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The Levelling Up White Paper and Devolution

Currently under 50% of UK residents live in an area covered by a devolution deal. The White Paper offers local leaders a broader range of functions, greater revenue raising powers, increased accountability and responsibility. The West Midlands and Greater Manchester will be the ‘trailblazers’, acting as examples for other mayoral combined authorities.

But is this compatible with the overall objective of the White Paper to address regional inequality? Or will the devolution agenda strengthen geographical divides? And can devolution truly impact the planning system?

And what of those areas less well suited to devolution such as the Home Counties. Planning delivery in these areas has recently seen a move away from broader geographies towards smaller localised geographies. This includes East Hampshire and Havant which recently ended a twelve year partnership in order to focus more closely on their own priorities. Similarly Cherwell and Oxfordshire County Council recently voted to dissolve its partnership. Many in the Home Counties question the repeated failings of previous reorganisations and partnerships – so will there be any appetite for devolution in these areas?

And if there is appetite for devolution, will it deliver any more efficient or effective planning? A recently created unitary authority, Buckinghamshire Council was required to prepare a new Local Plan by April 2025, but its progress appears to be limited due to uncertainties within planning policy.

What will happen to devolved authorities if their Plans do not progress within the set timescales or there are issues with decision making and underperformance – such as in the case of Uttlesford, which was recently stripped of its planning powers?

There remain many questions about how much planning power will devolved administrations have, and how effective can they be. To gain answers to this question, we urgently need to understand the future direction of national planning policy which is currently very uncertain.

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