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Planning news - 31 January 2019

Published: Thursday, 31st January 2019

RTPI urges planners to protect ancient woodlands, Alternatives proposed to garden communities in Essex, Article 4 Direction proposed to manage HMO conversion in South London. And more stories...

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

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Planning has a key role in protecting ancient woodland and trees which are threatened by the cumulative effects of inappropriate developments on their fringes as much as permanent loss and damage.

The RTPI said large-scale housing, intensive agriculture, roads, campsites and golf courses that have been sited inappropriately would have adverse “edge effects” on ancient woodlands and wildlife.

Together with the Woodland Trust, the institute has developed a one-hour training module that highlights planning’s key part in protecting ancient woodland and trees, and what tools are available to planners to help.

The training module applies to the planning regimes in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It emphasises the mitigating measures that can be enforced through strong conditions and legal agreements with developers in order to reduce the effect of indirect impact on ancient woodland. Mitigating measures include:

  • Producing an access management plan for the woodland.
  • Providing alternative natural green space to reduce visitor pressure.
  • Woodland restoration and management.

The Woodland Trust highlights that just 2 per cent of land in the UK is covered by ancient woodland, designated as such because they have been continuously wooded since at least 1600. Government guidance recommends that local authorities should refuse permission for development that result in the loss of ancient woodland and ancient or veteran trees, except in exceptional cases. However, the training points out that ancient woodland is not a formal statutory designation. The evidence used to designate a site as ancient woodland could still be open to challenge by developers and other parties, explains the trust.

Broadcaster and barrister Clive Anderson, president of the Woodland Trust, said: “Ancient woodlands are the most biodiverse in the UK, a critical carbon store and a haven for humans and wildlife. I am proud that the Woodland Trust and the RTPI have come together to work on this important module. Planners work on the front line, shaping the places we live in now and in the future. By understanding the value of ancient woods and trees, I hope planners will give full weight to the benefit trees in general and ancient woodlands in particular are to all of us.”

Sarah Lewis, policy officer at the RTPI, added: “There are many case studies in the training module that demonstrate that it is possible for planners to utilise existing legislation, tools and best practice to undertake high-quality developments that respect and protect ancient woodlands and trees. The fact that ancient woodlands and trees are irreplaceable makes it all the more important that we do our part in protecting them.”

30 January 2019
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Two alternatives have been proposed to building three garden communities in North Essex.

Campaigners feel there are many unanswered questions about how such growth would be facilitated, including how an increase in traffic would be dealt with and how they would be funded.

In 2017, North Essex Garden Communities Ltd was set up to work on and deliver proposals for garden communities in Braintree, Tendring and Colchester. Its board includes one member from each local council and one from Essex County Council, together with managing director Richard Bayley.

The organisation is owned by the four councils – the county council, Braintree District Council, Tendring District Council and Colchester Borough Council.

The communities could deliver up to 43,000 homes along the North Essex A120 corridor. Last year, though, an inspector found the strategic plan for the three garden communities “not sound”, but stressed that this was not a rejection of the plan. The inspector found it to be “lacking in a number of respects”, including the improvement of trunk roads.

CAUSE, a campaign group opposed to the garden communities, is seeking a better way to deliver the homes needed. It held a seminar on 18 January to address its concerns and to propose alternatives.

Spokesperson Rosie Pearson explained: “This event was the first opportunity for public debate about the issues surrounding the North Essex Garden Communities project. Until now, issues have been boxed into three-minute ‘have your say’ slots at council meetings or reduced to hollow slogans. Our event addresses key unanswered questions, such as, ‘How will we deal with the huge increase in traffic arising from 43,000 homes – will congestion charging be forced on us?’ and, ‘How will everything promised really be paid for?’”

William Sunnucks presented CAUSE’s Small is Beautiful proposal, which the group thinks will deliver balanced growth. The alternative financial strategy recommends: implementing the Community Infrastructure Levy as soon as possible; a transparent viability review for all non-compliant projects as set out in the 2018 National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF); to invest planning resource into brownfield sites; and to reduce the target size for strategic settlements to 2,000 dwellings.

Ted Gittins, an independent planning consultant, presented an alternative spatial strategy, saying that making North Essex as whole more self-contained while reducing reliance on private vehicles is key. Growth should be directed towards existing settlements, particularly those that are best-placed to exploit the potential for new and improved infrastructure, and those that enable greater use of public transport.

Sunnucks said: “We now have a coherent alternative to the garden communities plan both from a planning viewpoint and a financial one. Big settlements aren’t the only way to deliver infrastructure, and our financial analysis shows that they will actually deliver less. If the councils want to continue spending taxpayers’ money at £3 million a year on professional fees, they must now re-examine their viability appraisals – as requested by the inspector – and publish the results.”

A spokesperson for the North Essex Authorities told The Planner: “We are committed to engaging with and listening to the concerns of all members of the local community, and we know there are a whole range of views when it comes to how we manage future growth. Over the last few years there have been numerous drop in sessions across North Essex and conversations with hundreds if not thousands of members of the public and this will continue in the future.”

23 January 2019
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Croydon Council plans to issue an Article 4 Direction to protect family homes from conversion into houses of multiple occupation (HMO).

Properties with multi bedrooms can be converted to HMOs that can be lived in by three and six unrelated people through permitted development rights. This means the work required does not need to go through the full planning process and be approved by the council before it can be done.

The Article 4 Direction would require owners to seek planning permission for the conversion. The council plans to implement this in January 2020.

According to the local authority, research has identified that the borough has lost hundreds of family homes to HMO conversions over the past 10 years.

A consultation will be held on the proposals until Friday 8 March.

Alison Butler, deputy leader and cabinet member for homes and gateway services, said: “For some time we have been concerned by the rapid decline in multi-bedroom homes in the borough, particularly given the acute housing need and people’s inability to access affordable home ownership.

“It is clear it is becoming more and more important to protect family homes in Croydon. While we recognise the need for HMOs, we can already see that in some parts of the borough there are just too many HMOs in a small area for the local infrastructure to cope.

“This Article 4 Direction will enable us to ensure we have a supply of decent housing for Croydon families to live in, as well as giving our residents moving into newly converted HMOs reassurance around basic rights, such as space requirements.”

More information on the consultation can be found here on the council website.

24 January 2019
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Ambitious proposals for a new park-and-ride mainline rail station and business district located between Newport and Cardiff have made significant progress.

The Welsh Government, along with financial services giant Investec and entrepreneurs Nigel and his son Andrew Roberts, have established a holding company, South Wales Infrastructure Ltd (SWIL), to deliver the proposed Cardiff Parkway train station on the South Wales-to-London rail line at St Mellons.

As part of the new partnership, the government will become a shareholder and investor in SWIL. The government and Investec will provide equal funding for the next phase of the development.

The aim is to submit a planning application for the station this summer, with construction expected to begin in 2020. The ambition is for the station to be served by trains to Swansea, the Cardiff Capital Region, London, Bristol and Birmingham.

Through its investment the Welsh Government will also have a stake in the project’s proposed 65-hectare business district close to the station, which over the long term could see up to 278,700 square metres of new grade A office space built.

The project, unveiled two years ago, would involve the first mainly privately funded railway station in Wales since rail nationalisation.

Ken Skates, economy and transport minister, said: “This is an exciting project which we at the Welsh Government are very pleased to be a part of. It’s an excellent example of government and the private sector coming together to look at how best we can deliver better rail infrastructure while also creating high-quality jobs.

“As well as the obvious day-to-day benefits for commuters, this will also help to manage congestion and reduce air and noise pollution in central Cardiff while dramatically improving access by public transport for those in the area of St Mellons.”

25 January 2019
Roger Milne, The Planner

The number of build-to-rent homes currently under construction in the UK increased by 39 per cent in the year between Q4 2017 and Q4 2018.

This, according to research commission by the British Property Federation (BPF) to Savills, equates to 43,374 build-to-rent homes compared to 31,250 at the end of 2017.

The number of homes completed increased by 29 per cent between Q4 in 2017 and Q4 in 2018, from 22,762 to 29,416. Build-to-rent homes in planning were recorded as 66,718 at the end of 2018, 10 per cent more than the 60,794 at the end of 2017. In planning statistics includes sites that have been identified for build-to-rent by local authorities and developers, which stands at 22,642.

In total, there are now 139,508 build-to-rent homes complete, under construction and in planning across the UK.

The research notes that, for the first time, the total number of completed build-to-rent homes across the UK regions has caught up with the total in London; 14,615 completed homes in the regions compared to 14,801 in the capital. In terms of construction, there are 24,010 home under construction in the regions compared to 19,304 in London.

Ian Fletcher, director of real estate policy at the BPF, commented: “With the revised NPPF asking local authorities to identify how many new rental homes their respective areas need, the future should remain bright for build-to-rent. This has never before been enshrined in UK planning policy and will only add to the growing number of local authorities that are seeing the benefits of build-to-rent in adding much-needed housing supply across the UK."

The research comes after changes were made in 2018 to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which now specifically references build-to-rent homes to provide guidance to local authorities when dealing with planning applications from the sector.

Commenting on the research, Ashley Mitchell, partner and head of housing at law firm Gowling WLG, said: "While this is good news for one element of UK housing supply, it underlines a growing dynamic in the market.  BTR appeals largely to a generation of professionals who view their home as a consumer product.  Home ownership is becoming analogous to car ownership – the value is in the experience, not the investment.” 

21 January 2019
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Communities across England have been invited to bid for up to £50,000 to help business into local areas.

A total of £500,000 will come from the British Business Improvement District (BIDs) Fund. This latest round aims to support business owners and local leaders to set up a BID so communities can come together to deliver additional local services and upgrade commercial areas.

High streets minister Jake Berry said: “BIDs have a proven track record of upgrading commercial areas to enable business owners and entrepreneurs in our town centres and high streets to thrive.

“Whether through promoting longer opening hours, more security for shops or pedestrianised shopping districts, BIDs are a go-to vehicle through which you can reimagine your high street or town centre.”

He added that the loan fund is designed to provide those on the ground with the means to drive regeneration forward and meet local needs.

This funding comes after the Future High Streets Fund opened earlier this month for funding bids.

British BIDs, a BIDs sector body, holds the contract of managing and operating the fund until September 2020. So far, 29 loans of between £10,000 and £50,000 have been allocated.

There is up to £95,000 available for this latest round of funding, which is expected to provide funding for up to four BIDs. The deadline for submissions of interest is Friday 8 March.

More information can be found here on the British BIDs website.

24 January 2019
Laura Edgar, The Planner