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Planning news - 13 July 2017

Published: Thursday, 13th July 2017

Parliamentarians warn of Brexit disaster for homes and infrastructure, Third of permissions not built, claims Shelter, Uncertain future for capital’s green spaces. And more stories...

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

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Brexit could prove disastrous for delivering new homes and infrastructure unless the construction industry can draw on EU workers while training the UK’s domestic workforce, MPs have claimed.

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Excellence in the Built Environment reveals nearly 200,000 people from the EU work in the UK construction industry - equivalent to a workforce to build 16 Crossrails - which the country cannot afford to lose.

Its report, commissioned by the Construction Industry Council, warns of a perfect storm of an ageing workforce and more people leaving the industry than entering it, creating a skills crisis even without Brexit.

The cross-party group of parliamentarians calls on the government to put in place transitional arrangements to ensure existing EU migrant workers can remain in the UK.

It calls for a single body to provide strategic oversight on training and skills at all levels and attracting new talent across the spectrum of the built environment, rather than just trades.

“Brexit presents huge risks to the UK construction sector and, as a consequence, to our ability to deliver the homes and infrastructure that we urgently need,” said group chairman Oliver Colvile. “It is hard to overstate the importance of locking in construction to the heart of the industrial strategy and taking a proactive and comprehensive approach to the challenges facing the construction sector in mitigating the risks.”

The RTPI said it shared many of the fears expressed by the parliamentarians.

“The report draws attention to an issue which has huge impact on the delivery of much needed housing and the wider economy and identifies a series of constructive approaches to address the challenges the sector faces in the light of Brexit,” said RTPI president Stephen Wilkinson.

“It echoes the Institute’s own concerns for the capacity of planning expertise in the UK after Brexit and that of other built environment professionals such as surveyors and architects. It is essential that the UK built environment continue to act as magnet for the brightest and the best professionals from the EU and across the world.”

Building on Brexit is available as a pdf on the Construction Industry Council website.

12 July 2017
Huw Morris, The Planner


Over the last five years, housebuilders have failed to build more than 320,000 homes that they have permission for, research by charity Shelter has suggested.

The charity said this equates to nearly one in every three homes in England approved.

In London, according to the research, the problem is “particularly acute”, with one in two being “phantom homes”.

Shelter said the country’s current housebuilding system encourages developers to sit on land and “drip out new homes so as to keep prices high”.

It wants the government to get tough on developers by giving councils the power to tax those who are not building fast enough. Shelter wants polices outlined in the housing white paper, including granting planning permission to developers based on their track record, to be taken forward.

The charity’s research also suggests that the profits of the country’s top five housebuilders have increased by 388 per cent over the last five years, to a total of £3.3 billion in 2016.

Anne Baxendale, head of communications, policy and campaigns at Shelter, said: "While people across the country struggle with eye-wateringly high housing costs, developers' profits are soaring into the billions. Time and again we hear the ‘red tape’ of the planning system being blamed but the real problem is a system where developers make more profit sitting on land than they would by building homes.

"It's clear our housebuilding system has failed the nation but the government can turn things around by supporting a whole new approach. Shelter's New Civic Housebuilding model listens to the needs of communities and gives more powers to councils to get developers building the high-quality genuinely affordable homes we need."

New Civic Housebuilding would increase housebuilding outside the speculative model through land market reform, combined with targeted public investment, the charity said. Civic housebuilding starts by bringing in land at a “lower, fairer cost” and channels competition between firms into raising the quality and affordability of homes.

David O’Leary, policy director at the Home Builders Federation, said: “Housing supply is up by more than 50 per cent in just three years with the overwhelming contribution coming from national house builders.

“While headline planning permission data is growing at unprecedented rates, a reflection of builders’ intention to build more in the coming years, the majority of this land is not at a stage at which it can yet be built on.”

Delays in the planning system mean permissions can take a number of years to process the point where construction to start, O’Leary said, especially on very large sites with complex infrastructure requirements.

The cost and risk involved in securing planning permission has “hampered” the ability of small firms to grow with large companies, which dedicate “significant resource” to navigating the process.

“Many of these so called ‘phantom homes’ will be plots on sites where construction is underway  but it obviously takes time to actually build out all the homes.

“Oversimplified and ideologically driven analysis distracts from the efforts of builders large and small, public and private to tackle the housing crisis. A basic understanding of the common house builder business model demonstrates why land with an implementable planning permission is started right away.”

Tom Kenney, policy officer at the RTPI, told The Planner that Shelter’s research highlights the success of the planning system in delivering more permissions for new housing.

"It is important to recognise that there are a number of legitimate reasons why outline planning permissions do not translate into housing completions in the short-term. However these findings reaffirm the need for the government to find ways to speed up housebuilding."

He referred to the RTPI's 16 ways to tackle the housing crisis, which the institute launched last year, stating that some are particularly relevant here.

"To get more sites ready for development we need to know more about potential land for housing - especially who owns land or has permission or options to develop it. We need to align transport infrastructure and housing more effectively.  And local planning authorities need increased resources to be as efficient as possible in pushing developments forward."

10 July 2017
Laura Edgar, The Planner


Limited funds have left London’s parks and green spaces facing an uncertain future, a report by a London Assembly committee has said.

Park life: ensuring green spaces remain a hit with Londoners considers what measures should be taken to protect and improve the capital’s green spaces.

The London Assembly Environment Committee note that almost half of the city is classified as green space, including gardens, public parks and sports fields.

The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has committed to increasing green space in the capital, something that featured in his election manifesto (pdf). The committee said efforts need to be focused on the areas most in need, with half of London’s households more than the maximum distance of 400 metres recommended in the London Plan.

The committee also noted in the report that public sector funding for green space is falling.

“Traditionally, green spaces have been owned and managed by local authorities but cuts in funding have forced them to explore alternative forms of service delivery and income generation,” the report states.

It says that there is consensus that local authorities should be the owners of green spaces but that there is opportunity to diversify funding models by changing green space management. This could be Trust models or non-profit social enterprises, and the Greater London Authority could help local authorities by bringing together evidence and best practice”.

The committee believe volunteers will become “increasingly important” for London’s green spaces, regardless of the funding and management models that are put forward.

Park life: ensuring green spaces remain a hit with Londoners recommendations include:

  • In his environment strategy, Khan should run an accessibility audit of green space, comparing the results against the London Plan open space categorisation, stating areas of deficiency. He should also clarify his plans to increase green space in terms of quality, multi-functionality and accessibility.
  • The mayor should help local authorities develop a better understanding of the benefits, challenges and implications of alternative delivery methods.
  • The mayor should take a number of steps to promote the concept of green infrastructure at a city level by bringing together evidence on green infrastructure in a format suitable for use by planners, developers and other stakeholders. He should also appoint a green infrastructure commissioner or champion.

Leonie Cooper AM, chair of the Environment Committee, said: “It is no longer the case that we can rely on local councils alone to maintain our parks and other green spaces. The money is simply not available. They will still play a central role, but need support.”

The report, she said, encourages forward thinking to ensure London’s parks and green spaces “are not only protected but also improved”.

“We recommend that volunteers play a key role, crowdfunding is explored, and private investment is encouraged across the board. We’re calling for a team effort – with the mayor supporting the public and private sectors to work with Londoners to protect and improve our green spaces.”

Park life: ensuring green spaces remain a hit with Londoners can be found on the GLA website (pdf).

10 July 2017
Laura Edgar, The Planner


The creation of strategic hubs in six areas in the South Wales Valleys will be at the centre of a new plan to deliver economic change in the area, lifelong learning and Welsh language minister Alun Davies has announced.

The hubs, including the new automotive technology business park for Ebbw Vale announced last month, were highlighted by the minister in a statement to the Senedd on 11 July about the work of a ministerial task force set up a year ago.

The task force is publishing a report next week (20 July) that will propose measures to close the employment gap between the sub-region and the rest of Wales by getting an additional 7,000 people into work by 2021, and in the process creating thousands of new, fair, secure and sustainable jobs.

Also proposed is a so-called Valleys Landscape Park which aims to help local communities build on their natural assets, including the potential for community energy generation and tourism.

The strategy will augment infrastructure investments already announced for South Wales, including the Metro, affordable housing, and the proposed M4 relief road.

Davies told assembly members: “I am determined the task force will make a positive difference to Valleys communities and we must work together to turn this vision into action. This is the beginning of a longer-term journey, which is being shaped by people working and living in the Valleys.”

13 July 2017
Roger Milne, The Planner


A round-up of appeal decisions

‘Transfer of permission’ for worker’s home at educational farm refused

Plans to transfer planning permission from an existing barn to a new worker’s dwelling at an educational farm project in Dorset have been blocked, after an inspector ruled there was no legal mechanism that could prevent the appellant going ahead with both schemes if he allowed the appeal.

‘Pressing need’ justifies 140-home plan in rural Cambridgeshire

An inspector has granted permission for 140 homes in rural south Cambridgeshire, ruling that in the context of a chronic and worsening housing supply shortfall in the area ‘rigidly applying local settlement hierarchy policy’ would not be appropriate.

Loss of pub would leave Essex neighbourhood with ‘noticeable void’

An inspector has refused permission to convert an Essex pub into 15 one-bed flats, ruling that the pub serves as an important community facility and rejecting claims that it is no longer viable or valued.

Supermarket plan would not sap vitality of Somerset village

An inspector has granted permission for a large mixed-use scheme including a 2,300sq m supermarket in Williton, near Taunton, ruling that rather than harming the vitality of the village as the council had argued, it would in fact promote its self-containment.

Visual impact assessment ‘underplayed’ harm to Derbyshire landscape

An inspector has refused permission for a 60-home scheme near Matlock, Derbyshire, ruling that the visual impact assessment submitted along with the proposal had underplayed the magnitude of harm to the surrounding landscape.

Obligation drafting errors compromise 36-home Essex scheme

An inspector has refused permission for a 36-home development in Henham, Essex, despite finding no harm with the scheme itself, ruling that 'severe errors in the drafting of the appeal documents' meant the planning obligation was not binding.

Two more bedrooms for 16-bed HMO would harm living conditions

An inspector has refused permission for a basement conversion in Leamington Spa that would add two more bedrooms to a 16-bed HMO, ruling that the ‘oppressive outlook’ from the new bedrooms would cause unacceptable living conditions.

Amalgamation of Chelsea flats allowed despite policy conflict

An inspector has allowed plans to merge two flats into a 'good-sized family unit' in Chelsea, ruling that the substandard floor space of one of the existing flats meant the benefits of converting it would outweigh the resulting loss of housing units.

Javid overrules inspector to block Cornwall solar farm

Secretary of State Sajid Javid has overturned an inspector’s decision to approve a 5MW solar farm in Cornwall, ruling that the scheme’s reversibility after 30 years did not mean it would be perceived as ‘temporary’ by local people.

Conversion of former Sky HQ to 297 flats allowed under GPDO

A cluster of four office blocks in Brentford can be converted to 297 flats under Class O of the General Permitted Development Order (GPDO), after an inspector granted prior approval for issues relating to traffic and transport.

Affordability of ‘starter homes’ cannot be a reserved matter

An inspector has refused outline permission for eight ‘affordable’ starter homes, rejecting the appellant's suggestion that he would secure their affordable status through a fully detailed application at a later stage, because there is no mechanism to enforce affordability.

21-home ‘garden village’ scheme is ‘simply not necessary’

An inspector has refused plans for a 21-home ‘garden village’ near Winchester, saying there was no need to build on greenfield land as the recently adopted local plan allocates enough sites to meet the area’s housing need.

10 July 2017
Matt Moody, The Planner


A round-up of planning news

Tony Crook CBE to take over as deputy chairman at the CIC

The Construction Industry Council (CIC) has appointed Professor Tony Crook CBE as its new deputy chairman.

Crook will take over the role as chairman in June 2018, succeeding the incumbent Professor John Nolan, who will stand down from his two-year term of office in accordance with CIC rules.

Crook, who received a CBE in 2014 for services to housing and the governance of charities, is an RTPI fellow and member of its board, chairing its education committee. He is also emeritus professor of town and regional planning at the University of Sheffield, where he previously served as senior pro-vice-chancellor.

He is the first nominee of the RTPI to be appointed as deputy chairman.

Crook has said he recognises the “vital importance” of having a representative body for all in our sector to campaign for and support the many key nationwide issues that affect a number of disciplines and professions. This includes making the case for investment in infrastructure, to address acute staff shortages across the sector, and to ensure that housing and infrastructure is safe, environmentally sustainable, inclusive and accessible.

Neighbourhood plan for Lichfield city

Lichfield City Council has submitted a neighbourhood plan to Lichfield District Council.

If approved, the neighbourhood plan will provide a framework for development and form part of Lichfield District Council’s local plan.

The district council is now holding a six-week consultation and will then collate all the comments, which will be passed to an independent examiner.

The examiner will look at the comments when assessing whether the neighbourhood plan meets national requirements and can proceed to a local referendum.

This is the sixth neighbourhood plan in the district to reach this stage of the process.

The consultation closes on 18 August. The neighbourhood plan can found on the district council website.

Dora House redevelopment approved

Westminster City Council in London has approved Central & Cecil Housing Trust’s (C&C) plans to redevelop Dora House in St John’s Wood.

C&C was advised by planning and development consultant Montagu Evans.

The project, to be located opposite Lord’s Cricket Ground, will provide 156 homes for senior living.

The existing Dora House will be demolished and a new residence constructed on the Lodge Road side of the site.

According to C&C, the £150 million plans will deliver adaptable apartments that “exceed” the Mayor of London’s space standards, provide specialist services for residents and offer a range of communal facilities.

Approval of affordable homes up in Scotland

The Scottish Government has announced that the number of affordable homes being approved is at its highest level since the 1980s.

Statistics suggest that there has been a 29 per cent increase in approvals this year, compared with 2015/16, with 10,276 approved in 2016/17.

Finance secretary Derek Mackay said: “Earlier this year, I secured a budget that saw investment in public services on a massive scale, support for our economy and help for those on low incomes. By providing the planned resources for the next three years our local authorities can plan high-quality, energy efficient and affordable homes.

“This important investment provides a further boost to the construction industry – supporting the economy and an estimated 14,000 jobs each year.”

“We are currently seeing the highest levels of activity in the affordable housebuilding sector since the early 1980s. With affordable site starts and completions increasing, this represents an excellent pipeline of projects across Scotland.”

Training sessions for community-led housing

A community housing group in South London has launched training workshops for people who want to learn about alternatives to the mainstream housing market.

The Rural Urban Synthesis Society (RUSS), a London-based community land trust working to provide “genuinely affordable” community-designed homes, has said it will be running training sessions on how to set up and organise a community-led housing project.

A pilot session has already been held, with a second session scheduled for Saturday 15 July at the Building Centre, London, in partnership with the Built Environment Trust. Topics will include how to form a group, finding land, legal issues and the planning process.

Plans revealed for Cwmbran

Plans for a £13.6 million development on the site of a former school in Cwmbran have been revealed by housebuilder Lovell.

The 78-home Oakfield Grange development will be built on the former site of Llantarnam Community Primary School.

The plans allocate 55 houses for the open market and 23 affordable rented homes for housing association Bron Afon.

According to Insider Media, initial preparations are under way at the site, with the development scheduled for completion by the end of 2019.

11 July 2017
Laura Edgar, The Planner