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Local democracy at risk as government dodges scrutiny in Levelling Up Bill

17th October 2023

Local democracy is back in the government’s crosshairs as the House of Commons today passed an amendment to key legislation that gives the Secretary of State arbitrary powers to override development plans that were democratically approved by local communities.

We’re concerned that today’s developments also reflect a worrying trend where local democracy is being eroded and the voices of local communities are being sidelined.

The new amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (LURB) will allow government to implement National Development Management Policies (NDMPs) without clear assurances as to how it will consult local people, and no need to consult at all where it would be ‘urgent and expedient’ to adopt or amend policies. We believe that robust and up to date evidence and proper scrutiny are essential for good planning outcomes that serve people, nature and the countryside.

If passed in legislation, NDMPs will have primacy over Local Plans where there is conflict, despite Local Plans undergoing extensive public consultation and NDMPs none.

They have also removed a vital requirement for NDMPs to undergo sustainability assessments.

Underhanded power grab

Paul Miner, Head of Policy and Planning at CPRE, said: ‘The threat posed by NDMPs is not new. In September, CPRE successfully campaigned with partners across the environment and housing sector, along with thousands of our supporters for an amendment to the LURB that would require public and parliamentary scrutiny of all new NDMPs.

‘However, last Friday the government ignored the views widely held amongst parliamentarians and swiftly tabled the last-minute amendment that effectively reverts the bill back to its original state.

‘This outrageous and underhanded power-grab resets any progress made to safeguard local democracy in planning decisions. It could give government free rein to fast-track developments that damage the environment or amend local social housing targets – all while avoiding public or parliamentary scrutiny.

‘CPRE accepts that NDMPs have a role to play but we strongly oppose the idea that government can pick and choose when local people should be allowed to scrutinise and challenge them. Government ministers should not have more say than locally elected councillors over what happens on someone’s street.’

Defeat on climate and healthy homes

Local democracy was not the only issue in the crossfire tonight

The government also successfully passed an amendment that would completely remove new provisions in the Bill to ensure planning decisions take the UK’s obligation to net zero into account. This is a woefully regressive step in the face of the climate emergency.

Also removed were Lords amendments that:

  • Would require new homes to support the health of their residents and provide access to nature.
  • Would require a commitment for ‘sufficient social rent housing’ in every local area.

Taken together, these developments represent a massive step backwards for the countryside. We’ll be fighting to ensure that – following the Bill going back to the House of Lords – as many of these important principles we care about are retained in the final piece of legislation, which the government is hoping to pass before the end of the month.

Hope for abolition of hope value

One campaign success that did take place in the Commons last night was the government allowing through a Lords amendment that would reform ‘hope value’, reducing the amount of profit landowners can make and enabling Councils to deliver more social housing.

We’ve been working with our partners at Shelter to get hope value reformed through the Levelling Up Bill, so it’s good to see this change taking place.

A builder in a high visibility vest on a building site


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