High Streets (Designation, Review and Improvement Plan) Bill, House of Commons, Committee Stage

The Bill requires councils to produce improvement plans for some of their high streets at the same time as the tools available to them to make improvements continue to be blunted because of the continued erosion of planning controls.

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About the Local Government Association

  • The Local Government Association (LGA) is the national voice of local government. We are a politically led, cross party membership organisation, representing councils from England and Wales.
  • Our role is to support, promote and improve local government, and raise national awareness of the work of councils. Our ultimate ambition is to support councils to deliver local solutions to national problems.

Key messages

  • Councils do a great deal of work to protect and enhance their high streets and grow their local economies. We have welcomed funding from Government such as the Future High Streets Fund, the Town Centres Fund and more recently the Local Growth Fund that have supported these efforts. We are concerned that the High Streets (Designation, Review and Improvement Plan) Bill does not deliver what councils need to more effectively improve high streets and may in fact hamper councils’ efforts.
  • We are urging Government to change its approach and provide councils with:
    • a stable policy environment on high streets and planning with sufficient resources for planning teams, along with streamlined CPO powers.
    • long term growth and regeneration funding:
  • enable councils to recruit the right sets of skills to work with local communities, businesses and other organisations.
  • invest in land assets and physical improvements to make high streets more attractive destinations.
  • A sustainable long-term funding settlement. Councils already face a £4bn gap over the next two years. In order to protect statutory services, services that help maintain a vibrant high street, such as cleaning and maintenance, will continue to come under pressure. Councils should also be given the flexibility to set planning and licensing fees so that they can fully recover actual costs and ensure that planning and licensing services have the resources to play a full role as possible in supporting their high streets.   
  • Permitted development rights are an ad hoc, disconnected approach to planning that undermines councils' and their communities' ability to make decisions that reflect local need and preserve and enhance the unique and distinctive character of an area, including their town centres and high streets. We are calling on Government to repeal permitted development rights, empowering councils to make decisions about what is best of their areas.
  • The High Streets (Designation, Review and Improvement Plan) Bill is an unnecessary bill and is a distraction from what councils really need to protect and enhance the future of their high streets. It forces councils to choose amongst different towns and provincial high streets and takes a very narrow approach to dealing with high street issues. A good high street also requires a successful underlying economy – this bill does not help with that.
  • The measures in the Bill also appear inflexible and create artificial time periods for review that are not aligned with local priorities. For example, over time, some high streets may start performing well, and others will emerge that will require the attention of the local authority and possible further support and intervention -i.e. over time local authorities high street priorities may fluctuate.
  • Chapter 7 of the National Policy Planning Framework (NPPF) already has a chapter on ‘ensuring the vitality of town centres’ and councils already designate high streets and major retail centres in their local plans, which any future development must have ‘regard to’. Furthermore, councils already have the use of other existing planning tools, such as Area Action Plans, which provides specific planning policy and guidance for a particular location or an area of significant change.
  • Councils’ ability to improve high streets has already been hampered by successive extensions of permitted development, and changes to the national Use Class Order resulting in less control over land uses such as retail, offices and takeaways, meaning local people have less of a say over what their high streets can look like. And more recently, the size limit and vacancy requirement has been changed which means any Class E building can more readily be converted to residential, reducing further the ability for councils to help protect and improve their high streets.
  • The Bill requires councils to produce improvement plans for some of their high streets at the same time as the tools available to them to make improvements continue to be blunted because of the continued erosion of planning controls. 
  • The Government should instead invite local leaders for more meaningful engagement with ministers, enabling discussion on a more effective alternative offer.

Permitted development rights

The LGA has long raised concerned with Government over the detrimental impact of permitted development rights and strongly oppose the Government’s pursuit to extend national permitted development rights (PD) further. We and other national organisations have highlighted to Government through various research and projects of the negative impact and consequences of PD and call for them to be urgently revoked.

PD is an ad hoc, disconnected approach to development that undermines councils’ and their communities’ strategic long-term decisions and place-making ambitions. It also affects their ability to make decisions that reflect local need and preserve and enhance the unique and distinctive character of their area. We cannot see how the Government intends to enshrine both a locally-led planning system with emboldened local leaders whilst also pushing forward with new PD rights which disenfranchise those same leaders.

Only a locally-led planning system in which councils and the communities they represent have a say over the way places develop will ensure the delivery of high-quality affordable homes with the necessary infrastructure to create sustainable, resilient places for current and future generations.


Elliot Gregory
Public Affairs and Campaigns Advisor

Phone: 020 7664 3059
Mobile: 07766252833
Email: [email protected]