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Planning news - 21 July 2022

PINS seeks to decide appeals ‘consistently faster’

Despite some decisions being made 'faster than previous years', the Planning Inspectorate says that on average, decisions took longer in 2021/22.

This was because it focused its work on the cases with the most community interest and those “key” to supporting the economic recovery. These include national infrastructure applications, local plan examinations and appeals needing a hearing or inquiry.

“We are working hard to decide more appeals so our decisions can become consistently faster.”

According to The Planning Inspectorate Annual Report and Accounts 2021/22, the number of planning appeals being submitted increased back to pre-pandemic levels, and 4 per cent higher than in 2020/21, up to 8,971. The number that needed to be heard at inquiry rose by 38 per cent.

Concentrating inspectors on hearings and inquiries for community and economic reasons meant that “fewer inspectors” were available for cases decided by written representations.

The report states: “We decided fewer appeals than we received from April 2021 through to January 2022 but began reducing overall case numbers in the last quarter of 2021/22.”

Compared with 2020/21, 10 per cent more enforcement appeals were submitted to the inspectorate. The report states it is likely that local planning authorities served fewer notices in 2020/21 as they focused on the Covid-19 pandemic.

Slightly fewer enforcement cases were decided in 2021/22 compared with the previous year, and the inspectorate “closed roughly as many cases as we received”.

Overall, the inspectorate decided more than 17,400 appeals and issued 34 reports on local plans. It continued to hold hearings and inquiries using both virtual and face-to-face events.

It received 21,300 appeals in 2021/22 – 6 per cent more than in 2020/21.

Sarah Richards, chief executive at the Planning Inspectorate, said: “Through our use of technology, planning effectively for the future, focused resource management and robust decision-making we kept casework moving through the Covid-19 pandemic. Overall, the speed of decision-making for our appeals service is now steady, and in some areas has improved. We have focused our efforts on the areas that are key to the economy.”

Trudi Elliott, chair of the Planning Inspectorate Board, added: “The second year of the pandemic has required us to dig deep. I am proud of the way the inspectorate’s people and board have stepped up. I’m also grateful for the constructive collaboration of our partners and stakeholders and the support and interest of ministers.

“We remained focused on improving the speed with which we determine cases and have agreed new measures with ministers, which better reflect our customers’ needs.”

In October 2021, the inspectorate published its rolling strategic plan1 and Planning and Environment Decisions Wales (PEDW)2 was established.

The Planning Inspectorate Annual Report and Accounts 2021/22 can be found on the UK Government website.3

13 July 2022
Laura Edgar, The Planner


Biodiversity crisis is an ‘existential risk’ to human survival

The chief executive of the Environment Agency has warned that the biodiversity crisis, like the climate crisis, is ‘an existential risk to our survival’.

In the Environment Agency’s report Working with Nature, Sir James Bevan states that “the solution is not to retreat but to work together to build a nature-positive response”.

“Nature provides the basics for life – clean water, clean air and food. With major pressures on land use across England, nature-based solutions must be a major part in our response to protect these essentials whilst rebuilding our natural world."

Compiled by Environment Agency scientists, the analysis sets out the global challenges facing the basics for life on Earth: clean water, climate regulation and food.

It highlights the potential loss of complex natural ecosystems that provide these essentials as an “existential risk to human survival”.

Bevan referenced Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring in a speech at an event hosted by the Green Alliance, saying that a “silent spring'” awaits humanity unless action is taken by businesses, government and individuals to prevent further damage and to rebuild the natural environment.

Messages in Working with Nature include:

England has experienced millennia of land use change by people and is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, with impacts accelerating since the mid-20th century.

Large areas of habitats have been lost, with 99.7 per cent of fens, 9 per cent of species-rich grasslands, 80 per cent of lowland heathlands, up to 70 per cent of ancient woodlands, and up to 85 per cent of salt marshes destroyed or degraded.

The impacts on species have been severe, with a quarter of mammals in England and almost a fifth of UK plants threatened with extinction. A third of British pollinator species have declined.

Working with nature, including tree planting, peat restoration, species reintroductions, and natural flood management, there are opportunities to restore biodiversity, while providing other benefits such as carbon sequestration, flood protection and clean and plentiful water.

The report outlines the impact of the past 50 years of agricultural production, too. It points to the likelihood of a need for further intensification and increased yields from agricultural land, and charts the impacts of urbanisation, forestry and the need for large areas of land for climate change mitigation.

It identifies a need for more land to be dedicated to nature conservation to act as refuges for nature and to mitigate against climate change. This includes coastal wetlands to combat flood risks. However, with such demand on land, it will need to provide multiple benefits to people and nature.

The report has been published ahead of COP15 Biodiversity Conference taking place in December.

Working with Nature can be found on the UK Government website.4

14 July 2022
Laura Edgar, The Planner


Surrey approves transport plan

Councillors at Surrey County Council have approved a 10-year transport plan at a meeting of the full council.

It includes measures that are intended to reduce the 41 per cent of carbon emissions currently generated by transport in the county.

One policy in the document – planning for place – aims to avoid and reduce the number and length of trips needed by improving land use planning, travel planning and levels of digital connectivity.

Although the county council is not responsible for developing local plans, as the highways authority it is a stakeholder in the planning process. The transport states that it “will seek to influence and shape future development to achieve the objectives of the local transport plan”.

“Fully delivering liveable neighbourhoods will require coordination with districts, boroughs, developers and other partners. Significant land use changes are likely to take several years to fully develop. As such, we will focus on several quick wins to make significant differences to places, increasing the sense of local community and local activity," explains the plan.

These will include:

Making land use changes to increase the range of activities available in existing areas, such as work hubs to support remote working.

Establishing mobility hubs to support sustainable travel for onward journeys.

Implementing walking and cycling schemes where there is demand.

The plan also includes the provision of charging points and parking for electric vehicles, charging for transport use and introducing car clubs and improving internet connections for homeworking.

Matt Furniss, cabinet member for transport, infrastructure and economy, said: “Our new transport plan sets out our roadmap for a transport network in Surrey that meets the needs of the future. Crucially, this includes proposals to help tackle the climate emergency and become a carbon-free county by 2050.

“With such a high proportion of harmful emissions coming from transport and their significant impact on our environment, we all need to act. Residents can play their part by relying less on their cars for some journeys.

“We know this will be a challenge and we do not expect to eliminate car use. We have recently invested over £39 million in buses, £6 million to improve cycle routes and footpaths and a further £6 million to improve road safety around schools to help make other methods of travel more appealing and accessible for certain journeys, whilst also improving the health and wellbeing of our residents.”

More information about the transport plan can be found on the Surrey County Council website5.

14 July 2022
Laura Edgar, The Planner


Green energy park proposed near Neath

Power company EDF Renewables UK has unveiled proposals for a major green energy development in Neath Port Talbot.

It has announced proposals for an energy park near Crynant and Seven Sisters in the Dulais Valley, north of Neath, with an installed capacity of 100 megawatts (MW).

The scheme would include a seven-turbine wind farm, a solar farm and a battery storage facility. The company said the scheme could power up to 40,000 households.

Principal project development manager Simon Morgan commented: “We are pleased to be developing Hirfynydd in partnership with three local farming families and we will work with the community to ensure that the project can deliver local benefits, such as a community fund and local ownership.”

The company has been carrying out preliminary ecological and other feasibility studies.

15 July 2022
Roger Milne, The Planner


Plans for multi storey car park in Solihull submitted

The Urban Growth Company (UGC) has submitted plans for a hybrid planning application for full consent for an initial car park and outline consent for a second.

They would be located at the 140-hectare Arden Cross development site on the outskirts of Solihull, next to the M42 motorway and near the NEC. The site is a disused quarry, with has been chosen because it will reduce the visual impact of the car parks.

The multistorey car park is a “key enabler” to unlock broader plans to create a new destination known as the UK Central Hub, to create "thousands of new jobs and homes" alongside new community spaces, according to the UGC – the special-delivery vehicle set up by Solihull Council to maximise the growth opportunities associated with HS2’s arrival.

Permission has already been granted for 7,500 surface car park space and there is a legal requirement to provide car parking at the location. The UGC's plans would consolidate these spaces into a phased multistorey car park. This frees up 30 hectares of land for high-density development next to the station comprising of homes and businesses.

The first multistorey car park would be constructed to support the opening of HS2 from 2029-2033. It would have around 4,000 spaces across nine floors. The two lowest floors will be located below ground level and 500 surface level car parking spaces will be provided.

If the second multistorey is required, it would be eight storeys in height, with one storey below ground level. Around 3,000 car park spaces would be provided. This would be constructed in time for the opening of HS2’s later phases.

Both car parks take account of current and emerging requirements relating to electric vehicle charging.

Jonathan Bretherton, managing director at the UGC, said: “This application is about so much more than a car park; it’s about what it enables. The UGC plans mean that we will enable the creation of a world-class opportunity for new homes and jobs right next to the new Interchange Station and minutes from the existing Birmingham International station and airport when the HS2 people-mover opens.

“This application marks incredible progress made by the public and private sector partners we work with, and it wouldn’t be possible without the £50m grant from central government and the £45 million loan facility from the West Midlands Combined Authority. That collective commitment underpins an ambitious plan to create a truly outstanding destination which delivers economic and social benefits as well as unrivalled connectivity.”

In November 2021, UGC appointed Vinci Construction UK as its design and build contractor, with additional planning and architectural support being provided by Cundall, Associated Architects and Fira.

14 July 2022
Laura Edgar, The Planner

  1. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-planning-inspectorate-strategic-plan-2021-2025
  2. https://www.theplanner.co.uk/news/planning-inspectorate-wales-to-transfer-to-new-service-next-week
  3. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-planning-inspectorate-annual-report-and-accounts-202122
  4. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/working-with-nature
  5. https://www.surreycc.gov.uk/roads-and-transport/policies-plans-consultations/transport-plan

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

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    Planning news - 21 July 2022

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