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Planning news - 19 November 2020

Published: Thursday, 19th November 2020

Chief planner: Proposed infrastructure levy will bring in 'at least as much money' as current system, PM Johnson wants to create more national parks. 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 insisted that the infrastructure levy proposed in the planning white paper will bring in at least the same amount of money for local authorities to allocate towards affordable housing.

Speaking at the Planning Portal’s virtual conference on 16 November, Averley noted that everybody recognises the current system for developer contributions “can be quite a barrier” for small and medium sized enterprises to get involved in the planning system, and that it “does take a lot of time to negotiate and see through”.

The government’s white paper – Planning for the Future – proposes reforming the Community Infrastructure Levey (CIL) so that it is charged as a fixed proportion of the development value above a threshold, with a mandatory nationally set rate or rates. The current system of planning obligations would be abolished, with Section 106 consolidated under a reformed, extended ‘infrastructure levy’, which could be extended to capture changes of use through permitted development rights. The government suggests the reformed levy would help to deliver affordable housing.

Averley said that the proposed levy has not been designed yet, and that the government hasn't got a formula. Yet while this detail is yet to be worked through, it will “bring at least as much money into the system as it does now to local governments to allocate to affordable housing, infrastructure and other local requirements”.

It is “very much” about a smarter taxation system that's related to local constraints, Averley continued. It will have “an element of prescription that is set nationally, so that the negotiations are much more straightforward and there's more certainty in the system”.

Averley spoke about taking up the role of chief planner in September. What has struck her, she said, was the “really serious intent” from the government on important issues. This includes making sure that the planning system responds to the “challenges we've got at the moment in terms of being fleet of foot, being smart, and therefore giving greater certainty and greater engagement for people in the planning system and therefore better outcomes”.

The white paper, said Averley does this in a number of ways, such as digitising much of what planning does. It is about making sure the profession is smart about how it commits to paper or digital, and that “we don't repeat locally what is said nationally”.

Plans should be "neater, smarter documents,” she added. The aim is for future local plans to be produced to an approximate 30-month timeframe.

Averley concluded by contextualising the white paper as part of a “big reform agenda”.

“It's not like issuing a PPG update; we are not going to be done with it in a couple of months.”

The government, she said, will work with colleagues across the industry to get into the detailed design of the reform packages.

“We're committed to working with local authorities, communities, and the development industry to make sure that there isn't a gap in thinking or engagement, but that we're engaging with you through this process, and very much recognising the issues that many have raised with us at round tables.

“Local authority resources, and the need to be able to think about strategic planning in this space and setting some of these agendas against all the challenges that we're facing. And the market conditions that are challenging for our town centres and our high streets at the moment, and obviously the journey towards zero carbon and dealing with the environmental challenges that we're facing.”

Other snippets

Sarah Chilcott, managing director of Planning Portal

"We welcome many of the aspects that are in the white paper. As Joanna said, there's still quite a lot that needs to be worked through in terms of the detail and they are always the difficult bits."

Some real clarity on the role of local government is required. It is a "massive change programme" requiring "a need to make sure that we understand that this is a huge challenge for the industry. We will have to work together to deliver it".

"That will mean some support for local authorities in particular, but others as well in terms of thinking about how that change is managed."

Matthew Spry, senior director and head of the London office at Lichfield

"If you look at the planning system we've got at the moment, you wouldn't set out to design it that way, so I think the white paper taking a fresh look is welcome."

"There has to be scope to declutter the planning system as it exists, but I think everyone acknowledges the white paper is still quite loose. It's a set of principles and we need to look very carefully at the detailed design of it, be aware of the unintended consequences, and really think quite carefully about what the likely behaviours are going to be of all the participants within the planning system at all the different stages."

He also noted that there needs to be clarity on the move from system A to system B.

Mike Kiely, chair of the Planning Officers Society

Kiely questioned Averley about the envisioned 30-month timescale to get a local plan in place. Given the requirements for upfront design work to grant outline planning permission and increasing engagement, he considered the timescale "ambitious to the point of being deluded".

In response, Averley said: "What we're talking about is having a plan-making process that is enabled by digital, which should therefore in essence be able to be done more quickly, that's one aspect. The other has to do with the role and purpose of doing spatial planning, which is informed by character analysis of the built environment and natural environment, and then the use of masterplans and the use of coding.

“What's really important is that the white paper outlines some really important big moves in the planning system. I think it's really important people on this call don't see every single detail as having been fully worked through because it hasn't. And I'll give an example so Mike – there was a kind of conversation about is it outline permission as we know it now or is it permission in principle as we know it now. The reality is I think it might be a hybrid. So I think, particularly in the space of preparing plans in a faster timetable, if we had a fully digitally enabled process, we might think differently about it. If we're thinking about planning as we do it now, then we understandably would be reluctant to commit to that sort of timeframe.

"What we'll be thinking through in the next couple of months is how the best of digital, and the best and smartest engagement can actually lead to a faster plan making process."

16 November 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Boris Johnson has outlined plans to create national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs) to protect England’s ‘iconic landscapes’.

The prime minister wants to increase access to nature for communities and better protect the country’s wildlife and biodiversity, including an additional 150,000 hectares of land in England.

This is just one of the new measures announced as part of the government’s 25-year environment plan.

The government explains that following on from the “initial success” of the first round, £40 million of additional investment into the government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund will go towards creating and retaining thousands of jobs, which is part of its aims for a green recovery from Covid-19.

In addition, as part of a government ambition to establish a Nature Recovery Network, 10 “Landscape Recovery” projects will be launched across England over the next four years. These are intended to restore peatlands and woodlands, create wilder landscapes, and see the equivalent of over 30,000 football pitches of habitat allocated for wildlife. The projects will be established through the government’s Environmental Land Management scheme.

Johnson said: “As we build back greener we’re taking new steps to expand and enhance our landscapes - creating and retaining thousands of green jobs in the process which will be crucial to my Ten Point Plan for delivering a green recovery.

“Britain’s iconic landscapes are part of the fabric of our national identity – sustaining our communities, driving local economies and inspiring people across the ages. That’s why with the natural world under threat, it’s more important than ever that we act now to enhance our natural environment and protect our precious wildlife and biodiversity.”

These measures have been announced ahead of Johnson’s Ten Point Plan, which is set to be published next week. The government has said that it will set out his steps for a green industrial revolution to boost green jobs and to achieve net zero by 2050.

Environment secretary George Eustice commented: “By starting the process for designating more of our beautiful and iconic landscapes as national parks and AONBs, and through the new Landscape Recovery projects, we will help expand and protect precious wildlife habitats and, vitally, increase people’s access to our treasured landscapes.”

16 November 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

The construction of a two-lane dual carriageway for the A303 between Amesbury and Berwick Down in Wiltshire past Stonehenge World Heritage Site has been granted a development consent order (DCO) by transport secretary Grant Shapps, against the recommendation of the Planning Inspectorate.

According to Highways England’s application form, the national significant infrastructure project will be eight miles (13 kilometres) in length. 

The key elements are a northern bypass of Winterbourne Stoke with a viaduct over the River Till valley and a new junction between A303 and A360 to the west of and outside the World Heritage Site, replacing the existing Longbarrow roundabout. Also, a tunnel of about two miles (3.3km) in length would be delivered, past Stonehenge and a new junction between the A3030 and A345 at the existing Countess roundabout.

Shapp’s decision goes against the advice of the examining authority, the Planning Inspectorate. It advised withholding consent, warning that it would cause “permanent irreversible harm” and the benefits to the ‘outstanding universal value’ (OUV) “would not be capable of offsetting this harm”. The inspectorate suggested a number of modifications if the secretary of state chose to grant the DCO.

The transport secretary notes that the existing A3030, which is part of the strategic road network between London and the South West, has “acute congestion problems”.

There is, the examining authority notes, a presumption in favour of granting development consent for nationally significant plans that fall within the need for infrastructure established in the National Planning Policy Statement for National Networks (NPSNN). Objections were raised by campaigners, but Wiltshire and Devon councils supported the project, among others.

Shapps agrees with the examining authority that the development would be “in accordance with the government’s vision and strategic objectives set out in the NPSNN”. He notes that the benefits of the development include enabling visitors to Stonehenge to see the stone circle without the visual and aural distraction of road traffic.

The decision letter states: “In the secretary of state’s judgment any harm to heritage assets, including the OUV, is less than substantial and this harm (whilst carrying great weight), along with the other harms identified, are outweighed by the benefits of the development.”

Shapps therefore granted the DCO.

The transport secretary’s decision letter and all other documents relating to the development can be found on the Planning Inspectorate’s website.

13 November 2020
Laura Edgar

Julie James, minister for housing and local government, has announced that the Welsh Government accepts most of the detailed recommendations made by the Law Commission to simplify and consolidate the legislation on all aspects of the Welsh planning system.

Earlier this year the administration agreed in the main with the commission’s views in a report on the need to simplify and consolidate planning law, the case for a planning code and the scope of the initial consolidation exercises.

James told the Welsh Assembly Senedd: “Having carefully considered the recommendations, I have accepted the majority of them.

“I believe they will result in improvements to address the accessibility and complexity of the current legislative framework underpinning the planning system, and the resulting difficulties that can frustrate the system for all stakeholders, as highlighted in the report and recognised by the government.

“For those recommendations that I have accepted in principle, whilst I mostly agree with the aims of the recommendations, I believe they will require further development and consideration by officials during the exercise of drafting new statutory provisions”.

She said a planning consolidation bill on which officials have already begun working would be the main delivery mechanism for making the changes.

The commission recommended a total of 192 changes.

13 November 2020
Roger Milne, The Planner

The second stage of Liverpool City Region’s ‘Our Places’ consultation has been launched to canvass opinions on how land is used for the next 15 years.

A survey will be run online and a number of events will be hosted by the combined authority with community groups.

The responses will help to influence the region’s first spatial development strategy, a framework for the development and use of land for at least 15 years. It will form part of the development plan for the region, sitting alongside the six local authorities’ local and neighbourhood plans.

The first consultation asked people what they wanted the plan to cover and sought to reach those that tend to go unheard from in the planning process. Of the 2,500 respondents, 42 per cent were young people, more than half were from neighbourhoods among the most deprived 10 per cent in the country, and 18 per cent were from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities, said the combined authority.

The approach for the second stage will take the same route. It will consider the spatial development strategy alongside objectives across five areas: climate change and the environment; health and wellbeing; inclusive economy; placemaking and communities; and social value. The combined authority wants thoughts on suggested policy areas, such as active travel.

Steve Rotheram, Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, said: “When I first ran to be mayor, it was because I was excited by the potential for more decisions to be taken locally and for local people to have a much bigger say about the future of their communities.

“With ‘Our Places’, we’re putting local people’s views front and centre when it comes to developing the region’s policies… We might be in a difficult time at the moment, but your answers could help decide the direction of our region for years to come.”

A draft of the plan will be presented to the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, followed by a 13-week consultation.

More information can be found on the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority website.

12 November 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Protos Plastic Park masterplan published

Peel L&P Environmental has released a first look at the Plastic Park planned for its Protos energy and resource hub near Ellesmere Port, Cheshire.

It is the first of many planned in the UK.

The plant will process different types of plastic waste so that it does not go to landfill, get exported overseas or end up in the sea. It features a variety of plastic recycling and treatment technologies to get the most value from plastic waste, including:

  • A Materials Recycling facility (MRF) to take dry mixed recyclables and separate out recyclates such as card, paper, glass and cans and plastics.
  • A Plastic Recycling Facility to take the plastic from the MRF, and plastic delivered directly to Protos, and separate out different types of plastic.
  • PET recycling facility – to be developed by Enviroo with a planning application expected later this year, the facility will take PET (the main material used for food and beverage packaging, such as plastic bottles) and turn it into polymers for new food packaging products.
  • Waste plastic to hydrogen facility – consented earlier this year and already under development.

Richard Barker, development director, Peel L&P Environmental said: “Currently only around a third of the 4.9 million tonnes of plastic that the UK throws away each year is recycled, meaning we urgently need new infrastructure. The pandemic has highlighted how essential this material is to everyday life, but how it is dealt with when it comes to the end of its life needs addressing."


260 homes approved in Cheshire

Cheshire West and Chester Council has approved 260 homes in Ellesmere Port.

Housebuilder Anwyl Homes has started work on the development, which will expand on a neighbouring Anwyl development called The Oaks.

Plans also include a multi-use games area, football pitch and areas of green open space.

The development is a joint venture with housing association Torus. Anwyl Homes will deliver an additional 130 two, three and four-bedroom homes for private sale by Anwyl while Torus will market the other 130 affordable homes.

Planning and development consultancy Turley helped to secure reserved matters approval for the 19-acre site, while Shoosmiths provided legal support.


Ice centre plans approved in London

Proposals for London's first Olympic-sized twin pad ice centre have been granted planning permission by Waltham Forest Council.

The approval is subject to a second stage approval from the Greater London Authority (GLA).

The centre was designed by FaulknerBrowns Architects on behalf of Lee Valley Regional Park Authority (LVRPA).

It will replace the existing single-pad Lee Valley, which, after 36 years, is nearing the end of its operational life.

The facility will include two Olympic-size ice rinks with capacity for 800 spectators, a gym and exercise studio, a multi-purpose studio and a café.

The site for Lee Valley Ice Centre is within metropolitan open land, and is thus afforded the same level of protection as the metropolitan green belt. FaulknerBrowns Architects said that one of the principles of the project was the need to "produce as tight and efficient a building footprint as possible to mitigate the impact on metropolitan open land, the landscape of the regional park, and its biodiversity and habitat".

The facility has been designed to be sustainable, with energy efficiency maximised through "high performance insulation and highly efficient air source heat pumps" and includes significant native planting and landscape enhancements in order to achieve a biodiversity net gain of over 35 per cent.


Homes England investment reaches £1.8bn

The government has announced that investment delivered by Homes England through the Housing Infrastructure Fund Forward Funding (HIF FF) has reached £1.8 billion since its launch in 2017.

A total of £2.7 billion of investment will be contracted through the fund to accelerate the delivery of almost 175,000 homes outside of London.

Sixteen English local authorities across England have secured a share of the Forward Funding, which helps them to unlock land for new homes by building roads, bridges and cycling and walking routes.


Application submitted for Little Lever development

Developer and contractor Watson has submitted a planning application to Bolton Council for 274 new homes on two plots of land adjacent to Little Lever.

Of the one, two, three and four-bedroom houses and apartments, 89 per cent have been designated as affordable. The remainder are for sale.

The two sites, Creams Mill and Hall Lane, are 1.4km apart and connected by the Manchester, Bolton & Bury Canal, which has not been in use since it was breached above Prestolee Locks in 1936.

The proposed development, led by P4 Planning, includes the repair of the 60m breach and the restoration of a 700m stretch of the canal to bring it back into water.

It also features the remediation and development at the former Creams Paper Mill site, which has been vacant since 2004 and is allocated for housing, and renewable energy technology for the homes.

Watson is working with two housing associations – Great Places Housing Group and Bolton at Home – to deliver affordable housing.

The scheme has been designed by TADW Architects.


Telford & Wrekin Council partners with DEF Software

Telford & Wrekin Council is working with DEF Software to create and launch a new back office development platform.

The council instructed DEF Software to write the web-based application. It is hoped that the platform will be easier to deploy and access, being completely customisable for the authority.

Any device in any location will be able to access the new platform, with DEF Software aiming to re-create the speed and functionality of existing on-premise planning application platforms.

17 November 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner