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Planning news - 25 February 2021

Published: Thursday, 25th February 2021

Nature recovery should be in plans to ‘grow back better’ from pandemic, Design team for Camden green infrastructure project announced, Government wants growth body to support OxCam Arc. And more...

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

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The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has stated that it is ‘vital’ that the recovery of nature is prioritised in the UK's economic recovery efforts alongside action on climate change to grow back better from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The committee’s report Growing Back Better: Putting Nature and Net Zero at the Heart of the Economic Recovery warns that if measures to promote economic recovery are not treated as an opportunity to “grow back better”, then the global collapse in biodiversity, together with the impacts of pollution and the climate crisis, “may, if left unchecked, result in an even more catastrophic crisis”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's ten-point plan, which was published in November 2020, “points in the right direction for the committee, but it is not yet investible and underlying strategies need to be published rapidly to give industry confidence”.

The report acknowledges the levels of unemployment in prospect because of the pandemic, which will “inevitably” mean that the government must intervene. Therefore it should, where possible, front-load its investment in areas such energy efficiency, the circular economy, climate adaptation and nature recovery in order to provide a green jobs boost to counter unemployment.

Such an investment would provide economic multipliers in terms of jobs and improved productivity, as well as provide wider benefits like cleaner air and warmer homes. The committee advises that consideration should be given to how investment in energy efficiency and nature recovery can be used to rebalance the UK by supporting communities most in need.

Other recommendations in the report include:

  • Establish clear and ambitious statutory targets for the state of nature, waste minimisation, water quality and air quality under the environment bill once enacted.
  • The government should set out in its forthcoming transport decarbonisation strategy what plans it has for substantial long-term investment in better public transport and in traffic reduction measures, and how such investment will reduce levels of road congestion, improve air quality and contribute to achieving net-zero.
  • The government must set out a clear strategy for carbon capture, usage and storage, with timelines and impacts, and support the development of the technologies needed where absolute zero-carbon cannot be achieved.
  • The government must publish a hydrogen strategy as soon as possible, setting out clear mechanisms to support the development of green hydrogen systems in the UK.
  • The government should introduce embodied carbon targets for the construction of new homes, so as to increase demand for low-carbon materials, thereby stimulating growth in low-emission manufacturing of traditional, local materials and promoting the use of new low-carbon materials.
  • The Green Homes Grant scheme be overhauled and extended to provide greater long-term stimulus to the domestic energy-efficiency sector. The government must be mindful not to repeat the mistakes of the failed Green Deal energy efficiency incentive scheme.
  • The government, in developing further its strategy for economic recovery, must give greater priority to strategic projects to encourage nature recovery. It should work with conservation charities to pilot the idea of a National Nature Service this summer to open up conservation opportunities.
  • The government should clarify that the Bank of England’s monetary policy remit should include climate and nature objectives in the conduct of UK monetary policy, including when considering any extension of the Covid Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF) or future such mechanisms. The committee recommends that if any future support is offered through the CCFF, the bank should require recipients to publish climate-related financial disclosures in line with the government’s Green Finance Strategy as a minimum condition.

Environmental Audit Committee chairman Philip Dunne said: “The Covid-19 crisis must be treated as a wake-up call. It is a symptom of a growing ecological emergency. The economic recovery will shape our national economy for decades to come, and it is crucial that tackling climate change and restoring nature is at its core.

“There are endless initiatives that can lead to a greener future and the chancellor should use his upcoming Budget statement to start this process. Boosting energy efficiency of homes by reducing VAT on retrofits can spur growth in low-carbon manufacturing. The funding allocated to the Green Homes Grant should be rolled over to meet the target to issue 600,000 vouchers. The electric vehicle transition must be accelerated with further tax incentives to encourage take-up.

“But a greener future hinges on the health of biodiversity and ecosystems. The economic recovery must not overlook nature recovery. Planning and infrastructure decisions must take into account the impact of nature, and piloting a new national nature service can protect wildlife while offering employment opportunities.

“There will be no vaccine against runaway climate change, and it is our responsibility now, using the opportunity of the economic recovery, to set the UK on track for net-zero."

Growing Back Better: Putting Nature and Net Zero at the Heart of the Economic Recovery can be found on the UK Parliament website.

22 February 2021
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Charity Camden Highline has awarded a team led by James Corner Field Operations the contract to design a new elevated park that will link Camden Town to King’s Cross.

James Corner Field Operations designed South Park at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and New York High Line. The firm will work in collaboration with Kentish Town-based vPPR Architects.

Lead designer James Corner, Field Operations, said: “Camden is such an extraordinary place, a vibrant, hip, and diverse community that will soon enjoy an amazingly unique, public green thread that ties its various communities together in ways both revelatory and transformative. We could not be more excited to work with residents and stakeholders to create a one-of-a-kind elevated park along the viaduct that speaks to the magical symbiosis of nature, culture, arts, and community.”

A two-stage international competition was launched to find a team to design the project, with the judges deciding from 76 entries and five shortlists.

The winners will work with the local community to transform a three-quarter-mile stretch of disused railway viaduct as a new walking route, park and open space.

The first stages of Camden Highline will involve James Corner Field Operations consulting with the local community and key works to creating an inclusive design plan for the walkway and advancing it through the planning process.

Camden Highline CEO Simon Pitkeathley said: “Every time we reach another milestone, I find myself thinking that I can't believe we’ve come so far so quickly. Something that started as a bit of a mad idea is now going to be designed by a team of the finest people we could ever have hoped to work with. I cannot wait to see their ideas unfold and be put into practice.”

The winners have brought together an alliance of specialists, including vPPR Architects, London artist Hew Locke, community consultation organisation Street Space and Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf, among others.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “Camden Highline has the potential to become a really important new asset for the local community in Camden and people across the capital. This is exactly the sort of innovative, environmentally sustainable and locally driven project which could make an important contribution to London’s recovery from the pandemic. I really look forward to seeing these ambitious plans take shape.”

Georgia Gould, leader of Camden Council, said: “Camden Highline is a grassroots project that has been grown and nurtured by a vibrant community of local supporters. It has been amazing to watch it go from an idea backed by locals to now seeing it secure global attention and an award-winning design team. Camden, and indeed the whole of London, will reap the social and economic rewards that this exceptional new park will bring.”

18 February 2021
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Housing minister Christopher Pincher has announced the government‘s intention to establish an ‘arc growth body’ to support the Oxford-Cambridge Arc’s development into a ‘a global innovation powerhouse’.

This forms part of the government’s plans to produce a spatial framework in 2022.

The framework would be aimed at creating jobs, driving investment, protecting and enhancing the environment and delivering infrastructure across the arc, which spans Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire.

According to a government document entitled Planning for Sustainable Growth in the OxfordCambridge Arc, the arc is constrained by “inadequate infrastructure, a stressed and fragmented natural environment, escalating housing costs, and complex local governance”. The framework is an opportunity to develop a plan that will:

  • Support long-run sustainable economic growth across the area.
  • Help to make the area a brilliant place to live, work and travel in – for existing residents and future communities alike.
  • Support lasting improvements to the environment, green infrastructure and biodiversity.

The government intends to plan for the “right level” of growth. The framework will identify:

  • The most sustainable locations for new homes, including identifying opportunity areas, to support local planning authorities to plan for this growth.
  • The infrastructure needed to support sustainable growth in those locations, and the key locations for strategic infrastructure to support sustainable growth.
  • Locations for environmental enhancement to achieve greater environmental benefits that can allow development to take place elsewhere.

In addition, the framework will set out policies to enable new settlements to come forward at the scale and speed needed and new development to support habitat recovery, delivery of local nature recovery strategies, and provision of good-quality green space within schemes. Also included will be policies to enable brownfield redevelopment and densification, as well as the expansion of existing settlements, in sustainable locations. It will also set out the housing needs, including affordable housing, to be met.

The government highlights that by 2050 economic output could double to over £200 billion, given the right interventions and investment.

Pincher said: “The Oxford-Cambridge Arc is already home to world-leading economic, cultural and scientific assets.

“We know, for instance, Cambridge’s rate of patent applications – a key indicator of innovation – is the highest in the United Kingdom, while nearby Milton Keynes is the fastest-growing city in the country.

“We want to take this region to the next phase of its renaissance by unlocking its full potential and our plans will drive investment where it is needed and ensure, as growth happens, we create well-designed, inclusive and vibrant places and communities.

"The OxCam spatial framework will allow us to plan positively for growth and we look forward to working with our local partners over the coming months to strengthen our vision and approach to the arc.”

The document states that over the next two-and-a-half years a specialist team in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) will “work with communities and local partners to develop a robust, evidence-based spatial framework”.

The indicative timeline is:

  • Develop a vision for the future of the Oxford-Cambridge Arc: A consultation with the public engagement will be undertaken in summer 2021.
  • Towards a spatial framework: Develop options for turning the vision into policy, based on engagement and initial evidence gathering and analysis. MHCLG will publish these options for consultation in spring 2022.
  • Draft spatial framework: To finalise the framework, MHCLG will consider responses to this consultation, and undertake spatial analysis, option testing, impact assessments and stakeholder engagement. It will publish a draft spatial framework for consultation in autumn 2022, with implementation of the final framework shortly after.

Barry Wood, chair of The Arc Leaders Group and leader of Cherwell District Council, said: “We welcome the continuing commitment from government to the Oxford to Cambridge Arc through today’s announcements.

“We look forward to working together with local people and our local partners to deliver an economy that works for all, underpinned by a high-quality natural environment. This will include planning for and enabling development that is truly inclusive and sustainable which delivers real benefits for our communities and environment now and in the future.”


Rachel Dickie, executive director, investment, at Grosvenor Britain & Ireland, commented: “This new planning framework needs to be ambitious not only in delivering homes and jobs, but on climate action. A coordinated plan creates an opportunity to establish and implement new standards on carbon reduction, biodiversity and sustainable transport – proving that urban development and growth does not need to be at the expense of the environment.

“The other focus for development in the arc must be on building trust with local people. The risk with regional strategies is that they leave individual communities without a voice. That needs to be addressed head-on in these plans, through a positive approach to engagement that aligns regional ambitions with priorities for individual communities – whether that’s new homes, the regeneration of high streets or a reimagining of our cities after Covid.”

Mike Derbyshire, head of planning at Bidwells, said: “In our Radical Regeneration Manifesto we set out the need for clarity across the whole region on what kind of development was needed. We successfully delivered the 2012 Olympics because we avoided local political squabbling and had a clear vision for the redevelopment of East London. We need the same and this announcement goes a long way to helping that become reality.

“We’ve been encouraged in recent months by government’s approach to the arc and it’s clear they have listened to the development industry. Bringing forward the framework at pace – as MHCLG intend to – will start to build the momentum the arc needs but it must be a green strategy and an exemplary in its approach to sustainable transport, placemaking and economic growth.”

Robbie Owen, partner at Pinsent Masons, commented: “These latest announcements of a policy paper and an Arc Growth Body reinforce why the arc is such an important national economic and sustainable growth priority area but there are plenty of potential legal pitfalls in the roadmap that government will now be considering – one of which relates to three separate consultations that are planned over the next 18 months.

"These will need to be informed and supported by a full Sustainability Appraisal and a Habitats Regulations Assessment and also underpinned by an Equalities Impact Assessment. But, the standards for lawful and effective consultations are high and the challenge for government is that it is just not used to consulting and enabling ongoing engagement on proposals like these covering housing, infrastructure and transport requirements which are both spatial in nature and also cover an entire region – this presents huge challenges which government will need to work very hard to address effectively if it is to avoid getting bogged down in a long series of legal challenges and so that it delivers on best practice.”

Steven Charlton, principal and managing director at Perkins&Will, said: “The scale of the opportunity here is vast but it requires strategic thinking and ministers are doing precisely the right thing by thinking big, utilising data and working to harvest investment that is queuing up to fund life sciences and build labs.

“Our work to analyse investment and scale-ups across the region shows there are unprecedented opportunities to create jobs and spread out the recovery across cities like Milton Keynes and Norwich.”

Planning for sustainable growth in the OxfordCambridge Arc can be found on the UK Government website.

18 February 2021
Laura Edgar, The Planner

There should be a ‘stronger and more coordinated approach’ to building homes that suit older people living in London, according to a think tank.

Centre for London says there are too many older people unable to access housing that would enable them to live independently for longer. In addition, given that 52 per cent of Londoners over the age of 65 have a disability, compared with 9 per cent aged under 65, it is “vital” that homes are fit for people to age well and live independently.

Claire Harding, research director at Centre for London, said: “Older people make a vital contribution to our city and their wants and needs are diverse.

“All Londoners deserve to have a genuine choice about where and how to live as they age but we can’t offer choice if there aren’t enough homes for older people to start with

“It's vital that policymakers take this need seriously, and focus both on providing enough homes and making sure people understand the options available to them as they age.”

Third Age City: Housing for older Londoners highlights that the main housing options available for older people are to stay in their current home, live with family or friends, live in a home specifically designed for older people – or in a care home.

Overall, the capital is delivering less than half the number of specialist homes it needs, according to the report, because the cost of land makes other forms of housing more attractive to developers. Looking at inner London boroughs, the report finds that they are delivering only 25 per cent of homes required every year to reach London’s overall target, while outer London boroughs, although better, are not seeing delivery evenly distributed between them.

The report adds that in some local authorities the number of new homes is actually negative because existing older people’s housing has been converted to other uses. It argues that the gap between what older people need and what is available will continue to grow.

Building new homes alone, however, is not enough to meet the shortfall or the needs of older people. New homes will need to be designed to be adapted – and existing homes should be made easier to adapt. Furthermore, accurate and relevant information needs to be more accessible.

To address these problems, Centre for London has made a number of recommendations to national, city and local government:

  • Setting targets and building specialist homes: Every London borough should set targets for how many specialist homes should be built each year and where. These targets should meet or exceed those benchmarked in City Hall’s London Plan. Local authorities should also do more to shape the range of options for older people in their area and the government should reward those who build more housing for older people.
  • Communicating the options: The government should provide dedicated funding to local authorities to provide older people’s housing advice and support services. Local authorities should work with housing associations and community groups to reach people in their 50s and 60s about future housing choices.
  • Making homes adaptable as people age: Local authorities and developers should ensure that new-build homes are designed to be more adaptable and flexible, for example, by including step-free entrances and installing sockets at appropriate heights.

Joanne Drew, housing and regeneration director at Enfield Council, said: “As we tackle the housing crisis, local authorities have a key role to play in helping residents make best use of existing homes and being innovative with the types of housing that come forward through development. This Centre for London report puts an important focus on the needs of older Londoners.

“Through Enfield’s intergenerational design competition we explored how design can create multigenerational housing that works for everyone. The market is not currently providing these sorts of schemes, so we concur with the report that local authorities should be rewarded for proposing solutions that work for older people.”

Abi Wood, chief executive at Age UK London, said: “Whatever your age, housing has a huge impact on both physical and mental health. However, for people in their 60s, 70s, 80s and older, living conditions can be an even more significant determinant of quality of life.

“Authoritative research on housing for the capital’s rapidly increasing older population has never been more needed. We’re delighted to support this excellent report, which provides a timely and robust analysis of the key housing issues facing older Londoners.”

Centre for London’s report comes after an ARCO survey of UK retirement community operators in December 2020 indicated that there has been a “very significant” increase in the number of older people enquiring about and moving to retirement communities. This includes retirement villages and extra care housing.

Third Age City: Housing for Older Londoners can be found on the Centre for London website.

23 February 2021
Laura Edgar, The Planner

The 10 councils in South Wales involved in the Cardiff Capital Region City Deal have begun work with the Welsh Government’s energy service on a pioneering regional energy strategy and implementation plan for the next financial year.

The local authorities are Blaenau Gwent, Bridgend, Caerphilly, Cardiff, Merthyr Tydfil, Monmouthshire, Newport, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Torfaen, and Vale of Glamorgan.

Achieving the goal of a carbon-neutral economy will require a transition to a hydrogen economy with the creation of multiple clean growth hubs.

Currently, UK sub-regional annual data for the area shows that the energy use is 33 terawatt hours across heat, electricity, transport and fuel.

At present only one-sixth of this comes from renewable sources – predominantly electricity. So the challenge of decarbonising the remaining five-sixths is significant.

Techno-economic analysis by the administration indicates that the investment needed between now and 2035 totals £8.6 billion from a range of stakeholders.

To meet the move towards net-zero carbon will require a 55 per cent reduction in emissions from the area’s energy system by 2035 – achievable by a 51 per cent decrease in domestic heat and power, a 54 per cent reduction in commercial and industrial sectors and a 60 per cent reduction in road transport emissions.

The local authorities and the government will settle on an actionable plan in the coming weeks.

19 February 2021
Roger Milne, The Planner

National park approves affordable homes

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s planning committee has approved an application to build five affordable homes in the village of Bainbridge in mid-Wensleydale.

As some residents brought a legal challenge against earlier plans, Hornblower Developments Ltd brought a fresh application seeking to build the homes for shared ownership in partnership with a housing association.

The committee has also approved an application to erect a phone mast in the national park for 5G technology.


Council submits plans for a relief road

Shropshire Council has submitted a planning application for the Shrewsbury North West Relief Road (NWRR).

The application aims to reduce journey times, traffic congestion, pollution and noise in Shrewsbury and in a number of surrounding communities. It also seeks to accommodate planned economic growth.

If approved, the relief road would consist of a new, single carriageway road linking the northern and western parts of Shrewsbury, with new bridges over the River Severn and its floodplain and the Shrewsbury-Chester railway line.

It would also connect the A5 at Welshpool Road roundabout west of Shrewsbury to the Ellesmere Road roundabout to the town’s north.

The cost of constructing the relief road is estimated to be £87.1 million. In March 2019 the Department for Transport awarded £54 million towards the total costs, while the Marches Local Enterprise Partnership has awarded £4.2 million. The council will provide the rest through developer and other contributions.


Residents’ views sought on Surrey infrastructure schemes

Surrey County Council is seeking the views of residents for two major infrastructure schemes, as its cabinet prepares to discuss how best to prioritise future work. Communities along the A320 are being asked for their views on the route.

Surrey County Council and Runnymede Borough Council want to hear how active travel could be improved along the A320, which is part of a programme of planned highways improvements between Ottershaw and Chertsey. This includes facilities for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport.

The planned improvements also aim to help manage traffic as  new homes will be built in the area over the next 10 years. An online survey is available until Sunday March 14. The survey can be found here.

Farnham residents can now comment on an early consultation on a new infrastructure plan that comprises proposals for the town centre, northern and southern areas of the town, the A31 corridor as well as Farnham-wide.

The plans intend to reduce congestion, improve air quality, tackle climate change and encourage people to use sustainable alternatives to the car whenever they can.

The plan is the latest step in the Farnham Infrastructure Programme – a partnership between Surrey County Council, Waverley Borough Council, Farnham Town Council and Conservative MP Jeremy Hunt.

The consultation closes on Sunday 14 March. It can be found here.


Taunton Debenhams threatened with demolition

The Twentieth Century Society, alongside other heritage groups and local campaigners, has expressed its opposition to plans to demolish the Debenhams department store in Taunton, Somerset.

Developers Ropemaker Properties plans to deliver 92 residential apartments across four floors in a new building on North Street, as well as commercial ground-floor space, parking and associated landscaping, if approved.

C20 Society caseworker Coco Whittaker said: “We believe the existing building could be sympathetically converted for residential use and need not be demolished. The store makes a great contribution to the streetscape and has an interesting history, being built in two phases.”

The Debenhams department store building comprises numbers 19 to 26 on North Street. It was built following the redevelopment of a number of properties and on completion it provided shop floors, showrooms and offices for Messrs W. & A. Chapman, a department store originally established in 1864.

The current building was built in two phases, partly in 1938 and then expanded in the 1960s when Debenhams took over.

The Ancient Monuments Society and the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society also object to the development plans.


BPF appoints retail board chair

Allan Lockhart, chief executive of NewRiver REIT, has been appointed as chair of the British Property Federation (BPF) Retail Board.

Launched in January 2021, the board’s aim is to drive the strategic agenda for the UK retail property sector and to ensure that the views of retail property are better heard and understood by both central and regional governments.

This comes as the sector deals with the impact of Covid-19 and adjusts to structural changes.

Lockhart has over 25 years of experience in the UK real estate market specialising in the retail sector. He started his career with Strutt & Parker in 1988, advising major property companies and institutions on retail investment and development. In 2009 he co-founded NewRiver Retail, which has a portfolio of 33 community shopping centres and 24 retail parks.

In 2021, Lockhart and the board will focus on:

  • Championing the role of retail property investment in creating vibrant communities and helping to ensure that it remains an attractive asset class for investors.
  • Leading the retail property response to the government’s review of the commercial property owner-occupier relationship to help shape a modern, fit-for-purpose legislative framework.
  • Ensuring retail property rises to the challenge of net-zero carbon.

23 February 2021
Laura Edgar, The Planner