Latest news

Planning news - 16 January 2020

Published: Thursday, 16th January 2020

Office conversions cost communities thousands of affordable homes in four years, Mace submits plans to regenerate Stevenage, National Trust to use trees to lock up 300k tonnes of carbon.

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

RTPI logo
Planner jobs

Research by the Local Government Association (LGA) suggests that communities have potentially lost out on 13,500 affordable homes in the past four years as a result of permitted development rules, says LGA.

Office conversions carried out under rules that mean they can be converted into housing without being subject to a planning application amount to almost half of all new housing in some areas of the country, says the LGA.

Concerns have been raised by many organisations as well as the LGA that this means communities don't have the opportunity to ensure that the developments are of a high-quality, provide affordable homes as part of the development, or guarantee that supporting infrastructure such as health services are in place.

Councils are also worried about the safety of housing converted under permitted development, as well as the location of new homes.

The LGA highlighted the government's latest figures, which show that since 2015, there were 54,162 new homes converted from offices under permitted development in England. They estimate that this has potentially led to the loss of 13,540 affordable homes.

Nationally, this is 6 per cent of all new homes, but in some areas the figure is much higher. In 2018/19 this included:

  • Harlow - 51 per cent
  • Norwich - 48 per cent
  • Three Rivers - 43 per cent
  • Spelthorne – 39 per cent
  • Slough – 35 per cent

David Renard, housing spokesman for the LGA, said: “Serious concerns remain over the high numbers of homes which continue to be converted from offices without planning permission.

“Permitted development rules are resulting in the alarming potential loss of thousands of desperately needed affordable homes.

“Planning is not a barrier to housebuilding, with councils approving nine in 10 planning applications. It is vital that councils and local communities have a voice in the planning process and are able to oversee all local developments.

“By scrapping permitted development rules, the government can give councils and local communities the ability to shape the area they live in and ensure homes are built to high standards with the necessary infrastructure in place.”

14 January 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Proposals for the regeneration of Stevenage town centre have been lodged with the borough council.

The plans – known as SG1 – cover 14.5 acres of the town centre and are aimed at complementing new development already under way at the north end of Queensway on the Town Square.

Submitted by construction consultancy Mace, the outline application for the masterplan comprises 1,800 new homes, 3,500 square metres of retail and commercial floor space, a new public square and park, a public services hub on the Town Square and a new primary school.

It contains a detailed application for the first two plots in the first phase. These are for Swingate South car park and Swingate House, as well as the former police building on Southgate. The first phase is expected to deliver 760 new homes in the town centre.

The masterplan also provides new green spaces, increased biodiversity and fresh planting in a new garden square next to the public services hub and the Town Square, a new public tree-lined boulevard, and a new park and pond at the new Southgate Park, south of Queensway.

A new mini-square – ‘Arrival Square’ – will be built to greet visitors at the bottom of the access ramp to the railway station.

Kevin Cowin, director at Mace, said the firm wants to deliver a “thriving, successful, and attractive heart” to Stevenage that will serve the needs of local people and businesses.

“During our consultation on the SG1 masterplan over the summer, one of the key things residents and town centre businesses told us was the importance of creating attractive, welcoming public spaces where people can meet and relax. Our planning application responds to what local people have told us.”

8 January 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

The National Trust has announced plans to establish 18,000 hectares of woodland (20 million trees) as part of its ambition to become carbon net zero by 2030.

The charity said the woodland would lock up 300,000 tonnes of carbon, which is equivalent to the electricity output of 370,000 homes a year.

It will extend tree cover on land managed by the National Trust from 10 per cent to 17 per cent. The charity has also set out other measures to help its estate hit the net-zero target.

Plans to lock up carbon also include maintaining peat bogs, investing in renewable energy, reducing the trust’s carbon footprint, unlocking green spaces near urban areas, and running a year-long campaign to inspire people to engage with nature to redress what the trust considers a “worrying disconnect”.

Hilary McGrady, director general at the National Trust, said: “It’s our 125th year and the National Trust has always been here for the benefit of everyone. That is why we are making these ambitious announcements in response to what is needed from our institution today.

“As Europe’s biggest conservation charity, we have a responsibility to do everything we can to fight climate change, which poses the biggest threat to the places, nature and collections we care for.

“People need nature now more than ever. If they connect with it, then they look after it. And working together is the only way we can reverse the decline in wildlife and the challenges we face due to climate change.”

McGrady points out that woodlands help to prevent flooding as well as providing a home for wildlife, and she urged the government to deliver an environment bill that is ambitious and has a properly independent watchdog.

“We can only do so much alone. Now, more than ever, the whole environmental movement needs to pull together.”

13 January 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Welsh ministers want to give local councils stronger compulsory purchase powers over vacant land and redundant buildings to increase the supply of housing.

There are an estimated 30,000 empty homes in Wales, while only seven local planning authorities have enough land in their areas to provide a five-year supply for housing.

The Welsh Government believes that compulsory purchase powers are an important tool for local planning authorities and other public bodies to assemble the land they need to help deliver environmental, social and economic change.

Minister for housing and local government Julie James said: “In towns and villages across Wales we see empty homes, former commercial properties and vacant land, which can often be a huge blight on local communities.

“This government is determined to do all it can to help build the homes people want and help create jobs closer to people’s homes.

“So the proposals we are making for the CPO process will help local councils deliver this vision by transforming empty houses and vacant land into the homes and places of work people need.”

This initiative is currently the subject of consultation, as are proposals to make planning fees more cost-reflective.

The administration is consulting on measures to amend the existing fee levels for planning and related applications as well as introducing for the first time a fee for Certificates of Appropriate Alternative Development.

