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Planning news - 7 December 2017

Published: Thursday, 7th December 2017

New online tool judges sustainability of proposals, Compulsory purchase orders fall sharply but remain successful, Clark closes fracking consent loophole. And more stories...

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

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A ‘scorecard’ enabling planners to assess the sustainability of proposed developments has been launched by the Sustainable Development Commission and Iceni Projects.

The Sustainable Development Scorecard is a free online resource that judges a proposal by how well it meets the National Planning Policy Framework’s (NPPF) definition of sustainable development.

Its aim is to guide planners and developers towards creating schemes that both score highly in terms of the three pillars of sustainability – social, environmental and economic – and balance these pillars against each other.

The easy-to-use tool has been devised by a panel of industry professionals chaired by former planning minister Nick Raynsford. It is aimed at anyone with a vested interest in development, including community groups and neighbourhood planners.

The commission is made up of a cross-section of industry professionals including:

  • Edward Dixon, sustainability special projects manager at Landsec
  • Sue Smith, former chief executive at Cherwell District Council
  • Ian MacLeod, assistant director, planning and regeneration at Birmingham City Council
  • Roy Foster, former planning inspector
  • Janet Askew, RTPI past-president
  • Stephen Ashworth, partner at Dentons

“Although the NPPF has a presumption in favour of sustainable development at its heart, assessing the degree to which a project complies with this is highly subjective,” Dan Jestico, director for Sustainable Development at Iceni Projects, said. “Thanks to the Sustainable Development Scorecard, everyone from architects to developers to local residents will be able to easily assess how sustainable a proposal really is.”

He added: “The Sustainable Development Scorecard means that for the first time, it will be possible to see to what extent a scheme really has a ‘golden thread of sustainability running through it’.”

The scorecard can be found here.

4 December 2017
Simon Wicks, The Planner

Submissions of planning compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) fell sharply last year although their success rates remain high, according to latest research.

Submissions of planning CPOs, which are often deployed on large-scale development projects, fell by 30 per cent in 2016, with 40 applications compared to 57 in 2015 and 58 in 2014. 

However, this is still higher than the 36 submitted in 2013 – the lowest level since 2003. 

The figures, compiled by law firm Womble Bond Dickinson, reveal housing CPOs also dipped from 54 submitted in 2015 to 39 in 2016. 

But success rates for both kinds of CPO remain high. For planning CPOs, at least 87 per cent in 2015 and 82 per cent in 2016 succeeded. For housing CPOs the equivalent figures are at least 93 per cent in 2015 and 94 per cent in 2016. 

The regional hot spots for compulsory purchase submissions between 2003 – 2016 are the North West of England and London, followed by the West Midlands. 

CPOs are used nationwide but the research suggests that while many authorities have used their compulsory purchase powers, they do so sparingly. A relatively small number of authorities account for a significant proportion of CPOs made. 

In the North West, the extensive use of housing compulsory purchase powers by Burnley and Wigan Councils, and of planning compulsory purchase powers by Liverpool and Manchester City Councils respectively, contribute significantly to the results. In the West Midlands, Birmingham and Wolverhampton Councils have made substantial numbers of housing CPOs, with the former also making 19 planning CPOs.

“CPOs are a vital tool for regeneration, success rates for both planning and housing CPOs remain high and there are a range of reasons, from technical to evidential, why a small percentage of CPOs are not confirmed,” said Womble Bond Dickinson planning partner Jonathan Bower.

“A significant number of local authorities make use of compulsory purchase powers but generally they do so sparingly.

"Acquiring authorities can take comfort from the good prospects of success but must use CPOs with care and pay close attention to the circumstances of each case to meet legal and policy requirements."

30 November 2017
Huw Morris, The Planner

The government has closed a loophole in the consent regime for fracking.

Under Section 4A of the Petroleum Act 1998, operators seeking to conduct fracking must apply for a Hydraulic Fracturing Consent from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (DEBIS).

The consent was introduced in the Infrastructure Act 2015 as an additional step to the regulatory and permitting regime but did not apply to wells drilled before the 2015 Act came to force.

Business secretary Greg Clark has now closed the loophole, laying a Direction before Parliament ensuring the Oil and Gas Authority consults DEBIS on onshore hydraulic fracturing operations, including where the associated well was drilled before the 2015 Act coming into force.

30 November 2017
Huw Morris, The Planner

Confidence in the planning system is plummeting amid a culture of 'planning by appeal', according to a poll of housebuilders.

A survey of 100 housebuilders by law firm Gowling WLG found almost half are “serial appealers”, bringing more than 30 per cent of rejected applications to appeal.

Three-quarters buy more land with pre-existing planning permission than they did 10 years ago. Almost four-fifths place speeding up planning decisions at the top of a wish list for regional devolution, urging mayors to unlock stalled sites in their areas.

The survey reveals almost two-thirds had appealed in the past 18 months.

Gowling WLG says this suggests housebuilders view the process of appealing as more efficient than resubmitting amended applications, with 40 per cent of rejections reversed on appeal.

“This volume of successful appeals is almost certainly caused by an absence in some areas of up-to-date local plans,” said Gowling WLG planning partner Vicky Fowler. “If authorities do not have an up-to-date local plan and are unable to demonstrate that at least five years’ worth of land has been allocated for local housing, then development on sites that could or should have been allocated to this need are very likely to succeed on appeal if initially rejected.”

The Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017 requires planning authorities to set out policies addressing strategic land use priorities as well as identifying housing sites which will deliver at least a five-year housing supply.

If these plans have not been made by April 2018, then the secretary of state has the power to intervene and take the preparation of local plans out of the hands of a single authority or, as a last resort, start this work on behalf of the council. 

“Planning by appeal is frustratingly inefficient and evidence of a system that requires immediate change,” Fowler added. “While the introduction of measures to encourage local plans are a step in the right direction, this will increase the need for housebuilders to promote sites that they feel are suitable for development, consulting with councils directly to increase the chances of planning success.”

30 November 2017
Huw Morris, The Planner

The UK’s up-and-coming planners, designers, architects and engineers are being encouraged to give their views on meeting the country’s future infrastructure needs.

The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has unveiled plans for a young professionals panel to advise its chairman Lord Adonis and fellow commissioners.

Adonis said this was a “unique opportunity” for professionals at the outset of their careers to have an influence as the commission develops the country’s first-ever National Infrastructure Assessment.

“[This] will consider the country’s needs right up to 2050. So who better to get involved than the people looking to design the country’s future bridges and roads, digital networks and energy supplies than the people most likely to benefit from the decisions we make?” he said.

“I am keen the commission does not just listen to those whose careers are well established, but also to people at the start of their professional lives with ideas and inspiration about the infrastructure they want to see in their future – so I would urge anyone with a passion for this vital issue to put their names forward for this unique opportunity.”

The NIC is looking for up to 20 people from across a wide range of disciplines to be on the panel, which will meet twice a year as well as contributing more widely by acting as a challenge panel for aspects of the commission’s work, undertaking its own research on specific issues, or leading events for the organisation.

Anyone looking to apply will need to submit a short article by 5 January 2018, offering their view on what the UK’s most important infrastructure project will be this century. The Young Professionals Panel will be in place and working by early 2018.

For further details can be found on the National Infrastructure Commission website.

5 December 2017
Huw Morris, The Planner

A round-up of planning news

£25m fund for local authorities

Housing and planning minister Alok Sharma has announced that the Planning Delivery Fund is open for bids.

An initial £11 million will be available to bid for as the government aims to have 300,000 homes a year built.

This measure and a number of others are expected to boost local authority planning capacity and encourage leadership in the delivery of new communities.

The other measures announced include an additional £3 million to support the delivery of 14 garden villages and the publishing of a consultation on plans to allow the creation of locally led New Town Development Corporations.

Sharma said: “Locally-led developments have enormous potential to deliver the scale and quality of housing growth that we need. By supporting our local authorities, we will be able to unlock more homes where people want to live.”

He said the measures “will help develop new communities that will not only help deliver high-quality well-designed homes, but will also bring new jobs and facilities and a boost to local economies”.

New body needed to involve public in infrastructure

A new report has argued that the government should create a new commission to involve the public in major infrastructure projects.

Published today by the independent Institute for Government (IfG), How to Design an Infrastructure Strategy for the UK argues that a commission for public engagement would reduce costly delays by giving people a genuine opportunity to influence decisions.

It should draw on the example of the Commission Nationale du Débat Public in France, which has reduced public opposition to major projects, IfG said.

The report also suggests that the absence of a national strategy for infrastructure has serious implications. “New projects are dreamt up, reframed, scrapped and reinvented, seemingly with little consideration of long-term objectives,” with the institute citing airport expansion in the South East being an example of this.

To resolve this, the report recommends that the government should develop a long-term national infrastructure strategy that properly coordinates the work of central and local government and more clearly spells out the impact on all regions.

Additionally, the position of commercial secretary to the Treasury, with a portfolio entirely focused on infrastructure and delivering a national infrastructure strategy, should be reinstated.

How to Design an Infrastructure Strategy for the UK can be found on the Institute for Government website.

Government urged to let all councils borrow to build

The government should allow all local authorities to borrow to build houses as the number of plots with planning permission yet to be developed is now enough for 400,000 homes, according to a senior councillor.

The government pledged to allow some councils with “high affordability pressure” to bid to borrow up to an additional £1 billion on housing revenue accounts in the Budget.

Speaking at a Commons Treasury Committee, Local Government Association vice-chair Nick Forbes said the government should lift the cap entirely, arguing that previous attempts to link stringent conditions to such a measure had failed to deliver any homes. He said councils should also be allowed to keep 100 per cent of their right to buy receipts, while planning departments’ cost of applications should be covered by funding from central government.

Yorkshire Dales ponders higher council tax on second homes

Civic leaders across the Yorkshire Dales are considering a five-year pilot scheme to increase council tax on second homes in the national park.

More than 10 per cent of houses in the Yorkshire Dales National Park - around 1,500 properties - are second homes.

Now Craven District Council leader Richard Foster is warning that community sustainability has become a pressing concern and is working with Richmondshire District Council leader Yvonne Peacock and Yorkshire Dales National Park chairman Carl Lis on a detailed proposal to be considered before Christmas.

Foster said local authorities in the Dales are “putting an immense amount of work into trying to get new, affordable homes built but so many homes are being lost to second home ownership that the positive effects of the new homes are being cancelled out”.

“Higher Council Tax charges on second homes could be the answer. Any additional money raised through this pilot could be ploughed back into community services.”

Vacant Bristol waterfront plot to be developed

The Guinness Partnership has been given conditional planning consent by Bristol City Council to develop the McArthur’s Yard site on Bristol waterfront.

The site, which is next to the SS Great Britain, has been derelict for 20 years.

The development comprises 147 new homes and 1,600 square metres of commercial space and amenities. The homes will comprise a mix of one, two and three bedrooms across open market sale, shared ownership and social rent tenures.

The Guinness Partnership said the homes will be thermally efficient and economical to live in, with 20 per cent of energy generated through renewables.

The site comprises a series of derelict warehouse buildings and structures, which had been the headquarters of Bristol-based metal merchant McArthur’s Group.

The Guinness Partnership worked with Nash Partnership on the planning, urban design and architectural work.

Preferred bidder for former Jesmond Dene Nurseries site appointed

Newcastle City Council has appointed retirement and later living developer PegasusLife as the preferred bidder for the former Jesmond Dene Nurseries site in the Newcastle suburb of Jesmond.

Subject to contract, PegasusLife is aiming to deliver a mix of 91 later living apartments and, with joint venture partners, 18 executive family homes.

Early plans also include restoring and developing the historic police stables at the site, which will provide 30 additional hotel bedrooms and a spa facility for Jesmond Dene House Hotel.

Ged Bell, cabinet member for inclusive growth at Newcastle City Council, said: “This prime development site, in the heart of Jesmond Vale, offers a unique opportunity to provide a range of housing choices to meet the needs of our residents.

“The sale of the site will help us invest in Newcastle’s future, and deliver on our commitment to create more balanced communities and deliver inclusive growth that everyone can benefit from.”

33,000 people sign up to Right to Build

New research by the National Custom and Self Build Association (NaCSBA) has suggested that, since 1st April 2016, over 33,000 people have signed up to Right to Build registers across England.

NaCSBA said this is over an 80 per cent increase on this time last year, when 18,000 people signed up in the first year of the registers.

During the second year since the Right To Build registers came into force, nearly 18,000 additional people signed up, many via NaCSBA’s Right to Build Portal. Of these and the initial 18,000 people, around 3,000 people have been removed from the registers by local authorities. Reasons include people having found plots and councils applying local connection tests or introducing a fee to join or stay on the registers.

NaCSBA said it supports the fact that the majority of councils are taking the management of their registers so seriously, as they provide one of two important sources of demand and need to be reliable.

Richard Bacon MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Self-Build, Custom and Community Housebuilding and Placemaking and ambassador of the task force said that while he is pleased with the increase in people signing up, demand is much higher, “as the evidence does not follow through that there are several hundred people on a register in one council area, while a neighbouring one only has double figures”.

“Clearly, more needs to be done to promote the registers and really make them work as an evidence tool in local planning, as we know that half of the adult population wants to design and build their dream home at some point in their lives.”

Two extra stories for Battersea development

Wandsworth Council’s planning committee has approved developers Omer Weinberger and Marc Pennick’s amendment to its planning consent on the former Homesbase site on York Road, Battersea.

The amendment will see an additional two floors added to the main tower of the mixed-use scheme, bringing it to 23 storeys and increasing the total number of residential units from 275 to 299.

The scheme is due for completion in 2019.

5 December 2017
Laura Edgar, The Planner