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Planning News - 2 October 2019

Published: Wednesday, 2nd October 2019

Small decline in planning applications granted, Barn conversion boom threatens rural communities, New rights will compound the 'disaster' of permitted development, says RTPI and more stories...

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

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District-level planning authorities granted 91,700 decisions between April and June 2019 – a 3 per cent decline compared with the same quarter a year earlier.

This equates to 88 per cent of the decisions, the same percentage as the corresponding quarter a year earlier, states a statistical release from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).

It found that 83 per cent of major and minor decisions were granted, which is the same as the quarter ending June 2018.

In total, district-level authorities reported 103,900 decisions on planning applications in April to June 2019, which is 3 per cent less than the 106,900 decisions in the same quarter of the previous year.

The release says 88 per cent of major applications were decided with 13 weeks or the agreed time, the same as the corresponding quarter in 2018. Also, from April to June 2019, 85 per cent of minor applications and 90 per cent of other applications were decided within eight weeks or the agreed time, the same as a year ago.

Breaking the numbers down, 10,900 residential applications were decided, 8 per cent less than between April and June 2018, while 1,400 major developments and 9,500 minor applications were granted. Authorities approved 2,200 commercial developments.

Authorities decided 403,200 planning applications in the year ending June 2019, a 5 per cent decline compared with the year ending June 2018. Of those 403,200, 355,000 decisions were granted, 5 per cent less than the year ending June 2018.

There were 45,800 residential decisions in the year ending June 2019; 6,200 were major and 39,700 were minor developments, down by 4 and 6 per cent respectively compared with a year earlier.

Planning Applications in England: April to June 2019 can be found on the UK Government website (pdf).

25 September 2019
Laura Edgar, The Planner


A 230 per cent increase in conversions of barns and farm buildings into homes without the need for planning permission is taking a severe toll on the vital infrastructure and local services in rural towns and villages.

Latest figures show the number of agricultural-to-residential conversions in England has risen from 226 in 2015/16 to 743 in 2017/18 – mostly in rural areas – under the permitted development rights that allow developers to bypass the planning system.

The Local Government Association (LGA) said rural areas in particular are not being provided with the local services or infrastructure, and in some places affordable housing, that would normally be required in any development going through the planning system.

It is calling on the government to use the Queen’s Speech to commit to scrapping the permitted development rights for all property types and for local communities to be given oversight of all new developments and building conversions in their areas. Some of the places seeing a high number of agricultural-to-residential conversions in the past year include Devon (122), Kent (71), Worcestershire (56), Herefordshire (39) and Staffordshire (29).

Previously landowners could convert agricultural buildings into three new homes without the need for planning permission, but last year government extended this to allow conversions of individual agricultural buildings into five new homes.

Since this change, local areas have seen the number of conversions more than double in the space of a year from 330 in 2016/17 to 743 in 2017/18.

While most permitted development conversions have seen offices turned into homes without the need for planning permission – 42,130 in three years – the LGA is warning of other ways that the system is being circumvented to the potential detriment of local communities.

Councils have also seen a surge in homes being created out of storage or distribution buildings, with four times as many last year as three years ago.

Storage to residential conversions under permitted development jumped from 55 in 2015/16 to 218 in 2017/18.

“We have concerns over the sharp rise in agricultural buildings being converted into homes without planning permission and the impact this is having on rural areas, given the lack of any requirement for developers to provide infrastructure or contribute to investment in local services such as roads or schools,” said LGA planning spokesman David Renard.

“Councils, which are approving nine in 10 planning applications, are committed to building the thousands of new homes the country needs, but these have to be of high quality and with the right infrastructure in place.

“Permitted development rules are denying councils and communities any control or oversight of this process.”

Fenella Collins, head of planning at the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), responded: “The ‘Class Q’ conversions – essentially changing farm buildings to dwellings – are subject to building regulations. Therefore it’s hard to see how they can be described as ‘sub-standard’. Furthermore, they are not exempt from the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), which allows local authorities who choose to implement it, the ability to raise funds from the development for local infrastructure.

“Instead of criticising these conversions, we should be pleased that farmers and landowners are contributing to the national effort to bridge the housing gap and that these new homes will help to deliver a prosperous rural economy. Farm diversification is bringing new employment opportunities to the countryside and people want to live close to their place of work. These conversions are key to doing so appropriately and sympathetically.”

23 September 2019
Huw Morris, The Planner


New rights to allow two-storey upwards extensions on family homes without planning permission will 'compound the problem' of low quality housing created under previous extensions to permitted development rights, the RTPI has stressed.

Describing the policy to date as a "disaster", Richard Blyth, the RTPI's head of policy, said the new proposal would also undermine the government's simultaneous efforts to involve communities in improving housing design in their area.

“We welcome the government announcing the first national design guide and asking every community to produce their own," said Blyth. "But it is very difficult to see how this concern for better design and public involvement is compatible with a relaxation in rules on ‘building up’ and the consequent inability of neighbours to have a formal route to object."

Other built environment organisations joined the chorus of disapproval, the Local Government Association calling on the government to "allow the planning process to do its job" and the British Property Federation arguing that the extended rights could "alienate" communities.

