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Planning News - 7 November 2019

Published: Thursday, 7th November 2019

Giant Christian landmark for the Midlands goes out for consultation, Districts declare high street emergency as retail applications plummet, Bristol set to outlaw all diesel cars and more stories...

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

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Consultation gets under way this week on a proposal for a national landmark to give the Midlands its own Angel of the North.

The project, known as the Wall of Answered Prayer, would be a 50-metre high architectural sculpture built on the outskirts of Birmingham to celebrate Jesus Christ. The public art would be made of one million bricks with each one representing an answered prayer.

The Wall Developments project, backed by Christian groups, is proposed for land near Coleshill Manor, and would be visible from the M6 and M42 motorways as well as HS2 and Birmingham International Airports flights paths.

The design, by Snug Architects following a Royal Institution of British Architects global competition, comprises a Möbius strip concept to create a continuous loop of wall allowing visitors to wall through a gravity-defying arch before encircling the wall.

The proposal also comprises a visitor centre, educational exhibition, prayer room, café, Christian bookstore and a bespoke app for users to access answered prayers individual bricks.

The wall has been inspired by the economic and social impact of the 20-metre high Angel of the North near Gateshead, which has generated more than £500 million in the past 10 years.

Once the wall is built, all profits from its ongoing operation will fund a million bricks for social housing with 25 per cent donated to international charities and 75 per cent to the UK. Further profits will go to other UK charities.

The partners are praying to start construction in 2020 and to complete the project by 2022.

31 October 2019
Huw Morris, The Planner 

The number of applications by retailers to England’s district councils have nearly halved in the past four years, contributing to the high street crisis.

An analysis by the District Councils’ Network (DCN) reveals that members received 1,258 applications in the year ending June 2019, down from 2,216 since June 2015.

The DCN, which represents 191 district councils, says the figures show that high streets are in a state of “emergency”.

The analysis of government figures for England also shows that planning applications for new housing have slumped to a four-year low.

District councils received 31,073 applications for new homes in 2019 – the lowest since 2015.

DCN says the figures reflect the ongoing economic uncertainty and falling confidence from developers in the housing market.

It is calling on the government to give all districts the long-term funding they need to revive high streets, and to give them flexibility to raise finance locally, for instance, to set business rates relief.

Districts also want the government to guarantee the continuation of the New Homes Bonus to ensure that councils have the funding to deliver services and attract the new investment critical to thriving communities.

“These figures paint a worrying picture about the future of our high streets and town centres, and highlight the uphill battle we face tackling the housing crisis,” said DCN leader for stronger economics Mark Crane.

“There are huge opportunities to reshape places into thriving community, cultural and employment hubs – by investing in new housing, infrastructure, services and events.

“However, district councils, which are responsible for delivering housing and improving high streets, need the funding certainty and powers to transform town centres, to attract investment into infrastructure, and to build new homes.

“While there is a growing amount of energy and schemes invested in tackling these issues from Whitehall, the national complexity and focus on short-term results risks underutilising the ambitions of district councils to deliver change over the long term.”

1 November 2019
Huw Morris, The Planner 

Bristol is set to become the first UK city to ban diesel cars under proposals to combat air pollution.

A Clean Air Zone is proposed to deliver “the fastest possible improvement in air quality against targets for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) legal limits”, according to Bristol City Council. 

The local authority wishes to ban diesels from entering part of the city centre between 7am and 3pm every day.

A wider charging zone would be operate for high-emission commercial vehicles, including buses, taxis, HGVs and LGVs, with suggested costs yet to be announced. A diesel vehicle scrappage scheme would launch at the same time to encourage drivers to swap over to less polluting cars. 

The proposals, thought to be the toughest measures proposed so far to fight air pollution, comes two years after Bristol was among 24 local authorities directed by the government to cut NO2 to within decreed limits.

“These ambitious plans demonstrate our commitment to tackling air pollution so we meet legal limits within the shortest time, without disproportionally affecting citizens on lower incomes, which would happen with a blanket approach to charging vehicles,” said Bristol’s mayor Marvin Rees.

“Protecting the most vulnerable people from pollution is central to these plans and we have ensured that all impacts have been carefully considered. If approved, mitigation measures will support those most affected, especially those living in the most deprived communities.”

A council report estimates the scheme will cost £113 million to implement.

The proposals will be debated at a meeting of Bristol’s cabinet next week, with a final business case due to be submitted to the government in February. 

30 October 2019
Huw Morris, The Planner

An online planning application has been submitted for 1,200-home neighbourhood on the eastern edge of Leicester.

Parker Strategic Land’s application is in line with Harborough District Council’s Local Plan, which was adopted in April.

The developer has worked with Harborough’s planners alongside Leicester City Council and Scraptoft Golf Club to secure the site – the second largest in the local plan. The 1,200 homes will make a significant impact on the 12,800 homes scheduled for Harborough by 2031.

The neighbourhood will also comprise a retail centre, healthcare, community and care facilities, a primary school and nursery, plus green infrastructure, as well as open space for sport and recreation, parks and play areas.

The scheme also aims to improve the natural environment of Scraptoft Brook, a waterway that runs through a concrete culvert.

The bulk of the land is occupied by a golf club, which will move to a nearby site.

30 October 2019
Huw Morris, The Planner

The tally of build-to-rent homes across the UK has grown by 20 per cent year-on-year to 148,000 homes.

The figures from the British Property Federation (BPF) include build-to-rent homes completed, under construction or in planning between the third quarters of 2018 and 2019. The number of completed homes rose by 31 per cent in the same period to 34,840.

There are now 148,046 build-to-rent homes at varying stages of development across the country, up by 24,509 last year.

The sector continues to go from strength to strength, with the build-to-rent pipeline growing considerably in the year to Q3 2019. This is highlighted by the number of homes in planning, which has soared by 23 per cent to 77,446.

The BPF said the average size of build-to-rent developments is also growing, indicating the confidence that investors have in the sector. In the third quarter of 2019, the average size of each completed build-to-rent scheme was 133 homes, with 245 homes for the schemes under construction, while the average size of schemes in the planning system is higher still at 325 homes.

The larger size of build-to-rent schemes underlines the growing importance of build-to-rent in increasing UK residential supply and meeting government housebuilding targets.

Geographically, growth of the sector is spread evenly between London and the regions, with both areas seeing total growth of 20 per cent. The number of build-to-rent homes inside the capital and in the regions is also similar at 63,200 and 60,337 respectively. However, the regions saw the biggest increase in homes completed, with a significant rise of 41 per cent over the year.

28 October 2019
Huw Morris, The Planner 

One small music venue has closed every month on average in the UK during the past two years.

This finding comes from an interactive map launched by Insure4Music, a leading specialist music insurance provider, to illustrate the UK’s open and closed small music venues.

The map reveals that despite extensive lobbying by politicians and organisations to safeguard the country’s grassroots music scene, 20 per cent of venues have closed in the past 15 years – with 54 closing since 2014 and 26 closing in the past two years.

In 2019 alone, 13 small music venues have closed, including The Harley in Sheffield, The Maze in Nottingham and GwdihĊµ in Cardiff. A number of other venues are also under threat of closure, such as The Flapper in Birmingham.

Insure4Music said a large majority have closed owing to rent increases, with the government excluding music venues from a cut in business rates being offered to small businesses at the start of this year. Although some have closed because of redevelopment and noise complaints, others have closed owing to lack of footfall, such as The Cellars at Eastney in Portsmouth and The Cockpit in Leeds.

The government introduced changes to planning guidance to incorporate some of the proposals in Labour MP John Spellar’s ‘Agent of Change’ bill earlier this year, but Insure4Music argues that more measures still need to be taken to slow the rate at which small music venues are closing.

Spellar added: “This map provides a useful overview of the continuing pressure on small music venues.

“While the change in planning regulations has provided some welcome protection, it’s clear that more needs to be done by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and by local government to protect and encourage small music venues. They all need to remember that no star started out by headlining at Wembley Stadium.”

The interactive map is available here

29 October 2019
Huw Morris, The Planner