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Planning News - 12 January 2017

Published: Thursday, 12th January 2017

72% of councillors think planning system is undemocratic. Britain to get quick-build homes – Javid. Javid assigns £7bn to affordable homes. And more stories...

This weeks planning news in association with ThePlanner, the official magazine of the Royal Town Planning Institute.

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72% of councillors think planning system is undemocratic

Councillors in England think that the planning system works in the interests of developers over councils and local communities, according to new survey.

The survey of 1,200 ward councillors in England was carried out by think tank Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) and commissioned by the National Trust.

According to the findings, 72 per cent of councillors think that the planning system is too weighted in favour of developers, at the expense of local communities.

In addition, half of those asked suggested that sites that are not in line with the local plan are being approved for housing, while the same percentage think planning departments are not adequately resourced. 36 per cent said that it is adequately resourced.

Jonathan Carr-West, chief executive at the LGiU, said: “The planning system is one of the fundamental pillars of local democracy, allowing communities to help shape the physical structure of the places they live. Councillors are the most important link between communities and that system. Our survey with the National Trust shows that many councillors feel that this democratic tool is at risk of being undermined.”

Other key statistics from the survey include:

  • 63 per cent of respondents strongly agreed or agreed with the statement: “The current planning system is too top-down”
  • 58 per cent disagreed with the statement: “It is easy for residents in my ward to influence the planning process”
  • 58 per cent of councillors with green belt in their area think that their council will allocate green belt land for housing in the next five years
  • 18 per cent think design has improved since the National Planning Policy Framework was published
  • 12 per cent think the loosening of planning restrictions has had a positive effect.

Ingrid Samuel, historic environment director at the National Trust, said it is worrying that councillors feel the NPPF hasn’t delivered the localism that was promised.

“If ministers are serious about local plans being at the heart of the planning system, then they should invest in council planning teams and use the housing white paper to give them the tools to deliver good quality housing in the right places.”

With the housing white paper due later this month, the LGiU and the National Trust said there are concerns that matter could be made worse if it sets out “rigid” housing numbers for local plans which don’t take account of local factors as the green belt and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The organisations hope the government will take a number of steps to improve the confidence councillors have in the planning system, including:

  • More resources for local planning authorities to help get local plans in place
  • A smart approach to meeting housing need that allows councils to recognise local constraints and focuses development in the most appropriate areas.

Laura Edgar, The Planner 
11 January 2017

Britain to get quick-build homes – Javid

Communities secretary Sajid Javid says Britain will get thousands of new homes through a quick-build modular method.

Speaking in an interview with Sky News, Javid said the forthcoming housing white paper would include measures to build “ready-to-go” homes – from factory-built to custom-made apartment blocks.

Following a visit to Germany and the Netherlands to look at prefab homes being built there, Javid said that if Germany and other countries could build made-to-measure, ready-made, ready-to-go modern, stylish homes, "I think they can be an important part of what we can deliver in the UK”.

"It can really make a difference, especially in terms of speed; so whereas today you can have a plot that is available for maybe a 1,000 homes – it can take years and years for them to be actually homes that people are ready to move into,” said Javid.

"I think if we can make that much quicker, maybe a couple of years or even less, it can make a dramatic difference."

Acknowledging that the government needs to build an average 250,000 homes a year to meet its target of building one million homes by the end of the Parliament, he said there is not “single magic bullet” that is going to lead to the increase.

“It is really about taking lots of action, both with the planning system but also with the types of homes we build.”

Javid said he would face down political opposition over plans to encourage councils to increase the number of homes being built in local areas.

He also said that the opposition he is most concerned about is the opposition of young and others looking for somewhere to live, either to rent or buy.

“What would happen if their political leaders fail them – and that is certainly not going to happen with this government.”

According to the Communities Secretary, in a bid to the meet the target, the housing white paper will contain measures to ensure that more land was released in the “right places” for development. Focus would be on brownfield land, not green belt land, he said, unless the circumstances were “exceptional”.

Laura Edgar, The Planner
9 January 2017

Javid assigns £7bn to affordable homes

Communities secretary Sajid Javid has unlocked £7 billion in an expansion of the government’s affordable housing programme that aims to help the country's housing needs to be met.

Housing providers can apply for a share of the fund, which was allocated an additional £1.4 billion in November 2016’s Autumn Statement.

The expansion of the existing affordable homes programme will see it offer a wider range of ways to help people into home ownership and to provide support for those that need affordable housing.

The variety of tenures now available includes affordable rent, shared ownership and rent to buy.

Rent to buy homes will be set at or below 80 per cent local market rent for a set period of time so that tenants have the chance to save for a deposit and will then have the opportunity to buy the property.

The government expects the £7 billion programme to deliver more than 200,000 homes.

Javid said: “Our newly expanded affordable housing programme, turbo-charged by a multibillion-pound investment, will allow housing associations to build more homes in places where they are most needed, particularly for families who are just about managing.

“By encouraging the delivery of more homes under a variety of tenures, we can create a housing market which truly works for everyone, meeting the diverse housing needs of this country.”

Homes and Communities Agency chairman Sir Ed Lister said: “The expanded affordable housing programme will help us continue to work with both housing associations and developers new to this area of the housing market to increase the availability of affordable homes.

“The expanded programme will also allow providers the flexibility and agility to respond to local needs and markets. This will boost house building by encouraging providers to deliver a mix of homes for both affordable rent and low-cost ownership that is most suited to each place.”

More details about affordable housing will be published in the housing white paper coming out later this month, said the government.

Laura Edgar, The Planner
5 January 2017

Scheme launched to stop infrastructure delays halting house building

A pilot scheme to stop infrastructure hold-ups delaying construction of new homes has been launched by the Housing & Finance Institute. The government has backed the scheme.

The strategy will be trialled in the South-East of England with the help of the South East Local Enterprise Partnership, the Home Builders Federation, Essex County Council, Kent County Council and Anglian Water, amongst others.

Last year, the Housing and Finance Institute released a report that suggested that every water company in England failed its sewerage targets for house building as an average over 2015.

The institute said the scheme would consider closely developments that have been delayed by a lack of water, sewage, electricity, gas or road connectivity.

Natalie Elphicke, chief executive of the Housing & Finance Institute, said the lack of local infrastructure on new housing sites is “drastically slowing down” the rate of homes coming onto the market.

“Water and sewage connectivity is a particular problem, with some water companies completely failing to deliver what housing developers require. This has been slowing down the rate of housing completions right across the country.

“Our hope is that this new pilot scheme, which brings together key players from the private and public sectors, will provide us with a blueprint for fixing these issues and facilitating accelerated housing growth.”

The scheme will run until May 2017. Its initial report is due by the end of this month (January 2017).

The findings will be reported to housing minister Gavin Barwell and Stephen Hammond, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure.

Barwell welcomed the pilot scheme and “its focus on identifying ways of working together to overcome infrastructure barriers”.

Referring to the institute’s Delivering Large Scale Housing: Unlocking Schemes and Sites to Help Meet the UK’s Housing Needs (pdf), Richard Blyth, head of policy at the RTPI, highlighted two barriers to delivering large scale housing:

  • Infrastructure funding mechanisms are not effective in the current economic climate
  • Financial risk

The report recommends linking together infrastructure expenditure, policies and planning with policies and planning for housing in order to unlock potential sites. It also recommends that local authorities, infrastructure providers and government agencies should develop ways to pool departmental and European resources to deliver infrastructure that supports housing schemes.

Blyth said: “The RTPI is very well aware that the completion of sound local plans, the granting of planning permissions and especially the implementation of planning permissions is held up by disagreements about whose responsibility it is to provide essential infrastructure. This fragmentation of policy making, which has very long standing roots, needs to come to an end. Therefore we welcome this initiative and look forward to the lessons to be learned from it.”

Laura Edgar, The Planner
6 January 2017 

Swansea ‘box village’ project unveiled

The University of Wales Trinity St David has unveiled proposals for a so-called Swansea ‘box village’ made up of thousands of former shipping containers providing up to 18,580 square metres of floor space.

Also involved would be a 6,038 square metre innovation precinct for start-ups and co-working.

The university’s concept for the ‘box village’ is a series of pavilions (hubs), each with a particular focus linking directly with aspects of its academic programme.

If approved, this initiative would be four times bigger than the proposed ‘box city’ for Cardiff Bay. It could require several thousand shipping containers that could be stacked on top of each other to create a number of storeys.

These proposals form an element of the emerging city deal for the Swansea city region.

The scheme would be part of the Innovative Quarter earmarked for the SA1 Waterfront area of Swansea.

University vice-chancellor professor Medwin Hughes said: “Box village and the Innovation Precinct will enable us to further exploit knowledge and expertise to create new enterprise hubs and high-skill accelerator schemes to grow new businesses linked to our portfolio, develop the skills of current businesses and attract new investment into the region.”

