The UK Government’s recently published Levelling Up White Paper sets out its objective to transform the UK and to help spread opportunity to all parts of the country.
At its heart, the Levelling Up White Paper’s focus is the achievement of 12 measurable ‘missions’ that will seek to level up the UK by 2030. This includes notable commitments on expanding broadband and 5G coverage, improved transport connectivity and services beyond London, a rise in the number of first-time buyers and a 50% reduction in the number of non-decent rented homes.
On housing, there is a strong emphasis on transforming brownfield sites in the Midlands and the North. In the private rented sector, the UK Government will set out a plan for all private rented homes to meet a minimum Decent Homes Standard, section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions will be abolished, and the Government will consult on introducing a landlords register. A £1.5 billion Levelling Up Home Building Fund will provide loans to SMEs and will support priority areas for levelling up, while affordable social housing will also be prioritised alongside a new Social Housing Regulation Bill that delivers on the Government’s commitments following the Grenfell tragedy.
There is a clear and welcome focus in the White Paper on enabling greater devolution within England, as every part of England that wants one will be given the opportunity to have a devolution deal. This means the current system of regional elected mayors currently in place across much of England is likely to be further expanded. In order to successfully create a sense of meaningful cohesion, we would urge that further regional or local devolution within England should be devised according to appropriate economic geographies.
RICS strongly supports the White Paper’s focus on regeneration and boosting pride in place too and the ambition to create revived high streets, towns and cities that meet the needs and aspirations of the communities they serve. We note that the role of Homes England will also be expanded to include the regeneration of towns and cities within its remit. In order to support the built environment and the role that it can take in reducing regional inequalities, RICS believes that the levelling-up agenda must now be underpinned by a reformed planning system that offers greater certainty, provides for sufficient local accountability and allows for the timely delivery of vital social infrastructure.
In other areas however, we will be seeking further clarity on the government’s intentions, such as the commitment for local authorities to have the power to require landlords of empty shops to fill them if they are left vacant for too long. As most commercial landlords are keen to fill vacant shops as quickly as possible, we would query how this policy will work in practice, and how the policy would ensure that commercial landlords are not unfairly penalised.
Given the long-term nature of levelling-up, the ultimate success of the White Paper’s missions will be assessed several years from now, though we note with interest the government’s commitment to produce an annual progress update. RICS is keen to play a supportive role as the levelling up agenda now takes shape, and to help provide insight on those missions that are most closely linked to the built environment.