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Planning news - 5 March 2020

Published: Thursday, 5th March 2020

Pincher calls on businesses to design low-carbon homes, Scheme to protect great crested newts extended, Welsh minister calls for modular homes to boost social housing. And more stories...

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

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Housing minister Christopher Pincher has invited small businesses, designers and manufacturers to come forward with ideas for low-carbon, elder-friendly homes.

The homes must meet the highest standards of design, the government said, meeting the needs of the country’s growing elderly population with technology and the “latest innovations” used to improve quality of life.

Pincher said: “This competition will harness all that technology has to offer to bring in a housing revolution: new low-carbon homes that deliver low energy bills and independent living for older generations.

“The new gold standard of building will have the future in mind – not just in the United Kingdom, but worldwide.”

The government added that the three finalists would have the opportunity to partner with developers to deliver their designs on a site owned by Homes England.

It wants to see applications that:

  • Are age-friendly and inclusive – appealing to a variety of age groups and adaptable to how needs will change as people become older.
  • Have a low environmental impact – applying technology and construction techniques to deliver net zero-carbon emissions.
  • Encourage healthy living – by promoting better health and wellbeing, such as through access to green spaces and communal areas.
  • Are deliverable & scalable – homes that can be rolled out across the country.

More information can be found on the Home of 2030 website.

3 March 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Natural England has rolled out a ‘strategic approach’ to great crested newt licensing across 37 local authorities to better protect the amphibian.

The scheme is for Essex, Wiltshire, Shropshire, Greater Manchester, south Midlands and parts of Somerset and Gloucestershire.

Although they are protected under UK and EU law, the population of great crested newts has declined in the past 60 years. Natural England said approximately 50 per cent of ponds in the UK were lost in the 20th century. The traditional licensing system focuses on preventing harm at individual development sites rather than the wider health of populations of great crested newts.

Under the ‘District Level Licensing’ (DLL), landowners and housing developers are required to apply for a licence before they undertake building work in the vicinity of the species' pond habitat.

The scheme better protects the amphibian by working at a landscape rather than at a site-by-site scale. Conservation payments from developers can be used to create new habitats in locations that will benefit the species.

It is already available across 32 local authorities in Woking, South Midlands, Kent and Cheshire. This latest roll-out extends it to a further 37 English local authorities, meaning developers and landowners will need to use it.

Natural England explained that the scheme would also benefit local people and authorities by “avoiding costly delays for developers, helping to ensure homes are built and local authorities can deliver their plans".

The scheme is already being successfully being adopted by developers across the country, said the government’s adviser on the natural environment.

Barratt Homes’ Chilmington Green Development, which aims to deliver over 5,500 homes, was the first development in Kent to join the scheme there. It will also establish six new ponds located in the best areas for great crested newts.

Jen Almond, Natural England’s licensing programme manager said: ‘“District Level Licensing is transforming an area of regulation from one that has been problematic for great crested newts and people into a real conservation success story.”

Paul Kitchingman, managing director, Barratt Kent, added that the scheme could provide the housebuilding industry with an “alternative offer that can both enhance ecological habitat and species protection, whilst enabling developers to rise to the government’s challenge of delivering new homes at pace”.

“Protecting nature and the local environment is a key priority for us and we are excited to be working at the forefront of such a pioneering scheme with Natural England.”

Natural England is working to make the scheme available across 150 local authorities as part of a programme funded by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).

26 February 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Factory-made ‘modular’ housing should be used to speed up the number of high-quality social and affordable homes being built across Wales, housing minister Julie James insisted this week.

That announcement came as the administration spelled out a strategy to kick-start the modern methods of construction (MMC) industry.

To deliver more homes quickly, councils will be encouraged to use MMC to help them build better-quality homes faster than traditional methods allow to meet the growing need for affordable housing across the country.

MMC includes various construction methods from new materials and technologies, to off-site manufacturing, which either replace or complement traditional methods of construction.

MMC opportunities will also bring significant new benefits to the Welsh economy, said the government. To back Welsh business, ministers plan to help this next generation of homes to be built using national assets such as Welsh steel and timber.

There will also be a focus on using the emerging MMC industry in Wales to pursue Welsh social and ethical ambitions, including developing skills and market-leading technical expertise in communities hardest hit by the decline of traditional industries. Investment will also help firms to invest in locally sourced labour.

To underpin the strategy, ministers are making a £45 million investment in the modular housing industry in Wales to make sure that it can deliver the next generation of social housing.

There will be £20 million available for MMC businesses that, in partnership with Welsh social landlords, wish to build the next generation of social housing. A further £25 million is being made available for round four of the Welsh Government’s Innovative Housing Programme, which will focus on innovative housing delivered through MMC.

James said: “Developing the MMC industry in Wales presents us with a great opportunity to not only build beautiful new social housing, but also kick-start a new industry that will become increasingly important for our economy.”

27 February 2020
Roger Milne, The Planner

South Oxfordshire District Council is holding a special cabinet meeting to discuss leaving the area’s local plan at examination after the housing secretary issued a holding direction preventing its withdrawal.

Because of the holding direction, the council cannot take any steps towards adopting the local plan, which covers the period to 2034.

However, according to a report drafted by the head of planning, Emma Baker, discussions have taken place with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), and the council has received confirmation that Robert Jenrick might be minded to withdraw the holding direction before the cabinet meeting on 5 March. Councillors will therefore be able to consider this report on the local plan without breaching his direction.

Jenrick issued the holding direction after the council’s cabinet recommended that councillors should vote to withdraw the emerging local plan to 2034 and begin work on a new “ambitious” plan in October 2019.

In January, the housing secretary wrote to South Oxfordshire District Council to say he was considering passing control of the area’s local plan to Oxfordshire County Council. A month later, Oxfordshire County Council voted in favour of accepting an invitation from Jenrick – should he extend one – to prepare or revise the South Oxfordshire Local Plan.

But since October the circumstances regarding the Oxford City Local Plan examination have progressed to the next stages, with hearing sessions held in December 2019.

Interim conclusions published by inspectors suggest that the calculations of the overall housing need and supporting documents were sound.

The report goes on to explain that there are two options open to the council – withdraw it, or leave it to proceed through examination.

It states that progressing the plan would show that the council recognises “that this will allow councillors’ concerns about the plan to be rigorously and independently tested by the local plan inspectors”, and it would also recognise that the council’s planning policy officers are best placed to take the plan through examination.

Sue Cooper, leader of South Oxfordshire District Council, said: “Stripping us of our plan-making powers would take the ability to influence the local plan out of the hands of those who were elected to do just that. It would mean putting it in the hands of a council that has no democratic mandate to make local plans in South Oxfordshire, nor any experience of making this type of plan.”

“The new report sets out all of the risks and benefits of each of the options, and I am very sure my colleagues in the cabinet will discuss them thoroughly and as always come to a recommendation that has the best interests of South Oxfordshire residents at its heart.”

The report to be considered by the cabinet on 5 March can be found on the council's website.

2 March 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

The government has announced fresh investment for the delivery of rail and road improvements across the UK.

Rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris announced a £20 million investment in the third round of the New Stations Fund to build new railway stations nationwide. 

The £20 million injection follows the launch of the £500 million Reversing Beeching Fund in January, which would bring back rail connections needed to level up access to opportunity, rescinding the Beeching cuts of the 1960s.

The cuts, which were proposed by British Rail chief Dr Richard Beeching, ended passenger services on around a third of the rail network, closing more than 2,300 stations and removing up to 5,000 miles of track across the UK. 

Passengers in Wales, Derbyshire, Exeter, Warrington and Warwickshire have benefited from the new stations fund, and more new stations will be built in Durham, Reading and Bristol.

Local authorities will be able to bid for funding – communities across the UK will be encouraged to apply.

Heaton-Harris said: “This new funding will both restore local stations to their former glory, and build even more new ones, establishing vital links for communities and levelling up the country for everyone.”

The £20 million funding comes from the third round of the New Stations Fund.

£93m funding to improve roads 

Thirty-two local authorities have been awarded a share of £93.4 million to repair roads and bridges said roads minister Baroness Vere. 

The money can be used for essential repair works, ‘levelling up’ infrastructure, reducing congestion, improving road conditions and making journeys easier, according to the government. 

This includes over £4 million for repairs to the New Elvet Bridge in Durham, along with £3.7 million to help to refurbish several steel bridges in Northumberland.

The government will also fund £900,000 into tech research projects to create a better transport system.

One project to receive funding will see the development of an AI-powered app to detect potholes in real time, using mobile phone sensors to measure when cyclists ride over or swerve to avoid them. It is hoped that the app will help local authorities to quickly identify when potholes are forming and take quicker action to fill them.

A second project called Shape-Pot will create 3D pothole models to create a fully autonomous repair platform capable of automatic, uniform repairs to accelerate the transport network of the future.

Baroness Vere said: “This investment will not only help local areas to target current pinch points on their roads but will also harness our world-leading research and innovation capabilities to future-proof the next generation of journeys.”

2 March 2020
Prithvi Pandya, The Planner

Cherwell plan to return to inspector

Cherwell District Council has approved the main modifications to a partial review of the area’s local plan.

The plan provides for homes on sites in the Kidlington, Gosford, Yarnton and Bebroke area.

An inspector has considered it at public hearings. In an advice letter, the council was asked to redistribute 410 homes from a single site to the south-east of Woodstock. The council has approved this change.

The letter also indicated that the inspector is satisfied with the plan’s housing figure of 4,400 homes, 50 per cent of which will be affordable.


Approval for extension to Daventry storage facility

Daventry District Council has granted planning permission for an extension to Prologis Apex Park.

Plans for the £40 million project include a facility for global engine manufacturer Cummins, which already has operations in the local area.

The first phase of the development is for a 430,000 square-foot facility to house storage and distribution activity. It will sit next to a development plot that could accommodate another 415,000 square feet of industrial logistics space.

Planning consultancy Lichfields secured planning permission for the 15-hectare site. M1 Agency provided legal advice to Cummins, and Volker Fitzpatrick will construct the extension.


Council back Edinburgh BioQuarter plans

Councillors at the City of Edinburgh Council have backed the strategic business case for the planned transformation of Edinburgh BioQuarter, which aims to create a new mixed-use neighbourhood.

The £750 million transformation would support a community of more than 20,000 people, according to Edinburgh BioQuarter. Plans include the creation of Edinburgh’s Health Innovation District, alongside a long-term intention to deliver housing on the site.

The council is working in partnership with the University of Edinburgh, Scottish Enterprise and NHS Lothian to deliver the project.

At the meeting, councillors also agreed to contribute up to £500,000 towards the project's next stages, which include further development of the business case and related procurement process.


Bermondsey regeneration project to create cultural quarter

Really Local Group and Southwark Council are working together on plans to create a high street cultural venue for Bermondsey.

Plans involved restoring “iconic landmark” The Blue, a central marketplace. It has stood empty for over a year and is being refurbished using funds from the Mayor of London’s Good Growth Fund.

The development will be an all-day community space with the creation of a three-screen cinema, coffee shop, a café, bar, informal co-working spaces and a food and craft hall for local artisans and vendors.

Preston Benson, founder of Really Local Group, said: “We are very excited to enhance the cultural infrastructure offer in a borough with an established craft and music heritage. Working with Southwark Council, we hope to be able to curate a new ‘cultural quarter’ for the town and secure collaboration opportunities with local independent businesses, artisans and traders.”

The proposal is subject to approval by the council’s cabinet members and planning approval.


268 new homes to go ahead near Bury

Bury Council has approved 268 homes, including 33 affordable homes, at Bevis Green near Bury.

Avison Young’s planning team has secured the approval on behalf of Barratt Homes.

The plans – for a site 1.5km north of Bury town centre between Walmersley Old Road and the M66 motorway – include associated access for the homes, car parking, landscaping and open space.

The site is currently occupied by car care products maker Tetrosyl, which is moving premises to accommodate its main manufacturing and distribution elements.


Rotherham submits bid for high streets fund

Rotherham Council has submitted a bid for just over £20 million to the Future High Streets Fund to help it deliver redevelopment plans.

Last year, Rotherham was announced as one of a several shortlisted areas selected to set out a detailed project proposal for the fund based on its initial plan.

Plans include building a new library, redeveloping the markets and improving open spaces along key gateways within the town, complementing the work to be undertaken as part of the Forge Island development.

The preferred option aims to deliver a number of benefits, including:

  • 94 jobs created
  • 58 residential units
  • Over 9,000 square metres of commercial space
  • 2,850 square metres of retail space improved
  • 3.34 hectares of public realm delivered and improved

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has been working with each place before they make a bid.

The plans are subject to change and more consultation will take place before the final bid is submitted.

3 March 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner