda of a Tory and status Quo government. We think we are free? Don’t make me laugh🤣

By Just saying

I think you could tell in the Prince of Wales’ voice and flat reading manner that he knew he was reading Tory deception and that he was espousing an election winning heuristic slogan from the imagination of Boris Johnson.

By Graham Poullain

“the detail is in the detail” – good job this govt is strong on the detail and doesn’t just spout meaningless three word slogans 😉

By Disgruntled Goat

Blimey – Place North West’s comment section turns out to be a hot bed of reactionary leftist dissent. Up the revolution, comrades.

By Wolfy Smith

The problem with this country, is our cities outside London are too small. Of course they have been kept artificially small, so London can retain its dominance, Manchester is the prime example. Britain has no viable second city and until this happens, levelling up will remain a slogan.

By Elephant

Excellent article Julia, thanks for putting together.

By Anonymous

Even with a “2nd city” why would levelling up work, as all that happens is that money gravitates to the 2nd city, Spain has Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Seville, and the Basque area, all regionally spread and many receiving substantial amounts from their own government and the EU, which we left of course.
All the major cities in Spain, and even many medium ones ,have superb transport infrastructure including trams.

By Anonymous

Good point anonymous, but Barcelona is Spain’s second city. Most countries have, An, “Alternative,” big player to their capital. Even Manchester cannot fulfil that role.

By Elephant

You can’t have every area of the country levelled up and as prosperous as each other. There is no country on earth where this happens. There will always be some towns and regions which are more wealthy than others. Cities have the greatest potential to generate the most economic gains because they are purpose-built economic powerhouses. Rural areas are a lost cause in comparison – disparate areas, with very little potential for growth, and none of the agglomeration benefits brought on by cities. It’s a waste of time and money putting money into rural areas and small/medium towns as it’s a bottomless pit. Better to put the money in cities and city regions, allow them to grow, and plug the small and medium-sized towns into a decent rail network which connects them to the prosperous cities.

By Anonymous

And for Spain read Germany, or even Italy to some degree albeit with a very Northern bias.But these are countries that developed historically very differently. If we are to break a south east bias it’s going to take a seismic shift to spread the power and money more equitably. Sloganeering and fiddling around the edges just doesn’t cut it.

By Anonymous

You don’t see comments from public sector bodies because they are all too overworked to comment.

By Anonymous

To stop a South East bias, we need to federalise England. Whilst the Treasury is in London, everyone else’s resources will be syphoned off to benefit them. This has been happening since the days of the Industrial Revolution. It happened with North Sea oil in the 80s. Why with the exception of Liverpool did none of the Northern cities have Underground systems built? They were all rich enough.

By Elephant

Holland manages to have 2 powerhouse cities and numerous other sizeable areas , all seemingly with good standards of living, infrastructure, and transport.

By Anonymous

Letting house and office prices rip in South East has been the most effective method of level up rest of country as national politician and civil service all living in London have personal vested interest in seeing most transport investments and other government investment go to where they personally benefit in London.

By Jason Brown

@Elephant – Newcastle and Glasgow have underground systems in their city centres, too. Like Liverpool’s network, they go overground in the suburbs.

The first section of Liverpool’s underground was completed in 1886, London’s in 1890 and Glasgow’s in 1896. Newcastle’s is a relative interloper, being opened in stages from1980 onwards.

By Railhead

Glasgow’s is the same size as it was when it was built. Newcastle’s is new as you say. Where is Manchester’s? Leeds’? Sheffield’s? Birmingham’s?

By Elephant

@Elephant To be fair, Birmingham, Sheffield and Manchester all opted for tram networks instead. Alistair Darling kiboshed the Leeds Supertram project as far back as 2005.

By Railhead

Undergrounds are horrible

By Cal

Beats being in a car though Cal! Underground networks get you where you need to be fast and cheap. Cars? You’re just sat in a horrible tin can breathing in your own exhaust farts.

By Anonymous

I am not talking about now for Undergrounds. Why weren’t they built in the 19th Century when London’s was built? Trams are a recent addition to all three cities.

By Elephant

Most people prefer driving no matter what anybody says

By Dan

Many people cannot drive (eg elderly, disabled, children) no matter what anyone says.

By Anonymous

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