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Planning news - 19 March 2020

Published: Thursday, 19th March 2020

Planning Inspectorate implements 16 Rosewell recommendations, Regional planning framework unveiled for England’s water resources, Changes tabled for Welsh listed building consent regime.

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

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The Planning Inspectorate has updated Inquiries Review Action Plan, first published in May 2019, saying it has made ‘significant’ progress.

The action plan was published following a series of recommendations made by a review led by economist Bridget Rosewell.

It found that planning appeal decisions could be brought forward by five months with the average time “slashed” from 47 to 26 weeks, while a lack of “suitably qualified inspectors” is hampering moves to set up inquiry hearings on time.

Reforms advocated by Rosewell included committing the Planning Inspectorate to introduce a new online portal for the submission of inquiry appeals and a strategy to recruit more inspectors so that inquiries could be scheduled sooner.

Of the 22 recommendations, the Planning Inspectorate said it has made “significant progress” with 16 met and all others well under way.

“Most importantly, all planning appeal inquiries are now following the new inquiries process. A key part of the changes is inspectors taking control of the process from the start and having a more proactive role through early engagement with appeal parties at the case management conference,” said a statement from the inspectorate.

Inquiry appeal decisions have been issued in the new ‘Rosewell style’ since March 2019, and so far 72 decisions have been decided following the new process and timeline.

The inspectorate said that all the inquiry appeal cases that started as an inquiry and were decided by an inspector were completed in 26 weeks or less, and all those currently under consideration have a high probability of reaching the overall target of securing a decision by week 24/26 from receipt.

The average time taken from a valid inquiry appeal being received to the inspector issuing a decision is 22.6 weeks, which according to the inspectorate, “is less than half the time taken in previous years”.

The six recommendations still to be resolved are:

  • Improving the submission and validation of appeals;
  • Costs of the Inquiry;
  • The timely submission of inquiry documents;
  • Use of technology;
  • Decisions made directly by the secretary of state; and
  • Reforming data collection and performance measurement.

10 March 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

The Environment Agency has sent out a national framework setting out how England will manage water resources to avoid shortages by 2050 – putting a huge emphasis on regional plans.

Every day 14,000 million litres of water are provided by water companies for public supply with 1,000 million litres used by industry, power generators and farming.

If no action is taken between 2025 and 2050, around 3,435 million extra litres of water a day will be needed for public water supply to tackle such challenges as drought resilience, the growing population and climate change, warns the agency.

Around 50 per cent of the national need is currently in the South East.

The framework marks a shift to strategic regional planning by setting out key principles, expectations and challenges. Five regional groups, comprising England’s 17 water companies, regulators, the government and key users, will be responsible for delivering a single plan that “builds resilience of a range of uncertainties and future scenarios”.

Each plan will explore a range of options for increasing supplies such as reservoirs, water reuse schemes and water desalination plants. They will also consider reducing the use of drought permits and orders, particularly at sensitive water sources and habitats, alongside increasing resilience to droughts, sustainable abstractions and reducing water usage and leakage.

The five regional plans will add up to a blueprint for meeting the collective national need, says the agency.

Work is already under way on strategic options for meeting England’s future water needs, including resource infrastructure and transfers, with up to  £469 million available for companies to solve resilience challenges. The framework is also in line with the conclusions of the National infrastructure Commission’s assessment of the challenges facing water resources.

“This framework is a significant step in the right direction, bringing together consumers, businesses and industry to reduce our water demand, and to put in place the infrastructure we need while preserving our water environment for decades to come,” said environment minister Rebecca Pow.

16 March 2020
Huw Morris, The Planner

The Welsh Government has proposed changes to the listed building consent regime that would make planning authorities, rather than ministers, responsible for determining certain categories.

At present, where the local authority is the applicant all listed building consent applications to demolish, alter or extend listed buildings must be made to and determined by Welsh ministers. Currently there are no exceptions to this.

But ministers are keen to streamline the regime and are consulting on moves to allow planning authorities to determine their own listed building consent applications.

Under this change the requirement for the planning authority to notify ministers where it intends to grant listed building consent would continue to apply. Ministers would retain the right to call in applications.

Minsters have stressed, though, that they want to retain control over the authorisation to demolish listed buildings.

Over the past five years the government has received 142 listed building consent applications from planning authorities and refused only one.

The administration contends that determining applications for listed building consent “can occupy a significant amount of time which may be better spent dealing with other casework which is of national significance”.

13 March 2020
Roger Milne, The Planner

Planning applications for renewable energy project hit a four-year high last year, according to research by energy and industrial specialist PX Group.

PX Group’s analysis of government figures reveals that planning applications submitted in the UK for renewable electricity projects rose to 269 in 2019, up from 204 in 2018, 185 in 2017 and 154 in 2016 – a 75 per cent increase in three years.

The schemes include solar farms, offshore and onshore wind generation, and anaerobic digestion facilities.

PX Group said the figures show a growing appetite among energy companies for launching renewable energy projects. That more projects are being planned is likely to be a result of growing demand for cleaner energy as the UK focuses on cutting down emissions, it added.

In the 2019 Queen’s Speech, the UK government said it wanted to significantly increase its energy generation from wind capacity. Of the planning applications made for renewable projects in 2019, 90 were for wind technology, compared with 47 the year before.

Last year saw zero-carbon sources, including wind and solar power generation, supply more energy than fossil fuels for the first time since the Industrial Revolution, which reflects the UK’s shift to cleaner, ‘greener’ energy.

“To see the number of renewable projects in the pipeline rise is extremely encouraging,” said PX Group chief executive officer Geoff Holmes. “It goes without saying that as more of these projects get off the ground, the faster the UK can get to a point where clean, green sources provide an even greater share of the UK’s energy.

“Of course, there is a lag time between submitting plans to councils and projects becoming fully operational, so more projects being in the pipeline is not a quick fix.”

16 March 2020
Huw Morris, The Planner

Cheshire West and Chester Council’s planning committee has granted full planning permission for the ‘UK’s first’ waste plastic-to-hydrogen facility at the 54-hectare Protos site near Ellesmere Port.

The approval was in line with a recommendation from the council’s planning officers, subject to a number of conditions.

Peel Environmental, part of Peel L&P, and Waste2Tricity submitted the application. Last year, Peel Environmental signed a collaboration agreement with Waste2Tricity and PowerHouse Energy to develop 11 waste plastic-to-hydrogen facilities across the UK.

It sought to develop a hydrogen production facility and electricity generating plant comprising a waste reception and handling building, gasification facility, hydrogen production facility, and ancillary infrastructure such as access roads and surface water drainage.

The applicants said the £7 million development would “transform how plastic waste is dealt with in the region, treating up to 35 tonnes of unrecyclable plastics a day and using it to create a local source of hydrogen”.

This hydrogen could be used as a clean fuel for buses, heavy goods vehicles and cars to help to reduce air pollution and improve air quality on local roads, they added.

Electricity would also be generated by the plant, provided to commercial users through a microgrid system at Protos. Peel Environmental is looking at developing a closed-loop solution at Protos, where plastics are recycled on-site with the leftover material used to create hydrogen.

Conditions attached to the approval include: three years for development to commence; construction and implementation of the access road before operation of the facility; and provision of BREEAM Completion Certification within 12 months of the development’s completion.

Myles Kitcher, managing director at Peel Environmental, said: “The creation of this UK-first facility makes great strides to solve two important issues – the huge amount of waste plastic produced, and the over-reliance on fossil fuels for energy. The technology has been proven at Thornton Science Park and will now be commercialised at Protos, before being rolled out across the UK. This is hugely significant for Cheshire and the wider region, demonstrating how we’re rising to the challenge of being the UK’s first low-carbon industrial cluster and setting a standard for others to follow.”

John Hall, Waste2Tricity added: “Securing consent for our first facility in the UK is a huge step forward and we’re delighted that Cheshire West & Chester Council has got behind the project. Working with Peel Environmental, we have plans to roll out the technology across the UK.”

Work is expected to start on site in autumn 2020, with the facility due to be operational in 2021.

9 March 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Government launches trials on green mobility

The government has launched a consultation on how to make journeys easier, greener and smarter through the use of new technology.

The move, under the Future of Transport regulatory review, will explore how people make small changes to everyday travel decisions and whether they can choose to walk, cycle, bus or scoot instead of taking the car.

A £90 million fund will trial innovation in three new “future transport zones” that will provide real-world testing for experts to work with a range of councils, hospitals, airports and universities. The three zones are in Portsmouth and Southampton, the West of England Combined Authority, and Derby and Nottingham, which will join the existing West Midlands zone.

The government will also consult on the use of e-scooters and the impact they may have on UK transport. The review will consider if local authorities should have extra powers to manage the impacts of e-scooters on public space, especially parking.

“We are on the cusp of a transport revolution,” said transport secretary Grant Shapps. “Emerging technologies are ripping up the rulebook and changing the way people and goods move forever. Our groundbreaking future of transport programme marks the biggest review of transport laws in a generation and will pave the way for exciting new transport technology to be tested, cementing the UK’s position as a world-leading innovator.”


Two planning authorities among digital project pioneers

Six local authorities will share £1.2 million in government funding to spearhead digital projects to improve public services.

Each council will receive up to £350,000 to push forward existing projects aimed at harnessing digital technology to create smarter ways to deliver public services.

Two planning authorities are among the cohort. The London Borough of Southwark receive an additional £350,000 to improve the planning application system by developing better ways of recording and using information, and the London Borough of Lambeth will receive £350,000 to design a system that can filter out incomplete or invalid planning applications.

The other authorities are Barnsley, Buckinghamshire, and the London boroughs of Croydon and Greenwich.


Oldham to become the first Green New Deal council

Councillors are set to agree on proposals that would see Oldham Council become the first local authority in the country to become a “Green New Deal Council”.

If agreed at a meeting next week, the strategy would set out how the council aims to become carbon-neutral by 2025 followed by the whole borough by 2030. The strategy also covers investment in the green sector to develop the borough’s economy through jobs, companies and tourism, with Oldham’s low-carbon business sector estimated to be worth £338 million and employing about 2,300 people.

A package of measures includes the creation of a green business district, increased support for green companies, alongside cuts in emissions from all council buildings, street lights, vehicle fleets, business travel, schools and waste. The council will also look at investing into the proposed 900KW solar farm in Failsworth and low-carbon heat networks. 

“We want to make Oldham a greener, smarter and more enterprising place,” said deputy leader Abdul Jabbar. “That’s why over the last few years we’ve developed imaginative and economically sound ideas which benefit the borough and its people.”


Plans for Sheffield ‘cultural heart’ revealed’

Plans to create a “cultural heart” under a flagship Sheffield City Council regeneration programme have been unveiled.

Block H, located on the site between Wellington Street, Carver Street and Cambridge Street, will become a mixed-use development split into three distinct elements, dubbed H1, H2 and H3. Public consultation on H2 and H3 has begun ahead of a planning application this spring.

H2 will be a new building offering around 6,500 square metres of grade A office space, split across seven upper floors with retail and food and beverage units on the ground floor. The development will emit around 40 per cent less carbon than a typical building regulations-compliant design.

The development for H3, to be known as Cambridge Street Collective, will aim to retain as much of the existing fabric and façades to balance old and new across the site.

Proposals for Cambridge Street Collective include a large, industrial-style space, which would be suited to a food hall or similar communal offer, with shops, a bar and restaurant, and an upper-level leisure space. The Bethel Chapel building will also be renovated to become a live entertainment venue.

Although not part of this planning application, the site is also home to Leah’s Yard (H1) – a grade II* listed building housing a collection of small former industrial workshops.

“We will be retaining a lot of attractive heritage across the Heart of the City II site, while also ensuring we create new spaces that are sustainable to the local economy,” said Mazher Iqbal, Sheffield cabinet member for business and investment.

“With some of the most interesting architecture in the city centre, Block H was always going to be one of the most rewarding blocks in the masterplan. We truly believe these new plans will help provide a cultural heart and social anchor to the scheme.”


Blackpool town centre scheme under the spotlight

Blackpool Council’s executive is to consider a proposal next week for funding to demolish a key town centre site as part of a major regeneration programme.

The town’s Wilko store will be demolished ahead of the completion of a tramway interchange at Blackpool North Station, an underpass, four-star Holiday Inn and restaurant, and retail and leisure facilities.

Wilko is due to close at the end of March and, subject to the executive agreeing a revised budget of £34.6 million, demolition is set to start within weeks. The revised budget reflects inflationary increases in the construction programme and additional works including more rooms in the hotel.

The council has struck a franchise deal with the International Hotel Group for the 144-bedroom Holiday Inn, which is due to open in 2022, creating up to 50 full-time jobs.

The scheme marks phase two of the Talbot Gateway project in Blackpool’s central business district. The first phase saw the opening of a Sainsbury’s supermarket and the development of offices that now accommodate more than 1,000 employees.

The council and Muse Developments have been developing the district since entering into a development agreement in 2009.


Major investment due for Milton Keynes estate

A planning application has been submitted to Milton Keynes Council that could see a £128 million investment in the borough.

The proposals include 593 homes, new shops and wider improvements in Serpentine Court and the Lakes Estate.

In November 2018, 93 per cent of residents who took part in a ballot voted to fully redevelop Serpentine Court. Since the vote, the council has worked alongside the community to deliver new homes and improvements to the wider Lakes Estate, including street enhancements, a bus network and parking. About 51 per cent of the houses will be affordable council homes.

Following the ballot, the council organised 11 consultation events, welcoming more than 700 people to share their feedback on the emerging plans. A drop-in session was held twice a week for residents.

“It’s only right that local people from Serpentine Court and the wider Lakes Estate have led on these plans to shape the future of their community,” said Nigel Long, housing and regeneration cabinet member. “While this is an important milestone, I look forward to continuing our work with the community to deliver the project, which will make a lasting difference to people’s quality of life.”

17 March 2020
Huw Morris, The Planner