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Planning news - 12 November 2020

Published: Thursday, 12th November 2020

MHCLG’s chief planner urges local authorities to get a plan in place, Report and toolkits seek to measure the value of planning in more holistic ways. 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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England’s chief planner Joanna Averley has urged local authorities not to let the planning white paper prevent them getting their local plans in place.

Speaking at the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transport (ADEPT) autumn conference about the government’s proposals for planning reform, set out in Planning for the Future, she warned that the white paper is a “really important” document that isn’t about issuing new Planning Practice Guidance (PPG), while the process won’t be finished in the next couple of months.

“We’ll be going into the next stage of policy development now, and developing the policy through the coming months," she explained.

She and the government are conscious that a transition to any change in the planning system is significant – “it’s politically significant, it’s significant on the resources of local government, and it’s significant in terms of how communities engage with the process”. As a result, there is “a bit of uncertainty going forward” for people.

But to anyone wavering and thinking about what this means for their local plan process, “please don't let that impact on your progress in your current plans. It’s really important that we have up-to-date plans in place”.  

Averley said feedback on the proposals so far suggests that respondents to the consultation are “up for” digitisation, “but obviously people want to ensure that the resources are in place and the know-how is in place to enable that to happen”

“We're very conscious,” she continued, “that the quality of the data is the thing to get right.”

Regarding local plans, “as you know we’re looking to create a system that will have simpler plans – ones that are less paper-heavy, [have] less duplication of national-level policies, but actually look at land in ways that talk about growth, renewal, protection and give us a simpler consenting process that goes with different area-based allocations”.


On the current situation, she highlighted that the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated trends that were already happening, for example, the decline of high streets, and created new dynamics, “the outcomes of which we can’t be certain about yet”.

These include the role of and how we use our homes and the spaces that people live in, right down to gardens and outdoor areas

“I think that’s a very strong agenda for all of us moving forward in our personal lives – the questions about our professional lives and how we see the role and purpose of the home, particularly that and its relationship to our places of work. I think there is a general expectation that our work patterns have changed. And I won’t say forever, but our work patterns and commuting patterns have changed and therefore the occupancy of commercial floor space may have changed in our towns and city centres.”

She said that it could not yet be known what this will actually mean in the future, what people’s habits and professional and commercial drivers are going to be. 

This leaves built environment professionals with questions about occupancy levels within town and city centres and what that means for commercial buildings.

Additionally, the power of local, and the relationship, both economically and socially, to local has also slightly changed, Averley noted.

Overall, economically it is expected the country will bounce back in 2022/2023, but next year will be “a bit bumpy”, “so for all of us, it’s about understanding trends and understanding how they start to impact on our built and natural environment”.

10 November 2020
Laura Edgar

The RTPI has published an ‘innovative’ way to measure and demonstrate the value of planning and how it helps to create sustainable and successful places.

Measuring What Matters: Planning Outcomes Research, has been designed to look beyond simple measurements – such as the speed at which applications are processed or the number of houses built – and to introduce a more holistic approach.

Launched as part of World Town Planning Day, it is part of a research project funded by the institute, the Irish, Scottish and Welsh governments, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and the Office of the Planning Regulator in Ireland.

The project builds on steps taken by the nations to improve ways in which planning performance can be measured in terms of outcomes on the ground. It comprises a report and a series of toolkits that can be adapted by local planning authorities across the UK and Ireland to improve their outcome measurement, the institute says.

Craig McLaren, RTPI director of Scotland and Ireland, said: “Good planning can support the post Covid-19 recovery to move towards a green economy, help achieve zero-carbon targets and improve communities’ health and wellbeing. Indeed, this has been outlined in our recent research Plan the World We Need. But to date, we have not had an effective way of measuring those outcomes or to show the value planning, planners and the planning system bring.

“We need to measure what matters and although this is complex it is essential to determine whether and how the potential wider benefits of planning are being realised. The toolkit can support governments and planning authorities to do that through providing a clearer understanding of how the planning system is performing.”

Led by Kevin Murray Associates (KMA), a consortium of planning consultancies and academics from across the UK and Ireland, delivered the research.

Iain MacPherson from KMA said: “If you are what you measure, this risks a system in which success is viewed narrowly through the prism of process and performance, and does not necessarily deliver on quality of life and physical place.

“At a time when we need planning to respond to economic and societal pressures, it needs to demonstrate that it delivers the public interest and longer-term environmental outcomes.”

The toolkit has been piloted in Ireland and Scotland. It seeks to enable planners to monitor, evaluate and even repurpose planning in the public interest.

Measuring What Matters: Planning Outcomes Research can be found on the RTPI website.

9 November 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

The value of construction contract awards in September 2020 was £5.4 billion based on a three-month rolling average – 21.2 per cent higher than in August.

It is also 13.8 per cent higher than September 2019, but Tom Hall, chief economist at Barbour ABI and AMA Research, warns that the rise is probably down to catch-up from lost activity earlier in the year due to Covid-19 restrictions.

For the third quarter of 2020, Barbour ABI's analysis suggests that construction contract awards totalled £13.5 billion, an increase of 47.1 per cent when compared with Q2. However, it is 8.4 per cent lower than the third quarter of 2019.

The industry analyst's Economic & Construction Market Review shows that the residential sector accounted for 32.8 per cent of the contracts awarded, followed by infrastructure with a share of 20.8 per cent.

The commercial and retail sector accounted for 16.1 per cent of the total.

Regionally, 22.6 per cent of the awards were for projects in London. The second largest region was the East of England, with 13.7 per cent of awards. The West Midlands accounted for 11.0 per cent of awards.

Hall said: “After three months of recovering activity, contract awards over July-September returned to pre-Covid-19 average levels. Given the size of the shock to the construction industry and the wider economy that is cause for celebration. However, these numbers will contain an element of catch-up from the lost activity in April-June, so underlying activity is likely to be somewhat weaker than the headline numbers. The recovery so far has been evident more in the public and infrastructure sectors, with the commercially minded sectors remaining slightly subdued.

“With significant uncertainties remaining, it will be interesting to see how the situation evolves over the coming months.”

More information can be found on the Barbour ABI website.

5 November 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

North Somerset Council’s executive team has endorsed a 10-year vision that seeks to address issues faced by the high street in an inclusive way that focuses on wellbeing.

Like many areas, the town has pockets of disadvantage, which the council wants to address through projects identified as part of the strategy.

The strategy was put together following a period of consultation run by architecture firm Turner Works. It engaged with the community to find out about the history of the town and what people would like to see there. Part of this included submitting their wish lists on a postcard.

From 5,000 postcards, the top wishes cited were retail/food and drink (24 per cent); children’s activities (17 per cent); public realm (11 per cent); and green and environment improvements (11 per cent).

Guided walks were also organised as part of the consultation with the community while the Microplan page in the strategy describes a series of meanwhile uses that came from the engagement exercises.

The strategy has eight objectives – wellbeing, active, work, living, green, carbon-neutral, learning and experience. All the projects set up as part of the strategy support some or all of these. Some are already funded and under way, but North Somerset Council told The Planner that many others require investment and it is hoped that the strategy would put Weston in a better position to succeed the next time there is a Future High Street Fund or a Towns Fund round.

Opportunities for rewilding have been identified in the town centre and along the seafront, such as Marine Lake, the council explained. New cycling routes from the suburbs to the centre of Weston would be established, while the coast would become part of the national cycle network and a bike hub is to be installed in the centre.

Mark Canniford, executive member for business, economy and employment at North Somerset Council, said: “Coronavirus is accelerating fundamental changes in town centres, with the need to encourage more people to the high street higher than ever.

“This placemaking strategy sets out the council’s vision and ambitions for the town, with a concrete plan to help Weston become a healthier, greener and more prosperous place to live, work and enjoy. The strategy is an ambition to think about using space in new ways that encourage local people to utilise what Weston has to offer.”

Earlier this year the council said the strategy helped to attract a £1.7 million government grant, which will fund Weston General Stores, a project focusing on repurposing vacant retail space in the town centre.

5 November 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Green light for major Swansea student accommodation scheme

Revised plans for a student accommodation scheme in Swansea have been approved by the city council.

Applicant Garip Demirci has received the go-ahead for the 328-bed high-rise development on land at Jockey Street next to University of Wales Trinity St David's Swansea Business Campus.

A previous application was refused permission in 2018, despite receiving a positive recommendation from planning officers. That scheme involved a 14-storey, 414-bed proposal.

This new development will range from four to 12 storeys high, with the eastern side presented in a stepped formation, designed to soften the overall visual impact of the building.

Additional parking is also proposed, as are public realm improvements, including increased LED lighting and CCTV to make pedestrian routes around the site more appealing and help address the problem of antisocial behaviour in the area.

6 November 2020
Roger Milne, The Planner

RTPI Cymru announces young planner of the year

Emmeline Reynish MRTPI has been named as this year’s Welsh Young Planner of the Year.

She is a town planner at Arup and chair of Young Planners Cymru.

The 2020 RTPI Cymru Awards for Planning Excellence was held online on Friday (6 November).

The judges highlighted Emmeline’s “strong commitment” to the profession and believe that her enthusiasm will help the institute to meet current and future challenges in a sustainable and inclusive way.

Kate Coventry, a planner at LRM Planning in Cardiff, was commended in the same category.

The RTPI Cymru Wales Planning Award for 2020 went to Glan Llyn – Eastern Sub-Area Masterplan, which was submitted by Savills, St Modwen Developments (Llanwern) Ltd and Stephen George & Partners.

The judges said Glan Llyn is a “truly inspirational collaborative project, with placemaking at its heart, providing its own sense of place and identity”.

Also highly commended in this category were Llys Cadwyn, submitted by Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council, and Grange Pavilion, submitted by Benham Architects and IBI.


Kingston working on district heating network

Kingston Council has said it is working with borough-based organisations to decarbonise heat supplies to homes and businesses.

This follows a declaration in 2019 that there is a climate emergency. It has committed to making council operations carbon-neutral by 2038 and supporting the borough to reduce carbon emissions.

As part of its work, the council has secured public funding from the Greater London Authority (GLA) and the government so that it can investigate extracting and using the waste water heat discharged into the Hogsmill River from the Thames Water Waste Water Treatment works. Thames Water supported the council applications for funding.

According to a feasibility study, the scheme is technically viable. A detailed project design is under way, which will support further applications for funding to progress to commercialisation and construction.  

The plan is for the network to connect and supply heat to the new Cambridge Road Estate and nearby public buildings. The council hopes that the network will expand to cover Kingston town centre.


Consultation on Carlisle garden village launches today

The next stage of public consultation for the development of St Cuthbert’s Garden Village begins today, Tuesday 10 November.

Based in the south of Carlisle, the garden village would have a “strong emphasis on green infrastructure and healthy environments”, says Carlisle City Council.

As part of this stage of consultation, the city council is seeking views on both the draft local plan policies and the draft strategic design supplementary planning document.

The consultation closes on 22 December.

More information and the relevant documents can be found here.


RTPI responds to government call for evidence

The RTPI has welcomed proposals to increase transparency of contractual arrangements used to exercise control over the buying and selling of land.

Responding to a Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) call for evidence, ‘Transparency and competition: a call for evidence on data on land control’, the institute explained that greater transparency “will not only reduce confusion about the planning system among the public but also expose private landowners who stall development”.

Increasing transparency of contractual arrangements would result in a more efficient land and property market and enable stakeholders to make informed decisions more quickly.

Victoria Hills, chief executive of the RTPI, said: “The issue of land ownership is critical to planning policy. Communities not knowing how the land around them is owned and controlled can lead to local residents finding the planning process confusing. There has been particular concern among the public that simply granting more planning permissions has not resulted in greater access to housing, especially at lower income levels. It is therefore important to know which developers have bought land or land options to enable local authorities to see how fast they are bringing development to a conclusion.

“A more transparent system would also make it easier for SME housebuilders to identify the owners of suitable building land and sites for development.”

Read more here on the RTPI website.


Regeneration plans for Worthing to go ahead

Proposals for 170 homes on brownfield land in Worthing town have been granted planning permission.

Commercial space, a hotel, an expanded cinema and a new play area also form part of the plans.

As part of its town centre regeneration programme, Worthing Borough Council has been working with LCR, the government’s placemaking and sustainable regeneration specialist, on bringing Union Place back into use after private companies did not bring forward viable schemes.

The 1.1-hectare site, which includes the former police station, has lain largely unused for more than a decade.

The council bought the site last year.


Bermondsey airspace homes approved

Southwark Council has granted planning permission for 30 affordable homes that will be built on top of residential buildings Antony House & Roderick House, connecting the two.

The homes will be developed by airspace developer Apex Airspace (Apex) and Lambeth and Southwark Housing Association (LSHA) and the permission was secured with help from HTA Design LLP (HTA).

Of the homes, 24 will be offered at London affordable rent levels, and the remaining six offered for Southwark Council’s social rent

Plans include ‘bookends’ at each end of the existing buildings, a new central core connecting the buildings, and a double-storey rooftop extension. A bespoke steel structure has been developed to carry the weight of the new homes so the existing buildings can support the extra loading.

The homes will be a mix of one and two-bedroom apartments that will be “highly insulated and water and energy efficient”. They will be built off-site using modular methods and therefore there will be less disruption to existing residents.


Consultancy chosen to review South Yorkshire’s digital strategy

Arcadis has been awarded a contract to support the Sheffield City Region with a digital infrastructure strategy for South Yorkshire.

The consultancy will review the existing strategy, which sets out a vision in which connectivity creates new jobs and uses the technology to improve the lives of people in the region.

Work will include an assessment of public assets with the potential to support and contribute to the full fibre and 5G roll-out, both now and in the future.

Arcadis said it would provide guidance and advocacy to help the Sheffield City Region to better access investment for digital infrastructure implementation and other digital connectivity-related projects.

10 November 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner