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Planning news - 28 February 2019

Published: Thursday, 28th February 2019

Local plans key to improving high street health, Reducing emissions held back by construction skills gap, Housing boost for South Wales. And more stories...

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

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The large-scale structural change of high streets in order to improve their health requires intervention led by local authorities in partnership with communities. Local plans are a key element of this.

The Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) Committee said local plans must consider green space, leisure, arts and culture, health and social services to create space “that is the intersection of human life and activity”.

High Streets and Town Centres in 2030 states that given the financial pressures faced by local authorities, central government funding will be needed for the structural change of high streets, as well as “significant” private investment.

The government’s Future High Streets Fund is geared up for this, but the committee said evidence submitted to them suggests that the funding offer needs to be increased. It recommends that the government should assess a sales tax, an increase in VAT, an online sales tax, and ‘green taxes’ on deliveries and packaging to provide fast relief for retailers. The revenue generated from such tax changes would fund the structural changes, along with a reduction in business rates and 12-month ‘holiday’ from rate increases.

MPs also recommend the suspension of further extension of permitted development rights, pending an evaluation of their impact on the high street. Instead, policies should reflect local circumstances and councils should be encouraged to develop town centre masterplans. Where permitted development conflicts “with particular designations in the local plan or other established planning documents, councils should be given greater freedom to suspend PDRs in the affected area”.

The report adds that, as they currently operate, “Article 4 Directions do not give councils adequate ability to remove PDRs quickly and without liability to pay developers compensation”.

Clive Betts, chair of the committee, noted the collapse of well-known high street chains and the growth of online shopping.

“It is likely that the heyday of the high street primarily as a retail hub is at an end. However, this need not be its death knell. Local authorities must get to grips with the fact that their town centres need to change: they need to innovate, setting out a long-term strategy for renewal, reconfiguring the town centre and finding new ways of using buildings and encouraging new independent retailers."

For Betts, “dated” planning policy must be reformed to reflect the needs of modern high streets and town centres. A period of renewal and regeneration that establishes high streets as focal points of communities must begin.

“Local authorities must have the foresight to develop evolving strategies tailored to the needs of their local communities and drive the large-scale transformation needed. Central government must give them the powers, and back them financially, to allow them to put this into practice.”

A Centre for Cities report cites the main challenges facing the high streets as a lack of skilled workers and the demand to shift away from retail towards leisure services. It recommends that the chancellor should allow city leaders to access to the National Productivity Investment Fund to invest in making city centres more attractive places for businesses and employees.

In contrast to MPs, planning consultancy Turley said in a recent report that the fears about the death of the high street are a “myth”. Commenting on the HCLG Committee report, Cat White, associate director at Turley, aid "the idea that the high street’s hey-day is over, is wrong".

“We strongly believe retail has a key role to play in the regeneration of our urban centres and that this latest report is unnecessarily gloomy.” She highlighted that in-store spending is not falling but is projected to increase to £227 billion by 2026.

The retail offer in town centres needs to be supported by developments that offer a number of different uses to drive daytime and evening footfall. This could include housing, workspaces, hospitality and leisure facilities.

“The report recommends the further extension of permitted development rights should be suspended, as it could undermine the local vision for the town centre. This reflects the voice of many commentators. However, while policies do need to reflect local circumstances, waiting for housing sites to be identified through development plans will not enable the timely intervention needed. There is a need to ensure that housing and other uses can be delivered quickly, but with the right controls in place to ensure we create vital, desirable and liveable places. Collaborative working between public and private sector stakeholders is key to realising this."

Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, said the report has taken a "visionary approach" to fundamentally reimagining the ways that we regenerate our high streets in order to adapt to the challenges of modern life.

Contrary to the committee’s views on permitted development, Berry said "streamlining the process for upwards development above certain premises would help [the government] meet their targets while maintaining a more rigorous application process for other kinds of developments".

"What we must avoid is perfectly good space lying empty and achieving nothing in terms of boosting the local economy or providing homes for individuals and families.”

High Streets and Town Centres in 2030 can be found here on the UK Parliament website.

21 February 2019
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Advances in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions have been held back by the skills gap in construction, housing design and the installation of new technologies.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) said this is the result of the UK Government “chopping and changing” policy.

In its report UK Housing: Fit for the Future, the committee recommends that the government should use initiatives under the Construction Sector Deal to tackle the low-carbon skills gap, with new support provided to train designers, builders and installers to ensure that homes have low-carbon heating, are energy and water efficient and are flood resilient.

The report highlights that there are plans for 1.5 million new UK homes by 2022: it insists that these homes must be low-carbon and energy efficient. The costs of making homes low-carbon, energy and water efficient, and climate resilient “are not prohibitive, and getting design right from the outset is vastly cheaper than forcing retrofit later”.

The committee says that from 2025 at the latest, no new homes should be connected to the gas grid. Instead, they should be heated through low-carbon sources “have ultra-high levels of energy efficiency alongside appropriate ventilation and, where possible, be timber-framed”.

There are also increasing requirements for green space and sustainable transport in planning and guidance.

The committee found that reducing emissions from UK homes has stalled, while energy use in homes, which accounts for 14 per cent of UK emissions, increased between 2016 and 2017. It warned that the UK’s legally binding climate-change targets won’t be met without the near-complete elimination of greenhouse gas emissions from UK buildings. Efforts to adapt are “lagging” behind what is needed to keep the population safe and comfortable.

Baroness Brown, chair of the CCC’s adaptation committee, noted that the report confirms “what we have long-suspected – UK homes are largely unprepared for climate change”.

“There must be compliance with stated building designs and standards. We need housing with low-carbon sources of heating. And we must finally grasp the challenge of improving our poor levels of home energy efficiency. As the climate continues to change, our homes are becoming increasingly uncomfortable and unsafe. This will continue unless we take steps now to adapt them for higher temperatures, flooding and water scarcity. Our report shows that this work has barely begun.

“Major improvements in how we design, build and use our homes are needed to meet these challenges. We have highlighted the need for appropriate sources of finance and funding – and a national training programme to ensure we have the building and construction skills required in the UK. Climate change will not wait while we consider our options – the nationwide shift we need to make UK homes climate-ready must start today.”

UK Housing: Fit for the Future contains a raft of other recommendations, from retrofitting to SudS. They include:

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) must clarify the rights and obligations of local and regional authorities in relation to climate change mitigation and adaptation. This includes clear statutory duties, and clarification of how far local and regional authorities are permitted to go in setting tighter new build standards.

MHCLG should close loopholes allowing homes to be built which do not meet the current minimum standards for new dwellings. This includes provisions on the expiry of planning permission, and permitted development rights relating to change of use.

The government should develop a targeted package of new measures to incentivise and support those developers and individuals who wish to take early action in building low-carbon and resilient homes.

MHCLG and the Department for Transport (DfT) must strengthen the importance of sustainable transport plans that are integrated into the development throughout the design process, including the development of walking and cycling routes and early consultation with public transport providers.

For areas within walking distance of high-quality public transport, MHCLG and DfT should set minimum density guidelines to ensure that local authorities concentrate housing in these areas wherever possible.

Local authorities must consult the bus industry at the local plan stage to ensure that new housing areas can be serviced by commercially viable routes.

MHCLG and DfT should explore the potential for new rail stations, and light rail, tram and bus (including bus rapid transit) routes to unlock areas for housing development while mitigating transport impacts.

Sub-national transport bodies should play a role in coordinating regional housing plans and sharing good practice across local authorities.

The UK Government and devolved administrations should take steps to monitor and reverse the decline in urban green space through clearer policy and more support for schemes that deliver multiple benefits.

UK Housing: Fit for the Future can be found here on the Committee on Climate Change website.

26 February 2019
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Developers have submitted proposals for more than 600 new homes at three locations in South Wales.

St Modwen is proposing the construction of 277 properties across two sites – Glann Llyn (203 new homes) near Newport and Coed Darcy (74 units) near Neath.

Both schemes are part of phased major residential developments that will also involve schools, parkland, local centres and, in the case of Coed Darcy, 46,450 square metres of commercial floor space.

Meanwhile, Savills, on behalf of Taylor Wimpey, has proposed a 325-home development for a site near Sully in the Vale of Glamorgan – 128 of the homes would be affordable.

In a related but separate development, the Welsh Government has just published its 2018-based national and regional estimates of overall housing need up to 2038. These indicate a requirement for 8,300 additional dwellings per annum (dpa) for the first five years of the 20-year period, decreasing to an average of 3,600 dpa during the last five years of the period (2033/34 to 2037/38).

And the administration’s latest summary of housing land availability – for 2018 – shows that as of 1 April 2018 only six of the 25 local planning authorities could demonstrate a five-year housing land supply position as required by national policy.

22 February 2019
Roger Milne, The Planner

Environment secretary Michael Gove has proposed conservation covenants to legally safeguard England’s wildlife and natural environment.

Conservation covenants were outlined in the government’s 25-year environment plan.

The consultation seeks views about the best way to introduce conservation covenants, which would be voluntary but legally-binding agreements. Landowners would be able to leave a “permanent conservation legacy” on their land for future generations, said the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra).

Used in other countries, the proposed covenants would allow landowners to make a public commitment to preserve and improve “treasured” features on land, including trees, woodland or flower-rich meadows. Overseen by responsible bodies to ensure that land management obligations are delivered, they would also be binding on future owners of the land.

Gove said conservation covenants are a “valuable new tool” to help protect the countryside.

“They allow landowners to safeguard nature on their land, securing long-term benefits and enabling vital investment in future conservation.”

He added that the proposals are being considered to the environment bill.

Scenarios that are likely to involve the use of conservation covenants are securing heritage sites, an alternative to land purchase by conservation organisations, payment for ecosystem services, or in a business context to secure the long-term maintenance of existing or newly created wildlife or heritage assets.

Natural England’s interim chief executive, Marian Spain, said: “Natural England has long believed that conservation covenants could be useful for land owners and secure long term environment gains for nature. It is pleasing to hear that a number of landowners and farmers are already interested and want to hear more about the government’s proposals."

The Law Commission recommended introducing a new statutory scheme of conservation covenants in England and Wales in its June 2014 report. Professor Nicholas Hopkins, commissioner for property, family and trust law at the Law Commission, said:

"These recommendations would make it simpler and easier for landowners to make agreements that that will protect the environment, archaeological sites and historically important buildings for generations to come."

The consultation, which closes on 22 March, can be found here on the Defra website.

28 February 2019
Laura Edgar, The Planner

House prices in rural counties are 10 times higher than average annual earnings, according to analysis by the County Councils Network (CCN).

Based on the UK Housing Price Index for December 2018, the analysis suggests that in some shire counties house prices are 14.5 times higher than the average annual wage. This compares with a national average of 8.2.

The representative body for county councils says the analysis highlights how the affordability crisis has spread from London to hit counties, where wages are lower. The average house price in the country’s 27 counties is £100,000 more than in urban areas outside of the capital.

A “fragmented” planning system is holding back development in county areas, pushing up house prices, say county council leaders, and it is compounded by annual wages in those areas being £1,700 lower than the national average. While district councils are responsible for planning and housing in two-tier county areas, the county council in each of those areas is responsible for the infrastructure for these developments – such as parks, roads, public services, and amenities. County leaders want to work in closer collaboration with district partners to deliver more homes.

The counties with the largest house prices to yearly wage ratios include Cambridgeshire (14.6), Surrey (14), and Hertfordshire (12.8). The ratio has widened since 2016, when Oxford Economics did a similar survey for the CCN.

The organisation notes that the top five urban areas outside London are Southend (10.5), Bristol (9.6) and Bournemouth. Nine out of the 27 county council areas have a ratio that is below the national average with the average house price in rural areas now £270,923, up from £262,390 in 2017. The average house price in the cities and towns is £170,212.

Strategic planning was scrapped in 2012, but county leaders want to see it return. CCN chairman Paul Carter has called for strategic powers for counties and stronger planning reform – including reforms to developer contributions – from the government.

Philip Atkins, CCN spokesman for housing, planning, and infrastructure, and leader of Staffordshire County Council, welcomed the government's “drive” to tackle housing affordability but said “bolder change” is needed to deliver the homes the country needs.

“If we are to build the right homes, in the right places, with the necessary infrastructure, then we need to move towards strategic planning on a county scale, working with district partners and neighbouring authorities.

“To that end, we recommend that rural areas have the same planning powers that are currently only on offer to urban metro mayors, such as allowing them to prepare their own strategic plans, to help deliver more houses in England’s counties. At the same time, we would encourage more ‘Housing Deals’ outside of city areas. A closer alignment of planning and coordinated infrastructure provision across a county-wide geography will enable us to overcome the current fragmented approach to the planning system and build more homes and genuinely sustainable communities.”

He added that there is a lack of adequate funding for roads, amenities, and public services to mitigate large-scale development which forms a barrier to unlocking development in some areas.

"Further reform to developer contributions and the way that this funding is distributed between councils is needed.”

25 February 2019
Laura Edgar, The Planner

A round-up of planning news.

2,000 homes approved in Ealing

Ealing London Borough Council has granted planning permission for the 2,000-home regeneration of the former Middlesex Business Centre in Bridge Road, Southall.

Montreaux’s plans for the 12.4 acre site include affordable and build-to-rent homes, a one-acre park, business space, shops, community space, a hotel and public green areas.

The site is located near the new Crossrail station.

Work will start this autumn, with the first homes expected to be available in spring 2022.

Work under way on £38 million Staffordshire development

Work has started on the £38million Liberty Park development in Lichfield, Staffordshire, after Lichfield District Council granted planning permission for the development of two speculative industrial / logistics units.

The development is expected to create more than 700 new jobs.

The new units – L115 and L48 – will provide 115,000 square feet and 48,000 square feet of grade A industrial/logistics accommodation with up to 230 combined car parking spaces and 17 lorry spaces. Derbyshire-based G F Tomlinson has been appointed as lead contractor and is expected to complete work on the new units in October 2019.

Jake Berry, minister for local growth, said: “We are committed to boosting economic growth across the whole of the Midlands Engine and building a country that works for everyone. Our £4 million Local Growth Fund investment has paved the way for work to start on the development of Liberty Park, funding the infrastructure works necessary to open up this business park. Once complete, this project will enable the people of Lichfield and the wider Staffordshire area to benefit from the creation of more than 700 jobs, as well as a new investment site that will attract more businesses to the area.”

Liberty Park, Lichfield, is being jointly marketed by CBRE and Avison Young.

Funding applications for Scotland’s peatlands open

The latest Peatland ACTION Fund round is open. There is £1.5 million available to restore damaged peatlands across Scotland.

The funding comes through the Scottish Government’s Climate Change Plan commitments, which sets out the long-term ambition to restore 250,000 hectares of peatland by 2030.

With more than 80 per cent of peatland habitats estimated to be damaged in Scotland, restoration is crucial to “locking-in” carbon, helping to tackle climate change, said Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

The funding primarily supports on-the-ground restoration activities, including the installation of peat dams in man-made ditches to increase water levels, allowing the peat-building mosses, called sphagnums, to re-establish.

To date, Peatland ACTION has set over 15,000 hectares of Scotland’s peatlands on the road to recovery, working with more than 200 applicants.

Andrew McBride, Peatland ACTION project delivery manager, said: “In the face of climate change, healthy peatlands can provide multiple solutions, such as increased water availability for livestock and wildlife, as a wildfire retardant and by slowing river flows helping to reduce downstream flooding.”

The funding round closes on 17 May 2019. Information and guidance for people thinking of applying to the fund is available on the SNH website.

SFHA ‘disappointed’ about adaptation funding freeze

The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) has said it is “deeply disappointed” that the 2019/2020 Scottish Budget has “effectively frozen” funding for housing adaptations when there is already a shortfall.

The Scottish Budget was approved on 21 February.

Sarah Boyack, SFHA head of public affairs, said: “The number of people requiring their homes to be adapted to enable them to live healthier, more independent lives has increased substantially.

“A recent SFHA member survey revealed that half way through the year, many housing associations run out of the vital funding required to install adaptations for people who need them. This must change, as it is a classic example of effective preventative spend that needs to be significantly increased.

“Falls cost the NHS £500,000 per day. A handrail and additional lighting that could help prevent a fall costs around £500. Pressure on our NHS will only start to decrease when we invest in prevention.”

350 Harrow homes approved

Barratt London and the Hyde Group have been granted planning approval for 350 homes across two development plots in the second phase of the Harrow View East scheme.

Community and leisure facilities will also be provided.

Harrow View East is on the site of the former Kodak factory, set within the Harrow & Wealdstone Opportunity Area and the Heart of Harrow Housing Zone. Both of these are designated by the Greater London Authority (GLA) and Harrow Council for the provision of new housing.

Property consultancy Carter Jonas secured the permission and Pollard Thomas Edwards designed the scheme.

Wolverhampton bus depot plans approved

Plans for the £21 million transformation of Wolverhampton's former bus depot site in Cleveland Road have been approved.

The mixed-use development comprises 74 apartments and 18 houses to be offered for sale. There is also a YMCA building including retail space, a training and office area, plus a day nursery. The nearby former Royal Hospital building is set to become a major feature, fronting a new public open space.

The plans were submitted by developer Jessup and the designs drawn up by award-winning architectural practice BPN.

Homes England bought the site and carried out extensive works, including the demolition of the former bus depot, to make the development possible.

Derby site brought forward for development

Trebor Developments and partner Hillwood have agreed with landowner Acordis Beheer BV to bring forward the development of a site near Derby city centre.

The 11-acre brownfield site is located at Megaloughton Lane, next to the A52.

Trebor Developments has submitted a planning applictation to the city council for three industrial units that range from 30,000 square feet to 150,000 square feet. They will be available on a leasehold basis.

Subject to planning consent, work on site is due to commence this summer, with the units available for occupation from the second quarter of 2020.

26 February 2019
Laura Edgar, The Planner