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New plans to enshrine the government’s Levelling Up Agenda into law have been announced, including plans to give local leaders greater power over regeneration and housing.
The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will give more UK regions the opportunity to create local mayors with greater devolved powers than existing local government allows, following in the footsteps of mayors in London, Greater Manchester and other major urban areas. The Bill will give greater flexibility to local authorities to direct spending where it is most needed, depending on local circumstances, to act on the prosperity gap between London and the South-east and other UK regions.
Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove MP said:
“This Bill puts in place the reforms we need to level up. It enshrines our levelling up missions in law, which will shift resources and focus throughout this decade to the parts and people of the country who need it most. It enables every part of England which wants a London-style mayor to have one. It empowers local people, not the big developers, to take back control of regeneration in their community.
“It shifts power out of Whitehall by giving local leaders the powers they need to tackle the blight of empty shops on high streets and to regenerate their communities. This is underpinned by a firm belief that by far the best placed people to level up communities are the people who live there.
“We want everyone to be given the opportunity to stay local but go far.”
The new legislation will create a legal duty for the government to report on the progress towards key levelling up targets that it set out earlier this year in its Levelling Up White Paper, such as closing gaps in pay and productivity, health outcomes, and educational attainment to match the best performing areas.
Local authorities will also be able to devolve powers over transport, regeneration and housing to match what is currently available only to major cities. Existing mayors are also set for additional devolved powers; negotiations with central government are already underway to see Greater Manchester secure further local control in a range of areas, including rail transport.
The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will also bring forward previously announced plans for local councils to apply pressure on commercial landlords to ensure empty retail units in town centres are made available. Planning rules, particularly for housing, are also set for a shake up under the new legislation, to give residents a louder voice in developing Local Plans, fulling digitising applications and strengthening environmental protections to protect greenfield sites.