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Planning News - 25 September 2019

Published: Wednesday, 25th September 2019

MPs hit out at Help to Buy for failure to tackle pressing priorities, 95m pounds to 'breathe new life' into historic buildings, Inspectorate issues interim findings on Old Oak plan 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 government’s flagship Help to Buy scheme has not tackled pressing problems in the wider planning system and housing sector, according to an influential committee of MPs.

The Public Accounts Committee criticised Help to Buy for not making homes more affordable for society in general, as the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MCHLG) acknowledges that the scheme has only benefited those who were already in a position to buy a home.

The policy did increase the supply of new homes by 14 per cent and boosted the housebuilding sector after the 2008 crash, said the committee. Around 1,600 small and medium-sized developers have used the scheme to date and the policy has been “more successful than previous schemes with similar aims”.

By December 2018, the scheme had supported 211,000 households to buy properties through loans totalling £11.7 billion. Some 37 per cent of buyers said they could not have bought a property at all without the support of the scheme. However, this implies that around three-fifths of buyers did not need the support of the scheme, said the committee.

And about 20 per cent of people who used the scheme were not first-time buyers. From 2021, the housing department will restrict the scheme to first-time buyers, and is introducing lower regional price caps.

Members accused the department of having no integrated and coherent plan for achieving its pledge to deliver 300,000 new homes a year from the mid-2020s. The increase in housebuilding generated by the Help to Buy is one of the ways in which the government aims to increase the supply of new homes, but it is unable to quantify how much the scheme would contribute to the 300,000 target.

The committee noted that the department is winding down the scheme from 2021, but has not estimated the expected drop in housing supply when the scheme ends in 2023, nor does it have a clear plan for offsetting this drop. Members “remain unconvinced” that its many housing initiatives are fully aligned with one another to form a cohesive strategy for achieving the 300,000 target.

The scheme does not address issues with the wider planning system or other housing problems in housing, such as the provision of affordable homes and rising levels of homelessness, added the committee.

“Help to Buy has certainly increased the supply of new homes and boosted the bottom line of housebuilders,” said committee chair Meg Hillier. “But it has also tied up a large sum of money, nearly £22 billion in cash terms by the time it concludes, making the value of what has been achieved uncertain.

“While many people have been helped to buy properties who would have not otherwise been able to, an even larger group of buyers did not need its financial support.”

19 September 2019 
Huw Morris, The Planner

Culture secretary Nicky Morgan has announced that £95 million will split between 69 towns across the country to ‘breathe new life’ into historic buildings and high streets.

The government intends the funds to be spent on helping high streets to adapt to changing consumer habits, such as competition from online shopping.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s Heritage High Street Fund would contribute £40 million – £52 million comes from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s Future High Street Fund, and the National Lottery Heritage Fund would provide £3 million.

The government said the investment is intended to build on Historic England's Heritage Action Zones programme. Empty and underused buildings could be turned into creative spaces, offices, retail outlets and housing to support wider regeneration and attract future commercial investment.

The government said the funding could also be used to:

  • Develop education projects and bespoke events to help reposition historic buildings as community hubs at the heart of local towns and villages.
  • Help address the nationwide skills shortage of heritage professionals in expert fields like stonemasonry and conservation by providing local property owners, residents and businesses with the opportunity to train in these disciplines.

Morgan said historic buildings should be preserved but that it is “important that we make them work for the modern world”.

“This £95 million will help breathe new life into high streets all over England, benefiting businesses, supporting our much-loved buildings and helping to make our communities more attractive places to live, work and visit.”

Duncan Wilson, chief executive at Historic England, added: “Through physical improvements and cultural activities, we will work with partners to find new ways to regenerate our high streets. It is a challenge, but with our experience and track record, as well as the knowledge and passion of local councils, businesses and community groups our historic high streets can be thriving social hubs once more.”

The 69 towns to receive funding can be viewed on Historic England’s Google Map.

17 September 2019
Laura Edgar, The Planner 

The Planning Inspectorate advised Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation's (OPDC) to revise its housing targets downwards after recommending the removal of two sites from its emerging local plan.

Cargiant owns the sites in question, with site allocation two and three earmarked to deliver 5,900 homes in total.

The inspector’s report notes that the firm was looking to relocate its business but in 2017 decided that this was not possible, and until January 2019 it was supportive of site allocation two. Cargiant has also developed its own plans for the site, but the development corporation did not accept them.

Inspector P. Clark decided that inclusion of Cargiant's land, south of Willesden Junction station, was “unviable”. If developed, he said it couldn’t yield enough profit to pay for moving the business elsewhere even if no affordable homes or subsidised infrastructure were built there.

Cargiant is a “highly successful and profitable business”, Clark noted, and its “extinction simply does not make sense in planning terms”, particularly if as a result affordable housing cannot be delivered.

“It may be argued that to have some, albeit limited affordable housing would be better than delivering none at all, but my firm view is that the viability of this site allocation does not permit the delivery of affordable housing at all,” he explained.

He therefore concluded that site allocation two and, by extension, site allocation three should be deleted from the local plan, and “references throughout the plan to the delivery of 20,100 dwellings and 40,400 jobs over the next 20 years … revised downward”.

Clark does consider OPDC’s plans for phase 1a to be deliverable and has directed the development corporation to make changes to the local plan to support the delivery of this phase of development.

David Lunts, chief executive officer at the OPDC, said the initial findings of the interim report “are encouraging as they endorse our aim of bringing forward the first phase of development”, which will “provide new access, utilities and other infrastructure to enable 3,000 homes and many new jobs for Londoners”.

On site allocations two and three, Lunts commented: “The inspector’s decision not to designate the remainder of Cargiant’s land for future housing development at this stage is not entirely unexpected, given Cargiant’s strong opposition and their recent change of heart to keep their business on the site. He has, however, de-designated the site from its protected strategic industrial designation, and given the recent announcement of a two-year delay to the opening of the HS2 station at Old Oak, and the Oakervee review of the entire HS2 scheme, we appreciate that it may be some time before the rest of Cargiant’s site comes forward for redevelopment. We will of course continue to work closely with the inspector, Cargiant and other landowners to see our local plan through to adoption.”

The inspector’s report can be read on the OPDC website (pdf).

18 September 2019
Laura Edgar, The Planner  

The London Borough of Southwark has unveiled plans to introduce a set of principles to guide rooftop development and provide new council housing.

Southwark is facing an acute housing need, with more than 12,000 families on the waiting list for housing and more than 2,000 children currently living in temporary accommodation.

The council has one of the most ambitious council housebuilding programmes in the country and a commitment to build 11,000 homes by 2043.

More than 600 council homes have already been delivered, but the borough said it is now looking at “new and innovative ways” to build more housing as available land is in short supply. This includes a special focus on unlocking potentially hundreds of homes with upward extensions on existing blocks.

It said it is aware of the impact that this will have on people living in the affected buildings and has drafted a series of principles and commitments to maximise the benefits and minimise effects on residents.

The council is promising to minimise the stress on residents by building rooftop homes in a modular form off site, and craning them on to adapted blocks. This would significantly shorten the time for construction on site, said the borough.

Residents living immediately beneath the new homes will be given the first opportunity to move into them, so people previously living on the top floor will have the chance to stay on the top floor and in a new home. The vacated properties will then be made available to those on the waiting list, added the council.

“Rooftop housing has a great potential to not only deliver hundreds of high-quality new council homes and improve existing homes, but also to help decarbonise the development supply chain,” said Leo Pollack, cabinet member for social regeneration, great estates and new homes. “We’ve spoken to residents about the opportunities and challenges linked to rooftop housing and the kind of preferences that were raised were things like their desire to remain on the top floor, being prioritised for the new homes and improvements being made to the rest of the block.

“Unlocking a new dimension of council housing supply like this is not going to be straightforward, but we are driven by the potential for hundreds, potentially thousands of new council homes in our borough. We plan to offer a quicker on-site construction time by doing most of the building off-site, giving first refusal on the new homes to those living underneath, and improvements to the existing block, with any costs associated with the new homes – such as a new roof, lift and landscaping – non-rechargeable to leaseholders.

“We are also developing an accompanying rooftop design guide that will detail some of the best options to complement and enhance an existing block well, maximise internal living and amenity space and solutions for connecting new homes to existing services.”

19 September 2019
Huw Morris, The Planner 

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, has announced a partnership between the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) and Lovell Partnerships that will see more than 4,000 homes being built across the West Midlands.

The partnership aims to bring together public and private sector skills and investment to unlock old industrial land for development to ease pressure on the green belt. 

The 4,000 homes will be constructed over the next eight years, boosting the region’s efforts to build 215,000 new homes by 2031 – the amount needed to meet future housing and economic demand. 

Street said: “The West Midlands is undergoing a huge resurgence, with a thriving economy and more and more people looking to take advantage of all our region has to offer. However, that success brings with it several challenges, not least the need to build more homes and commercial premises to keep up with the demand from residents and businesses. 

“This partnership with Lovell will help us to address these challenges by bringing together their expertise with the WMCA’s powers and resources to build more than 4,000 homes on former industrial land. This way we can unlock more brownfield land for homes and jobs, and just as importantly protect the precious green belt land at the same time.” 

Schemes include:

  • 151 mixed-tenure homes on land off Steelhouse Lane Wolverhampton;
  • 283 homes on land off Green Lane, Walsall – including 89 affordable properties and 72 for rent;
  • 225 homes on 12 infill sites on land owned by Sandwell Council; and
  • plans for 75 affordable homes in Cookley Wharf, Brierley Hill.

Mike Bird, leader of Walsall Council, said: “This partnership is an important element of our Single Commissioning Framework, which will see the WMCA target its funding on developments that meet our key goals, including tackling youth and long-term unemployment, securing affordable housing, maximising public transport connectivity and supporting advanced methods of construction.”

WMCA approves £20m UK Central Hub in Solihull

The WMCA has approved plans to fund up to £20 million for the UK Central Hub in Solihull alongside the HS2 development.  
The hub is a ‘major driver’ of economic growth in the West Midlands. It comprises a number of internationally important businesses and organisations, which include the NEC, Birmingham Airport, Jaguar Land Rover and Birmingham Business Park.

The hub includes the 340-acre Arden Cross development site, which will be home to the new HS2 interchange station.

Jonathan Bretherton, managing director at the Urban Growth Company, said: “This upgraded infrastructure will support the NEC and Birmingham Business Park as well as HS2, and, in the future, thousands of people living and working at Arden Cross.

“Crucially, this improved infrastructure will make Arden Cross extremely attractive as an investment opportunity, appealing to high-value manufacturing, advanced research and development and associated academia, which in turn will generate the jobs of tomorrow.”  

Early preparatory work is already under way, and more advanced work is expected to start next year.

18 September 2019
Prithvi Pandya, The Planner  

A round-up of planning news 

60th anniversary of Royal Charter celebrated
The RTPI has celebrated 60 years since it received its Royal Charter.

It was a culmination of 12 years of petitioning, and several rejections before the Privy Council granted the Town Planning Institute its charter. The then president, U. Aylmer Coates, announced it in the July-August 1959 edition of the Journal of the Town Planning Institute.

RTPI president Ian Tant said: “Incorporation by charter is a prestigious way of acquiring legal personality and undoubtedly reflects the high status of the organisation. The charter also allowed its members to call themselves chartered town planners. This is so important – it’s undoubtedly been a badge of merit for me throughout the 37 years since I gained my MRTPI.”

The October edition of The Planner will include interviews with chartered members who came into the profession during each of the six decades since the charter was awarded.
Nominations open for 2020 RTPI excellence awards
Submissions for the 2020 RTPI Awards for Planning Excellence have opened.

A new category has been introduced for next year. It will recognise the achievements of legal teams, which must include at least one legal associate member of the RTPI.

Ian Tant, president of the RTPI, said: “The tremendous range of submissions reflect the outstanding contribution to society made by planners. Finalists and winners are celebrated at the awards ceremony and provide the case studies for our work to raise the profile of planning.

“I am particularly delighted that next year we will also be recognising the legal teams that play such a vital role in guiding clients through the complex and ever-changing UK planning system.”

Submissions for the 2020 excellence awards can be made until Monday 16 December 2019, and the finalists will be announced in February 2020.

The winners will be announced at a ceremony on 30 April 2020 at Milton Court Concert Hall in central London.
RTPI Lichfield lecture to consider Skeffington Report
Professor Gavin Parker, director of planning programmes, Henley Business School at the University of Reading, will give the 2019 RTPI Nathaniel Lichfield Lecture.

The lecture will be held on Monday 18 November, 50 years after the Skeffington Report was published. It will discuss what was learnt, what the landscape looks like now and what needs to be done to ensure that engagement is effective.

The lecture will start at 7pm and will be followed by a Q&A with the audience.
Work stops on West Lancashire plan
West Lancashire Borough Council’s cabinet has decided to cease work on the current local plan review with immediate effect.

The decision has been made to give the authority more time to consider the best proposals for the future of West Lancashire.  

Instead, a new local plan cabinet working group will be created to help the council prepare a new 15-year local plan for the borough.

During preparation of a new plan, the council said it would refresh the evidence base needed to establish the borough-wide requirement for housing and employment land, and the most appropriate locations for the allocation of land to meet those needs.
Plans submitted for Bicester business community
Plans for a sustainable business community in Bicester have been submitted to Cherwell District Council.

Albion Land’s plans include workspace that could create up to 1,750 jobs in the technology, advanced manufacturing and engineering sectors.

The site is allocated for knowledge and technology uses in Cherwell District Council’s adopted plan.

The proposals are for B1 uses in a range of stand-alone buildings totalling 290,000 square feet. A new health and racquets club also features in the plans.

If approved, Wendlebury Poultry Farm would be closed and removed.

The development, Catalyst Bicester, is off the A41 adjacent to Bicester Avenue retail centre on its south side and under two miles from J9 M40.
Durham could be regenerated
Proposals that would see a retail, residential or hotel complex delivered in Durham have been submitted to the county council.

The grade II-listed Beales department store, on Newgate Street in Bishop Auckland, could be converted. Part of the rear of the building could be demolished to improve the functionality of the site, and the existing façade would be restored.

Durham is going through a five-year programme to reinvigorate the market place and high street along with other parts of the conservation area.

Hedley Planning Services submitted the plans to Durham County Council.

David Evans, portfolio holder for planning, said: “We have listened to feedback through the public consultation we held on the local plan review proposals. The proposals have now been withdrawn to give us more time to consider the best way forward as we look to draw up a plan to give West Lancashire the best possible future.”
Grant for Coventry City of Culture approved
The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) board has agreed a £4 million grant for Coventry's City of Culture 2021.

The Coventry City of Culture Trust will use the money to help to cover the costs of putting on a year-long celebration of the arts.

It comes on top of a £31 million transport investment package, which was agreed by the combined authority in June to help the city with works around Pool Meadow bus station, road and cycle improvements and new lighting in time for 2021.

The event is expected to attract 2.5 million visitors, including 50,000 from abroad, and generate £106 million for the region’s tourism sector as well as boost cultural and digital industries, according to the WMCA.
Affordable homes in Brighton approved
Design practice Conran and Partners has received planning approval for 104 new affordable homes to be built in Brighton and Hove.

The Brighton & Hove City Council-owned site in Portslade is located along Wellington Road (A259) on the site of the former Belgrave Day Centre.

The Living Wage Joint Venture seeks to provide 50 per cent shared ownership (intermediate housing) and 50 per cent affordable rent, with the cost set at 37.5 per cent of the gross income of a household earning the new living wage.

The seven-storey scheme will offer a variety of one, two and three-bedroom homes.

It is the leading project in a series of new housing developments to tackle the city’s housing crisis through the ‘Homes for Brighton & Hove’ initiative – a partnership between Brighton & Hove City Council and the Hyde Group. It was set up to create 1,000 new homes for rent and sale for lower income, local working households in the city.