Announced by housing secretary Robert Jenrick at the Conservative Party Conference, the extended permitted development rules will initially apply to purpose-built blocks of flats from January 2020, but will eventually be rolled out to detached houses. They will allow homeowners to add an extra two storeys to their home without seeking planning permission, under the same rules that currently apply to small extensions and loft conversions.

According to the English Housing Survey 2017-18, there are approximately 3.7 million detached houses in private ownership in England – 25 per cent of England's 14.8 million owner-occupied homes. High-rise purpose-built flats make up 2 per cent of the housing stock – or approximately 496,000 dwellings.

Jenrick said the policy would allow homeowners to accommodate growing families without moving house and encourage developers to add new homes to existing buildings without getting caught up in a “complicated, outdated and bureaucratic” planning system. “I want to give families the freedom they need to expand their homes and ensure small envelopers get a fair chance to succeed,” he said, adding that the new approach was part of the government's "vision" for reforming the planning system, with an emphasis on measures to "speed up and simplify" the process.

Built environment organisations, however, have pointed out weaknesses in the policy. In particular the RTPI noted that it removes the ability of neighbours to formally object to poor development that may impinge on their amenity, and that it undermines the drive to create good quality, affordable housing across England. “We are disappointed that our call for the government to focus on delivering homes through the local planning process seems to have been ignored and will continue to campaign against the extension of permitted development rights which are jeopardising both housing affordability and quality," said Blyth. “We agree absolutely that the government must act to alleviate the UK’s housing crisis, but any response must be done in a planned way, not by further use of PDRs.”

David Renard, the LGA's planning spokesman, said the policy contradicted the government’s commitment to implement the recommendations in Dame Judith Hackitt’s report into building safety. Pointing out that "planning is not a barrier to housebuilding" as most planning permissions are granted, he added: “Councils are committed to building the homes the country desperately needs, however it is vital the planning process is allowed to do its job, by making sure that homes are built in the right places, are affordable to those who need them and supported by the right infrastructure."

Ian Fletcher, Director of Policy (Real Estate) at the British Property Federation, said the BPF was "cautious" about the expanded rights, noting that it could undermine community support for new development. "At a time when the industry is prioritising community engagement and increasing transparency, allowing significant alterations to properties without formal engagement could alienate the communities we need to be supportive," he said, calling on government to increase resources to planning departments to allow them to tackle the housing shortage more effectively.

Sarah James, membership development officer for Civic Voice, the national charity that represents civic societies in England, said: "The government's commitment to producing new national design guidance to raise the standard of new homes nationwide is welcome and we look forward to seeing this being published. However, plans to further deregulate the system through expanding permitted development rights seems to be completely at odds with the current focus on creating attractive, well-designed new homes. Whilst we await to see the detail behind this proposal, we fail to see how taking more upward extensions out of the planning system altogether, without the proper scrutiny and advice from planning authorities and communities will help to create the well-designed places and conservation areas of the future."

Permitted development rights, in particular those that allow commercial buildings to be converted into housing have been under the microscope, with poor examples stoking controversy about the policy. In January this year, 15 built environment organisations, including the RTPI, wrote an open letter to government arguing that both housing quality and affordability were being undermined by PDR rules. The government’s pledge to extend the policy comes alongside a raft of other policy announcements that include new guidance on housing design for local authorities and a pledge to increase shared ownership of housing association properties.

1 October 2019
Simon Wicks, The Planner 


Transport for London (TfL) has completed a deal with Aviva Investors that will see a mixed-used scheme delivered opposite the new Liverpool Street Elizabeth line eastern station entrance.

The station entrance is at 1 Liverpool Street.

Subject to planning approval, Aviva Investors plans to deliver around 175,000 square foot of net lettable office and retail space. Once it is completed, TfL will grant the firm a long lease to generate revenue that TfL said it would reinvest in the transport network.

James Stevens, head of development, global real estate, at Aviva Investors, said: “This is undoubtedly one of the best development sites in the City of London and we are excited to continue our partnership with TfL. Having the opportunity to develop top-quality buildings immediately above the east and west entrances to Crossrail Liverpool Street is both unique and exciting."

In total, plans are in place for 12 major developments above and around new Elizabeth line stations and Crossrail construction sites across the capital. Together, the development plans cover more than three million square feet of office, retail and residential space spread, including Paddington in the west and Woolwich in the east.

Graeme Craig, director of commercial development at TfL, said: “The development will support the city, so that it continues to thrive and grow. As a key part of our huge development pipeline, the Elizabeth line schemes are directly opening up opportunities for new homes and jobs, and will raise vital revenue to reinvest in London’s transport network.”

29 September 2019
Laura Edgar, The Planner


A think tank has called for a reboot of localism in the UK to empower communities to influence decisions in their local neighbourhoods.

People want more control over the places where they live and work, according to Act Local: Empowering London’s Neighbourhoods, by Centre for London, however, there is a “disconnect” between the desire to get involved and the perceived ability to influence change.

In London, around 35 per cent of Londoners think they can influence local decisions, while 65 per cent agree it is important to be able to.

The coalition and recent Labour governments implemented policies to boost localism and neighbourhood control, including through the 2011 Localism Act.

The Centre for London reports that the legacies from such polices in the capital have been mixed. For example, there are 79 designated neighbourhood forums and 13 completed neighbourhood plans in London, but nine of 32 London boroughs do not have a forum.

Only one parish council has been established in London since legislation was introduced, while 63 Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) have been set up, which have taken on a more place-shaping role as they have matured, highlights the report.

According to the think tank, to continue the work of these initiatives barriers such as resourcing need to be addressed, and there needs to be a reboot of localism, supported by reforms tailored by the needs of communities.

To achieve this, the Centre for London makes a number of recommendations for the government, including:

  • Introducing Community Improvement Districts (CID), which would be a more flexible hybrid of the Business Improvement District model and the civic focus of parish councils. A CID could be set up at the request of a local neighbourhood group, be established through a local ballot with renewal every five years, operate within a defined geographic area, and have the ability to raise a levy on council taxpayers.  
  • Turning the Community Right to Bid for Assets of Community Value into a Community Right to Buy, this would follow Scotland’s lead, and would allow local groups who express interest in a registered building to have statutory first refusal on purchasing the property within an allocated time period.

Joe Wills, senior researcher at the Centre for London, said: “As a society, we believe that decision-making should come closest to those it affects most. Demands for agency and control over the decisions that affect us are being made from all quarters of the UK. There is a sense that our democratic institutions and processes are too distant from those they represent.

“Neighbourhood-level participation can play an important role in shaping places, strengthening communities and enhancing public services, but there is untapped potential.  

“The government must kick-start a new era of localism to empower communities to become fuller partners in defining the future of their city.”

Ruth Duston, OBE, OC, CEO of Victoria BID, added: “BIDs in London have evolved to be powerful and strategic forces for good, and this evolution should continue.

“In my experience, the private sector is now more civic-minded than ever; largely because they recognise that a more collegiate approach delivers the best outcomes and has a positive impact on their business, their staff, and their reputation.  

“It therefore is the logical next step for BIDs to reflect this shift.”

24 September 2019
Laura Edgar, The Planner


Historic England has called for towns on the Isle of Wight to allow for the growth of wind and tidal energy, save high-profile buildings, and rethink their approach to the car.

A report by the public body aims to support the regeneration of Newport, Ryde and East Cowes.

Several problems are highlighted by the Historic Place Panel, which comprises development, planning and conservation experts who voluntarily help councils pursue better regeneration. The retail areas in these three towns have a growing number of vacant shops and buildings that show signs of disrepair.

Further, they suffer from traffic congestion, have pedestrian environments that are unwelcoming, are reliant on tourism, and have both high levels of unemployment and a severe shortage of affordable housing. Young people tend to leave the island in search of a job and it has a growing elderly population.

The Isle of Wight Council has set up a dedicated regeneration team and produced a regeneration strategy as it looks to address the issues. It also invited the Historic Places Panel to provide advice on regenerating Newport, Ryde and East Cowes.

The panel visited the island in June, and have since made a number of recommendations, including:

Newport

  • Work should focus on making the town a lively, attractive, welcoming place for locals by securing its place at the heart of the island’s shopping, food, drink and cultural offer. This would build on its strength as the island’s market town and civic hub.

East Cowes

  • The town has waterfront space that would allow the growth of marine engineering, wind and tidal energy and digital technology, along with infrastructure for ferries, yachting marinas and, potentially, a site for a new boat museum.

Ryde

  • Explore how to save high-profile buildings including the former Ryde Town Hall and the Columbine Hangar in East Cowes. The panel believes that these heritage landmarks are deemed worthy of conserving to benefit the island and for current and future generations to enjoy.

All

  • The island should rethink its approach to the car and start to champion electric vehicles and bicycles. Electric transport-only zones could diminish urban traffic noise and improve local air quality.
  • The Isle of Wight Council should develop design guides for new developments within Newport, Ryde and East Cowes. The council would then have the tools and confidence to promote and demand high-quality appropriate design and to refuse proposals for poorly designed buildings and schemes.
  • The council should bring together the communities within the three towns to work on a single and collective strategy for the island.

Emily Gee, regional director for Historic England in the South East, said: “The Isle of Wight Council has shown great drive and determination in its ambition to turn around the fortunes of this special island. We’re committed to working with communities and organisations here to help take forward some of these recommendations for the good of its wonderful historic places, and to help breathe new life into the historic high streets in Newport and Ryde.”

Early findings from the panel informed separate successful bids by Newport and Ryde communities for a share of a £95 million from the government to improve their historic high streets.

Leader of the Isle of Wight Council Dave Stewart said: “Along with our town council partners we are delighted to be able to tap into the expertise available from Historic England in addressing our ambitions for the future of our high streets on the island. The Heritage High Street Fund announcement is a major boost to realising the value of the fantastic hidden heritage in Newport and Ryde.”

The report can be found on the Historic England website (pdf).

25 September 2019
Laura Edgar, The Planner