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Planning news - 23 April 2020

Published: Thursday, 23rd April 2020

Lawyers suggest measures to address permission expiry deadlines, Sharma approves London energy park. And more stories...

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

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The legal profession in England and Wales has outlined a number of planning measures to help to manage the impact of coronavirus (Covid-19) – including amending primary legislation to extend the time limit on planning permissions.

The Law Society of England and Wales Planning & Environmental Law Committee and the City of London Law Society Planning & Environmental Law Committee have written to housing secretary Robert Jenrick with eight suggestions on the steps that can be taken to ensure that the planning system and the construction industry can deliver during and after the crisis.

As Parliament is just coming out of Easter recess, and could sit with a reduced number of MPs or even virtually, the committees acknowledge that amendments to primary legislation “could suffer from more restrictive parliamentary time”. 

Therefore, they have “looked at the appropriateness of temporary development changes and where these can be made using secondary legislation or non-legislative guidance”.

The letter primarily focuses on the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, and the suggestions, particularly those relating to consultation and expiry of permissions, “apply equally to the nationally significant infrastructure project regime under the Planning Act 2008 and compulsory purchase process”.

A “real concern” for developers is the expiration of planning permissions, which the signatories say requires an “urgent fix”.

The letter insists that when social distancing restrictions are lifted the economy will need the development industry to have sites ready to be built out, particularly given the need for new homes. 

The expiration of permissions might cause “the unnecessary expense and unsafe practice, in contravention of government guidelines, of contractors being engaged to go to site simply to undertake works to save the permission”, the committees warn. There will be legitimate reasons why works have not yet been undertaken, such as the time taken to discharge pre-commencement conditions. 

This issue was considered after the economic downturn in 2008. Guidance and secondary legislation was published to make sure there was a streamlined application system in place to apply for replacement permissions where the original had been granted on or before 1 October 2009 (later changed to 1 October 2010), the letter points out.

“At the time, the guidance suggested that there was no other way of extending permissions... but in our view, given the widespread disruption to the planning system and the urgent need to save planning permissions which are about to expire, all potential options need to be considered.”

The industry needs a “blanket extension” of six months to permissions expiring in the next few months, which is what Scotland has implemented through the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act, as has Ireland, through the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (COVID-19) Act 2020 and new Section 251(A) of the Planning and Development Act 2000.

To achieve this in England, the committees make a number of suggestions, including:

  • Amend sections 91 and 92 Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (TCPA) that regulate the time limits on planning permissions through primary legislation, although there may be limited parliamentary time over the next few weeks to bring it forward.
  • Amend the GPDO to provide for a new class of permitted development – by adding to the list in article 3(12)) to allow development to be undertaken within six (or more) months of the expiry of planning permission. This permitted development right would need to be conditioned to ensure that the conditions from the original planning permission continue to apply and to extend any planning obligations.
  • Issuing guidance to remind local planning authorities that they have discretion under sections 91 and 92 of the TCPA to extend the default three-year period when granting new planning permissions at this time.
  • Publishing guidance to confirm that in these exceptional circumstances an extension of the time limit imposed on a permission by way of condition may be considered to be non-material for the purposes of s.96A of the TCPA.
  • The same route could be adopted now as in 2009 with an amendment to the Development Management Procedure Order to allow for applications to be made for replacement planning permissions. While effective and tested, there remains a significant burden on developers and local planning authorities and this won’t assist permissions that are expiring in the short term.

On determination periods, the committees say not that it will be “inevitable” that planning applications currently in the system or submitted in the next few months will be delayed, but it “should not be left to applicants and local authorities to agree extensions of time to allow for this delay on a case-by-case basis”. 

They think the government should extend (through amendments to the Development Management Procedure Order) the statutory determination periods for planning applications and the time limit for appealing refusals or deemed refusals of planning permission, even if by just a few weeks.

This would reduce the burden on local authority resources and allow time for internal reorganisation of decision-making structures, which is what Ireland has chosen to do.

