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Planning News - 6 September 2018

Published: Thursday, 6th September 2018

Report: Councils not monitoring sustainable drainage, Build to Rent a key growth area, research suggests, Will the revised NPPF deliver? and more stories...

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

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The way in which methods of sustainable drainage are monitored and maintained needs to improve, according to a government report.

The Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) report, entitled 'A review of the application and effectiveness of planning policy for Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS)', considers the value of sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) and the way in which they are being deployed following the strengthening of national planning policy three years ago to make SuDS a requirement for all new major developments.

SuDS can comprise a range of techniques to alter water flow velocity and remove pollutants, from source control (intercepting run-off water on roofs for other purposes); pre-treatment (removing pollutants prior to discharge to watercourses); retention systems (delaying water discharge through use of ponds and wetlands) and infiltration systems (to allow water to soak into the ground without harm).

Key to the report’s findings is that 70 per cent of local planning authorities “do not have a monitoring and/or a reporting regime in place to monitor SuDS deployment in their adopted local plans”. The figure rises further to 75 per cent for emerging local plans.

Furthermore, just a third - 33 per cent - of adopted plans specify arrangements being in place for the ongoing maintenance of a SuDS over the lifetime of the development, although this does not mean that maintenance arrangements were not considered at the application stage.

In its analysis of approved planning applications, the report states that 87 per cent did explicitly state that a SuDS solution would feature in the proposed development, whether as proposed by the applicant or aconditioned by the local planning authority.

For the remainder, the report continues, mitigating circumstances were described in the application such as the development being directly adjacent to a water body or on previously developed land where a pre-existing connection to a sewer was proposed. Where SuDS was not specifically mentioned in the application, “drainage of surface water to a water body was often described in such a way that could be interpreted as sustainable”.

The report says that government will update SuDS planning guidance, reflecting changes made to the NPPF, in the autumn.

The full report is available from here on the MHCLG website.

28 August 2018
Martin Read, The Planner


Dwellings built specifically for private rent has been forecast as one of the key areas of growth within the housebuilding industry, according to AMA Research.

Analysis in the research firm’s Housebuilding Market Report – UK 2018-2022 notes that as well as attracting some of the larger housing associations, an increasing number of large private housebuildng groups are diversifying in the Build to Rent sector.

The focus, the research explains, is on investing in large-scale apartment developments in key parts of London, the West Midlands and the north west of England, which all offer economies of scale. This, AMA said, is being achieved through the increased specification of prefabricated building components and full offsite building systems, like modular construction.

The report also says there were around 258,000 new dwellings delivered in the UK in 2016/17, an increase of 13 per cent on the previous year.

“What has been critical to growth in net additions to the UK’s housing stock has been sharp growth in the numbers of conversions, which has been driven by government’s granting of permitted development rights for the conversion of empty offices into dwellings. Although there will inevitably soon be a shortage of empty offices suitable for conversion, we expect there to be a shift towards conversions of vacant high street facilities” said Keith Taylor, director of AMA Research.

“There has also been a recent relaxation of permitted rights concerning barns and stable conversions, which should contribute towards growth in the total number of conversions over the next few years”.

For 2017/18, it is estimated to be similar, with 280,000 new homes added to the UK stock.

According to AMA, growth in the house stock has been driven by increased activity in the private housing sector as a result of low interest rates, competitive mortgage deals and the Help to Buy equity loan scheme.

The research also notes that there has been a move away from one to three bedroom flats to four bedrooms, and more, in semi-detached and detached homes, particularly in the capital and the South East. The demand for flats remains the strongest in London.

While private sector housing has seen growth, public sector housing completions is still below government targets, the research highlights. This is put down to public sector funding cuts. In the longer term, AMA forecasts a more balance relationship between supply and demand due to the increasing number of housing associations diversifying into building affordable homes.

28 August 2018
Laura Edgar, The Planner


When it finally came, many wondered what all the fuss had been about.

The draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) inspired huge interest when it was unveiled in March, with more than 29,000 responses to its consultation, and the government holding 10 regional engagement events and around 40 individual meetings.

After all that, Barton Willmore senior partner Mark Sitch MRTPI summed up the prevailing mood on the revised framework’s publication in July. “Disappointingly, there has been minimal change following consultation on the draft NPPF,” he says. “The industry – from local authorities, interested parties to developers – provided substantial feedback and it was expected to see some of this translated into the final revised NPPF. There are, however, no big surprises and no real changes.”

The NPPF’s focus remains firmly on housing. Disappointment aside, there is plenty within the document for the planning and development community to chew over – design, the housing delivery test, small sites, build to rent and social housing. But the perennial issue of whether planning has the resources to cope with the new regime remains.

"More details policy on minerals and waste, and better resourcing for planning departments, are also required if we want to identify and protect sites" - James Harris

Design quality

The revised framework places significant emphasis on design, with high-quality buildings and places seen as fundamental to the planning process.

The new NPPF particularly stresses high-quality design for new homes. Housing and communities secretary James Brokenshire says local authorities should “have the confidence and tools” to refuse applications when development does not prioritise design quality or complement its surroundings.

The new framework reflects the emerging findings of Sir Oliver Letwin’s review of housing delivery and aims to give communities a greater say in the design of developments. Councils are encouraged to make use of “innovative visual tools” and allow residents to see schemes before they are built.

Adopted neighbourhood plans should “demonstrate clear local leadership” in design quality and reflect “the community’s expectations on how new development will visually contribute to their area”. Local authorities should apply design policies “in the most appropriate way in their area, recognising that they are well placed to know their area’s unique character and setting”.

The framework says: “Being clear about design expectations, and how these will be tested, is essential for achieving this. So too is effective engagement between applicants, communities, local planning authorities and other interests throughout the process.”

Planning authorities should also ensure that the quality of approved development is “not materially diminished between permission and completion”, especially through the materials used.

“I am clear that quantity must never compromise the quality of what is built, and this is reflected in the new rules,” says Brokenshire.

Housing delivery test and standard methodology

Paragraph 11 of the NPPF introduces a new presumption in favour of sustainable development, which references a housing delivery test to apply from November 2018.

The test will measure the number of homes created against local housing need and penalise authorities that under-deliver against various thresholds over a three-year period. This includes applying the presumption in favour of sustainable development where delivery is below 75 per cent of the housing requirement from 2020.

Local authorities failing to demonstrate a five-year housing land supply or not meeting delivery targets will trigger the presumption in favour of sustainable development for housing applications.

“It places greater responsibility on local authorities to deliver target housing numbers and includes sanctions on councils failing to meet housebuilding targets in their local plans; effectively rendering its adopted local plan policies as out of date and triggering the paragraph 11 presumption in favour of development,” says Shoosmiths planning partner Tim Willis.

Matt Thomson, head of planning at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), believes that the new test will result in almost all local plans becoming out of date within two years.

“It is a speculative developers’ charter and will lead to the death of the plan-led system,” he says. “Without a local plan, councils and communities have little control over the location and type of developments that take place.”

Local authorities also have major grumbles about the new polic

“It is hugely disappointing that the government has not listened to our concerns about nationally set housing targets, and will introduce a delivery test that punishes communities for homes not built by private developers,” says Local Government Association (LGA) chairman Lord Porter.

The standardised methodology for assessing housing needed has not been significantly amended, however, the government will consider “adjusting” the method after the household projections are released in September 2018.

Small sites

The revised framework expects planning authorities to accommodate at least 10 per cent of their housing requirement on “small and medium sites” – up to one hectare through brownfield land registers and development plans. Previously, the figure was 20 per cent. The 10 per cent target may not be achievable in all circumstances, the framework acknowledges, stating that relevant plan policies should detail “strong reasons” for not hitting the target.

“This is a relatively large change and is probably to provide more flexibility in the identification of these sites, both in terms of number and size,” says TLT head of planning and partner Katherine Evans MRTPI. “Another notable revision of the NPPF is that paragraph 69 reflects the change to small and medium-sized sites in the requirement for neighbourhood planning groups to consider opportunities to allocate this size of site. This broadens the scope for development opportunities.”

Victoria Hills MRTPI, chief executive at the RTPI

“We were pleased that so many RTPI members (around 200 actively engaged in the consultation process. They should take credit for some of the improvements we have seen, particularly in making some policies more implementable, like on small sites, and also the reintroduction of the reference to the Climate Change Act 2008. The strength of the revisions lie in fine-tuning and clarification – such as the presumption in favour of development, which members have asked for.

“However, questions over strategic alignment between sections of the framework still remain, e.g. transport and housing. Planners’ skills, knowledge and professionalism will be key to realising its aspirations and we’ll continue to engage with the government in areas our members feel more needs to be done to improve the planning system.”

Build to rent

As part of the government’s drive for a greater mix of tenures, build to rent is recognised as its own asset class with local authority plans and policies needing to reflect demand for such property alongside social rent and private ownership.

Build to rent schemes will count towards the affordable housing allocation for an area. This allows build to rent sites to provide new affordable private rent homes.

“With a target of 1.5 million new homes by 2022, the government has rightly acknowledged that all housing tenures, including both homes for sale and build to rent, must be firing on all cylinders,” says the British Property Federation’s (BPF) real estate policy director Ian Fletcher.

“Local authorities across the country must understand the sector’s benefits including its commitment to offering family-friendly tenancies, such as for three years, to those customers who want or need security.”

“The mineral industry needs to know what future demand is, so it can put the necessary timely investment into increasing production capacity" - Mark North

Social rent

Here there is something of a U-turn, with “social rent’ retained within the government’s definition of affordable housing. Affordable housing is now defined as homes where "the rent is set in accordance with the government’s rent policy for social rent or affordable rent, or is at least 20 per cent below local market rents".

The maximum annual household income of eligible buyers of starter homes – £80,000, or £90,000 in London – has now been removed and left as a matter for secondary legislation.

While cautiously welcoming the move, National Housing Federation (NHF) head of policy James Prestwich noted that the government describes other types of housing as affordable, including starter homes. “But these are unlikely to be of any help to struggling renters or homeless families,” he added. “The government needs to focus its support and investment in social housing."

And finally…

For all the revised framework’s reforms, one major problem remains – resources for planning.

“We must recognise the significant pressure the new NPPF requirements will put on local authority planning teams,” says RTPI president John Acres. “It is imperative that chief executives, council leaders and politicians resource planning departments sufficiently, particularly as they will now be held more accountable under the housing delivery test and are expected to carry out more regular reviews of their plans.”

This point was also made by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), with its president, Ben Derbyshire, urging “the government to give planners the resources, tools and power to raise the bar of quality design in the system”.

Resources aside, the sense of disappointment is palpable.

“After all the cries to ‘free the NPPF’, with a couple of exceptions the new policy looks on the surface to be fairly similar to the draft released earlier in the year, not to mention the old one,” says Rapleys partner Jason Lowes MRTPI.

“The success of the NPPF will only be clear as it is implemented and how far it goes to helping meet the government’s housing delivery ambitions in the long term – and it is hoped that we don’t look back in a few years with hindsight and regard this as a real missed opportunity.”

Other key points in the NPPF

On the green belt, the final guidance is mostly unchanged from the draft published in March. Local authorities are urged to “exhaust all other reasonable options for development” before considering altering a green belt boundary. It stresses that “considerable evidence” would be needed to alter any such boundary. Where it is necessary to release green belt land for development, plans should give “first consideration” to land that has been previously developed and is well served by public transport.

Strategic policies will need to be reviewed at least every five years where housing need changes significantly.

Large-scale development must be well designed and located, and backed by infrastructure. The supply of large numbers of new homes “can often be best achieved” through new settlements and “significant extensions” to towns and villages. The final framework reinserts a reference to garden city principles omitted from the draft. The Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) said this was an important “starting point for unlocking a new generation of highly sustainable places that meet housing, employment and quality-of-life needs while promoting innovation”.

Local authorities and applicants should consider Planning Performance Agreements for particularly large and complex schemes.

Diversification is key to the long-term vitality and viability of town centres, enabling them to “respond to rapid changes in the retail and leisure industries”. Policies should clarify “the range of uses permitted in such locations, as part of a positive strategy for the future of each centre”.

When the impact of proposed development on a designated heritage asset is assessed, great weight should be given to the asset’s conservation “irrespective of whether any potential harm amounts to substantial harm, total loss or less than substantial harm to its significance”.

Unlike its predecessor, the revised framework says planning policies should provide for storage and distribution operations “at a variety of scales and in suitably accessible locations”. Employment is reinstated under the land uses to be covered by strategic policies.

Development that leads to the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats, such as ancient woodland and ancient or veteran trees, should be refused unless there are wholly exceptional reasons “and a suitable compensation strategy exists”.

31 August 2018
Laura Edgar, The Planner


Mayor of London Sadiq Khan is one of 19 mayors from countries across the world to have committed to ensuring new buildings in their cities are net zero carbon by 2030.

This forms part of the mayors’ plans to cut greenhouse gases significantly.

The Net Zero Carbon Buildings Declaration also commits the leaders (see table), who represent 130 million urban citizens, to ensuring all buildings in cities, whether new or old, meet net-zero carbon standards by 2050.

Cities that have signed the pledge:

  • Copenhagen
  • Johannesburg
  • London
  • Los Angeles
  • Montreal
  • New York City
  • Newburyport
  • Paris
  • Portland
  • San Francisco
  • San Jose
  • Santa Monica
  • Stockholm
  • Sydney
  • Tokyo
  • Toronto
  • Tshwane
  • Vancouver
  • Washington D.C

A statement from the leaders explains that net-zero buildings use energy “ultra-efficiently” and meet any remaining energy needs from renewable sources.

“Such bold commitments, made ahead of the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, are essential steps in delivering on the highest goals of the Paris Agreement and keeping global temperature rise below 1.5°C.”

Buildings in urban areas are one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

In London, Los Angeles and Paris, buildings account for well over 70 per cent of the cities’ overall emissions, the statement continues.

Khan said: ““My strategy to improve London’s environment includes some of the world’s most ambitious targets to reduce carbon emissions from our homes and workplaces. This includes expanding my existing standard of zero carbon new homes to apply to all new buildings in 2019. We want to make London a zero carbon city by 2050 and we’re working hard to ensure its buildings are energy efficient and supplied with clean energy sources. I look forward to collaborating with other cities on our shared vision of achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement.”

The commitment will see the cities work with state and regional governments, and the private sector, to drive put the pledge into action. It calls on national governments for equal action, too.

The pledge is part of the World Green Building Council’s net zero carbon building commitment for businesses, cities, states and regions.

The cities that make this commitment will:

  • Establish a roadmap for the commitment to reach net zero carbon buildings.
  • Develop a suite of supporting incentives and programmes.
  • Report annually on progress towards meeting our targets, and evaluate the feasibility of reporting on emissions beyond operational carbon (such as refrigerants).

The declaration can be read here (pdf).

28 August 2018
Laura Edgar, The Planner


A study that exposes the low quality of residential dwellings converted from offices without the need for planning permission has won the leading award at the RTPI’s 2018 Research Excellence Awards.

The paper, submitted by a team at the Bartlett School of Planning, University College London, found that following the deregulation of the planning system in England in 2013 just 30 per cent of converted ‘studio flats’ meet national space standards, and many office conversions in the middle of industrial estates have undergone barely any changes to make them fit for habitation.

“This pool of new evidence is welcome particularly in the light of the revised National Planning Policy Framework, which puts new focus on the importance of design amid ambitious government housing targets,” said Tom Kenny, the RTPI’s RTPI’s acting deputy head of policy and research.

The study picked up the Academic Award in Sheffield on Monday night (3 September) at a ceremony in which many of the winners shared a common theme of interest in the design and quality of places and their relationship with well-being and health outcomes.

The Sir Peter Hall Award for Wider Engagement was won by a project exploring how green infrastructure can be better planned through the creation of the UK’s first green infrastructure benchmark.

Conceived by a team from the University of the West of England, the ‘Building with Nature’ benchmark defines and sets the standard for high-quality green infrastructure design and aims to address the gap between policy aspirations and practicable deliverability. It follows from the team’s research, which revealed that uncertainty surrounds what constitutes high-quality green infrastructure, and that delivery is inconsistent.

The Consultancy Award went to a study that helps planners in Southwark, London, achieve healthier outcomes. They found concrete evidence that changes in built environment design such as street layouts can improve health of residents.

“The winners and highly commended entries have demonstrated how academic researchers can positively reach out to practitioners and policymakers with insights and finding to inform and influence their work,” said Kenny.

4 September 2018,
Simon Wicks, The Planner


A round-up of planning news:

123,000 children spent holidays homeless

Councils across England have said that more than 123,000 children and their families have spent their school holidays homeless.

This is an increase of approximately 53,000 since the summer of 2011.

According to the Local Government Association (LGA), have been housing an additional 650 homeless children every month - the equivalent of an additional primary school’s worth of children every fortnight.

It called on the government to adapt welfare reforms and allow councils to borrow to build new homes, with the right infrastructure, to tackle the housing shortage, which the LGA said is the root cause of the homelessness crisis.

Acorn buys Exeter site for housing

Acorn Property Group has completed the purchase of eight acres of land from the Exeter Royal Academy for Deaf Education for a £50 million housing-led mixed-use scheme.

Designed by Clifton Emery, the St Leonards development has planning permission for 146 homes, a 61-bed care home and 86 assisted living units. The development will retain St Leonard’s pre-school on the site.

The dwellings will be one and two-bedroom apartments, and three, four and five-bedroom houses. Of the 146 homes, 34 per cent will be affordable.

The sale will help fund the academy’s new state of the art, purpose-built facility in Exmouth.

Construction on the St Leonards site is not expected to start until early 2020, once the academy has successfully relocated.

Dover serves notices to poorly maintained properties

Dover District Council has served Section 215 notices on The Castle Inn on Russell Street, and to two sites on the side of King Street at the junction with Flying Horse Lane, and 8 King Street in Dover.

The notices required improvements be made to the condition of the land and/or buildings. Further action is possible for non-compliance.

Officers at the council noted the poor condition of the Grade II listed Castle Inn, including the need to repair rendering and flaking paintwork on walls and architectural features, removing redundant electrical cables, replacing a lantern hood, and removing an advert panel, scaffolding and building materials.

The owners of land on the east side of King Street at the junction with Flying Horse Lane have been required to remove all waste, rubbish and refuse from the land, to cut overgrown vegetation, and to repair and paint the fencing surrounding the site.

The notice requires the owners of 8 King Street to repair the render to external walls, and make good flaking paintwork on the roof railing, and remove overgrown vegetation from gutters and down pipes.

Projects to protect agricultural land approved in Buckden

Huntingdonshire District Council’s development management committee has approved two construction projects being built as part of the £1.5 billion upgrade of the A14.

This is line with the recommendation made by officers.

First, permission was being sought by Highways England for the relocation of a drainage retention pond that had been approved as part of the A14 improvement scheme to an area outside the project’s approved boundary on the other side of the new road. It includes an access road to the pond for maintenance and an outfall pipe.

The pond was originally intended to be to the south of the A14. Landowners though, have requested that it be moved to the northern side to reduce the impact on farming operations and to save better quality farmland.

The second application involved work on four parcels of land that are also close to the Buckden gravel pits county wildlife site.

Kings Cross theatre approved

Camden Council has granted planning consent for a new 600-seat theatre at Kings Cross in London.

The theatre is part of a development known as P2, which will also contain nine floors of flexible office space as well as retail space on the ground floor.

The application was made by developer King’s Cross Central Limited Partnership. Architects Allford Hall Monaghan Morris designed the theatre.

The firm also designed Liverpool’s Royal Court Theatre and the Barbican’s art gallery.

28 August 2018
Laura Edgar, The Planner