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Planning news - 20 March 2024

London mayor directed to review policies in the London Plan

Housing secretary Michael Gove has directed Mayor of London Sadiq Khan to conduct a partial review of the London Plan to boost housebuilding.

This follows an independent review1, commissioned by Gove at the end of 2023, which recommended that an overarching planning assumption in favour of development on brownfield land should be introduced across the capital.

The measure was announced in February, as Gove extended it across England, instructing every local authority in the country to prioritise brownfield developments and to be less bureaucratic and more flexible in applying policies that “halt” housebuilding on brownfield land.

In response2, Khan branded the review of the London Plan “nothing more than a stunt”.

The partial review will focus on two specific areas:

Industrial land: An estimated 6,800 hectares of land is being used for industry in the capital. Of this, 736 hectares could be turned into housing developments, but are “stuck” in the planning system. Developers have described the current policy as too restrictive.

Opportunity areas: There are 47 areas across London that the mayor and the Greater London Authority (GLA) have identified as each typically having the potential to deliver at least 2,500 homes or 5,000 new jobs (or a combination of the two). The government said “too many have made almost no progress and others appear to have plateaued”. The mayor has been asked to ensure that the list of areas is sufficiently targeted, consider how other policies in the plan that constrain capacity or delivery might be adjusted, and if there is a role for a single planning framework to accelerate housing.

The GLA has been asked to report back findings in September.

Gove said: “Londoners are being let down by the mayor’s chronic underdelivery of new homes in the capital. We have already taken comprehensive action to reverse this trend – investing billions of pounds to build affordable homes and unlocking brownfield developments as part of our Long-Term Plan for Housing. 

“However, that alone will not build the homes we need, which is why I am now directing the mayor to review aspects of the London Plan and announcing specialist support on planning to help unlock thousands of homes.”

The government added that a ‘super-squad’ of planners would use their expertise to work across London to speed up planning decisions, particularly on complex cases that “for too long have been held up in the planning system”. The boroughs of Newham and Greenwich have been prioritised with £500,000 to help with planning applications and unlock more than 7,000 homes.

The Planner has contacted the mayor’s office for a response.

A letter from Michael Gove to Sadiq Khan can found here on the UK Government website3

Laura Edgar, The Planner
19 March 2024

‘Stronger policy’ emphasis required to make places work for children

Built environment professionals have argued for planning policy to have a stronger emphasis on children to engender a sense of belonging in neighbourhoods and allow children and young people to move adequately between the places they frequent.

The House of Commons Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee is holding an inquiry to look at how better planning and building and urban design in England could enhance the health and wellbeing of children and young people.

During the second oral evidence session, held on 26 February, Tim Gill, researcher and author of 2021 RIBA book Urban Playground, considered children’s mobility in and around their neighbourhoods – something that isn’t necessarily all about play areas or play facilities.

Rather, the “most important factors” influencing what makes neighbourhoods places where children can spend time outdoors and play are where children can walk easily around their neighbourhoods and be safe from the threat of traffic.

“That is a really clear finding from places all around the world.”

The cities that are most effective in making neighbourhoods work better for children “really see children as a prism or a lens for the whole of the planning system”, said Gill.

"A focus on children both makes concrete what good places look like – they are walkable, compact, green and welcoming – and helps build consensus and a long-term, robust vision about what good places look and feel like.”

Highlighting observational work she undertook, commissioned by the National House Building Council (NHBC), and with help from Homes England, Dinah Bornat, co-director at ZCD Architects, noted that spaces that worked for children also worked for adults.

Children can tumble out of their houses to play and to meet friends. “It is what we basically call doorstep play,” she explained, before going on to reiterate what was said during the first oral evidence session4 – “it is what a lot of us might have had when we were younger, when the cars were not there, and it is what works for children”.

Unfortunately, Bornat told the committee, this is “not how a vast majority” of developments are laid out.

Tom Hunt MP asked whether having a built environment that encourages and facilitates better and stronger relationships between young people because it encourages them to play and spend time with each other has a knock-on effect in terms of encouraging better relationships between adults – because their kids play with each other, families meet.

Bornat agreed, stating that it is about engendering a sense of belonging.

But, Gill added, it is worth noting that not everybody wants children outside their house; sometimes children “do irritating things”.

“We all did irritating things when we were kids. That is not a bug in community life. It is a feature. We need to value the fact that one of the things that helps children to learn how to get along with each other, and with the other adults in their community, is by making mistakes. I am not talking about major crime here. I am just talking about that learning that you get when you do something a bit stupid and have to figure out that you have done that.”

Considering children before the bin lorry

Bornat argued that the best engagement starts at a policy-making level – a local plan-making level. “You have to get under the skin” of which bits work and which do not, and it is “rare” to see that kind of work happening, really listening to local children and young people about how they use their area.

Furthermore, the development industry needs to start engaging with children and young people before they start drawing up any plans, before they start deciding where the housing will go, or where the schools are going to go, said Bornat.

Gill advocated for walkabout as an “amazing” way for older people to hear what younger people have to say about their neighbourhood, instead of meetings.

"I am very happy to be here in this meeting, but meetings are kind of dull. Never mind 17; if you are 11, they really are dull. Having the mayor or a politician out, walking around your neighbourhood with you, just for an hour, is not dull and opens up huge potential for rich conversations and breaking down some of those barriers between the generations.”

On policy, Bornat said children need to be elevated in local policy to a point whether they are considered before conversations about bin lorries and parking – how might children move around their neighbourhood without crossing a road?

Stronger policy emphasis on children required

Giving a developer's perspective, Jonny Anstead, founding director at TOWN, said very little is expected of them through the planning system and they are “generally encouraged to think about the needs of children as a tick-box activity”.

Policy requirements for a planning application will principally be on incorporating areas of play or locally equipped areas of play, he explained, “which have the effect of reducing the needs of children down to the provision of a small playground with a fence around it”.

Anstead said this is “very convenient” for developers – it is “very cheap, it takes up very little space, you can buy it off the shelf and it is easy to incorporate within a very standardised housing estate layout” but it “falls short of what is required in terms of actual outcomes for children”.

He added that, as Bornat said, “it is not an exaggeration to say that we are encouraged to think more about bins and cars than we are about children in the way that we approach our projects”.

With the top 10 companies developing more than 50 per cent of housing stock annually, Anstead argued for a change in that cultural approach, with more examples of good practice needing to be brought forward to “set a sea change in the industry”.

This doesn't need to cost more, he said. At Marmalade Lane  (an RTPI Silver Jubilee Cup winner), a shared parking area at the edge of development has reduced the amount of space given over to car parking from around 36 per cent to around 12 per cent. "That is actually cheaper to lay out. There is less tarmac and there is less hard surfacing. It is a different way of doing things; it is not necessarily a more expensive way of doing things."

Jo McCafferty, director at Levitt Bernstein, added that just 6 per cent of new homes in the UK are designed by architects, meaning the best practices are such a small percentage overall.

Children understand the details, he continued, and they want to talk about strategic aspects of design that probably do not cost much money but need to be thought about in the design process. This could be where the cycle routes are, where the pedestrian routes are, or how cars can be moved so that children can directly run out of their front door into that play space, meet friends, and go and call on their neighbour without crossing too many roads.  

“Those things do not cost much money but they need a really different approach to design thinking.”

McCafferty told the committee it should be a planning requirement to set out and give evidence of the processes that have been undertaken with children and young people in the neighbourhood for which a planning application has been submitted.

Currently, though, as Sarah Scannell, assistant director in planning at Birmingham City Council and representing an interested party as a professional planner, pointed out that children are only considered at a very high level in the local plan; are there enough schools, are there enough doctors, do they have the right size house? It “very, very rarely goes into the detail of the qualitative assessment that we are talking about here and that we need to see”.

Developments coming through are “barely viable most of the time”, she explained, with the list of things the planning system is trying to fix only getting longer – affordable housing, zero carbon, biodiversity net gain, nutrient neutrality.

“They are all the hot topics. To get to the level where we are talking about designing stuff from a children’s perspective, we need that to be written in the NPPF and to be translated to local plans.”

The national design code, she said, is an opportunity to change how places are planned; it steps away from looking at policies on a page and looks at how they translate to the physical presentation of it.

There are also hooks in the existing system that, “if emphasised and given the right focus nationally” can achieve many aims, she said, such as NPPF policies on active communities with great walking routes, and on active travel.

But a vision and a strong, clear narrative are needed to ensure that these things are taken to the next level, argued Scannel. The emphasis on children in the NPPF must be greater – and it must translate to local plans for developers to have discussions about a scheme working for young people in the long term.

McCafferty added that in many situations, the list of things that need to be met “are quite easy to do” if you are designing with children and young people in mind.

“You can create a really well-organised and sustainable environment where you are achieving your biodiversity net gain because you are prioritising pedestrian routes and play space within the centre of a development, and it is not car-dominated with lots of tarmac. Those things are not in tension and can work together. The big thing that needs to happen is a readjustment of the hierarchy of priorities and children. Young people should be at the top because they are the future,” he concluded.

Written and oral evidence on this inquiry can be found here on the UK Parliament website5.

Built environment professionals advocate for children in Commons committee inquiry.

Lack of space for children affects their mental and physical wellbeing, the House of Commons Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee has heard – and there should be clearer planning guidance on delivering spaces for the young.

Read the full story about the first oral evidence session for the committee's inquiry on how better planning and building and urban design in England could enhance the health and wellbeing of children and young people here on The Planner.6 

18 March 2024
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Planning barrister to lead review into speeding up delivery of NSIPs

Lord Charles Banner KC will lead an independent review that will consider how to speed up the delivery of major infrastructure projects, the government has announced.

This review builds on the government's plans to streamline the process for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs), some of which have faced legal barriers and judicial reviews, such as the development consent7 for a two-lane dual carriageway for the A303 between Amesbury and Berwick Down in Wiltshire past Stonehenge World Heritage Site.

Banner, a planning barrister, will be assisted by fellow barrister Nick Grant. They are tasked with exploring whether NSIPs are unduly held up by inappropriate legal challenges and if so, why.

They will also consider how the problem can be effectively resolved “whilst guaranteeing the constitutional right to access of justice and meeting the UK’s international obligations”, said the government.

Banner stated: “I am looking forward to analysing the information available, as well as the feedback from key stakeholders, to ascertain whether, within the terms of reference, there is a case for improving the process for legal challenges of NSIPs in a way that would reduce any identified impacts of inappropriate legal challenges whilst maintaining constitutional principles and relevant international obligations."

The review was announced at the Autumn Statement in November 20238. As part of the review, Banner will produce a written report with recommendations.

13 March 2024
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Community-led development should account for 5% of housing in the next five years

The Community Land Trust Network has set out policies to enable community-led developments to make up at least 5 per cent of housing development in the UK by 2029.

According to the CLT Network, the policies would enable the completion of 15,000 new homes a year, generating more than £1 billion of community wealth.

The Community Land Trusts Manifesto 2024 features 10 policies to address common barriers to community development, ownership, and agency for community land trusts that create and manage community homes and assets, sustainable energy projects or stewarding land for biodiversity.

It considers England and Wales.

Tom Chance, CEO of the Community Land Trust Network, commented: “Using CLTs, communities now own over 2,000 affordable homes, green spaces, shops, pubs and workplaces in England and Wales, with many more in the pipeline. But for many, reaching completion has been an incredible struggle against a system that doesn’t recognise community agency.

“If we want to build enough high-quality community homes and get investment into left behind communities we need to see these policy changes.”

The CLT Network policy requests include:

Community-led development sites to give local and neighbourhood plans the ability to allocate sites and parcels of large sites for community development.

Large site stewardship to require community assets to be owned and stewarded by a democratic and accountable body and promote opportunities for CLTs to commission and co-design more of these assets with councils, developers and housing associations.

Community-led regeneration to enable residents to form a CLT to have greater agency in the redevelopment of social housing estates and other important assets in partnership with councils, housing associations and developers, including reviving the regulations for the Right to Transfer.

Review policies and funding for nature restoration and farming, to incentivise support for community ownership of nature and farming projects.

Community Land Trusts Manifesto 2024 can be found here on the Community Land Trusts website (pdf).9

14 March 2024
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Elmbridge proceeds to examination stage 2

The inspector examining Elmbridge Borough Council’s local plan is satisfied that the Duty to Cooperate during the preparation of the plan before submission has been met.

This means examination of the plan can now move to stage 2. The next hearings start on 25 April.

Elmbridge Borough Council submitted its draft plan for examination by the Planning Inspectorate in August 2023 . The draft plan provides for the delivery of at least 6,785 net additional homes across the borough, with at least 30 per cent to be affordable. Of the homes, 1,215 are proposed for Esher, 1,255 for Walton-on-Thames, and 1,200 for Weybridge. It covers the period up to 2037.

In related news, the council is engaging and consulting with residents and other stakeholders on the development of a design code for the borough. The Elmbridge Design Code will be presented to a meeting of the council in April for adoption.

“It aims to reflect local character and design preferences, providing a framework for creating high-quality design in the borough. It will support the implementation of the existing local plan policies relating to design matters,” said Robin Stephens, portfolio holder for planning, enterprise and local economy.

More information about the examination of the local plan can be found here on the Elmbridge Borough Council website.10  

14 March 2024
Laura Edgar, The Planner

News round up

Residents ordered to pay more than £6,000 for unauthorised garden extension

Cannock Magistrates Court has ordered the owners of a property in Stourbridge to pay a total of £6,515 in fines and costs for failing to comply with an enforcement notice served on them by South Staffordshire Council. 

Mr and Mrs Hill of 20 Pineways, Wordsley, purchased the plot of woodland land next to their property in January 2015. Following this, protected trees were removed to extend the garden and provide a patio area accessed by a new stairway access.

This plot formed part of green belt land protected by a Tree Preservation Order preserving a buffer strip between Dudley and South Staffordshire.

The Hills were served with a planning enforcement notice in March 2022, ordering them to remove the walls, pillars, steps, patio area and wooden planters from the land, but they failed to comply with the notice.

The case was put before Cannock Magistrates Court on Monday 11 March 2024. The couple were fined £2,250 for failure to comply with the enforcement notice and ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £900 and £3,365 in costs.

Mr Hill had previously been convicted at Newcastle-under-Lyme Magistrates County Court in December 2021 for the unauthorised removal of the protected trees from the land in question but appealed against the Tree Replacement Notice served by South Staffordshire Council. This appeal was dismissed by the Planning Inspectorate in March 2023.

Collaboration required for net zero

An initiative between the Aldersgate Group, RenewableUK, and countryside charity CPRE will examine how the planning system needs to change to achieve net zero.

The collaboration intends to investigate how the policy landscape can enable the decarbonisation of energy systems while protecting landscapes, nature and communities’ right to input.

The group argues that the planning system needs to be improved if progress towards net zero is to be speeded up to meet the targets to decarbonise the electricity system set by political parties.

The Conservatives have said they want to decarbonise the electricity system by 2035. For Labour, the target is by 2030. To meet these targets, as well as to meet the growing electricity demand, new infrastructure must be built rapidly.

However, National Grid ESO projections suggest that the UK needs to build more than five times as many new high-voltage transmission lines by 2030 as have been delivered over the past 30 years.

The collaborative project aims to bring together a range of organisations to reach a consensus on a set of shared principles for a new system that enables rapid decarbonisation.

Interim findings are expected in the spring, with final recommendations to follow in the autumn.

Partnership to tackle construction skills shortage

A new partnership intends to help tackle the construction skills shortage to support the delivery of 113 current and planned major developments in Birmingham – including Phase Three of Paradise, HS2’s Birmingham Curzon Street and Smithfield.

The Birmingham and Solihull Construction Skills Alliance was launched earlier this month (March). It is jointly led by South and City College Birmingham (SCCB) and Birmingham City Council.

The alliance will bring the council, SCCB, developers and main construction contractors, skills and recruitment partners and industry bodies together to look at the roles and training needed – now and in future.

SCCB will design new apprenticeships and training that equip regional recruits with the skills they need to gain long-term employment, and the alliance will offer SMEs support to employ apprentices and make use of the levy funding available.

