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Planning news - 16 April 2020

Published: Thursday, 16th April 2020

Permitted development rights for creation of medical facilities comes into effect, Community groups invited to monitor public participation in planning, Homes England bought land for 5,000 homes in 20

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

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Emergency legislation that allows councils and health providers in England to establish facilities to support the fight against the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak came into force on 9 April.

The temporary permitted development right will come to an end on 31 December 2020.

Explanatory notes issued alongside The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Coronavirus) (England) (Amendment) Order 2020 states that the right allows “local authorities and health service bodies to carry out development, both works and change of use, of facilities required in undertaking their roles to respond to the spread of coronavirus, without a requirement to submit a planning application”.

Buildings that could be changed include conference facilities, such as London’s ExCel, which has already been transformed into NHS Nightingale, and university buildings. Buildings can be temporarily erected on land that is owned or leased by health service bodies or local authorities, or on their behalf to “provide health facilities such as temporary hospitals, coroner facilities, mortuaries and testing units”.

The explanatory note says that the order also “allows the change of use of existing buildings and land, the erection of temporary buildings or structures for associated storage facilities, distribution centres for food and other commodities, and the provision of plant, machinery and hard surfaces for parking and storage”. 

Under the right, existing buildings such as hotels can be used to provide temporary accommodation for staff and volunteers in the health sector, as well as those who may be homeless.

Work can be undertaken across England, including in conservation areas, national parks, the Broads and to a listed building. However, it “does not remove the need for listed building consent should that be considered necessary”.

The explanatory notes states that “for the avoidance of doubt, after the relevant period, premises or land would revert to its original use”. Should the facilities be required beyond the end of this year, a planning application would need to be submitted.

As well as local authorities, the order covers a number of health bodies, including NHS trusts, the National Health Service Commissioning Board, the Health Research Authority and the Human Tissue Authority.

Last week, The Planner reported that Welsh housing minister Julie James had introduced emergency temporary permitted development rights to allow local authorities to change the use of buildings without planning permission during the 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 amendment and explanatory note can be found here.

9 April 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

The national charity for the civic movement has asked communities and local authorities to provide it with feedback on how new regulations for determining planning applications during the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak are being implemented.

In March, the Coronavirus Act was fast-tracked through Parliament. 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”.

The 1972 Local Government Act requires councillors to be present to decide applications, but the act’s regulations override this during the pandemic. English local authorities can hold public meetings virtually, by phone or video link, during the lockdown.

The regulations came into effect on 4 April, and apply to meetings taking place, or required to be held, before 7 May 2021.

Civic Voice, which is seeking to ensure that communities are engaged in the planning process from the outset, wants stakeholders in the planning system to feed into its research to understand the effect the temporary regulations may have on community participation in the planning process.

Sarah James, policy and membership development, said: “We accept that these are short term but necessary amendments to ensure that the planning system can continue to function. Planning decisions will need to continue through this period so that the planning system is well placed to play its vital role in supporting the recovery of the economy. We are aware of some community groups that have called for decisions to be halted during this time, but we do not share this view.

“We are confident that the government is not wanting to put barriers in the way of communities participating in the planning process. Nonetheless, the fear is that these new rules will make it much harder for communities to share views and that we might see more mediocre or poor schemes ‘nodded through’ without the usual proper scrutiny. It is unlikely that there will be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, so we are calling on community groups across the country to help us monitor and review how local planning authorities are adapting and responding to the new legislation.”

Contact Civic Voice to share your experiences:

14 April 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

In the 2019/2020 financial year, Homes England acquired 19 sites that have the capacity to deliver 5,000 homes. 

The sites are worth £180 million. 

The government’s housing agency said several major acquisitions were completed in the lead-up to the end of the financial year, despite the outbreak of coronavirus (Covid-19). It said continuing to develop a “strong pipeline” of projects would support the recovery of the housebuilding sector.

Part of Homes England’s role is to buy sites that are challenging or have stalled and use its resources to “unlock them for development” to bring them back to the market. 

The sites acquired recently include:

  • Panshanger Aerodrome, Welwyn Garden City – 37 hectares in size, it has the capacity for 815 homes. Homes England expects 30 per cent of these to be affordable. The development will also include a primary school, a community centre and self-build plots. Homes England plans to deliver the infrastructure on site and then market it to developers in parcels.
  • Digbeth, Birmingham – 2.5-hectare plot acquired from Birmingham City Council. Located on Montague Street, the site is the final acquisition made of four parcels of land in the areas. Homes England said it would create one of the largest development sites in the city centre: it has the capacity for 1,000 homes and 25,000 square metres of employment space.
  • Bristol – 10 hectares in size, Brislington Meadows was purchased from the local authority and private landowners. Allocated in the Bristol Local Plan since 2014, it has the capacity for 300 homes and 30 per cent of these are expected to be affordable. The site had stalled.
  • Darlington – 800 homes will be built on 81 hectares of land as part of the Burtree Garden Village. Homes England has entered into a collaboration agreement with lead developer Hellens Group. They will work with adjacent landowners to deliver the infrastructure required to deliver the scheme.
  • Rugby – 65 hectares of land has been acquired from Warwickshire County Council. It is expected to deliver more than 900 homes. Infrastructure and a link road – “crucial to the wider South West Rugby expansion” – will accelerate the pace of construction of the homes, Homes England explained.

Simon Dudley, interim chair at Homes England, said: “It is testament to the hard work and dedication of colleagues and our partners that we’ve met such a strong year-end at this challenging and unprecedented time.

“I want to reassure the sector that Homes England is very much open for business and investing in a long-term pipeline of development opportunities to support market recovery.

“The need for new housing will remain a priority, so we will continue to do business with partners across the sector to create opportunities for future development and support the government’s housebuilding objectives.”

Stephen Kinsella, chief land and development officer at Homes England, added: “As a master developer, it’s crucial that we continue to create development opportunities and provide a pipeline of sites for housebuilders of all sizes, despite the challenging situation the industry is facing.

“In the long term we will still have a housing shortage, so by continuing to acquire difficult sites and addressing the barriers which have previously stopped them moving into production, we’re making sure we can deliver on the agency’s mission to accelerate the construction of new homes while addressing the short-term disruption caused by the impact of coronavirus.”

14 April 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

New Forest District Council’s local plan has been found sound – subject to a number of modifications – by the Planning Inspectorate (PINs).

The local plan covers the area outside the New Forest National Park. 

A 17-month examination process included public hearings held in the summer of 2019 and public consultation on proposed changes in the winter of 2019/2020.

The plan, covering the period to 2036, provides for an increase in housebuilding and employment growth across the district. 

It allocates land for development of housing at Totton, Marchwood, New Milton, Ringwood and Fordingbridge, and promotes the development of the Fawley Power Station site as a new community with 1,380 new homes.

The plan seeks to direct a “significant proportion” of new development towards housing tenures that will be affordable for local people, said the council. 

According to the inspectors’ report, the council demonstrated “constructive, active and ongoing engagement with local authorities and relevant organisations on strategic matters” and found it had complied with the duty to cooperate.

Inspectors Caroline Mulloy and Kevin Ward outlined a number of modifications to the local plan, including:

  • Policy 5 should be amended so that the housing requirement accurately reflects the objectively assessed need and to adjust the details of the phased housing requirements to reflect actual completions so far in the plan period.
  • Add a new policy and amending text on minerals safeguarding.
  • Adjust the figures for the minimum number of homes on strategic site allocations SS1, SS2 and SS18 to reflect evidence on capacity.

The council will consider adopting the local plan as part of the development plan for the area at its next full council meeting. This was due to be held in May but may be rescheduled because of the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak.

Planning portfolio holder and deputy leader of the council Edward Heron said: “The government inspectors have fully endorsed our vision and strategy for the future of this area. The council has worked hard to strike the right balance to ensure the long-term protection of our sensitive environment and the character of our area including the green belt, whilst also providing the right amount and mix of new homes, jobs and facilities that our communities need.

“I am very pleased that the government inspectors agreed and recognised, thanks to the exceptional work of the council’s planning policy team and the strength of the evidence they prepared and presented, that this area needs a bespoke approach to get that balance right.”

The council is now working on Local Plan 2016-2036 Part Two, which will add policies on more detailed matters to complement part one.

More information on the local plan and the inspectors’ report can be found on the council website.

14 April 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Welsh environment minister Lesley Griffiths this week urged local authorities and Natural Resources Wales to accelerate planned flood and coastal protection schemes and submit additional projects to bolster defences.

Her call came as she announced extra funding worth £2.8 million to repair flood defences damaged during recent storms, and a capital boost in funding to help the construction of more defence schemes this year.

The government is changing some of the rules in its flood and coastal erosion risk management programmes in a bid to kick-start more work.

These moves will:

  • Increase funding support for preparing and designing new flood schemes to 100 per cent; 
  • Raise the grant rate for the construction of coastal defences to 85 per cent, from the current 75 per cent;
  • Allow councils and the NRW to apply for programme funding all year round if capital remains available;
  • Increase investment on smaller defence and maintenance works for local authorities,
  • Allocate £1 million for the delivery of natural flood management schemes, on a two-year pilot basis, funded 100 per cent by the government; and
  • Revisit planned schemes which may require further partnership support.

The minister stressed: “Beyond the repair works, I want to see planned flood and coastal schemes accelerated and additional projects brought forward to bolster defences so people can feel safe in their homes.”

9 April 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

EDF has announced that it will submit its application for a development consent order (DCO) for a nuclear power station ‘slightly later than planned’ because of the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak.

The application for Sizewell C was due to be submitted by the end of March to the Planning Inspectorate, where it would have been considered under the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) regime.

The delay will allow time for more people to register as participants for the public examination phase of the process in applying for a DCO, said EDF.

In addition, the company said it is working with the inspectorate to discuss how the normal procedure can be “flexed so that communities are not disadvantaged by the current difficult circumstances”.

Humphrey Cadoux-Hudson, EDF’s managing director of nuclear development, said: ‘‘We are ready to submit the application, but we recognise that many people in Suffolk, including the local authorities, are adjusting to new circumstances created by the coronavirus crisis. We will defer the submission for a few weeks and once [it is] submitted we will extend the period for registration to make it easier for people to participate. During more than eight years of consultation we have worked hard to be transparent and to allow everyone who has an interest in the project to have their say. We will continue to do so in these difficult times.”

3 April 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner