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Planning news - 26 March 2020

Published: Thursday, 26th March 2020

Builders are key to both housing and biodiversity crisis, says report, Dorset is home to UK’s first ‘super’ national nature reserve, Government aims to create a ‘transport revolution’.

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

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Housebuilders have an opportunity to play a fundamental role in improving the environment while they deliver the homes the UK needs – but must get their strategies right to avoid costly delays. 

Research by ecological consultancy Ecological Planning & Research Ltd (EPR) outlines how developers can respond to the biodiversity net gain requirements set out in the forthcoming environment bill in a cost-effective way.

The UK Government aims to deliver 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s, while the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments are all working to increase the number of homes built, including affordable homes. But EPR warns that if this is not handled properly, the level of construction required to meet the targets could cause “significant damage” to wildlife habitats, including the 14 per cent of species facing extinction.

The bill, currently making its way through Parliament, includes a measure to ensure that there is an increase in biodiversity across all new developments. EPR notes that the metrics to be used by developers to measure and monitor biodiversity are built on “generalised assumptions of the importance of habitats [that] do not adequately take into account factors such as the wildlife that rely on them and regional variations in the habitats”.

The consultant explained that these assumptions risk developer resources being channelled into ineffective habitat enhancements that the metrics suggest will improve biodiversity. 

However, they would add “little true value to the environment”.

To maximise the benefits of biodiversity net gain, housebuilders as well as urban designers and masterplanners should work with “skilled ecologists” to guarantee that the results of the metrics are understood. EPR urges ecological input early in the design process.

Ben Kite, managing director and principal ecological consultant at EPR, said: “Over a quarter of mammals in the UK – including much-loved species like the hedgehog, hazel dormouse and water vole – are in danger of extinction. However – if done right – measures taken to achieve the requirements set out in the emerging environment bill will enable developers to enrich the environment and protect these species as they build much-needed new communities. This is a golden opportunity for developers to show that the natural environment can be improved because of new development – not despite it.”

Kite warned that developers risk costly delays if they do not make their schemes compliant with net gain requirements because they would have to start the process again.

“Crucial to avoiding this pitfall will be designing biodiversity enhancements into projects from the earliest stages, not retrofitting them.”

Kite highlighted that 94 per cent of the British public agreed that there is a “moral obligation” to halt biodiversity loss.  

“Consumers have proven that they will vote with their feet on environmental issues, and developers must respond to these expectations through their projects. Those that do so will also benefit from the substantial sales premium that results from well-planned green space near homes.”

Building Biodiversity Net Gain can be downloaded here.

23 March 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Seven partners have joined forces to create the nation’s first ‘super’ National Nature Reserve (NNR) to protect wildlife on Purbeck Heaths in Dorset.

The reserve will cover 3,331 hectares of land, expanding the current NNR in Purbeck by 2,335 hectares. The expansion will create the largest lowland heathland NNR in the UK. The aim is to build resilience into the landscape to tackle the 41 per cent decline in rare species since 1970.

The National Trust has designated a further 644 hectares of land in the NNR, building on the 746 hectares it already has. 

The super NNR will combine three existing NNRs at Stoborough Heath, Hartland Moor, and Studland and Godlingston Heath. These will be linked by new land including nature reserves and conservation areas managed by the seven partners (see box).

The seven partners are:

  • The National Trust;
  • Natural England;
  • RSPB;
  • Forestry England;
  • the Rempstone Estate;
  • Dorset Wildlife Trust; and
  • Amphibian and Reptile Conservation.

Mark Harold, director of land and nature at the National Trust, said: “For generations to come, Purbeck Heaths will be at the heart of a healthy, resilient landscape brimming with wildlife. As well as creating a special place for wildlife to recover and move around freely, we hope to inspire people to engage with nature and explore the great outdoors.

“All the rare and beautiful wildlife living in and beyond the reserve will benefit hugely from a landscape where habitats are bigger, in better condition and better connected – and where natural processes are restored. Here, they will be able to spread and build more resilient populations.”

The 2.5 million visitors at Purbeck each year will benefit from more opportunities to explore and in turn help to improve everyone’s health and wellbeing.

23 March 2020
Prithvi Pandya, The Planner

The government is seeking views on how to make journeys in England greener, smarter and easier using new technology.

The consultation, part of the Future of Transport regulatory review, will consider the small changes that could be made to everyday travel decisions and whether walking, cycling or using public transport would be better than using a car.

A £90 million funding boost will see trials of new transport innovation take place in three new ‘future transport zones’. The trials will run alongside the review, and each will receive a share of the money.

The zones should provide real-world testing for experts on moving people and goods, says the government, which would work with a range of local bodies such as councils, hospitals, airports and universities.

The three zones to receive a share of the funding are in Portsmouth and Southampton, the West of England Combined Authority, and Derby and Nottingham. They join the West Midlands as a future transport zone. 

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “We are on the cusp of a transport revolution. Emerging technologies are ripping up the rule book 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.

“This review will ensure we understand the potential impacts of a wide range of new transport modes such as e-scooters, helping to properly inform any decisions on legalisation. Funding these new zones across the country will also help us safely test innovative ways to get around, creating a greener future transport system for us all.”

Energy secretary Alok Sharma added: “Decarbonising transport is key to ending our contribution to climate change. This review could drive down transport emissions by making greener ways to travel available to more people. Future transport zones will also help to spur low-carbon innovation by providing our best and brightest researchers with testing facilities for the clean transport technologies of the future.”

The zones will test: 

West of England Combined Authority: Tech that brings people, operators and authorities. The aim is to introduce booking platforms to give people access to book one journey across multiple modes of transport through the click of a button. They will also work to trial self-driving cars to transport people between Bristol Airport, central Bath and the Northern Arc.

Portsmouth and Southampton: Tech that aims to improve travel in car-dominated areas outside of large cities and provide the ability to plan journeys through smartphone apps. New options for last-mile deliveries for freight will also be trialled, such as e-cargo bikes in cities, and using drones for medical deliveries.

Derby and Nottingham: More than £15 million will be invested in new ‘mobility hubs’ to integrate and encourage more widespread uptake of public transport, bike hire, car clubs and electric vehicles. It will also create a website and an app to improve information about transport choices and simplify payments for travellers.

The consultation for the Future of Transport regulatory review closes on 22 May 2020. It can be found here on the UK Government website.

24 March 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Energy secretary Alok Sharma has granted a development consent order (DCO) for the reinforcement of the North Shropshire Electricity Distribution Network.

The project is considered a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP). 

The scheme will run from Oswestry Grid Substation to Wem Primary Substation – all within Shropshire Council’s administrative boundary.

According to the application form submitted by SP Manweb plc in November 2018, the development comprises a 132-kilovolt electrical circuit between the two substations, with associated temporary construction works.

The circuit will be a combination of underground cables and overhead line and will involve 21.3 kilometres of 132kV electric overhead line supported on Trident wood poles and about 1.2km of 132kV underground cable.

The energy secretary concurred with the inspector’s report, which highlights that the current local electricity distribution network is operating at or close to capacity. “Reinforcement of the local distribution network is therefore required to ensure that the applicant can continue to comply with statutory and licence duties obligations,” it says.

The DCO is subject to a number of modifications. 

All documents relating to the development can be found on the Planning Inspectorate website.

23 March 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Cardiff City Council has confirmed that a former gasworks site in the capital’s Grangetown area is a strong candidate for transformation into a new neighbourhood providing 500 homes.

The grade II-listed gasometer, a local landmark, would be retained as part of the development.

Recommendations to buy the 12-hectare parcel of land on Ferry Road from Wales and West Utilities and National Grid form part of the council's ambitious housing development strategy to deliver 2,000 new council homes in the city. The council’s cabinet discussed the proposal this week.

The gasworks site is allocated as a key housing area in Cardiff's local development plan. Discussions have been continuing for several years between the site owners and Persimmon Homes, but the latter has yet to enter into contracts. The city council said the owners were now looking for an alternative buyer.

Lynda Thorne, cabinet member for housing and communities, said: “We are well on target to deliver 1,000 new council homes by 2022 and acquiring the gasworks site for the development of a further 500 homes over coming years represents a major boost in our plans for more affordable homes.

“This is a very exciting opportunity to deliver truly transformative regeneration of this part of the city and help tackle Cardiff's housing need.”

20 March 2020
Roger Milne, The Planner

RTPI issues coronavirus update

RTPI chief executive Victoria Hills said the institute has extended the suspension of all events and travel until 31 August amid the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak.

Anyone who is booked on an event during this period will receive information on whether it is to be cancelled, postponed or held in a virtual capacity.

  • 30 April: Awards for Planning Excellence 2020 will go ahead as an online event. The winners will be announced in a YouTube premiere video.
  • 12 May: The Minerals Planning Conference has been cancelled.
  • 29-30 June: Planner Live will no longer take place on these dates.
  • 15 July: The RTPI Cymru Spring Conference, originally organised for March 2020) will no longer take place on this date.

The RTPI plans to update its members weekly on its response to Covid-19. It will also publish on its website updates from the government and other agencies involved with planners and the planning system. 

Hills’s full update can be read on the RTPI website.


Council refuses water park plans

Cherwell District Council has refused planning permission for a large leisure resort near Chesterton in Oxfordshire.

The application for the Great Wolf Lodge water park and hotel would have been 35,000 square metres in size.

The committee turned down the development because of concerns about the scale of the development and its “institutional appearance”, saying it would be out of character with the rural surroundings, and that the expectation was that most of the guests would travel by car along rural roads to the hotel.

The site is not listed for development in Cherwell’s adopted local plan.

The application was submitted by Great Wolf Resorts, an American company that operates indoor water parks in the US and Canada.


Good response to national park plan

There has been a good response to the consultation on shaping planning policies for the Yorkshire Dales National Park, according to the national park authority.

In total, 249 people and 26 organisations have submitted comments to Consultation No.1 – Setting the Agenda. It ran for 10 weeks and closed on 14 February.

This is an increase on the responses received when the local plan was renewed in 2013, when only 17 people and 35 organisations responded to first consultation.

Comments centred on a variety of issues, such as affordable housing provision, renewable energy and biodiversity gain.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority said the comments would sent the agenda for the new local plan and help put together the second consultation on exploring options, which is expected to be launched this spring.


English and Welsh authorities scored on wellbeing

The Centre for Thriving Place has launched the fourth annual Thriving Places Index, which suggests that local authorities in Yorkshire and Humber are producing the most renewable energy.

The index scores local authorities on how well they create the conditions for well-being, and how equitably and sustainable they deliver them.

The scorecards for the 363 local authorities in England and Wales give marks in three main categories: local conditions, sustainability and equality. They are supported by more than 60 separate indicators, such as health and education.

The index intends to give a “comprehensive picture” on how each area is doing to support its residents.

Headline insights from the 2020 index include:  

  • The​ South of England​ performs very well on mental and physical health; most of the top 10 scoring authorities are in the ​South East ​and score greater than 6.5. 
  • The top 10 for the people and community domain features authorities from all regions of England. This domain captures aspects of participation, culture, and community cohesion.
  • Houses are least affordable in the South, but the best housing affordability ratio is in Knowsley in the ​North West. ​When looking at the ratio of house prices to earnings, housing is most affordable in the North and the Midlands. 
  • The authorities generating the most renewable electricity are in ​Yorkshire and the Humber.  

The index can be found here on the Centre for Thriving Places website.


Northern Quarter transformations plans approved

Manchester City Council’s main planning committee has granted planning consent for the regeneration of a vacant three-storey building in the city’s Northern Quarter.

Permission was being sought for a mixed-use café and drinking establishment. The ground floor (café) and upper levels (bar and food offering) would operate as two separate businesses by the same applicant.

Planning officers recommended the application for approval.


Construction task force is set up

The construction industry has set up a task force to work with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the wider government to protect the future of the industry.

The CEOs of a several organisations, including the Construction Industry Council (CIC), have been invited to form the task force. They will meet on a virtual basis with full-time resources. 

The Construction Leadership Council (CLC) will set the remit for the CLC Industry Task Force. It will report daily to construction minister Richard Harrington and the chair of the CLC for guidance and to provide updates.

Contract announced for 95 Winchburgh homes

Winchburgh Developments has agreed on a contract to sell land to housebuilder Barratt Homes for 95 three and four-bedroom homes – 20 of which have been designated as affordable.

This forms part of the second phase of housebuilding at Winchburgh at West Lothian in Scotland, which intends to deliver 1,000 private and affordable homes by 2025.

Building work is expected to begin shortly.

24 March 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner