Truths and consequences behind LURA

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Act finally made it into the statute book, but a raft of big ticket items have yet to be implemented. Will it survive a Starmer Government? Martin Ford reports.

Last week we saw the latest in a trickle of announcements of policies coming into force as a result of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act (LURA).

The most recent part to be enacted saw councils being granted powers to auction off vacant high street shops, while last month, changes to compulsory purchase orders removing ‘hope value' emerged.

But it was back in October that the act gained Royal Assent. Secretary of state Michael Gove said his centrepiece legislation would ‘deliver more homes for communities across the country and unleash levelling up in left-behind places'.

It took 18 months and survived 500 proposed amendments to make it into the statute book, gaining Royal Assent on the very last day of the parliamentary term. More than six months later, a raft of the big ticket items within the Act are yet to be implemented.

It was a gargantuan piece of legislation, dubbed at the time ‘a Christmas tree Bill' by Labour peer Baroness Hayman as ‘you can hang anything on it', while Lib Dem Baroness Pinnock complained it had been ‘brought into a bit of disrepute' by the continual addition of extra clauses and Government amendments.

It is not unusual for secondary legislation to be required to bring aspects of Acts of Parliament into effect, but such is the size of what has been dubbed ‘LURA' in legal circles, there is a lot to get through.

Nicola Gooch, partner at law firm Irwin Mitchell said: ‘While the Bill getting Royal Assent is a big achievement, there is still a lot of work left to do. Bringing the provisions in LURA into effect will require a huge raft of further consultations, detailed technical work and secondary legislation.'

So far, in the sizeable chunk of the Act devoted to overhauling the planning system, councils have gained the power to issue ‘completion notices' if a development is being built out ‘unreasonably slowly' and reject applications from those guilty of doing so in the past. They can also take planning enforcement action up to 10 years after a breach as of April, compared with four years previously.

Perhaps one of the most eye-catching and significant parts of the Act to be put into action was the creation of combined county authorities, just in time for the election of new mayors earlier this month.

Legislation has been put in place to enable local authorities to impose council tax premiums of 100% on second homes and properties that have been empty for a year – but did not come in time for the current financial year and will now come into force in 2025.

That leaves a lot yet to surmount, with the hurdles of various consultations and secondary legislation.

One of the most contentious is the proposed infrastructure levy which would replace section 106 funds and community infrastructure levies, and aims to increase the amount of contributions going to affordable housing. The Local Government Association which has been among those vocal in its opposition, argued it will result in less affordable housing and ‘expose councils to excessive levels of financial risks'.

Once the legal mechanics have been put into place, the Government proposes to run pilot schemes before a national rollout, which means it may not be fully up and running for a decade.

Similarly, simplification of the local plan process designed to slash the time for completion to 30 months has been a source of contention. It has been described by London Councils as a ‘major concern' that would ‘weaken local planning authorities'.

Nevertheless, the Government is committed to running 10 ‘pathfinders' and, should a rollout ensue, would spread to the rest of the country by 2026 at the earliest.

Pilots also need to take place before full implementation of ‘community land auctions', under which councils could capture land value from developers for plots designated for building.

A consultation is awaited on national development management policies, which would override local plans where conflict arises, while another concluded earlier this year on much-publicised ‘street votes'.

Town and Country Planning Association policy director, Hugh Ellis, said: ‘On critical issues, such as the fate of the infrastructure levy, the Government has ended in a highly confused and lengthy implementation process designed to test and learn how a new system might be framed. This is precisely the kind of work you do before primary legislation, not after it.'

He said there was doubt over ‘whether this new system will ever be fully implemented' and ‘the degree to which a public planning service that is already facing many challenges including a lack of funding and morale, can meet the demands of this new system'.

Ellis added: ‘The timescales involved for implementation require enormous amounts of policy and secondary legislation which will run for at least the next two years.'

Indeed, doubt hangs over some of the Act's content with a General Election on the horizon. Should Labour seize control of Westminster, as polls suggest, all unimplemented elements of LURA would be at the mercy of its new political leaders.

A spokesperson at Law firm Ashurst said: ‘How much of and how quickly the new Act actually comes into effect will depend on the Government's priorities, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities' capacity, and the lead-up to and outcome of the General Election.

‘There is still much to do and very little time to do it in – we're sure some developers would like to serve the Government with completion notices of their own,' said the spokesperson.

Some aspects have already received some backing from the opposition during the Act's passage through Parliament, however, such as council-led urban development corporations – which will be welcome news for the many authorities who are keen on the concept.

The infrastructure levy has been looked on less favourably by Labour and it is understood it could be scrapped under a Starmer Government.

Of course, Labour has also got some ideas of its own and has pledged to draw up its own planning bill in its first 100 days.

Here we go again…


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