Weekly planning news
Planning news - 12 October 2023
10 local planning authorities won’t be designated ‘at this time’
Housing and planning minister Rachel Maclean has written to the 10 local planning authorities threatened with designation, noting the improved speed with which decisions were being made.
On 12 April, housing secretary Michael Gove set out “significant concerns” about the performance of the local planning authorities in a letter to each of the 10 local planning authorities1.
On their performance percentages for meeting statutory determination timeliness between October 2020 and September 2022, which is below or “far below” the threshold of 70 per cent, Gove said it is “indicative of a very poor-quality service to local residents”.
Deeming their performances “not good enough”, Gove said he was minded to designate each local planning authority.
The criteria for decision-making mean that local planning authorities could face designation if they decide less than 70 per cent of non-major applications within the statutory period of eight weeks and less than 60 per cent of major applications within the statutory period of 13 weeks.
Designating the councils would mean developers could submit planning applications directly to the Planning Inspectorate until the secretary of state is satisfied that acceptable performance can be, or has been, achieved. The Planning Inspectorate has been asked to prepare for designations over the summer.
In letters to Cotswold District Council, Pendle Borough Council, and Waverley Borough Council, Maclean said she was "pleased" to note their performance on a rolling two-year average and for the most recent quarter – April to June 2023 – was above the required threshold.
She was therefore “content not to designate your authority for poor performance at this time”, but would closely monitor each authority's performance.
The Vale of White Horse District Council recorded a performance for both major and non-major applications above the threshold for designation. As a result, Maclean said she would not designate the authority for poor performance at this time.
She informed Calderdale Council, Epsom & Ewell Borough Council, Guildford Borough Council, Hinckley & Bosworth Borough Council, Peak District National Park Authority and Portsmouth City Council that she was “pleased to note that for the most recent quarter April to June 2023”, each council performance exceeded the threshold. However, she was concerned that on a rolling two-year basis, performance remains below the 70 per cent threshold.
She opted not to designate any of the local planning authorities, however, explaining that she recognised that to do so “may undermine the work your authority has already commenced and I wish to support your performance improvement”.
The performances of the 10 local planning authorities
- Calderdale Council – 97 per cent for April to June 2023
- Cotswold District Council – 72 per cent rolling two-year average; 88 per cent for April to June 2023
- Epsom & Ewell Borough Council – 66 per cent rolling two-year average; 95 per cent for April to June 2023
- Guildford Borough Council – 55 per cent rolling two-year average; 82 per cent for April to June 2023
- Hinckley & Bosworth Borough Council – 55 per cent rolling two-year average; 90 per cent for April to June 2023
- Peak District National Park Authority – 62 per cent rolling two-year average; 85 per cent for April to June 2023
- Pendle Borough Council – 74 per cent rolling two-year average; 97 per cent for April to June 2023
- Portsmouth City Council – 65 per cent rolling two-year average; 99 per cent for April to June 2023
- Vale of White Horse District Council – 78 per cent for a two-year rolling average for non-major applications and 99 per cent April to June 2023; 68 per cent for a two-year rolling average for major applications and 93 per cent for April to June 2023
- Waverley Borough Council – 71 per cent rolling two-year average; 97 per cent for April to June 2023
Jackie King, chief executive at Epsom & Ewell Borough Council, said: “We are very pleased that the secretary of state has recognised the issues the council faced were historic and temporary in nature, and that the council has worked very hard to take significant proactive steps to address and improve them, resulting in our planning department far exceeding national targets over the past five consecutive quarters. We have a strong and stable team and systems in place and are very confident that we will continue to provide a high level of service, over and above what is expected, into the future.”
Chief executive of the Peak District National Park Authority Phil Mulligan commented: “We warmly welcome the minister’s recognition of the hard work undertaken across more than a year to achieve figures for our planning responses that have now routinely exceeded the thresholds expected by government. Indeed, our most recent reporting quarter saw us reach an 85 per cent response rate against the 70 per cent requirement.
“The authority has previously acknowledged that our own high standards were not met during an incredibly tough period of delivery during 2021 and into 2022, however in the last quarter, for example, we have approved well over 80 per cent of submitted applications.
“In directly addressing the issues formerly raised by the minister and secretary of state over the last 12 months, we have already agreed a 25 per cent increase in funding capacity for our planning team and continue to recruit, retain and develop the highly specialist skills required to support customers in this vital area of our work."
Waverley Borough Council’s portfolio holder for planning & regeneration and economic development, Liz Townsend, said: “This is a real credit to the planning team at Waverley and the way they have pulled together and worked extremely hard over the past 18 months. We recognised that our performance levels had dipped and opted to tackle this head on by working in partnership with the Planning Advisory Service to improve our performance, streamline our internal processes and resolve the issues with our IT system. This has resulted in a significant uplift in performance, and we continue to make headway in reducing the backlog of applications.
“Recruitment and retention will remain a significant challenge for us. The nationwide shortage of qualified planning officers and the cost-of-living crisis has had a serious impact in our area. However, together with our action plan, we have recently appointed an extremely experienced executive head of planning development to lead the team, and we are implementing a series of actions to help us continue to recruit the planners we need, to build on the strengths of our planning service and continue to maintain and improve our performance.”
The letters can be found on the UK Government website2.
9 October 2023
Laura Edgar, The Planner
Sunak confirms cancellation of Northern leg of HS2
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has confirmed in his Conservative Party Conference speech that the Northern leg of HS2, which would have connected Birmingham with Manchester, has been cancelled.
Speculation about whether the high-speed line would make it to Manchester has been rife for weeks.
The Independent recently reported that ministers were considering shelving the Northern phase amid concerns about increasing costs and severe delays. It said a cost estimate it had seen revealed that the government has already spent £2.3 billion on stage two of the railway from Birmingham to Manchester. Scrapping this phase, however, could save up to £34 billion.
Then, on Monday (2 October)3, Sky News announced the rumour that the Northern leg would be scrapped minutes before Chancellor Jeremy Hunt took to the stage at the Conservative Party Conference. Shortly after, a government spokesperson told The Planner: “The HS2 project is already well under way with spades in the ground, and our focus remains on delivering it.”
On Wednesday (4 October), the prime minister told the conference that getting infrastructure right was key to driving growth.
However, he said projects are “driven by cities at the exclusion of everywhere else”. He argued that, with costs doubling, the economic case had been “massively weakened with the changes to business travel” after the Covid-19 pandemic.
The facts, he said, "have changed".
"The right thing to do when the facts change is to change direction," he declared. “I am cancelling the rest of the HS2 project.”
Although the line to Manchester will not go ahead, the route to Birmingham will begin at Euston, travelling via Old Oak Common in West London to the West Midlands. There had been speculation that it would start at Old Oak Common.
He assured the Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street – a supporter of the high-speed project to Manchester and someone Sunak said he has “huge admiration and respect for” – that there will be more capacity between Manchester and Birmingham.
The government's focus will instead be on Network North. This is intended to “join up our great towns and cities in the North and the Midlands”.
“Every single penny” saved from the cancellation of HS2's Northern leg will be spent on hundreds of new transport projects in these areas.
A development company, separate from HS2 Ltd, will be appointed to manage the delivery of the Euston project.
Bradford will get a new station, meaning faster travel to Bradford, Sheffield, and Hull “on a fully… electrified line”, vowed Sunak.
A £12 billion scheme to link Manchester and Liverpool will continue as planned, a Midlands Rail Hub to connect 50 stations will be delivered, and Leeds will get a tram. The A1, A2, A5 and the M6 will also be upgraded.
“My stance will be attacked,” he said. “But there is nothing ambitious about simply pouring more money into the wrong project.”
It would be an “absurd reason to continue: an abdication of leadership”, he added.
“I challenge anyone to tell me with a straight face that all of that isn't what the North really needs," said the prime minister.
Update – 5/10/2023
Private investment to secure HS2 to Euston?
According to the Network North prospectus, the government will take “on the lessons of success stories such as Battersea Power Station and Nine Elms, which secured £9 billion of private sector investment and thousands of homes” in delivering HS2 between Old Oak Common and Euston.
It states: “We will harness the future growth that the station will unleash to support its development, to ensure we get the best possible value for the British taxpayer – and ensure that funding is underpinned by contributions from those people and businesses its development supports. At the same time, we are considerably upping the ambition of the Euston redevelopment, where we will be looking to establish a development corporation to create a transformed ‘Euston Quarter’ – potentially offering up to 10,000 homes.
“This will accelerate the project, significantly reduce and focus its scope, and leverage private sector investment in the process.”
Scotland, said a statement on the Department for Transport website, will see investment to address the pinch points on the A75 between Gretna and Stranraer. This intends to provide better links between the Cairnryan ferry terminals serving Northern Ireland and southwest Scotland.
Also, £1 billion will be invested in bringing parts of North Wales within an hour of Manchester through a “major upgrade” of the North Wales Main Line, including electrification.
More information can be found here4.
4 October 2023
Laura Edgar, The Planner
Survey: Local planning teams lack capacity to deliver strategic objectives
Two-thirds (66 per cent) of local authority planning and placemaking professionals say their teams do not have the capacity to meet their authority’s strategic objectives, according to a survey.
The survey by Public Practice, a not-for-profit social enterprise, found that 66 per cent of local government place professionals who responded do not believe that their teams have the necessary bandwidth and skills to tackle their authority’s top priorities.
The Recruitment and Skills Survey was designed by Public Practice with the aim to help understand the skills gaps and the impact that a lack of resources has on local authority placemaking professionals and their teams across England.
Public Practice said the poll responses appear to show that both the morale and job satisfaction of placemaking professionals are being affected by the lack of capacity. Additionally, more than two-fifths of respondents say their team is not currently an accurate reflection of the diversity of the population that they serve.
Pooja Agrawal, CEO of Public Practice, said: “We are pleased to create a new evidence base for the capacity challenges facing local authorities.
“Public sector placemakers are ambitious for the places they serve and want to do their best for residents. No one wants to join a local authority just to fulfil their minimum statutory duties.
“We need this honest feedback to help better understand what prevents them from achieving the strategic objectives that attracted them to their jobs in the first place."
Survey results also show that:
- 54 per cent said their councils had difficulty retaining staff.
- 14 per cent said they wish to leave the public sector.
- The average job satisfaction score reported by a public sector place professional in England was 5.66 out of 10, down from 6.32 last year. This score is much lower than metrics recorded across the broader workforce, which report work satisfaction at between 7 and 8.
- 78 per cent of placemaking professionals said their council had difficulty attracting appropriately qualified or skilled candidates to fill the capacity gaps in their teams.
- 7 per cent said their recruitment activities failed to attract a suitable candidate.
- 65 per cent of placemaking professionals said their team did not have enough skills in environmental sustainability, 62 per cent said their team did not possess enough data and digital skills, and 61 per cent said their team lacked sufficient architecture, urban design and masterplanning capacity.
- 43 per cent said their team had a lack of capacity in planning and policy.
Public Practice highlighted the latest Local Government Association (LGA) analysis of data published by the ONS, which shows the number of full-time positions in local government has fallen to 921,991 in Q4 of 2022 down from 1.34 million in Q4 of 2012.
In addition to this probe, the social enterprise has conducted a survey with the first four cohorts who took part in its Associate Programme, in which it places professionals at local authorities and other public sector organisations for a year. These associates were employed in their placements between spring 2018 to spring 2020.
The results showed that two years after placements had ended, Public Practice had achieved a 77 per cent retention rate in the public sector.
To date, Public Practice has placed 296 placemaking professionals in 78 local authorities across England.
Victoria Hills, chief executive at the RTPI5, said: “The results of this research reveal a concerning reality for local authorities, but provide an accurate depiction of what we are seeing in our own research. On the ground, local planning authorities struggling under the weight of budget reductions, resulting in unmanageable workloads and overstretched staff.
“Without well-resourced, qualified planners, local planning authorities cannot meet the crucial housing and infrastructure needs of our communities. Whilst we welcome recent announcements on the planning skills delivery fund, we must urgently address the systemic resourcing issues to safeguard both our economy and the well-being of planners."
Sara Whelan, assistant director of planning at Dacorum Borough Council, commented: “This survey paints an accurate picture of the challenges council teams face. We need to have an honest conversation about why job satisfaction is low in council place teams.
“Planning is about placemaking and should not be seen as a barrier, this is likely to have an impact on morale and job satisfaction as much as resourcing and backlogs will do.
“For example, research shows that more than 90 per cent of planning enforcement teams have a backlog – this will naturally have a negative impact on job satisfaction as planning teams are on the back foot as a result.
“To reduce the backlog, councils need to consider all options including temporary increases in hours and pay to help teams reduce the backlog.
“Local authority planning is a brilliant career and gives you an opportunity to make a positive difference to people’s lives in a way that few other jobs can.”
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) has launched the £24 million Planning Skills Delivery Fund6 to support local authorities over the next two years to tackle backlogs in planning applications and boost their internal capacity.
5 October 2023
Laura Edgar, The Planner
Developer must pay £6,700 over green belt ‘road to nowhere’
Developer Lawnswood Homes must pay £6,700 in fines and costs after the company built a road, rather than the drive approved by South Staffordshire Council, on green belt land in Lower Penn.
As well as a fine of £2,500, the developer must pay £3,224 for prosecution and investigation costs and a victim surcharge of £1,000.
Councillor Victoria Wilson said the result shows that the council “will not tolerate unlawful development or breaches of planning control”. A statement from the council described the breach as a "road to nowhere” on green belt land.
In January 2022, South Staffordshire issued Lawnswood Homes with a Breach of Condition Notice after finding that the developer had built a road rather than the driveway specified in the permission granted for a four bedroom house.
Lawnswood failed to restore the driveway to comply with this notice, leading the council to begin legal proceedings.
Lawnswood Homes did not appear at the hearing, held at Newcastle-under-Lyme Magistrates Court on Monday 2 October, where it was ordered to pay the fine and costs.
“The protection of the district’s treasured green belt is of great importance and we will not hesitate to bring legal action against those who seek to flout planning regulations” continued Wilson.
“South Staffordshire Council will continue to ensure compliance with this notice and take any action necessary to ensure the unlawful ‘road to nowhere’ has been removed.”
4 October 2023
Ben Gosling, The Planner
Objections to Porthcawl seafront compulsory purchase withdrawn
Ambitious proposals for the major redevelopment of Porthcawl seafront have made progress now that statutory objections to Bridgend County Borough Council's compulsory purchase of land in the area have been withdrawn.
At issue were several locations including the former model village and a site known locally as the monster park.
These form some of the elements of the wider regeneration of the town, which also includes land at Sandy Bay and Griffin Park, as well as a site now leased by the Welsh Government featuring the town's Coney Beach amusement park.
Over the next few years the expectation is that the seafront will be transformed by a mixed-use development involving around 900 homes, a school and a new road system, along with retail, commercial and leisure opportunities.
Bridgend County Borough Council explained that as the government already held the leasehold interest for the Coney Beach amusement park, this had effectively unlocked the remaining parcels of land required for the regeneration area and meant that the next phase has moved another step closer.
“The withdrawal of the statutory objections also means that while Planning and Environment Decisions Wales must still deliver a decision on any non-statutory objections it has received, it is no longer necessary to hold a public inquiry into the compulsory purchase orders on land required for the regeneration.
“The council is now preparing to reveal concept designs for how public open space could look throughout the new coastal park planned at Salt Lake, the extension of Griffin Park, the seafront area at Sandy Bay, the lower part of Hillsboro Place car park and more."
5 October 2023
Roger Milne, The Planner
RTPI Awards for Planning Excellence finalists announced
The RTPI has announced the finalists for the 2023 Awards for Planning Excellence, with the awards ceremony to be hosted by television journalist Krishnan Guru-Murthy.
Categories cover the breadth of the planning industry, from health and wellbeing to heritage and culture. This year, there are two new categories: Digital Planning and Inspirational Leader.
The winners will be announced at an awards ceremony on Tuesday 21 November 2023 at The Fountain Room, London. Tickets, which include a welcome drinks reception and a three-course seated dinner, will go on sale 9 October.
A list of all the finalists can be found on the RTPI website.
Merley housing plans approved
Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council has given reserved matters planning permission to Cala Homes (Thames) for its first phase of development on land north of Oakley Lane, Merley.
The development will deliver 285 new homes, 40 per cent of which will be affordable. It will include a mixture of one and two-bedroom apartments and, two, three, four, and five-bedroom homes to be delivered.
The first phase of development will include several features to support wildlife on the site as part of Cala Homes’ urban wildlife strategy. Sixteen hectares of green space including play areas and allotments will also be delivered.
Cala will be implementing a Community Pledge for the development which will see it engage with and support local charities and organisations.
bp unveils South Mimms EV plans
bp has revealed plans for a new pulse electric vehicle (EV) charging hub at its existing retail site north of the M25 and greater London area.
The company plans to redevelop its current Connect retail site adjacent to the Welcome Break South Mimms services, north of the M25 (junction 23) and east of the A1. The site is accessed off Bignells Corner.
Proposals include 32 covered ultra-fast EV charging bays along with an enhanced M&S retail unit providing washroom facilities. The plan will also retain 10 of the existing 16 petrol and diesel pumps.
A public consultation is under way and people can find out more here7. The closing date for comments is 16 October 2023.
About 155 construction jobs are expected to be created alongside another 190 supply chain jobs during the initial build period. Once complete, the site could create a further six full-time jobs on-site in addition to the existing 15 jobs that support the current operations. If approved, on-site work could start in early 2024.
Council approves leisure centre plans in Whitchurch
Shropshire Council has approved plans for a £13.1 million pool and leisure centre in Whitchurch.
The new centre will include a six-lane, 25-metre pool, a 41-station fitness suite, multi-function rooms and a café with 20 covers.
The ground floor will accommodate the café, changing village and pool, which will be overlooking the brook. Upstairs, there will be a 41-station gym with equipment and a flexible studio space that can be divided into two rooms.
Construction is expected to begin early next year, and the centre is expected to open in mid-2025.
Nottinghamshire housing plans green-lit
Rushcliffe Borough Council has approved plans for a £61 million development by Avant Homes East Midlands to deliver 102 new homes in Radcliffe-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire.
Called Hackett Grange and located off Nottingham Road, the 13-acre development will include a mix of two, three, four and five-bedroom homes, featuring 14 of Avant Homes’ house types.
Of the 102 homes, 30 per cent have been designated as affordable housing. Avant Homes has also committed to a community contribution of £950,000 to support education and local services, and a sustainable travel plan.
Work at Hackett Grange is anticipated to start this December, and the first residents are expected to move into their new homes next autumn.
Apprentices part of plan to improve Lichfield's development management service
Improvements to Lichfield District Council’s development management service include the introduction of a ‘planning school’ to give apprentice officers the skills and expertise to optimise the service they deliver to applicants.
Jessica Cliffe, Katherine Harvey and Emily Ozwell have enrolled on the University of Westminster’s master’s apprenticeship degree course in Urban and Regional Planning. On completing the course in three years’ time, they “will have taken large strides towards becoming chartered professionals” with the RTPI, said the council.
They join fellow officers James Hyde and Tom Watts, who have just commenced their second year of studies for the same qualification at the University of Birmingham.
The course aims to give apprentices the knowledge, understanding and skills necessary to practise professionally as a town planner and to help with the resources, capacity and skills shortages.
The course is equivalent to a traditional postgraduate degree.
Planning apprentice Emily Ozwell said that it is “great to work for an organisation that supports young people in their careers and personal development”.
Artemis Christophi, who leads the planning transformation and management at Lichfield District Council, said: “I am thrilled to be able to have launched our new and exciting planning school which has supported and brought forward our new cohort of planning apprentices to Lichfield District Council.
“We are a disruptive council – shaking up how local government operates and delivers planning apprenticeship programmes. We do things differently!
“We are very proud of our new relationship with the University of Westminster and continued relationship with Birmingham University, in support of our new programme.”
10 October 2023
Laura Edgar and Prithvi Pandya, The Planner