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Planning News - 6 July 2017

Published: Thursday, 6th July 2017

£2.3bn housing infrastructure fund launched, Massive increase in homes approved for green belt, Self and custom build homes market on the rise. And more stories...

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

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Communities secretary Sajid Javid has launched a £2.3 billion fund aimed at unlocking sites for 100,000 new homes in areas of high demand.

The money is being invested through the Housing Infrastructure Fund, which forms part of the £23 billion National Productivity Investment Fund.

Both funds were announced by chancellor Philip Hammond in the 2016 Autumn Statement.

Javid told the Local Government Association (LGA) conference that the investment would help to fund the building of “vital physical infrastructure projects” such roads, bridges and energy networks, “the absence of which continues to hold housebuilding back”.

The funding will also help to build schools, health care centres and digital infrastructure to accommodate growing communities and alleviate pressure on public services, according to the government.

Once proposals have been approved, it is expected that local authorities would begin building the necessary infrastructure immediately, with the homes to follow.

Javid said: “To build the homes this country needs, we need to deliver the right infrastructure in the right place at the right time.

“By investing in local infrastructure, we can help unlock building thousands of new homes in the areas where they are needed most.

“The Housing Infrastructure Fund will also make sure we have better public services in place for local communities.”

Lord Porter, chairman of the LGA, said: “We’re pleased that the government has followed through on its commitment to invest in infrastructure linked to housing and that this to be led by councils, as we outlined on our preliminary Housing Commission findings last year.

“Going forward, what’s crucial is that the arrangements to access this fund are flexible, especially around different housing tenures, and that all councils can access funds to deliver housing for their communities.

“Councils know their communities, and the places in them, best – and so it’s right that approaches to invest in local infrastructure are led by local authorities.”

Andrew Whitaker, planning director at the Home Builders Federation, said: “Funding necessary infrastructure will give local authorities the opportunity to remove barriers to developments being delivered.

“Direct support for critical infrastructure will not only unlock more housing, it should also help to accelerate planned developments.

“Local authorities that plan for growth should be supported and that will, in turn, allow house builders to get on and deliver the homes our communities so desperately need,” he added.

The fund also aims to support councils to step up their plans for growth, release more land for housing and get attractive, well-designed homes that people want to live in built at pace and scale.

Javid also announced that the government will launch a consultation on a new way for councils to assess their local housing requirements, which was first announced in the housing white paper in February.

He said the aim is to ensure local plans begin life as they should, “with an honest, objective assessment of how much housing is required”.

This requires a “much more frank, open discussion with local residents and communities” and a new, straightforward approach so the process is understood by everyone.

5 June 2017
Roger Milne, The Planner

A total of 425,000 homes are now due to be built on the green belt, a jump of 54 per cent since March 2016.

An analysis of local authority and city regional plans by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) reveals that more than 70 per cent of the homes are unaffordable to the people who need them.

The 54 per cent increase is the biggest year-on-year increase in building proposed in the green belt for two decades.

Nearly 98,000 homes are planned for green belt in the North-West, with 73,000 scheduled in the West Midlands and 71,000 set to built around London and the South-East.

The CPRE warned that government funds are handsomely rewarding the development of green belt land that ministers promised to protect without delivering the much-needed affordable homes the cash was designed to encourage.

It claimed the New Homes Bonus initiative would reward councils with £2.4 billion for the proposed 425,000 new homes.

“Green belt is being lost at an ever faster rate, yet the type of housing being built now or in the future will do very little to address the affordable housing crisis faced by many families and young people,” said CPRE director of campaigns and policy Tom Fyans.

“We must not be the generation that sells off our precious green belt in the mistaken belief it will help improve the affordability of housing. The only ones set to benefit from future green belt development will be landowners and the big house builders, not communities in need of decent, affordable housing.”

3 July 2017
Huw Morris, The Planner

The UK’s self and custom build housing market has recorded its third consecutive annual rise, according to new research.

The market is growing at 6.25 per cent year on year, information provider Homebuilding and Renovating has suggested. At its current pace, the sector is estimated to reach 16,500 home completions by 2020.

The three-year forecast indicates an industry growth of 41 per cent, valuing the sector at £6 billion.

The forecast, Homebuilding and Renovating said, reinforces the sector’s strategic role in contributing to government housebuilding targets.

Jason Orme, a contributor to the research, said: “As a result of the market increase and other factors – not least the reluctance of speculative house builders to differ their standard offerings – suppliers of products and services are increasingly finding the self and custom build market an interesting opportunity. Without discerning information, both of these stakeholders are likely to miss their key goals in the years to come. We compiled this report to facilitate access to the heart of the industry and contribute to them reaching a new milestone in their growth.”

5 July 2017
Huw Morris, The Planner

Rural areas in England could become ‘enclaves of the affluent’ unless the government tackles the lack of affordable housing and the impact of austerity on local services, a group of national organisation have said.

The Rural Coalition, which comprises 12 organisations, calls on ministers to stop sidelining the countryside on Brexit and crucial public policy areas for around nine million people who are in danger of being “left behind”.

Key principles for securing a “living, working countryside” include providing a planning system and funding regime that delivers a significant increase in affordable homes outside towns and cities.

The coalition also calls for a fair distribution of funding for services between urban and rural areas. The government’s industrial strategy should aim to realise the potential of the countryside and tackle market failures.

The organisations argue that EU trade, regulations, funding programmes and migrant labour have all helped to shape the countryside and urge Whitehall to rural proof Brexit and post-Brexit policy decisions. They warn that key funding under the LEADER and EAFRD programmes will stop after exiting the EU, with potentially severe consequences for the rural economy.

Seventeen per cent of England’s population live in rural areas, supporting around 520,000 businesses and employing nearly 3.7 million people. Rural areas generate £404 billion every year for the national economy.

“The government must recognise that rural England is not just about farming and the environment, and address the very real challenges facing those who live and work in our smaller towns and villages,” said the coalition’s chair Margaret Clark. “For too long, rural people and businesses have been left behind and side-lined in the national political debate.”

The 12 organisations include the RTPI, the Town and Country Planning Association and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

Richard Blyth, head of policy at the RTPI, said: “The role of planning is equally vital in small towns and villages as it is in urban areas. It is therefore essential that the planning of our urban areas and rural areas is undertaken in a joined up way with the distinct needs and contributions of both evaluated in a holistic way.”

6 July 2017
Huw Morris, The Planner

Transport secretary Chris Grayling has announced a long-term strategy for government infrastructure spending in Britain, including money for a major new road network.

The new road network would see a share of the annual National Road Fund, with funds from Vehicle Exercise Duty given to local authorities in an attempt to improve or replace the most important A road under their management.

The government’s plan is to improve productivity and connectivity of towns and cities across the country. It should tackle bottlenecks and traffic jams for road users, drawing lorries and through-traffic through rural villages on main roads.

The scheme aims to help people get to work and school by better connecting towns and cities, to unlock land for new homes, and to improve business links.

Grayling said: “The transport investment strategy sets out a blueprint for how we can harness the power of transport investment to drive balanced economic growth, unlock new housing projects, and support the government’s modern industrial strategy.

“This government is taking the big transport decisions for Britain’s future like HS2 and Heathrow, while delivering the biggest investment in roads and rail for a generation.

“At the heart of our approach is a plan to make transport work for the people who use it and for the wider economy.”

The strategy includes plans for a new “rebalancing” measure, which will judge how investment programmes contribute to a more a balanced economy, according to the government. It will also support every part of Britain and prioritise investment that increases productivity or growth, supports new housing, improves reliability and tackles congestion.

It is expected to form part of the modern industrial strategy, announced in January this year.

Alan Pauling, UK transport market director at Ramboll, welcomed the announcement to use VED to fund highway improvements, stating that it is a “long overdue step forward”.

“Irrespective of whether and how much goes to either the strategic road network or the local authority, controlled roads will undoubtedly be the subject of much debate.

“More interesting to watch will be the competition that develops as responsible authorities seek to compete for that funding, which raises the prospect of a return to a cumbersome bidding process. This will also give those paying the VED a first time opportunity to have a say in how that money is spent and, importantly, to pass comment on whether it was worth it.”

5 July 2017
Laura Edgar, The Planner

A round-up of planning news

Green light for south-west Scotland wind farm

The Scottish Government has given the green light to a 50-turbine wind farm on the border of East Ayrshire and Galloway.

The 170MW project by Swedish energy group Vattenfall was subject to a public local inquiry in late 2015 following a planning application in 2013.

The company will offer local communities a right to acquire up to a 5 per cent stake in the scheme alongside a community benefit fund of £5,000 per megawatt installed each year over the lifetime of the wind farm.

Vattenfall said it would consider the consent decision in detail before confirming the forward schedule.

Counties lobby for more devolved powers ‘to wake up sleeping giants’

The government must devolve public spending and tax raising powers to county councils to unleash the country’s economic “sleeping giants” after Brexit.

A report for the County Councils Network by Oxford Economics warns the country’s growth is set to slow to below EU. But devolving fiscal powers to England’s counties could rebalance the economy, envigor the Industrial Strategy and help the country absorb any Brexit aftershocks.

This could generate more than one million jobs in the next ten years, generate an extra £26.3 billion for the convoy over five years and save the public sector £11.7 billion.

New community proposed on Torfaen brownfield site

An outline planning application has been submitted for a major development on a 52-hectare brownfield site between Pontypool and Abergavenny.

Johnsey Estates UK aims to build 975 homes, a neighbourhood centre with shops and leisure facilities and a primary school at Mamhilad. The area includes the vacant former Parke-Davis site, the former Nylon Spinners factory and the Mamhilad Park Estate site.

The site, which runs alongside the A4042, is within the Mamhilad Strategic Action Area allocated for mixed-use redevelopment in Torfaen Council’s adopted local development plan. The development would make up 70 per cent of Torfaen’s brownfield residential allocation.

Watchdog savages 401% overspend on late-running tram pilot

A scheme to boost commuter links into city centres by running trains on tram tracks has descended into farce by running five times over budget and two-and-a-half years behind schedule.

Spending watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO) revealed the original £15 million budget to create the UK’s first tram train between Sheffield and Rotherham – which aims to use both street tramway and the national rail network – has rocketed to £75.1 million, a 401 per cent overspend.

The scheme is not expected to be completed until May next year, long after the original target date of December 2015.

Under the pilot, trains will operate on railway line outside Sheffield before joining tram tracks into the city centre. The project, approved by the Department for Transport (DoT) to boost city centres and release capacity at mainland stations – could be extended to other cities including Manchester and Birmingham.

Network Rail and South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive are also responsible for the scheme.

Greens welcome Lough Neath ruling

Environmentalists have applauded a Court of Appeal ruling that the Northern Ireland government acted unlawfully by not stopping dredging at one of Europe’s most protected wetlands.

Sand extraction had been taking place at Lough Neagh without planning permission among other authorisations, with more than two million tons dredged each year.

Friends of the Earth, which brought the legal challenge, said this is “the biggest unauthorised development in the history of Northern Ireland and no bigger unlawful mine anywhere in Europe in a Special Protection Area”.

Lough Neagh has multiple environmental designations including an Area of Special Scientific Interest, A Special Protection Area under the EU Birds Directive, and as a site protected under the international Ramsar Convention.

Plans for Cambridgeshire homes and sports village withdrawn

A planning application to build more than 500 homes and a sports complex in the green belt on the southern edge of Cambridge has been withdrawn.

Grosvenor submitted the application in July last year. The developer has now withdrawn it after detailed talks with South Cambridgeshire District Council planners amid concerns at the impact on the green belt.

The application, on land between Trumpington and the M11, included 520 homes, an indoor sports hall and shop, outdoor floodlit cycling track and BMX area, floodlit all-weather pitches and associated parking.

A linked planning application to Cambridge City Council for improvements to Cambridge United’s Abbey Stadium has also been withdrawn.

Most cars break 20mph speed limit

Most car drivers ignore 20mph speed zones – eight out of 10 broke the limit last year, according to a government analysis.

Department for Transport research showed car drivers are more likely to breach the 20mph speed limit than any other type of road. This also revealed 15 per cent of cars drivers broke the limit on low-speed roads by driving at 30mph and 1 per cent at more than 40mph.

Eight out of 10 drivers of vans and 71 per cent of articulated lorries break the limit on 20mph roads.

However, the research said the figures are based on locations that “may not be typical of most 20mph roads”.

Bus passengers fall to lowest in a decade

The number of people using buses in England has fallen to its lowest level in a decade at 4.45 billion passenger journeys in 2016/17.

The Local Government Association (LGA) warned that the decline in bus passenger journeys could lead to increased congestion and poorer air quality in local communities as well as leaving those who rely on the bus network unsupported.

The Department for Transport figures show that overall there were more than 75 million fewer journeys across the country in the year to the end of March 2017 in comparison with the previous year – a decrease of 1.7 per cent.

Buses in England, outside of London, had 1.1 per cent fewer journeys – a fall of almost 49 million – in the same period. Metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas saw a similar drop, with 1.1 per cent and 1.2 per cent fewer journeys respectively.

Welsh Assembly draws on RTPI transport expertise

A Welsh Assembly committee investigating the nation’s rail network has taken advice from RTPI Cymru.

A report by the assembly’s Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee outlines how best to award contracts and set priorities for the next of rail services across the nation and the development of the Metro service for South Wales.

RTPI Cymru highlighted the “important connections between economic development, housing, transport and planning”, as well as how planning can help maximise the value of the Metro investment in delivering sustainable growth.

4 July 2017
Huw Morris, The Planner