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Planning round-up - 5 May 2016

Published: Thursday, 5th May 2016

MPs urge airport expansion clarity - Call for action on air pollution - RTPI releases ethics advice - Network Rail creates new property company - And more stories…

MPs urge airport expansion clarity

The Commons Transport Committee has called on the Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin to set out a clear timetable for making a decision on new airport capacity in south east England as well as the additional environmental assessments which need to be completed.

A report from the all-party group of MPs concluded that arguments for and against expansion have changed little in a quarter of a century. The committee continues to back Heathrow, with the package of accompanying measures recommended by the independent Airports Commission set up by the Government.

Committee chair Louise Ellman MP, said: "The Government must make up its mind. The decision on location is not the end of the process, it is the start of one. Real progress cannot begin until the location is declared. Work on environmental issues can run in parallel with other pre-construction work.”

View the full ‘Airport expansion in the South East’ report.

Call for action on air pollution

Government action is needed to stop up to 50,000 people a year dying early from air pollution-related illnesses, according to the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.

The committee’s report on air quality, just published, argues for new Clean Air Zones in dozens of English towns and cities to cut the risk of cardiac, respiratory and other diseases caused by polluted air.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is planning new Clean Air Zones for five of the most polluted cities but MPs say more are needed to cut the health and environmental impacts of pollutants, including particulates and nitrogen dioxide.

Committee chair Neil Parish MP, said: "Councils in the dozens of other English cities currently exceeding EU pollution limits must also be given the option of using such powers if their communities support action.”

He added: “Communities must be given legal powers to set controls that meet their own circumstances - for example, some might want to charge polluting vehicles to access zones at certain times of day or to target specific bus routes."

View the full ‘Air Quality’ report.

RTPI releases ethics advice

For the first time the RTPI has published guidance on professional ethics. It highlights planners’ need to “act fearlessly and impartially in their professional judgement”. 

The Institute has recognized the growing ethical challenges that members face as planners are under pressure to deliver more with limited resources, and as more operate internationally in very different cultural and political systems.

The guidance note covers issues including ethical challenges, conflicts of interest, equality and diversity, professional competency, gifts and hospitality and use of social media.

Two other supporting notes have also been published to help members follow the updated Code of Professional Conduct published in February

View further details on the RTPI website.

Network Rail creates new property company

Network Rail has given its specialist transport property business, Network Rail Property, greater independence by establishing it as a property company with its own board which will approve investments in Network Rail’s estate and make decisions about the disposal of property assets.

The new structure and governance arrangement will enable Network Rail to ramp up its property activities to help generate £1.8bn by disposing of various assets. It will also provide greater focus on plans to deliver land for housing, while continuing to generate income from Network Rail’s other property assets to reinvest in the railway.

David Biggs, managing director of Network Rail Property, said: “Our new property company will have greater powers to unlock land for homes, drive economic growth in towns and cities and reinvest money into the rail network to help fund the railway upgrade Plan. It will mean that investment or asset disposal decisions can be made at the right level within the organisation in a timely way while ensuring appropriate oversight is in place.”

Space standards review proposed

The Government has confirmed a review of the national space standard introduced in March 2015. Confirmation came from Department for Communities and Local Government minister Baroness Williams during consideration of the Housing and Planning Bill in the Lords.

She said: “Now that the national space standard has been in place for more than a year, we agree that the time is right to assess how it is being used by local authorities.

“We therefore propose to undertake a review to see how the space standard is operating in practice. This will be completed by next spring and we will be happy to report back to the House on its findings and recommendations.”

View a record of the Lords debate.

Latest new home registration figures

A total of 36,566 new homes were registered by the National House Building Council (NHBC) in the first three months of the year in the UK, according to NHBC's latest new home registration statistics.

Some 28,398 new homes were registered in the private sector, a 7 per cent decrease on the 30,560 a year ago, with the public and affordable sector down 15 per cent with 8,168 new homes registered compared to 9,584 in Q1 2015.

The overall number is 9 per cent down on the same period last year when 40,144 new homes were registered. However for the financial year 2015/16, registrations remained in line with the previous year with 152,329 new home registrations, marginally ahead of the 152,262 registered in 2014/15.

View the NHBC press release and download the full statistics.

Number of empty homes continues to fall

New figures released by the Department for Communities and Local Government show that the number of empty English homes is now at its lowest level since records began. This equates to a drop of over a third from 318,642 in 2004 to 203,596 in 2015.

Figures also show an increase in the number of owner-occupied homes in the past year, after 7 years of decline, starting in 2007.

The downward trend in ownership is continuing to level out after a fall from a peak of 69.5 per cent in 2002 to 62.5 per cent in 2015 and 62.8 per cent in 2014.

View the full 'Dwelling stock estimates' statistics.

Warrington town centre revamp approved

Warrington Borough Council has approved final proposals for the £107m redevelopment of the town centre.

The Bridge Street Quarter project includes plans for a new market hall, a 2,000-seat multiplex cinema, a new council office and a public square.

The height of the cinema has been increased and more floor space added to the new council offices. Muse Developments is carrying out the scheme.

Under the proposals, the current market will be demolished and moved to a temporary site in Time Square. Demolition of buildings there began last year.

Planners said the scheme “would deliver the council’s aspirations for the town centre and ensure that it remains healthy, vibrant and competitive for years to come.”

Capital developments

  • Infrastructure services company AECOM has argued that the London Mayor needs more powers to ensure that the capital has the housing and infrastructure it needs. Currently the mayor lacks the powers to orchestrate planning across London’s wider commuter belt, it said. AECOM has proposed the next mayor should build “a coalition of the willing” involving authorities around the capital that want to “share in economic growth and are prepared to develop beyond their own localised housing demands”. This call came as Londoners prepared to elect a new mayor this week (5 May). View the AECOM press release.
  • Deputy mayor Sir Edward Lister approved two major developments on east London’s Isle of Dogs last week. The schemes – Alpha Square and Westferry Printworks – will provide for a total of more than 1,000 new homes, schools, a hotel and a health centre in a series of new blocks and towers.

Court briefs

  • A High Court judge has dismissed a bid for a judicial review of Sheffield City Council's controversial tree felling programme and whether it needed planning permission. View the BBC news article.
  • A High Court judge has refused to give campaigners permission to proceed with a judicial review against Canterbury City Council over its decision to sell land near the seafront in Whitstable, Kent. View the Local Government Lawyer news article.

Roger Milne