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Investment Zones: Planning headlines

As part of its levelling up agenda, the UK government has indicated a desire to drive economic growth and the accelerated delivery of much-needed additional housing through the introduction of ‘Investment Zones’.  Intended to facilitate the development of successful and prosperous communities, Investment Zones suggest time-limited tax cuts and streamlined planning measures designed to expedite residential and commercial development.  While many of the measures announced in September’s controversial ‘mini budget’ have been scrapped, the new Chancellor has confirmed that Investment Zones will remain.  So, what do we know so far?  Walker Morris’ Planning & Environment Partner Richard Sagar explains.


How is it suggested an area will become an Investment Zone?

Specific sites within a Mayoral Combined Authority (MCA) or Upper Tier Local Authority (UTLA) may be designated Investment Zones following an MCA’s/UTLA’s expression of interest.  The opportunity to submit an express of interest will be open to all MCAs/UTLAs UK-wide.  Discussions are already ongoing between the government and some 38 interested authorities.  The government has not yet published qualifying criteria, but sites will have to meet the following broad requirements:

  • Potential to increase long-term UK economic growth for example through addressing housing need, unlocking commercial sites, or attracting inward investment.
  • Local capacity and capability
  • Readiness to deliver Investment Zones in order to generate economic growth in short order
  • Alignment with other significant investments (such as HS2 rail stations) to ensure critical mass and greater growth opportunities.

Local authorities are also being encouraged to secure ‘business sponsors’ to help spearhead investment opportunities. The Government intends the Investment Zone initiative to complement the Freeports programme.  Freeports will be able to apply to become Investment Zones and may be well placed to do so.

What are the suggested tax incentives for Investment Zones?

Investment Zones will benefit from tax incentives which will be in place for approximately ten years, including:

  • 100% relief from business rates on newly occupied business premises
  • 100% first year Capital Allowance for qualifying expenditure on plant and machinery assets for use in tax sites
  • Enhanced Structures and Building Allowance
  • Employer National Insurance contributions relief
  • Full Stamp Duty Land Tax relief for land and buildings bought for use or development for commercial purposes, and for purchases of land or buildings for residential development.

What streamlined planning measures is it suggested will apply in Investment Zones?

To support swift delivery of Investment Zones, the government proposes to:

  • Work with developers and local planning authorities to ensure that planning does not impede delivery of schemes which already have permission
  • Set aside legacy policies from the EU which entail red tape and do not necessarily protect the environment. This aspect is likely to meet with some resistance and challenge.  Walker Morris understands that a number of councils are already saying that they will only support Investment Zones if sufficient environmental protections remain intact
  • Scale back s106 agreements, consultation requirements, infrastructure levies and environmental protections and relax national and local policy requirements (policies on heritage, Green Belt, flooding and building safety will be retained).

How we can help commercial and residential developers

The aims of the Investment Zone scheme are clear, bold and development-friendly.  Significant commercial prospects could benefit well-informed and progressive local authorities and businesses within the build sector over the coming years.  The planning and regulatory landscape is still evolving and Walker Morris will report on key developments.  Walker Morris’ Planning & Environment and Real Estate specialists are experienced in advising residential and commercial developers and operators through the entire life cycle of a project, from structuring and funding, to strategic land issues, planning and managing construction, and project completion. Walker Morris is therefore ideally placed to provide comprehensive and cross-discipline legal support to authorities and businesses looking to capitalise upon the opportunities that Investment Zones may afford.

For further advice or assistance in relation to Investment Zones, or in relation to development schemes or prospects in general, please contact Richard Sagar or any member of the Planning & Environment team.