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Planning news - 21 May 2020

Published: Thursday, 21st May 2020

COVID-19: Application submissions fall in England and Wales, COVID-19: Jenrick updates the country on construction and planning, MHCLG updates COVID-19 guidance for planning in England...

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

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Data shows that planning applications of all types fell on average by 3.5 per cent in March and 18.5 per cent in April in England and Wales.

This is one of the key findings in the Planning Portal’s first Planning Market Insight Report.

The Planning Portal said the restrictions placed on personal movement and businesses to stem the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19) have had a “significant impact” on the planning and construction industries. 

The insight report comes as the construction industry goes back on site following a message broadcast on television on Sunday 10 May by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and measures announced by housing secretary Robert Jenrick regarding flexible working hours and staggered travel.

Other key findings in the report include:

  • Applications have fallen most in the worst affected Covid-19 regions – London and the South East, and the North West.
  • Outline planning applications, which are less detailed versions of large planning applications submitted at an early stage to understand whether the principle of development is acceptable to local authorities, declined by 9 per cent in March and 10 per cent in April. Planning Portal said these applications “held up well”, which is a positive indicator for longer-term development.
  • Applications related to advertising have been hardest hit, with a 60 per cent decline.
  • Applications related to telecoms infrastructure are up, demonstrating the continuing investment in 5G networks in particular.

Sarah Chilcott, managing director at the Planning Portal, said: “Obtaining market data to inform business planning has never been more critical than it is today and we are therefore delighted to be able to release this data publicly and comprehensively for the first time. We welcome feedback on what else organisations may find useful to add into future reports.”

Planning Market Insight Report can be found here on the Planning Portal website (pdf).

14 May 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Giving the daily government briefing on Covid-19 on 13 May, housing secretary Robert Jenrick spoke about the measures the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has put in place to get the construction industry back on site and enable the planning system to continue functioning in England.

Before the briefing guidance was published on the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), consultation for planning applications, local plans and neighbourhood plans, while builders will be able to agree more flexible working hours with local councils.

This includes staggering worker arrival times to ease pressure on public transport. 

“I am allowing sites to apply to extend their working hours, again with immediate effect, to 9pm Monday to Saturday in residential areas and beyond that in non-residential areas, and setting out a very clear government position that these applications should be approved by local councils unless there are very compelling reasons why this is not appropriate,” Jenrick said at the briefing.

“Varied start and finish times will make it easier for sites to observe social distancing, take the pressure off public transport like the Tube in London, and keep Britain building.”

On the planning measures and guidance introduced to enable the profession to support the country’s economic recovery, the housing secretary said: “It’s also time that the planning system makes more use of digital technology to operate remotely and efficiently during this pandemic.

“I am determined that the planning inspectorate [should] be at the forefront of this work – I welcome the inspectorate now undertaking its first-ever virtual hearings.

“I am asking them to make all hearings virtual within weeks so that the planning system can resume and be made more permanently more accessible and user-friendly.”

The Planner
14 May 2020

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has issued updated guidance to ensure that the planning system in England can ‘play its full part’ in the national and local economic recovery to come after the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

The advice follows stakeholder feedback the ministry has received since the last chief planner’s newsletter, published on 23 March.

Current public health guidelines have had a “profound impact” on how local planning authorities operate, the ministry acknowledged.

“We understand the pressure that authorities are under, and the importance of practical measures which can ease the impact as well as support the wider efforts to keep the country running. It is important to keep the planning system moving as much as we can, so that it is able to play its full part in the economic recovery to come, at both national and local levels.”

Alongside measures for construction and housebuilding, also published today (13 May), the government wants site visits and the use of digital technology and virtual meetings to become the norm in planning casework. 

A range of temporary measures are being introduced, explained the ministry, to make it easier for the planning system, and the development management system in particular, to operate within public health guidelines.

Changes to planning guidance include:

Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL): 

The ministry intends to introduce amendments to the Community Infrastructure Levy Regulations 2010 to help small and medium-sized developers. Charging authorities will be able to defer payments, temporarily disapply late payment interest and to provide a discretion to return interest already charged where they consider it appropriate to do so. 

This measure can be applied to developers with an annual turnover of less than £45 million. It will be removed when the economic situation has recovered.

More information here.

Determination timescales

MHCLG explains that determination timescales for planning applications will not be changed, although it acknowledges that not all timescales will be met.

Developers are encouraged to agree extensions of time where necessary but retaining the timescales means that appeals can be submitted to the secretary of state on the grounds of non-determination.