Councillor Sharon Thompson, deputy leader of Birmingham City Council, said: “This partnership is supporting the council and the city’s aim to help deliver a diverse range of skills to help our young people access long-term employment in the city. The construction pipeline in Birmingham is ambitious with HS2, the redevelopment of Smithfield and more, changing the landscape of the city, and we want our young professionals to be part of this future.

“This is a vital step for Birmingham and the wider region. As a council, working closely with our partners, we are committed to tackling the challenges we face in the construction sector by aligning how we work to avoid duplication and maximise skills and training for our young population. Allowing the city, and population, to develop to its full potential.”

HDL donates land to Dunbar community

Hallhill Developments (HDL) has gifted 34 acres of land to the Dunbar Community Development and Heritage Trust (Trust) in a partnership with the local council and local community.

The trust plans to create a path network, a woodland classroom for local schools, a children’s play area, a football pitch and changing rooms.

Other plans, subject to approval, include a skate park and pump track as well as a community café. A woodland management plan will also be developed to benefit the community of Dunbar and its local wildlife.

Land was also provided to East Lothian Council at a subsidised cost to deliver the primary school.

Warrant executed over pub conservation concerns

Cherwell District Council has acted to allay public concern over the condition of the former Unicorn Hotel pub on Market Square in Banbury.

The council obtained a warrant under the Planning Act 1990 to enter the grade II listed building and assess its overall condition.

The planning enforcement team visited the pub on 27 February, finding it structurally sound and watertight despite being out of use since 2007.

The council chose to get the warrant because the current owner failed to respond to the council’s requests for updates on their plans to protect the building.

Khan announces £1m for 21 rewilding projects in London

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has announced that another 21 projects have been awarded a share of £1 million from the Rewild London Fund to rewild communities across London.

The projects aim to attract amphibians back to Archbishops Park, enhance the habitat for beavers in Enfield, and convert a disregarded Victorian pond into a wildlife oasis.

The funding is intended to enhance the condition of 40 Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINCs) in London, with some projects focusing on revitalising neglected rivers.

Nobel Park housing plans approved in Oxford

Housebuilder Crest Nicholson has secured planning approval for homes at its Nobel Park development in Didcot, Oxfordshire.

Across the 8.2-acre site, the development will consist of 158 two to five-bedroom “energy-efficient” homes, incorporating 30 affordable homes for shared ownership and affordable rent. Each home will feature solar PV panels and electric vehicle (EV) charging.

Amenities for residents will include play areas and a series of footpaths and cycle paths, promoting active travel and connecting residents with the wider community.

Building work is set to start in spring 2024, with the first completions anticipated for September 2024.

Council approves expansion plans at Betteshanger Country Park

Dover District Council’s planning committee has approved plans for a hotel, spa and lagoon at the 231-acre Betteshanger Country Park. 

The development of the Spa Hotel and The Seahive will create jobs for the district and help to address the low percentage of overnight stays largely driven by the limited availability of hotel accommodation. 

This investment will give the park a safe and financially sustainable future, delivering Wild Betteshanger and a fully funded management plan for the park’s wildlife.

This includes safeguarding areas away from human disturbance for nature to thrive, helping to fund a wildlife warden and expanding its schools’ programme.

Historic England supports the University of Sussex’s plan to improve listed library

Historic England has expressed its support for the University of Sussex’s plans to improve access to its grade II* listed 1960s Sir Basil Spence Library.

Advisers worked with the university’s design team to help find a practical and creative design that respected the Falmer campus’s modernist architecture designed by Spence.

The proposals, by Keith Williams Architects, feature a new circular brick lift tower intended to better connect the main public space to the library’s main entrance and a new gently inclined ramp which will create a link to the northern part of the campus.

Planning permission and listed building consent have recently been granted, with construction expected to begin later this year.

Ellesmere Port Market works approved

Cheshire West and Chester Council has granted planning permission for proposals to refurbish Ellesmere Port Market and a change of use of the Flea Market, which will be developed into a flexible event space with pop-up bar facilities.

The external alterations to the building include new entrance canopies, external cladding, external bin store, installation of solar photovoltaic panels (PV panels) and associated works.

The works are part of a £13 million project using funding from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities’ Levelling Up Fund.

19 March 2024
Laura Edgar, The Planner

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    Planning news - 20 March 2024

      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.

      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.