North East Devolution and Levelling Up

Levelling Up takes second place to new deal for renters

Government plans for levelling up outlined in the Queen’s Speech yesterday have been given a muted response. The measures received a welcome, but accompanied by emphasis on the need for resources to carry them through

There were also calls to tackle the cost-of-living crisis and speed up devolution throughout England.

The levelling-up elements of the Queen’s Speech took second place to a ‘new deal for renters’ in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities’ publicity today around the Queen’s Speech.

The government press release did however note that areas in the North have the highest proportion of non-decent private rented homes, implying some indirect regional levelling-up benefit.

Reference to levelling up as such was confined to two paragraphs at the end of the release, containing nothing new: ‘The government also today introduced the landmark Levelling Up and Regeneration bill, which will spread opportunity and prosperity and transform towns and communities across the United Kingdom.

‘This includes a significant package of measures to revive high streets, regenerate town centres and deliver the high-quality homes that communities need. It will put the legal foundations in place to deliver the government’s wide-reaching proposals to spread opportunity, drive productivity and boost local pride.

Rachel Anderson, assistant director of policy at the North East England Chamber of Commerce, said:The Chamber welcomes the measures set out in the Queen’s Speech…on enabling local growth and furthering the levelling up agenda.  We must not see levelling up measures watered down.

‘We also welcome the commitment to carry forward the government’s plans on energy security which should bring significant growth to the North East’s low carbon and green energy sectors.  We would also wish to see a commitment to new nuclear in that bill.’

But she added: ‘What was more disappointing is that there were no emergency measures to tackle the cost-of-living crisis and no further commitment to transport development in the North of England.’

Councillor James Jamieson, chairman of the Local Government Association, said: “Over the last decade, England has taken steps towards greater devolution, but areas outside our city regions have remained stuck in the devolution slow lane and the UK remains one of the most centralised countries in the democratic world.

‘There is an urgent need to turbo charge the speed at which we are devolving powers to local areas so we are pleased that the government has used the Queen’s Speech to make good on its commitment to offer all of England the opportunity to benefit from a devolution deal by 2030.

‘Turning levelling up from a political slogan to a reality will only be achieved if councils have the powers and funding they need to address regional inequality, tackle concentrations of deprivation and make towns and communities across England attractive places to live, work and visit.

‘To deliver on levelling up ambitions and ensure councils can deliver the right types of homes in the right places with appropriate infrastructure, a local, plan-led system is integral. It is good to see that any new Infrastructure Levy will be set at a local level, and we want to work with government to ensure that it is a success and can deliver more affordable housing and infrastructure contributions at a local authority level than the existing systems for developer contributions.

‘Empowering councils to bring vacant properties back into use is also an encouraging step. National permitted development rights, allowing conversion of offices, shops and restaurants into houses without the need to provide any affordable homes or infrastructure funding, also need to be removed so councils can ensure the right homes are built in the right places, and deliver on local ambitions to revive and reimagine our high streets and town centres.

‘As well as ensuring that existing homes are high quality, energy efficient and safe, building new, high-quality council homes has to be a national priority. This needs to include urgent reform of the Right to Buy scheme to allow councils to be able to keep 100% cent of receipts from sales of homes and the ability to set discounts locally.’