Publicity and consultation for planning applications

On Thursday 14 May, temporary regulations to supplement the existing statutory publicity arrangements for planning applications, listed building consent applications and environmental statements for EIA development will be introduced.

MHCLG said this will mean that local planning authorities will have the flexibility to take other “reasonable” steps to publicise applications if the specific requirements for site notices, neighbour notifications or newspaper publicity cannot be discharged. Steps can include social media and other electronic communications, but they must be proportionate to the size of the development.

Guidance on these regulations would be published, said the government.

Virtual planning committees

The Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panels (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority and Police and Crime Panel Meetings) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020, which came into force on 2 April, allow English local authorities to hold public meetings virtually, by phone or video link, during the pandemic.

So that decisions continue to be made, MHCLG has urged local planning authorities to take advantage of the powers rather than deferring committee dates. “Urgency powers” that give senior officers delegated authority to make decisions should be considered.

The ministry is working with the Planning Advisory Service to provide online guidance and web-based training for local authorities on how to manage planning committees and continue decision-making. 

Local plans

Local plans should still be progressing through the system as they will support the economic recovery from the pandemic and to meet the 2023 deadline by which all local authorities should have a plan in place.

“We recognise the challenges that some local authorities may face, and are working on ways to address this, from temporarily relaxing requirements on community engagement and the need for physical documents, to engaging with the Planning Inspectorate on the use of virtual hearings and written submissions.”

Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) on plan-making has been updated to explain how local authorities can review and update their Statements of Community Involvement and should be read in parallel with existing guidance on plan-making, including paragraphs 34, 35 and 71. If there is any conflict, this guidance supersedes current plan-making guidance until further notice.

More information on paragraph 76 here.

Neighbourhood plans

Regulations implemented as a result of the Coronavirus Act 2020 mean that elections and referendums cannot take place until 6 May 2021. This is being kept under review and may be amended or stopped if circumstances change.

Guidance has been set out so that neighbourhood plans awaiting referendums can be given “significant weight” in decision-making. 

Regarding public consultation, which under the Neighbourhood Planning (General) Regulations 2012 does not mean this necessarily has to be face to face, to demonstrate that all groups in the community have been sufficiently engaged – such as with those without internet access – more targeted methods may be needed including by telephone or in writing. 

Local planning authorities may be able to advise neighbourhood planning groups on suitable methods and how to reach certain groups in the community.

More on this can be read here.

Compulsory purchase

The government wants the compulsory purchase order (CPO) process to continue, although it acknowledges that several requirements, such as access to public documents, mean that this is challenging to do while following public health guidelines.

Guidance has been issued to help acquiring authorities on specific matters.

Validation of applications

Many local authorities are already receiving planning applications online but the government says it is important that arrangements are in place to ensure that paper applications can still be validated.

Priority should continue to be given to the validation of any urgent Covid-19-related applications for planning permission and associated consents, including hazardous substance consents.

New time-limited permitted development rights

This right came into effect on 9 April and will end on 31 December this year. 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”.

More detail can be found on the UK Government website.

13 May 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

The Planning Inspectorate (PINS) will begin visiting sites again now the government has signalled it can in a written ministerial statement following the easing of lockdown restrictions amid the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

Earlier this week, housing secretary Robert Jenrick wrote: “Where site visits are required or necessary, they should be undertaken in line with the government’s guidance on social distancing and safety requirements.

“The Planning Inspectorate will be restarting site visits from mid-May. The government supports the inspectorate’s determination to facilitate site visits. It will expect inspectors to use their judgement in deciding if a site visit is necessary or whether alternative approaches are acceptable, taking account of the particular circumstances.”

If possible, PINS said inspectors would undertake site visits alone, but if not, access needs to be provided by the appellant, it stated. “We will contact the parties directly on how to conduct the site visit safely and adhere to government guidance on physical distancing.”

Currently, around 60 cases are currently proceeding in a pilot that uses photograph or video evidence instead of a site visit. This is subject to the inspector being satisfied that she or he has sufficient information to determine the appeal.

Progress update

The inspectorate said that since mid-March, when the country entered lockdown, it has issued more than 2,000 appeals and other case decisions. A total of 13 local plan letters have been published and nationally significant infrastructure project applications are being progressed.

Appeals are being decided or progressed through written representations without face-to-face evidence; on a pilot basis, without visiting the site; and through holding telephone case conferences.

However, the inspectorate said: “There are still many complex live cases that require a hearing or inquiry to gather evidence and it is our priority to ensure we can progress these as soon as possible.

“Not being able to visit sites and hold public events has clearly had an impact on our ability to deliver at our normal capacity and, consequently, is impacting our ability to produce average appeal handling times. We are currently reviewing how we present these statistics to accurately reflect the inspectorate’s performance in terms of length of time for cases to reach conclusion.”

Digital events

Work to hold digital events – by telephone or videoconferencing – was initially meant to be implemented later this year, but work on this has been brought forward as a result of the coronavirus, particularly for cases where:

  • the inspector may need to ask questions or hear cross-examination for complex issues;
  • there is high level of public interest and a public event needs to be held; and
  • where the legislation governing particular casework requires such an event to be held in given circumstances (e.g. national infrastructure and local plan examinations).

The first fully digital hearing took place on Monday 11 May as a pilot. “We hope that at least a further 20 examinations, hearings and inquiries will follow during May and June. By learning from preceding cases, we aim to scale up digital events to include high-profile and contentious cases in the following months,” the inspectorate explained.

A trial is continuing with two local authorities to hold local plan hearing sessions as digital events. If successful, PINS want to offer this, where possible, for all current examinations.

15 May 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

The Welsh Government has set Natural Resources Wales (NRW) a number of new and repurposed priorities to target renewable energy, flood alleviation, tree planting and biodiversity.

These are set out in a letter from environment and energy minister Lesley Griffiths to the green regulator.

In it, she stresses its pivotal role in supporting the transition to renewable energy.

“I want to see NRW build on this work to develop a positive approach to both enabling and delivering renewable energy development, on and offshore, in line with the government planning frameworks, including the marine plan. 

“This should also include delivery of our renewable energy targets and policy on increasing local ownership of energy generation which means investing in the skills required for the green economy, to promote growth and inspire innovation.”

The minister urges NRW to “maximise the delivery of its new flood programme in the coming year, including more emphasis on natural alleviation measures in collaboration with local authorities and the public”.

In terms of tree planting NRW is now expected to “adopt a proportionate, evidence-based approach to verifying proposals for planting and for processes to be tailored towards accelerating progress in delivering new woodland in a way that meets or exceeds government targets”.  Woodland cover is set to increase by 4,000 hectares annually soon.

NRW will also be expected to work closely with ministers on the creation of a national forest. This will involve improving access to and restoring some of the country’s ancient woodland, as well as identifying “exemplar sites” to form part of the initiative.

Griffiths stresses that the green regulator has a key role in halting and reversing the decline in nature.

“I would like to see NRW make strides to restore its own Natura 2000 sites and to take forward the planned programme for restoration of degraded peatlands to create healthy functioning wet bogs,” she writes.

15 May 2020
Roger Milne, The Planner

RTPI regional awards open for entries

The RTPI’s regional Awards for Planning Excellence are open for nominations.

They celebrate planning in seven of its nine English regions – East Midlands, North East, North West, South East, South West, West Midlands and Yorkshire.

Sue Manns FRTPI, president of the institute, said: “The awards recognise the ‘brightest and best’ of the planning profession. They recognise the teams, projects and individuals that make a positive difference to our local economies, environment and communities.

“At a time when the skills of planners are needed more than ever, the awards are evidence of just what can be achieved. They are a great way of sharing and showcasing your accomplishments and gaining professional recognition and wider exposure for your organisation.”

The awards are open to all planners, architects, surveyors and developers, members and non-members of the RTPI, and to all projects, regardless of their size or level of completion.

All regional winners will automatically be entered into the RTPI’s national Awards for Planning Excellence. 

Entries must be submitted before 26 June. For more information, visit the RTPI website.


Build-to-rent application submitted in Scottish capital

A planning application for 527 build-to-rent homes has been lodged with the City of Edinburgh Council.

It was submitted by property developer and operator PLATFORM_ for derelict land on Bonnington Lane. 

The site was the home of a John Lewis depot and warehouse. The build-to-rent homes would be a mix of studios, one, two and three-bedroom apartments built across three blocks, which would be four to seven storeys in height. 

Matt Willock, development director at PLATFORM_, said: “Bonnington Road Lane is an ideal location to spearhead PLATFORM_’s vision in Edinburgh. Not only will we develop the site, but we will operate the building. Our residents may rent an apartment, but will also have an abundance of common amenities at their disposal, including a gym, communal workspaces, a bike club, and rooftop gardens.”

jmarchitects worked on the scheme, and the planning consultant was Turley. 


Council approves redevelopment of Manchester’s London Road Fire Station

Manchester City Council has granted developer Allied London planning permission to restore and adapt the grade II* listed London Road Fire Station in central Manchester. 

