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Planning news - 1 April 2021

Published: Thursday, 1st April 2021

Government announces extra funding for green homes, 11 per cent increase in applications submitted for planning in Q3, Berkshire film studio approved. 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 much-trumpeted Green Homes Grant scheme to insulate houses – launched by the government just last September – has been axed with the money allocated to a separate insulation fund run by councils.

The £300 million Green Homes Grant (GHG) reached only about 10 per cent of the 600,000 homes the chancellor had vowed to improve, so it will instead now go into a parallel scheme administered by local authorities to be targeted at lower-income households.

The 50,000 households on the original £500 million Green Homes Grant Local Authority Delivery Scheme “saved hundreds of pounds” on their energy bills by making their homes more energy efficient, said the government.

The extension of the scheme means that thousands of households on yearly incomes of less than £30,000 will not have to make any financial contribution to energy efficiency improvements to their homes.

The green home improvements will include deep insulation, heat pumps and solar panels, helping to cut more than 70,000 tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere each year.

Kwasi Kwarteng, business and energy secretary, announcing the transfer of cash to the local authority fund from the scrapping of the GHG, said: “Upgrading the country’s homes with energy-efficiency measures means we can cut emissions and save people money on their energy bills.

“This latest announcement takes our total energy efficiency spending to over £1.3 billion in the next financial year, giving installers the certainty they need to plan ahead, create new jobs and train the next generation of builders, plumbers and tradespeople.”

The GHG scheme closed to new applicants on Wednesday, 31 March at 5pm, a year earlier than planned. The government said it had been “designed to provide a short-term economic boost while tackling our contribution to climate change”.

According to media reports, the scheme had issues from its inception last autumn. The BBC reports that in some parts of the country installers were overwhelmed with demand, while the government said some households were reluctant to take part in the scheme because they feared catching Covid-19 from contractors.

The government promises that GHG applications submitted before the March deadline will be honoured and any vouchers already issued may be extended upon request.

29 March 2021
Prithvi Pandya, The Planner

District councils in England received 111,700 applications for planning permission between October and December 2020 (Q3), according to a statistical release by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).

This is an 11 per cent increase when compared with the same period in 2019. The release states that 86,000 decisions were granted, 3 per cent more than between October and December in 2019.

Of the decisions granted, 10,100 were residential applications. This is 9 per cent fewer than the same period a year earlier. It breaks down to 8,800 minor and 1,300 major developments.

A total of 1,800 applications for commercial developments were granted, 14 per cent less than between October and December 2019.

District planning authorities decided 88 per cent of major applications within the statutory 13 weeks or the agreed time.

District councils granted 313,900 decisions in 2020, a 10 per cent decline when compared with the year ending December 2019. This includes 39,300 decisions on residential developments: 5,000 major and 34,400 minor applications, equating to a decline of 11 per cent and 16 per cent respectively compared with 2019.

The statistical release can be found on the UK Government website.

29 March 2021
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Wokingham Borough Council’s planning committee has granted planning approval for a temporary film studio in Shinfield, which is the first phase of a larger studio proposed for the site.

The temporary planning consent will see four sound stages and four workshops built, alongside parking, landscaping and improvements to the public right of way along the western boundary.

The approval follows a deal between the University of Reading and a US film studio investor in December last year.

It involves developing a major film studio and digital creative hub, which will be known as Shinfield Studios. Plans outline the creation of a “state of the art” 21st century film and television production complex at the Thames Valley Science Park.

Samantha Foley, chief financial officer at the University of Reading, said it would be “great to see films emerging onto the international stage from right here on our doorstep”.

“This is just the beginning, as the proposals by Shinfield Studios for the rest of their site at Thames Valley Science Park present an exciting opportunity for the university community and the growing creative industries in Reading, Wokingham and across the UK.”

It is hoped that the studios will bring around 600 new jobs to the area, as well as 220 construction jobs.

Stuart Munro, executive member for business and economic development, said: “This is an exciting step for Wokingham Borough. We are already an international centre for technology and innovation with existing links to the film industry. Having this major film studio in the borough will take us that step further onto the global stage.

“This comes at the perfect time, just as we are heading into a period of recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. The jobs and inward investment from this project couldn’t come at a better time.”

Nick Smith, joint managing director of Shinfield Studios, added: “The opportunity to bring a major Hollywood-based production company to the UK, and specifically to Wokingham and Shinfield, was presented to us just before Christmas 2020. However, to realise this ambition, these facilities need to be built and ready for use by September 2021 at the latest, the planning approval means we can get on and deliver this first stage of our plans.”

The studios will be delivered through modular construction, as the studio seeks to reduce waste development and construction traffic. Solar roof panels that will generate 10 per cent of the site's energy needs will be installed, as will air source heat pumps, cycle storage and electric vehicle charging points.

30 March 2021
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Proposals for a ‘world-class’ £150 million rail testing facility on a former opencast mining site at the head of the Dulais and Tawe Valleys made significant progress this week.

A planning application for the so-called Global Centre of Rail Excellence (GCRE) scheme has been submitted and the Welsh Government has announced £50 million in funding to support the project.

The development is earmarked for a 1,000-hectare site that includes the Nant Helen opencast mine, which is in the process of being decommissioned by owner Celtic Energy, and the Onllwyn coal washery. It straddles the local authority areas of Neath Port Talbot and Powys.

The government has been working in partnership with the two local authorities to develop the complex, which in addition to R&D facilities would feature a 4.3-mile, 110mph electrified oval test track.

In order to deliver the first phase of the project, the Welsh Government has confirmed a £50 million capital funding loan for Powys County Council. Earlier this month the UK Government pledged up to £30 million funding in its spring Budget.

To take the project forward a new GCRE company will be established as the initiative makes the transition from a government-led, supported by industry to industry-led, supported by government set-up.

26 March 2021
Roger Milne, The Planner

The leader of the City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council has announced that the site of the city’s St James’s Wholesale Market is the planned location for a new Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) station.

Susan Hinchcliffe said this through station would put Bradford on the mainline NPR route between Leeds and Manchester. It is something, she added, that the council and partners think is key to the wider regeneration of the city and district.

It is expected that establishing a station in the city centre would reduce journey times to Leeds by seven minutes and to Manchester by 22 minutes, and would connect businesses and workforces, as well as the area's young people, to a range of other markets across the North.

The station is part of the area’s plans to grow cleanly and sustainably, and its ambition to be the UK City of Culture 2025.

The council owns the six-acre St James’s Market site at Essex Street. As the market is the “largest in the Yorkshire and North East region”, the council explained that there is potential to create a Northern food hub with a new larger and more accessible modern wholesale market being centre stage. This would also create more jobs.

Hinchcliffe, who is also chair of West Yorkshire Combined Authority, highlights that Bradford is not on the mainline and its two local stations “are not fit for purpose, or properly linked at all”.

“If the government is serious about its levelling-up agenda, then providing the funding for an NPR station in Bradford city centre is a no-brainer. The prime minister said that he supported an NPR route between Leeds and Manchester back in summer 2019, but we are still waiting for that commitment to be backed up.

“We understand that the government considers the underground option at the interchange site too costly for Northern Powerhouse Rail. So we’ve been pragmatic and looked for an alternative central Bradford site which could be more easily connected to NPR. 

“We now have a station site, on the edge of the city centre and at the heart of our Southern Gateway regeneration area, that is viable, deliverable and within our control. We’re embarking on masterplanning work to consider how the new station will expand the commercial centre of the city and connect to the existing civil, leisure and retail core. We are confident a new railway route and track can be identified and created – without affecting existing services and stations and with no disruption to travellers while it is constructed.

“We have a compelling case that shows Bradford city centre on a new line is the strongest of all shortlisted options from Manchester to Leeds – achieving the highest number of jobs, the most trips, the highest impact on the local economy and the greatest regeneration benefits.”   

James Lewis, leader of Leeds City Council, added that quicker journey times between Leeds and Bradford “would make a real difference to people living and working in both of these great cities”.

“Proposals like the new Bradford station are also a clear indication of how Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2 could meet the demands of 21st century life and help unlock the economic potential of communities across West Yorkshire and beyond.

“Improved connectivity and capacity on our railways is vitally needed and would create thousands of new jobs – a welcome prospect as Leeds and the wider city region look to recover from the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

25 March 2021
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Network Rail signs up to newt licence

Network Rail has signed up to an agreement that aims to enable rail works and protect the natural habitat of the great crested newt. The operator of Britain's railway infrastructure is the first organisation in the country to sign up to the deal with Natural England.

The great crested newt is usually found in ponds, woodland or underground, and can be affected by rail maintenance and improvement work.

Natural England has granted Network Rail a new licence to ensure that any newt habitat affected by teams working on the Midland Main Line upgrade is compensated for by the creation of a new habitat. The scheme is being carried out in collaboration with NatureSpace Partnership.

The railway upgrade is being carried out between Market Harborough and St Pancras International and the licence covers all aspects of the improvement programme, from setting up compounds to building railway embankments and installing new equipment.


Fossil fuel lags behind renewable energy generation

Government statistics show that renewable electricity generation outperformed fossil fuels for the first year in 2020.

According to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s energy trends report, renewable sources provided 43 per cent of the UK’s electricity. Fossil fuels generated 38.5 per cent only.

In 2020, onshore and offshore wind generated 24.2 per cent of the UK’s renewable power, which breaks down to 13 per cent from offshore wind and 11.2 per cent from onshore wind. Together, renewables and nuclear power generated 59 per cent.

The report states: “The increase in renewable generation in 2020 was driven by high levels of generation from wind, which increased by 18 per cent compared with 2019.”

It adds that fossil fuel generation in 2020 “was the lowest value on the published data series at 120.5 TWh, 38.5 per cent of electricity generated”.

RenewableUK’s deputy chief executive Melanie Onn said the data shows that “renewables are keeping this country reliably powered up during the most challenging period any of us have faced for many decades”.

The statistics can be found on the UK Government website.


WMCA invests in Birmingham brownfield site

The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has invested more than £5 million into a development scheme in Digbeth.The investment is a result of the combined authority’s brownfield-first policy and will come from the Land Fund.

The site is a five-minute walk away from the future Curzon Street HS2 Station and a number of existing rail links including Moor Street Station. Known as Stone Yard, the build-to-rent scheme will be built across seven blocks, with the tallest standing at 32 storeys.

The scheme is being led by Birmingham-based residential developer Court Collaboration.


Office redevelopment in Westminster approved

Westminster City Council has been granted planning permission for the adaptive reuse and office extension of the Crown Estate’s landmark 20 Carlton House Terrace.

The scheme involves delivering an additional three floors on the 1970s St James building so that it comprises a total of 162,000 square feet for commercial uses across 11 storeys.

It will be delivered by developers Clivedale London in 2023 and aims to cater for a post-pandemic market.


Cultural hub in Hayes gets go-ahead

The London Borough of Hillingdon has granted planning permission for its plans to bring the former pressing plant at The Old Vinyl Factory back into use as a multiscreen cinema and mixed-use community venue.

Regeneration specialist U+I, in collaboration with community developer/operator Really Local Group, is behind the plans.

Formerly known as Apollo House, the site will be called The Gramophone. It is the final part of The Old Vinyl Factory development located at the site of the former EMI record plant. The locally listed building had been partially demolished before it was acquired by Really Local Group in 2019.

As well as four-screen cinema, The Gramophone comprises a café/bar, ‘listening room’, recording studios, workspace and an interactive exhibition.


Speculative plans for industrial development submitted

An application for a speculative industrial scheme at Crow Lane in Northampton has been submitted to Northampton Borough Council.

Trebor and partner Hillwood's scheme is for land to the east of the town centre, next to the A45 dual carriageway. The units, 90,014 square feet and 57,834 square feet in size, would be developed as a single phase and available to lease in 2022. The scheme will be known as Gateway 45.


Views sought on neighbourhood plan

Residents of the village of Hammerwich, in Lichfield, have been invited to contribute their views on the development of the area.

Hammerwich Parish Council has submitted a neighbourhood plan for the Hammerwich neighbourhood area to Lichfield District Council. The plan will be available online for six weeks so that organisations and individuals can put forward their views. The consultation will be open until 5pm on 5 May.

The Hammerwich neighbourhood plan can be found on the Lichfield District Council website.

30 March 2021
Laura Edgar, The Planner