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Planning News - 20 April 2017

Published: Thursday, 20th April 2017

Councils call for joined-up legislation to protect renters, County councils unveil developers shortlist for housing, RTPI points to missing links in industrial strategy. And more stories...

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

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Councils call for joined-up legislation to protect renters

The Local Government Association (LGA) has called on the government to close a legal loophole that allows landlords to convert properties into multiple “tiny units” marked as self-contained flats to secure the maximum level of housing benefit payments.

The loophole abuses legal exemptions, councils said, as well as the lack of clarity in environmental health, planning and housing benefit rules. It results in “widespread abuse of taxpayers’ money” with housing tenants “living in poor and often dangerous accommodation”.

According to industry figures, private landlords gained £4.6 billion in housing benefit in 2006, but by 2015, this had risen to £9.3 billion. The LGA said the micro sub-division of properties, called the Lockdown model, used by landlords is thought have contributed to this increase. It said the loophole first started in London but its use is now spreading across the country.

Homes can be converted into a maximum of six small self-contained studios with en-suite showers and portable cooking equipment without planning permission.

When new government regulations come into force later this year, councils will be able to issue fixed penalty notices of up to £30,000 for failing to comply with improvement and overcrowding notices, as well as apply banning orders.

However, the LGA said the exploitation of the loophole will undermine these new powers.  

“Councils need streamlined housing and planning powers to stop landlords converting properties into 'micro flats' without planning permission to protect tenants,” the LGA said. The organisation also wants to see more jail sentence for the worst landlords, which would be “more effective at keeping them out of the game than issuing a fine”.

Judith Blake, LGA housing spokesperson, said: “No landlord can act outside the law and councils will do everything in their powers to ensure tenants can live in rented properties safe in the knowledge that local authorities are there to protect them.”

Blake said the reputations of good landlords are being “tarnished” by the bad ones and councils are being let down by the current system.

“Legislation needs to be more joined-up to prevent some landlords taking advantage of people at the sharp end of our housing crisis.

“Giving councils powers to be able to build more affordable homes is likely to be more successful at meeting necessary standards than the private rental sector, and help reduce the risk of tenants falling victim to potentially tragic and preventable consequences due to unscrupulous landlords.”

Blake added that councils won’t hesitate to take irresponsible landlords to court for “blatantly failing” to comply with housing laws.

* The LGA represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales.

10 April 2017
Laura Edgar, The Planner


County councils unveil developers shortlist for housing

Two county councils have unveiled the shortlist for a pioneering £1 billion residential development partnership.

The move is thought to be the biggest initiative yet by county authorities seeking to set up as housing developers.

The initiative by Surrey and East Sussex councils would last for 15 years and targets 36 sites across both counties.

The shortlist comprises Taylor Wimpey, Places for People, Morgan Sandal, Willmott Partnership Homes and Telereal Trillium.

A partner is expected to be selected later this year to deliver the first phase of 2,000 homes.

Both councils are considering including land owned by other public sector bodies in the development programme under the government’s One Public Estate initiative. This is expected to put the value of potential development at £1 billion.

Cambridgeshire County Council was the first to unveil plans in 2015 to set up as a housing developer, with Durham also entering the market. Derbyshire County Council announced it had set up a development company last month.

19 April 2017
Huw Morris, The Planner


RTPI points to missing links in industrial strategy

The government’s industrial strategy green paper is failing to link with its other drives on housing, the environment and climate change, argue planners.

The RTPI says housebuilding and environmental protection are major economic and technological opportunities that must be exploited and much more closely integrated with the industrial strategy.

It calls for the strategy to set out specific, mission-oriented objectives such as the transition to a green economy and building one million homes. This would provide a catalyst to innovation growth and exports while at the same time improving people’s lives.

“The 25-year environmental plan that the government has committed to produce, and the country’s obligations under the Climate Change Act and clean growth plan should all shape the industrial strategy and the design of mutually compatible targets,” said head of policy and research Richard Blyth. “But these have received little attention in the current green paper.”

The RTPI also stressed the importance of built environment professional services to the industrial strategy, and the importance of maintaining the UK’s high standards of professionalism, environmental protection and construction products.

“A race to the bottom on environmental standards will mean our consultancies lose valuable marketable value,” said Blyth. “If the UK fails to invest in and value urban planning and other built environment professional services, this will not go unnoticed in overseas markets, not to mention its detrimental impact at home.”

Huw Morris, The Planner
18 April 2017


Huge adventure sports project makes waves in Afan Valley

The leader of Neath Port Talbot Council, Ali Thomas, has confirmed that the local authority is in talks over ambitious proposals for a huge adventure sports project earmarked for a 202-hectare site in the Afan Valley.

The area has already benefited from multimillion-pound investment in mountain bike trails, cycle paths and other facilities and attracts thousands of visitors each year.

Developer Northern Powerhouse Developments is proposing an all-weather, all-year-round resort expected to be home to three outdoor ski slopes, forest-based zip wires and treetop adventures, bike trails, an extreme sport centre, a state-of-the-art aqua park, indoor trampolining, spas and a central plaza featuring bars and restaurants.

Also on the cards are a 100-bedroom hotel and 500 luxury lodges as well as a Bear Grylls Survival Academy. Power for the complex is planned to come from a 5-megawatt solar farm. It is expected to pull in thousands of visitors to the region every year.

Thomas said: “It is exciting to see private sector interest in investing in the Afan Valley and we are in early stages of discussions with Northern Powerhouse Developments in respect of further private sector investment.”

Afan Valley lies north-east of Port Talbot, with the city of Swansea 20 kilometres to the west and Cardiff 44 kilometres to the east. Part of the site already has planning permission for new lodges and residential units.

13 April 2017
Roger Milne, The Planner


News analysis: Can SMEs and housing associations help supply?

Diversity is essential if we are to solve the housing shortage - that was the message from a TCPA seminar on the housing white paper.

The recently published housing white paper (HWP) signals a “really important” change, suggests Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) chief executive Kate Henderson.

Henderson was one of several speakers discussing the HWP at a recent TCPA seminar.  The HWP, believes Henderson, has helped “reframe” the debate. The white paper is “pragmatic”, she added, and “much more balanced in the types of tenures that need delivering”. But while the HWP was refreshing in its admission that planning is in need of more resources, a lack of focus on viability issues was troubling. 

Henderson spoke about the need to diversify the supply mix. While the private sector and volume house builders are a “very important” part of the supply mix, “they are never going to be the full answer to the question”. There is “always going to be a gap” one that will need filling by a full range of supply options, including SMEs and housing associations, she said.

Housing associations

Alistair Smyth, head of policy at the National Housing Federation, the trade body for housing associations, told the seminar that the sector built 40,000 homes in 2015/16. Its plan to build 120,000 homes a year, set out in 2013, has recently been refreshed to include increased housing association output over 20 years so that, by 2035, 120,000 homes a year are being built by the sector.

Smyth cited two projects by way of example to explain how housing associations are a vital vehicle for diversification of supply, including Peabody’s work at Thamesmead. 

"Housing associations can access finance and be confident over the long term that they will recoup it"

Before Peabody took over that project in 2014, the buildings were owned by Gallions housing association, the land by Tilfen Land and community assets by Trust Thamesmead. Smyth explained how Peabody used its financial capability to buy all three elements and bring them together. This, he argued, is an “almost a unique example” of a housing association owning the stock, but also the land, the utilities and the community assets.

Housing associations “can be patient investors,” added Smyth.

Most of the Thamesmead site is being funded by Peabody’s own funds, cheap debt and particularly the bond market, said Smyth.

“Not all, but a number of housing associations are uniquely placed to do that because they are long-term patient investors; they can assess finance and can be confident over the long term that they will recoup it.”

SMEs

Brian Berry, CEO at the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), told the audience that, traditionally, all homes in the country were built by SME builders. 

“In 1998, two-thirds of all new homes were built by SMEs. But over the last decade or so that has dropped.”

SME builders are important because they are “good for local growth,” said Berry. Employing local people offers competition and quality. A local builder’s reputation depends on quality of output, said Berry, with its key personnel often living within the communities for which they’re building.

The FMB sees the white paper as encouraging because it talks, “for the first time,” about the importance of small builders for delivery.

“If we continue following a trend of decline, we will become an endangered species” – Brian Berry on SME builders

Builders have said they are happy to pay more to get their schemes through the planning system, said Berry –  something proposed in the white paper.

However homes will not be built unless there are people to build them. Berry explained how the FMB’s quarterly trade survey suggests that there is a shortfall across the trades, with 59 per cent of its members having problems recruiting bricklayers and 41 per cent struggling to hire plumbers.

The FMB, said Berry, is looking at developing “employer-led trailblazing apprenticeships”. 

“People should be trained in a range of skills so they can withstand any future recession.”

10 April 2017
Laura Edgar, The Planner


News round-up

A round-up of planning news

Cushman & Wakefield to masterplan Birmingham Smithfield site

Birmingham City Council has appointed Real estate agency Cushman & Wakefield to regenerate the city’s 14-hectare Smithfield market site, home of the city’s wholesale market. It is described as “one of the largest city centre regeneration opportunities in Europe”. Cushman & Wakefield will masterplan and dispose of the site.

The council hopes that Smithfield, designated an Enterprise Zone in 2012, will act as a catalyst for the transformation of the city’s wider Southern Gateway area. Development of the site is expected to deliver more than 300,000 square metres of new floor space, 2,000 new homes and 3,000 new jobs, with an investment value in excess of £500 million.

The aim is for the site to become a “landmark, sustainable, mixed-use development” including a “family and leisure hub”. Amenities will include a market and leisure hub (supported by independent retailers, restaurants and hotels), a public square, pedestrian boulevard, integrated public transport and a residential neighbourhood (offering “modern, sustainable homes in a green setting”).

Cushman & Wakefield will work with Birmingham City Council to develop the masterplan and appoint a delivery partner.

Newcastle Science Central secures approval

Plans for a £29 million Learning and Teaching Centre on Newcastle Science Central have been approved.

The flagship development by design team Sheppard Robson will seat 750 people in the auditorium and 200 more in a lecture theatre on the ground floor, plus a range of seminar rooms on upper floors.

The scheme includes the creation of a significant area of public realm, which will connect Science Square with a landscaped Knowledge Square. 

Professor Suzanne Cholerton, Newcastle University’s pro-vice-chancellor for learning and teaching, said the centre would feature state-of-the art learning facilities for up to 2,200 students across three floors as well as exhibition space, a café and expansive social learning spaces.

Persimmon set to build new homes in Derbyshire

Up to 250 new homes are to be built on the outskirts of Derby following a deal overseen by Midlands-based commercial property agency Innes England and developer Persimmon Homes. Situated three miles north-east of Derby city centre, the site has outline planning consent for up to 250 dwellings across some 18 acres. Persimmon Homes will start construction work once all necessary consents have been put in place. The scheme is set to include a mix of two, three and four-bedroom homes.

Robert Hartley, chairman at Innes England, said: “Oakwood is a popular suburb on the outskirts of Derby city centre, which benefits from a host of local amenities including shops, good primary schools and a leisure centre. It is within easy reach of the city but also has lovely open countryside nearby and is adjacent to Chaddesden Wood. Breadsall Priory and Morley Hayes are also only a few miles away”.

The landowner is seeking planning permission for a second phase of development comprising 16 acres.

Europe's tallest modular tower nears completion

The final module of Europe’s tallest modular tower has been lowered into place at a site in North London. Apex House in Wembley is a 29-storey structure providing student accommodation developed by Tide Construction and Vision Modular Systems.

The scheme comprises 679 modules and delivers more than 580 rooms that will be ready for students in September. The development also includes a cinema and an outdoor courtyard. Planning and housing minister Gavin Barwell and London mayor Sadiq Khan have made off-site construction a priority to help ease the strain on the capital’s housing supply. 

The government has pledged that 100,000 homes built will be delivered using modular methods. Last year’s autumn statement pledged £285 million for accelerated construction techniques through the National Productivity Investment Fund.

Rise of the £1 million flat

Million-pound apartment sales in England and Wales have nearly trebled in the past decade, according to research. Data gathered by Lloyds Private Banking showed 2,967 flats worth £1 million or more were sold last year, a 196 per cent jump from 1,002 in 2006.

A total of 96 per cent of the properties were based in London and where they made up 35 per cent of all million-pound addresses sold there. Westminster is home to the most expensive apartments in the UK, with an average price of £2,215,073, according to Lloyds.

Sales of million-pound-plus flats in London have similarly increased threefold, from 973 to 2,853 since 2006, said Lloyds.

Commuters show marathon effort getting to work

Commuters are far more active than they realise, with one in nine walking the equivalent of a marathon to work every fortnight, according to latest research. Macmillan Cancer Support found that 3.5 million workers spend 40 minutes a day walking to and from their work, including between trains, getting to and from stations and bus stops as well as climbing escalators.

The average commuter spends 28 minutes a day on foot, including eight minutes standing, 12 minutes walking, five minutes climbing stairs or escalators, and three minutes running.

18 April 2017