The committees also considered measures for:

  • remote council meeting regulations;
  • hot food takeaway permitted development rights;
  • temporary development;
  • the appeal process;
  • section 106 obligations; and
  • the Community Infrastructure Levy.

Sara Hanrahan, partner at law firm Lewis Silkin, told The Planner: “Although appreciative of the speed at which the various legislative changes to date have been introduced there is concern that expediency is winning over efficacy. Members also believe there has been too much focus on the short term and less on the medium and long-term effects of lockdown.”

“The shortfall in housing was critical even before the coronavirus outbreak and unless more is done to help the real estate sector the ramifications could be felt for years to come. The introduction of regulations to allow committee meetings to be held remotely will certainly assist developers, but it is not enough. There are many large residential schemes that already have permission but for various reasons have not yet been implemented and are in danger of expiring. Legislation does not allow for extensions of time and given the current shutdown it is no longer even possible to go on site to make a material start to preserve a permission.”

With Parliament coming out of Easter recess this week, primary legislation changes will take time, she said, an interim fix might be to issue guidance confirming that time extensions can be temporarily approved through the S96A TCPA 1990 process as a non-material amendment.

The full letter can be read here (pdf).

20 April 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Energy secretary Alok Sharma has granted a development consent order (DCO) for the construction of an onshore electricity generating station in the London Borough of Bexley.

The development was sanctioned under the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) regime.

Riverside Energy Park will be located in Belvedere, next to an existing energy-from-waste facility. 

The project, to be delivered by Cory Environmental Holdings Limited, comprises:

  • an energy recovery facility with a generating capacity of around 76MW. It is expected to use a total annual waste throughput of up to 805,920 tonnes;
  • an anaerobic digestion facility with an annual waste throughput of up to 40,000 tonnes of green and food waste;
  • enabling infrastructure for combined heat and power;
  • solar voltaic panels with a generating capacity of around 1MW; 
  • a battery storage facility with a storage capacity of around 20MW; and
  • associated development. 

The Planning Inspectorate recommended that the project should be approved. 

Sharma considered a number of concerns identified by interested parties including potential harm on the townscape and landscape, negative impacts on transport, and carbon emissions. 

The Planning Inspectorate, as the examining authority, noted that the applicant carried out a thorough assessment of townscape and visual impacts but found that that there would be several locations where there “would be moderate adverse effect which cannot be fully addressed through the mitigation measures included in the order”. 

It also noted that there would be some disruption to traffic during construction of the electrical connection that cannot be mitigated, but that construction and operation of the development would not adversely affect road or river transport.

Sharma agreed with the examining authority's conclusion that a “high weighting” should be given to the established need for the development of electricity generating infrastructure, and that the local adverse effects “do not outweigh the benefits”.

Dougie Sutherland, group CEO of Cory Riverside Energy, said: “Currently, over two million tonnes of London’s non-recyclable waste is sent to landfill or shipped overseas, and so more domestic capacity is needed urgently. We are proud to be playing our part through the construction of this new facility.

“This represents an investment of around half a billion pounds into the UK’s infrastructure, which will be vital for rebuilding the economy after the coronavirus pandemic has eased. In the meantime, we will continue to focus on the health and safety of our staff whilst delivering the essential waste management service that the country needs during this period of uncertainty. We will support the national response to coronavirus in whatever way we can.”

The decision letter and more details about the development can be found on the Planning Inspectorate website.

15 April 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Rushcliffe Borough Council has granted outline planning permission for 85 homes on land allocated in the local plan for development.

The Cropwell Bishop development is expected to deliver 30 per cent affordable housing and well as creating better access to the primary school.

Property consultancy Fisher German secured the permission on behalf of land and development company TERRA Strategic. The firm had been promoting the site for TERRA Strategic for several years through the local plans, and provided evidence that it did not make a significant contribution to the green belt and was more appropriate for residential development.

The site was subsequently removed from the green belt and allocated in the local plan for development.
James Beverley of Fisher German said: “This is a very good result and will not only provide new homes, but also a much-needed new access to the school.

“The current access is substandard and causes issues for both users of the school and local residents, so including this and a new car park provides a huge community benefit.”

James O’Shea of TERRA Strategic added: “At TERRA, we focus on securing as many community benefits that we can through our development proposals.

“We try to engage with the local communities as early as we possibly can to ensure that the resulting planning approval is the best possible.

“We are very proud that we have been able to provide the much-needed car park and significantly improved access for the school, in addition to the required housing for Rushcliffe.”

15 April 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Gylo, a property investment unit trust, has submitted plans for the regeneration of Coalville’s Belvoir Shopping Centre, including a new public square and more green space.

The owner of the shopping centre wants to improve the feel and attractiveness of the public space, upgrade shopfronts, ensure that there are better connections to the car parks and a create a town square where people can relax. 

Proposals lodged with North West Leicestershire District Council for consideration also include replacing three units with a “gateway to green space” that links to the central square and upgrading the public square with new paving, a water jet fountain and seating with integral planters.

These proposals form the first stage of the overall plan for the shopping centre.

Nick Harcus of Lathdale, development consultant for Gylo, said: “This is just the beginning of a long-term plan to invest in this important community shopping centre and enhance the heart of the town centre. We firmly believe that by taking proactive moves to enhance and upgrade the environment it will not only attract more shoppers but also bring in new retailers and leisure uses. This is the first active and substantial injection of investment for very many years and demonstrates Gylo’s confidence in Coalville.”

Richard Blunt, leader of North West Leicestershire District Council, said: “The regeneration of Coalville is a key council priority. We want the town to change to be a place where people want to live and spend their leisure time, and where businesses thrive and invest. 

"With this planning application, I’m pleased that Gylo is seeking to make a difference to the Belvoir Centre in a way that complements this wider aim for Coalville. The way people spend their leisure time is different now and a varied town centre is crucial to drawing people in.”

Three of the town centre’s car parks are due to transfer from the council’s ownership to Gylo in this month to enable opportunities to achieve further regeneration of the town centre.

16 April 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

The National Lottery Heritage Fund has announced an emergency £50 million fund to support heritage during the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak.

The new fund is to address the immediate pressures that occur over the next three to six months for those most in need – as well as investing in essential digital skills across the sector. 

It will provide expertise in areas such as digital fundraising, use of social media and communications, and running online events and activities.

The money will be diverted away from planned new grants. All new grant applications have been halted.

Grants of between £3,000 and £50,000 will be available to organisations that have received funding in the past and are either current recipients or still under contract following a previous grant.

Applications will be open to all heritage organisations, such as historical sites, industrial and maritime heritage, parks, and libraries.

The National Lottery Heritage Fund will also continue to support 2,500 projects already being delivered across the UK, which adds up to a £1.1 billion commitment.

According to a survey* conducted by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, 82 per cent of respondents reported a high or moderate risk to their organisation’s long-term viability. It also found that 46 per cent of organisations would not survive for longer than six months.

Eilish McGuinness, executive director, business delivery, at the National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “We know that circumstances are incredibly challenging for our heritage community right now and we want to do everything we can to support them. We hope this new emergency fund and our investment in digital capability will be a lifeline for organisations affected.

“Heritage has an essential role to play in making communities better places to live, creating economic prosperity and supporting health and well-being. All of these are going to be vitally important as we emerge from this current crisis.”

Other support is being offered by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

  • An additional £1.2 million will be invested in the Digital Skills for Heritage initiative to help the sector through the crisis and beyond.
  • Round two delivery awards will continue throughout the crisis on a competitive basis as usual.
  • Provision of bespoke advice and support via its local teams, and in some cases, specialist mentor support, will continue.

Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, said the organisation is planning emergency financial support. Details would be announced “soon”, he added.

* The survey consulted 1,250 heritage organisations.

15 April 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

TPS launches 2020 campaign

The Transport Planning Society (TPS) has launched its 2020 Transport Planning Day campaign, focusing on the role of transport planners in tackling climate change and creating a future that is sustainable and healthy.

Given the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown measures to control it, the campaign will run online from now until the autumn. Then, TPS hopes to hold its usual Parliamentary reception in October and Transport Planning Day on 16 November. 

If this is not possible, TPS will look to hold the events virtually.

The campaign will be informed by stakeholder feedback gained from research the society is set to launch shortly.

TPS chair Stephen Bennett said: “We are all aware we need to move people and goods in a far cleaner and greener way to achieve a net zero future.

“Cities have seen air pollution drop during the health emergency of the coronavirus crisis, due to reduced traffic. It shouldn't take these extraordinary circumstances to improve our air quality.

“In order to address the climate emergency, we need the UK Government to pick up the pace with supporting the integration of spatial planning and transport planning, and reducing the need to travel, with a clear focus on decarbonising the transport system whilst improving accessibility.”


High Court injunction prevents ‘unsuitable’ development

South Northamptonshire Council has been granted an injunction by the High Court to prevent an ‘unsuitable’ development on the A508 near Yardley Gobion.

In 2007, the council’s planning committee refused planning permission for development on the site for several reasons, including that it was an unacceptable intrusion into the open countryside and that the application did not include safe access to and from the A508.

Phil Bignell, the council’s deputy leader and portfolio holder for planning, acknowledged the work of the planning enforcement team in securing the permanent injunction to prevent development. He said the council “had good reason to suspect that development work was imminent”.

“Should any works commence, we’ll now be able to take prompt and decisive action, supported by the police, rather than have to wait for the matter to drag through lengthy processes.”


High-rise plans submitted in Birmingham

Plans for a 28-storey residential development in Southside, Birmingham, have been submitted to the city council.

The plans, for land at 31-33 Essex Street, have been submitted by Essex St (Properties) Ltd.

The scheme includes a mixture of luxury one, two and three-bedroom apartments for private sale, a rooftop garden and sky cinema. Commercial space will be provided on the ground floor, and a gym and concierge service also feature in the plans. 

Wiltshire garden village to get a Sainsbury’s Local

A Sainsbury’s convenience store is to be built at Tadpole Garden Village, near Swindon, joining four other retail outlets at the local centre. It is expected to open in the summer.

The new community already has a play park, a primary school, a secondary school and allotments, while plans for a pub have been presented to residents. 

The development has its own website and app, to allow residents to keep up to date with community news.


Application to redevelopment hospice submitted

A planning application has been lodged with Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council for the redevelopment of “one of the oldest and largest” hospices outside London.

The application was submitted by PRP’s Manchester studio on behalf of St Ann’s Hospice in Heald Green, Stockport.

Full planning permission is sought to develop a new hospice facility on an undeveloped site next to the existing hospice building, which sits within the Cheadle Royal Conservation Area. 

PRP has also submitted an outline planning application for a new residential development on the site of the current hospice facility.  

The hospice first opened in 1971, but the building was originally built in the late 19th century as a 40-bedroom hospital for children with epilepsy, and later used for mental health care before being adapted to its current use.

The building will be replaced with a purpose-built hospice that comprises a 27-bedroom inpatient unit, day therapy and outpatient services, dedicated bereavement and family support services, office accommodation, training facilities, coffee shop, landscaped gardens and improved car parking.


Joint venture to fund Edinburgh rental scheme

Apache Capital Partners and Harrison Street, a real asset investment firm, will fund a build-to-rent development in central Edinburgh that will be delivered and operated for the long term by Moda Living.

The scheme, known as Springside and located in the Fountainside district, will comprise 476 homes alongside 48 existing, fully leased studio, one and two-bedroom apartments. Work on the site is expected to start later this year.

The investment, which closed in February 2020, is the fourth project in the build-to-rent joint venture between Apache Capital Partners and Harrison Street, launched in 2018. It includes investment from NFU Mutual. 

Apache Capital and Moda Living purchased the Springside site, which included 48 existing homes, in March 2017 from Grosvenor Great Britain and Ireland.

Springside will also provide 13,000 square foot of internal amenities, such as communal lounges and health and well-being facilities, and 15,000 square feet of ground-floor retail and leisure space.

21 April 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner