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Planning news - 14 December 2023

BNG draft guidance published

The government’s draft guidance for biodiversity net gain (BNG) sets out that on-site biodiversity gains should be considered first, before off-site gains and credits. 

Published last week by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), the guidance is intended, as chief planner Joanna Averley stated in her newsletter1 dated 30 November, “To allow the sector time to familiarise themselves with the requirements ahead of commencement of the regulations and mandatory biodiversity net gain in the New Year.”  

From January, developers will be required to deliver 10 per cent. This was delayed from November2 2023. 

For small sites, this will be applicable from April 2024, and implementation for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) is planned for 2025. 

BNG was introduced in the Environment Act 2021. It forms part of the government's plans to halt the decline in species abundance by 2030 while helping to create more beautiful communities and deliver new homes. 

The BNG planning practice guidance sets out a Biodiversity Gain Hierarchy (see box). Planning authorities will have to take account of this when they are determining the Biodiversity Gain Plan. 

The hierarchy, states the guidance, "emphasises that on-site biodiversity gains should be considered first, followed by registered offsite biodiversity gains and – as a last resort – biodiversity credits”.  

Also, the guidance explains that failure to comply with the general biodiversity gain condition by commencing development without approval of the Biodiversity Gain Plan will be a breach of planning control. 

“Local planning authorities have a range of planning enforcement powers and have responsibility for taking whatever enforcement action may be necessary, in the public interest, in their area," it states. 

The biodiversity gain hierarchy means the following actions in the following order of priority: 

  • Avoiding adverse effects of the development on on-site habitat with a habitat distinctiveness score, applied in the biodiversity metric, equal to or higher than six. 
  • So far as those adverse effects cannot be avoided, mitigating those effects. 
  • So far as those adverse effects cannot be mitigated, habitat enhancement of on-site habitat. 
  • So far as there cannot be that enhancement, creation of on-site habitat. 
  • So far as there cannot be that creation, the availability of registered off-site biodiversity gain. 
  • So far as that off-site habitat enhancement cannot be secured, purchasing biodiversity credits. 

Draft biodiversity net gain planning practice guidance can be found on the UK Government website. 3 

The Biodiversity Gain (Town and Country Planning) (Modifications and Amendments) (England) Regulations 2024 can be found on the UK Government website. 4 

6 December 2023 
Laura Edgar, The Planner 

Rail upgrades and road improvements ‘will lead to greater connectivity across the UK’ – government

Transport secretary Mark Harper has announced a series of measures in response to Sir Peter Hendy’s Union Connectivity Review to improve transport links that strengthen connections across communities and the UK to drive tourism and grow the economy. 

Improved connectivity, said the government, will widen access to skilled labour. 

In a written statement to parliament, Harper said: “The Union Connectivity Review, and our response to it, takes a strategic approach to transport. It recognises that people’s daily journeys – for work, business, leisure, education and health reasons – and the daily movement of goods regularly cross administrative boundaries. And it recognises that, as the government for the whole of the UK, we should take a strategic approach to make those journeys work for people and business and to strengthen vital transport connections across our country.” 

Recommendations in the Union Connectivity Review5 include that the UK Government should plan improvements to the network using multimodal corridors, which should be reviewed regularly and appraised on a wider economic basis to support government objectives – for example, appraised on their ability to support the levelling up and net-zero agenda. 

Also, the UK Government should seek to work with the Scottish Government to develop an assessment of the East Coast road and rail transport corridor from North East England to South East, offer funding to support the upgrading of the A75 to improve journeys between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and support the Northern Ireland Executive to develop, fund and implement a long-term pipeline of improvements to transport infrastructure. 

Many of Lord Hendy’s recommendations, continued Harper, relate to issues where responsibility for transport is devolved. 

“Where this is the case, we have worked – and will continue to work – collaboratively with the devolved administrations. While Lord Hendy’s recommendations do not bring forward detailed infrastructure proposals, they do point to further work to identify where, when and what to invest in to improve connectivity and unlock growth opportunities.” 

Initiatives announced include: 

  • £8 million for the Scottish Government to kick-start the development of options to improve the A75 between Gretna and Stranraer, in addition to the funding committed in Network North to deliver targeted improvements following the Scottish Government’s identification of a preferred option through the business case process. 
  • Committing funding for dualling the A1 between Morpeth and Ellingham, helping to improve an important route between England and Scotland. 
  • £3.3 million of funding support to Translink to deliver a study on the cost, feasibility and value for money of electrification of the railway in Northern Ireland from Belfast to the border. 
  • £1 billion investment to fund the electrification of the North Wales Main Line, bringing parts of North Wales within an hour of Manchester and bringing more punctual and reliable journeys on the 105-mile route between Crewe and Holyhead, with connections to Liverpool, Warrington and Wrexham. 
  • Providing £2.7 million to Transport for Wales to develop options for upgrades to the South Wales Main Line, including new stations between Cardiff and the Severn Tunnel and increased services between Bristol and West Wales. 

Harper said: “Wherever you live, a better-connected UK will bring you closer to social and economic opportunities. That is why the UK government is determined that our transport infrastructure supports levelling up, brings communities across the UK even closer together and facilitates economic growth by increasing access to skilled labour and opportunities." 

Harper’s written statement can be found on the UK Parliament website6

11 December 2023 
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Nominate your 2024 Planner Woman of Influence

Who’s been the most influential woman in your planning life over the past 12 months? 

Here’s your chance to tell us who she is and why she deserves to be on our 2024 Women of Influence list. 

Each year, we invite Planner readers to nominate the woman – or women – they think has been the most influential to them personally or to the planning profession as a whole in the last year. 

We want to know: 

  • Has she influenced policy change or culture change? 
  • Is she engaging with communities to plan for inclusive and connected places?  
  • Is she inspiring colleagues and the next generation of planners? Does she mentor others? 
  • Is she influencing the reputation of the profession? 

Importantly, she does not have to be a planner. She could be a lawyer, a writer, an activist, a politician, a journalist – as long as her work has had an impact on planners and the planning process. She could be active in the UK or elsewhere. 

Here is last year’s7 list for inspiration. 

We’re looking for quality rather than quantity in our nominations and we recommend that you supply a pithy and to the point 150 to 250 words about your nominee, telling us why they deserve to be on the list and giving tangible examples of their impact! 

You can make more than one nomination, but the deadline for all nominations is 12 January 2024. 

Nominations will be assessed by a panel of judges who reflect our readership and on 8 March 2024 – International Women’s Day – we’ll publish the 2024 list of Women of Influence on The Planner website. 

To make a nomination, fill out the form here8.  

11 December 2023 
The Planner 

Mark Hand appointed director at the RTPI

The RTPI has appointed Mark Hand as the director of Wales, Northern Ireland, and Planning Aid England. 

Hand is currently head of service for the physical regeneration, highways, flooding, planning and building control services at Monmouthshire County Council. He has more than 20 years of experience working in the public sector in Wales. Hand has been chair of the Planning Officers' Society Wales, an external examiner for Cardiff University's planning course, and sat on the RTPI's General Assembly. 

He has seven years of experience with the planning system in Northern Ireland, having worked with the Department for Infrastructure to review planning performance indicators, looking at best practices across the UK nations. More recently, he has been working with Derry City and Strabane District Council to review the implications of the Northern Ireland Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee reports on the planning service.   

Hand said: “I am delighted to be appointed as RTPI director of Wales, Northern Ireland and Planning Aid England. Roisin has done a fantastic job and I hope to build on her achievements. 

“Planners have a central role to play in tackling the huge issues of the climate and nature emergencies, housing crisis and infrastructure delivery. This needs some brave decisions and collaborative working, drawing on the strengths and contributions of planners from all sectors. I look forward to working together with all built environment professionals throughout Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as supporting our vital network of Planning Aid England volunteers.” 

Hand will replace Raisin Willmott OBE FRTPI, who leaves the institute this month. She is taking up a new position of One Planet manager at Cardiff Council, working on the council’s net-zero ambitions. 

Willmott joined the RTPI in September 2007, starting as national director of Wales, extending to Northern Ireland in 2012, and then taking on responsibility for Planning Aid England in 2018. While working at the RTPI Willmott has helped influence national policies and built up the services offered to members in Wales and Northern Ireland. 

7 December 2023 
Laura Edgar, The Planner


Judge rejects ‘hypercritical scrutiny’ and upholds Waverley local plan

The High Court has dismissed a legal challenge to Waverley Borough Council’s ‘Local Plan Part 2’, rejecting claims that an examining inspector had acted irrationally.  

The claimants, Timothy and Isobel House, own a property next to a golf course allocated for development in the plan for some 190 homes. Their property has a covenant – dating back to 1929 – limiting the number of homes on the golf course to one. 

But Justice Laing decided on 28 November to reject the Houses’ challenge, which suggested that the inspector who examined the local plan had acted irrationally.  

Grounds of challenge 

Three grounds for the challenge by the claimant were identified in Justice Laing's judgment: 

  • Ground 1: The inspector unlawfully failed to consider whether it was sound to restrict the scope of LPP2 to be a “daughter document” to the Waverley Borough Local Plan Part 1: Strategy Policies and Sites (‘LPP1’). The inspector was required to consider the scope of LPP2 by the statutory framework and/or because it was so obviously material to the inspector's statutory task. 
  • Ground 2: Even if the inspector was not required to consider the scope of LPP2, nevertheless his approach to the examination of LPP2 was unlawful because he misinterpreted LPP1, and failed to take into account material considerations that were required to be taken into account by the statutory framework and/or because they were so obviously material to the soundness of LPP2 
  • Ground 3: The inspector's conclusion that there was a reasonable prospect of varying or discharging the restrictive covenant over the golf course site was irrational. 

Laing dismissed all three grounds for challenge, finding that the inspector had adequately considered the status and scope of the plan and had addressed issues in his report. Laing said: “This court has cautioned against the dangers of excessive legalism infecting the planning system – a warning I think we must now repeat in this appeal. 

“There is no place in challenges to planning decisions for the kind of hypercritical scrutiny that this court has always rejected – whether of decision letters of the secretary of state and his inspectors or of planning officers’ reports to committee. The conclusions in an inspector's report or decision letter, or an officer's report, should not be laboriously dissected in an effort to find fault.” 

Councillor Paul Follows, leader of Waverley Borough Council, said: “As the local planning authority, it is our job to ensure there are enough new homes to support future growth aspirations, and we must make difficult decisions about where this much-needed new housing should be built. 

“It is impossible for everyone to agree on the most suitable locations, but it’s important to respect the legal processes that underpin our national planning laws. 

“Appropriate legal challenges are a central mechanism for upholding justice and ensuring accountability, but they can also be used as a tool to disrupt and delay important work. 

“Using ‘hypercritical scrutiny’, as the judge has described it in this case, of an inspector’s report is not helpful. Our officers have been required to invest a great deal of time supporting the planning inspector and defending our position in this case, time which would be much better spent serving our local communities.” 

Councillor Liz Townsend, Waverley Borough Council’s portfolio holder for planning and economic development, added: “Our Local Plan Part 1 and Local Plan Part 2 have both been found ‘sound’ by an independent planning inspector. 

“The claimant did not challenge anything Waverley Borough Council has done, the focus was purely on processes the independent inspector followed and the decisions he made when considering our Local Plan Part 2. 

“We supported the planning inspector throughout this case and I’m pleased that the judge has dismissed the challenge on all grounds.” 

7 December 2023 
Ben Gosling, The Planner


News round-up

Brent Cross West Station opened by London mayor 

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has opened Brent Cross West Station in North London to the public. 

The new Thameslink station can be found between Cricklewood and Hendon stations on the Midland Main Line and is the gateway to new the neighbourhood of Brent Cross Town. 

As well as connecting central London to Brent Cross in 12 minutes, a key feature of the station is a new public overbridge. It provides the first pedestrian access across this stretch of the Midland Main Line since it was first built in the 19th century. 

Brent Cross West has been designed as a gateway to Brent Cross Town, a 180-acre, net-zero development being delivered in partnership between Barnet Council and Related Argent. 

Views from local authorities sought 

Researchers commissioned by the RTPI are seeking the views of local authorities. 

The RTPI commissioned a consortium of researchers to study the status and potential of strategic planning in England. It hopes to find out where common cause and unarticulated demand for more effective strategic planning may exist. 

As a first stage, a survey of local authorities is being undertaken, which will be used to inform the next steps, including case studies. 

More than one response from an individual authority is fine – the more responses, the better, said the research consortium. 

The deadline for completion is 17 January. The survey can be found here9.  

Developers selected for York Central scheme 

Homes England and Network Rail have selected McLaren Property and Arlington Real Estate as the preferred developer for the York Central brownfield scheme.   

York Central is being brought forward by a partnership between Homes England, Network Rail, the City of York Council and the National Railway Museum. The scheme has the potential to “significantly boost” the local economy by creating up to 6,500 jobs. 

There are already £135 million of infrastructure works under way to enable this regional scheme to progress. These include over 3km of new roads, footpaths, and cycleways plus two new bridges over the East Coast Main Line.   

York Central is a 45-acre site that will deliver up to 2,500 homes – 20 per cent of which will be affordable – and see the creation of up to one million square feet of commercial space for offices, retail and leisure uses. 

A network of public squares linking to surrounding neighbourhoods in the city centre will be delivered, as well as improvements to York Railway Station and an expanded and enhanced National Railway Museum.  

Belfast Waterfront regeneration framework announced 

A new framework for the regeneration of Belfast’s Waterfront Promenade has been launched.   

The framework is intended to ensure that future regeneration of the city’s waterfront follows an agreed set of design principles. 

This was developed by the Belfast Waterfront Task Group, made up of representatives from the charity Maritime Belfast Trust, Belfast City Council, Belfast Harbour, Titanic Quarter Limited, Tourism NI, and the departments for Communities, Infrastructure, the Economy, and Agriculture, Environment & Rural Affairs at the Northern Ireland Executive. 

Stretching from Sailortown to Ormeau Park, more than half of the 10,000-metre waterfront remains available for development. Those behind the promenade plan believe that this is a generational opportunity to reshape Belfast’s relationship with its waterfront and maximise the area’s potential to provide economic and social benefits for all of Northern Ireland. 

Innovate UK invests £25m to accelerate net zero in UK 

Innovate UK has announced a package of more than £25 million from its Net Zero Living programme to help accelerate net zero in local communities across the UK. 

Seven local authorities will each receive funding of between £2 and £5 million to run practical demonstrator projects, showing how the non-technical barriers to implementing carbon-cutting measures can be overcome. 

The Innovate UK-funded demonstrators range from building a financing model for new low-carbon heat networks in traditional terraced streets in Lancashire and developing a strategic approach to integrating net zero into operations in Peterborough. 

Innovate UK is also starting work with a wider cohort of around 50 local authorities on a two-year programme involving practical support and shared learning, as they take the steps needed to become net-zero places in the coming years. 

The firm has also published new thinking and guidance, commissioned from Regen, on how authorities can effectively approach planning for decarbonisation at a local level. 

Tollcross Fire Station announced as listed building by HES 

Historic Environment Scotland (HES) has announced it has designated Tollcross Fire Station as a listed building at category B. 

Tollcross Fire Station opened in 1986, replacing the Fire Service’s previous Lauriston headquarters, and remains an operational fire station. 

The building is located in Edinburgh city centre and has been listed for its significance as a major example of postmodern architecture in Scotland. 

HES concluded in its analysis that Tollcross Fire Station was “unique” among contemporary stations from the later 20th century for its architectural quality, combining the demands of a modern fire station with a thoughtful response to its compact urban site. 

Smithfield Poultry Market roof restored 

Smithfield’s Poultry Market dome roof restoration has been completed, following the continuing transformation of the historic Smithfield Markets site into a new museum. 

Smithfield Market covers almost 10 acres in the City of London and was originally designed by City Architect Sir Horace Jones. It was built in the latter half of the 19th century. 

The project will preserve over 70 per cent of the existing fabric and apply the principles of a circular economy. 

8build appointed to The Press in Cambridge   

Mission Street and BGO have appointed contractor 8build to deliver the second phase of The Press, a new 100,000-square-foot life sciences development in Cambridge. 

8build will work with Mission Street to deliver 64,000 square feet of lab space, as well as green space and a publicly accessible café. 

The new-build facilities part of The Press’s second phase will create lab and office space either as a headquarters building or up to six smaller suites. This will follow on from the provision of fully fitted laboratory suites of 4,500 to 12,000 square feet, which will be completed early in 2024. 

Targeting BREEAM Excellent, the development will provide buildings with strong sustainability credentials. Sustainable transport choices will be encouraged through the provision of end-of-trip cycling facilities, capitalising on the site’s location on the Melbourn Greenway. 

Laura Edgar and Prithvi Pandya, The Planner 
12 December 2023


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

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    Planning news - 14 December 2023

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      The Planning Portal is delivered by PortalPlanQuest Limited which is a joint venture between TerraQuest Solutions Limited and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC). All content © 2024 Planning Portal.