Queen's Speech 2019: Government moots devolving planning powers to new wave of elected mayors

More planning powers will be devolved to a fresh wave of elected mayors across England, measures set out in the Queen's Speech have suggested.

Government promises wave of devolution in 2019 Queen's Speech. Image: Flickr / Jorge Láscar
Government promises wave of devolution in 2019 Queen's Speech. Image: Flickr / Jorge Láscar

A government briefing note on yesterday's Queen’s Speech included a pledge to "give communities more control over how investment is spent so that they can decide what is best for them" by devolving powers over transport and planning to a series of newly appointed mayors.

The document said: "We have established City Region Mayors across England and devolved key powers over transport, planning and skills.

"We want to do more devolution deals, level up powers, implement an effective funding model for Mayoral Combined Authorities and invest further in infrastructure."

A devolution white paper was a pledged within the Conservatives’ election manifesto.

A statement from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said the white paper will be published in "the coming months", setting out plans for "full devolution across England" including more city region mayors and devolution deals.

The white paper will "set the strategy for expanding the benefits of devolution across England, as well as putting more trust in local people to choose what is best for their communities and lead the way on our domestic agenda", the statement added.

New strategies for the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine have also been promised and a National Infrastructure Strategy will be published alongside the first Budget, the government said, setting out plans for £100bn of infrastructure investment.

Stuart Andrews, national head of planning at law firm Eversheds Sutherland, described the government’s devolution plans as "the most significant issue for the English planning system" arising from the Conservatives’ recent election win. 

"The process will lead to the combination and consolidation of local authorities into regional public bodies and it will fundamentally change the way all planning decisions are made," he said.

"Ultimately, it will assist in the reintroduction of a strategic plan making system but that may take time to fully evolve."

Jonathan Werran, chief executive at think tank Localis, said the government’s promises will need to be backed up by financial commitments.

"Until the white paper, we will have to guess what a new ‘effective’ model for funding the new wave of metro mayors will be or how they are to go about financing a strong local state with the capability to direct local economies," he said. 

"A fundamental review of business rates is one such step, but surety on how we fund social care will also be vitally necessary.

"Ultimately, however, only strong fiscal devolution can financially underpin the mayoral governance revolution the government has outlined today."

The Queen’s Speech also included promises of a planning white paper to "make the planning process clearer, more accessible and more certain for all users".

It further promised that the government is to consult "shortly" on a pledge in the Conservative election manifesto to provide discounted homes for "local people and key workers" and would create a new fund to provide infrastructure in new developments before any housing is occupied.

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