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Planning news - 3 June 2021

Published: Thursday, 3rd June 2021

A third of UK population covered by councils pledging net-zero, Fire statement proposal for high-rise developments after Grenfell, London's brownfield has capacity for 400k homes. 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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More than a third of the UK’s population is now represented by local authorities that are planning to reach net-zero emissions ahead of the government’s 2050 commitment.

Five council leaders have become the latest to join UK100’s “net-zero pledge” and reach the target at least five years ahead of Whitehall.

St Albans, Brighton and Hove, and Warwick district councils have signed up alongside the London boroughs of Hammersmith and Fulham and Lambeth.

The pledge commits them to neutralising council emissions by 2030 and those of their residents and businesses by 2045.

A total of 58 climate-aligned councils are now part of UK100, a network of local authority leaders committed to tackling climate change. Collectively, they represent 23.5 million people – around 35 per cent of the UK’s population and 28 per cent of England’s land area.

UK100 said more than 100 local authorities have pledged to run on 100 per cent clean energy by 2050, while the most ambitious are aiming to go “further and faster than the government” on net-zero.

The network is lobbying for more powers and resources from central government to enable them to take ambitious climate action and the country to meet its legally bound target.

“It’s a task that will need bold leadership, legislative clarity, shifts in culture and behaviours, willingness to make mistakes and an enthusiastic adoption of new technologies,” said UK100’s incoming network membership director Christopher Hammond, who is a former leader of Southampton City Council. “I know from my time leading a city council that local government is uniquely placed to face and overcome these challenges.”

1 June 2021
Huw Morris, The Planner

Developers must submit a fire statement alongside a planning application for multi-occupied residential buildings under government proposals following the Grenfell Tower disaster.

The proposal is aimed at improving building safety in high-rise residential buildings after 72 people died in the blaze at the 24-storey block in North Kensington, London in June 2017. Grenfell Tower was the worst residential fire in the UK since the Second World War.

Under the plan, the government will introduce an obligation to consider building safety at three new “gateways”. These cover planning, before works start on site and when the building is occupied.

The proposal focuses on multi-occupancy residential buildings of 18 metres or more, or seven or more storeys, whichever is reached first.

“Relevant buildings” under the gateway will mean those with two or more homes and educational accommodation, including boarding schools and university halls of residence. The proposal applies to new schemes, redevelopments as well as developments within the curtilage of an existing building.

The proposal will require developers to demonstrate that the planning application process incorporates “thinking on fire safety”. These involve a statement setting out fire safety considerations specific to the development to be included in the planning application.

The Health and Safety Executive and – when it is established – the Building Safety Regulator will become statutory consultees to advise planning authorities before permission can be granted.

The statements will require developers to outline the principles and approach taken to fire safety as well as detailed information on the site layout, including external wall systems and balconies, and the approach to evacuating residents.

A fire statement must also cover emergency vehicle access and water supplies for firefighting. Developers will be obliged to state what consultation has taken place on fire safety and how they responded to it.

They must also show how fire safety policies in any relevant local development documents have been taken into account.

“Gateway one”, which focuses on the planning stage, fulfils a government pledge in its Building a Safer Future consultation paper. The two other “gateways” will form part of the building safety bill and accompanying legislation planned for later this year.

The changes to implement “gateway one” are due to come into effect from 1 August, subject to parliamentary scrutiny.

1 June 2021
Huw Morris, The Planner

More than 400,000 homes within 1.5km of a town centre could be built on brownfield land in London, according to an AECOM report.

Infrastructure consultant AECOM’s London 2070: Our Vision for the Future City Region finds that 90 per cent of the capital’s brownfield land, which amounts to more than 2,000 hectares, is within 15 minutes of civic and transport hubs.

The study contends that “revitalising” local high streets and town centres in London and the South East region is “key to rebuilding the capital’s economy in a more balanced and resilient way”.

Building on the opportunities for thriving town centres in the region would reduce overheating on the regional economy and help London to retain its position as a leading global city, says AECOM.

London 2070: Our Vision for the Future City Region calls for a greater emphasis on redeveloping brownfield land and underused buildings as a short-term focus to support the delivery of new homes in locations that support sustainable growth. It adds that urban homes should not be built without access to local facilities and sustainable transport modes.

Andrew Jones, AECOM’s city programme director, said: “London consistently falls short of building sufficient homes in sustainable places. Intensifying the reuse of previously developed land close to existing transport options and social infrastructure would help support the swift delivery of new homes and support a renaissance of town centres. Our research shows there is the potential for nearly half a million new homes on brownfield land close to existing hubs in the capital.”

This focus on brownfield land must sit alongside an “ambitious” programme for 21st century garden communities designed for active travel and public transit. They should be climate positive and balance the demand for new homes with a lean use of resources.

The report suggests that there must be a fundamental change to community development and placemaking across London and its commuter belt. London authorities should work with their neighbours to bring about balanced growth.

It notes that London’s “reach” goes beyond the M25, therefore it sets out a London City Region that should include everywhere within a 60-minute travel time from central London.

Jones commented: “For too long the lack of an overarching spatial planning framework for London and the South East has made region-wide issues with long-term consequences impossible to address. The challenges of redefining the London City Region post-pandemic and proactively addressing climate change are not being looked at holistically. As the mayor and government plan the priorities to support the capital’s recovery from the pandemic, there needs to be a coordinated plan. We need to make bold moves that focus on compact growth in the city and embrace the interconnected future of the wider metropolitan region.”

London 2070: Our Vision for the Future City Region can be found on the AECOM website.

27 May 2021
Laura Edgar, The Planner

A West Midlands authority will not defend an appeal by a developer against its rejection of a 200-home scheme.

Warwick District Council’s planning committee had turned down plans by AC Lloyd for the homes near Leamington Spa in February.

However, the council’s lawyers have warned that the decision may have been “irrational or unlawful”. The refusal was not supported by sound technical or planning reasons and was contrary to the expert evidence considered at the meeting, they added.

“The appeal will proceed, and the merits of the committee’s decision will be determined by the inspector, but this council will not commit significant sums of public money contesting this appeal with the additional risk of being ordered to meet all of the substantial costs incurred by the appellant should they be successful,” said Warwick leader Andrew Day.

Planning committee members will be supported in providing witness statements to the hearing, he added, while others may choose to become “rule 6 parties” to contest the appeal. Under this rule, interested parties with a substantive case can apply to the secretary of state to appear at an inquiry.

AC Lloyd has made a second application for the site, which was also refused by the planning committee in May. Day said if the appeal on the first application is successful, permission would be granted for the new development, but without any obligation for the developer to invest in mitigation measures offered by the second application.

He added that the planning committee had acted with integrity in considering this important and complex application.

“The decision not to object to this appeal is a careful and considered judgement on where best to apply scarce public funding, given the strong legal advice about the very limited chances of defending the grounds on which the committee’s decision was taken,” said Day.

1 June 2021
Huw Morris, The Planner

The Court of Appeal has rejected a challenge to the London Borough of Southwark’s approval of a major regeneration project at the Elephant and Castle.

Jerry Flynn, a member of affordable housing campaigners 35%, had sought to overturn the council’s decision to allow nearly 1,000 homes – 116 of them for social rent – at the Elephant and Castle shopping centre and London College of Communication.

The challenge focused on the level of social rented housing in the scheme. The campaigners also claimed that the council’s planning committee was misled about the maximum amount of affordable housing the scheme could viably include, with at least another 42 social rented homes provided with Greater London Authority funding. The High Court dismissed the claim in 2019.

The Court of Appeal agreed with the original ruling by Mr Justice Dove that “members were clearly advised” that developer Elephant and Castle Properties was committed to providing the 116 social rented homes via section 106, “without that being in any way conditional upon grant funding being secured". It also agreed with the original ruling that "when read as a whole the material before members did not suggest that grant funding had been confirmed” and therefore an error of fact did not arise.

The Court of Appeal added that as the scheme’s viability had been assessed on the assumption that grants would be available, “there was no justification in policy, or in good sense, for the council to require more affordable housing than was in fact proposed”.

The approach taken by the officers was “squarely within their delegated authority” and “the committee's decision to grant planning permission was not based on a mistake of fact, and the members were not materially misled by the advice they received”, added the judgement.

1 June 2021
Huw Morris, The Planner

Government to reform supply chain plans for renewable energy

The government has confirmed that it will withdraw or terminate a contract for difference (CfD) if a developer fails to deliver an acceptable supply chain implementation statement.

Under the move, unveiled as part of a package of reforms to the renewables auction scheme, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said assessing a developer’s delivery of supply chain commitments would be brought forward until shortly after the project’s milestone delivery date.

The business secretary will gain new powers to pass or refuse a supply chain implementation statement (SCIS). A new operational condition precedent will be introduced which could see the termination of a CfD if an SCIS is not provided before the ‘long-stop date’ set out by the developer. The moves were originally signalled in the energy white paper.


Liverpool to set out code of practice after damaging inspection

Liverpool City Council has agreed to establish a code of conduct for members on planning as part of a wide-ranging response following a highly critical inspection.

Inspector Max Caller, appointed by communities secretary Robert Jenrick, sharply criticised the regeneration, planning, highways and property management departments. Government-appointed commissioners will now oversee these departments.

The council has pledged to immediately incorporate the Local Government Association’s model code of conduct and associated codes of practice, including mandatory training requirements in ethics and behaviours. It will also establish a specific code of conduct for members on licensing and planning matters.

Liverpool is also promising to roll out an amended delegated decision-making process, including “a revised template, e-form, authorisation gateway, guidance for members and officers and automatic publication process”. It will also improve the “content and updating of declarations of interest and gifts and hospitality” for members and officers.

The council has also agreed a new code of conduct and associated training for members and officers, including a specific code for “developer engagement” as part of an improvement plan.


Birmingham’s clean air zone is UK first for private cars

The first clear air zone (CAZ) in the UK to include private cars was formally launched on 1 June.

Drivers of high-polluting cars will be charged £8 to travel into the centre of Birmingham. Air pollution contributes to around 900 premature deaths in the city each year. The scheme also applies to diesel buses, coaches and HGVs, which will be charged £50 a day.

It is anticipated that a quarter of cars in Birmingham will be affected. In March, Bath launched the first charging CAZ outside of London. This charges non-compliant taxis, private hire vehicles and vans but not private cars £9 and £100 for heavy vehicles entering the city centre. BDP Pitmans legal director Rahul Bijlani, who advised both schemes, said the Birmingham CAZ is “significant not just for the undoubted air quality benefits it will bring, but for the message it sends nationally”.

Local authorities are likely to face stricter duties to achieve air quality standards and Birmingham’s CAZ could “act as a beacon” for other councils.


Supreme Court rejects challenge to neighbourhood development plan

The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by former Blackpool FC owner Owen Oyston to build 500 homes at Lytham Moss after ruling that his application for judicial review was out of time.

Fylde Coast Farms Ltd, Oyston’s company, had challenged Fylde Borough Council’s decision not to include his site in a local neighbourhood development plan. A draft neighbourhood development plan was considered by an independent examiner who recommended that the plan be modified to include land owned by Fylde Coast Farms and then submitted to a referendum. The council decided to submit the draft plan to a referendum without the proposed modification, with 90 per cent of those voting supporting it.

Just under six weeks later, Fylde Coast Farms Ltd applied for a judicial review of the decision to make the plan without the examiner’s proposed modification. The Planning Court held that the challenge related to the council’s decision to hold the referendum without modifying the draft plan, rather than its later decision to make the plan.

Since that decision had been published more than six weeks before Fylde Coast Farm’s claim for judicial review, the Planning Court held that the claim had been brought out of time. The Court of Appeal also dismissed the challenge. Upholding the earlier courts’ rulings, Lord Sales in the Supreme Court said the law imposed strict time limits for challenges to each stage to avoid having a final referendum overturned when legal issues should have been resolved.


Green space inequality hampers 2.78 million people

A total of 2.78 million people in the UK live farther than a 10-minute walk from their nearest park or green space, according to latest research.

The latest Green Space Index (GSI) reveals the scale of inequality of access to local parks despite their vital role in the nation's wellbeing during lockdown, according to the Fields Trust, which compiled the research.

This shows the total green space provision in Great Britain stands at 201,000 hectares. Seven of the nine English regions do not meet a minimum standard of green space provision as measured by the GSI Score. The Fields Trust said areas with the least provision of green space tend to be those with a higher incidence of deprivation.

Scotland has the highest provision of green space per person with 38.18 square metres, followed by the East of England with 35.77 and Wales with 34.94.


Green light for Exeter University student flats plan

Plans for an extra 1,250 flats on the University of Exeter’s campus have been approved after councillors accepted planning officers’ recommendation that the development was the best way to reverse the trend of family homes being occupied by students.

Exeter City Council’s planning committee backed the development of the Clydesdale, Nash and Birks Grange Village halls of residence, which will see two and three-storey buildings demolished and replaced with new student accommodation ranging in height from three to eight storeys.

These buildings will include ancillary services such as shops, cafés at the ground floor level and arranged in courtyard settings with associated hard and soft landscaping. The scheme will also see the demolition and replacement of a service centre with student accommodation varying in height from three to four storeys.

A refectory building will also make way for a six-storey building, with social and amenity space on the ground floor.


Outline application to revamp Watford hospital unveiled

Plans to significantly redevelop Watford General Hospital have been formally submitted to the local authority. An outline planning application by West Hertfordshire NHS Trust to Watford Borough Council includes major demolition work as part of a redesign of the hospital with development of its current car park including a 17-storey building.

Watford General is proposed to be the hub for emergency, specialist and complex care, with planned surgical care and cancer services in St Albans, and planned medical care and long-term conditions in Hemel Hempstead. The trust says urgent care services will be provided at all three sites.

Construction work to create a multistorey car park for the hospital on former allotment land is also under way.


Hull housing scheme set for approval

A proposed development of 114 homes on a site in Hull is recommended for approval at a meeting this week.

Gleeson Regeneration submitted a reserved matters application to Hull City Council in 2019 to develop on a 3.8-hectare site. Planning permission is now sought for 22 two-bed semi-detached, 44 three-bed semi-detached units, 35 three-bed detached, and 13 four-bed detached properties.

The application will be considered by the council’s planning committee this week with an officer’s report recommending approval. The report said the proposed development would “provide an acceptable standard of residential development on an allocated site”.

Outline planning permission was previously granted in 2018 for 135 homes, together with associated vehicular, pedestrian and cycle accesses, landscaping and infrastructure.

1 June 2021
Huw Morris, The Planner