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Planning news - 6 May 2021

Published: Thursday, 6th May 2021

High Court spurns bid to continue virtual planning meetings, Guide: Biodiversity must be studied early in planning process, Deal required for net-zero homes, says report. 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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A High Court judge has dismissed a legal challenge that sought to continue local authority remote meetings beyond 6 May.

Under emergency legislation – the Coronavirus Act 2020 – planning committee meetings have been authorised to be held virtually during restrictions implemented to stem the spread of Covid-19 – as have other local authority meetings.

The 1972 Local Government Act requires councillors to be present to decide applications. The Coronavirus Act 2020 makes provisions for “persons to attend, speak at, vote in, or otherwise participate in, local authority meetings without all of the persons, or without any of the persons, being together in the same place”. This comes to an end on 6 May.

The Association of Democratic Services Officers (ADSO), Lawyers in Local Government (LLG) and Hertfordshire County Council had sought to extend this. The bodies included an application to the court to expedite proceedings to guarantee that a decision is made before the deadline.

On 28 April, the president of the Queen's Bench Division, Dame Victoria Sharp, and Mr Justice Chamberlain dismissed the challenge.

The judgment document notes a survey by the Lawyers in Local Government Group that found 75 per cent of its members were in support of hybrid meetings continuing. In support of their reasoning they cited increased democratic participation and benefits to the climate. However, some respondents maintained that some meetings in particular should not be held remotely, including full council and planning and licensing committee meetings.

In October 2020, the local authority associations wrote to the housing secretary setting out the “clear case” for extending the ability for councils to hold meetings flexibly beyond 6 May. The letter acknowledged that primary legislation would be required.

The housing secretary responded by saying that primary legislation would be required but added that “there is no option to extend the current regulations under the Coronavirus Act 2020 as section 78 (3) contains the sunset date of 7 May 2021”, although he appreciated the arguments put forward and would consider the case.

Local government minister Luke Hall wrote to local authorities in England confirming that the flexibility regulations would end as intended. He highlighted the Covid-19 safe guidance, which sets out ways to minimise the risk of face-to-face readings.

The court said: “In our view, once the flexibility regulations cease to apply, such meetings must take place at a single, specified geographical location; attending a meeting at such a location means physically going to it; and being ‘present’ at such a meeting involves physical presence at that location. We recognise that there are powerful arguments in favour of permitting remote meetings. But, as the consultation documents show, there are also arguments against doing so. The decision whether to permit some or all local authority meetings to be conducted remotely, and if so, how, and subject to what safeguards, involves difficult policy choices on which there is likely to be a range of competing views. These choices have been made legislatively for Scotland by the Scottish Parliament and for Wales by the Senedd. In England, they are for Parliament, not the courts.”

Responding to the judgment, John Austin, chair of ADSO, said: “In view of the level of support for the option of remote meetings, the LLG and ADSO are very disappointed at the decision of the court to refuse to support the updated interpretation we proposed which would have enabled councils to continue providing the option of remote attendance.

“We recognise that this will be a great disappointment for many across the sector and we will now direct our energy, and the momentum that has been generated, into lobbying government to quickly bring forward the necessary legislation to overcome this impasse and to ensure that councils have local choice to determine the methodology by which meetings can take place. Not just during the pandemic, but for the long term, in perpetuity. The government’s call for evidence is currently open. It is vitally important that you respond to that call and ensure our voice continues to be heard.”

The RTPI believes that a change in the law is needed to guarantee that virtual planning meetings in England can continue.

Chief executive Victoria Hills called on the government to introduce primary legislation as “a matter of urgency” to allow virtual meetings to continue while also exploring how a hybrid model could operate.

“Virtual meetings have been shown to deliver cost savings and there are many examples of how they have increased participation rates in the democratic process. Bringing these benefits to an abrupt end would be a huge retrograde step, slowing the decision-making process while many lockdown measures remain in place.

“More broadly, the planning white paper in England proposed harnessing digital technology to improve the planning process to engage communities and mitigate climate change. RTPI research conducted with Grayling found that over half of the UK public want to be involved in changes to their local community post-pandemic.

“The RTPI believes that virtual meetings as part of a hybrid approach could be the key to unlocking wider engagement in the planning process, while also encouraging a more diverse group of people to stand for election as councillors.”

The judgment can be found here.

The government's call for evidence on remote meetings can be found here.

29 April 2021
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Biodiversity should be considered at the earliest stages of planning for residential development in order to encourage wildlife to live there and help to reverse habitat decline, according to a guide published 27 April.

As the government seeks to build 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s, housebuilders and developers must consider how to maintain sustainability and ensure a positive impact in light of the decline in wildlife and the threat of the climate crisis.

In 2019, the State of Nature report – based on a collaboration between conservation and research organisations across the UK – found that 41 per cent of UK species had declined since 1970.

Published by the National House Building Council (NHBC) Foundation in partnership with the RSPB and Barratt Developments, the guidance sets out how the housebuilding industry can incorporate green infrastructure into new-build homes as well as enhance biodiversity within developments to deliver public health benefits.

Key topics in Biodiversity in New Housing Developments: Creating Wildlife-Friendly Communities include:

  • Implementing Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) which mimic natural processes in managing rainfall through the use of landscape form and vegetation.
  • Installing roost bricks for bats and designing lighting plans in a bat-friendly way.
  • Putting in bird nest bricks that provide permanent nest features for declining species such as swifts.
  • Ensuring boundaries that enable hedgehogs to move freely through a housing development.

Beccy Speight, CEO at the RSPB said: “The housebuilding industry is uniquely placed in having an opportunity to create not just sustainable houses, but new, sustainable communities, where people thrive alongside wildlife. This guide is a great introduction to the principles and practicalities of creating wildlife-friendly communities and a great addition to the sustainable housing toolkit.

“I hope that the industry will embrace it and help to drive positive change. We all have our part to play as we seek to revive our world.”

Richard Smith, NHBC’s head of standards, innovation and research commented: “As we head towards COP26, we want to support those in the housing and construction sector to think more about how they can better integrate biodiversity and climate resilience into new home developments to help to achieve the country’s climate change goals and improve health and wellbeing in local communities. Biodiversity Net Gain will soon become mandatory in England so there’s no excuse not to start looking at these issues now.”

Biodiversity in New Housing Developments: Creating Wildlife-Friendly Communities can be downloaded from the NHBC website.

4 May 2021
Laura Edgar, The Planner

The government has been urged to commit to making every social home in the UK as energy-efficient as possible by 2030.

The Covid Recovery Commission says this should be part of a national deal for net-zero homes – a 15-year pathway to the decarbonisation of the housing stock.

The deal should also comprise a ‘green homes bond’ – a social impact bond to provide the upfront funding for retrofit of buildings in return for a long-term share in savings made through cheaper energy bills.

A national deal for net-zero homes is one of a number of policy recommendations in the commission's final report, Ambition 2030: A Partnership for Growth, which sets out a National Prosperity Plan. This seeks to help create globally competitive industries in every part of the UK, as well as deliver on the government’s net-zero commitments and reduce the economic and social inequalities that have widened as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Chief executive of the RTPI, Victoria Hills, an advisory group member of the commission, said: “I warmly welcome proposals for a national deal for net-zero homes which closely align with the RTPI’s climate action work. We have long called for all new homes to be carbon-neutral and for a national retrofit strategy to ensure existing housing stock is decarbonised.

“I was delighted to be an advisory group member over the last year which enabled me to ensure the role of planning was integrated into these proposals. However, I will once again repeat our calls for local authority planning departments to be adequately resourced to enable them to deliver these bold ambitions.”

The report also proposes the introduction of a national prosperity scorecard to measure ‘levelling up’ against a set of social as well as economic indicators, including employment and benefit dependency rates as well as health and educational outcomes. Local leaders would be tasked with developing their own local prosperity plans to help to drive growth in every part of the UK.

John Allan, chair of the Covid Recovery Commission, said: “A national prosperity scorecard will be key to evaluating the success or failure of local plans to level up communities. By looking beyond purely economic measures, it could also act as a vital warning light for local communities. Measures on the scorecard should include issues which are important to families such as mental and physical health, community resilience and transport connectivity. They should be set by central government, but then it should be up to local leaders to drive local action.”

For the report, which has been authored by WPI Economics, the commission consulted more than 100 public policy specialists, academics, business groups, representatives from the devolved nations and the eight combined mayoral authorities.

Read Ambition 2030: A Partnership for Growth on the Covid Recovery Commission website.

30 April 2021
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Land with outline planning permission for more than 300 homes at Burry Port harbour is to be sold by Carmarthenshire County Council in a move designed to help speed up the wider regeneration of the area.

This is being led by Llanelli Waterside, a partnership between the council and the Welsh Government.

The council’s executive board gave approval for the disposal of the five-hectare site this week, which will involve an open procurement procedure.

Just over half the site once housed the Grillo zinc oxide factory, which closed in 2006. A company called Castletown Estates Ltd obtained outline permission for new homes home there, plus some retail and leisure space, but the scheme didn't progress. The council then agreed to buy the Grillo site for £2 million to help speed up its development.

Overall, there is outline planning permission for 364 new homes and 465 square metres of retail and leisure use at this location.

The land now due to be sold will form the first phase of a development, which will regenerate brownfield land and deliver about 320 new homes.

Another nearby site of approximately one hectare to the south will be brought forward as a second phase at a later date to provide 40 dwellings.

The council has commissioned an architect to draw up a minimum design standard for the scheme.

Burry Port offers 14 miles of landscaped parkland, with views of the Gower Peninsula and Carmarthen Bay.

The masterplan of the area identifies development opportunities for commercial, retail, leisure and tourism development, alongside new housing.

30 April 2021
Roger Milne, The Planner

Proposals for a 692-unit, purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) scheme on the site of the former Royal Mail sorting office in the centre of Nottingham have been submitted to the city council.

Submitted by UK residential and commercial property developer Godwin Developments, the plans would see the building, which has been vacant for nearly 20 years, demolished and replaced with a scheme ranging from 12 to 15 storeys in height.

Named the Bendigo Building, it is located on the corner of Bath Street and Cowan Street, adjacent to Mary’s Rest Gardens. It will comprise a mix of studio apartments, four, five and six-bedroom clusters and disabled studio rooms. Air source heat pumps, photovoltaic (PV) roof panels and electric vehicle-charging points feature in the proposals.

There will also be a residents’ lounge, reception area, a gym, study, games rooms and a landscaped courtyard. The basement will have space for 55 vehicles and 312 cycle storage spaces. Two commercial units on the ground floor have been proposed as well.

The development is within walking distance of Nottingham city centre, Nottingham Trent University, and Sneinton Market, while the University of Nottingham and the train station are accessible by public transport.

Matt Chandler, development director at Godwin Developments, said: “The city is a key UK hub for higher education, with an ever-growing student population. As a business with a local presence, we recognise the substantial contribution that young people make to its potential. They bring energy and vibrancy to the area, draw in private investment, boost local businesses through discretionary spend, support the day and night-time economy, and add to the ongoing citywide regeneration initiatives.

“With the number of full-time students expected to increase by approximately 28 per cent in the next few years, there is a clear requirement for more dedicated student spaces where young people can live, study, and play together. The Bendigo Building will cater to these needs while also freeing up traditional housing stock, allowing homes to return to their intended family use – responding to the aspirations of many local residents."

Godwin Development has worked with architects RG&P, engineers HSP Consulting and planning consultant PD&G.

29 April 2021
Laura Edgar, The Planner

146 homes approved at Rugby radio station

Rugby Borough Council has granted planning permission for the next parcel of land at Rugby’s former radio station development at Houlton.

Consultant Pegasus Group secured reserved matters planning approval on behalf of William Davis Homes for 146 dwellings.

The new homes will comprise a mix of two, three, four and five-bed properties, which form part of the wider sustainable urban extension (SUE) submitted as a joint venture between Urban and Civic and Aviva Investors in 2014.

The William Davis development contributes to the delivery of the strategic masterplan, which includes 6,200 homes, a secondary school, three primary schools, 31 hectares of employment space, a district centre, three local centres and 24 hectares of open space and sports pitches.


Council homes in Nottingham a step closer

Nottingham City Homes (NCH) has appointed a construction delivery partner for the delivery of new council homes in Clifton.

East Midlands-based Geda Construction has been awarded the contract. It is expected that the homes will be completed in 2022.

Planning permission for 36 one-bedroom apartments on the site of the former Southchurch garages, off Hamilton Court in Clifton, was granted last year.

Once built, the flats will be owned by Nottingham City Council and managed on its behalf by Nottingham City Homes. They will go to local households on the council house waiting list. 


Architects appointed to oversee pilot decarbonisation project

Sarah Wigglesworth Architects (SWA) has been appointed to lead a multidisciplinary team that has been awarded £1.3 million of funding to decarbonise 50 socially rented homes in Warwick.

The pilot project is being undertaken with SWA long-time partner Enhabit, in collaboration with Oxford Brookes University and the housing team at Warwick District Council.

Work involves improving thermal comfort and energy efficiency of existing semi-detached houses and bungalows across Lillington, Leamington Spa and Warwick to reduce the lifetime carbon running costs and preventing the release of embodied carbon in the existing buildings.

Wigglesworth explained: “The project is a critical step for tackling fuel poverty in social housing; we have developed innovative methods for selecting properties with local and national relevance, providing solutions for a cross-section of lifestyles and income levels. If successful, the project can be extended to both social and private housing demonstrating the value of design-led decarbonisation.”

Plans include wrapping the external envelope of the building in insulation and new external cladding, installing triple glazed windows, fitting ‘state of the art’ ventilation systems and improving the thermal performance of the roof and ground-floor slab.

This is one of the first projects to undertake PAS 2035 compliant retrofit at scale.

Work is due to start on site at the beginning of 2022.


Application for reserved matters at Oxford science district submitted

Thomas White Oxford (TWO), the development company of St John’s College, has submitted its enabling works reserved matters application (RMA) to kick-start Oxford North – the new life sciences district for Oxford – to the city council.

This comes after Oxford City Council recently granted planning permission for outline consent for the overall 64-acre masterplan and detailed consent for the first phase of development in the central area.

The reserved matters applications covers earthworks, sustainable drainage ponds, landscaping and related initial infrastructure required for the new link road construction between the A40 and A44 for the first phase of development. This development in the central area will provide 140,000 square feet of laboratories and workspace in three buildings along with the first phase of the new public park.


18-storey residential block approved

Ashford Borough Council has approved plans for a 18-storey residential development on a brownfield site in Ashford, opposite the international railway station.

The development includes 216 homes (207 apartments and nine riverside townhouses); three commercial units on the ground floor in Beaver Road;  a rooftop restaurant; and a landscaped courtyard. Two storeys will accommodate parking.

Developer, A Better Choice for Property Ltd, has called the development Infinity Ashford, in honour of John Wallis (1616-1703), who was born and raised in Ashford before becoming one of the world’s most eminent mathematicians.


Reds10 to deliver over £45m of new school build projects

Vertically integrated off-site construction specialist Reds10 is advancing plans for five new schools under the Department for Education's (DfE) £3 billion ‘Off-site Schools Framework (incorporating modular and MMC delivery)’, which launched last year.

Reds10 will deliver over £45 million of works for the new school buildings. The buildings are part of the first wave of new MMC schools to be built in the next four years as part of the government’s drive for increased use of MMC.

The first project to be awarded a contract on the framework was Reds10’s Abbey Farm Educate Together Primary School in Swindon, which was submitted for planning 13 weeks after appointment. It seeks to achieve net-zero operational carbon. Work was due to begin on site at the end of April.

Other schools Reds10 are progressing include:

  • Oak Tree SEN School in Winnersh, which completed its school engagement phase in mid-April, will form part of the Maiden Erlegh Trust Academies, providing 150 spaces, catering for both primary and secondary school age pupils with social, emotional, and mental health needs (SEMH) and/or autistic spectrum condition (ASC).
  • Kent SEND School: the first SEND school on the Isle of Sheppey.
  • Waterside Primary Academy in Nottingham, part of the DfE’s Pathfinder Programme, which is being used to establish the future sustainable schools’ matrix.


Spelthorne joins Local Land Charges Register

Spelthorne Borough Council has joined HM Land Registry’s Local Land Charges Register, which means that anyone requiring local land charges in the borough will need to get them from HM Land Registry rather than going to the council.

Local land charges searches are normally required in the property-buying process. Most local land charges are restrictions or prohibitions on the use of the property such as planning permissions or listed buildings.

Heather Morgan, group head for regeneration and growth at Spelthorne Borough Council, said: “We are delighted to be the first borough within Surrey to migrate to HM Land Registry’s LLC Register. We are confident that the change will be seamless for our clients and residents, whilst maintaining our high level of service and the quality of our data.”


Stockport in search of brownfield land

Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council has issued a call for brownfield land that might be suitable for development. The call is part of work to develop a local plan.

The sites will be considered before the council makes decisions in respect of other land to be included. All sites put forward will be assessed against a range of criteria to make sure that they deliver the aims and objectives of the local plan.

Suggestions can be submitted until 23 May 2021 on the council website.

4 May 2021
Laura Edgar, The Planner