Weekly planning news
Planning news - 13 July 2023
Gove reaffirms 300,000 homes a year target
Levelling up and housing secretary Michael Gove has said the government remains committed to meeting its target to deliver 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s and one million homes over this Parliament.
Speaking at the Local Government Association (LGA) conference yesterday (4 July), he said: “We set it out in our manifesto and we are absolutely committed.”
He also reassured the audience that the prime minister and the chancellor are “using every tool to meet and master” the inflationary pressures that are affecting a number of sectors, including housebuilding, and stated that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) is “determined to work with you on the ground to expand opportunity in the housing market”.
“We need to build more homes of every tenure,” he said. “We need more social and affordable homes. And councils of course have a critical role to play. I want to see all of us – central government, Homes England, housing associations and councils – working together to build more homes for social rent.”
The DLUHC also needs to work with the private sector to deliver more homes for rent and more homes to buy, he continued.
Thanking outgoing* LGA chair James Jamieson and the wider LGA team, he explained that the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill's reforms are “designed to address the weaknesses in our current planning system and to rebalance incentives so more communities can be involved in plan-making, more plans can be adopted and more houses built.”
It also enables local authorities to tackle land-banking to ensure planning permissions are built out, he said.
“Making new developments beautiful, ensuring they are accompanied by the right infrastructure – roads, schools and GP surgeries. Strengthening democratic control over where new developments go. Making sure the environment is protected and biodiversity is enhanced. And strengthening neighbourhood plans to create liveable, walkable, human-scale communities.
“That is, I believe, the way to incentivise and support new development.”
The housing secretary added that the government is “surging additional planning resource to the frontline” in order for the planning system “to work”.
It is the DLUHC’s priority to pursue further devolution, with devolution deals now covering more than 50 per cent of England. Before 2010, only London had devolved powers.
The government wants to see devolution extended beyond just the areas named in the levelling up white paper, with inspiration from the “trailblazer” mayoral combined authority model.
“I am an enthusiast – as you all know – for the mayoral model. But, of course, one size rarely fits all. And I want to ensure that counties, district and unitary authorities also enjoy greater powers, greater freedom and greater resources.”
At the conference, Gove launched the Office for Local Government (Oflog).
The new body will provide targeted data and analysis, “champion the very best in local government and also help us to identify where councils need targeted support to deliver”.
Oflog will work in partnership with the LGA’s Innovation and Improvement Board, chaired by Abi Brown.
It was confirmed in January that Lord Morse will be Oflog’s first chair. Josh Goodman, a civil servant who set up the Covid-19 shielding programme, will act as interim chief executive; a recruitment campaign for the permanent role is underway.
Gove said that the government will work with local authorities to establish the best indicators of performance to be upheld through the office.
Gove acknowledged that more work is required on reforming funding for local government, describing it as “out-of-date”.
“There desperately needs to be a fairer, more rational allocation of resources across authorities.”
Kevin Bentley, chair of the LGA’s People and Places Board, reacted: “Making it easier to access vital funding is a valued move by government, which will boost levelling up and help reinvigorate our communities.
“Streamlining the long list of local funding pots, reducing the need for costly funding competitions and allocating funds based on evidence of where crucial investment needs to go has been a long-held ask of local government and the LGA.
“Extra flexibilities on how councils can use their existing funding will also help them with rising inflation when it comes to delivering regeneration projects in their areas.
“We are keen to see this new approach to local funding replicated across Whitehall and support efforts to see all government departments take this step change, while also looking forward to helping shape the next round of the Levelling Up Fund.
“It is good to see pilot local authorities for the new funding approach and this needs to be rolled out quickly if we are to realise the benefits of joined-up funding made available to every part of the country.”
* James Jamieson stepped down from his role as chair at the beginning of the conference, having served for four years. The position was taken up by Shaun Davies, leader of Telford & Wrekin Council.
5 July 2023
Laura Edgar, The Planner
Pre-application trial begins for NSIPs
The Planning Inspectorate has begun a trial for potential components of an enhanced pre-application service for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs).
The Early Adopters Programme is being undertaken in collaboration with government departments, including the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC).
In April, the Planning Inspectorate invited applicants to express interest in participating in the trial. Seven projects were put forward:
- East Yorkshire Solar Farm
- Hynet North West Hydrogen Pipeline
- Five Estuaries Offshore Wind Farm
- Byers Gill Solar
- Tillbridge Solar Project
- Outer Dowsing Offshore Wind (Generating Station)
- Cory Decarbonisation Project
The projects will trial a minimum of three out of the following 10 potential components for the enhanced pre-application service:
- Use of programme planning (mandatory for all projects), including all significant milestones and dependencies, which will be made publicly available by the applicant with changes communicated to the system promptly.
- Use of evidence plans where there are complex/numerous and substantial Habitats Regulations Assessment and/or Environmental Impact Assessment issues, driven by the applicant with the inspectorate in a facilitatory role.
- Use of issues tracking, maintained by the applicant in a way that is accessible to the system, culminating in consensus about residual/ongoing issues for the examination prior to submission of the application.
- Use of pre-application principal areas of disagreement summary statements (PADSS), developed by relevant stakeholders which record an individual stakeholder’s interpretation of the main areas of disagreement at the point the application is submitted, and indicate the potential impacts on the examination.
- Production of a policy compliance document (PCD) developed by the applicant to accompany the submitted application, setting out how the requirements of the relevant national policy statement(s) and other relevant and important policies are satisfied.
- Demonstrating regard to advice by the applicant in the submitted application on how it has had appraised guidance issued by the inspectorate under section 51 of the Planning Act 2008 and other statutory advice sent out by affected government agencies.
- Production of a design approach document (DAD) by the applicant to accompany the application, in consultation with relevant consultees, setting out how the project satisfies design criteria in relevant national policy statement(s) and best practice guidance.
- Production of mature outline control documents is developed by the applicant, in consultation with relevant consultees, and provided with the submitted application.
- Use of advice log. The inspectorate records all section 51 advice issued to the applicant in log form, as an alternative to narrative meeting notes. Updates are prompt and accessible to the system.
- Use of multiparty meetings to seek resolution of cross-interest issues or disagreements, driven by the applicant with the inspectorate in a facilitatory role.
This month, the inspectorate will meet the participating projects to discuss the development of the components indicated in their expressions of interest.
Following this, each applicant will proactively engage with relevant stakeholders about how they may be affected by the Early Adopters Programme to establish if anything new or different will be requested of them, and by when. This is to make sure that the components being trialled may be developed in an optimised way, explained the inspectorate.
Once the trials are complete, the inspectorate will gather feedback on each component to see how it has contributed, individually or in combination, to an improved examination experience for the system.
11 July 2023
Laura Edgar, The Planner
DCO granted for alternative energy facility in Lincolnshire
A development consent order (DCO) has been granted for Boston Alternative Energy Facility, a thermal treatment power station to be located in Boston, Lincolnshire.
The fuel used by the facility will consist of non-recycled household waste that is pre-processed to remove any recyclates. This is burned to make steam, which powers a turbine to generate electricity.
Developer Alternative Use Boston Projects Limited says on its website that the facility will power more than 206,000 homes, equivalent to more than 66 per cent of the households in Lincolnshire.
According to the application form, a DCO was sought for a 102-megawatt electric (MWe) (gross) and approximately 80MWe (net) of energy to the National Grid using Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) as feedstock.
It includes a wharf and associated infrastructure; an RDF bale contingency storage area; a conveyor system running parallel to the wharf between the RDF storage area and the RDF bale shredding plant; a bale shredding plant; an RDF bunker building; and a thermal treatment plant.
The proposed site is 2km to the south-east of Boston town centre and is 26.8 hectares (ha). The principal application site encompasses 25.3ha and would feature all of the operational infrastructure while the habitat mitigation area covers 1.5ha. It features both previously developed and undeveloped land. The mitigation site comprises an area of salt marsh and small creeks at the margins of The Haven, a tidal waterway of the River Witham between The Wash and Boston. The part of the site that will accommodate the wharf is 750 metres downstream from the existing Port of Boston.
The examining authority – the Planning Inspectorate – recommended that Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Energy and Net Zero, should not make an order unless the Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) matters could be resolved. He granted the order with modifications.
Shapps notes that the Environment Agency was broadly satisfied with the applicant’s evidence in relation to air quality, and he was satisfied that the applicant’s responses have provided information to address Natural England's concerns regarding air quality, welcoming the additional ecological monitoring secured in the updated Air Quality Deposition Monitoring Plan.
Shapps is also satisfied that the environmental statement accords with National Policy Statement (NPS) EN-1 and that mitigation measures for operational and construction emissions have been adequately identified.
According to the decision letter, Shapps agrees with the examining authority that air quality and emissions matters do not weigh against the order being made and “considers that the applicant has adequately assessed the potential impacts of climate change, in accordance with the relevant sections of NPS EN-1, and concludes that the climate change adaptation matters do not weigh against the order being made”.
The environmental statement was accompanied by a Terrestrial Ecology Assessment and a Marine and Coastal Ecology Assessment. These considered all residual impacts during construction and operation as insignificant.
Although Natural England was concerned about increased erosion of the surrounding habitat from placing hard substrata in the location of the berth, the examining authority was “satisfied the applicant had assessed the 'worst-case scenario' of habitat loss due to scour protection, which may not be required and, if it is, approval is secured in the draft order via a condition in the DML [Deemed Marine Licence]”.
The examining authority sought clarity on the level of biodiversity net gain (BNG) proposed for terrestrial habitats and the marine environment.
The applicant submitted an updated Outline Landscape and Ecological Mitigation Strategy (OLEMS). The applicant identified a 36.80 per cent total net unit change for habitats units (primarily associated with the loss of arable land) and a +57.27 per cent net change for the hedgerows and “stated that further off-site opportunities would be continuously explored, according to the decision letter. The examining authority concluded that the applicant had “adequately” sought to identify and pursue BNG opportunities.
The decision letter goes on: “Having considered the further information provided, the secretary of state is satisfied with the examining authority’s conclusion that habitats, ecology and nature conservation matters do not weigh against the order being made.”
Shapps considers that the scheme has the potential to have a likely significant effect on three protected sites when considered alone and in combination with other plans or projects. These are:
- The Wash Special Protection Area (SPA);
- The Wash Ramsar; and
- The Wash and North Norfolk Coast Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
The decision letter states that Shapps has reviewed the extent to which the scheme provides an "essential public benefit" and the degree to which this benefit outweighs the harm to these sites that is predicted to be caused.
“On the basis of the evidence submitted, including in response to his consultation letters, he considers that the established public benefits of the proposed development do outweigh the adverse effects upon site integrity which cannot be excluded."
He has sought further information and updates and is therefore satisfied that appropriate compensatory measures can be secured to “maintain the overall coherence” of the national site network. “He has made amendments to Schedule 11 and Schedule 12 of the order to satisfy himself that appropriate measures are secured and for the lifetime of the proposed development.”
Furthermore, Shapps considers the Habitats Regulations matters resolved and is satisfied that the planning balance weighs in favour of consent.
Alternative Use Boston Projects Ltd worked alongside a multidisciplinary team including environmental consultant Royal HaskoningDHV, communications consultant Athene Communications, and law firm BDB Pitmans and Lichfields.
Dr Matthew Hunt, director of environment at Royal HaskoningDHV, said: “Partnership working with an experienced and expert team has been key to achieving this positive result. Today’s announcement marks a major milestone in bringing this state-of-the-art facility to fruition, and we look forward to seeing the project move forward”.
The decision letter and all other documents relating to the development can be found on the Planning Inspectorate’s website.1
10 July 2023
Laura Edgar, The Planner
Landmark nutrients ruling goes against housebuilder
CG Fry and Son has lost its High Court legal challenge for 650 homes in Wellington, Somerset, with judge Sir Ross Cranston ruling that the Habitats Regulations should apply to the housebuilder’s attempts to discharge conditions.
Somerset Council granted outline planning permission in December 2015 for a mixed-use development of up to 650 houses, community and commercial uses, and a primary school, subject to certain conditions.
The scheme was to be delivered in eight phases, with phases 1 and 2 begun under separate reserved matters approvals. Phase 3 received reserved matters approval in June 2020.
In August of that year, Natural England identified the Somerset Levels and Moors Ramsar Site as being at risk from nutrient pollution, leading to the council’s decision to refuse to discharge the final condition. The Home Builders Federation (HBF) estimates that the building of 44,000 homes is currently being held up by nutrient-related issues, according to the judgement document.
When the council refused to discharge conditions after it was sought in June 2021, because of the lack of an appropriate assessment under the Habitats Regulations 2017, CG Fry appealed to the Planning Inspectorate, with an inspector dismissing the appeal.
This led to CG Fry taking the dispute to the High Court.
The claimant’s lawyer suggested that this assessment was confined to the full planning permission stage, and not the discharge of conditions. Judge Cranston agreed that this would be true of a “strict” interpretation of the Habitats Regulations, but concluded that the assessment provisions should cover discharge of conditions as a result of the Habitats Directive and precedents in case law.
“The upshot is that the Habitats Directive and Habitats Regulations 2017 mandate that an appropriate assessment be undertaken before a project is consented. That is irrespective of whatever stage the process has reached according to UK planning law,” the judge said.
“The basal fact in this case is that neither at the permission, reserved matters or conditions discharge stage has there been an appropriate assessment. Application of the Habitats Directive and a purposive approach to the interpretation of the Habitats Regulations 2017 require the application of the assessment provisions to the discharge of conditions. The strict precautionary approach required would be undermined if they were limited to the initial – the permission – stage of a multi-stage process.”
The judge dismissed the case. Read the judgment in full2.
On 6 July, Charles Banner KC, lead counsel for CG Fry, announced that a 'leapfrog certificate' had been granted, allowing CG Fry to apply straight to the Supreme Court, leapfrogging the Court of Appeal, on account of the significance and level of public interest in the case.
Writing on LinkedIn, Banner described the grant of the leapfrog certificate as being "truly exceptional".
5 July 2023
Laura Edgar, The Planner
Minister promises further policy details for Welsh infrastructure consenting regime
The Welsh Government has promised to provide a statement of policy intent for its new legislation establishing a unified consents process for major infrastructure projects.
That commitment came from climate change minister Julie James during this week’s preliminary exchanges in the Senedd Cymru – Welsh Parliament – whose Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee will be scrutinising the infrastructure (Wales) bill, published last month.
The minister told the committee the administration would probably publish this statement after the Senedd’s summer recess.
The bill reforms how infrastructure is consented in Wales by establishing a unified process, known as an Infrastructure Consent (IC), for specific types of major infrastructure called Significant Infrastructure Projects (SIPs). These include energy, transport, waste, water and gas projects on land and in the sea around Wales (known as the Welsh marine area).
IC replaces existing statutory regimes and reduces the number of authorisations needed to construct and operate a SIP by incorporating them in a single consent.
Consenting for certain large infrastructure, mainly energy projects above devolved thresholds, remains reserved to the UK Government.
The minister stressed that much of the bill’s intent would be provided in subordinate legislation, not yet published. It was a “very large and technical” bill, James agreed.
James made it clear that the government was keen to ensure the maximum amount of adaptability in the new measures. Currently, for instance, the IC process is expected to take 52 weeks. James made it clear that following the experience of, say, the first five consents, this statutory deadline could be tweaked up or down.
During the committee session the minister, flanked by officials who included Welsh chief planner Neil Hemington, continually stressed that the government wanted the measures to be as flexible and future-proofed as possible.
The goal is to ensure a transparent and consistent process that enables local communities to better understand and engage in decisions that affect them, while providing certainty in decision-making underpinned by clear policy.
James stressed the need for better community engagement over projects and that local impact reports produced by planning authorities would be critical elements in the new regime.
Quizzed by Senedd members, she insisted that without reforms of the consenting process there was “a real serious risk of developers going somewhere else”.
7 July 2023
Laura Edgar, The Planner
Affordable homes for Cambridgeshire green-lit
Fenland District Council has granted planning permission for 55 much-needed affordable homes in March, Cambridgeshire.
The homes will be delivered on underused agricultural land east of York Lodge, Gaul Road. The site is 2.36 hectares and is allocated for housing development in the Fenland Local Plan.
The units will comprise six one-bedroom flats, and eight two-bed, 37 three-bed, and four four-bed mainly semi-detached homes. Each home will be allocated two off-street parking spaces, and the apartments will be given one parking and one cycle space.
Partner Construction is leading the development. Consultancy Marrons provided planning support.
Cambridgeshire MoD site sold for redevelopment
The Ministry of Defence has announced the completion of the sale of Waterbeach Barracks in Cambridgeshire, which paves the way for a major redevelopment of the site to provide new homes, schools, sports and community facilities.
Urban&Civic PLC, part of the Wellcome Trust, has purchased the site. The firm has been the MoD’s development partner at Waterbeach since 2014. Alongside the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, it has been granted outline planning consent for the redevelopment.
The scheme will be delivered in stages over the next 20 years, It comprises 6,500 homes, five schools, on and off-site cycle connections, public transport services, and active travel schemes.
A town centre with a health centre, shops and services and a range of community facilities, including parks, play spaces and sports facilities, will sit at the heart of the development. Additionally, 250 acres of green space and 34 acres of ecology habitats will provide a home for wildlife.
Materials on the site will be recycled, and homes and civic buildings will all have low-energy features, including air source heat pumps and electric vehicle points.
Greyfriars Police Station plans approved
Bedford Borough Council has approved plans to redevelop a redundant Greyfriars Police Station site within Bedford town centre. DLP Planning Ltd acted on behalf of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Bedfordshire.
The outline scheme is for a building of eight storeys providing up to 105 new homes in the form of two, three and four-bedroom apartments, including 30 per cent affordable housing.
The project also incorporates town centre uses on the ground floor to provide an active frontage, subterranean parking, cycle and bin storage, and raised first-floor deck areas of open space and landscaping.
Trebor acquires Eastern Gateway site
Trebor Developments and Hillwood have acquired eight acres of commercial development land from Ipswich Borough Council at Eastern Gateway, Ipswich.
Trebor secured planning consent in 2022 for a five-unit industrial and logistics scheme, ranging from 12,905 to 52,250 square feet. The units will be built speculatively, and Magrock Ltd has been selected as the main contractor.
Work will start on the site in July for completion in Q2 2024. Once finished, the scheme is expected to create about 350 jobs within Ipswich and the surrounding area.
Be.EV plans approved in Manchester
Manchester City Council has approved plans by Be.EV to build an electric vehicle charging network in Manchester.
Be.EV’s plan will transform an old former petrol station site on the corner of Reliance Street and Oldham Road into a “futuristic” green forecourt and community hub.
The site will include commercial space for local businesses and provide ultra-rapid charging for 16 electric vehicles at any time, including accessible and van-suitable spaces, as well as secure charging for electric bicycles.
Trees and biodiversity will form an integral part of the site’s design alongside the use of solar panels to improve the carbon footprint of the development.
British Land reveals Euston Tower plans
Property company British Land has announced plans to redevelop Euston Tower through a combination of retention, reuse and an ultra-low carbon new structure.
The plans would transform the building into a net-zero workspace for businesses of all sizes, including new lab-enabled spaces at London’s Knowledge Quarter.
The current proposals will bring forward lab-enabled spaces for start-up and scale-up innovation businesses, as well as spaces for the local community to support education and training opportunities.
Discussions are currently under way for the development with Camden Council and other local stakeholders.
Keepmoat partners WMCA
Housebuilder Keepmoat has announced that it has a strategic partnership with the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) for a commitment to build 4,000 homes in the West Midlands.
Keepmoat will aim to achieve net-zero carbon emissions when building on brownfield sites and to increase its housebuilding by 50 per cent across the West Midlands.
It will build a range of homes of different tenure types, which will in turn create jobs for local people and generate at least 250 apprenticeships. Furthermore, at least 70 per cent of the workforce needed to deliver the homes will be employed from within a 30-mile radius, while building supplies and materials will be purchased from West Midlands-based businesses wherever possible.
The memorandum of understanding between Keepmoat and WMCA also supports WMCA’s wider aim of creating a fairer, greener and more prosperous West Midlands.
Coalition forms to combat rural homelessness
The Rural Homelessness Counts Coalition has been formed to lead a nationwide response to the growing problem of rural homelessness in England.
It comprises more than 20 charities and housing associations.
Formation of the coalition is a direct response to the findings of a comprehensive research study conducted by the universities of Kent and Southampton, along with a team of rural advocates and homelessness experts.
It found that there has been a 24 per cent increase in official government rough-sleeping numbers in rural areas within a single year. Additionally, the research identified a 65 per cent funding gap in per capita spending on the homelessness prevention grant in rural areas compared with urban areas.
As part of Rural Housing Week 2023 act week, the coalition was launched to confront this issue. It will be led by English Rural, The National Housing Federation, and the countryside charity CPRE.
The coalition is committed to five key principles: prevention, inclusion, community, place-based solutions and visibility. it said these principles will guide its mission to end rural homelessness through evidence-based policy and practice.
11 July 2023
Laura Edgar and Prithvi Pandya, The Planner