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Planning news - 9 April 2020

Published: Thursday, 9th April 2020

Government announces biggest changes to building safety ‘in a generation’, Regulations for virtual planning meetings issued, Wales: James introduces emergency permitted development rights to help NHS.

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

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Last month the government issued a document, ‘Planning for the Future’, listing the publications and legislation it would be introducing to deliver more homes. Late last week, housing secretary Robert Jenrick announced a series of measures comprising what he called ‘the biggest change in building safety for a generation” to building safety systems.

Jenrick said the measures include mandatory sprinkler systems and consistent wayfinding signage in all new high-rise blocks of flats over 11 metres tall/three storeys in height – dramatically reducing the height at which such systems are required.

The reforms are designed to incentivise compliance and better enable the use of enforcement powers and sanctions – including prosecution where the rules are not followed.

The housing secretary will also hold a round table with mortgage lenders to work on an approach to mortgage valuations for properties in buildings under 18 metres tall, with the aim of providing certainty for owners affected by building safety work.

He said: “The government is bringing about the biggest change in building safety for a generation. We have made a major step towards this by publishing our response to the Building a Safer Future consultation. This new regime will put residents’ safety at its heart and follows the announcement of the unprecedented £1 billion fund for removing unsafe cladding from high-rise buildings in the Budget.

“We are also announcing that the housing industry is designing a website so lenders and leaseholders can access the information needed to proceed with sales and re-mortgaging, and the government stands ready to help to ensure this work is completed at pace.

“Building safety is a priority and the government is supporting industry in ensuring homes are safe at this difficult time.”

These new measures build on a series of recent declarations:

  • An announcement in The Budget of £1 billion of funding in 2020/21 to support the remediation of unsafe non-ACM cladding materials on high-rise buildings. This is in addition to the £600 million already available for remediation of high-rise buildings with unsafe ACM cladding.
  • The proposed naming of building owners who have been slow to act in removing unsafe ACM cladding.
  • Introduction of the fire safety bill, which constitutes a step further in delivering the recommendations of the Grenfell Inquiry’s phase one report.

The latest non-ACM (aluminium composite material) cladding testing results have also been published. They show that none of the materials, including high-pressure laminate (HPL) and timber cladding, behaved in the same way as ACM. The government is making it clear that any unsafe materials should be removed from buildings quickly. External wall systems on high-rise buildings using class C or D HPL panels are unsafe and should be removed, as they do not comply with building regulations.

The government says that it recognises the challenges that Covid-19 presents to the building industry. To this end, it says, it is supporting building owners, managers and residents to ensure remediation work continues where it is safe to do so.

7 April 2020
Martin Read, The Planner


The government has issued the regulations required for English local authorities to hold public meetings virtually, by phone or video link, during the coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown.

The regulations follow the Coronavirus Act 2020, which received royal assent on 25 March. 

It makes provisions for “persons to attend, speak at, vote in, or otherwise participate in, local authority meetings without all of the persons, or without any of the persons, being together in the same place”.

Ordinarily, the 1972 Local Government Act requires councillors to be present to decide applications, but the act and regulations override this during the pandemic. The regulations come into effect on 4 April.

They aim to guarantee that local authorities can make effective and transparent decisions for various services that they provide, including planning decisions, and hold cabinet and committee meetings. They apply to all local authorities* in England.

Local authorities are still required to make meetings accessible to the public. The government said it is up to each local authority to decide how they conduct meetings, how voting procedures work and how to ensure that the public has access.

The regulations apply to meetings taking place before 7 May 2021. 

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick said the change will support local authorities to keep people safe while maintaining the transparency expected in local decision-making.

“Councillors and staff are already doing the right thing by following our advice to stay home, protect the NHS and save lives. This includes working from home wherever possible, and the new powers to hold meetings virtually will make that easier.

“It’s critical that they continue to provide essential services and find innovative ways to maintain important economic functions they perform like the planning system and they will now be able to do so.

“We’ve given local authorities across England an additional £1.6 billion to help their crucial work in the national effort against coronavirus, and we are continuing to ensure they get all of the support that they need at this time.”

Local Government Association (LGA) chairman James Jamieson added: “Giving councils powers to hold meetings remotely is important to maintaining local democracy and allowing critical decisions to be made during this public health crisis. Councils need to respond quickly and make very many key decisions. They can now do so while remaining open, transparent and accessible to the public.

The government also explained it is also working to bring in a new law so that by-elections, local polls and referendums cannot be held before 6 May 2021.

The regulations can be found on the Legislation.gov.uk website.

* The regulations apply to county councils, district councils, combined authorities, parish councils, joint committees constituted to be a local planning authority, fire and rescue authorities and national park authorities.

3 April 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner


Welsh housing minister Julie James has introduced emergency temporary permitted development rights to allow local authorities to change the use of buildings without planning permission during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. 

