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News & opinion

21 JUL 2022

How can planning and development support the levelling-up agenda?

Levelling up has become part of everyday language in the UK in recent years. Since the government first introduced the agenda, there has been more conversation about how to raise standards of living and strengthen economies in underprivileged communities.

According to research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), regional disparities in the UK are greater than in most comparable countries for a wide variety of measures. The levelling-up agenda aims to address some of these disparities, and policies outlined in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill are expected to go a significant way towards remedying the situation by 2030.

Modernising neglected areas and helping to develop towns that are socio-economically disadvantaged by their location or infrastructure are both important measures. Without investment in this, inhabitants of those areas will find it more difficult to access services, transport and education. But what are the opportunities and challenges of doing so, in practical terms?

For Barratt, the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill is the most important new policy for a decade. It aims to do many things, not least accelerating the supply of new homes to address the housing crisis but also encouraging new jobs and growth in the left-behind areas that have so much economic potential.

Philip Barnes FRICS, group land and planning director
Barratt Developments

Practicalities of levelling up require local decisions

The Levelling Up White Paper specifies that a £4.8bn fund has been created to support the suggested policies. Some of this can be used for regeneration projects in town centres and high streets, developing local transport as well as cultural and heritage assets.

RICS reflections on the Levelling Up agenda sets out some of the key areas that may affect planners, developers and surveyors. With different areas having competing socio-economic needs, though, the way that a place is actually levelled up is being determined by local authorities more than by central government. The challenge for these authorities is to identify priority areas for spending, at a time when need is greater than budget in several cases. RICS has also engaged with the Levelling Up & Regeneration Bill Committee to answer committee members’ questions on the planning and infrastructure elements of the bill - Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Planners and developers will be responsible for addressing key local issues as well as creating more opportunities for first-time buyers, reducing the number of poor-quality rented homes, and connecting transport services. Collective decisions will need to be made about what the future of a particular locality looks like, and how it will continue to evolve after regeneration.

Technology also has potential advantages and disadvantages when it comes to levelling up. The move toward smarter societies offers benefits such as improved energy efficiency and sustainability, but also presents challenges for planners and developers given the pace of change. When thinking about the built environments of the future, such professionals will need to make strategic predictions about what a locality needs and what to prioritise.


Factoring the future and flexibility into levelling up

It is clear that planners and developers will be vital in the effort to make the levelling-up agenda a reality. The future can only be planned according to what we know now and can reasonably predict, meaning that it is essential to think creatively and strategically about projects. Climate change and net-zero aspirations will also need to be considered during the planning process.

As part of the agenda, the government has altered the planning system to enable greater community participation in the design process, resulting in buildings and spaces people can be proud of and can enjoy. It has also introduced a permitted development right to allow some commercial, business and service properties to change their use class to residential. This gives planners more flexibility to repurpose and reuse spaces, as well as create new ones.

Whether they are making the most of the opportunities or dealing with challenges, planners and developers will be integral to the success of levelling up. To find out more, join RICS members at the Planning and Development Conference 2022.