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Planning news - 1 February 2024

A legal challenge has been launched because the newly published National Policy Statement for Renewable Energy Infrastructure (EN-3) does not include onshore wind farm development. 

Good Law Project and Leigh Day have launched a legal challenge against the government. A pre-action letter has been sent and if the response is considered “unsatisfactory”, a judicial review will be launched. 

Earlier in January, the government published a new suite of National Policy Statements, including an overarching National Policy Statement on energy (EN-1) and EN-3. 

EN-3 explicitly states that it “does not cover onshore wind”, meaning onshore wind farm planning applications should be determined in line with the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, rather than the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) regime. 

According to research in 2022 by Dr Rebecca Windemer1, lecturer in environmental planning at UWE Bristol, the impact of the 2015 policy change for onshore wind farms in England, which saw them removed from the NSIP regime, led to 11 per cent of local authorities allocating areas for onshore wind farms.  

In its second National Infrastructure Assessment, a five-yearly review, the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC)2 recommended that the government should “amend legislation to bring onshore wind into the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project system as soon as possible”. 

The legal challenge comes after Scottish Power’s chief executive told an Energy Security and Net Zero Committee meeting that England is a “godforsaken” place for onshore wind. 

In September 20233, housing secretary Michael Gove confirmed the government's intention to proceed with changes to national planning policy for onshore wind.  

Good Law Project notes that since this statement and December 2023, no projects to generate power with onshore wind turbines were submitted to planning authorities. 

This legal challenge by Good Law Project, represented by Leigh Day, is intended to force ministers “to unleash the potential of onshore wind”. It focuses on the government's failure to give "reasons" under section 5 of the Planning Act 2008 for how its exclusion of onshore wind is consistent with a policy of meeting the net-zero target, following the NIC's recommendation. 

Emma Dearnaley, legal director at Good Law Project, said: “The government is stubbornly refusing to back one of the cheapest forms of renewable energy. Instead, in the middle of a climate and cost-of-living crisis, ministers are focusing their efforts on keeping the fossil fuel industry thriving for decades to come. 

“It’s hard to see how we will reach net zero without forcing the government to unleash the potential of onshore wind by removing all the barriers they have put up in front of it. If we need to take ministers to court to do so, then we will.” 

Leigh Day solicitor Rowan Smith added: “The secretary of state is under a legal duty to explain how the exclusion of onshore wind is compatible [with] its net-zero policy, yet there has been a complete failure to do so. This is compounded by the fact that the government promised a review of nationally significant planning policy, including the exclusion of onshore wind, following the enactment of the net-zero target. If our client receives an unsatisfactory response to its pre-action letter, then we will advise on a claim for judicial review.” 

29 January 2024 
Laura Edgar, The Planner 

Proposals signed for devolution in Devon and Torbay

Levelling up minister Jacob Young has signed a devolution deal with Devon County Council and Torbay Council. 

If the proposals are ratified by the councils, a combined county authority will be established and a mayor elected. The deal would see £16 million awarded from central government to invest in local priorities, such as homes, creating green jobs and business growth. 

Young said: “This marks a significant milestone as we finalise the Level 2 devolution agreement with Devon and Torbay. This transformative deal is set to channel additional resources and authority away from Whitehall, empowering local communities. 

“Located in the heart of the South West, this deal will give the region a chance to progress net zero ambitions and accelerate wider low carbon business transition.” 

The 40-page proposed deal document sets out the transfer of a range of powers and funding to a Devon and Torbay Combined County Authority (CCA), subject to public consultation. 

It states that Devon and Torbay councils and Homes England “are committed, with the support of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) to working collaboratively on [housing delivery] – combining their skills and capacity to reduce the barriers to affordable housing delivery, regeneration and wider housing growth through the development of a shared development pipeline for the region”. 

A joint action plan on affordable housing would include additional land assembly and compulsory purchase powers and would facilitate greater Community Land Trust-led delivery. 

Under the proposed deal, the Devon and Torbay CCA would become the local transport authority (LTA) for the area, taking on a “strategic coordination role and accountability for associated responsibilities and local public transport powers”. 

It adds that there may be some areas where functions are delegated to the constituent councils because local decision-making on specific matters is more appropriate. 

The combined county authority would be responsible for working with Devon County Council, Torbay Council, and other district councils and the business and education sectors to “support high-growth business sectors such as advanced marine engineering, defence, photonics and digital, and improve the look and feel of local communities with street and town centre enhancements”. 

John Hart, the leader of Devon County Council, said: “This proposed devolution deal is hugely significant and long-awaited. If agreed, the devolvement of funding and powers will enable us as a partnership to make a real difference to people’s lives in ways that matter to most of them. 

“It will enable us to tackle real challenges, such as the shortage of affordable housing, and a need for more investment to support local businesses. It will bring new training and re-training opportunities, increasing productivity and pay. And it will bring improved coordination of public transportation across Devon and Torbay." 

David Thomas, leader of Torbay Council, added: “With us having the control over the decision making and the funds to go with it, this will really help ensure that we can tackle those local issues that impact those who live and work in Torbay and Devon. With pockets of deprivation across both local authority areas, being able to tackle our priorities like improving skills, supporting our residents to gain the right employment and providing the right joined up transport links will really benefit everyone.” 

The devolution deal can be found on the UK Government website. 4 

29 January 2023 
Laura Edgar, The Planner 

Planning minister intervenes in Mole Valley over local plan

Housing and planning minister Lee Rowley has written to Mole Valley District Council directing it not to take any steps to withdraw its local plan from examination. 

An extraordinary council meeting had been scheduled to take place on 25 January to discuss three options the council deemed available to them: withdrawal of the plan; continuation of the plan, as submitted (including green belt sites); or request that the planning inspector change the plan to remove all green belt sites. 

Rowley's letter is dated 25 January. 

In it, he notes that it is “essential” that local plans are up to date and points out that the last Mole Valley Local Plan was adopted in 2009. 

With the emerging local plan at "a very advanced stage", with the main modifications consultation about to begin, withdrawing the plan now will extend the period during which the council has not had an up-to-date local plan in place, explains Rowley. 

“Given the council’s proposed intention to vote on withdrawing the plan, consideration has been given to the steps that can be taken in connection with the failure to have an up-to-date plan in place, including intervention by the secretary of state.” 

Withdrawing the plan would leave the council with one of the oldest local plans in the country, the letter notes, with Rowley explaining that it “is reasonable to assume” that a number of the policies in it will not be up to date. Furthermore, he said the council has not performed well in the Housing Delivery Test, in which it faces the presumption consequence for delivery 58 per cent of its housing target. 

The council must now report monthly to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) on the plan's progress through the examination process. It is also directed to publish the planning inspector's recommendations and reasons once the examination has concluded and consider adopting the local plan, including any main modifications the inspector recommends for the local plan to be considered sound. 

The direction will remain in force until withdrawn by the secretary of state. 

The meeting of the full council did debate how to proceed with the plan. 

Margaret Cooksey, Mole Valley District Council cabinet member for planning, said: “The decision of the council was to progress with the examination of the draft local plan as originally submitted for examination by the government-appointed inspector. We will now write to the inspector and inform her of the decision to progress and wait for her instructions. We anticipate that she will advise us to undertake a consultation, on her behalf, into changes to the plan that she thinks are required to make it compliant with relevant government policy. 

“As part of last night’s meeting, council debated whether instead of [proceeding it should seek] to make changes to the plan that was submitted to the inspector back in 2022. After a full and frank dialogue, a majority concluded that to make those changes was not in the best interests of the district as a whole. 

“In my 27 years of serving Mole Valley District Council, there have been very few decisions that have been more difficult than that of releasing green belt land for housing. Whilst the amount of green belt release is small, at less than 1 per cent, the anger and objection to it are real and understandable. During the debate, many members of the council represented the views of residents who were strongly opposed to housing on green belt land. Others had serious concerns about the loss of control over development on the green belt and the loss of the opportunity for affordable housing. Affordable housing has repeatedly been voiced by residents as a top priority. 

“Whilst housing and green belt are often the issues that come to the fore, we must remember that the local plan delivers so much more: biodiversity net gain, designating locally listed buildings, zero-carbon homes and electric vehicle charging points, minimum rather than maximum parking standards, education and primary care need, open space, children’s play areas, early years facilities, transport, and flood mitigation improvements.” 

Intervention letters have been sent to several councils: West Berkshire Council5, Erewash Borough Council6  and Spelthorne Borough Council7

The intervention letter can be found on the UK Government website8.   

29 January 2023 
Laura Edgar, The Planner 

Rowley expects more cases for exceptional circumstances under revised NPPF

Housing and planning minister Lee Rowley has said that he expects more cases for exceptional circumstances to be put forward in the future, following the publication of the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in December. 

During a debate on the revised NPPF in the House of Commons earlier this week (23 January), which was secured by Dame Maria Miller, the Conservative MP for Basingstoke and Deane, Rowley encouraged local councils “to consider them if they believe that they apply”. 

A year after a consultation was published on revising the NPPF, he released the updated policy document on 19 December.  In his speech, Michael Gove reaffirmed the long-held position that local authorities must have up-to-date local plans in place. He also reinforced the standard method of assessing housing need as the way that housing numbers should be calculated, with an emphasis that this remains an advisory figure. 

Introducing the debate, with Rowley in attendance, Miller said she hoped that it would help to explain some of the “new freedoms” in the revised NPPF and the “new responsibilities that local authorities have”. 

She contended that the most relevant change to the NPPF is the one outlining that the standard method is “now an advisory starting point, not a mandatory end point”. 

“In places such as Basingstoke, where we have a unique set of factors, the standard method has generated housebuilding numbers in the past that are both inappropriate and unachievable. As a result of the changes that the minister introduced, the local authority is now able to consider varying more widely from that standard assessment, having looked at ‘exceptional circumstances’, to ensure that house building in our community better reflects the nuance of our individual situation.” 

Miller sought confirmation from Rowley on whether there “will be more types of exceptional circumstances put forward in the future than there have been in the past”. 

“I am absolutely certain that there will be more cases for exceptional circumstances put forward in the future, and I encourage councils to consider them if they believe that they apply,” said Rowley. “Logically, I would then expect more cases for exceptional circumstances to be accepted by the Planning Inspectorate, although that will also be for the inspectorate to determine on a case-by-case basis. It is the government’s intention to indicate that cases for exceptional circumstances can be made, that local authorities should weigh up making them, and that, if they feel that they have a strong case through the Planning Inspectorate process, they do so for the good of the communities they seek to serve.” 

The planning minister also reiterated that local authorities “should be in no doubt that the outcome of the standard method is an advisory starting point for establishing housing requirements through plan-making”. 

“Again, for the avoidance of doubt, that means that local authorities can put forward their own approach to assessing needs where certain exceptional circumstances exist.” 

The full debate can be found here on the UK Parliament website9

25 January 2023 
Laura Edgar, The Planner 

Government approach to MMC in ‘disarray’

Millions of pounds of public money have been invested in Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) but the cash has not been backed by a coherent government strategy, according to the House of Lords Built Environment Committee.

The government's approach also lacks a set of measurable objectives and is in “disarray”.

The inquiry was established by the committee following the collapse and closure of several Category 1 MMC companies during 2022 and 2023. ilke Homes collapsed in July 2023.

The committee found that category 1 (modular) MMC has been failing financially but with the right approach, it could still play an important role in the building of much-needed housing.

The government has said MMC1 is a potential solution to addressing various issues in the housebuilding sector, such as labour supply, as it seeks to meet its target to build 300,000 homes a year.

The committee said there is evidence of real barriers to MMC, such as risk aversion on the part of warranty providers and insurance companies, and insufficient clarity for building regulations. The government though, appears to have made a “limited” effort to understand and address these challenges.

If the government wants the MMC sector to be a success, the committee contends that it needs to acquire a better understanding of how it works and the help that it needs, as well as set achievable goals and develop a coherent strategy.

According to the report, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) and Homes England have had a joint strategy on MMC since 2021 – the “Five-S” Strategy. However, it is “only available in the government’s written evidence to this committee and there are no specific targets” while “Homes England told us that they cannot publish further details because it is only for internal use”. It is also set out across multiple documents.

“Providing information on its intentions in a piecemeal way, or indeed not at all, does not give the necessary clarity to the housing sector,” states the committee. “We have limited confidence that a coherent plan to encourage the use of MMC is in place and, owing to the absence of its publication, have found it challenging to scrutinise the government’s activity and spending. Given its own admittance that MMC is a central requirement to deliver on the government’s housing ambitions, and the amount of money it is investing in this sector, this position is very disappointing.

“The government should publish its full strategy for MMC now or, if it requires updating, by no later than the end of March 2024."

Other findings from the report:

 The committee heard contradictory evidence about whether MMC homes were more or less expensive to construct than traditionally built homes. Given the scale of public investment being made, the government should ensure that it is achieving value for money.

The government’s MMC Taskforce, which was allocated £10 million and was expected to take forward work on data and standards, has never met. The government should explain the justification for abandoning this approach and set out how the promised funding has been used or reallocated.

The requirement to use MMC through the Affordable Homes Programme (AHP) incentivised some housing associations to use MMC in their projects, but not enough to provide strong pipelines for category 1 MMC businesses, given the high costs claimed for MMC.

Lord Moylan, chair of the Built Environment Committee, said: “Modern methods of construction are successfully used to construct homes abroad and build high-rise and non-residential buildings in the UK, but this success has thus far eluded the building of MMC homes in meaningful numbers.

“In the context of an ageing skilled workforce and the need for greater building sustainability, MMC has shown some promise. We heard evidence that the government couldn’t achieve its housebuilding targets without a sizeable contribution from the MMC sector.

“Our inquiry found that the government has not set out clear objectives for the funding it provided the MMC sector. Homes England has not given any clear metrics as to how success is to be measured and over what timescale.

“The government needs to change tack. Simply throwing money at the sector hasn’t worked. If it wants to encourage MMC it must acquire a much deeper understanding of how it works, develop a clear strategy, and demonstrate leadership.”

A letter from Lord Moylan to housing secretary Michael Gove can be found on the UK Parliament website (pdf)10.  

30 January 2024
Laura Edgar, The Planner

News round-up

30 Minories scheme green-lit 

The City of London’s Planning Application Sub Committee has granted planning permission for the redevelopment of a site in Aldgate into an office development. 

Real Estate firm PATRIZIA's plans also include the provision of community, cultural and leisure facilities. 

The site, 30 Minories, currently comprises a 16-storey tower and seven-storey podium. It will be redeveloped into a 16-storey building providing about 186,500 square feet of net internal area (NIA) of office space on the upper levels and a range of flexible retail, leisure and employment uses on the ground and lower ground-floor levels. 

The plans will see the Writers House – a neighbouring Victorian warehouse altered in the 19th century – retained and refurbished to provide community use floor space at ground and lower ground level, with the upper levels of the six-storey building leased at affordable rents to local enterprises and start-up businesses. 

Designed by PLP Architecture, the development is targeting BREEAM ‘Outstanding’, WiredScore Platinum, WELL Platinum and NABERS UK, and will aim for a net-zero carbon design in operation. 

The scheme is being delivered by development manager Morgan Capital. 

Town tsar appointed 

Adam Hawksbee has been appointed as interim chair for the new ‘high-powered’ Towns Unit by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. 

The unit is intended to ensure that the voices of UK towns are heard “loud and clear across government and that vital regeneration comes to life”. 

Hawksbee is the deputy director of Onward. His work will involve helping to deliver the government’s Long-Term Plan for Towns, backed by £1.1 billion to regenerate 55 towns around the country “so people can feel proud of the place they call home”. 

Each town will receive a 10-year endowment-style fund with £20 million of funding alongside support to deliver long-term projects. These will focus on the issues that matter most to local people, including regenerating high streets and protecting local heritage. 

The unit is tasked with guaranteeing that the Long-Term Plan for Towns supports local leaders to develop proposals and make sure that Towns Boards become long-term institutions that serve their communities. 

Building features new rain garden 

The New Victoria development on Corporation Street in Manchester includes a rain garden as a solution for eco-friendly sustainable drainage. 

The development consists of 520 new homes across two buildings, one with 20 storeys and the 25 storeys. VINCI Construction completed the development and SCP Infrastructure was contracted to create the surface water drainage assessment. 

SCP infrastructure project manager Jamie Larkin said: “Surface water runs into the garden and vegetation can soak it up. The remainder goes into the ground or, if this is saturated, is directed to a perforated pipe, which connects to a traditional drainage system. 

“The rain garden prevents flooding in storm events by slowing the flow of water so the drainage network downstream is not overloaded. In addition to having a greater drainage capacity than traditional systems, it provides an area of vegetation at the front of the development that is not only visually appealing but also offers a small area of ecology – plants, flowers, and insects.” 

The rain garden serves as an alternative to gullies and pipes that are traditionally used to control rainwater and run-off. 

Gloucestershire councils consults on joint plan 

Cheltenham Borough Council, Gloucester City Council and Tewkesbury Borough Council are consulting on their strategic and local plan. 

The document is a draft blueprint for new development in the three council areas. 

Tewkesbury Borough Council’s chief executive and senior responsible officer for the strategic and local plan, Alistair Cunningham OBE, said: “The strategic and local plan will help to guide the long-term future growth of Cheltenham borough, Gloucester city and Tewkesbury borough, and so the views of residents and businesses from these areas are crucial. This consultation gives everyone the opportunity to tell us about the local issues and opportunities that directly impact where they live and work, as well as having a say on the policies that affect them.” 

The draft SLP comprises policies intended to promote development where it is needed and to protect historic and natural environments. 

The consultation closes on 12 March 2024. It can be found here .  

Revised plans by Wetherspoons approved 

The City of Wolverhampton Council has approved a revised planning application by  Wetherspoons to add a new storey and another 25 hotel rooms to its proposals for The Moon Under Water pub. 

The £15 million redevelopment of the Lichfield Street venue will generate around 70 new jobs, an additional 21 rooms in a newly built fourth storey, and another four rooms in an extension over an existing flat roof. 

Permission was already in place for: 

The establishment of a heritage centre in the basement. 

Conversion of the first, second, and third floors into a 71-bedroom hotel. 

External and internal alterations including the creation of a refurbished and enlarged public house on the ground floor. 

A first-floor rear garden terrace and new shopfront. 

Plans for 50 homes in Jarrow lodged 

Esh Construction has submitted plans for 50 affordable homes in Jarrow to South Tyneside Council. 

The plans have been developed in partnership with Karbon Homes. They feature a mix of two, three and four-bedroom houses, as well as two-bedroom flats. 

The homes are earmarked for land off Perth Avenue and Inverness Road, which is allocated for residential development in South Tyneside Council’s emerging local plan. 

A multi-use games area, currently located to the east of the site, will be renewed and relocated closer to the Perth Green children’s play area as part of the plans. 

Revised visitor accommodation plans submitted 

A revised planning application for Roanhead Lodge Resort, near Askam-in-Furness in Cumbria, has been submitted to Westmorland & Furness Council. 

As well as ‘eco-friendly’ visitor accommodation, proposed amenities include a health and wellness club, children’s activity zones, an education centre, and a brasserie – all of which will be open to the public. 

A previous application for Roanhead Lodge Resort was withdrawn in December 2023 to allow ILM Group to review the extensive feedback received, which set out the concerns of environmental campaign groups. 

ILM Group said the review application is a “more balanced and sensitive approach” to the plans, which include nearly half the number of lodges proposed, down from 450 to 233. This will reduce the number of visitors to the site and the potential associated impacts on the natural environment. 

ILM Group added that it is in “constructive dialogue” with Natural England to ensure that the scheme is designed as sustainably and sensitively as possible. 

Guildford to update local plan 

Guildford Borough Council's Executive Committee has agreed to recommend updating the council's Local Plan: Strategies and Sites (2019) (LPSS). 

This will now go to the full council meeting on 21 February for final approval. If an update is approved, the council will consider the housing, retail and commercial needs of the borough.   

Lead councillor for planning, Fiona White, commented: “An update to the plan needs to be based on evidence. We are in the very early stages of deciding what evidence we need and the best way of gathering it, but regular updates and any significant developments will be communicated promptly.” 

If approved, the first phase of the process will be considering the budget, timetable and scope of work required to carry out a local plan update. 

Moray secures coastal funding 

Moray Council has been awarded funding from the Scottish Government for three projects designed to highlight good practice in tackling coastal erosion in Scotland. 

They will each receive a share of £226,000. 

The Moray projects are three of 10 case studies to receive a share of £1.05 million. 

Projects to receive funding include the Near-Real Time Coastal Resilience Modelling project, which aims to identify long-term trends, the impact of individual storms, and future sea level rise and storm conditions to be anticipated. 

Laura Edgar, The Planner


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

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    Planning news - 1 February 2024

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