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The turbulence of the political landscape in recent months and weeks has been unprecedented. We’ve seen a swathe of hallmark policy changes as the British economy gets to grips with huge cost-of-living challenges, impacting all regions of the country and people from all walks of life.

The Levelling Up agenda, arguably the most integral part of these hallmark policy changes, has experienced a number of alterations since the Government first adopted this as their key pitch to the public for revitalising and rebalancing the British economy.

We’ve known for some time how uneven our economy is – figures from the Equality Trust show that the UK has a very unequal distribution of incomes compared to other developed countries, with citizens based in the South East earning over twice as much in household income over citizens in the North West.

Leaders across the North of England have welcomed the Government’s commitment to share the benefits of growth, innovation and regeneration with left-behind communities. So, what next?

Kwasi’s Investment Zones

The recent publication of the Government’s Growth Plan poses huge questions about the future of levelling up.

The new Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, announced in his statement a new mechanism to support growth across the country: ‘Investment Zones’, which will be established with the intention to drive growth, unlock housing opportunities and encourage rapid development. The Treasury is in conversations with a number of combined and local authorities to identify key areas in need of investment.

So, how exactly will these investment zones work? The Treasury states that areas with investment zones can benefit from:

  • Lower taxes
  • Accelerated development
  • Wider support for local growth

While the response to the budget as a whole continues to unfold, it remains crucial to understand what this means for levelling up, and the North of England.

Change is happening, but we are capable of more. The Leeds skyline is remarkably different to what it was 10 years ago, it’s almost beyond belief just how far the city (and the region) has come since then. I was born and raised in West Yorkshire, and there’s a delight to seeing what our towns and cities are, and can be capable of – there is so much talent, innovation and opportunity waiting to be unleashed.

Northern leaders cautiously welcomed the proposals following the Chancellor’s statement as encouragingly, half of the identified early sites are in the North. We’re expecting more detail about the Investment Zones in the coming weeks, but I think it would be fair to say that one of the most important elements of these proposals deserves far more attention – planning.

What does this mean for planning and development?

Investment Zones come with an added catch – relaxed planning rules. The Government has said they want to do everything to streamline the process and reduce the need for hefty planning procedures.

For us at Social, what this means for our clients and the impact it could have on property and the built environment is profound.

Developments based in the Investment Zones will see a faster consent process to accelerate their progress, with those in the early stages of planning benefitting from a liberalised approach to getting approval.

It will be interesting to see more detail from the Government on these revised planning rules in the coming weeks. The North could see a lot of benefits from a liberalised planning system, making it even more important that the region takes advantage of potential Investment Zone sites – faster development means people living here can reap the benefits of growth, more quickly.

The Government should ensure that economic arguments for relaxing planning rules in the Investment Zones coincide with the social impact – like how they can deliver better, affordable homes, or create better connected cities and towns, coupled with the fulfilment of the Government’s commitment for the UK to be Net Zero by 2050.

Final thoughts – what next for levelling up?

The jury’s still out on whether levelling up is on the back foot or simply entering a new phase under a new government. Regardless of what we want to call it, future Governments must recognise that not investing in left-behind communities across the country creates problems.

The Investment Zones are a sign of recognition that more can be done. But, for now, it remains to be seen how selective Whitehall will be in choosing where to establish the zones and unleash growth in areas that truly need it.

Here at Social, we hope that the Government will engage fully with local public and private sector organisations on how Investment Zones can create the best economic and other opportunities for their local areas. By working with clients including local authorities, combined authorities, and businesses focused on the built environment, we’ve seen first-hand the difference that schemes can make when they’re driven by local leadership, delivered in partnership and developed through meaningful involvement of communities.

If you’d like to know more about how we support organisations interested in place-making and regeneration, including how we help organisations engage and consult on proposed developments, please contact