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Planning News - 23 February 2017

Published: Wednesday, 22nd February 2017

Green belt is key natural capital asset, says Helm. Northern Powerhouse must include housing element. Right to Build taskforce is launched. And more stories...

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

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Green belt is key natural capital asset, says Helm

The green belt should be preserved and treated as a key part of the country’s natural capital 'asset register', according to the chair of the Natural Capital Committee.

Professor Dieter Helm was speaking at the ‘Green Belt of the Future’ seminar held last week at the GLA building in London.

Speaking in a personal capacity, Helm spoke of observing “decades of an almost entirely fruitless debate between people who think that the economy is on one side of the debate and the environment on the other”.

This, said Helm, was “an entirely sterile debate, and the wrong way to think about the argument; it misses out the enormous opportunities that come by viewing the environment as a key part of the economy".

Linking the need to protect the green belt to the need to define the country’s natural capital assets, Helm explained how natural capital has at its heart the idea that the environment “is a set of assets in overlapping ecosystems that are just as important as any other assets in the economy”.

Defining it as “a hard and measurable concept with proper accounting and balance sheets”, Helm suggested that, like the green belt, “natural capital needs to be situated right next to the people to whom it will provide the maximum benefits.”

At the same event, Janet Askew, director of academic engagement and enhancement at the University of the West of England, gave a passionate defence of the green belt.

“If nothing else,” she said, “we should leave this room today knowing that London has been influential around the world at defining what a compact city is. The green belt is a sustainable policy and it works."

"Those calling for building on green belt were unimaginative, recognising that, for them, building on flat green land is "much better and profitable than dealing with brown.”

While there had never been as much pressure on the green belt as there is now, Askew welcomed the recently published housing white paper for not showing any weakening of government policy towards it.

Joe Kilroy, policy officer at the RTPI, attended the event too and handed out the institute’s practice note on the green belt. It states that “green belt boundaries may well need to change, but only through careful reviews over wider areas than single local authorities, and where safeguards are put in place to ensure that development is sustainable, affordable and deliverable in a timely manner, and without prejudice to the renewal of brownfield land”. The practice note - Where should we build new homes - can be found here (pdf).

Martin Read, The Planner
21 February 2017






Northern Powerhouse must include housing element

Cities and regions in the north of England face a housing crisis unless steps are taken now to incorporate and accelerate residential development in plans for a Northern Powerhouse, says AECOM.

The planning and infrastructure consultancy said that in addition to infrastructure, housing “must also become a vital element of Northern Powerhouse delivery if the north of England is to successfully achieve economic growth and rebalance the economy”.

Incorporating housing into the decision-making and planning now will help to avoid a potential crisis, explained AECOM. For the Northern Powerhouse to be successful, existing housing stock needs to be improved, communities need to be strengthened and new homes need to be built to accommodate planned growth, to ensure that people will want to live and work in the area.

Local authorities, added the company, must not overlook housing when making decisions about the allocation of funds associated with the Northern Powerhouse.

Richard Green, director and business unit lead for the North of England, AECOM, said: “Discussions around the UK’s housing crisis focus on the South-East, where there is the greatest need for new homes, but it is just as important that housing also moves forward in the North to help fuel the Northern Powerhouse. Balanced UK economic growth can only be achieved if cities and regions in the North can successfully create well-connected communities close to transport links in areas where people want to live.”

Areas such as Cumbria, which has been earmarked for industrial and infrastructure investments, will need to plan how they will deliver appropriate housing and other vital social infrastructure, said AECOM. Housing should reflect the diverse communities that will emerge as regions develop.

The Northern Powerhouse should not focus only on connectivity initiatives, but also develop long-term, strategic growth plans that maximise the potential for housing along route corridors through, for example, brownfield regeneration, garden towns and green belt reviews, suggests the company.

Green concluded: “Housing is key to economic growth. Its vital role must not be forgotten as Northern Powerhouse momentum turns to delivery and funds to accelerate growth are allocated.”

The UK Northern Powerhouse conference takes place today and Wednesday (21 and 22 February). 

Scape Group, a built environment organisation, has called for greater public-private partnership to accelerate growth in the Northern Powerhouse.

At the UK Northern Powerhouse conference today, Scape framework partners Perfect Circle, a joint venture between Pick Everard, Gleeds and AECOM, led a debate on public-private partnership as a tool to accelerate growth in the Northern Powerhouse.

Mark Robinson, chief executive at Scape, has called for the government and local authorities to develop a strategy to ensure the North maximises public-private collaboration in policy-making and delivery, to help unlock the North’s potential.

Victoria Brambini, managing director at Scape Procure, said: “Collaboration between the construction industry and the public sector is already creating efficiencies for the public purse and socioeconomic value for local authorities. We need to remind the government that their commitment and support is needed to help us create the public infrastructure the North needs to prosper and accelerate growth.”

Laura Edgar, The Planner
20 February 2017


Right to Build taskforce is launched

A Right to Build expert task force that aims to help 80 organisations across the UK deliver more homes over the next three years has been launched.

The task force also intends to assist local authorities, community groups and other organisations to deliver large, affordable custom and self-build housing projects.

To ensure that other projects benefits, the lessons learnt will be shared through regional events and case studies within the Right to Build Portal.

Richard Bacon MP, task force ambassador and chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Self Build, Custom and Community Housebuilding and Placemaking, said: “Although we have these important new powers in England, custom and self-build housing will only become mainstream if local authorities and other organisations truly harness these powers.

“This is where the new Right to Build Task Force comes in, with its experts on hand to help. This may be councils needing help setting up, or better marketing of their demand registers, or advice in creating planning strategies. Alternatively, it could also include affordable housing providers or community groups who need help to engage with councils.”

The taskforce is funded by charity, the Nationwide Foundation, which aims to help increase the availability of decent affordable homes for people in need of housing.

Michael Holmes, chair of the National Custom & Self Build Association, said: “The Task Force will deliver valuable support to local authorities, affordable housing providers and community groups delivering effective policies and unlocking real projects. We know that English local authorities have a duty to grant planning permissions for 18,000 serviced plots by 31st October 2019. And this is only the tip of the iceberg with people registering on the new English demand registers on a daily basis. There is also huge untapped potential in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.”

The task force featured in the government’s recently published housing white paper Fixing our broken housing market. It is being supported by a number of partners including the RTPI, the Building and Social Housing Foundation, National Housing Federation and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

Laura Edgar, The Planner
16 February 2017


Council sanctions £183m council housing investment

Birmingham City Council has approved a £183 million investment into its council housing.

The council’s cabinet approved a £168.626 programme of investment into its stock of council properties as well as a £14.797 million investment into other programmes, including adaptations, clearing and redevelopment costs.

These are part of a total housing investment capital fund budget of £358.969 million.

Birmingham City Council’s cabinet member for housing and homes Peter Griffiths said: “We currently own and manage 62,616 homes properties and have made substantial improvements to thousands of our properties over the last few years.

“The average age of our properties is approaching 70 years, so investing in our stock is essential in order to safeguard its condition.

“The programme for 2017/18 to 2019/20 forms part of a continued programme of investment."

He added that the money would be used to update existing stock.

The cabinet has also approved a continued 1 per cent reduction in rent in line with the government’s new rent policy.

Laura Edgar, The Planner
16 February 2017


Offshore wind farm construction on a high – statistics

The total construction value for projects in the offshore wind farm sector reached £4.1 billion in 2016, increasing from £2.45 billion in 2015, according to latest statistics.

The data from construction industry analysts Barbour ABI suggests that wind farms alone accounted for 42 per cent of UK construction value in the utilities and power sectors. This accounted for 21 per cent of the entire infrastructure sector.

Barbour ABI expects this trend to continue as the pipeline for future offshore wind development is looking healthy – £23.2 billion worth of construction value is in planning.

According to data, three projects made a significant difference to the increase in construction value for offshore wind farms in 2016 – Beatrice Galloper and East Anglia ONE offshore wind farm projects. Together, they are worth £3 billion and are expected to produce over 1,600 megawatts of renewable energy an hour.

Michael Dall, lead economist at Barbour ABI, said: “Back in 2013 offshore wind farms accounted for only 7.5 per cent of the annual construction value for the utilities and power sector, which increased to 42 per cent in 2016, on the back of significant investment in this type of project.

“With reports showing that the cost of producing electricity in this way have fallen significantly, the increase in construction value makes sense.”

Laura Edgar, The Planner
20 February 2017


News in brief

A round-up of planning news


Sheffield mixed-use scheme green-lit

Sheffield City Council has granted outline planning permission for a £175 million mixed-use West Bar Square development.

The regeneration project, West Bar Square, aims to create up to 5,000 jobs.

The flexible masterplan comprises 1.4 metres square feet of city centre space, while the permission also covers associated landscaped public spaces.

Developer Urbo Regenerations is currently negotiating with potential occupiers of officers, private rented sector apartment block, a hotel, restaurants and retail units.

The permission forms part of the regeneration of Sheffield’s Riverside Business District.

The office units will be focused on the new West Bar Square, linking the Cathedral Quarter with the Riverside district (see image above).

The West Bar Square scheme has been designed by 5plus architects and masterplanners Urbed, and was developed working in conjunction with officers at Sheffield City Council. HOW Planning Consultants advised upon and co-ordinated the planning application process.


Masterplan approved for Glasgow uni expansion

Glasgow City Council has approved the masterplan for the expansion of the University of Glasgow’s Gilmorehill Campus.

The plan is to provide up to 85,000 square metres of learning, teaching and research space within a mixed-use quarter.

Planning and infrastructure services company AECOM and 7N Architects collaborated on the design of the masterplan.

It will be delivered on a phased basis and, the two companies explained in a statement, will be governed by extensive design guidance they have prepared. The guidance denotes the design of the buildings, including form and height.

Professor Anton Muscatelli, principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Glasgow, said: “An initial financial envelope of around £430 million will be spent over the next five years on the first phase of the project. It is part of a wider £1 billion investment which includes significant spend on refurbishing and improving the existing estate. This will be one of the biggest educational infrastructure projects in Scotland’s history and is certainly the biggest development undertaken by this university since it moved to Gilmorehill 150 years ago.”


London council approves hotel plans

Westminster City Council has approved plans to turn the War Office into a hotel.

The owners, the Hinduja Group and OHL Developments, will have to work to the condition that the historic character of the 1,000-room Edwardian building is not lost.

Additionally, the permission is dependent on the new hotel offering public access to the historically significant parts of the building for at least 10 days a year.

Plans for the development include the construction of a double height basement and three new floors. Eighty-eight new flats will also be created and a £10 million donation will be made to the affordable housing fund.


Contractor appointed for Manchester development

Russells Construction has been appointed to work on a £34 million grade II building, formerly known as Hanover House, in Manchester’s NOMA neighbourhood.

The 109,000 square foot development will see the building stripped back and remodelled to create 91,000 square feet of office space and 18,000 square feet of retail and leisure.

Hanover is expected to be complete by August 2018.

NOMA is a mixed-use regeneration scheme in Manchester and is a joint venture between the Co-op and Hermes Investment Management. More information can be found here.


Cotswolds to increase enforcement resources

Cotswold District Council’s cabinet has proposed additional funding to increase the capacity of its planning enforcement team.

The move aims to expedite processes and ensure that more developers are deterred from failing to comply with the terms of planning consent.

Cabinet member for planning services Mark MacKenzie-Charrington said: “By increasing the capacity of the team, we should be able to spread the workload more evenly and respond better to public concerns about enforcement. The extra resource should expedite processes and provide residents with more reassurance that we tackle breaches quickly.”

The full council will discuss the proposal this week.


New appointments to HCA board

Communities secretary Sajid Javid has confirmed four new appointments to the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) board.

Stephen Bell, Richard Blakeway, Councillor Simon Dudley, and Councillor Teresa O’Neill OBE have been appointed following a recruitment process in line with the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, said the government.

Javid said: “This is an important period for the HCA as it plays a key role in delivering the homes this country needs.

“The agency will be vital for boosting house building and speeding up the delivery of new homes so that everyone can benefit from having somewhere safe and secure to live.

“These appointments will bring new skills, knowledge and considerable experience that will be of real benefit to the HCA’s board.”

More information about the new appointments here.


Laura Edgar, The Planner
20 February 2017