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Planning News - 11 October 2018

Published: Thursday, 11th October 2018

Brokenshire to consult on upwards extensions PD right, Government scraps cap on local authority borrowing to help boost housebuilding, 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 government is to consult on a new permitted development right to allow property owners to extend certain buildings upwards as part of new measures announced at the Conservative Party conference.

The announcements, which also include clearer guidance for communities when land is needed for new towns, and more flexibility for local authorities to dispose of surplus land to accommodate new homes, appear in a statement timed to follow the speech made yesterday by the Secretary of State for Housing and Local Communities.

Speaking in Birmingham, James Brokenshire reiterated the government’s aspiration of seeing 300,000 homes a year being built, calling the newly announced measures “further plans to speed up the planning system”. The government will introduce “more flexibility to extend upwards on existing blocks of flats, shops and offices making better use of space by increasing housing density.”

Brokenshire spoke of the need “to be smarter on how we use land and the space available… prioritising brownfield but also looking at land that’s already been built on.”

The proposals subsequently published include plans to "permit people to build up on existing buildings rather than build out to use more precious land and give councils greater powers to deliver the garden communities of the future".

The government is to consult on these new measures in due course. Responding to the announcements, RTPI chief executive Victoria Hills commented: “Densification of built-up areas can bring about much-needed housing supply, but quality is as important as numbers. Blanket height extensions come with issues that have potentially serious impact on streetscape and people’s access to light. National policy can provide a favourable steer, but local communities should be able to set standards which enable higher buildings to make a positive contribution to housing supply.

“New powers given to local authorities to speed up the creation of locally led garden communities are welcome. Large-scale developments are key to meeting the government’s targets, but it is vital that planning teams are properly resourced to deliver them strategically with proper consideration for design and transport links, so that they do not become isolated places that significantly increase car use.”

The MHCLG statement also outlines plans for a New Homes Ombudsman to support homebuyers facing problems with newly built homes and the intention to ensure a ‘lasting legacy from the 2022 Commonwealth Games’, which are to be held in Birmingham.

2 October 2018
Martin Read, The Planner

The prime minister has announced that the government is scrapping the cap on local authority borrowing to fund new housing development.

Speaking in her keynote speech on the final day of the Conservative Party Conference, Theresa May reiterated her message that stimulating housebuilding was “the biggest domestic policy challenge of our generation”.

Speaking of the government’s existing initiatives to help local authorities do their bit to increase housing supply, she admitted that “something is still holding many of them back”, and that “it doesn’t make sense to stop councils from playing their part.”

The move to scrap the housing revenue account borrowing cap was quickly endorsed by many.

Lord Porter, chairman of the Local Government Association (LGA), said: “It is fantastic that the government has accepted our long-standing call to scrap the housing borrowing cap. We look forward to working with councils and the government to build those good-quality affordable new homes and infrastructure that everyone in our communities need.

“The last time this country built homes at the scale that we need now was in the 1970s, when councils built more than 40 per cent of them. Councils were trusted to get on and build homes that their communities needed, and they delivered, and it is great that they are being given the chance to do so again.”

Lois Lane, research and policy adviser at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said: “This announcement is welcome news for rural communities in particular, who have long required a step change in the delivery of social housing. There are currently more than 191,000 households on rural local authority waiting lists, but last year only 990 new homes for social rent were built in those areas. At that rate it would take 190 years just to meet the backlog. Rural councils should take advantage of the change and start building more of the truly affordable homes the countryside needs to thrive.”

Polly Neate, CEO at Shelter, said that the change could see up to 27,500 new social homes built each year.

"For comparison, only just over 5,000 social homes were built last year in total. Scrapping the borrowing cap lays down the gauntlet to local authorities to bring forward homebuilding plans – no more excuses.”

In April, the Labour Party committed to scrapping the cap as one of the measures in its plan to tackle rising rental costs and the decline in home ownership.

3 October 2018
Martin Read, The Planner

England green belt totalled 1,629,510 hectares as of March 2018, which accounts for 12.5 per cent of the land area of England, according to statistics published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).

The March 2018 figure is a slight decrease from the period ending March 2017, when there were 1,634,580 hectares. This was revised down from the previous estimate published in September 2017 (1,634,700ha).

According to MHCLG, 10 local authorities adopted new local plans that involved a change in their area of green belt, which accounts for the fall seen in the ministry’s figures.

Coventry and Warwick contributed over 50 per cent of the change between them. MHCLG note that Warwick’s change is small in terms of its total green belt, while Coventry’s amount of green belt has halved, with the council citing that a significant proportion has been designated as Local Green Space and is therefore afforded the same level of protection.

Eight other local authorities with local plans also saw a reduction in green belt. These are:

  • Cheltenham;
  • Cheshire East;
  • Croydon;
  • Dacorum;
  • Sefton;
  • Sunderland;
  • Sutton; and
  • Tewkesbury.

Green belt land is distributed around 15 urban cores. The largest two areas are the Metropolitan Green Belt (around London) and Liverpool, Manchester and West Yorkshire, accounting for 32 and 31 per cent respectively.

Tables accompanying the release suggest that in 1997, there was 1,652,310 hectares of green belt land, less than there is now, something an MHCLG spokesperson pointed out.

“The green belt is bigger today than in 1997.

“We are committed to delivering the homes our country needs but that doesn’t mean building all over the green belt.

“That’s why we have strengthened green belt protection through the publication of our revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) earlier this year.

“Under this planning authorities have to demonstrate they have exhausted all other reasonable options to meet development needs before even considering changes to the green belt and then evidence exceptional circumstances to justify development.”

The statistical release can be found here on the MHCLG website (pdf).

4 October 2018
Laura Edgar, The Planner

With 17 associates already six months into a one-year placement at local authorities, Public Practice has announced that it is looking for its next group of recruits.

Greater London Authority (GLA) surveys have suggested that 96 per cent of local authorities in the capital struggle to attract appropriately skilled built environment professionals.

Additionally, 91 per cent of London councils said they routinely or occasionally use agency staff to cover their planning capacity.

Public Practice was set up so that councils could access a new talent through a way that aims to be simpler than traditional recruitment, and is partly funded by participating councils alongside other public, private and third-sector organisations.

It was established in 2017, with the first 17 associates taking up their posts in April 2018 across London at the South East.

As it looks to help tackle the housing crisis, Public Practice is inviting councils from across London, the South East and East of England to submit expressions of interest to host placements. The deadline is 29 November.

Applications are also invited from built environment professionals who are interested in becoming associates. Applications will be accepted from candidates from a range of disciplines, including planning and regeneration. The deadline for applications is midday on 26 November.

More information can be found on the Public Practice website.

4 October 2018
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Land equivalent to the size of the borough of Lambeth - 2,700 hectares - has planning permission for development but construction has yet to start on it, says a think tank.

Meanwhile, In London: Making Use of London’s Empty Spaces by the Centre for London also states that 24,400 commercial properties in the capital are currently empty – and 22,500 of them have been empty for at least six months.

There is enough vacant office space in the capital to accommodate between 160,000 and 200,000 workers, it adds.

The report notes that leaving buildings and land empty is costly in terms of security and property taxes. It considers how unused spaces that are waiting to be redeveloped could be “transformed” through ‘meanwhile uses’ including pop-up retail parks, community gardens and work spaces.

Nicolas Bosetti, research manager at Centre for London, said: “London is full of spaces, small and large, that could be given over to meanwhile uses, but are not.

"Meanwhile spaces offer opportunity to try out new activities and to make things happen in parts of the city needing greater economic vitality. They can also provide affordable space for the next generation of entrepreneurs, activists and artists.”

Meanwhile, in London… explains that existing schemes across the city are bringing “huge” benefits and social value. Such schemes offer more flexibility for spaces to evolve, offering opportunities for public engagement in the development process. Additionally, they can provide affordable space for entrepreneurs, artists and activists who are starting their careers.

Centre for London has identified three hurdles that prevent empty spaces from being used to their full potential:

Landowners often overestimate the risks and undervalue the benefits of giving over a site to meanwhile use.

The planning and licensing systems can make meanwhile projects difficult to undertake.

The lack of larger meanwhile use operators limits capacity to take over sites and manage meanwhile activity.

To address these issues, the report suggests that the Mayor of London and the Greater London Authority (GLA) could show how meanwhile uses can deliver benefits to Londoners. It recommends that the mayor should set up a meanwhile use competition for empty sites across London, open data on empty commercial vacancies, and develop a ‘good practice code of exit’ to strengthen trust between landlord and occupier.

In addition, it says that government could incentivise landowners, businesses and civil society to bring empty spaces back into use, including reforming the 1954 landlord and tenant act so businesses that are struggling can sublet their spare space more easily.

The report, sponsored by regeneration developer U+I, can be found here.

4 October 2018
Laura Edgar, The Planner

A round-up of planning news:

Fracking powers transferred to Welsh Government

Planning, energy and rural affairs secretary Lesley Griffiths has welcomed the devolution of onshore petroleum licensing to Wales.

In July, she set out her preferred policy, stating that the Welsh Government would not support applications for fracking consents or undertake any new petroleum licensing in Wales.

A consultation was then held until 25 September: it received 1,800 responses, which the Welsh Government will now consider.

A Notification Direction has been put in place by the Welsh Government so that local authorities cannot approve planning applications for unconventional oil and gas extraction, including fracking, without Welsh ministers’ approval.

Griffiths said she would confirm the Welsh Government's future policy by the end of the year.

Legal challenge launched on access to Stonehenge

The High Court is set to hear a challenge from motorcyclists to Wiltshire Council over access to roads around Stonehenge.

The Trail Riders Fellowship, which campaigns to conserve green roads in England and Wales, claims the council is prohibiting motor vehicles on “the minor roads which facilitate free and convenient viewing of the stones”.

It argues that the roads are not surfaced in tarmac and were not constructed to safely and sustainably accommodate motor vehicles.

The High Court is set to hear the challenge on 21 and 22 November.

Stats: UK traffic levels

Traffic levels across the country have stabilised, according to latest the government statistics.

Provisional road traffic estimates for the year ending June 2018, unveiled by the Department for Transport, show 327 billion vehicle miles (bvm) were driven on the country’s roads, slightly less than 327.1 bvm in 2017 – the highest on record.

Traffic on motorways and minor roads increased by 0.7 per cent and 0.9 per cent respectively, while on ‘A’ roads it remained broadly stable, rising by 0.4 per cent.

Maidenhead regeneration scheme wins approval

A major redevelopment site in Maidenhead, Berkshire, has been approved in principle as part of a wider plan to regenerate the town.

The Countryside scheme includes 229 homes alongside community space and food and café outlets on the banks of Maidenhead waterways.

A total of 68 homes in the scheme will be for shared ownership, affordable rent set at local housing allowance levels and social rent. The council is also delivering a further 20 affordable homes on site.

The scheme includes commercial space for food and beverage outlets and a new home for Maidenhead Heritage Centre.

Construction is expected to start on the site in spring 2019.

Heybridge homes plan to be reconsidered without flood scheme

Maldon District Council will re-determine a proposal for more than 1,100 homes after the developer removed a flood alleviation scheme from the original successful application.

Outline plans for North Heybridge Garden Suburb by Countryside Properties were originally approved in December 2016. However, the £11 million price tag for the flood alleviation scheme has forced the developer to submit amended plans.

The new application increases the amount of affordable housing from 15 per cent to 30 per cent. It also includes a residential care home for up to 120 beds, a retail neighbourhood, primary school, childcare facility, relief road, open spaces, electric sub-stations, footpaths and cycle links.

The new proposal is now out for consultation and Maldon said the Environment Agency and Essex County Council would advise on the application.

Scottish Government appoints Millar as chief scientific adviser

A leading Edinburgh University scientist has been appointed as the Scottish Government's chief scientific adviser for the environment, natural resources and agriculture.

Andrew Millar, who is director of research for biological sciences at Edinburgh, will provide scientific advice on the environment, agriculture and the wider rural economy.

Professor Millar will also have the key task of developing and securing Scotland's science base in these areas after Brexit.

The chief scientific adviser’s main roles are to independently inform the Scottish Government’s work across policy areas and champion the use of evidence to inform policy development and delivery.

Millar succeeds Louise Heathwaite, who stepped down last year.

Firm appointed to build Liverpool cruise hotel

Wates Construction has been appointed to build a new 200-bedroom hotel by Liverpool City Council as part of the city’s major regeneration project.

The four-star hotel will support and supplement the city’s new Cruise Liner Terminal at Princes Dock, which, once built, is expected to accommodate the world’s largest cruise ships.

The hotel’s facilities will include coach parking and pick-up and drop-off provision. Subject to planning approval, work is scheduled to start in 2019, with completion expected the following year.

MPA calls for further freeze on Aggregates Levy

Ahead of the Autumn Budget, the Mineral Products Association (MPA) has written to Chancellor Philip Hammond setting out the measures that it thinks would boost economic growth, employment and investment in the UK.

The MPA wants the government to avoid additional costs to industry businesses and customers at a time when construction and mineral products markets are subject to risks, including Brexit.

The measures include:

Announcing a further freeze on the Aggregates Levy;

Ensuring that there is no increase in environmental or regulatory costs for energy intensive industries and an end to the Carbon Price Floor.

Nigel Jackson, chief executive at the MPA, said: “Given the disappointing rate of economic growth over the past 18 months and forecasts of more of the same, it is critical that government uses the Budget to take every opportunity to maximise economic activity whilst avoiding increased taxes and costs on hard-pressed businesses in the mineral products, construction and related sectors.

"The industry recognises that existing infrastructure spending may be hard to increase but programmed spending could and should be accelerated to bolster demand. The Autumn Budget provides a significant opportunity to build confidence which will increase investment.”

A copy of the submission to the Autumn Statement can be found here (pdf).

Community health centre for Scottish capital approved

The developer of Edinburgh Marina has received detailed planning permission for its community health centre and local retail provision at Chestnut Yard, which form part of the scheme.

This permission follows approval of its luxury retirement living scheme in January 2018.

Developer Kevin Fawcett stated: “The provision of essential local shopping and healthcare services within the community is vital to the development as a whole and will help to reduce vehicle use in the surrounding area."

Peterborough homes green-lit

Multidisciplinary design practice, rg+p, has secured reserved matters approval for a new housing development in the Stanground district of Peterborough.

Working on behalf of Countryside Partnerships East Midlands, the application submitted by rg+p comprises 30 new homes at the former Belle Vue Stables site, off Whittlesey Road. Of the homes, 20 will be for market and 10 have been designated as affordable. They will be a mix of one-bedroom apartments, and two and three-bedroom homes.

The development also includes parking, cycle storage and public open space.

October 2 2018
Laura Edgar, The Planner