10 January 2020
Roger Milne, The Planner

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick has written to South Oxfordshire District Council to say he is considering passing control of the area’s local plan to Oxfordshire County Council.

This follows a recommendation by the district council’s cabinet in October 2019 that councillors should vote to withdraw the emerging local plan to 2034 and begin work on a new “ambitious” plan.

The cabinet advocated withdrawing the plan for several reasons, including that the overall supply of homes is considered excessive as it is at least 5,000 homes greater than the need identified for South Oxfordshire, even allowing provision for Oxford City’s unmet housing need.

The council is also concerned that the local plan does not give sufficient weight to responding to the climate emergency.

The local plan was submitted for examination in March 2019.

In response to the cabinet's recommendation, Jenrick issued a holding direction on South Oxfordshire District Council’s local plan, preventing the council from withdrawing it.

The housing secretary wrote to the district council on 7 January to say that the holding direction remains in place. He also set out the options he is contemplating, including inviting Oxfordshire County Council to prepare the local plan.

Section 27A of and paragraph 7B of schedule A1 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 provides for the secretary of state – if he thinks a lower-tier planning authority is “failing to or omitting to do anything it is necessary for them to do" in the preparation of a local plan – to direct the upper-tier county council to “prepare or revise (as the case may be) the development plan document”.

Jenrick has told the authority it has until 31 January to identify any exceptional circumstances as to why it does not have a plan in place for him to take into account when he makes a decision on the next steps.

A spokesperson for South Oxfordshire District Council, said: “We can confirm the council received a letter from the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government addressed to the leader, Councillor Sue Cooper. The council is currently considering its options and will be providing a response in due course by the end of the month as requested.”

9 January 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

A round-up of planning news.

Planning system is not broken, says Hills

RTPI chief executive Victoria Hills has defended the planning system, stating that planners are feeling the effects of years of government under-resourcing and meddling.

Hills was speaking on the latest episode of the popular 50 Shades of Planning podcast as part of a panel chaired by Sam Stafford MRTPI, Barratt Developments.

During the discussion, she challenged the Raynsford Review’s suggestion that the planning system is now less effective than at any time since the Second World War.

“There were many helpful recommendations in the Raynsford Review,” she acknowledged, “but the mantra that the system is broken is not one we can easily recognise or accept. What has happened is that planning has had a significant cut in resourcing. We also need to stop the tinkering to the system which has caused delays, confusion and problems.

“If the planning system could only find some kind of steady state, then planners would be able to get back to the real purpose of planning. We need to be thinking more about strategic masterplanning and being more proactive, but it’s difficult when local authorities are so woefully under-resourced.”


Approval for mental health facilities at London hospital

South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust has announced that it has secured government approval to start work on its two new ‘state-of-the-art’ facilities at Springfield University Hospital.

The development comprises the construction of two new mental health inpatient facilities on its largest site in Tooting, South London.

It will deliver eight new inpatient wards that will be boosted by the modernisation of the trust’s community services. The trust has already started construction work on this programme, which will include new housing and a 32-acre public park.

The plans will bring forward a range of benefits to the people who use the services, their carers and the local community, including:

  • 839 new homes for local families in Tooting;
  • Community shops and a café;
  • Extensive community healthcare;
  • Land to be made available for a new school, investing in local children’s futures; and
  • More than £5 million for new transport facilities.

The facility is expected to open in 2022.


Project to identify barriers in planning for traveller sites

A project has been launched to investigate the key barriers local authorities face when trying to include gypsy traveller sites as part of mixed-use developments on the edge of towns.

As part of a national survey, academics will ask housebuilders, planners, developers and other stakeholders to try to establish common issues faced by authorities in securing the delivery of pitches for gypsies and travellers.

A summary of the findings will then be shared in a short report due to be produced in spring 2020.

The survey is being led by Mid-Devon District Council, which has commissioned De Montfort University Leicester to carry out the work.

If this is of interest, please contact Jo Richardson on or complete the short survey here.


Calderdale consults on draft plan

Calderdale Council has launched a six-week consultation on its draft local plan.

After the first stage of examination, feedback from a government-appointed inspector provided led the council to adjust its housing plans. The plan is now aimed at delivering an average of 997 new homes annually until 2035.

To achieve this target, the plan provides for a greater concentration of houses within existing sites that are close to good transport links, such as town centres. New sites have been identified because they are close to bus and rail links.

Comments can be submitted online and further information, including interactive maps, can be found on the council website.


Council rejects housing plan due to flooding concerns

North West Leicestershire District Council has refused plans for 30 homes in Hugglescote over flooding, drainage and highway safety concerns.

The proposal for the site on Station Road had previously been deferred by the planning committee in October, when flooding and sewage issues in the village during a spell of heavy rain raised concerns about the development of housing at this site.

Planning committee members sought further information from Severn Trent Water, which confirmed it had now carried out investigations and remedial work to resolve the situation.

The committee, however, felt its concerns were not fully addressed and after hearing objections from a local resident and the ward member, decided to refuse the application.


Scottish Government launches new planning website

The Scottish Government has launched a new website that aims to be a resource for following progress and joining in with some key strands of the continuing transformation of Scotland’s planning system and national policy.

The site is structured around the work that will done over the next couple of years on:

  • National Planning Framework 4
  • Planning reform
  • Digital planning

The government said it would be the hub for essential information, resources and opportunities to keep up to date and to get involved in all three of these work programmes.

The site will be updated regularly with new material to support understanding and collaboration through the development of NPF4, legislation and guidance following on from the new Planning (Scotland) Act and a digital strategy for planning.

14 January 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner