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Planning News - 25 June 2020

Published: Thursday, 25th June 2020

COVID-19: Councils call for 100,000 social homes a year to aid recovery, Flexible zoning system is needed to deliver homes, says think tank , Reform minerals planning system ‘to ensure supply'

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

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The Local Government Association (LGA) has called for councils to be given the powers to build thousands of ‘desperately needed’ council homes to ‘spearhead’ the recovery from COVID-19.

Post-pandemic, 100,000 affordable homes are needed to provide housing for key workers and the families of those who lost their lives to the virus. This would also address the downturn in construction because of the virus as housebuilders closed their sites, the LGA argues. 

Such a programme would also benefit the economy, help the government to achieve its target to deliver 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s, and alleviate pressures on health and social care that result from poor housing conditions, according to the LGA.

Delivery of Council Housing – Developing a Stimulus Package Post-Pandemic sets out the key issues and recommendations for the government to deliver a social housebuilding programme. 

These include:

  • Council housing delivery should be expanded by bringing forward and increasing the £12 billion extension of the Affordable Homes Programme announced in the 2020 Budget, with an increased focus on social rent homes.
  • Right to Buy should be reformed – councils should be able to retain 100 per cent of receipts from the sale of homes under the scheme. The deadline by which the money from sales is spent should be extended to at least five years, and councils should be given the power to set the size of discounts locally.
  • A skills and jobs strategy is required to increase capacity in the building industry to help to accelerate a social housing building programme.

David Renard, housing spokesman for the LGA, said: “As the nation comes through the biggest crisis we have faced since the Second World War, we owe it to the health, care and other essential public service workers, who have risked their lives to keep the country running to provide them with affordable, high-quality homes fit for heroes.

“The government should let councils take charge of the housing recovery, by giving them the powers and tools to build more of the affordable homes the country desperately needs.

“A programme of 100,000 social homes a year would not only meet a third of the government’s housebuilding target, but it would generate a range of social and economic benefits.

“Now is the time for a genuine renaissance in council housebuilding that reduces homelessness, gets people off the streets for good, supports people’s wellbeing and is climate-friendly.”

Delivery of Council Housing – Developing a Stimulus Package Post-Pandemic can be found on the LGA website (pdf).

22 June 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

A position paper has recommended that a flexible zoning code be designed by national and devolved governments to set out patterns of development in local plans.

It also recommends that undeveloped land should be phased into the zoned area, which would replace the green belt.

According to the paper, published by think tank Centre for Cities, planning systems in the UK have inbuilt features that “inevitably create the affordability crisis” seen in cities and large towns. 

It contends that the UK’s “discretionary, case-by-case planning system rations land and restricts the supply of new homes”, which reduces affordability. 

Despite an increase in the supply of new homes, the housing crisis remains. The paper states that the lack of affordable housing in expensive cities and large towns is a “drag on the national economy, damages local prosperity, and deepens inequality”.

The think tank wants the UK Government and the devolved governments to move away from such a discretionary approach towards a flexible zoning system. It claims that a failure to do this “fuels inequality between prosperous places and those struggling, between homeowners and their children, and between the haves and the have-nots”.

The paper also suggests the following:

  • Proposals that comply with the national zoning code and national building regulations legally must be granted permission by local authorities to develop. Zoning by local government should be sensitive to local land values and provide most neighbourhoods with a small envelope for redevelopment. National government must remain committed to supporting more housing in expensive places after reform.
  • Public consultation to occur during the creation of local plans, instead of providing a potential veto for every individual development. Local rules and consultation should remain in place for aesthetic elements such as materials, façades, and landscaping.
  • Non-developed land should be phased into the zoned area, conditional on actual population growth. This approach would replace the green belt and end the rationing of new land for development while still protecting precious woodland, countryside, and nature reserves.
  • Non-economic considerations or special designations, such as conservation areas or opportunity zones, should continue to be included in local plans, provided that they are each subject to an economic cost-benefit analysis and are approved by the national government.
  • The discretionary negotiation of section 106 should be abolished and replaced with a flat 20 per cent levy on the value of development, to be spent on local infrastructure and new social housing.

In a letter sent to and published by The Times, responding to a piece by Martina Lees on zonal planning, RTPI chief executive Victoria Hills highligted that the planning system "has been a political football for decades".

"However, dismantling it in favour of a zoning system would not result in faster planning permission or better development. Tackling climate change through a zoning system would be well-nigh impossible.

"We need to create bigger spatial plans using joined-up thinking on infrastructure. We also require measures to tackle climate change, the housing crisis and to restart local economies. A wider spatial planning approach with stronger, locally agreed design codes would allow us to plan the world we need; the blunt instrument of local planning zones would simply throw the baby out with the bath water."

The letter can be found here.

Planning for the Future: How Flexible Zoning Will End the Housing Crisis can be found on the Centre for Cities website.

23 June 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

The minerals planning system should be reformed so that it guarantees the supply of the minerals required to support construction of homes and infrastructure.

Reforming the system would also better enable it to support key sectors of the economy, such as manufacturing, states the Mineral Products Association (MPA).

In its newly published policy paper the body highlights the “essential” role of mineral products and the importance of the planning system for maintaining supply as the economy recovers from COVID-19.

The paper has been come out ahead of the government’s planning white paper, which was expected in the spring. The MPA wants to include “specific, deliverable measures to reinforce the essentiality of mineral products and improve delivery of the government’s planning ambitions, supporting the recovery of construction and the wider economy”.

The organisation has conducted surveys showing that over a 10-year period, land-won aggregates consumption outstrips the new reserves that are permitted, with 75 per cent of crushed rock reserves and 63 per cent of sand and gravel reserves replaced between 2009 and 2018. It insists that the planning system has a key role to play in making sure that the right minerals are made available in the right place and at the right time so supply can be maintained.

The paper recommends: 

  • Better resourcing of minerals planning authorities in recognition of the critical role of planning to achieve a steady and adequate supply of minerals to the economy and society, as well as addressing and responding to challenges of climate change mitigation and adaptation. Similar to environmental permitting regimes, fees should directly relate to the planning services that are being delivered and should not be used to subsidise other functions. Enhancing the status and remuneration of planners could attract greater interest in the profession.
  • Streamline the plan making process, with a focus on simpler plans that can be produced more quickly to address genuinely local issues alongside spatially specific policies and site allocations. The process should be supported by a ‘template’ approach to general and development management policies that are common throughout the country.
  • National statements of need for minerals and mineral products, including new national and sub-national guidelines for aggregates provision, are urgently required to provide context on their essentiality and benchmarks for provision for minerals at national, regional and local levels.
  • Establish regional ‘centres of excellence’, pooling resources and cooperation between minerals planning authorities with teams of qualified, motivated and suitably rewarded professionals able to undertake strategic minerals planning across local authority boundaries.

Improving status and remuneration would help to create demand from students and investment in training. 

Nigel Jackson, chief executive at the MPA, explained: “Our sector is responsible for the delivery of one million tonnes of essential minerals and mineral products flowing through the national economy every single day, enabling the construction of housing, hospitals and schools alongside transport and energy infrastructure and supporting manufacturing activity. Our analysis estimates that over three billion tonnes of construction aggregates alone will be required by 2030, of which 70 per cent will be primary materials that will need to be dug from the ground or dredged from the seabed.”

Supply, he continued, cannot be assumed – it has to be planned, monitored and managed.

“New capacity cannot be simply ‘switched on’, as it can take up to 15 years to bring new minerals sites and reserves into production following extensive investment and planning. The cumulative impacts of the ‘localist’ approach to mineral planning are a constraint on investment and confidence building by creating so much uncertainty. Long-term societal demands therefore need to be supported by long-term policies and plans that provide confidence to planning authorities and mineral operators to ensure the most sustainable and cost-effective supply solutions can be delivered. The forthcoming planning white paper provides an opportunity for the essential role minerals play in our economy to be recognised and supported.”

Planning for the Future: Reform of the Minerals Planning System can be found here on the MPA website (pdf).

18 June 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

The government has announced that the ‘world’s largest and first’ commercial liquid air battery facility is planned for Trafford, Greater Manchester.

Backed by £10 million of government investment, the CryoBattery project could create at least 200 jobs. The scheme is aimed at helping the UK to make the most of its solar and wind energy.

Energy storage company Highview will run the facility, which would have the capability of storing excess energy and, a government statement explained, would do so on a larger scale and for longer than existing batteries.

Energy and clean growth minister Kwasi Kwarteng (pictured) said: “This revolutionary new Cryobattery facility will form a key part of our push towards net-zero, bringing greater flexibility to Britain’s electricity grid and creating green-collar jobs in Greater Manchester.

“Projects like these will help us realise the full value of our world-class renewables, ensuring homes and businesses can still be powered by green energy – even when the sun is not shining and the wind not blowing.”

The CryoBattery works by using electricity to cool and compress air, turning it into liquid and storing it in industrial-sized containers. The liquid is then fed through a turbine, which turns it back into electricity and pumps it into the grid when it is needed.

When it is up and running, the facility could be used to power as many as 200,000 homes for five hours a day, and help the UK meet its target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

19 June 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner 

The Welsh Government’s Bro Tathan business park in South Wales has been named as the front runner for an ambitious project to establish a huge battery manufacturing plant in the UK.

The 486-hectare business park is strategically located within the Cardiff Airport and Bro Tathan Enterprise Zone, five miles from Cardiff Airport and within easy reach of the M4 motorway.

The site offers about 148,645 square metres of employment space and is home to major occupiers, including Aston Martin Lagonda, eCube Solutions and Bristow Helicopters. It contains its own operational runway.

Behind the scheme are two British start-ups who have announced plans to invest as much as £4 billion in building the UK’s first large-scale battery factory.

AMTE Power and Britishvolt have signed a memorandum of understanding saying they will work together on plans for a plant to make lithium ion batteries, the key component in electric cars as well as energy storage products.

The plant would be one kilometre long and 30 metres tall, require around 80 hectares of land and would be powered by its own solar farm.

Lars Carlstrom, the chief executive of Britishvolt, said the companies had an ambition to build facilities producing batteries with capacity of as much as 30 gigawatt hours (GWh) a year, which would be roughly equivalent to the joint Tesla-Panasonic Gigafactory in Nevada.

A factory of that size could create at least 3,500 jobs, he said.

Britishvolt expects to raise the first £1.2 billion of funds in the next year, after receiving initial backing from Scandinavian and Middle Eastern investors.

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We have been working with Britishvolt on this project for a significant period of time and we are very pleased they have shortlisted Bro Tathan as a location for its landmark gigafactory. 

“We firmly believe that Bro Tathan provides a compelling case particularly for a company looking to become one of the greenest battery producers worldwide.”

19 June 2020
Roger Milne, The Planner 

Labour to push Jenrick for answers over Westferry development

A three-hour opposition day debate on Wednesday 24 June will see Labour push housing secretary Robert Jenrick for answers surrounding his decision to approve a 500-apartment, 44-storey development at Westferry Printworks, in East London.

Jenrick approved the scheme in January – the day before community infrastructure levy charges placed on developments were increased. A planning inspector had earlier recommended its rejection. The timing of the decision meant former Conservative Party donor Richard

Desmond avoided paying between £30 million and £50 million, said the council.

Jenrick accepted his decision was unlawful.

Two weeks after the decision was made, the property developer made a £12,000 donation to the Conservative Party.

The Sunday Times reported at the weekend (20 June) that Desmond showed Jenrick a promotional video on his phone when the pair sat next to each other at a Conservative Party fundraising dinner, before the housing secretary issued his decision.

According to The Guardian, shadow communities secretary Steve Reed is expected to press Jenrick on whether department officials asked him to recuse himself from the decision because viewing the video would appear to constitute lobbying by Desmond. 

 Heritage funding deadline extended

The National Lottery Heritage Fund has announced that the deadline to apply for emergency grants has been extended to the end of July.

The £50 million Heritage Emergency Fund was set up in late April to help the UK’s heritage survive the impact of the Covid-19 epidemic.

Hundreds of grants have been awarded in a bid to address immediate pressures for those most in need. However, when their existing business model may no longer be fit for purpose, heritage organisations still face significant challenges.

Grants have supported heritage organisations with essential costs to keep them afloat, including core staff wages and utility bills. They can now also be used to start the recovery process, which could include new operating and business plans, investing in digital, or the costs of reopening.

Ros Kerslake, chief executive at the National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “This is still a time of great change and uncertainty for heritage organisations, and we are with them in heart and mind right now as they take uncertain steps back into a fast-changing world. We are keen to help them in planning for the recovery that is so vital for heritage, its people and communities.”

More information about eligibility and applying can be found on the National Lottery Heritage Fund website

Housing could replace warehouse in Chesham

Hightown Housing Association has completed the purchase of Preston Hill House in Chesham.

Subject to planning permission, it plans to build about 60 new affordable homes. 

Hightown said it is preparing a full planning application for the redevelopment of the site to provide a mixture of houses and flats. The homes will all be below market rates, with the rented homes allocated to those on the council’s housing register. There will also be a number of homes available for shared ownership.

The planning application is expected to be submitted this summer.

The housing association has agreed with the previous owner, event catering and logistics specialist Global Infusion Group, that it can stay on rent-free while it prepares and cooks more than 4,000 meals a week for Buckinghamshire’s NHS Trust during the coronavirus pandemic.

The site has also been used as a warehouse, office space and a small brewery.

Berkshire film studios to expand

The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead Council had approved the expansion of the existing commercial filming use at Bray Studios in Berkshire.

The development would see the construction of a number of new studio and workshop buildings, as well as the use of adjoining land for outdoor filming purposes – for a temporary period of two years.

The site is in the green belt and the proposed development was deemed to have special circumstances for its approval.

The permission was secured by consultancy Nexus Planning on behalf of Farmglade Ltd.

Oliver Bell, director at Nexus Planning’s Reading office, explained that the proposed development would generate “substantial economic benefits” for the local area. 

“This includes the creation of 400 to 600 direct and indirect jobs on a day-to-day basis, and up to approximately 1,000 at peak times, as well as the investment of millions of pounds in the UK economy as a whole. Collectively, the economic benefits were found to clearly outweigh any harm to the green belt, so we’re pleased the council accepted the very special circumstances which existed in this development.”

Bray Studios has most recently been used to film the Elton John biopic, Rocketman, and the BBC’s Dracula television series.  

National park approves homes plan

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority's planning committee has approved an application for the construction of eight homes in Austwick in Craven.

This brings the number of extant permissions for new homes in the park to 472. 

The site is allocated to new homes in the local plan.

Jim Munday, member champion for development management, said: “These houses are very much needed in Austwick, just as houses are needed in towns and villages across the national park to help retain a critical mass of population to maintain local services. 

“Some planning committee members expressed disappointment that none of the eight houses was to be affordable or local occupancy.  However, the developer will be required to provide a proportionate sum of money that will then be used to support affordable housing at other sites in the national park that would not come forward without funding.”

Munday added that before work can begin on site, further permission would need to be sought for the heating system. “We will be working hard with the applicant to make sure renewable energy is installed, in line with the authority’s commitment to address the climate and nature emergency.”

Plans to protect South West rail link submitted

Network Rail has submitted plans to Teignbridge District Council for the remainder of the new £80 million Dawlish sea wall.

This seeks to help protect the “vital” rail line to the South West from rising sea levels and extreme weather for the next 100 years.

Work on the first section of the wall, at Marine Parade, is expected to be completed this summer. 

Plans for section two should see the wall run for 415 metres between Coastguards and Colonnade breakwaters. They also include a new accessible footbridge at the station and a wider safer promenade that retains the views of the coast.

Network Rail has submitted the plans for prior approval under its permitted development rights while Listed Building Consent is also being sought from the council as the work is attached to the grade II listed-Dawlish station.

Councillors approve Rotherham leisure plans

Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council has approved plans for Forge Island, a mixed-use development that includes a greater choice of food and drink outlets.

Muse Developments Ltd will be working with the council to deliver the leisure destination, which forms a key part of the Town Centre Masterplan.

The council’s cabinet member for jobs and the local economy, Denise Lelliott, said: “It’s fantastic to see the plans for Forge Island approved by the planning board, which is particularly important as the town centre begins to find its feet again as lockdown eases a little. We know residents are keen to see the area develop and this is an important milestone towards delivering a scheme which is a catalyst for the wider regeneration of the rest of the town centre.”

Living wall approved in London

The City of London Corporation has granted planning approval for a five-storey living wall to be built at 20 Cousin Lane.

Approximately two metric tonnes of recycled aluminium and 1.5 tonnes of compost, made from recycled garden waste, will be used to build the wall.

The project, for client PSR Agency Limited, is the culmination of work between planners at the city corporation, Veolia UK and Red Squirrel Architects.

It seeks to represent circular economy principles and demonstrate how recycling plays an important role in protecting and preserving the environment, said the corporation.

Cans recovered from Veolia UK’s Materials Recovery Facility in Southwark, which sorts recycling collected from homes and businesses in the City of London, will be shredded and recast by a specialist metal fabricator near London into latticed modular honeycomb panels. The aluminium panels will be hung within a grid of recycled steel girders. 

Compost made from recycled garden waste will be used to plant an extensive wall and planter boxes on the building’s façades.

The project is expected to be completed next year.

Consultancy becomes carbon-neutral 

Planning consultancy Turley has announced it has become a carbon-neutral company as part of its continuing commitment to tackle the climate emergency and encourage a green economic recovery.

It has voluntarily reported its carbon footprint since 2016 and explained that it has reduced and offset emissions associated with its activity to achieve CarbonNeutral® company certification in accordance with The CarbonNeutral Protocol. 

Turley then partnered with Natural Capital Partners to develop how to go further. Measures included powering offices with renewable energy and funding a high-quality carbon offset project to address remaining unavoidable emissions.

This project provides communities in Kenya with access to clean groundwater and is community-managed by teams with a 50/50 gender split. This reduces pressure on nearby forests, empowers local people and improves the health of families.

Turley said it is also funding projects to deliver tree cover growth and enhance biodiversity through the restoration of mangroves on Mtwapa Creek, near Mombasa, and supporting new woodland in Cumbria under the UK’s Woodland Carbon Code.

The carbon-neutral strategy was developed with the firm’s in-house sustainability team.

23 June 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner