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Local Authority round-up 14/01/22

Our Local Authority round up provides brief summaries of topical information on a weekly basis, to keep you aware of the changes and updates relevant to you.

Commercial

Middlesbrough Council pays £12 million for shopping centre

Middlesbrough Council has acquired a multi-million-pound shopping centre as part of a drive to secure the town centre’s long-term future. The purchase of the Cleveland Centre was completed this week, with the council agreeing to pay £12 million for a shopping centre that changed hands for £85 million less than six years ago. Middlesbrough mayor Andy Preston said “A stronger town centre is essential for the prosperity of everyone in Middlesbrough. It’s better for jobs, better for mental wellbeing and it helps the council to provide the best possible services. Buying such a fundamental town centre site makes absolute sense as we try and future-proof the centre of Middlesbrough. Struggling town centres isn’t just a Middlesbrough problem. High streets everywhere are having a tough time and this savvy move makes sure we can be in the control of our own destiny.”

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International Trade

Northern Ireland protocol talks resume

Talks on the Northern Ireland protocol are to resume next week. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss will hold talks for two days with the EU’s chief negotiator, Maroš Šefčovič in a bid to reach an agreement. Ms Truss has said that she will not accept any deal which requires goods from Britain being checked as they enter Northern Ireland and has said that she is willing to use the Article 16 mechanism of the protocol, which sets out the process for taking unilateral “safeguard” measures if either the EU or UK concludes that the deal is leading to serious practical problems or causing diversion of trade, which would amount to suspending parts of the deal. Ms Truss said “I will not sign up to anything which sees the people of Northern Ireland unable to benefit from the same decisions on taxation and spending as the rest of the UK, or which still sees goods moving within our own country being subject to checks.”

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UK and India launch negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement

International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan has met with Indian minister of Commerce and Industry Piyush Goyal this week to formally start talks on a Free Trade Agreement. If an agreement can be reached then it would boost UK trade total by as much as £28 billion a year by 2035 and increase wages across the UK by up to £3 billion. Ms Trevelyan said “A deal with India is a golden opportunity to put UK businesses at the front of the queue as the Indian economy continues to grow rapidly. By 2050 India will be the world’s third largest economy with a middle class of almost 250 million shoppers. We want to unlock this huge new market for our great British producers and manufacturers across numerous industries from food and drink to services and automotive.”

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Planning and housing

New proposals to update ‘broken’ leasehold system

New proposals to make it cheaper and easier for leaseholders in England and Wales to buy the freeholds of their buildings have been announced by the Government. Under the plans, leaseholders in buildings where there is a mixture of homes and non-residential facilities will have more freedom to manage or own their properties. At the moment leaseholders cannot bid to take control of their building if shops and other similar properties take up over 25% of the total floorspace. The Government is proposing to increase this limit to 50%. A consultation on the proposals will also explore making it cheaper for leaseholders to collectively buy their freehold. Leasehold minister, Lord Stephen Greenhalgh, said “The current leasehold system is outdated, unbalanced and broken and we are determined to fix it. Our proposals aim to rebalance power and should see more leaseholders than ever before owning the full rights to their homes?” The Government is also asking for views on the greater use of commonhold, which enables homeowners to collectively own the building their flat is in from the outset.

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Developers told to pay for remediating unsafe cladding on 11-18 metre buildings

The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove, has written a letter to the residential property developer industry requiring developers to agree a plan of action by early March. They must make financial contributions to a dedicated fund to cover the full outstanding cost of remediating unsafe cladding on 11-18 metre buildings, currently estimated to be £4 billion, fund and undertake all necessary remediation of buildings over 11 metres that they have played a role in developing and provide comprehensive information on all buildings over 11 metres that have historic safety defects and that they have played a part in constructing in the last 30 years. Mr Gove warns he will take all steps necessary to make this happen, including restricting access to government funding and future procurements, the use of planning powers and the pursuit of companies through the courts. If industry fails to take responsibility, the government will impose a legal solution if necessary. The government will announce which companies will need to make funding contributions following discussions with the industry but expects the duty to cover all firms with annual profits from housebuilding at or above £10 million.

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Councils chosen to pilot planning schemes

People living in deprived and urban areas will be encouraged to engage more with the planning system under new schemes being piloted by 11 councils. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has announced the 11 areas selected to boost participation in neighbourhood planning. Seven councils have been awarded up to £45,000 for the Simpler Approach to Neighbourhood Planning pilot aimed at making it easier for communities to set out their priorities for development. Another four councils have been allocated up to £50,000 to give residents additional support to produce a Neighbourhood Plan. Housing minister Christopher Pincher said “Local people know their areas best and by getting involved in neighbourhood planning, they can properly influence future development in their communities. Through these pilots, we are giving more people, and particularly those from under-represented areas, the tools they need to influence decisions that affect their lives.”

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House of Lords committee publishes report on meeting housing demand

The House of Lords Built Environment Committee (BEC) has published its final report on its inquiry into meeting housing demand. The report concludes that uncertainty about the future planning system and delays to planning reforms have had a “chilling effect” on housebuilding. The government’s target to deliver 300,000 homes per year and one million homes by 2025 is welcomed, however BEC concluded that this will not be possible unless the barriers to meeting housing demand are reduced. These barriers include skills shortages, lack of available land, lack of resources for local planning authorities (LPAs) and barriers and delays in the planning system. BEC also highlighted that local plans were currently too complex and detailed, which resulted in delays, and the importance of community engagement to ensure that communities were on-board with changes in their local area. BEC considered that section 106 agreements and the community infrastructure levy added complexity and uncertainty. More should be done to increase the predictability and transparency of these obligations. Concern was also raised about the quality of homes delivered under permitted development rights for conversions from office to residential properties. Stricter controls should be considered if necessary.

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Upcoming Webinars

Insights for businesses at the dawn of 2022

Register to join us at our free webinar – Insights for businesses at the dawn of 2022 – on 17th January at 11am. Martin McTague, Chair of Policy & Advocacy at the Federation of Small Businesses, has been one of the experts invited around the table at the Treasury, Cabinet Office and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. This has given him privileged access to the views of senior business leaders, as well as of Government decision makers and influencers. At this free webinar hosted by Ward Hadaway, Martin will talk about what he has learnt from around these top tables. This will include his perception of the direction of travel when it comes to Government policy to support businesses of all shapes and sizes following the latest twists and turns in the pandemic. After his insights, representatives from Ward Hadaway’s commercial, employment and insolvency teams will discuss their top five talking points for businesses as we enter 2022, specifically in the context of the particular challenges which the effects of the pandemic pose.

For more information and to book your place please click here.

CPD Programme – Grievances and whistleblowing

Join us on 1st February at 10am for our third webinar in our CPD Programme which will focus on grievances and whistleblowing. These sessions are completely free and will take place by Zoom, so they will not disrupt your day. They are perfect for HR professionals and managers who have responsibility for managing people. You will have the opportunity to ask questions via the Q&A feature, or our teams will be on hand for drop-in sessions for attendees after each event. Ward Hadaway’s Continuing Professional Development (CPD) Programme is a new programme of HR and employment law training designed for our clients and contacts.

For more information and to book your place please click here.

If you have any questions about the issues raised in this update, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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