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Planning news - 21 January 2021

Published: Thursday, 21st January 2021

Summer quarter saw housing bounce back, Government says public should have right to ask councils to release land for redevelopment, Blueprint for flagship attraction for Merthyr Tydfil. And more...

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

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Between July and September 2020, 45,000 homes were completed on site, according to building control figures published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).

This is a 185 per cent increase on the number completed between April and June, when England was on its first lockdown to stem the spread of Covid-19.

Where work started on site during this quarter, 35,710 homes were started, 111 per cent more than the previous quarter. Again, this reflects the national restrictions in place during the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the statistical release, there were 243,770 net additional dwellings between April 2019 and March 2020. This is a 1 per cent increase on the net additional dwelling reported for April 2018 to March 2019.

Other statistics in the release include:

  • In the year ending September 2020, an estimated 120,100 new-builds were started on – 25 per cent less than the year ending September 2019.
  • In the year ending September 2020, an estimated 145,430 new-build homes were completed. This is 18 per cent less than the number completed in the year ending September 2019.
  • The North West saw the largest percentage decrease in starts for the year ending September 2020, falling by 36 per cent compared with a year earlier. London reports the smallest decrease with a fall with 11 per cent compared with the year ending September 2019.
  • All English regions saw a decrease in completions in the year ending September 2020. The North East saw the largest percentage decrease, with a fall of 27 per cent compared with a year earlier.

Jenrick said the increase in completions and starts from July to September 2020 compared with the previous quarter “reflects the government’s commitment throughout the pandemic to support industry to enable construction sites to remain open and operate safely”.

“We extended planning permission deadlines and flexible working hours on sites so that builders, architects and developers have been able to continue working, while following public health advice.”

Housing Supply: Indicators of New Supply, England: July to September 2020 can be found here on the UK Government website.

15 January 2021
Laura Edgar, The Planner

The government has published for consultation proposals that would enable the public to challenge councils and other public bodies to release underused land for redevelopment.

The ‘right to regenerate’ proposals mean that underused public land could be sold to individuals or communities by default – unless there is a “compelling reason” for the owner to keep it

Public bodies would need to demonstrate clear plans for the land in the near future – even if it is a temporary use before later development. If it were kept for long without being used, it would have to be sold.

The rights would also apply to unused publicly owned social housing and garages. The government notes that the latest figures show there were more than 25,000 vacant council-owned homes and recent Freedom of Information data shows there were more 100,000 empty council-owned garages last year.

The government says it wishes to provide local communities with an opportunity to “transform eyesores” into something they want in their area. It builds on government work to encourage development on brownfield land.

Jenrick said: “Right to regenerate is the simple way to turn public land into public good, with land sold by default unless there is a very compelling reason not to do so.

“We are cutting through red tape so that communities can make better use of available land and derelict buildings, which means more new homes, businesses and community assets.

“Millions of people will now be able to buy that empty property, unused garage or parcel of land and turn it into something good for them and their community.”

Tom Chance, chief executive of the National Community Land Trust Network, welcomed the idea.

“There are hundreds of community land trusts across the country wanting to build much-needed affordable housing, but getting hold of land at an affordable price is a huge barrier.

“The potential for communities to be given first right of refusal could be a game changer. We encourage everyone to read through the proposals and respond to the consultation.”

Ian Harvey, executive director of Civic Voice, added: “Across the country, communities see land that remains empty and wonder why. They imagine how it could be used for communities – from green space, to housing – but when they enquire about enhancing the space it’s never clear who owns it.

“If a community has a viable use for this land, they must be given the opportunity to take these ideas forward.

“The ‘right to regenerate’ is a great step forward to build on previous attempts at doing this and we believe it will increase the chance for communities to come together to bring vacant land into the heart of the community. We look forward to working with communities on this latest community right.”

The consultation, which closes on 13 March, can be found here on the UK Government website.

18 January 2021
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Plans to transform Merthyr Tydfil’s Cyfarthfa Castle into an international-quality museum, set in an expanded 100-hectare public park, could draw more than half a million visitors each year and ‘energise the Valleys Regional Park concept’, according to a report published this week.

The museum would celebrate the town’s role as a crucible of the Industrial Revolution.

The blueprint is the result of 12-months’ work by a multidisciplinary team led by the internationally renowned Ian Ritchie Architects. The plan was commissioned by Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council and has been backed by the local authority.

A new company – the Cyfarthfa Foundation – has been formed to take the scheme forward over the next 20 years. It is currently seeking charitable status. The plans have also been submitted to the Welsh Government.

Lee Waters, deputy minister for economy and transport and chair of the Valleys Taskforce, said: “The plans put forward could see Cyfarthfa Castle and Park become a flagship attraction and an important green space for residents and visitors to enjoy for many years to come. We have provided funding to the park as a Valleys Regional Parks Discovery Gateway.”

The report sets out a menu of more than 70 possible projects split into ‘must do’, ‘should do’ and ‘could do’ categories. Among the key proposals are:

  • doubling the size of the current Cyfarthfa Park, extending it westwards to take in both sides of the river Taff; 
  • renovating Cyfarthfa Castle – home to the Crawshays, the famous 19th century ironmasters – and creating new exhibition galleries that will celebrate the industrial and social history of Merthyr Tydfil and Wales; 
  • rescuing the currently endangered 200-year-old Cyfarthfa furnaces west of the Taff, a UNESCO World Heritage Site;
  • creating a new ‘Iron Way’ – a dramatic high-level walkway connecting the castle and the furnaces to echo the 19th century aqueduct that spanned the valley;
  • establishing a new ‘Glass Way’ entrance through the park to the east of the castle – incorporating two giant greenhouses that would echo the castle’s vanished 19th century greenhouses; and
  • developing an eight-acre community vegetable garden that could also supply produce to new outlets at the castle, together with the creation of biodiversity meadows. 

Jonathan Shaw, project leader for Ian Ritchie Architects, said: “This is a 20-year strategic plan that will reveal the global importance of Merthyr Tydfil’s industrial past and work in harmony with nature to transform the Cyfarthfa area.”

Geraint Talfan Davies, who will chair the new Cyfarthfa Foundation, said: “The team have produced an immensely rich and exciting report that opens up a multitude of opportunities to use our past, and Merthyr’s story in particular, as a springboard to address the challenges of the 21st century. This a project of national as well as local importance.”

15 January 2021
Roger Milne, The Planner

South Northamptonshire Council has granted outline planning permission for an employment park on land to the east of Tiffield Road and to the north-west of the A43 at Towcester.

The plans were submitted by IM Properties.

Outline permission has been granted for uses including B1a, B1b, B1c, B2 and/or B8 uses. Full planning permission has been approved for a new roundabout access from the A43, internal spine road, a substation, lighting infrastructure, engineering operations including foul pumping station, earthworks, pedestrian and cycle infrastructure, and strategic landscaping such as drainage infrastructure.

The approval was granted in line with a recommendation from the planning officer, subject to a revised sustainability statement, landscaping scheme, lighting statement and framework travel plan. Further clarity is also sought on how 30 per cent of the developable site could be brought forward for B2 use.

The planning officer’s report states: “In the context of the presumption in favour of sustainable development set out within the NPPF, it is considered that the proposal would result in sustainable development and for these reasons the application is recommended for approval, subject to the caveats and conditions set out in the recommendation.”

The developer will have to pay a community infrastructure levy contribution, as set out in the South Northamptonshire Council charging schedule.

The planning officer’s report can be read here (pdf).

14 January 2021
Laura Edgar, The Planner

The Court of Appeal has upheld decisions issued by a planning inspector and a planning judge to dismiss a developer’s appeals following Aylesbury Vale District Council’s failure to determine its application.

Paul Newman New Homes Limited sought outline planning permission for a development comprising 50 homes and associated facilities on land north of Leighton Road in Soulbury, Buckinghamshire.

The case was considered by Lady Justice Andrews DBE, Lord Justice Peter Jackson and Lord Justice Coulson. In the decision document, Andrews explained that the central issue was whether an “experienced planning inspector and a specialist planning judge in the High Court (Sir Duncan Ouseley) correctly interpreted paragraph 11d) of the 2018 version of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)”.

The 2018 version of the NPPF has been replaced by the 2091 version but, as Andrews noted, paragraph 11d) has “not been changed in any material respect”.

The paragraph is entitled ‘The presumption in favour of sustainable development’.

The council indicated in a letter in November 2018 sent to the planning inspector that it would have refused the application, as it would urbanise the rural nature of the entrance to the town along Leighton Road. The changes would be contrary to policy GP.35 of its 2004 local plan (which the judges said was applicable despite its age) and the NPPF.

In January 2019, the inspector identified two issues – the effect of the development on the rural character of the site and whether the council could demonstrate a five-year housing land supply. Her findings led her to conclude that the housing benefit did not outweigh the harm and so she dismissed the appeal. Judge Ouseley found the inspector was right in her approach and upheld her decision.

The developer appealed to the Court of Appeal on two grounds:

The judge erred in construing paragraph 11d) of the NPPF contrary to its natural meaning and when read in context.

The judge erred in agreeing with the inspector’s construction of policy GP.35 of the local plan that the policy was intended to guide decision-making at the outline application stage.

On ground 2, Andrews said the inspector and the judge “fairly and rightly” acknowledged that elements of GP.35 were more relevant to a reserved matters (full) application than to an outline application.

“However, as the judge said, that did not mean that the inspector fell into error when she decided that there were aspects that remained relevant to the fundamental question of whether a satisfactory development could be achieved in principle. As the judge pointed out at paragraph 60 of his judgment, the drafting of local plan policies is not as rigorous or necessarily as logically and clearly structured a process as the drafting of a statute.”

Andrews agreed with Judge Ouseley’s interpretation of the policy and therefore, the council’s understanding of its policy and the inspector's interpretation of it were correct. She dismissed the appeal on ground 2. 

Like the judge, Andrews did not find it helpful to consider the language of the 2012 NPPF, which the developer’s lawyer relied on. “The 2012 NPPF was replaced by the 2018 version, which uses different language and, unlike its predecessor, deals in one place with all the considerations that determine whether the tilted balance should apply.”

She also agreed that “the concept of ‘relevance’ means that the policy or policies must have a real role to play in the determination of the application, but there is no requirement that it or they should be enough in themselves to enable the decision-maker to grant or refuse that application”.

The inspector and the judge, Andrews explained, correctly concluded that the policy GP.35 “was not confined in its ambit to matters of detail arising only at the reserved matters stage, the question whether that  policy was relevant and how important it was to the determination of the  application under consideration were quintessential matters of planning judgment”.

The interpretation of paragraph 11d) was upheld and the appeal dismissed on ground 1, too.

The decision document can be found here (pdf).

  • Aylesbury Vale District Council became part of Buckinghamshire Council last year.

13 January 2021
Laura Edgar, The Planner

RTPI awards Kate Barker honorary membership

The RTPI has awarded honorary membership to UK economist Dame Kate Barker CBE.

Honorary membership is awarded by the institute to “distinguished individuals who have made an immense impact on the planning profession but who are not usually eligible for chartered membership”.

Barker is a former member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee and in 2003 was commissioned by the government to conduct an independent review of UK housing supply, for which a final report was published in March 2004. Barker then conducted a similar review of land use planning.

The RTPI says Barker has made a “valuable contribution to the planning profession through a range of non-executive roles including acting as a board member of the Homes and Communities Agency and for Taylor Wimpey”. She was a member of the National Infrastructure Commission until March 2020

In 2006, Barker was awarded a CBE for services to social housing and received a damehood in 2014 for services to the economy.

Barker said: “It is a privilege to accept this invitation to become an honorary member of the RTPI. I have admired the institute’s work since its former chief executive, Robert Upton, convinced me in the early 2000s of the importance of good planning, although the RTPI did not always agree with my conclusions!”


Mapping tool recommended by farmers

An interactive map that shows the location of important habitats in the Yorkshire Dales National Park has been produced by the national park authority and farmers.

Farmers are encouraging fellow land managers to use it to identify opportunities for new income streams and conservation work.

Named ‘Re:Cover’ the tool seeks to help those looking to protect, expand and connect habitats such as flower-rich hay meadows, wildlife-rich wetlands and ancient woodlands.

It is based on information gathered from surveys every year since 2010 by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority alongside information collected by Natural England and the Forestry Commission.

Re:Cover was developed by a partnership between the national park authority and the Yorkshire Dales Farming and Land Management Forum.

Web-based guidance is also available to use alongside the map. It is intended to aid discussion and decision-making. There are also links to further information and advice. 

The map can be found here. More information can be found here on the national park authority website.


Planning Inspectorate seeks research participants

The Planning Inspectorate is conducting research into how to improve the application process for Nationally Significant Infrastructure and Common Land Projects and is looking for participants.

The inspectorate is looking for candidates to take part in user research over January and February 2021 who are either:

  • National Infrastructure Project applicants (or their advisers);
  • Common Land Project applicants (or their advisers); or
  • Anyone involved as an interested party in either a National Infrastructure or Common Land application(s) – or their advisers. Ideally, the application you’ve been involved with should have been decided up to five years ago, and be closed.

To register your interest, click here.


Birmingham to consult on regeneration plans

Birmingham City Council has announced that it will launch Our Future City Plan: Central Birmingham 2040, Shaping our City Together on 26 January 2021.

It sets out the council’s plans to help create a greener, more prosperous and fairer future for all across the city.

The project’s launch has been prompted by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change and wider societal changes. It will replace the Big City Plan, which was launched in 2010.

The city council said the outline plan focuses on creating people-centred environments and opportunities for growth in emerging green industries.


Modular homes to be delivered in Rugby

Urban&Civic has launched Civic Living with modular housebuilder TopHat at its 6,200-home Houlton development in Warwickshire.

Civic Living is a new range of contemporary modular homes.

The agreement will see TopHat deliver 38 homes for sale as part of the first phase of development at Urban&Civic and Aviva Investors’ Houlton site, east of Rugby.

The homes will be manufactured in single-storey modules at TopHat’s factory in Derby. They will then be transported to Houlton later this month, with on-site assembly expected to take a matter of days.

Civic Living joins Houlton’s team of housebuilders – Davidsons Homes, Redrow Homes, Morris Homes, and Crest Nicholson.


Premier Inn approved for Watford

Watford Borough Council has granted planning permission for a new Premier Inn and 54,000 square feet of office space.

The approval paves the way for the £30 million redevelopment of Cassiobury House in Watford Junction, which was built in the latter 1970s.

Tellon Capital is working with Whitbread plc on the scheme.

The planning committee’s decision is in line with the planning officer’s recommendation. Permission is for two new buildings at 13 and eight storeys respectively.

The scheme was designed by Corstorphine + Wright.


University to research impact of growing number of tall buildings

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council has awarded the University of Surrey £1.8 million to investigate how the increased construction of tall buildings will affect the meteorology, air quality, and climate of towns and cities in the UK.

The research team at Surrey is coordinating the project in partnership with the universities of Reading and Southampton.

The universities will develop a “comprehensive understanding” of how tall buildings disrupt the meteorology of urban areas and contribute to the urban island effect and other health concerns. Also, the University of Surrey’s FUTURE (Fluid dynamics of Urban Tall-building clUsters for Resilient built Environments) project will aim to produce fast analytical models that can identify construction characteristics that produce detrimental consequences to the local microclimate.

Professor Alan Robins, professor of environmental fluid mechanics at the University of Surrey and principal investigator of FUTURE, said: “The increased concentration of commercial and social uses of our urban spaces means that we will continue to see new high-rise building developments in our cities and town centres. Our project is really about understanding the consequences of that development and about the choices for mitigating adverse effects over a range of topics, including air quality, airborne diseases, and various factors that see tall buildings contribute to climate and health concerns.”

19 January 2021
Laura Edgar, The Planner