The Welsh Government wants local authorities to be able to use leisure centres as temporary hospitals if needed, “to prevent or control an emergency”. 

The move is in support of the NHS and the intent is to increase hospital capacity across the country.

Currently, planning permission is required for such a change of use.

The Crown already enjoys these permitted development rights on its estate.

James explained: “Local authorities in Wales are doing an excellent job of responding to rapidly changing situations and it is vital that we allow them to meet their wide-ranging responsibilities quickly.

“Relaxing the usual planning requirements allows local authorities to take swift action to respond to local need.

“It is of course only right they plan for the emergency, but by staying home we can help to avoid these plans becoming a reality.”

Under these changes, any temporary structures must be removed and the land restored to its previous condition (or to an agreed condition) within 12 months of the development starting. Planning permission would need to be sought so that the use could continue.

1 April 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner


The government has promised struggling high street firms that they will be receiving £22 billion coronavirus boost, with grants of up to £25,000 already being paid into their bank accounts.

A joint statement from chancellor Rishi Sunak and business secretary Alok Sharma announced that thousands of high street firms are also exempt from business rates from 1 April – as they begin to benefit from a share of £22 billion in aid.

As part of a raft of unprecedented measures announced by the chancellor to support those affected by the coronavirus outbreak, eligible properties, including those in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, will not pay business rates for the next 12 months. The measure is projected to save firms in England £11 billion.

The smallest businesses in these sectors are also starting to receive one-off grants of either £10,000 or £25,000.

Sunak said: “High street businesses are at the core of what keeps our economy thriving.

“That is why we are taking the unprecedented step to provide businesses with the vital cash they need to ensure their survival during this difficult time, with 300 businesses having already received money in their accounts.”

An early payment of £3.4 billion was made to local authorities during the week ending 27 March, to ensure that grants would get to businesses as soon as possible. Every local authority in England has now received the full amount of grant funding they need to support their local businesses, he said.

The business rates holiday, which also applies to England’s nurseries, forms part of the government’s economic response to Covid-19.

Sharma explained: “Business rates can often be one of the main fixed costs for small companies up and down the country, which is why today’s suspension of business rates for retailers and our hospitality and leisure industries will offer much-needed support in these challenging times.”

The rates relief and grants are in addition to the government’s wide-ranging support for the economy. This includes the government paying the wages of millions of employed and self-employed people by covering 80 per cent of monthly incomes through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Self Employment Income Support Scheme.

Devolved administrations will receive funding under the Barnett formula to support businesses in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. So far, the government has provided £5.3 billion of funding to the devolved administrations to support people, business and public services in response to Covid-19.

This includes over £2.7 billion for the Scottish Government, over £1.6 billion for the Welsh Government and £900 million for the Northern Ireland Executive.

6 April 2020
Deborah Shrewsbury, The Planner


Waltham Forest Council’s planning committee has granted planning permission for a 750-home scheme in Leyton at a virtual planning meeting. 

As well as the homes, Taylor Wimpey and the council sought full planning permission for the demolition of existing structures and to build five blocks ranging from three to 18 storeys in height on the site of the Score Centre.

The scheme will provide: 

  • 50 per cent affordable housing;
  • indoor sports and leisure facilities (4,851 square metres of class D2;
  • community facilities (1,141 square metres of flexible D1/D2 floor space);
  • a nursery
  • a health centre;
  • commercial floor space (flexible class A1, A2, A3, B1, D1 and or D2);
  • a district heating network;
  • public realm;
  • car and cycle parking; and
  • landscaping.

The approval was in line with the recommendation of the planning officer.

The 1972 Local Government Act requires councillors to be present to decide applications, but the Coronavirus Act, which received royal assent last week (25 March) means that planning committee meetings will be able to be held virtually for the foreseeable future, once secondary legislation is published.

For the meeting, councillors on the planning committee met in a committee room where they maintained social distancing, as set out in government guidance to address the spread of Covid-19. All other participation was conducted through Microsoft Teams.

Cabinet member for economic growth and housing development Simon Miller said: “This meeting was due to discuss the largest homebuilding scheme in the council’s programme and we were keen to make sure that it stayed on schedule.

“Government regulations meant we would not be able to hold a normal meeting due to social distancing, so our officers used Microsoft Teams to allow the committee members to be in one room with officers, applicants, objectors and other observers using the videoconferencing facility.

“At one time around 60 people were taking part and the meeting was a great success, showing the ingenuity of council staff to use technology to deliver democracy during the current Covid-19 emergency.”

The meeting’s full agenda can be found here on the Waltham Forest Council website.

2 April 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner


Starmer announces his shadow cabinet

New Labour leader Keir Starmer, MP for Holborn and St Pancras, has appointed Thangham Debbonaire as the shadow housing secretary.

Appointments to Starmer’s shadow cabinet were announced after he won the Labour leadership contest with 56.2 per cent of the vote. The vote brought to an end Jeremy Corbyn’s almost five-year tenure as party leader.

Debbonaire has been the MP for Bristol West since the 2015 general election. Very little can be gleaned from Debbonaire’s voting record, but she has voted for measures to prevent climate change.

Steve Reed will serve as the shadow communities and local government secretary. He has been MP for Croydon North since 2012 and was previously the leader of Lambeth Council from 2006 to 2012.

Ed Miliband, MP for Doncaster North, returns to the cabinet as the shadow business, energy and industrial strategy secretary. He stepped down as leader of the party following the 2016 EU referendum.

 

High streets to benefit from £22bn grants and business rates package

The government has promised struggling high street firms that they will be receiving £22 billion coronavirus boost, with grants of up to £25,000 already being paid into their bank accounts.

Also, to support those affected by the coronavirus outbreak, eligible properties, including those in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, will not pay business rates for the next 12 months. The measure is projected to save firms in England £11 billion.

The smallest businesses in these sectors are also starting to receive one-off grants of either £10,000 or £25,000.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “High street businesses are at the core of what keeps our economy thriving.

“That is why we are taking the unprecedented step to provide businesses with the vital cash they need to ensure their survival during this difficult time, with 300 businesses having already received money in their accounts.”

 

Permanent secretary appointed at MHCLG

Jeremy Pocklington has been appointed as permanent secretary at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).

Cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill approved the appointment with the backing of Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Pocklington succeeds Dame Melanie Dawes, who left the civil service in February. He has been acting permanent secretary since her departure. 

Pocklington said: “It’s an honour to be leading the department as we respond to the nation’s current challenges and support those who need our help most.

“MHCLG has a critically important agenda to level up all parts of our country, support local government and deliver the homes the country needs.”

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick said: “Jeremy’s appointment as permanent secretary at MHCLG is excellent news for the department and the government.

“He is a highly talented and dedicated senior civil servant who has been a great support to me since I became secretary of state and most recently as we work intensively to respond to Covid-19.

“I look forward to working with him in the months ahead to deliver on the department’s priorities.”

Pocklington became the MHCLG’s director general for housing in August 2018.

 

Membury neighbourhood plans backed

Membury Neighbourhood Plan was supported by 81 per cent of voters at a referendum held in March.

Turnout was recorded as 33 per cent of residents.

The neighbourhood plan sets out policies for the future of the parish to help inform decisions about development and planning applications.

Work on the plan began in April 2012, with members of the parish council, local amenity groups and individuals from the community contributing.

A steering group composed of members of the parish council, local amenity groups and individuals from the wider community has worked hard since April 2014 to produce the Membury Neighbourhood Plan. 

The plan will be taken to a meeting of East Devon’s council cabinet to be formally ‘made’. This is expected to be beyond the usual eight-week timescale, owing to the restrictions in place to stem the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19). 

The plan can be reviewed here on the East Devon District Council.

 

Architects appointed to deliver masterplan for East Sussex town

Architectural practice Conran and Partners has been appointed by Wealden District Council to develop a masterplan for the historic town of Hailsham in East Sussex. 

It should offer a “strategic vision” for the town centre, improving the retail and leisure offer at Vicarage Field. The project brief includes:

  • new leisure facilities;
  • an enhanced public sector hub with improved co-working opportunities;
  • improved relocated healthcare facilities;
  • new homes in the town centre to meet a range of local housing needs;
  • relocation and improvement of facilities for the Hailsham Club and Charles Hunt Centre;
  • consolidation of car parking arrangements; and
  • energy-efficient new buildings, sustainable infrastructure and clean energy options to support the council’s climate change commitments.

Conran and Partners has also been tasked with prioritising pedestrians over vehicles and improving access and journeys through the town and creating new open spaces.

The council acquired most of the land within the area of the town covered by Hailsham Aspires as part of its investment to ensure that any approach to urban regeneration is “comprehensive and capable of being delivered”.

Conran and Partners will consult on and develop a design process before submitting an outline planning submission to the council.

The wider project team includes engineering consultant Hilson Moran, town planners at Lambert Smith Hampton and design team project manager Mott MacDonald.

 

Public consultation on major upgrade to railway in West Yorkshire extended

Network Rail has extended the public consultation period on proposals to upgrade the railway between Huddersfield and Westtown (Dewsbury).

The consultation will now close on Thursday, 30 April.

The proposals are part of the TransPennine upgrade, which would see the route between York and Manchester via Leeds and Huddersfield “vastly improved”.

This is the second stage of consultation on this part of the project. Public events about the proposals have been cancelled owing to the restrictions in place to stem the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19). 

Network Rail decided to extend the consultation period to make sure everyone has enough time to respond to the proposals.

The proposals include redevelopment of both Deighton and Ravensthorpe stations, the replacement of the bridge on Colne Bridge Road, and the replacement of John William Street bridge.

They can be viewed here on the Network Rail website.

6 April 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner