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Planning News - 19 January 2017

Published: Thursday, 19th January 2017

Neighbourhood Planning Bill: Lords express concerns about planning conditions measures. £1.2 billion allocated for England's roads. And more stories...

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

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Neighbourhood Planning Bill: Lords express concerns about planning conditions measures

Members of the House of Lords have expressed both support for and concern about measures for pre-commencement planning conditions laid out in the Neighbourhood Planning Bill – some calling for more evidence to suggest they delay house building.

The calls were made during the second reading of the bill in the House of Lords.

The government hopes that the bill, which was launched in September 2016, will support more house building and provide more local say over development.

It seeks to speed up and strengthen the neighbourhood planning process by simplifying how plans can be revised as local circumstances changes.

The bill also includes measures that aim to ensure that planning conditions that require developers to take action before work starts are only used when strictly necessary, and in a way that makes sure heritage and environmental safeguards remain in place, by inserting a new section into the Town and Planning Country Act 1990.

An explanatory note released alongside the legislation states that planning permission can’t be granted “subject to a pre-commencement conditions without the written agreement of the applicant to the terms of the condition”.

Clause 12, which discusses pre-commencement planning conditions, was a key focus for the House while members scrutinised the bill.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth said a cause of the delay between planning permission and the start of construction is down to the use, “or misuse”, of pre-commencement planning conditions. He noted that the bill would ensure that pre-commencement planning conditions are used by local planning authorities only when agreed by the applicant.

Baroness Finn (Con) expressed support for clause 12 and its “robust measures”, stating that pre-commencement conditions are “unnecessarily restrictive and a major cause of delay”.

Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) disagreed with Baroness Finn, saying that she was not sure whether there “really is solid and independent evidence – not just evidence given by developers – that pre-commencement conditions slow down their delivery of housing development”.

She added that she would like more clarity on how the pre-commencement conditions process would operate.

London Councils, said Lord Kennedy, had made the point that there is “little robust evidence” to suggest that the current planning conditions systems has led to an undersupply of housing.

“It is not very sensible for the government to seek to address issues which are generally accepted as not being a problem while failing to address issues that are.”

He, as well as several other members including Baroness Parminter, asked for the government to set out in detail the evidence to suggest development is delayed by pre-commencement planning conditions.

Further to this, he said conditions speed things up by enabling planning permission to be secured without finalising the full details. Again, he referred to London Councils and the organisation's belief that the measure will put “considerable strain” on local planning authority resources.

Instead, he said, conditions have an important role in securing sustainable development that is “careful and considerate” of local communities.

Lord Lansley (Con) said the House would need to look carefully at how pre-commencement conditions interact with the permission in principle route to planning approval.

“If they are not incorporated effectively into the permission in principle, we increase the risk that the pre-commencement planning conditions will all be incorporated into the so-called technical application,” he said.

“However, they will not be technical at all; they will be instrumental to the question of whether planning approval is granted.”

Baroness Parminter (LD) agreed that conditions should be “reasonable and necessary”. However, they should be seen as a “positive tool” to ensure that permission can be granted.

She said it is clear that the “ability of local planning authorities to apply pre-commencement conditions should be retained to ensure that development is environmentally and socially sustainable, particularly to protect residents and property from increased flood risk”.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn (Con) said there is a real concern that local planning authorities would not feel able to press for archaeological conditions under clause 12.

He asked the government for a “clear commitment on future guidance being positive about the importance of heritage and of the necessary conditions to protect it”.

The Lords are due to meet for the committee stage of the bill on 31 January, 2 February, 6 February and 8 February.

The full transcript of the session can be found here.

18 January 2017
Laura Edgar, the Planner

£1.2 billion allocated for England's roads

Transport minister Andrew Jones has announced the allocation of £1.2 billion of roads funding in England.

The Department for Transport (DfT) says that councils will receive the money to help them improve roads, cut congestion and improve journey times.

The funding includes money from the new National Productivity Investment Fund (£185 million for 2017/18), which was announced in the Autumn Statement and the Pothole Action Fund.

In addition, it includes £75 million that councils can bid for to repair and maintain local infrastructure, including rural roads.

The government has said the funding will be spent on the latest step in its economic plan, including putting in place improved transport links.

Jones said: “Roads play a significant part in everyday life, linking people with jobs and businesses with customers, which is why this government is investing record amounts improving and maintaining highways across the country to help motorists.

“The funding we have allocated is focused on relieving congestion and providing important upgrades to ensure our roads are fit for the future – helping to build an economy that works for everyone.”

A new junction will be installed on the M11, junction 7A, near Harlow in Essex. It is expected to cut journey times to Stansted and Cambridge and ensure the delivery of 15,000 homes. The project will be part-funded by Essex County Council.

The funding allocations can be found here (pdf).

