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Planning news - 4 June 2020

Published: Wednesday, 3rd June 2020

England needs a design quality unit, consortium insists, Khan backs housing developer with £50 million loan, Sizewell C application submitted after two-month COVID-19 delay. 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 government should set up a dedicated Design Quality Unit for England to build on the work of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission (BBBBC).

This is the conclusion of a consortium of organisations comprising the Academy of Urbanism, Civic Voice, CPRE, Design Council, Place Alliance, Trees & Design Action Group, UCL and Urban Design Group. 

Citing the Housing Design Audit for England, which The Planner reported on in January this year, the consortium noted that there has been a systematic failure to deliver good quality urban development across England for “decades”, particularly in new developments.

The coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has “emphasised how critical a high-quality built environment is to our everyday sense of wellbeing and how disadvantaged those are who suffer poor conditions inside and out”. This disadvantage could be manifested through poor quality green space and poor access to local facilities. 

Building on the BBBBC’s work the consortium says government has a “once in a generation” opportunity to show “real” leadership and ambition to make a change.

In Delivering Urban Quality, Time to Get Serious, the consortium explains that it will be difficult to deliver the BBBBC’s proposals “without a determined and public effort” by the government, which should harness the knowledge and commitment of the built environment sector. 

The consortium recommends that a properly resource Design Quality Unit should be set up in England. It should be based on a partnership and networked approach across the country in order to monitor, challenge, inspire and help to deliver “real change”.

In a statement, the consortium invited other organisations and individuals to join this call for action. 

Delivering Urban Quality, Time to Get Serious, can be found here (pdf).

28 May 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

London mayor Sadiq Khan has approved a £50 million loan for Mount Anvil to help the housing developer to accelerate the purchase of new sites and deliver an increased number of new homes.

Under the partnership – the first of its kind between GLA Land and Property and a private developer – Mount Anvil will now accelerate construction of the next 2,000 homes in its pipeline and continue its rapid expansion of land-buying as part of its strategy to deliver 10,000 homes in London before the end of the decade.

The developer will deliver 1,400 new homes by the end of March 2025, with at least 50 per cent of them to be affordable.

The agreement includes commitments on equality and diversity, as well as never building separate entrances to segregate tenants in social properties from their private neighbours. The partnership could form a model for future funding agreements with GLA Land and Property.

“The funding provides us with huge capacity to invest in the best available new development sites in London,” said Mount Anvil investment director Marcus Bate. “We’re putting all our eggs in the London basket, and will be watching that basket very closely.”

The move comes as Khan’s Covid-19 housing delivery task force, chaired by deputy mayor for housing Tom Copley, considers how the sector and the city will emerge from the pandemic with a renewed focus on housing delivery.

Analysis by Savills estimates that Covid-19 has halted construction on sites involving 28,600 homes in London, equivalent to 79 per cent of total supply in 2018/19. Savills also found that most of the larger housebuilders have halted new acquisitions and fewer sites are being brought to market.

1 June 2020
Huw Morris, The Planner

EDF Energy has applied for a development consent order (DCO) to build the Sizewell C nuclear power station in Suffolk after a two-month delay owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.

EDF Energy said it would introduce extra measures to make it easier for local communities to scrutinise the DCO application, including extending the pre-examination period to allow more time for interested parties to register with the Planning Inspectorate.

The scheme aims to generate enough energy to keep nearly six million homes powered with low-carbon electricity.

“Sizewell C is a net-zero infrastructure project ready to kick-start the economy following the coronavirus crisis,” said Sizewell C managing director Humphrey Cadoux-Hudson.

“It will offer thousands of high-quality job opportunities and long-term employment for people living in Suffolk and it will strengthen the nuclear supply chain across the country.

“On top of the economic benefits, Sizewell C will avoid nine million tonnes of CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere each year. The project will play a key role in lowering emissions while helping the UK keep control of its low-carbon future.

EDF Energy added that Sizewell C’s design would be “a near replica” to Hinkley Point C in Somerset. The project is expected to provide jobs for 25,000 people and 1,000 apprenticeships during its construction.

Around 70 per cent of the construction value of the scheme is expected to benefit UK companies and, once operational, the project could generate 900 high-skilled jobs in Suffolk.

The decision letter and all documents relating to the development can be found here.

1 June 2020
Huw Morris, The Planner

The government must make a step-change in policies for decarbonising the UK’s existing housing stock as part of a resilient recovery from Covid-19.

The call, in a Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) policy paper, highlights how government incentives can promote positive consumer behaviour while supporting more people to consider making their homes energy efficient as they spend more time at home.

Around 15 per cent of total UK emissions come from heating homes. However less than five per cent of the energy used for heating homes and buildings is from low-carbon sources. RICS argues that new build housing is one of the most energy-efficient property types for investors and tend to have highest Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) ratings. But less than 2 per cent of annual housing stock is new build, which means the government should focus on retro-fitting existing properties.

Its recommendations include a uniform VAT rate of 5 per cent for home improvement and repair to houses to enhance energy efficiency, which would be carried out by an accredited installer or contractor with a recognised quality mark. The impact of the Minimum Energy Efficient Standards at point of sale should be reviewed as part of the regulatory ambitions to bring all homes to an EPC Energy Performance Certificate rating of C by 2035.

The government must also engage with industry to improve public awareness of standards and professional competency- based advice and training regarding energy efficiency retrofits and wider home improvement works, especially for heritage buildings which are more complex and present a skills gap in the market.

29 May 2020
Huw Morris, The Planner

Controversial plans for the UK’s biggest solar park have been approved after the government rejected protests about its effect on the Kent countryside.

Energy secretary Alok Sharma granted the development consent order (DCO) to Cleve Hill solar park, a joint venture between Hive Energy and Wirsol, after attributing substantial weight to the scheme’s renewable energy generation in line with local and national policies on sustainable development. The proposal’s energy storage system was also given significant additional weight in granting the consent.

The 350MW scheme, which will include 880,000 panels with battery storage and connecting infrastructure, will be located on 490 hectares of farmland close to the village of Graveney between Faversham and Whitstable. The £450 million project, which is five times bigger than the largest solar farm at Shotwick, north Wales, will generate power for 91,000 homes and was classified as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP).

The Planning Inspectorate had recommended approving the project after plans to preserve native woodland and scrub by creating a habitat management area were included. Campaigners had protested against the scale and location of the scheme, the loss of farmland, destruction of the landscape and image to wildlife.

Objectors included the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), Greenpeace, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and local residents.

Sharma noted that the 490 hectares to be occupied by the scheme includes land for energy storage, habitat mitigation, flood defences, internal tracks and the existing London Array substation, while the area covered by the solar panels would be around 176 hectares. The solar panels would rise to a maximum height above the ground of 3.9 metres.

He referred to the National Policy Statement for Energy which acknowledges that nationally significant energy projects “are very likely to have a negative effect on landscape and visual perception and that these effects may be hard to mitigate”. In Cleve Hill’s case, these adverse effects will be “minimised as far as possible”.

The developers argued the scheme could help cut the UK’s carbon emissions by 68,000 tonnes a year while generating more than £1 million of revenue for the Kent and Swale councils each year for the lifetime of the project. The solar park would also deliver a 65 per cent increase in biodiversity on the intensively farmed site by including open grassland and meadow areas, hedgerows and woodland. Construction of the scheme is expected to start next year with the site operational in 2023.

29 May 2020
Huw Morris, The Planner

The government must invest up to £100 billion over the next 25 years to create a plan for nature in the North of England, according to a think tank.

The IPPR North said a lack of funding for the natural environment was a “political failure”. The Covid-19 pandemic meant efforts to repair and rebuild the North’s economy during and after the crisis should make the most of the opportunities that investment in nature can bring.

“Reversing the underinvestment and under-valuation of nature will increase the resilience of the Northern economy,” it said. “Not only that, but strategic investment in nature represents a substantial opportunity to develop a fair, green, zero-carbon Northern economy.”

The think tank called for a pan-regional effort, led by the North’s leaders, to join up and coordinate local efforts to build environmental resilience, and to set out a strategic plan for nature that would make “an unanswerable case for new powers and funds from Westminster”.

The government should provide funding for the development of a spatial strategy for investment in nature in the North, including a mapping of its natural capital. The plan should be owned and developed by Northern leaders, including the local enterprise partnerships, the metro mayors and local authority leaders.

A Plan for Nature in the North of England: Natural Assets North Final Report is available here.

1 June 2020
Huw Morris, The Planner