Latest news

Architectural bulletin - April 2019

Published: Tuesday, 30th April 2019

Report: Payment service improves application efficiency for LPAs and agents, Opinion piece - The Use Classes Order: fit for now? Architect of the Year Awards – 1 May.

The Financial Transaction Service (FTS) has brought about a great many changes in the way in which planning applications are submitted since its introduction six months ago; increasing efficiency, reducing invalid applications and saving both time and money for agents and local planning authorities (LPA) alike. Prior to the implementation of the FTS, around 60 per cent of invalid applications were due to missing payments, which has now been eradicated by combining the application and payment process, creating a simple, cohesive procedure. Applications and their payments are now clearly linked which means that a huge deal of time, money and resources are saved by LPAs and agents as they no longer have to chase up payments or, in the case of LPAs, provide their own in-house payment alternatives.

We have shared some of this feedback over the past few months and now we have collated all of the information into a six month report. The report details the success so far of the payment service, what local authorities and planning agents have to say about the change in how they work and what updates you can expect from the Planning Portal.

Read the report.

Through the creation of a set of easy to use, standard payment options, the way in which planning applications are paid for has been revolutionised. There has been a significant reduction in the use of offline payments due to the implementation of the ‘nominate’ option and encouraging users to use methods other than cheques. The use of cheques has reduced drastically from 31 per cent to two per cent, freeing up resources and saving time for all concerned. 

The ‘nominate’ option has been hugely popular with planning agents and allows them to send a payment request directly to their clients rather than having to process it themselves, creating a more streamlined and beneficial payment course. Payments may also be forwarded within an organisation, reducing pressure on companies’ administrative and financial teams.

The FTS includes a round-the-clock support service, with all payment options being available for use 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, whilst our in-house customer service team are always available throughout the working day to deal with queries about using the service. This ensures that processing payments for applications is easier than ever, benefiting both agents and their clients.

If you’ve got any comments or suggestions for further improvement related to the FTS or the Portal in general, please leave us a comment or contact us via

We’re pleased to be sponsoring these prestigious awards this year, celebrating some incredible work by a variety of architectural practices.

Now the glittering awards night at the Westminster Park Plaza in London is nearly upon us, so if you haven’t already booked your place at the event time is running out! 

You can find out more and book your place here.

We hope to see many of you there and look forward to celebrating with some of our clients who have been shortlisted in the various categories below, including:

  • Small Project Architect of the Year
  • Individual House Architect of the Year
  • Education Architect of the Year
  • Housing Architect of the Year
  • Interior Architect of the Year
  • Public Realm Architect of the Year
  • Public Building Architect of the Year
  • Infrastructure Architect of the Year
  • Retail and Leisure Architect of the Year
  • Sustainability Architect of the Year
  • Office Architect of the Year
  • Refurbishment Architect of the Year
  • Architectural Client of the Year
  • Schueco Gold Award
  • Young Architect of the Year
  • Female Architectural Leader of the Year
  • Best Architect Employer of the Year

If you’ve already got your ticket, do stop by our table and say hello on the evening!

There’s a growing case for a reconsideration of use classes amid changing shopping, working and leisure habits. Nigel Hewitson imagines a use classes order fit for the 21st century.

 “Flexibility may well be the key to guarantee the continued viability of traditional office space”

The way we live, work, shop and spend our leisure time – and consequently the way we use land – is changing faster than at almost any time in history. Yet the categorisation of uses currently contained in the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 (other than the deletion of various now-archaic uses – my favourite being ‘breeder of maggots from putrescible animal matter’!) – has changed remarkably little since the first Use Classes Order came into force in 1950.

The rise of the internet has meant that ever more of us shop online. In 2018, 10 per cent of total retail sales were online but, more alarmingly for our town centres, one survey found that 51 per cent of UK consumers prefer to shop online. It is no wonder that conventional retail stores – even household names – are disappearing with alarming rapidity.

The watchword for town centres needs to be flexibility – both more flexibility in the uses permitted in town centres and more flexibility in permitted changes of use to ensure continued vitality and to respond to the changing way we shop.

We should expect a growth in 21st century uses:

  • More and smaller pure click-and-collect units
  • Collection centres for Amazon parcels (for example), inevitably with drone facilities
  • ‘Reverse vending machine’ facilities where you can return recyclables (cans, bottles and so on) for small amounts of money
  • More leisure-related uses n Fewer out-and-out shops ;
  • ‘Touch down’ space with superfast broadband connection for agile workers
  • More leisure uses.

I envisage a new A1 use class that would encompass not just traditional shops and financial services (thus abolishing A2 – betting and pay-day loans having been made sui generis in 2015) but also many of the 21st century uses listed above. In town centres (but not in residential areas), I would also relax the distinctions between restaurants, pubs and takeaways (use classes A3-A5).

“Flexibility may well be the key to guarantee the continued viability of traditional office space”

The internet also enables us to work more remotely from the traditional office. That, and the financial drive for employers to save costs by using less office space, has meant that more and more of us are working from home – often referred to as ‘telecommuting’. In April 2016, the Office for National Statistics found that 4.2 million people (around 15 per cent of the workforce) regularly worked from home, and some industry commentators believe this is set to increase to 50 per cent by 2020.

If the trend towards telecommuting continues, there will be two major effects: a reduction in the demand for office space (and the need to do something else with it) and changes to the way we use our homes.

Again, flexibility may well be the key to guarantee the continued viability of traditional office space. As office occupiers use less of the space available over time, consideration will need to be given to uses that might be suitable in existing and proposed office buildings.

Particularly in large office buildings, these might include small retail, food and drink units aimed primarily at the office workers, as well as other uses of interest to office workers such as gyms. These are certainly far better located in former office space than close to residential premises. Linking in with the changes to the high street, this may also include click-and-collect centres, enabling workers to get their online purchases delivered to where they are actually going to be during the day.

The other side of the telecommuting coin will be changes to the way we use our homes.

Case law already accepts that a business can lawfully be run from a home without the need for planning permission but, as the incidence of home/business use increases, it would be wise to redefine ‘dwelling’ to expressly include home working and set parameters to the levels of disturbance other residents can reasonably be expected to put up with. It may even be that we reinvent live/work units as a new use class to establish control over businesses in residential areas.  

March 2019
The Planner, Nigel Hewitson (Nigel Hewitson is a consultant at Gowling WLG)