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Planning News - 30 July 2020

Published: Thursday, 30th July 2020

MPs propose that planning fees should be set locally, South East in transport devolution bid, District councils concerned about meeting housing targets, 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 Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) Committee has recommended that the ability to set planning fees should be devolved to local authorities, with a national minimum rate. 

Building More Social Housing states that it is “imperative” that local planning authorities have the right resources to deliver the social housing needed in England and so they can guarantee that private developers deliver “sufficient” social housing on new developments. 

The report finds that 90,000 social homes will be needed every year to meet demand. Delivering this number would also help the government to meet its target of building 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s. 

But current social building levels are in the low thousands, the committee explains. A “significant” increase in funding support for local authorities and housing providers – as well as broader reforms to make land more affordable and allowing local authorities to use all right-to-buy receipts – would aid “the necessary uplift” to meet demand.

HCLG Committee outlines the statistics

  • 83,700 households are in temporary accommodation, 82 per cent more than in 2010.
  • 165 per cent – the percentage by which the number of people sleeping rough has increased in the same period. 
  • Since 1981, over a million homes have been lost from social housing stock and in 2019 only 6,827 new homes were built. 

According to the committee, local authorities and social housing providers are at the limit of what can be achieved using current funding mechanisms, with the impact of Covid-19 – socially and financially – likely to increase the burden on “a social housing system that is already under significant strain”. 

Although the HCLG Committee welcomes the removal of the borrowing cap, it thinks it “will not have a sufficient impact”. Instead, £10 billion in extra grant funding is required to deliver the homes needed.

To reduce spending from the public purse, the government should reform land value capture, assemble and use public land for social housing, and redistribute expenditure from existing budgets.

The report says investment in social housing provides a social benefit, an economic boost that pays for itself over time, and an increase in housebuilding would provide a jobs boost during the current economic uncertainty.

Chair of the committee Clive Betts commented: “The collapse of social housing building since the 1980s has had terrible consequences on our ability to provide adequate housing for those who need it. The last decade has seen a surge in families living in temporary accommodation and people rough sleeping, while at the same time we have come to rely on the private rental sector to shore up the creaking social housing capacity.”

He said the committee believes that building 90,000 social homes a year is achievable.

“We believe this target can be reached in five years, but only if the government gives providers sufficient financial backing and reforms the wider landscape that social housing providers operate in. They must ensure that the money is there to build, that land is available to build on and allow flexibility to buy surplus housing where it is not needed in the private sector. The system must ensure that any housing sold via right to buy is replaced like-for-like, and that local authorities are allowed to retain all the receipts produced to enable them to achieve this.

“This must be a long-term commitment to creating a social housing system that meets long-term demand. It will be challenging but it is achievable.”

The recommendations include:

  • The government should link local incomes to a definition of affordability, rather than using ‘affordable’ as a synonym for below market rent or market value.
  • Reform the Land Compensation Act 1961 – something the committee said is “well overdue”. It should be amended so that local authorities and development corporations have the power to compulsorily purchase land at a fairer price. The present right of landowners to receive ‘hope value’ reduces revenues and opportunities for social housing. Compensation paid by landowners should be determined by an independent expert panel, which we expect will deliver a fairer deal than the current model.
  • The government’s public land disposal strategy needs a wholesale redesign, not more of the same. The government needs to think less about disposal, and more about assembly. Homes England should take a central role in coordinating public land to be used for social housing, by being tasked with identifying suitable land, including a joined-up approach with land owned by local authorities, as well as purchasing private land suitable for social housing. With the committee’s suggested reforms to the Land Compensation Act 1961, this land would be easier to purchase and more affordable.
  • The government should publish annual net addition targets for the following tenures: social rent, affordable rent, intermediate rent and affordable homeownership. This will improve transparency and accountability of the government’s record on affordable housing. It will also make clear the contribution affordable housing will make to the government’s 300,000 new homes per year target. This is “crucial”, the committee explains, as housebuilding in England has only ever surpassed 300,000 in a year when social housing has made a significant contribution. 
  • First Homes should be added as an affordable housing scheme under annex 2 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), so that local planning authorities can set out policies for which affordable tenures, including First Homes, best meet the needs of their local communities. The current proposals have the potential to negatively impact on social housing delivery. Furthermore, significant regional variations in the value of planning obligations, which are especially low in the north of England, would mean on some development sites, First Homes might squeeze out all other tenures or by itself make the development unviable. 
  • Local authorities should receive 100 per cent of right to buy receipts. The time limit for using these receipts to fund a replacement should be extended to five years, rather than three. Councils should also be allowed to combine receipts with other pots, like grant funding, to maximise flexibility. Receipts must be used to fund like-for-like tenure replacements: a sold social rent home should be replaced with a new social rent home. Without these changes, right to buy will make achieving the development of the desired 90,000 properties per annum unachievable.
  • In line with the five-year period that covers discount repayment, the government should prevent right to buy homes being privately let within five years of purchase. This will require legislating to implement a covenant against letting for a five-year period. This is not without precedent: help to buy properties include a covenant that prevents private renting. The government’s justification is that help to buy is designed to assist you to move on or up the housing ladder, words that could apply just as aptly to right to buy.



David Renard, housing spokesman for the Local Government Association (LGA), said: “We are pleased the committee backs our call for tens of thousands of social homes to be built every year, and for this to be supported by an increase in funding for councils, and reform to right to buy.

“We also very much support the committee in asking that the government works with the LGA to ensure right to buy does not lead to a reduction in social housing.

“Housing must be a central part of the national recovery from coronavirus. Now is the time for a genuine renaissance in council housebuilding that reduces homelessness, gets rough sleepers off the streets for good, supports people’s wellbeing and is climate-friendly.”

Crispin Truman, chief executive of countryside charity CPRE, said: “It has never been more important to deliver better-quality and genuinely affordable homes for everyone and that needs to include rural communities. Not only are decent homes vital for our health and wellbeing, but affordable and socially rented homes make communities more resilient. Our recent analysis revealed a shocking 96 per cent of rural areas are unaffordable for care workers on private rents. Investing in genuinely affordable homes in rural areas will ensure more key workers can live in the areas they serve and services in those areas can recruit the key workers they need.  

“But the dismal building rates of good-quality social housing in rural areas is a scandal that has been ignored by the government for too long. We welcome the committee’s report and urge the government to make social houses for key workers a key part of the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic by ramping up building rates of well-designed, truly affordable and socially rented housing in rural areas as part of the levelling-up agenda. Only then will a fair recovery to the coronavirus pandemic in the countryside be in our sights.”

Building More Social Housing can be found on the UK Parliament website (pdf).

27 July 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Transport for the South East has submitted a bid to the government to become a statutory body so that it can accelerate investment in sustainable transport. 

Backed by a coalition of public and private sector organisations including councils, business groups, transport operators, and passenger groups, the proposal is also designed to “power-up” the region’s economic recovery from Covid-19.

If transport secretary Grant Shapps agrees to devolve powers and the bid is approved by Parliament, Transport for the South East would become a statutory subnational transport body. It would be able to influence government decision-making on transport issues and have the power to deliver improvements to the South East’s transport network.

Keith Glazier, chair of Transport for the South East, said: “The South East is a true powerhouse for the UK economy, contributing more than any other region outside London. It’s the country’s principal international gateway for people and goods and drives productivity and prosperity across the UK.

“Our transport strategy sets out how investment in a more sustainable transport network will help our economy recover and grow, delivering a green transport revolution that will create jobs, boost quality of life and help cut carbon emissions to net zero.

“Transport for the South East has quickly emerged as a powerful and effective partnership for our region, but delivering on our ambitions will require more than just partnership working. That’s why we want to formalise our role as the South East’s voice for strategic transport by becoming a statutory body.

“Statutory status will mean we can work with government to decide how and where money is spent on our region’s transport network and give us the powers we need to accelerate schemes and projects which are better for people, better for business and better for the planet.”

Formed in 2017, Transport for the South East brings together 16 local transport authorities and five local economic partnerships, together with Network Rail and Highways England to set out the region’s transport investment priorities.

The proposals states that a statutory subnational transport body for the South East is “vital” if the region is to increase its influence with the government and key stakeholders; secure investment in pan-regional strategic transport corridors; deliver sustainable economic growth, while protecting and enhancing the environment, reducing emissions and promoting social inclusion; and enable long-term planning. 

Transport for the South East is seeking the powers and responsibilities to:

  • Develop and implement a strategic investment plan for the region.
  • Act as ‘one voice’ for the South East in agreeing investment priorities with the transport secretary.
  • Become a statutory partner in road and rail investment decisions.
  • Improve bus services for passengers and provide improved alternatives to car travel.
  • Coordinate the delivery of region-wide integrated smart ticketing.
  • Implement road-charging schemes linked to Clean Air Zones to improve quality of life for people in the South East.

Transport for the South thinks that devolved powers would support the delivery of its 30-year transport strategy. This sets out how investment in sustainable transport can deliver a shift to public transport from cars, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and tackle poor air quality. It also seeks to better connect its ports and airports and improve transport links for deprived communities. Transport for the South East’s partnership board approved the strategy after a public consultation. 

Transport for the South East's proposal can be found here (pdf).

Laura Edgar, The Planner
27 July 2020 

The District Councils’ Network (DCN) has called on the government to take a pragmatic approach to support councils and amend existing planning guidelines as planning authorities are concerned about delivering their housing targets owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The representative body for 187 district councils in England with responsibility for planning and housebuilding has warned that these councils could be unfairly penalised.

Construction on new homes was halted in March as the government implemented a lockdown intended to stem the spread of the virus. A DCN survey* shows that 57 per cent of respondents are “very concerned” about being able to sustain a supply of land for housing over the next five years and meet their housing targets. They are worried this could lead to speculative developments despite planning departments working and deciding planning applications throughout lockdown.

As a result of not having a land supply, the DCN noted that local planning policies will not apply and areas could see developments that are refused because of objections from local residents, for example, able to proceed on appeal.

As long-awaited planning reforms are expected to be published this week, the DCN has called on the government to “take a pragmatic approach to support councils, and amend existing planning guidelines”.

This comes as the DCN’s new survey found that more than half (57 per cent) of respondents were very concerned about the impact of coronavirus on being able to sustain a supply of land for housing over the next five years – known as the five-year land supply.

Of the respondents, 62 per cent fear they would not meet the government’s housing delivery test, meaning developments “would be subject to nationally defined planning policies as opposed to local plans agreed by local communities,” DCN explained.

It wants planning guidelines to be amended to take into account the period during which housebuilding did not happen and the slowdown so that councils are not unfairly penalised. The changes should include a suspension of the five-year land supply and housing delivery test requirements.

Mark Crane, DCN lead member for stronger economies, said: “Councils have serious concerns that they will be unfairly penalised as a result of housebuilding slowing down because of the coronavirus crisis.

“The loss of new homes built will have a significant impact on the five-year land supply, which without protection would allow developers to bypass local community wishes.

“We need the government to focus on achieving delivery of housebuilding on allocated sites and avoid the corrosive effects of speculative development where communities don’t have a say.

“District councils want to play a leading role in the national recovery from the pandemic and building desperately needed homes again will be a vital part of this.

“But we cannot compromise on the quality of new homes and places and sideline public consultation. This is why we need the government to step in and suspend the five-year land supply and housing delivery test requirements, and devolve the tools for councils to invest in the infrastructure and building that will create jobs and homes.”

* The survey was sent to 187 district council chief executives, 86 responses to the survey were received, representing 46 per cent of DCN member authorities.

28 July 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner 

Fresh investment and a focus on the latest technology is required to get the housing sector building in London amid the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Mayor Sadiq Khan. 

Khan and professionals from the housing industry have also called for “significant” funding from the government to support affordable housing and modular housing.

He said: “The work of London’s Covid-19 Housing Delivery Taskforce has been collaborative, comprehensive and timely. Building the social and other genuinely affordable homes Londoners need has always been my top priority but the pandemic has challenged that ambition like nothing before.  

“Now we have a unique opportunity to reboot the London housing sector. This roadmap to recovery builds on the skills, expertise and experience we have whilst investing in the latest technology and training to maintain our world-leading workforce.

“The housing industry is speaking with one voice and its message is clear. Now ministers must listen and support our recommendations so we can emerge from this crisis with improved resilience, a greater sense of cooperation and a new-found resolve to deliver the genuinely affordable homes that London so desperately needs.”

The plan takes its lead from deputy mayor Tom Copley’s Covid-19 Housing Delivery Taskforce, which believes it is “essential” to develop the skills and expertise of existing workforce and “build on the successes” of the mayor’s Construction Academy by training new construction workers through apprenticeship and training programmes. Further, to ensure London remains an attractive place for skilled construction site workers from overseas, a post-Brexit visa system for construction workers should be developed.

The taskforce’s final report identifies a number of actions aimed at helping London’s housing sector recover, including developing skills in modern methods of construction in particular is key. It has called on both the Greater London Authority (GLA) and the government to invest in this technology to support businesses so they can expand operations and develop environmentally friendly products to help the industry achieve a zero-carbon future.

Recommendations also include:

  • A £4.83 billion recovery package from the government to provide confidence to the housing industry in the short term. This should comprise a £1.33 billion programme to facilitate changes of tenure in the remaining three years of the Affordable Homes Programme, and a £3.5 billion buyer of last resort scheme. 
  • City Hall and Whitehall to cooperate on a campaign to promote the construction sector as a career that can be considered by all, whether young people finishing their studies and entering the job market for the first time, people changing careers, or those whose jobs are at risk due to the economic impact of Covid-19, alongside a major investment in apprenticeships.
  • Government and City Hall to step up efforts to bring forward land that is ready for development, including public land for affordable housing-led development and sites suitable for smaller builders. This should include the government granting public bodies such as councils and the GLA powers to compulsorily purchase land much more cheaply.

Kate Henderson, chief executive at the National Housing Federation (NHF), said: “Investing in housing is one of the most important steps the government can take to help get the economy moving again. As well as being the right thing to do, putting money into new social housing always pays dividends through support for jobs, businesses and the wider economy. Indeed, building the 90,000 new social homes this country needs every year would add £4.8 billion to the economy and support 86,000 jobs. This is why it’s vital that the coronavirus pandemic doesn't get in the way of tackling the housing crisis.”

Darren Rodwell, London Councils’ executive member for housing & planning, added: “We need a new deal for London’s housing sector in line with the government’s commitment to ‘build, build, build’.

“Boroughs are playing a leading role in tackling the capital’s chronic shortage of affordable homes. This includes embracing innovative new approaches, such as our collaborative project PLACE that will use modular housing units as high-quality temporary accommodation for homeless Londoners.

“But with the sector under massive pressure due to Covid-19, there’s a clear and urgent need for government support. Only central government has the resources to boost housebuilding in the capital with an emergency recovery package, which would secure jobs and help us deliver the homes Londoners need.”

The report can be found here on the GLA website.

22 July 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

A new neighbourhood providing hundreds of new homes at Penllergaer around 7.5 kilometres north-west of Swansea city centre and close to junction 47 of the M4 was backed this week by the city council’s planning committee.

Bellway Homes’ scheme, known as Parc Mawr, is the subject of a holding direction by Welsh ministers who must decide whether to call it in or refer it back to the planning authority.

Members supported a hybrid application for a residential-led, mixed-use development of up to 850 new homes, 20 per cent of which would be affordable, a 75-bed care home, a primary school, and a local centre. As well there are proposals for 13 play areas, two sports pitches, a multi-use games area, BMX track, allotments and many walking and cycling routes.   

The committee also approved detailed proposals for phase one of the scheme, which involves 184 dwellings.

The 79.6-hectare site is currently farmland and farm buildings will be demolished if the project goes ahead.

The site is identified as one of four strategic housing development areas in the adopted local development plan. There were about 700 objections to the scheme. 

The planning report considered by members said the application was “a highly significant development proposal for Swansea, the delivery of which would have a transformative impact upon an established residential area”.

Roger Milne, The Planner
23 July 2020 

A round-up of planning news

Action on global urbanisation needed

The Commonwealth Association of Planners (CAP) has issued a call to action to address rapid urbanisation in the Commonwealth.

The RTPI and the Prince’s Foundation have joined CAP in the plea.

In an online event, CAP presented the results of a survey of built environment professions across the Commonwealth. It suggested there is a significant gap in the capacity to respond to rapid urbanisation and the weakness of planning and building regulations in many rapidly urbanising Commonwealth countries. 

Guests at the event included RTPI patron HRH Prince Charles, RTPI president Sue Manns FRTPI and the institute’s immediate past president and CAP vice-president Ian Tant MRTPI. They all championed the role of the built environment and stressed the importance of the Commonwealth in addressing these key challenges.

Speaking after the event, Manns said: “The RTPI remains committed to supporting Commonwealth planners in rising to the challenge of sustainable urbanisation. It is key that Commonwealth countries, including the UK, put forward ambitious objectives to cut carbon emissions from cities ahead of COP26. Planning has a key role to play in that.”

Tant added: “Covid-19 has caused the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Rwanda and COP26 to be postponed, but it is vital that public attention remains focused on the risks of unplanned urbanisation. We must work hard to ensure that the Covid-19 pandemic does not set the clock back after years of progress towards the achievement of the SDGs in many Commonwealth countries.”
New timetable outlined for Fareham plan

Fareham Borough Council has agreed to delay the consultation on its future development strategy due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a virtual full council meeting, councillors were advised that the consultation would be moved from spring/summer 2020 to autumn 2020.

The council has continued to develop its local plan during the lockdown, alongside its response to the pandemic. 

The next step in the plan-making process is to create a ‘publication plan’, which will be submitted to the Planning Inspectorate for independent review after being agreed by executive and full council and undergoing a six-week consultation. 

Owing to social distancing, the usual consultation methods cannot take place. As a result, the councils said there would be a short delay to put methods of consultation in place that would avoid putting any participants at risk. This will include making use of virtual technologies as appropriate.
CYCLOPS junction opens in Manchester

The ‘Cycle Optimised Protected Signals’ junction, which fully segregates cyclists from general traffic, has opened in Manchester. 

Cyclists approach from four ‘arms’, converging onto a cycle track which completely encircles the junction to allow bicycles to make a right turn while being protected from traffic – and to complete the manoeuvre in one movement, dependent on signal timings.

The opening of this junction is the latest milestone in the construction of the £13.4 million Manchester-to-Chorlton cycling and walking route, with the first phase of the project now completed.  

Chorlton Road forms the northern section of the route. It connects Brooks Bar junction to off-road cycle tracks at Chester Road roundabout, which lead into the city centre.

Segregated cycle lanes have been created on Chorlton Road, running from Chester Road to Stretford Road. Work will next begin on the section of Chorlton Road running between Moss Lane East and Stretford Road.  

Chris Boardman, cycling and walking commissioner for Greater Manchester, said: “Crossing busy junctions on foot or by bike can be a complicated and scary experience and is often a huge barrier for people travelling by foot or bike, and having to navigate a number of these can make them opt for the car. 

“This junction design will make journeys easier and smoother for those doing their bit by cycling or walking, without impacting negatively on any other modes. The design is simply genius and I’m not surprised to see other places already adopting the approach.”
£50m for Princes Street regeneration 

Legal & General has announced that it will invest over £50 million into a major regeneration project in Princes Street, Edinburgh. 

The proposals aim to create a hotel and city centre ‘hub’, including shopping, dining, hospitality, and leisure and event space at 109-112 Princes Street.

The announcement was made on behalf of the L&G UK Property Fund.

Plans include a sky bar, basement spa, ‘fine casual’ dining and a new shopping close, linking through to Rose Street. 

It is expected that pre-application consultation proposals will be submitted before the end of July, with an online public consultation taking place rather than a public event because of Covid-19 restrictions. A planning application will be submitted after the consultation.
Electricity storage manual to highlight ‘cutting-edge technology’ unveiled

RenewableUK has launched a manual on energy storage, setting out the wide range of storage technologies now being developed.

This includes renewable hydrogen made from electricity generated by offshore wind farms, which can be used for heating and transport – two sectors that have so far been slow to decarbonise, said RenewableUK.

Electricity Storage: The Cornerstone of the UK’s Future Energy System has been published by Haynes as part of its series of manuals, sponsored by RenewableUK, RCG (Renewables Consulting Group) and Siemens Energy.  

The manual also explores ‘cutting-edge’ projects like the Siemens Green Ammonia Demonstrator, which uses electrolysis, powered by renewable energy, to produce ammonia to be used as a fuel. When this is burned, it turns back into nitrogen and water – without creating any CO2 emissions. 
Gravesend regeneration project approved

Gravesham Borough Council has granted planning permission for Clifton Slipways, a contemporary mixed-use project on West Street in Gravesend. 

The project will be delivered on a brownfield site and is intended to act as a catalyst for further investment in the town centre. 

Clifton Slipways is led by mixed-use developer Quinn Estates and has been designed by architects’ practice Hollaway. 

A £2.9 million restoration of the West Street Pier is at the centre of the scheme, which includes 2,600 square metres of new public realm and the creation of more than 100 long-term jobs. Plans also include 227 one and two-bedroom riverside apartments, of which 10 per cent will be offered at “affordable discount market rent”. 

The wider development will feature public realm improvements, as well as new and improved flood defences. 
Office space in Borough and Bankside to go ahead

Southwark Council has approved plans for an office-led scheme by GMS Estates on Rushworth Street and King’s Bench Street. 

The plans comprise 4,000 square metres of flexible commercial space, suitable for a variety of business sizes and types. The design of the scheme would see the retention and refurbishment of the existing façades to “preserve and enhance” the character of the King’s Bench Conservation Area and the nearby listed buildings. 

Improvements to the public realm are also part of the plans. 

Work is expected to start on site in 2021, with the building scheduled for completion in 2023. 

28 July 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner