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Planning news - 25 January 2018

Published: Thursday, 25th January 2018

Permitted development rights should be scrapped, argues LGA, Parliamentary group established for new towns, Westminster fights loss of office space. And more stories...

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

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Permitted development rights rules are “detrimental” to local communities and should be scrapped, the Local Government Association (LGA) has said.

The LGA, which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, has conducted research suggesting that close to one in 10 new homes over the last two years was converted from an existing office, with no investment in affordable housing or infrastructure supporting these conversions.

Permitted development rights have led “to the potential loss of more than 7,500 desperately-needed affordable homes”, the LGA suggests, pointing to figures showing that since 2015 there have been 30,575 housing units converted from offices to flats in England without having to go through the planning system. While this figure equates to eight per cent of new homes nationally, in some parts of the country it is responsible for around two thirds of all new housing.

“Office to residential conversions under permitted development rules accounted for 73 per cent of new homes in Stevenage, 64 per cent in Three Rivers, and 61 per cent in Sutton during 2016/17,” the LGA said in a statement.

“In Nottingham, Basildon, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Hounslow and Harlow the number was more than half.”

The LGA estimates that permitted development has led to the “potential loss” of 7,644 affordable homes over the last two years.

Martin Tett, housing spokesman at the LGA, sees the problem as two-fold. As well as allowing developers to convert offices to flats without providing affordable housing and local services, the resulting loss of office space “can risk hampering local plans to grow economies and attract new businesses and jobs to high streets and town centres”.

Daniel Frisby, senior planner at law firm DMH Stallard, agreed with the broad thrust of the LGA’s argument.

“As well as this policy having no provision for councils to require the delivery of affordable housing, it also fails to enforce appropriate minimum space standards,” said Frisby.

“In our experience this leads to extremely poor living accommodation with some units being as small as 15 metres squared (less than half the standard advised floor space for one-bedroom flats).

“While the policy has been helpful to regenerate disused offices, the lack of control with respect of affordable housing and minimum space standards is a concern and could be easily rectified. These homes also put pressure on local infrastructure without the means to require development contributions to be made.”

18 January 2018
Martin Read, The Planner

A new All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) has been established with the aim of highlighting the growth opportunities and challenges in Britain’s post-war new towns.

Planners, urban designers, housing associations, housebuilders, MPs and government officials, including housing secretary Sajid Javid, all attended the launch.

The group will consider the successes and failures of existing new towns in order to learn from past mistakes and to help shape government policy in the future.

Speaking at the launch, Javid said there were valuable lessons to be learned from New Towns, which were the home to successful companies, offered affordable homes and job opportunities.

“But,” he said, “the downsides of the rapid development and, in particular, centralised planning that underpinned New Towns, are all too evident.

“Dated, often identikit housing; infrastructure and town centres that, too often, look like everywhere and nowhere.”

The group will be chaired by Lucy Allan, MP for Telford, while the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) is providing the secretariat as well as expert knowledge on new towns and garden cities.

Allan said: “We all share a passion for the vision and ambition that the New Town movement represents and as the housing crisis continues, it is clear that new towns have an important role to play in Britain’s future and in the lives of the next generation seeking to build a better life.

“The APPG will also aim to tackle new town challenges such as ageing infrastructure, poor private rental housing and connectivity, as well as deprivation, in order to influence future government policy and keep New Towns centre stage.

“I know that the cross-party group will be an effective champion for my constituency in Telford as well as other new towns across the country.”

Kate Henderson, chief executive at the TCPA, said: “The New Towns programme was the most ambitious large-scale town-building programme ever undertaken in the UK, providing homes and jobs for over 2.8 million people. As a set of places, they exhibit a range of urban successes and failures, with some among the fastest-growing communities in the UK and others the among the most deprived.

“With the government supporting a new programme of garden cities, towns and villages, the APPG will provide a highly influential, cross-party forum to learn the lessons – good and bad – of past new towns to help shape future policy."

During 2018 the APPG will be holding three parliamentary round tables on key issues: Providing high-quality homes in New Towns, now and in the future; Healthy New Towns – improving the health and wellbeing of New Town residents; and Unlocking skills, innovation and enterprise in New Towns. Key findings will be shared on the APPG website following the events.

19 January 2018
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Westminster City Council has launched an Article 4 Direction to protect office space as it looks to prevent a continued decline.

The council said it lost over 300,000 square feet of office space to redevelopment or conversion to residential properties between 2013 and 2017.

The government introduced permitted development rights on a temporary basis initially, in an attempt to meet the demand for housing. The measure has since been made permanent, with councils having to install an Article 4 Direction to exclude areas from the measure.

Areas that are currently exempt from permitted development will not benefit from the protection from 31 May 2019 unless an Article 4 Direction is issued.

Westminster’s Reed House and Riverwalk House have both been converted from large office blocks into luxury flats without affordable housing. The council is seeking to reverse this trend.

The Article 4 Direction aims to ensure that full planning applications are required so the council can make decisions based on all relevant issues and, where necessary, protect office space.

Daniel Astaire, cabinet member for planning and public realm at the council, said: “We are committed to ensuring the right kind of growth in Westminster, and this includes ensuring the continued prosperity of our residents, of London as a whole and, indeed, of the whole country. We are also determined to use our planning powers to maintain our unique neighbourhoods. This is the approach we are taking in revising our City Plan.

“We have experienced a rapid loss of office space in Westminster. It’s a worrying trend. Not only does this change the character and feel of our communities but our reputation as political and professional centre relies upon maintaining the office spaces which allow business to flourish.

“This policy helps us to strike a balance and ensure that as well as delivering more housing we can also retain suitable professional space for businesses to operate or order to capitalise on investment such as the soon-to-open Elizabeth Line.”

22 January 2018
Laura Edgar, The Planner

The Court of Appeal has rejected two challenges from campaigners against fracking at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site in Lancashire.

The two challenges were brought forward by Preston New Road Action Group and campaigner Gayzer Frackman.

In June 2015, Lancashire County Council refused Cuadrilla’s application to begin shale gas exploration at Preston New Road in Little Plumpton, on noise and visual impact grounds.

Under his responsibility as communities secretary, Sajid Javid backed an inspector’s decision to approve the exploration application at Preston New Road in October 2016.

The challenges claimed that Javid had misinterpreted planning and environmental guidance when he approved the application.

The Court of Appeal said its role was to decide whether the secretary of state “had committed an error of law”, not whether his decision was “right”.

The court also refused permission for appeals to be made at the Supreme Court.

Francis Egan, CEO of Cuadrilla, noted that the same challenges were previously dismissed by the High Court in April 2017.

“We have always remained confident that the planning consent would stand, particularly after such a lengthy and thorough review of the application and positive recommendations for approval by both the professional planning officers at Lancashire County Council and subsequently an experienced planning inspector.”

Planning consent remained in place while the case was heard. Egan said the firm has completed it data acquisition programme and begun drilling the horizontal section of the first of two initial wells.

18 January 2018
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Housing secretary Sajid Javid has said that developers building new homes near music venues should be responsible for addressing noise issues.

The move aims to protect both music venues and their neighbours.

In the past, such venues, and community sports clubs, have had to make high-cost changes when new residents move into the area. Javid said he is committed to working with the music industry to strengthen planning policy.

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) will be clarified to include a specific mention of the ‘Agent of Change’ principle. It is due to be consulted on in the spring.

Javid said: “Music venues play a vital role in our communities, bringing people together and contributing to the local economy and supporting the country’s grass-roots music culture.

“I have always thought it unfair that the burden is on long-standing music venues to solve noise issues when property developers choose to build nearby.

“That’s why I consulted on this in February last year as part of the housing white paper. I am pleased to finally have an opportunity to right this wrong and also give more peace of mind to new residents moving into local properties.”

Last week (10 January), the House of Commons gave its approval to the Planning (Agent of Change) Bill, which would require property developers to take account of pre-existing businesses, such as music venues, before moving forward with a project.

John Spellar MP, who brought the bill to the House, said it is “designed to protect existing music venues from closure or crippling costs arising from the new development of new residential properties in their vicinity, especially over questions of noise”.

Its second reading is scheduled to take place tomorrow (19 January).

18 January 2018
Laura Edgar, The Planner

A round-up of planning news

MPs launch inquiry into land value capture

The Communities and Local Government Committee has announced that it will examine the effectiveness of current land value capture methods.

It will consider the need for new ways of capturing any uplift in the value of land associated with planning approval or nearby infrastructure improvements.

The committee has invited written submissions on:

  • Are current methods, such as the Community Infrastructure Levy, planning obligations, land assembly and compulsory purchase adequate to capture increases in the value of land?
  • What new methods may be employed to achieve land value capture and what examples exist of effective practice in this area, including internationally?
  • What are the possible advantages and disadvantages in adopting alternative and more comprehensive systems of land value capture?
  • What lessons may be learned from past attempts to capture the uplift in value?

To submit a response, please visit the UK Parliament website.

Kier and Eiffage joint partners on HS2

Construction company Kier has announced that it and civil engineering company Eiffage are now 50/50 joint venture partners on HS2, delivering two of the seven civil engineering packages, lots C2 and C3.

This follows the collapse of Carillion last week, which went into compulsory liquidation.

In July 2017, the Department for Transport named the firm as one that would deliver HS2, alongside Kier and Eiffage.

All 51 Carillion employees, including apprentices, working on the joint venture have been offered the opportunity to join Kier and Eiffage.

At Highways England, Kier has assumed full responsibility for the smart motorway schemes on which it had been working in joint venture with Carillion. All employees currently working on the schemes have been offered the opportunity to join Kier.

Thames footbridge plans submitted in Hounslow

Moxon Architects and engineer consultancy CampbellReith have submitted a planning application for a new footbridge beneath the existing grade II listed Barnes Bridge, Chiswick, to the London Borough of Hounslow.

The proposal responds to a call from the council to build a pedestrian bridge linking two sections of the Thames Path.

It forms part of a wider scheme that aims to enhance Duke’s Meadows and encourage sustainable modes of transport.

The structure is a ‘half through’ truss form with distinctive bracing members angled to maximise oblique views to the river.

The design takes into account the surrounding ecology by carefully positioning a minimum number of supports along the riverbank. Additionally, it will feature energy-efficient lighting and robust finishes, such as stainless steel and aluminium, to reduce the maintenance required over its expected 100+ year lifetime.

Renewable energy trade body gives evidence to MPs

Renewable energy trade association RenewableUK has given evidence to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee on the cost-effectiveness of wind, wave and tidal energy.

The evidence forms part of the committee’s inquiry into the Cost of Energy Review conducted by Professor Dieter Helm.

RenewableUK’s executive director Emma Pinchbeck told the committee that an energy system led by renewables is the lowest cost option for the UK.

“A smart energy system can deliver consumers savings of £8 billion a year between now and 2030.”

When questioned on how consumers can benefit from the rapid falls we have seen in the cost of renewables, Pinchbeck said: “Competitive auctions for Contracts for Differences (CfDs) are the best way to lock in low-cost energy for consumers, with offshore wind delivering cost reductions unprecedented in any other sector.”

Pinchbeck emphasised how important it is that the government take another look at onshore wind and start running a pot 1 auction.

“That would deliver onshore wind at under £50 per megawatt hour – cheaper than gas. It's extraordinary that onshore wind isn't allowed to compete for CfDs. Government could clarify how the £557 million of funding for pot 2 CfD auctions is going to be spent, as that will help the supply chain to gear up.”

Derby council appoints consultant to deliver retail study

Derby City Council has appointed planning consultancy Nexus Planning as lead consultant to deliver a retail and centres study.

The study will assess the role and function of the city’s existing centres and consider potential strategies to ensure that the council is able to appropriately meet residents’ future shopping and leisure needs.

Nexus Planning said it would undertake a series of health checks to understand the vitality and viability of the city’s retail centres, and use a survey to understand current trends and future capacity to support additional retail and leisure floor space.

The existing Derby City Centre Masterplan will be the subject of a comprehensive review to prioritise investment and ensure that its findings remain viable.

Nexus Planning will work with a wider project team, including chartered surveyors Aspinall Verdi and transport consultancy Curtins.

Northamptonshire quarry site bought

Graham Churchill Plant Limited has purchased the former Astwick Quarry site in Northamptonshire.

The sale was overseen by rural agent Fisher German.

The site has been the subject of ongoing work and planning negotiation for a number of years, having been used to provide stone for the M40 in the late 1980s.

In 2010, planning consent was granted to de-fish, de-water and fill the 18-acre quarry site with inert waste so the plans could move forward.

Despite time running out on the three-year limit to complete the work – meaning planning consent would have to be secured again – Fisher German said employee Paul Clayson, based in the Banbury office, pushed for the plan to be followed through.

This led to the sale of the land to Graham Churchill Plant Limited, who will continue the transformation work. Around six of the 18 acres on site are to be filled with water and the result will be a series of three carp lakes, fishing platforms, a fisherman’s hut, landscaping and roads.

Fisher German has sold development land in the village of Marchington, East Staffordshire, to housebuilder Chevin Homes. The site has outline planning permission for five detached family homes.

23 January 2018
Laura Edgar, The Planner