Published: Thursday, 3rd March 2016
Housing starts and completions on the up. Council concern over starter homes policy. CBI wish-list for infrastructure. Oxfordshire carve-up proposed as part of devolution deal. And more stories...
Housing starts and completions on the up
Latest official statistics on housing starts and completions show a seven-year high. Figures published by the Department for Communities and Local Government for the last quarter of 2015 showed:
- The number of starts was up 23 per cent on same quarter a year earlier
- Completions up 21 per cent over the last year and
- More than 143,500 new build homes were started in 2015 – nearly double the low point of 2009.
Meanwhile, figures compiled for the Home Builders Federation (HBF) showed that planning permissions were up 12 per cent on same quarter last year.
The department pointed to strong regional growth with Cambridgeshire, Leicestershire and Northamptonshire experiencing high levels of starts along with areas in North Oxfordshire and the Thames estuary.
Figures released last week by the HBF showed that planning permissions for 59,875 homes were granted in England during the third quarter of last year, an increase from 53,409 permissions in the corresponding quarter the previous year. Some 242, 819 permissions were granted in the 12 months to October. That was the highest ‘moving annual’ total since early 2008.
Council concern over starter homes policy
Local councils, of all political parties, have agreed that the government’s starter homes policy will hinder rather than help to tackle the growing need for genuinely affordable housing in England.
Nearly 80 per cent of local authorities think that starter homes should not be classified as affordable housing while only seven per cent of councils think they will address the need for affordable housing in their local authority areas. Some 53 per cent of respondents were conservative-controlled councils.
Those findings were highlighted in a survey of local government compiled by the Town and Country Planning Association and the Association for Public Sector Excellence (APSE).
The poll found that over two thirds of councils anticipate that they will be building less social and affordable housing as a result of the government’s plans to reduce social rents by one per cent a year and for the next four years.
Over 90 per cent of councils described their need for affordable homes as severe or moderate, nine out of 10 councils were concerned that the extension of the Right to Buy to housing association tenants will mean that there will be less socially-rented homes.
CBI wish-list for infrastructure
The National Infrastructure Commission needs teeth, mustn’t be waylaid by politics and should focus on long term planning in eight key areas. That is the view of business group the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).
According to a CBI paper priorities should include:
- Delivering a secure, diverse low-carbon energy supply
- Preparing for the roll-out of 5G mobile connectivity
- Ensuring the impact of climate change is factored in when planning water supplies and flood defences and
- Devising creative solutions to meet the future growing demand on the UK’s roads, rails and ports.
Rhian Kelly, CBI business environment director, said: “It’s vital the Commission is not blown off course by politics. This independent body must be given strong teeth by politicians so that it can recommend significant infrastructure decisions, like building a new runway in the South East, are made for the future benefit of all.”
Oxfordshire carve-up proposed as part of devolution deal
Five local authority leaders in Oxfordshire have proposed the abolition of the county council as part of an ambitious devolution deal for the sub-region which would mean the creation of a new combined authority. Such a move would involve significant changes for public services in Oxfordshire and include neighbouring Cotswold District Council and South Northamptonshire Council.
Under this plan the county council functions would transfer to four new local unitary councils working together in partnership with the National Health Service, Police and the Local Enterprise Partnerships.
The option now under consideration would create four new local entities:
- A new southern Oxfordshire Unitary Authority would cover the area currently administered by Vale of White Horse and South Oxfordshire District Councils
- An Oxford City Unitary Authority
- A West Oxfordshire-Cotswold Unitary Authority covering the area currently administered by West Oxfordshire District Council and Cotswold District Council and
- A Cherwell-South Northants Unitary Authority covering the area currently administered by Cherwell District Council and South Northamptonshire Council.
Durham clamp-down on student housing
Durham County Council has confirmed it will introduce an Article 4 Direction which will remove permitted development rights in respect of the conversion of homes into small houses in multiple occupation (HMO).
As a result family homes in the central art of the city will no longer be able to be turned into student accommodation without the need for planning permission.
The local authority has been consulting on the initiative and has announced that the new regime could also apply to the Framwellgate Moor area on the outskirts of the city.
Cornish quarry re-think
Shire Oak Quarries Limited has withdrawn a planning application to support the full reopening of Dean Quarry near St Keverne in Cornwall. Stone from the quarry was destined for the proposed Swansea Bay tidal lagoon project.
Cornwall Council approved the proposals last year but this was quashed after a High Court judge ruled that the planning authority should have required an environmental impact assessment.
A spokesman for Shire Oak Quarries said: “We have now considered the implications of the court decision and decided to withdraw the application. We intend to address the matters held in the judgment and to re-submit a further application in due course.”
- Scottish Power has unveiled plans to more than double the capacity of its 440 megawatt Ben Cruachan pumped storage hydro project in Argyll.
- Swindon residents have been offered the opportunity to buy so-called solar bonds which will be invested in a five MW community solar power project approved by the borough council which has ambitious plans to install 200 MW of renewable capacity by 2020, enough to meet the energy needs of every home in the Wiltshire town.
- Proposals for what would be the largest solar power farm in Wales have been submitted by Countryside Renewables for an 89 hectare site on agricultural land at Llanbadrig, Anglesey.
- Law firm Herbert Smith Freehills advised energy firm Cuadrilla Resources on its successful appeal over Lancashire County Council’s refusal of planning permission for proposed monitoring and site restoration works at its Grange Hill shale exploration site near Singleton, Lancashire. This is the first appeal success for a shale exploration site following the Government’s Shale Gas and Oil Policy Statement of last year. The appeal was determined by a planning Inspector on behalf of the Secretary of State, The proposals do not involve fracking.
Cheltenham tightens consent times
Cheltenham Borough Council’s planning committee has voted unanimously to reduce the period given for planning consents from five to three years. This took effect from 1 March.
The council argued there was no longer any justification for giving a longer period for implementing permissions because monitoring had shown that approvals were not being translated into development on the ground.
Councillor Andrew McKinlay, cabinet member for development, said: “From 1 April 2011 to 31 March 2015 the total number of dwellings granted planning permission was 2,339, however the total number of dwellings completed during the same timeframe has been 1,031; this shows that only 44 per cent of dwellings granted permission during that time have been delivered” he said.
Forest of Dean planning audit
Forest of Dean District Council has agreed to an external review of its planning services this month. This four-day exercise will involve the Local Government Association, the Planning Advisory Service (PAS) and a peer challenge team of elected members and senior planning officers from other authorities.
The team will assess how well the Gloucestershire authority is delivering its overall priorities and how both officers and members are managing the planning development process. They will also canvass the views of those using the service.
Neighbourhood plans progress
Another slew of neighbourhood plans won local backing following referendums held last week. These included two for Little Aston and Stonall – in Staffordshire (Lichfield DC); one for Morpeth in Northumberland; one for the Old Market area of Bristol and one in Southampton (Bassett).
Princes Foundation launches BIMBY toolkit for homes planning
Residents in Norwich have been the first community to take advantage of an innovative online toolkit produced by the Prince’s Foundation. The BIMBY (beauty-in-my backyard) toolkit is a series of workshops that helps a community create a housing manual for an area which can become part of local planning policy. Groups in Cambridge and Malvern are evaluating the initiative.
City Deal for Swansea region submitted
The Swansea Bay city region has submitted an ambitious ‘internet coast’ city deal bid worth in excess of £500m over 20 years to the UK and Welsh governments. It aims to support 39,000 jobs and will focus on technology, energy and ultra-fast broadband infrastructure.
The Swansea Bay city region is made up of the local authorities of Swansea, Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and Neath Port Talbot.
In a separate but related move Cardiff capital region last week outlined its planned £1.28bn city deal to UK ministers, with a view to securing an in principle agreement in time for George Osborne’s budget due later this month.
- The London region of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), which has over 2,000 members working in the public, private and third sectors, has urged the incoming Mayor to stimulate economic growth, tackle climate change and build more homes to house the capital’s rapidly growing population.
- London assembly member Tom Copley has released a report titled ‘Tax Trial: Land Value Tax for London?’ which argues that a new and Value Tax (LVT) could provide the incentive to build over 200,000 new homes in the capital.
- Benson Elliot and Londonewcastle’s proposals to transform Ealing town centre with a series of new buildings, one 18 storeys high, providing new homes with shared gardens, a cinema, a music venue, shops, restaurants and basement car-parking and cycle storage have been approved by the west London council.
- The Metropolitan Police headquarters New Scotland Yard is set to be demolished now Westminster City Council has approved plans for a mixed-use scheme on the site in central London involving six new buildings providing nearly 93,000 square metres of new housing and retail and commercial floor space.
- Some 93 per cent of those polled in a referendum on a neighbourhood plan for the St Quintin and Woodland area of north Kensington voted yes on a turn-out of 23 per cent.
Moray Council in north-east Scotland is planning to trial the use of drones to survey potential development sites.
- Campaigners have applied for a judicial review of Canterbury City Council’s decision to enter a contract for the sale, subject to planning permission, of seafront land in Whitstable. View further details…
- Dorset County Council is facing an £18 million claim for compensation from a Portland quarry company following changes to the access arrangements for the site the firm owns near Southwell. View further details…