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Planning News - 16 July 2020

Published: Thursday, 16th July 2020

Government legislates to ensure all permitted development properties have natural light, Climate crisis compliance accountability needed, Government extends affordable homes scheme, 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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Housing minister Christopher Pincher has laid regulations before Parliament to legislate that homes delivered through permitted development rights must have windows.

The news has been welcomed by Watford’s mayor, Peter Taylor.

Last year, The Planner reported on an inspector’s decision to grant permission for the conversion of an industrial building in Watford to 15 flats, seven of which would have no windows.

The council had blocked the scheme on the grounds that the quality of the accommodation proposed was so poor that the units could not be considered as dwellings, and therefore did not benefit from permitted development rights.

The problems posed by such developments were also raised in the House of Lords last year by Baroness Thornhill MBE, former mayor of Watford. At that time she said that under her watch the town had seen the numbers of these conversions rising since PDR changes were introduced in 2013, and expressed her concern that the work of Shelter, the Town & Country Planning Association, the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England and the Local Government Association had confirmed that the council’s fears were shared by others.

Inspector Steven Rennie acknowledged that “living without a window would not be a positive living environment” but highlighted that “the provisions of the GPDO require the decision-maker to solely assess the impact of the proposed development in relation to the conditions given in paragraph PA.2”.

“The size of individual dwellings to be formed by the change of use and whether they would have windows/ventilation is not a condition of the GPDO” for the change of use proposed, he concluded.

At the time, Taylor stated that it was “a disgrace that central government has set such a low bar for the homes that people are expected to live in”, while other built environment professionals outlined their concerns for human health and wellbeing.

Taylor wrote to then housing secretary James Brokenshire, stressing that it is very difficult to argue that the flats are anything other than “simply not fit for human habitation”.

“They are so brazenly in breach of minimum standards for residential property as set by your own government that it beggars belief that these plans have been approved on appeal,” he said.

Taylor and Watford’s Liberal Democrats campaigned against such homes not having windows.

The plans were later dropped and revised to nine flats – all with windows.

In a letter addressed to Baroness Thornhill, Pincher explains that the new permitted development regulations that he has laid before Parliament will enable buildings to be extended upwards without planning permissions to deliver homes. This commitment was set out in the government's Planning for the Future paper in March.

“The right allows up to two storeys to be added to an existing purpose-built free-standing block of flats, of three storeys or more, to construct new homes,” Pincher explains. This is subject to a maximum height extension limit of 30 metres.

The regulations, he continues, “also introduce a requirement for new homes delivered under permitted development rights to provide adequate natural light in all habitable rooms. This recognises the important contribution permitted development rights make to housing supply while affirming our commitment to the delivery of quality homes”.

Taylor said he is pleased that the government listened to the campaigners and has banned windowless flats, but insisted that it is a “scandal that anyone could approve accommodation that doesn't even have a window. These tiny rooms were simply not fit for human habitation”.  
“However, I am worried about these new rights for developers to build upwards in our town without permission, which will take more powers away from councils and hand them to developers. The government has also failed to say anything about the size of the rooms which people could be living in. 

“We all know the consequences of families living in overcrowded and cramped accommodation. I want everyone in our town to have the right to live in a decent, good-quality home."

Taylor told The Planner that is "simply unacceptable for people to be expected to live in tiny, cramped, unsuitable conditions". The government, he said, "must do better at robustly enforcing their own rules on Nationally Described Space Standards". 

“The government should be giving local people more say, not less. It's important that councils have the powers to reject applications if they are not suitable for their community and do not give local residents a good quality of life.”

Pincher also notes that the regulations include temporary measures to help businesses operate and get people back to work as the lockdown restrictions implemented to stem the spread of Covid-19 are lifted. 

The regulations can be viewed here on the legislation.gov.uk website.

Laura Edgar, The Planner
6 July 2020 


Planning decision-makers should be held to account when it comes to compliance with the climate change duty, according to a new report. 

This includes local authorities and the Planning Inspectorate.

Countryside charity CPRE wants to see a “radical rethink” of the role of the countryside in tackling the climate emergency. The countryside should be at the forefront of climate action so that rural communities “do not bear the brunt of the climate emergency”. 

Greener, Better, Faster: Countryside Solutions to the Climate Emergency and for a Green Recovery sets out the countryside’s role in achieving a net-zero society, for which the UK government has set the target date of 2050. 

Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, said: “Whatever breathing space we had to tackle the climate emergency has already been used up. But some of the best ways to reduce our emissions also make our countryside more resilient, so let’s harness the awesome power of our countryside and rural communities to tackle the climate emergency head-on. That means properly investing in rural public transport, delivering renewables sensitively and investing in nature-based solutions like peatland restoration and hedgerows.” 

As well as accountability for decision-makers, it also recommends that the government does the following:

Planning and building

  • Optimise the recycling of land that’s already been used for buildings by adopting a truly ‘brownfield first’ policy.
  • Radically tighten up building regulations to ensure that new buildings meet zero-carbon standards. Existing buildings should also meet zero-carbon standards in terms of heat and space.

Transport 

  • Introduce a legally binding national carbon budget and reduction pathway to 2045 for the transport sector. Projects that do not contribute towards it should not go ahead.
  • Follow a clear hierarchy for all future transport investment, with money to be spent first on active travel options such as footpaths and cycle lanes, then provision of public transport, and finally car travel.
  • Create a ring-fenced rural transport fund to support public transport services for rural communities that need to be better connected. 

Energy

  • Immediately disincentivise all exploration and development for coal, oil and gas, and apply a strict energy hierarchy to future supply, prioritising demand reduction and energy efficiency and then renewables.
  • Invest in a new generation of renewables, done in a way that benefits the rural economy, is supported by local communities, benefits wildlife, and minimises impacts on landscape, tranquillity and cultural heritage.
  • Empower local communities to shape their energy future, both financially and through the introduction of participative approaches to planning for rural energy schemes.

Food and farming

  • Introduce an action plan for the land use sector to rapidly re-wet and restore peatland, expand woodland and agroforestry, drive uptake of agroecological practices to boost soil health and drive down emissions from inefficient use of synthetic nutrients.
  • Commit to implementing an ambitious national food strategy to alter food demand to support improved health and sustainable low-carbon land use.
  • Urgently resource and commission a comprehensive national evidence base of land capability including properties of soils, land and other natural assets.

The report was launched at a virtual panel discussion yesterday (9 July) – who said what?

Luke Pollard MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

“Britain’s not just facing one emergency at the moment, I think we’re being buffeted by three simultaneous challenges and crises. The climate emergency that you’ve set out clearly, the coronavirus and the hurricane of economic disruption that’s following it. And then the uncertainty and probable disruption that’s going to follow with Brexit. If any one of those challenges were to be faced by any government, that would be a considerable drain on the ability to deliver, but all three hitting us at the same time basically means that there can be no going back to business as usual. We need a complete paradigm shift in the way that government approaches these issues. And, a different approach to the way that government actually operates.

“We need to strip away this cross-party contention, we need to do the right thing for our communities. And that means being bolder about it. And in particular, making sure that the boldness is in the action, not just in the topspin put on the sound bites, because we have the adoption of a sound bites and victory of PR and media over the substance, and we won’t be achieving that change that we need to, we’ll continue with a carbon-intensive sector, will continue with our natural landscape being eroded and destroyed. And that’s why we have that urgency of action.”

Baroness Natalie Bennett, former leader of the Green Party

“I know what it’s like cycling in rural areas, and it can be very, very frightening cycling on roads. So how do we think about making sure that cycling isn’t something that people do to get around in cities? We also really need to think about the countryside, and as your report makes clear, building new roads is not the answer. We need to think about roads being for people. And that’s a shift that we’re starting to see in cities but we need to see it right across the country and so you know, we have to ensure that people can cycle around villages, can even walk around villages.”

Freddie Northcott, youth climate activist

“As this report shows, solutions exist and have been tested and shown to work. They are simply not adopted on a wider scale owing to the lack of central funding and planning for such. The CPRE report makes this explicitly clear and I quote – “Unfortunately, there is inadequate funding for such landscape scale enhancement projects that are vital in tackling the climate emergency’.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has given this country and this government a golden ticket to reset our systems. To think about the way in which we do things and change them for the better... We need to be more ambitious, we need to decarbonise more quickly. Next year in 2050, and this will become only more difficult at the later stages. The struggle we face is immense. And there is no way to hide that. What is crazy to me is that the quicker we do things, the easier they will be.”

Rebecca Pow MP, Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

“I think there’s a lot of negativity being spread. Because actually, we are taking climate change seriously we are taking net zero seriously. We've actually legislated for that. The first economy in the G7 to do that and I was one of the backbenchers absolutely wishing for that.

“This government, and the prime minister’s commitment to green resilient levelling up as we move forward, across the country and that includes obviously not just urban areas, but those really important rural and coastal areas and putting them at the heart of our rebalancing... I hope that you all recognise the 40 million pound green recovery challenge fund we launched last week, the prime minister announced it. Luke shaking his head, but it’s been warmly welcomed and it sets us on a good track for protecting 2,000 jobs, you must think that’s a good idea. 2,000 jobs and creating another 3,000 because without a shadow of a doubt, we do need an army, a green army of ecologists, environmentalists, soil scientists, all of those people that will help us move forward on this green trajectory to deliver the things we need to deliver, whether it’s nature recovery networks, bio net gain or indeed if we want to speed up planning."

The report can be found here on the CPRE website (pdf).

Read more: 

Regenerate the countryside to regenerate the economy, says CPRE

Laura Edgar, The Planner
9 July 2020 


Housing secretary Robert Jenrick has announced that the Affordable Homes Programme will be extended until March 2023.

This has been done, the government explained, because the creation of an estimated 53,000 affordable homes has been delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting lockdown.

Work on homes to be built under the £9 billion scheme was originally to have begun by March 2022. The extension means that housing associations and councils have a year longer to begin building these homes while still receiving government support, “giving them the flexibility and certainty they need to keep building across the country”.

Last week, the government confirmed that the new £12 billion Affordable Homes Programme – due to start in 2021 – will support up to 180,000 new affordable homes, including for shared ownership and social rent. It was announced by chancellor Rishi Sunak in March's Budget.

Jenrick said: “We’ve listened closely to the sector and agreed that there will now have a longer deadline for using government funding to get these homes built. Building the homes the country needs is central to the mission of this government as we prioritise uniting and levelling up the country.”

Laura Edgar, The Planner
9 July 2020 


A report has suggested that the introduction of a planning classification for retirement communities could incentivise the development of them and make it easier for councils to include them in local plans.

Such a classification would also keep people out of hospital for longer and improve wellbeing.

According to the authors of the report, the Associated Retirement Community Operators (ARCO) and the County Councils Network (CCN), retirement communities could play a “hugely important preventative role” in addressing the adult social care crisis. Reforms for adult social care have been delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Planning for Retirement: How Retirement Communities Can Help Meet the Needs of Our Ageing Population sets out how local authorities and providers can work together to increase housing-with-care provision for older people if the government equips local authorities with tools to incentivise growth of them.

It points out that in the UK only 0.6 per cent of over-65s live in a retirement community, compared to New Zealand and Australia where it is nearly 6 per cent. 

The report states: "Confusion about retirement communities is also generated by the binary nature of the current planning system, given that retirement communities combine elements of both the C2 class for residential institutions and C3 class for dwelling houses."

Introducing a C2R classification would “better enable” local councils to include retirement communities in their local plans. It would also reduce complexity and confusion for councils and providers when planning for these types of specialist developments, as well as help prevent the development of substandard retirement communities that do provide the correct care and amenities.

Furthermore, local authorities should analyse current and future need for older people’s housing and care in their local plans, while the government should establish a framework for closer collaboration between council types in two tier authorities. The reports suggests that to ensure there is "clear strategic integration of housing and social care policy in two-tier areas, government should set out a duty to co-operate to help facilitate district council representation on health and wellbeing boards and county council representation on Strategic Housing Boards in all areas".

If by 2030 250,000 people live in retirement communities that offer care, 560,000 bedrooms could be available on the market, according to ARCO.

David Williams, chairman of the CCN, said: “Retirement communities are currently a fringe part of the adult social care conversation, but the benefits they can bring to people’s wellbeing, reducing unnecessary hospital admissions, and freeing up half a million bedrooms shows that they should be a prime part of the solution to many of the societal challenges we face.

“The report contains some bold yet easily implementable recommendations, not least in introducing a new planning classification to cut down on confusion, bureaucracy, and a clear specification for councils to include in their assessment of housing and care needs. These reforms could help turbocharge the development of retirement communities over the next decade.

“When looking at examples of other countries, it is clear the concept has yet to take off in England. But a small step change, aided by freedoms and tools from government, could usher in big results.”

Nick Sanderson, chair of ARCO, added: “The retirement community sector is ready to play its part in partnership with councils in delivering good housing-with-care to hundreds of thousands more older people. The coronavirus outbreak has shown just how important it is to have a strong and sustainable care system for older people, ready to take the strain off the NHS at all times.

“Policy makers should take heed of these recommendations and act now. A housing and care revolution is within reach if the government is prepared to do the right thing.”

Planning for Retirement: How Retirement Communities Can Help Meet the Needs of Our Ageing Population can be downloaded from the County Councils Network website

Laura Edgar, The Planner
13 July 2020 


Dacorum Borough Council has acquired land from Homes England for affordable housing close to the centre of Hemel Hempstead.

The homes should be built at Paradise Fields on St Albans Road within two years.

The purchase is part of the council’s commitment to improve its offer of affordable rented housing in this area.

Plans comprise developing three low-rise apartment blocks. The “energy efficient” homes will be a mix of one and two-bedroom apartments, and communal parking and landscaped garden facilities will also be provided.  

According to the council, the design of the development “respects the existing external environment and includes carefully designed landscaping that will encourage existing wild habitats to continue to thrive and flourish in their natural environment”.

Margaret Griffiths, deputy leader of the council and portfolio holder for housing, said: “Over the past five years, Dacorum Borough Council has delivered hundreds of new homes to meet housing need across the borough. Paradise Fields is a prime town centre site that will enable more local families to enjoy a home they can be proud of. We are delighted that this purchase will also secure the future of a much-valued green open space for all to enjoy.”

Laura Edgar, The Planner
9 July 2020


A round-up of planning news

255 homes approved in West Sussex

Adur & Worthing Councils have granted planning permission for a waterside regeneration project on the River Adur, between Southwick and Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex.

The £40 million mixed-use scheme comprises 255 homes, with some affordable; flood defences for Shoreham Harbour and the surrounding area; a publicly accessible river walk to the site’s southern river edge; the widening and greening of the A259 Brighton Road to the north to provide space for a future planned cycleway; and a pedestrian footpath. There is also potential to connect to the planned district heating network. 

The homes will be a mix of one, two and three bedroom properties. Car and cycling provision, as well as electric vehicle charging, also form part of the plans. 

The site is former industrial land at Kingston Wharf. The approval was granted to international architecture and design practice Conran and Partners and the Hyde Group.
 
Cherwell to review local plan

Cherwell District Council has announced it is going to review its local plan. A meeting of the executive has approved a draft of 'Planning for Cherwell to 2040 - A Community Involvement Paper'. 

The existing plan was adopted in 2015 and covered the period 2011-2031. The new plan will cover the period to 2040.

A six-week consultation will take place during July and August, and the council will announce the start of the consultation shortly.
 
Dft looking for decarbonisation ideas

The Department for Transport (DfT) has launched a call for ideas on steps it should take to reduce emissions from transport.

The consultation also asks for ideas on creating a plan to ensure UK transport is net zero in emissions by 2050.

It builds on a policy paper released by the DfT in March 2020 - Decarbonising transport: setting the challenge.

The consultation can be found here.
 
£40m for nuclear technology

The UK Government has announced £40 million of funding as it seeks to unlock thousands of green jobs by developing the next generation of nuclear energy technology.

Part of the funding - £30 million - will support three Advanced Modular Reactor (AMR) projects. These are smaller than traditional nuclear plants and use intense heat generated in nuclear reactions to produce low-carbon electricity. 

The projects are Tokamak Energy in Oxfordshire, U-Battery in Cheshire and Westinghouse in Lancashire. Each will receive £10 million.

The remaining £10 million will be invested into unlocking smaller research, design and manufacturing projects, which the government expects will create up to 200 jobs.
 
Covid-19: 230,000 renters at risk of eviction when ban lifts 

Research by the charity Shelter suggests that around 227,000 adult private renters (3 per cent) have fallen into arrears since the start of the pandemic.

This means, explains Shelter, that they could lose their homes when the evictions ban ends on 23 August.  

Under the current court system, anyone who accrues rent arrears of eight weeks or more can be automatically evicted. They are also at risk of being subjected to a Section 21 ‘no fault’ eviction. 

Shelter has warned that unless the government acts to protect these renters, once the ban lifts judges will be "powerless" to stop them from losing their homes.  

According to a Shelter poll carried out by YouGov, 174,000 private tenants have already been threatened with eviction by their landlord or letting agent, which equates to 6 per cent who’ve had some contact or 2 per cent of private tenants overall. 

In total, there are 442,000 private renters in arrears, double the number from the same period last year. 

Polly Neate, chief executive at Shelter, said: "The housing secretary promised no-one would lose their home because of coronavirus. But the financial chaos of Covid-19 means that many private renters are in danger of being evicted when the current ban lifts. Unless he acts now, he will break his promise, and put thousands of renters at risk of homelessness."
 
Application submitted for recyling facility

Waste management firm Veolia has submitted a planning application for an Advanced Energy Recovery Facility, near Alton, to Hampshire County Council.

It says the facility will save 65,000 tonnes of carbon emissions a year compared with sending the waste to landfill.

This planning application is for a "state of the art" facility thath will utilise non recyclable residual waste to produce power for the National Grid.  It will provide enough electricity for 75,000 Hampshire homes, and create over 300 jobs during construction, plus 40 permanent roles once operational, Veolia said.

The final application can be viewed on the Veolia website.
 
Centre House to be redeveloped into 500 new homes

Hammersmith & Fulham Council has approved proposals to transform Centre House in White City into a residential-led development.

Developer St James, part of the Berkeley Group, secured the consent, which is part of the 10-acre White City Living regeneration scheme comprising a total of 2,300 homes.

Designed by architects Pilbrow and Partners, the proposals at Centre House are for 527 new apartments "within a gently curved crescent and two landmark 22-storey and 32-storey buildings". Of the homes, 185 (35 per cent) will be affordable homes. They will be allocated to staff at Imperial College London and other key workers.

The scheme will also provide 10,000 square feet of new commercial space for Imperial College London and new pedestrian access routes.

Work is expected to start in late autumn.

Laura Edgar, The Planner
14 July 2020