The scheme, by the UK’s leading heritage and conservation architects Purcell, proposes to convert the heritage building into a mixed-use community development, comprising workplace, retail space, food and beverage outlets, a 42-bed boutique hotel and event space.

The former Fire Station and police headquarters, which occupies a high-profile triangular site opposite Manchester Piccadilly, has been largely unused since it closed in 1986. 

Purcell says its design celebrates the significant historical and architectural value of the existing building – originally built in 1906 – by updating it for 21st century use with “sensitive interventions” retaining, where possible, the existing layout of the interior, minimising alterations to preserve the building’s character and exhibit the surviving patina of the architecture. 

Tom Brigden, associate at Purcell, said: “Manchester has long been recognised for the quality of its Victorian and Edwardian period buildings, which reflect the status of the city as one of the wealthiest in the British Empire at the time.”


Avison Young wins place on three L&Q frameworks

Real estate adviser Avison Young will provide planning consultancy services, Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) and Rights of Light consultancy services to the Housing Trust.

It is one of 22 suppliers on the planning framework, one of 19 on the EIA framework, and one of 13 on the rights of light framework. These frameworks will run between 2020 and 2024 and allow housing association L&Q to select the included services providers and consultants for particular appointments.

The adviser has extensive experience of residential-led, mixed-use developments, estate renewal and affordable housing schemes, as well as applications involving heritage assets, listed buildings and conservation areas, providing a range of support for both public and private sector clients and has experience of working with public agencies, including Homes England, the Greater London Authority, local authorities and Historic England.

Mark Kidd, of the firm’s Rights of Light Consultancy Services, said: “We have worked on a number of high-density, residential-led mixed-use developments, as well as masterplans with outline or hybrid planning consent, giving us the required experience and insight needed to deliver ongoing value to the framework.”


School approved in Gloucestershire 

The approval came during the council's first live-streamed planning committee.

Pegasus Group's Cirencester-based design team worked with the council and contractor Kier on the project for Cheltenham Secondary School, Leckhampton in Gloucestershire. AHR is the architect on the scheme.

Rae Luckett, principal landscape architect at Pegasus Group, said the project was “largely landscape led to ensure that the design and layout of site respected the sensitive setting and challenging site constraints”. 

It includes informal hard courtyard areas for socialising and seating, cherry orchards and wildlife-friendly native plants and wildflower meadows, feature terrace seating, and an external covered dining area and wildlife and habitat garden.

There is a variety of sports provision, such as grassed rugby, football, athletics, rounders and cricket pitches. A multi-use games area offering spaces for netball, tennis and basketball will also be provided.

The school is expected to open in September 2021.


Trent Basin land acquisition complete

Blueprint Regeneration has acquired the final piece of land required to deliver its plans for the regeneration of Trent Basin.

Trent Basin is the £100 million “sustainable residential development”, which is part of the 250-acre Waterside regeneration area located on the banks of the River Trent. 

It is part of Nottingham City Council’s vision to develop new and connected neighbourhoods along the river while preserving wildlife habitats and creating new green, communal spaces. 

New transport links, cycle and pedestrian routes are in progress, as are plans for a new primary school at Trent Basin.

The first and second phases of Trent Basin are complete, with over 90 per cent of the low-energy homes sold. Work on phase three is temporarily suspended because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sam Veal, chief executive at Blueprint, said: “This latest acquisition at Trent Basin marks an important juncture for the neighbourhood unlocking the final parcel of land to bring the whole masterplan and new infrastructure together." 

Once complete, the Trent Basin neighbourhood will consist of 400 two, three and four-bedroom apartments, townhouses, mews houses and waterfront properties.


Essex planners give go-ahead for 120 homes at first ‘virtual’ meeting

Rochford District Council approved plans by consultant Pegasus Group for 120 new homes during its first remote planning committee meeting this month.

It granted reserved matters consent to developer Bloor Homes to build the houses on a parcel of land within the Wolsey Park development at Rawreth Lane, Rayleigh.

Local planning authorities across the country are embracing new meeting practices as the Covid-19 crisis continues to disrupt normal operations.

Nicky Parsons, executive director at Pegasus Group, said: “Congratulations to Rochford District Council for hosting its first virtual planning committee just two weeks after the scheduled committee was supposed to have happened.

“A lot of hard work was put in behind the scenes to keep the planning committee process going and this is a positive demonstration that planning is evolving!”

The scheme will deliver 120 homes of which 42 will be affordable. The properties will be a mix of one and two-bed apartments, and two, three and four-bedroom houses.

19 May 2020
Laura Edgar and Deborah Shrewsbury, The Planner