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Planning news - 28 October 2021

Published: Thursday, 28th October 2021

£3.9bn for decarbonising heat and buildings set out, 13 areas in England to take part in digital planning trial, Lords’ ancient woodland amendment to environment bill rejected. 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 UK Government has committed £3.9 billion of new funding for the decarbonisation of heat and buildings as part of its Net Zero Strategy.

Published 19 October, the strategy sets out how the government intends to secure 440,000 “well-paid jobs” and unlock £90 billion of private investment by 2030.

The strategy is the government’s plan to end its contribution to the climate crisis by 2050. Also, the government wants people’s energy bills to be lower.

Plans to decarbonise heat and buildings include a £450 million three-year boiler upgrade scheme. This will be implemented through the Heat and Buildings Strategy, also published yesterday. It involves new grants of £5,000, which will be available from April 2022, to encourage homeowners to install more efficient, low-carbon heating systems such as heat pumps.

The Net Zero Strategy also includes a £124 million boost to the government's Nature for Climate Fund. It goes towards restoring 280,000 hectares of England's peat by 2050 and treble woodland creation in England to meet the government's commitment to create at least 30,000 hectares a year across the UK by the end of this Parliament.

An extra £500 million will go towards “innovation projects” to develop green technologies for the future. This brings the total funding for net-zero research and innovation to at least £1.5 billion to support “the most pioneering” ideas and technologies to decarbonise homes, industries, land and power.

The Net Zero Strategy builds on Prime Minister Boris Johnson's 10 Point Plan, a £12 billion plan for a green recovery from Covid-19, published in November 2020.

It states that the government recognises the importance of the planning system to common challenges like combating climate change and supporting sustainable growth. To deliver a decarbonised system by 2035, the government has made a number of key commitments, including ensuring that the planning system can support the deployment of low-carbon energy infrastructure.

According to the strategy, the government will embed transport decarbonisation principles in spatial planning and across transport policymaking. It acknowledges that the UK has a limited amount of land and to deliver net zero, changes to the way land is used are required, such as afforestation, biomass production and peat restoration.

“In addition, through the environment bill, the government is introducing Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRS), a spatial planning tool for nature, allowing local government and communities to identify priorities and opportunities for nature recovery and nature-based solutions across England,” it states.

As part of its plans to reform the planning system, the government said it will review the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to make sure it contributes to climate change mitigation and adaptation as fully as possible.

The Net Zero Strategy comes ahead of COP26, which the UK, alongside Italy, will host in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November.

Johnson said: “The UK’s path to ending our contribution to climate change will be paved with well-paid jobs, billions in investment and thriving green industries – powering our green industrial revolution across the country.

“By moving first and taking bold action, we will build a defining competitive edge in electric vehicles, offshore wind, carbon-capture technology and more, whilst supporting people and businesses along the way.

“With the major climate summit COP26 just around the corner, our strategy sets the example for other countries to build back greener too as we lead the charge towards global net zero.

Energy secretary Kwasi Kwarteng added: “There is a global race to develop new green technology, kick-start new industries and attract private investment. The countries that capture the benefits of this global green industrial revolution will enjoy unrivalled growth and prosperity for decades to come – and it’s our job to ensure the UK is fighting fit.

“The plan will not only unlock billions of pounds of investment to boost the UK’s competitive advantage in green technologies, but will create thousands of jobs in new, future-proof industries – clearly demonstrating that going green and economic growth go hand in hand."

Alongside the Net Zero and Heat and Buildings strategies, HM Treasury published its Net Zero Review, which explores the key issues as the UK decarbonises. It intends to help build a picture of where opportunities could arise and what should be taken into account when designing decarbonisation policy.

Reaction:

Richard Blyth, head of policy at the RTPI, said: “The government rightly acknowledges in its Net Zero Strategy the importance of the planning system in achieving climate targets. 

“However, there is still no clarity on when the government will review the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). It is essential that ministers urgently amend the NPPF to strengthen its commitment to climate action and align it with the Climate Change Act.

“Planning professionals are well placed to lead the efforts to reach net zero and the RTPI has this week published guidance to help local authorities in this area

“We hope that the government will back up its support for the English planning system by providing £500 million over the next four years.”

Mark Bridgeman, president of the Country Land & Business Association (CLA), welcomed the additional funds to support tree planting and peatland restoration, but noted “with regret that government is already significantly behind in its existing targets”.

“To plant 30,000 hectares of new trees per year by 2024 across the UK means more than doubling current rates of planting. The ambition is good, but the delivery will be extremely challenging, particularly in England, where competition for land use is stronger than ever.

“Landowners across the country are willing and able to help government meet its tree planting targets, but they can only do so with the right support. While the grants scheme in England is now more attractive, farmers will need long0term certainty if they are to plant trees on land that could have another use.”

Sue Riddlestone OBE, chief executive at Bioregional, said: “While falling short of the urgent and ambitious action that we need, the government’s heat and buildings strategy is a welcome step towards reducing carbon emissions from our buildings – currently 21 per cent of the UK’s total emissions.

“Boosting the market for energy-efficient alternatives to gas boilers will achieve economies of scale for manufacturers, helping prices to fall, and will support training, skills, and our green economy. However, limiting boiler replacement grants to just 90,000 households assumes that prices of heat pumps and other technologies will fall quickly to allow the government's target of 600,000 new installations by 2028 to be met.

“More importantly, decarbonising the UK’s built environment is a significant challenge, and crucial elements remain unresolved in the announcement. The UK desperately needs a campaign to insulate our leaky homes, supported by clear regulatory and fiscal incentives and training for all the trades, if we are to reduce the demand for energy and reduce energy bills for consumers. Ideally, the heat pump grant would be accompanied by a requirement to have a whole home energy plan and ensure energy efficiency of at least EPC C.”

She also said urgent action is needed to ensure that all new homes are built to be zero-carbon in operation.

Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) director of policy Matthew Farrow said the net-zero policy documents “contain a level of ambition that would have been unthinkable just three years ago”.

“It is fair to say that both government and business activity on net zero is picking up speed, and the government’s approach of backing a range of technologies while seeking to bring down technology costs is broadly sensible. Likewise, the attempt to balance maintaining public support while delivering regulatory clarity is clumsy but politically understandable.  

“The next few years really are make or break, however, and the hard work is only just beginning. The challenge is to convert the broad outlines we now have for technology choices and rollouts into actual physical deployment across millions of households and thousands of communities. Furthermore, this must be done in a joined-up way. The engineering and consultancy sector will be crucial in delivering this. Only we have the combination of engineering and design expertise, systems thinking, data insights and cross sectoral experience to make a net-zero society a reality."

Dave Sheridan, executive chairman at modular housebuilder ilke Homes, commented: “While welcome, the government’s new heating and building strategy must be more ambitious in its goal to decarbonise the UK’s housing stock.

“To avoid huge retrofitting costs, policymakers must prioritise the delivery of zero-carbon new homes now by bringing forward the requirement to reach the Future Homes Standard ahead of 2025. Homes England, the government’s forward-thinking housing agency, could also be reserving public land exclusively for housing that meets this standard to spur investment into the technologies that could create a green industrial revolution in housebuilding.

“The government’s target of installing 600,000 air source heat pumps in UK homes by 2028 is achievable as half of those should be in new homes. The sooner we move to these low-carbon technologies, the sooner we can bring down capital costs. It’s thanks to this scaling up that the cost of manufacturing wind turbines, solar panels and battery-powered cars have all drastically reduced. Policy should look to replicate for housebuilding the successes achieved in other sectors.”

Julie Hirigoyen, chief executive at UKGBC said: “UKGBC welcomes the recognition by government that we must move away from heating our buildings with fossil fuels – and that households must be helped to make the transition to clean electric heating.

“However, phasing out gas boilers from 2035 is not ambitious enough – there needs to be a clear cut-off date from 2030 to put us on track to meet net zero. And £5,000 grants will help just 30,000 households – a drop in the ocean in the context of the 900,000 annual installations we need to see by 2028. Worse still, there’s no targeted financial help at all for low-income households to embark on the journey to clean electric heating – meaning that the gap between rich and poor will widen, not close.

“Energy efficiency 101 tells us that retrofitting homes with insulation and efficiency measures has the multiple benefits of lowering fuel bills, enabling low-carbon heat solutions to work more effectively, and creating jobs. If we don’t urgently take that basic first step we run the risk of overloading the electricity grid and continuing to fail to meet the needs of society’s most vulnerable.

The Net Zero Strategy can be read here and the Heating and Buildings Strategy can be found here.

20 October 2021
Laura Edgar, The Planner


The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) has announced that 13 local planning authorities in England will trial 'innovative' digital tools that intend to help local people have their say in the planning process.

Government funding of £1 million has been allocated to the authorities under the PropTech Engagement Fund. They will test new digital initiatives to make the planning process more open and accessible and boost public engagement.

The fund was launched in August 2021 and local planning authorities were invited to submit bids for up to £100,000 to run pilots, with the hope engagement in local plan consultations, for example, increases.

The pilots will run until March 2022. The government hopes they will inform its works to modernise the planning system. DLUHC said it is working with planning authorities to establish best practice and identify where further digital guidance and innovations are needed.

In addition, the government hopes the initiatives will encourage those under represented in planning decisions, such as young people and black and ethnic minority communities, to share their opinions.

Housing minister Christopher Pincher said: “We want to use digital technology to make the planning system fit for the 21st century and empower people from all backgrounds to get involved in decisions that impact their communities.

“From scannable QR codes giving people local planning information straight to their mobile devices, to interactive online maps, these digital pilots will help us create a more accessible and transparent system and ensure people are informed, engaged and can have their say.”

25 October 2021
Laura Edgar, The Planner


MPs have voted against a House of Lords’ amendment to the environment bill that would have seen a minimum 50-metre buffer around ancient woodland near new development.

The House of Lords wanted to insert a clause that stated: “Duty to implement an enhanced protection standard for ancient woodland in England”.

This ancient woodland standard would set out the necessary steps to prevent further loss of the habitat in England and would commit the government to adopting a standard of protection “which must be required for all companies, persons or organisations involved in developments affecting ancient woodlands in England”.

The standard would see refusal for any development that would result in the direct loss to ancient woodland and veteran trees unless there were wholly exceptional reasons why it should go ahead. Any development adjacent to ancient woodland would also need to incorporate a minimum 50-metre buffer to provide protection.

Speaking about this amendment (66) in a House of Commons’ debate on the bill yesterday (20 October), environment minister Rebecca Pow said the government will be taking action on ancient woodland, including a review of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) “to ensure that it is being correctly implemented in the case of ancient and veteran trees and ancient woodland”.

“Should the review conclude that implementation can be improved, we will look to strengthen the guidance to local authorities to ensure their understanding of the protections provided to ancient woodland.”

Pow explained that the government would consult on strengthening the wording of the NPPF to “better ensure the strongest protection of ancient woodland, while recognising the complex delivery challenges for major infrastructure”. The Town and Country Planning (Consultation) (England) Direction 2021 will be amended to require local planning authorities to consult the housing secretary if they are minded to grant planning permission for developments that affect ancient woodland.

She asked MPs to reject the amendment, which they did.

Arbtech managing director Robert Oates said: “It is ‘probably’ a good thing that MPs rejected the 50m buffer around ancient woodland, as while it’s ostensibly a sound and noble aim, it would make a great many developments completely unviable, or at the very least compromised to the point of severely diminished utility. When we think about ‘development’, we tend to think of greedy developers cramming as many tiny, ugly, lifeless houses on to a site as possible, but that ignores the economic reality faced by many young people that presently don’t have a hope in hell of getting on  the property ladder, to say nothing of the problems that other landowners – such as those in the rural community – would face if the 50m buffer amendment was accepted.”

The bill is currently going through the ping-pong process as the House of Lords and House of Commons try to agree on the wording. The House of Lords will consider it on 26 October.

The bill can be found here on the UK Parliament website.

Part one of the debate can be found here and part two here.

21 October 2021
Laura Edgar, The Planner


The Welsh Government stressed this week that it wants to scale up renewable generation. It has assembled a group of 17 experts, both within the sector and from outside, to identify what needs to be done to overcome any barriers.

This review was announced by Lee Waters, deputy minister for climate change, who will lead the initiative.

Waters explained: “The purpose of the exercise is to identify the opportunities we have in Wales to significantly scale up renewable generation, consider the barriers and the steps required to overcome them.

“We will look at short, medium and long-term steps, and in doing so we will have a focus on retaining wealth and ownership in Wales.”

The outcome of this work will be announced in a ministerial statement ahead of the Christmas recess. This will include an action plan.

The group will consider the scale of opportunity for public and community-led renewable energy generation in Wales as well as assessing the scale of investment in renewable energy generation needed to meet the country’s statutory duties.

22 October 2021
Roger Milne, The Planner


The roads minister, Baroness Vere, has announced that Central Bedfordshire will receive £32.7 million funding from the government to build a new bypass to ease transport of goods between the M1 and the Midlands.

The project will see the construction of a 2.75-mile road link between junction 11a of the M11 and the A6, forming a north-western bypass for Luton.

It will connect the east and west of north Luton and is intended to support the development of up to 3,600 new homes and around 2,800 new jobs.

The scheme, said the government, will improve air quality and journey times in north Luton communities, which will see less congestion. 

It also aims to reduce carbon emissions and encourage active travel by including a three-metre-wide foot and cycle path on the south side of the link road.

Kevin Collins, executive member for planning and regeneration at Central Bedfordshire Council, said: “The funding provides us with a welcome opportunity to improve connectivity between towns in Central Bedfordshire, especially east-west linkages, whilst also easing congestion in the villages and areas north of Luton.

“It will also facilitate the delivery of growth envisaged in our adopted local plan and will provide homes, jobs and necessary supporting infrastructure for Central Bedfordshire and the wider area.”

The construction work of the road is due to start in January 2022 and be finished by January 2024.

20 October 2021
Prithvi Pandya, The Planner


Birmingham council approves Balsall Heath plans

Birmingham City Council has approved plans submitted by partners Galliard Homes and Apsley House Capital for a residential development of 438 homes in Balsall Heath, Birmingham.

The 4.72-hectare (12 acres) site has been vacant for more than 20 years and was previously occupied by Joseph Chamberlain Sixth Form College and Birmingham Sports Centre.

It fronts the A4540 Belgrave Middleway and the A435 Haden Way, and is bounded by Sherbourne Road and Balsall Heath Road.

The plans by Galliard Apsley Partnership are to regenerate the site to create a neighbourhood, called Belgrave Village, comprising a mix of two, three and four-bedroom town houses and one and two-bedroom apartments, private and shared courtyard gardens, landscaped public realm and a linear park. There will be parking for 263 cars and 670 cycle spaces.

Belgrave Village will be divided into three neighbourhood areas. The Sherborne and Haden areas will provide a mix of terraced housing, while the Belgrave area comprises two apartment blocks with a landscaped internal courtyard.

Additionally, two vehicle access roads will be created on Sherbourne Road and Haden Way.

 

ilke Homes to deliver housing in Hastings

Modular homes developer ilke Homes has secured a 12.4-acre site in Hastings, East Sussex for the development of up to 140 factory-built homes.

The site will be located on Harrow Lane. If approved by Hastings Borough Council, the development will deliver a mix of apartments and houses ranging in sizes from one to four bedrooms, which will be made available for either affordable rent or shared ownership.

'Precision-engineering' techniques will, says ilke Homes, enable the firm to deliver the 140 affordable homes in half the time of traditional methods, due to most of the construction stage taking place offsite.

A reserved matters application will be submitted to the local council in November, with ilke Homes aiming to begin on site by autumn 2022. it is intended for the practical completion of the first homes to be complete from spring 2023 onwards.

Andy Batsford, lead councillor for housing at Hastings Borough Council, said:  “We are really excited to see a new provider in town delivering 70 affordable rented homes which will be allocated to our local people and families on the housing list who will be able to move into energy efficient, modern, well designed secure homes.”

 

Blackwall reach development approved

The third phase of the £500 million regeneration project at Blackwall Reach has been granted detailed planning permission.

It comprises 315 homes and public realm improvements.

Swan Housing Association, in partnership with the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and the Greater London Authority (GLA), is replacing 252 existing residential homes, car parks and warehouses at the Blackwall Reach with 1,575 new homes, 50 per cent of which have been designated as affordable.

Phase 1a and 1b delivered 340 homes, while 268 homes are currently under construction as part of phase 2.

 

Civic centre in North East sold for development

Vistry Partnerships North East has exchanged contracts with Sunderland City Council on its purchase of the Sunderland Civic Centre and plans to develop a residential community on the site.

Located on Burdon Road, the house builder plans to deliver 280 homes, which will be a mixture of open market and affordable.

Vistry Partnerships said the proposed architecture and streetscape is "sensitive to the parkside location and the Ashbrooke Conservation Area".

Subject to planning permission being granted, the demolition of the old civic centre should get underway in early 2022.

26 October 2021
Laura Edgar and Prithvi Pandya, The Planner