In February 2022, the Government published its levelling up white paper. It comprised 12 missions. This included missions to: boost living standards; improve literacy and numeracy among primary school students; and narrow the gap in healthy life expectancy between areas where it is the highest and lowest. In the white paper, the Government also committed to bringing forward legislation to introduce a statutory obligation to report annually on the progress towards meeting the missions.

The Government has committed to reforming the planning system. It has also previously stated that it will legislate to: support social housing residents; reform the rental market; and make changes to leasehold tenure and the process of buying and extending lease agreements.

1. Levelling Up

In July 2019, Boris Johnson delivered his first speech as Prime Minister. He pledged to “level up across Britain” and “answer the plea of the forgotten people and the left-behind towns”. He stated that the Government would do this with “higher wages, a higher living wage and higher productivity”.

The concept of levelling up was also discussed in the Conservative party’s 2019 general election manifesto. In its manifesto, the Government made a commitment to “use our post-Brexit freedoms to build prosperity and strengthen and level up every part of the country”. It sought to do this through several means, including:

  • investing in towns, cities, rural and coastal areas;.
  • giving people living in those areas “more control” of how that investment is made; and
  • creating up to 10 freeports around the UK, “benefitting some of our most deprived communities”. The Government describes freeports as “special areas within the UK’s borders where different economic regulations apply”.

In the 2019 Queen’s Speech that followed, the Government stated that it would “deliver for the whole of our great Union, investing in and levelling up every part of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland”. It announced its intention to publish a white paper to “reiterate our commitment to levelling up opportunities and investment in the regions across England”.

In the 2021 Queen’s Speech, the Government further committed to publishing a white paper on levelling up.

1.1 Levelling up white paper

On 2 February 2022, the Government published its white paper, Levelling Up the United Kingdom. The white paper detailed the Government’s plans to “spread opportunity more equally across the UK”. The white paper comprised of 12 national missions under four objectives. These missions were to be achieved by 2030. The Government stated that it would bring forward legislation to introduce a statutory obligation to report annually to Parliament on the progress towards meeting the missions.

The four objectives and accompanying missions are as follows:

  • Objective 1: Boost productivity, pay, jobs and living standards by growing the private sector, especially in those places where they are lagging
    • Living standards: Pay, employment and productivity to rise in every area of the UK by 2030. To achieve this, the white paper detailed several policy measures including expanding the geographical scope of the British Business Bank partnership model.
    • Research and development: Increase domestic public investment in research and development outside the greater south east by at least 40%, and over the spending review period by over a third. The white paper noted that the Government would implement the Research and Development Roadmap (published in July 2020) and the UK Innovation Strategy (published in July 2021).
    • Transport infrastructure: Improve local public transport connectivity across the UK to be “significantly closer to the standards of London”. Policy measures related to this mission include local transport authorities taking on more powers and responsibilities to improve local services.
    • Digital connectivity: Improve digital connectivity across the UK through the rollout of gigabit-capable broadband and 4G coverage, with 5G coverage for most of the population. The white paper detailed that the Government’s National Infrastructure Strategy, published in 2020, had already committed funding to roll out gigabit broadband.
  • Objective 2: Spread opportunities and improve public services, especially in those places where they are weakest
    • Education: Improve literacy and numeracy among primary school children to ensure that 90% of children will achieve the expected standard. The Government stated it would achieve this through measures including the creation of 55 new education investment areas and a new UK National Academy, which is a free digital education service to support pupils.
    • Skills: Significantly increase the number of people successfully completing high-quality skills training in every area of the UK. In England, the Government says this will lead to 200,000 people undertaking this training annually. To achieve this mission, the white paper noted that local skills improvement plans will be established in England, amongst other measures.
    • Health: Narrow the gap in healthy life expectancy (HLE) between local areas where it is highest and lowest, and for HLE to rise by 2035. This includes plans for the Department of Health and Social Care to publish a white paper in 2022 examining the disparities in health outcomes in England.
    • Wellbeing: Every area of the UK seeing improvements in wellbeing, with the gap between the top-performing and other areas closing. This will be measured by the Office for National Statistics’ existing survey of personal wellbeing.
  • Objective 3: Restore a sense of community, local pride and belonging, especially in those places where they have been lost
    • Pride in place: People’s satisfaction with their local area to rise in every area of the UK. Amongst several measures, the Government committed to identifying 20 cities and towns in England that will benefit from regeneration, which it argued would lead to “increased local prosperity, improved social mobility and bolstered pride of place”.
    • Housing: Renters to have a secure path to ownership with the number of first-time buyers increasing in all areas. The white paper also outlined that it was the Government’s ambition for the number of “non-decent” rented homes to have fallen by 50%, with the biggest improvements in the lowest-performing areas. Some policy measures in the white paper to achieve this included: a commitment to make improvements to the planning system; a new £1.5 billion levelling up home building fund, which will provide loans to small and medium-sized businesses and housebuilders to “support the wider regeneration agenda”; and introducing new powers for councils to apply an empty homes premium of up to 100% to homes left empty for a year, rather than two years, “aligning the position across the UK”.
    • Crime: For homicide, serious violence and neighbourhood crime to fall, with a new focus on the worst affected areas. To achieve this, the Government stated it would be publishing a new plan for anti-social behaviour and quality of life issues and implementing the drugs strategy, which was published in 2021.
  • Objective 4: Empower local leaders and communities, especially in those places lacking local agency
    • Devolution: Every part of England that wants one will have a devolution deal with “powers at or approaching the highest level of devolution” and a “simplified, long-term funding settlement”. Measures to achieve this target included some local authorities being invited to negotiate and agree new county deals, with the aim for “a number of these deals” to be agreed by autumn 2022. The white paper also noted that the Government would explore “strengthening devolution legislation in England in order to expand devolution to more places, deepen current devolution deals and enable the devolution process to be simpler and more transparent”.

Further information on levelling up and devolution can be found in the House of Lords Library briefing, ‘Queen’s Speech 2022: Devolved affairs’ .

In March 2022, the head of the Government’s levelling up taskforce, Andy Haldane, told the Financial Times (£) that legislation would be introduced in June 2022 to make it “difficult to upend” the missions in the white paper. This echoed the Government’s announcement in February 2022 about introducing a statutory obligation to report annually on the progress towards meeting the missions.

1.2 Reaction to the white paper

The white paper was welcomed by some mayors and organisations. Andy Burnham, the Mayor of the Greater Manchester combined authority said that the Government had put forward “some positive proposals” and that the white paper was “good as far as it goes for Greater Manchester”. Similarly, Nik Johnson, the Mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough combined authority, praised the white paper. He also stated that his combined authority was ready to work with the Government to “ensure that the benefits of our unique economy spread further into the region and allow prosperity to be shared by more people”. The Chief Policy Director at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Matthew Fell, also welcomed the white paper. He said that the white paper “accepts the CBI view that business-driven economic clusters […] can be a catalyst which brings levelling up ambitions to life”.

Several think tanks supported the proposals in the white paper but expressed concerns about plans for delivery and funding. The Institute for Fiscal Studies described the white paper as a “welcome first step” with missions that looked “sensible”. However, it stated there was “little in the way of new funding” for levelling up. It argued that by 2025, many departmental budgets would “still be well below where they were in 2010, and face being asked to do more with considerably less”. Additionally, the Institute for Government stated that there were some “welcome and ambitious proposals”, but that there was a “lack of detail” behind how these proposals would work.

Opposition parties criticised the white paper for lacking detail. The Leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer, stated that the white paper was a “set of repackaged, rehashed and recycled ‘announcements’”. The Scottish National Party’s Westminster Cabinet Office spokesperson, Tommy Shepherd, described the white paper as a “damp squib”. The think tank the Institute for Economic Affairs agreed, describing the proposals as being of “dubious quality”.

2. Planning Bill

In addition to the commitment in the levelling up white paper to make improvements to the planning system, the Government has previously committed to introducing legislation to modernise the current planning system.

In the 2021 Queen’s Speech, the Government committed to introducing a Planning Bill. The purpose of the bill would be to:

  • create a “simpler, faster and more modern planning system” to replace the current system which dates back to 1947;
  • ensure homes and infrastructure could be delivered more quickly across England;
  • transform the planning system to a “more efficient and easier to use” digital and map-based service, which would allow more active public engagement in the development of their area; and
  • help deliver “vital” infrastructure whilst helping to protect and enhance the environment by introducing “quicker, simpler frameworks” for funding infrastructure and assessing environmental impacts.

In November 2021, the Government was asked in a written parliamentary question whether it planned to subject the upcoming Planning Bill to pre-legislative scrutiny. Responding, the then Minister of State at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Christopher Pincher, said that the secretary of state was “considering our next steps on planning reform” alongside the department’s levelling up agenda. He also stated that “an announcement on the way forward will be made as soon as possible”.

Several newspapers, such as the Financial Times (£), have suggested that planning reforms may be introduced through a Levelling Up Bill, rather than standalone planning legislation. In her planning newsletter published in February 2022, Joanna Averley, the chief planner at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, stated that the department would be providing a “further update” on its approach to changes in the planning system in the context of the levelling up white paper in the spring.

3. Social Housing Reform Bill

In November 2020, the Government published its social housing white paper, The Charter for Social Housing Residents. In the white paper, the Government committed to delivering “transformational change” for social housing residents by introducing measures to:

  • ensure social housing is safe and secure;
  • measure how social landlords are performing, including on repairs, complaints and safety;
  • ensure complaints are “dealt with promptly and fairly”;
  • improve consumer standards for tenants, who would be backed by a strong consumer regulator;
  • empower social housing residents to hold landlords to account, for example, through regular meetings, scrutiny panels or by being on the board of organisations that represent such residents;
  • ensure residents live in good quality homes and neighbourhoods; and
  • support tenants taking their “first step” to ownership.

In its white paper, the Government noted that its “most important step” to take would be to work with the Regulator of Social Housing to “create a strong, proactive consumer regulatory regime”. This regime would strengthen the formal standards against which landlords are regulated and requiring them to:

  • be transparent about their performance and decision-making, so that tenants and the regulator can hold them to account;
  • put things right when they go wrong; and
  • listen to tenants through effective engagement.

In the levelling up white paper, the Government further committed to delivering the proposed measures in the social housing white paper by stating that it would be bringing forward a Social Housing Regulation Bill. Giving evidence to the House of Commons Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee in February 2022, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove, said that the Government hoped to introduce the bill in either May or June 2022.

4. Renters’ Reform Bill

In its 2019 manifesto, the Government promised a “better deal for renters”, including “abolishing ‘no-fault’ evictions and only requiring one ‘lifetime’ deposit which moves with the tenant”.

In the Queen’s Speech that took place in December 2019, the Government announced that it would be bringing forward a Renters’ Reform Bill to “deliver a fairer and more effective rental market”. The main elements of the bill would include:

  • abolishing the use of ‘no fault’ evictions by removing section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 and reforming the grounds for possession;
  • reforming current legislation to give landlords more rights to gain possession of their property through the courts “where there is a legitimate need for them to do so”;
  • introducing a new lifetime deposit to prevent tenants from needing to pay for a new deposit every time they move house; and
  • widening access measures to increase access to and expand the scope of the database of rogue landlords and property agents.

In February 2021, the Government was asked in a written question whether it would abolish no-fault evictions. Responding, Christopher Pincher stated that the Government would bring forward the Renters’ Reform Bill to “implement the reforms” at the “appropriate time, once the urgencies of responding to the [Covid-19] pandemic have passed”.

In the following Queen’s Speech that took place in May 2021, the Government reiterated its commitment to reform the rental market. This included announcing that it would be publishing a white paper in the autumn of 2021, with legislation following.

In March 2022, the Government stated that the white paper would be published in the spring.

5. Leasehold Reform Bill

On 11 January 2021, the then Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, stated that leasehold reform would be tackled through two pieces of legislation.

The first piece of legislation, the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill, gained royal assent on 8 February 2022. The act sets future ground rents to zero, and, when in force, will apply only to new lease agreements. Retirement properties are also in scope of the act.

During the bill’s committee stage in the House of Lords in June 2021, the Minister of State at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Lord Greenhalgh, said that the Government aimed to pursue a “second tranche of reforms” in the third session of this Parliament. The Government has previously suggested that this may include:

  • reforming the process of enfranchisement valuation that leaseholds must follow to calculate the cost of extending a lease or buying their freehold;
  • abolishing marriage value;
  • capping the treatment of ground rents at 0.1% of the freehold value and prescribing rates for the calculations at market value;
  • introducing an online calculator to “further [simplify] the process for leaseholds and ensuring standardisation and fairness for all those looking to enfranchise”;
  • retaining existing discounts for improvements made by the leaseholder and security of tenure, alongside a separate valuation methodology for low-value properties known as ‘section 9(1)’;
  • giving leaseholders of all types of property the same right to extend their lease “as often as they wish”, at zero ground rent, for a term of 990 years;
  • allowing continuation of redevelopment breaks during the last year of the original lease or the last five years of each period of 90 years of the extension, subject to existing safeguards and compensation; and
  • enabling leaseholders, where they already have a long lease, to buy out the ground rent without the need to extend the term of the lease.

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Cover image by Louis Reed on Unsplash.