Leader at the City and County of Swansea Council Rob Stewart said: “The plans for a box village are an exciting part of the Swansea Bay City Region’s City Deal bid that would transform the regional economy, open up thousands of jobs and generate the kind of world-class digital environment that will allow local entrepreneurs to flourish and expand.

“The box village project, based on innovative examples of best practice, will allow flexible space for enterprising businesses to set up, grow and globalise. Once the components of a box village are in place, they really can look particularly striking and impressive.

“This project would complement our plans to develop a digital district on Kingsway and a digital square at the St David’s development site that would include digital artworks and digital projections.”

Roger Milne, The Planner
5 January 2017

News in brief

A Round-up of planning news

RTPI Awards for Planning Excellence 2017 entries closed

The RTPI Awards for Planning Excellence 2017 have now closed for entries and the shortlist will be announced on 7 February.

The RTPI said it had received a record number of submissions for the awards, across all categories, with an overall increased of 37 per cent.

Booking for the awards ceremony will open on 7 February.

60-bed Cheshire care home approved

Cheshire East Borough Council has approved LNT Care Development’s application to build a 60-bed care home on the site of the former Red Lion Hotel in Nantwich.

The facility is expected to provide residential and dementia care for those aged 65 and over.

Construction is due to start in June 2017 and is predicted to be completed by May 2018.

Christine Cooper, project director at LNT Care Developments, said the project is great news for the local area as it will create 50 jobs.

“The facility will incorporate intelligent dementia design and be eco-friendly by benefiting from ground source heat pumps, solar thermal panels and LED lighting keeping utility costs low.”

Government to announce support for Swansea lagoon

Plans for a tidal power lagoon in Swansea Bay are expected to be supported by a government-commissioned report this week, according to The Guardian. 

A review of the project was ordered last year, the results of which are expected to be published on Thursday (12 January).

Former energy minister Charles Hendry led the review.
Read more on The Guardian website.

Kier granted £42m by HCA

Kier Living has secured £41.9 million from the Housing and Communities Agency (HCA) to build just over 1,700 shared ownership homes in England over the next four years.

The contract is part of a £1.28 billion first round allocation from the Shared Ownership and Affordable Homes Programme 2016 – 2021.

The programme supports rent-to-buy homes as well as shared ownership.

Khan announces new low-emission bus zones

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has announced plans for 10 more low-emission bus zones, which would see the “greenest buses” on the capital’s most polluted routes. 

These aim to cut nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions and form part of Khan’s plans to tackle pollution in the capital. The new routes include Edmonton, Stratford and Haringey, bringing the total number of low-emission zones to 12.

Putney High Street and Brixton have previously been announced as zones. 

The zones are expected to reduce NOx emissions from buses along the routes by about 84 per cent.

Ealing regeneration project approved

Ealing Borough Council’s planning committee has approved the third phase of the transformation of Green Man Lane.

The phase has been designed by Conran and Partners for joint developers Rydon and A2Dominion.

The phase is expected to provide 136 new homes as well as completing a central public courtyard, which was started during the second phase of the development. The third phase also comprises a new civic square.

The regeneration of the Green Man Lane estate will see the replacement of 464 existing local authority flats over a five-hectare site with more than 770 mixed-tenure homes ranging from one to four bedrooms.

Europa Way application submitted in Warwick

A reserved matter application has been submitted to Warwick District Council for the first phase of infrastructure and landscaping works on land between Myton Road and Europa Way.

The plans have been put forward by Catesby Property Group on behalf of the Europa Way Consortium. They comprise a new signalised junction to Europa Way, a tree-lined central avenue and landscaped green corridor.

The infrastructure work aims to support the future development of the site in line with the district council’s local plan, including up to 735 new homes and a neighbourhood centre.

It will be known as Myton Green. Outline planning permission was granted for the scheme in September 2015. This infrastructure work aims to enable the early phase of new homes to be delivered by spring 2019.

Buyer secured for Birmingham development site

Real estate consultancy GVA has secured a buyer for a residential development site in Birmingham.

House builder Redrow bought the site, an 11.5-acre former playing field that has not be used for a decade. GVA’s planning team also helped Redrow secure planning permission from Birmingham City Council last year.

The site is just off Knightlow Road in Harborne. Plans include 63 homes and an area of on-site public open space.

Laura Edgar, The Planner
10 January 2017