16 January 2017
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Report: Helping SME builders could boost housing delivery

The number of SME builders has reduced by approximately 80 per cent over the last 25 years, according to a new report by the Home Builders Federation (HBF).

If their numbers were to return to 2007 levels, 25,000 additional homes could be built a year, the report claims.

The HBF, the representative for the house building industry, said the report highlights the challenges faced by SME builders looking to increase output.

The report, Reversing the decline of small housebuilders, is based on interviews and discussions with smaller members of the HBF.

It notes that through the 1960s and 70s, small companies could set up, grow quickly and established themselves as “significant” contributors to local economies. By 1988, more than 12,000 SMEs were building new homes.

However, now the number is much lower and between 2007 and 2009, one-third of small companies ceased building homes.

Indeed, Steve Morgan CBE, chairman at house builder Redrow, founded in 1974, wrote in the foreword that establishing a home building company from scratch today “would be almost inconceivable”.

The report states that barriers to entry and growth in the industry are many and varied, with small and medium-sized firms sharing many of the frustrations experienced by larger, national companies. Others are more specific to SME builders.

The availability of suitable housing sites and the “constant struggle” to secure a planning consent that can be implemented through a planning process “beset by delays and bureaucracy” creates delays and costs that impact on the ability for SME builders to grow, according to the report.

Despite banks increasing lending to SMEs generally, the Reversing the decline of small housebuilders suggests “little has improved” since the recovery from the financial crash in 2008.

Stewart Baseley executive chairman at the HBF, said: “While housing output has increased significantly in recent years, the vast majority of the increases have come from larger companies. The number of smaller builders has collapsed over recent decades with few new entrants to the market able to grow to any size.

“If government wants to see continued increases in supply it is imperative it enables SME builders to play their part. Removing the barriers for SME builders could result in tens of thousands of desperately needed additional homes being built and boost economies up and down the country.”

In response, it lays out a number of recommendations for the government, including:

· Introducing a presumption in favour of residential development on appropriate brownfield sites rather than a continued reliance on public sector-led solutions through brownfilend registers or overly restrictive planning use regulation.

· Increasing the ‘buffer’ required in fiver year land supplies: Local plans effectively set an upper limit on housing supply in an area through five-year land supplies. By planning for a ‘buffer’ of 20 per cent additional dwellings over and above the minimum it is far more likely that housing need will be met.

· Planning for a wider range of sites within local plans.

· A new phased planning application fee schedule: This would in total, see revenues for local planning authorities increase which would incentivise good performance and timely decision-making and discharge of conditions.

· Lifting barrier for builders to access government support enjoyed by SMEs in other sectors.

· Earlier participation of highways authorities in pre-planning discussions.

Richard Blyth, head of policy at the RTPI, said: “There are a number of ways we can support SMEs, including breaking up large sites so that a wide range of providers can deliver on them; and direct commissioning of building from housing associations and councils. On planning conditions, a balance needs to be struck between providing the right level of quality assurance and not unnecessarily stalling good development. The sharing of best practice is the best way to achieve this.”

The report can be found here (pdf).

16 January 2017
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Canterbury Cathedral welcome centre approved

Canterbury City Council has granted planning approval and listed building consent for the design of a new welcome centre for Canterbury Cathedral.

The project is part of the Canterbury Journey, a £24.7 million, five-year development programme that aims to restore and conserve the cathedral.

The project also seeks to deliver learning engagement opportunities.

The Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded the project £13.8 million.

The 390 square metre building will be located next to the grade I listed Christ Church Gate, which is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The welcome centre is expected to offer new community facilities for visitors, pilgrims and the Canterbury community. The restored 16th century Sun Inn will house the ticket desk, shop and visitor information.

In addition, the centre will also provide a multi-purpose education and recreation space.

Architectural practice Berman Guedes Stretton designed the new centre. The company said that to reduce the impact on the significant archaeological assets, including Roman remains, discovered on the site, the welcome centre footprint and structure primarily rests on the space currently occupied by the site’s buildings.

12 January 2017
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Key report backs Swansea tidal lagoon as ‘pathfinder project’

Swansea Council leader Rob Stewart has welcomed the publication of an independent review by former energy minister Charles Hendry, backing proposals for a £1.3 billion tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay.

Hendry's report into the viability of the technology recommended that the UK Government should back the 320-megawatt (MW) Swansea proposal as a pathfinder project.

He insisted that “the evidence is clear that tidal lagoons can play a cost effective role in the UK’s energy mix and there is considerable value in a small (less than 500 MW) pathfinder project.

“I conclude that tidal lagoons would help deliver security of supply; they would assist in delivering our decarbonisation commitments; and they would bring real and substantial opportunities for the UK supply chain.

“Most importantly, it is clear that tidal lagoons at scale could deliver low carbon power in a way that is very competitive with other low carbon sources.

“The aim now is that we should move to secure the pathfinder project as swiftly as possible, so the learning opportunities it offers can be maximised. I have, however, also concluded that the smaller pathfinder project needs to be operational before we move to larger scale projects.”

This week’s report makes over 30 recommendations, including a call for a National Policy Statement for tidal lagoons similar to nuclear new build (where specific sites are designated by the UK Government as being suitable for development). It also recommended the establishment of a new body at arms-length from the government, with the goal to maximise UK advantage from a tidal lagoon programme.

Stewart said: “This is a game changing moment for Swansea because the tidal lagoon project has the power to improve lives and significantly boost the city's economic prosperity. This project, combined with the Swansea Bay City Region's City Deal bid to the UK Government, would be worth close to £3 billion to the regional economy.”

The UK Government still needs to agree a deal on the price paid for electricity generated by the Swansea scheme and the project will require a marine licence from Natural Resources Wales, covering the scheme’s environmental impact.

There are hopes of developing a network of larger lagoons around the UK coast, harnessing power from the ebb and flow of the sea's tides: first, to nearby Cardiff and Newport, then to West Cumbria, Colwyn Bay and Bridgwater Bay.

Hendry's review can be found here

12 January 2017
Roger Milne, The Planner

News in brief

A round-up of planning news: Tuesday 17 January, 2017

RTPI publishes Neighbourhood Planning Bill brief

The RTPI has published a brief for the Neighbourhood Planning Bill in advance of its second reading in the House of Lords today (17 January).

The briefing notes that there are various welcome clauses in the bill to improve on the neighbourhood planning process, including an increase in the weight to be attached to a neighbourhood plan once it has passed a successful referendum (clause 1) and making it easier to amend a neighbourhood plan (clause 3).

The briefing can be found here (pdf).

Incentives for pensioners to downsize

The government is planning to offer incentives to pensioners to sell their homes and downsize, according to a report in Daily Telegraph.

Communities secretary Sajid Javid will publish a housing white paper later this month as the government attempts to tackle the housing shortage. Measures will include offering pensioners help with the cost of moving or an exemption on stamp duty, freeing up family homes.

The paper reported a Whitehall source as saying that homeowners would probably favour the proposal because they are “fed up having their 30-year-old children in their childhood bedroom”.

Read more on The Times website.

Pollution zones in Scotland rise to 38

The number of pollution zones in Scotland has risen to 38, according to figures from Friends of the Earth Scotland.

The campaign group said that air quality in the zones had breached the safety standards and that pollution levels are a “public health crisis”.

According to BBC Scotland, the Scottish Government says it is determined to improve air quality and that it is working to ensure that Scotland’s first low-emission zone is in place next year.

The data suggests that the country’s most polluted street was Hope Street in Glasgow, with Edinburgh’s Salamander Street being one of the five new pollution zones.

Read more here.

Site clearance for Midland Metro begins

Work to progress the proposed extension of the Midland Metro from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill is due to start this week.

The Midland Metro Alliance, working on behalf of the West Midlands Combined Authority, will begin to clear vegetation from overgrown areas of the disused former South Staffordshire Railway line to carry out structural and environmental surveys.

The Wednesbury to Brierley Hill extension will be 11 kilometres long and have 17 stops, including four provisional stops. It is expected that construction of the route will begin during 2019.

RTPI calls for bursary sponsors

The RTPI is calling for sponsors for two of its bursary schemes which aim to help fill the shortage of planners and increase the diversity of the planning profession.

More than 95 students benefited from RTPI bursaries in 2015-16 and 2016-17, with financial support from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), the Planning Inspectorate, private sector planning consultancies and other sponsors.

Twenty-five RTPI-accredited planning schools are supporting the initiatives this year.

Andrew Close, head of careers, education & professional development at the RTPI, said: “The bursary funds have been growing from strength to strength. They are a true partnership between the RTPI, universities, and the public and private sectors. We very much hope that more organisations can come forward to further support these schemes to build a longer-term legacy and encourage more students from different backgrounds to join this exciting and rewarding profession.”

Those interested in sponsoring RTPI bursaries for 2017 and beyond should contact for more information.

New homes for historic Leicestershire village

Richborough Estates and Fisher German have completed the sale of a 22-acre development site in Leicestershire to premier regional developer Mulberry Developments.

The site is on the northern edge of the medieval village of Great Bowden. Earlier this month, development agency Fisher German, on behalf of strategic land promoter Richborough Estates, secured planning consent for 50 homes, a country park, allotments and a children’s play area.

The existing village sits in a conservation area.

A reserved matters planning application for development of the site was lodged by Mulberry Developments in December 2016.

17 January 2017
Laura Edgar, The Planner