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Planning news - 7 May 2020

Published: Thursday, 7th May 2020

PINS to hold digital hearing, COVID-19: Green space should be a priority in local plans, Bradford adopts design guide. And more stories...

Our planning news is published in association with ThePlanner, the official magazine of the Royal Town Planning Institute.

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The Planning Inspectorate (PINS) has announced that its first pilot digital hearing in England will take place on 11 May.

“We are preparing for additional cases to be heard by digital hearings/inquiries in May/early June with a view to scaling up digital events further over June/July,” a statement from PINS explained.

The organisation is assessing postponed cases to establish whether it can proceed by digital, traditional or a ‘hybrid’ approach, to rearrange these in due course accordingly. A trial of ‘virtual site visits’ is also under way involving 13 inspectors.

Five local advisory visits have taken place remotely, which are “critical” for helping local planning authorities to progress local plans and reduce the length of examinations.

“We must ensure this approach works and maintains the standards of fairness, public access and inclusion for the four main groups involved: the appellant/agent, the local planning authority, the inspector and any interested parties such as local communities. Getting this right will provide an improved model which works now and after the current crisis and ensures we continue to issue fair and robust decisions and recommendations.”

To overcome any challenges, such as access considerations and local planning authority capacity, PINS is engaging with several organisations, including the RTPI, the Law Society and the Planning Officers Society.

In three months, PINS is aiming to roll out good practice, both in terms of numbers of events as well as types of casework covered, with supporting training, templates and communications. The aim is to develop the capability to conduct fully digital and hybrid events fairly and robustly within six months across all casework areas and for most cases.


The statement also includes an update on the progress the inspectorate has made. 

Cases have progressed if the physical event concluded before lockdown restrictions were implemented, if a physical event is not required to make a decision or if a physical event is further in the future and preparatory activity can continue.

New cases continue to arrive at normal levels and are being registered and processed as far as possible.

30 April 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

The social distancing measures implemented to contain the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) has highlighted the ‘critical importance’ of high-quality green spaces within housing developments, says Ecological Planning & Research Ltd (EPR).

The consultancy highlights that green and blue spaces have long been understood to improve human wellbeing – people with access to such amenities have lower levels of mental distress than those without, as was outlined by a Public Health England report in 2014. 

Therefore, there is a contrast between people’s experiences of lockdown, with some having access to green open spaces while others lack it, such as those living in dense urban areas or rural areas comprised of private farmland with no public access. 

For EPR, local plans should emphasise the provision of green and blue infrastructure, particularly in urban areas.

Ben Kite, managing director of EPR, said: “The limitations imposed by Covid-19 lockdown have brought to the forefront the need to be clever about improving access and creating pockets of green space to protect our wellbeing, and that of the wildlife we are welcoming back to our streets, parks, and gardens.

“Revising local plans to place greater emphasis on the provision of green and blue infrastructure, sustainable travel, and high-quality open spaces will not be easy – particularly in built-up high-density areas where there is a real need to create green space – but this is no reason not to try. Allocations for new residential development should be seen not as being in competition with the need for green open space provision, but as an opportunity for such provision to be delivered.    

“The wheels have already been set in motion for the creation and improvement of green space in England with the biodiversity net gain requirements set out in the emerging environment bill. The bill will mandate for residential, commercial, and infrastructure developers to demonstrate that biodiversity has been enhanced through all new projects – but I believe that we can do more to build more resilient, greener communities by bringing green space to the top of the agenda in every new local plan.”

In March, EPR published a report in support of housebuilders incorporating good-quality biodiversity enhancements in their projects. It is the first in a series addressing biodiversity net gain requirements across all aspects of development in England.

5 May 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

The City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council has adopted a residential design guide as a supplementary planning document to the area’s core strategy. 

The guide, designed by Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design and Urban Design Skills, is aimed at shaping future development in and around the city. 

Homes and Neighbourhoods: A Guide to Designing in Bradford outlines the council’s aspirations for new homes and neighbourhoods and its intention to support local planning policies and focus on delivering “high-quality, health-enhancing and inclusive design”.

The document sets out a number of priorities developed through engagement with local stakeholders including health and wellbeing groups, a disabled and older people’s group as well as developers.

It focuses on three areas – defining a brief, creating a neighbourhood and making a home. Each section contains illustrated design principles, setting out advice on how to get the best out of the design and planning process, as well as how to engage with communities over new proposals. It identifies how a development should create character and offer inclusive design, and also considers how best to address the climate emergency and prioritises in particular active travel.

The guide is for use by developers, housebuilders, self-builders, local communities, planners, politicians and other built environment professionals who want to bring forward schemes in the area.

Alex Ross-Shaw, portfolio holder for regeneration, planning and transport at the city council, said: “This guide sets out innovative new standards for housing developments across Bradford district which will make our communities safer, more sustainable and healthier places to live.

“The guide looks at how we make our neighbourhoods greener, with more planting on the street with better air quality and a requirement for developers to provide opportunities for children to play.

“We also need to build houses that are adaptable and accessible for everyone.

“This guide is a step change for housing development in the Bradford district and is the product of great partnership working with Bradford Civic Society, Born in Bradford and the Property Forum.”

The project was a finalist in the Excellence in Plan Making Practice category at the 2020 RTPI Awards for Planning Excellence.

4 May 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Transport secretary Grant Shapps has granted a development consent order (DCO) for the Lake Lothing Third Crossing Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) in the East of England. 

Suffolk County Council submitted the application for development consent to the department.

The scheme comprises a multi-span, single carriageway opening bascule bridge highway crossing. It would connect into the existing highway network via associated approach roads and new roundabout junctions, linking the areas north and south of Lake Lothing in Lowestoft.

A bridge control tower will be built on the south quay, as well as new mooring within the Inner Harbour for recreational vessels. A new access road that links Waveney Drive to Riverside Road, on the south of the lake, will also be delivered. 

The opening bascule bridge design would enable large vessels to continue to use the Port of Lowestoft. As the new bridge would be higher than the existing bascule bridge, a large number of boats should be able to pass underneath without the need to lift it.

The council submitted the application to the Planning Inspectorate in July 2018 and it was accepted for examination a month later. The public, statutory consultees and interested parties were able to give evidence during the examination process. The recommendation was then made to the transport secretary in September 2019.

Shapps considered concerns about the likely effects of noise, air quality and traffic arising from the development. He agreed with the examining panel that the development would provide additional capacity to help “reduce traffic congestion, improve journey times and support social and economic activity in accordance with the government’s vision and strategic objectives”. 

He also agrees that it has as “aspirational aesthetic component to its design, delivering an iconic new work of architectural engineering which achieves a key aim of NPS policy (PR 7.2.2)”.

He decided that concern that the development would harm operation of the port, was “clearly outweighed” by the “significant” benefits the new crossing would bring.

Matthew Hicks, leader of Suffolk County Council, said: "The crossing can make a significant difference as we continue to invest in the area. I’m confident that people will see positive changes, from their daily commute to the wider regeneration of the area.

"This is a significant step forward, and we will continue to make good progress behind the scenes in these unprecedented and challenging times.

"The tender period for construction contractors comes to an end later in May and we are
concluding our final business case to access the funding from the government."

Now the council has permission, a report is intended to be taken to its cabinet meeting in July 2020. It will consider the detail of the planning permission, the outcome of the construction tendering process, the final project cost estimate and the timetable for the project.

This project is the 84th to be examined and decided under the NSIP regime – and the 27th transport project.

All documents relating to the project, including the decision letter, can be found on the Planning Inspectorate website.

4 May 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Rochdale Borough Council has published a masterplan for the delivery of 7,000 homes and 250,000 square metres of employment space along the Calder Valley rail corridor.

It outlines crucial redevelopment surrounding the borough’s five railway stations – Rochdale, Castleton, Smith Bridge, Littleborough and Mills Hills and forms part of the council’s next phase of regeneration.

The masterplan prioritises creating neighbourhoods on underused brownfield land that are close to local amenities and transport links.

Work will be delivered in collaboration with the Greater Manchester Station Alliance – a partnership between Network Rail, Northern Rail, Transport for Greater Manchester and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA). The plans were drawn up with urban planners Broadway Malyan and WSP.

The alliance is working in partnership with local councils to “spearhead” regeneration opportunities close to rail stations. Rochdale will be the first borough to benefit from the new partnership.

The council sees the area’s railway stations as prime sites for economic development, particularly given the 2.7 million journeys made from them last year.

John Blundell, cabinet member for economy, business and skills at Rochdale Borough Council, said: “The land around our railway stations has huge potential for regeneration because you’re putting people close to the transport connections and local facilities that you need to create sustainable neighbourhoods.

“Rochdale’s incredible connectivity, with five railway stations – and a sixth on the cards – puts us in an unrivalled position to repurpose brownfield sites along the Calder Valley corridor to unlock thousands of new homes which are a stone’s throw from Manchester city centre, for a fraction of the price.”

Work is being undertaken on a number of proposals, including: 

  • 1,500 new homes around Rochdale station, catering for 3,500 people.
  • 4,000 square metres of new retail and commercial space around Rochdale station.
  • 1,500 new homes around Castleton station.
  • The extension of the Metrolink to Bury and Heywood via Castleton.
  • An £11 million cycle corridor connecting Castleton to Rochdale.

Slattocks, in Middleton, is a sixth potential railway station that is being considered for development as part of Transport for Greater Manchester’s 2040 strategy.

Richard Jones, development planning director at WSP, said: “In line with the climate emergency declaration and the focus on achieving net-zero carbon within Greater Manchester, the development opportunities provide sustainable, easily accessible locations for future growth and will help contribute to a reduction in emissions by reducing the need to travel by car.”

Over the next few months, more detailed masterplanning work and feasibility studies will take place, with construction of the first new homes identified in the strategy set to begin as early as next year.

More information about the masterplan can be found on the Rochdale Development Agency website.

4 May 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Council plans for 1,000 new homes

Shropshire Council has announced plans to build 1,000 homes over the next five years, including 400 council homes.

Following decisions made at in February 2020 at a meeting of the full council, Shropshire Council’s local housing company, Cornovii Developments Limited, will have access to a rolling loan facility of £35 million, on top of a £14 million loan previously agreed.

The council also agreed in principle for the Housing Revenue Account (HRA), which holds the council’s 4,100 council homes and is managed by Shropshire Towns and Rural Housing (STaR Housing), to borrow £10 million a year over the next five years.

Between them, the two companies will provide a variety of housing tenures to address the county's unmet housing need, such as affordable rent and low-cost home ownership.

The council said development would include homes for key workers, veterans, older people, those with learning and physical disabilities and those struggling to buy on the open market.


West Midlands invests in brownfield land

The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has approved multimillion-pound investments in a bid to unlock and transform former industrial sites across the region.

These include Fountain Lane in Sandwell and Abbotts Lane in Coventry.

Along with housing, commercial premises and public amenities will be provided in line with the combined authority's Design Charter. 

The combined authority said the investment would help the regional economic recovery following Covid-19 and provide “hundreds” of jobs across several sectors.

Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street said: “Despite the challenges we are currently facing, the work of the WMCA continues and investments are being made now that will ultimately help our regional economy bounce back strongly from this crisis.

“It is crucial we keep up momentum in unlocking the region’s brownfield sites to deliver much-needed land for development, safeguarding existing jobs and creating new ones in the process.

“Continuing to move forward with our strategic investment programme will also help to maintain confidence in the market. The need to regenerate our derelict urban sites does not stop because of Covid-19, it becomes more important than ever.” 


Public Practice boosts council capacity

Public Practice has announced that its fourth cohort of built environment professionals will see 39 people start roles between now and June.

Recruitment for this cohort took place in late 2019, with associates coming from a wide range of professional backgrounds. They will be placed across 22 authorities in London and the South East. 

A total of 308 people applied to be part of the fourth cohort – 90 per cent of whom were from outside the public sector. More than 70 organisations submitted their interest to host associates.

Work for existing Public Practice associates includes assisting local authorities to respond to coronavirus (Covid-19), and new cohorts will join the effort.

Finn Williams, co-founder and chief executive officer of Public Practice, said: “Over the last few weeks we’ve witnessed the extraordinary strengths of local government through our network of associates and authorities. We’ve also seen an unprecedented shift in public and political opinion about the value of public service. The answer to this crisis cannot be further austerity – we need to reward councils for their role in the response to Covid-19 and strengthen their capacity to lead a national recovery.

“The situation for local government is changing rapidly – and it won’t go back to being the same. Public Practice is committed to evolving in response and supporting authorities to develop the capacities and capabilities they need for these new challenges. Now, more than ever, we see the value in sharing practice across organisations, and planning proactively to rebuild the resilience of local communities and economies.”

Public Practice is a social enterprise that was set up to build local government’s capacity for “proactive planning”. 


Task force created for Covid-19 rough sleepers response

The government has announced that a specialist task force has been created to lead the next phase of its support for rough sleepers during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

Dame Louise Casey will lead the task force.

It will work with councils across the country on plans to ensure that rough sleepers can move into long-term, safe accommodation once the immediate crisis is over. The government said it wishes to make sure that as few people as possible return to life on the streets.

The task force intends to ensure the thousands of rough sleepers now in accommodation continue to receive the physical and mental health support they need over the coming weeks as they self-isolate from the virus.

According to government statistics, more 90 per cent of rough sleepers known to councils at the beginning of the crisis have now been offered accommodation.

This has been backed by £3.2 million in targeted funding to assist councils.

“The storm of Covid-19 has affected us all in many, varied and sometimes deeply tragic ways – we know that it is a virus that does not discriminate. Due to the incredible efforts by people in local councils, charities, hotel staff and the public, many rough sleepers have been brought in and off the streets.

“Much has been done, and there is much still to do. We have all had to respond to this crisis with a deep resolve but also innovation – in bringing people inside, there is now a real opportunity to address the health and social needs of these individuals if we can stop them going back to the streets. This, like so much over the last few weeks, will take a huge national effort and I’m pleased to be able to be part of that.”

5 May 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner