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Planning news - 16 December 2021

Khan sets about rewilding London

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has announced a £600,000 Rewild London Fund that seeks to restore London’s ‘most precious’ wildlife sites.

The fund will also go towards creating more natural habitats for plants and animals to thrive

There are 1,600 Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINCs) covering 20 per cent of London, including Sydenham Hill Wood and the downlands in Bromley and Croydon.

The fund will be administered with advice from London Wildlife Trust. It will support 20 to 30 SINCs in ensuring that special species thrive. This could include creating new homes for stag beetles to water voles in newly restored waterways.

Khan also set out a further £300,000 of funding for 40 ‘Keeping it Wild’ traineeships for young people aged 16 to 25, to be delivered with London Wildlife Trust. He intends the traineeships to be diverse – supporting young Black, Asian and minority ethnic Londoners, as well as young disabled people and those from areas of economic deprivation.

The mayor said: “The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. In London, we need to take bold action to ensure that we not only halt the decline of biodiversity in our natural environment but pave the way for growth and change. That’s why I’ve announced my new Rewilding Fund, which will help restore the capital’s precious wildlife sites, improve biodiversity and ensure all Londoners have a thriving web of nature on their doorstep. And as part of our Green New Deal, we’re supporting young Londoners to gain the skills required for jobs that help secure a future for London’s natural environment.

“I am proud to have helped London to be recognised as the world’s first National Park City in 2019, and this funding shows my commitment to protecting that status and doing all I can to protect London’s amazing network of green spaces, rivers and natural habitats.”

Leah McNally, director of learning, youth & communities at London Wildlife Trust, commented: “We are absolutely delighted that the mayor of London will be supporting London Wildlife Trust’s hugely successful ‘Keeping it Wild’ traineeship programme for young people aged 16-25. Paid opportunities like these are a fantastic springboard into a career in nature conservation and are vitally important in supporting under-represented young people who face barriers to accessing jobs within the green economy. We are really excited to also be supporting the mayor of London’s ‘Rewilding Fund’ which will have a positive impact on improving Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation in London, for both people and the wonderful wildlife that we share our great city with.”

13 December 2021
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Councils in Staffordshire to work on county deal

Nine councils in Staffordshire have pledged to work together on a county deal with the government under its levelling-up agenda.

They will work “closer than ever” together on the economy, skills and training, climate change and improved public services. The agreement also forms part of their joint work on helping residents and businesses through the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Ambitious” plans are being drawn up to create more jobs and opportunities for those in Staffordshire, as well as improving public health and tackling waste and recycling challenges.

The council believes that its aims could be delivered faster with extra funding and support available through a county deal. A joint leaders’ board will be created to oversee the delivery of an agreed set of priorities and the development of a county deal.

Discussions are under way with government ministers and civil servants on a series of proposals.

The nine councils that have pledged to work together are:

  • Cannock Chase District Council
  • East Staffordshire Borough Council
  • Lichfield District Council
  • Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council
  • South Staffordshire Council
  • Stafford Borough Council
  • Staffordshire County Council
  • Staffordshire Moorlands District Council
  • Tamworth Borough Council

Alan White, leader of Staffordshire County Council, explained: “This agreement builds on our strengths and offers the government the perfect platform here, in the nationally valued centre of the country, to pursue its levelling-up agenda.

“Come what may, Staffordshire councils will continue to work hand in glove. But a county deal and additional investment in Staffordshire would help us to put our foot to the floor and accelerate the positive changes we can make for the 850,000 people we serve.”

Olivia Lyons, leader of Cannock Chase District Council, commented: “We believe a county deal should not be a one-off bid, but the start of a new, ongoing conversation with central government that builds on Staffordshire’s strengths and tackles big national problems at a local level.

“Two-tier local government works in Staffordshire. A county deal will accelerate our ambitious programme, improve public services and deliver excellent returns for both the people of Staffordshire and the UK.”

Doug Pullen, leader of Lichfield District Council, added: “Working jointly with Staffordshire County Council, as well as other district councils around us, is second nature to us in Lichfield, so I’m really excited about the next logical step – putting this collaborative working on a more formal footing.

“With clear objectives around the things that matter the most to us – health, skills, transport, the economy and climate change – we can deepen our relationship with other local authorities, improve outcomes right across our county, and in doing so demonstrate to Whitehall that locally elected leaders, working together, are the real catalyst required to ‘level up’.”

13 December 2021
The Planner

Welsh Government tells Monmouthshire to cut housing numbers to conform with regional plan

The Welsh Government has asked Monmouthshire Council to lower its housing targets amid concerns that it would conflict with the nation’s wider strategic growth plans.

Allocations within the county’s emerging Replacement Local Development Plan – which runs from 2018-2033 – would see the county build a total of 7,605 homes during the period.

However, the Welsh government has proposed a “maximum” growth of between 2,610 and 4,275 homes only. In a letter to Monmouthshire’s head of placemaking, it expressed “fundamental concern” about the county’s housing proposals and stated that the emerging plan “undermines Future Wales' focus for strategic economic and housing growth in the SE Wales National Growth Area”. Future Wales 20401 is the national plan for Wales.

The South East Wales National Growth Area includes Cardiff, Newport and the Valleys – but not Monmouthshire. Mark Hand, the county’s head of placemaking, told The Planner that he felt the two bodies – Welsh Government and Monmouthshire Council – were working to two different sets of figures and that Monmouthshire’s proposed plan was in conformity with Future Wales as a whole.

“Would 3,000 homes in Monmouthshire – 222 a year – really undermine that national ambition? I really don’t think it would,” he said.

Monmouthshire’s Replacement Local Development Plan proposes allocating land for 7,605 new homes over the period from 2018 to 2033. The county has 4,708 homes in its landbank, comprising 1,218 homes already built, 1,642 with planning permission and 2,897 form windfalls based on past trends. Complying with the Welsh Government’s maximum level would result in a plan with no new housing site allocations, Hand pointed out.

In its letter, the Welsh Government stressed a considerably lower target of between 2,610 and 4,275 homes, warning that the proposed plan will result in displacement of housing, jobs and population from elsewhere in South East Wales to Monmouthshire and thus “undermines the role of Cardiff, Newport and the Valleys as the main focus for growth and investment in the South East region”.

It continues: “The level of growth proposed has the potential to negatively impact on environmental assets and have adverse consequences for climate and nature emergencies.”

Hand, however, noted that Monmouthshire’s replacement plan was responding to a number of stimuli: projected population growth, affordable housing need and pressure from the neighbouring South West England housing market. The Welsh Government, he suggested, was only looking at demographic growth.

“We're looking at what we want to achieve for the county and then how many homes do we need? How many jobs do we need to get there?” said Hand

“We’re a border county with England so we’ve got pressure coming from the east and the west. We’ve got 2,440 households on our affordable housing waiting list and like much of the UK we have an ageing demographic, and ours is ageing quite significantly.

“The combination of all of these things means that young people can’t afford to buy in the county and they’re moving out. Our economically active workforce is shrinking. We’re trying to think ‘How do we balance that demographic? How do we get socially sustainable communities?’”

The county’s strategy sets out plans to provide 2,169 affordable homes, with a desire to increase that number. A council report says Monmouthshire’s economically active workforce would increase by 2,661 people between 2018 and 2033 under its strategy. But under the Welsh Government’s maximum growth level it would only increase by 357 people.

The Welsh Government, he said, had pointed out that Monmouthshire’s plan was required to be in conformity with Future Wales 2040, but would not be in conformity with two polices – 1 and 33 – which address where growth is focused.

“General conformity with Future Wales is one of the tests of soundness that we have to meet,” accepted Hand. “But it is general conformity with the whole of Future Wales I would argue, in the same way as you read a local development plan as an entire document. There’s other policies in there – polices four, five and seven in particular – which look at sustaining rural communities, making sure they’re socially sustainable with a balanced demographic, looking at delivering affordable housing. Would 3,000 homes in Monmouthshire – 222 a year – really undermine that national ambition? I really don’t think it would.” Other tests of soundness require the plan to be sufficiently aspirational and to meet locally-evidenced need.

Hand added: “One of my concerns is that they’re basing their kind of growth levels on population projections, which is just a baseline need. The guidance is clear that you then look at things like your local housing market assessments and other policy aspirations to get a housing requirement. So I think we’re working to two different figures.”

A special meeting of the council’s economy and development select committee has been called to consider the implications of the Welsh Government’s maximum homes requirement.

10 December 2021
Simon Wicks, The Planner

Heritage-led regeneration key to future of town centres

A report has suggested that embedding regeneration within investment programmes intended to revitalise high streets will more effectively drive the growth and renewal of Britain’s historic town centres.

Produced by planning consultancy Lichfields, Historic Opportunities focuses on the value of long-term thinking and a holistic approach to the success of regeneration projects. It features two case studies - North Shields Fish Quay in the North East and Grimsby in Lincolnshire – and concludes that projects are now focused "more than ever" on repurposing heritage assets in ambitious and creative ways to meet society’s changing needs. It states: "Heritage-led regeneration projects are also focused more than ever on reusing heritage assets in ambitious and creative ways to respond to changes in the way that people live, work and shop."

The report follows Lichfields' previous report Moving on Up. After analysing more than 100 bids for three key funding streams aimed at delivering town centre regeneration, it concluded that heritage-led regeneration is among six key themes underpinning the bids.

Historic Opportunities notes that nearly half of the current buildings in retail's use and 33 per cent of office buildings were built before 1919, many of which have been poorly adapted. The report finds that the way heritage-led regeneration is being implemented has evolved and is more complex and multi-layered now.

It states: "For many years it was thought that simply restoring historic buildings externally and providing new shopfronts and usable floorspace would be enough to deliver regeneration and attract new businesses, despite there being little empirical evidence to support that assumption."

This way of thinking has "given way to more effective heritage-led regeneration projects that are predicated on clearer business and investment strategies", says Lichfields. "These are designed to complement and form an embedded part of wider investment programmes, which are aimed at improving local economies through investment in infrastructure, new industries and technologies."

Embedding heritage-led regeneration in this way can, the report's authors conclude, help to harness heritage investment’s potential to inspire action and promote initiatives, as well as ensure that it produces more effective and sustainable results.

The report’s lead author, Lichfields' James Fryatt, said: “Heritage-led regeneration projects need to be focused more than ever on reusing assets in ambitious and creative ways to respond to people’s changing lifestyle, work and shopping habits. In the high street for instance, this will see historic buildings increasingly adapted to reflect changes in retail and growing demand for leisure activities, creative and flexible workspaces, and housing in sustainable and accessible locations.

“It’s also about bringing the history of towns to the surface, engaging communities in heritage projects and enhancing places with the aim of attracting new businesses, visitors and residents.”

Nick Bridgland, Lichfields’ heritage director, added: “The key to long-term success is to see it as part of an overarching holistic approach embedded within wider programmes of investment aimed at revitalising places that have been left behind.

Historic Opportunities can be found on the Lichfields website2.

7 December 2021
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Counties call for strategic planning to ease excessive housing development

Forthcoming government reforms must introduce a strategic planning model to align housebuilding and infrastructure in county areas, according to latest research.

The move comes as levelling-up secretary Michael Gove considers revising planning reforms ahead of legislation next year, with county councils arguing that there has “never been a better time” to reintroduce strategic planning back into the system.

Strategic planning has not been a formal part of England’s planning since the late 2010s; the duty to cooperate is currently the only informal tool to encourage councils to work together, and the government is looking to scrap this under its reform agenda.

A poll by the County Councils Network (CCN) reveals that two-thirds of its members are warning that their infrastructure is groaning under “excessive” pressure from housing development. One million of the two million new homes delivered in England since 2010 have been built in county and rural areas, said the body.

With no replacement for the duty to cooperate mechanism proposed by the government, all bar one council in the survey has voiced concerns that strategic planning was not part of the initial proposals. The network is now urging the government to include this in its revised planning reforms.

Its joint study with Catriona Riddell Associates calls for “accountable strategic planning bodies” to be set up in each county area. These would be composed of senior councillors from all councils in the area, working on a majority voting system, with the chair being either a county authority member or a directly elected leader, if such arrangements are made in specific devolution deals.

The bodies would set out a vision for their areas, including testing locations for housing, economic growth, or larger regeneration while matching these with infrastructure. This “strategic growth plan” would provide a framework but would not supersede individual local plans, the study suggests.

Their proposals would be scrutinised by a “strategic planning advisory body”, including councillors as well as business, health, climate and civic leaders, which would test and advise on whether the shared vision in the strategic growth plan is being delivered. This role would be similar to that of the London Assembly when scrutinising the mayor’s London Plan.

“The present fragmented system not only makes it more difficult to build the right homes in the right places, but it does not allow us to properly plan for and finance infrastructure,” said network chairman Tim Oliver. “As a result, many of us are facing severe pressure on our roads, health services, and schools because of development.

“With the government reconsidering its planning reforms, and ministers looking to agree several county devolutions deals across the country, there has never been a better time to implement strategic planning arrangements. Failure to do so could only intensify the pressures on infrastructure that we are all experiencing in our areas.”

Read the report: The Future of Strategic Planning in England3

8 December 2021
Huw Morris, The Planner

News round-up

Local authorities advised to be ready to host events virtually

The Planning Inspectorate (PINs) has updated its Cover-19 guidance after Prime Minister Boris Johnson enacted the government’s ‘Plan B' to stem the spread of the Omicron variant.

Director of operations Graham Stallwood has written to local authority chief planners to remind them that they need to be ready to host virtual-only hearings and inquiries.

Stallwood said: “In most cases we need you to use the reserve plans you have in place to host hearings and inquiries virtually and return to the default position of these events being held virtually, for now. There may be a small number of cases where the inspector considers the event can only proceed following a face-to-face element and they will make a case-by-case decision as to how to proceed in those cases.”


CPO for Rainham and Beam Park withdrawn

Havering Council has withdrawn the Beam Park Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) after taking legal advice and consulting with the Planning Inspectorate

In November, the council asked the inspectorate to delay the CPO inquiry while the Greater London Authority (GLA) and Department for Transport continued to discuss the future of Beam Park Station.

The inspectorate recommended that the CPO should be dropped until it is clear what the decision is on the proposed station.

Havering Council had planned to regenerate the area. This included building new homes as part of a joint venture with Notting Hill Genesis. These plans will be delayed.


Hertsmere announces large response to draft plan

Hertsmere Borough Council has announced that it has received more than 12,000 comments on its draft local plan.

The draft outlines the growth of the borough over the next 15 years by providing homes and the infrastructure and jobs needed to support growth.

The council said that in the eight weeks of public engagement thousands of responses were sent by email, via the online consultation portal and survey and by post from residents, businesses and other interested parties.

There will be another six weeks of public engagement next year, before the draft plan is submitted to a government-appointed inspector for examination. Upon examination it will then be considered for adoption by council members.

The plan and more information can be viewed here4.


Eutopia secures brownfield site in Gloucester

Eutopia Homes has acquired an eight-acre brownfield site in central Gloucester for a £70 million residential-led regeneration project.

The brownfield developer secured a draft allocation in the latest Gloucester local plan review for a minimum of 300 homes on the urban brownfield site, next to Gloucester City train station.

The plans to be brought forward next year include a mixture of single-family homes for rent, alongside city centre apartments.

Scott Hammond, founder and CEO at Eutopia Homes, said: “We are excited to bring forward this complicated brownfield site for a new balanced community of homes for sale and rent.

“Recent investment by the University of Gloucester for the acquisition of the old Debenhams store for a new campus, along with the city council's recent investment in driving a new cyber hub for the UK in close proximity to Gloucester Council’s HQ, will bring more employment to the city, which in turn will drive up the demand for high-quality housing.”


Medway approves TopHat’s housing plans

Medway Council has approved plans submitted by TopHat for the construction of three four-storey blocks of modular apartments at the 4.8-acre Kitchener Barracks site in Chatham, Kent.

The plans will see TopHat deliver almost 300 homes at the site in three phrases. It has already delivered more than 100 homes and the third phase will see another 183 homes built.

It will repurpose the early 20th-century barracks to deliver 68 apartments, plus 19 two and four-bedroom houses.

The modular housing company will build 96 one and two-bedroom homes at its factory in South Derbyshire. Thirty-two of these apartments will be “affordable”.

Work is due to begin in the new year and will see the creation of jobs in Kent and Derbyshire.

14 December 2021
Laura Edgar and Prithvi Pandya, 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 - 16 December 2021

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