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Weekly planning news

Planning news - 21 September 2023

Planning fees to be varied after Lords amendment

Local authorities can vary fees for planning applications to fit local circumstances after the House of Lords voted under an amendment to the levelling up and regeneration bill. 

The government had proposed to increase planning fees by 35 per cent for major schemes and by 25 per cent for all other applications. 

Earl Howe, deputy leader in the Lords, had warned peers that varying fees could discourage development and remove the incentive to “tackle inefficiencies” in the planning system. 

However, Baroness Pinnock, the Liberal Democrats’ levelling-up spokesperson in the Lords, said nationally set fees fail to take into account regional differences in costs and do not reflect the costs of dealing with very complex housing or commercial developments. 

“This national approach to fee-setting results in council taxpayers subsidising complex planning applications,” she said. “That cannot be right.  

“The stark fact is that 305 out of 343 local authority planning departments had a deficit totalling £245.4 million in 2020 and 2021. That is a huge sum, where council taxpayers are subsidising housebuilding developers, for example, who are well able to meet the costs of a planning application in full.” 

The amendment was carried by 181 votes to 148 after attracting cross-party support. The vote is the second significant defeat for the government in the Lords following last week’s rejection of ministerial plans to scrap nutrient neutrality rules. 

18 September 2023 
Huw Morris, The Planner 

A High Court decision to dismiss a challenge by campaigners against the development consent granted for Sizewell C Nuclear Power Station will now be heard by the Court of Appeal. 

Together Against Sizewell C had sought a judicial review of the government’s decision to grant consent for the construction, operation, maintenance and decommissioning of the power station, claiming the move was unlawful. Mr Justice Holgate refused permission for a challenge in June. 

The campaigners had challenged the environmental impact of a desalination plant in the scheme that would require 2.2 million litres of water a day. They argued that the need for a permanent water supply for the power station should have been considered as part of the planning application approved by the government and not separately.  

The Court of Appeal has now permitted the appeal in response to the campaigners’ argument about water and supply and because it appeared as though the business, energy and industrial strategy secretary granted permission against the advice of the planning examining authority. 

French energy giant EDF, which is behind the project, has said Sizewell C is expected to generate low-carbon electricity to supply six million homes. 

18 September 2023 
Huw Morris, The Planner 

Maclean orders Spelthorne against local plan withdrawal

Spelthorne Borough Council has been ordered by the government not to withdraw its local plan from examination. 

The intervention, under section 27 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 by housing minister Rachel Maclean, also orders the council to report to her officials monthly on the plan’s process under examination. 

Her letter to the council said the reason for making this direction “is to avoid the unnecessary additional delay to having an up-to-date plan in place and additional expense that withdrawing the plan and preparing a new plan would cause”.  

The intervention, ahead of an extraordinary council meeting last week, also aims “to give the people of Spelthorne the best chance of having a sound local plan adopted in the near future, protecting the area in which they live from speculative development”. 

In June, chief executive Daniel Mouawad requested a three-month pause to the local plan examination hearings to allow time for the council to understand and review its policies and implications. Planning inspector Jameson Bridgewater agreed to the delay. 

Last week, councillors voted to “extend the pause in the examination timetable until the proposed changes to the National Planning Policy Framework have been published and expected in the autumn before determining the next steps and take immediate legal advice to confirm the validity of the minister's directive”. The council has also written to the Planning Inspectorate requesting a further pause. 

“I understand that emotions are running high in relation to the progress of the local plan, and I am disappointed with the government’s late intervention a few hours before the scheduled meeting,” said Spelthorne council leader Joanne Sexton. “This administration will respond to the government's letter once we have sought legal advice. 

“It is our duty to leave a legacy of thriving communities, not schemes that do not complement our area, and make our Spelthorne better together. I want to reassure all residents, in the name of local democracy, that this council will work to ensure we have a local plan that works for everyone in our borough.” 

18 September 2023 
Huw Morris, The Planner

The High Court has rejected Plymouth City Council’s latest bid to throw out a judicial review over controversial tree-felling in the city centre. 

Last March, more than 100 trees were cut down in Armada Way, but the operation was halted by a last-minute injunction secured by local campaigners. 

Save the Trees of Armada Way was granted permission for a substantive hearing of the decision to fell the trees by ex-mayor Richard Bingley. In June, the council sought to dismiss the case, arguing that the claims were now “academic”.  

Last week, Mrs Justice Livingstone dismissed the application to set aside the proceedings as “misconceived”, paving the way for a judicial review. She criticised the council for seeking “to impose a burden on the court, which has significant demands on its time”, arguing that she was now the third judge to have looked at PCC’s application. 

“We are disappointed that the judge has refused our request for a rehearing of our application to set aside the legal proceedings,” said a council spokesperson. 

“We firmly believe that as the judicial review is based on a decision that has been overturned, the decision is therefore academic. Following a consultation on a new design, a new decision will be made.   

“To move forward with a lengthy judicial review process will cost the council thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money; money that could be spent on other services.” 

18 September 2023 
Huw Morris, The Planner 

Ministers told to focus on self-driving vehicles in infrastructure

The government must ensure that meeting the needs of self-driving vehicles forms an integral part of any future infrastructure strategy, according to MPs. 

The Commons transport committee said self-driving vehicles will need well-maintained roads as well as signage, nationwide connectivity, and up-to-date digital information about the road network. 

However, preparations by the government and public bodies are “too siloed and divorced from broader planning”.  

The MPs call on ministers to ensure that the introduction of self-driving vehicles responds to the wider needs of the UK population and meets national transport policy objectives. 

The committee criticised “optimistic predictions” that often rely on self-driving vehicles becoming widely used on UK roads, “which could be decades away, or assertions about human error that ignore other risks”. Safety must remain the government’s overriding priority as self-driving vehicles “encounter real-world complexity”, it added.  

MPs also questioned the government's proposed “safety ambition” that self-driving vehicles will be “expected to achieve an equivalent level of safety to that of a competent and careful human driver”.  They said this definition is “too weak and too vague”. 

19 September 2023 
Huw Morris, The Planner 

News round-up

Last orders for pubs climb sharply across England and Wales  

The number of pubs in England and Wales calling last orders for a final time rose sharply in the first six months of 2023, according to the latest analysis. 

Figures unveiled by real estate analysts at Altus Group show that more than two pubs a day – amounting to 383 – “vanished” between January and June. This almost matched the 386 bars that closed in the whole of 2022. 

An average of 51 pubs a month were lost during the first quarter of the year, rising to around 77 a month between April and June. These venues were either demolished or converted to different uses such as homes, offices or nurseries. Wales lost the greatest number of pubs with 52 during the first six months of the year while London and the North West lost 46 pubs each.  

The Altus Group warned that more pubs would disappear unless the Treasury extends business rates relief beyond its cut-off point next spring. Hospitality businesses in line with leisure and retail receive a 75 per cent discount off their business rates bills for the 2023/2024 tax year up to a cap of £110,00 per business. 

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt unveiled the scheme in his Autumn Statement last year, but it is set to end on 31 March 2024. Business rates are also set to rise next April in line with September's headline rate of inflation. 

Trafford approves UK’s first city-based spa resort 

Revamped plans for a £250 million spa resort by the Therme Group have been approved by Trafford Council’s planning committee.  

The scheme was first approved in 2020 but permission has since expired. Under the revised plans, an 82,000-square-metre complex will contain 25 pools, 35 water slides, more than 30 multisensory saunas and steam rooms, a “garden of wellbeing”, more than 1,500 trees, a visitor and education centre, a “snow room”, multisensory showers and oxygen rooms. 

The resort is forecast to contribute more than £4.5 billion to the UK economy, according to a study by consultant PwC, creating 600 permanent jobs with most of the impact in the Greater Manchester area. 

Therme Group said the resort will offer an “immersive experience” for visitors to unwind in a tropical environment including warm water lagoons, mineral pools and botanical gardens. 

“This wellbeing resort is a huge £250 million leisure development which is the first of its kind in the country and we are delighted it is being built here in Trafford,” said council leader Tom Ross. 

“The resort will attract millions of visitors each year and will add significantly to the local economy during construction and once operational. 

“The development sits a short walk from the latest Metrolink extension and supports several of our key commitments by improving health and wellbeing, providing connectivity for cyclists and pedestrians, creating a new public realm, and regenerating a vacant brownfield site in a sustainable location.” 

Plan for M4 service station with sustainable features launched 

Plans to build a £30 million service station with sustainable features on the M4 south of Swindon have been unveiled. 

Motorway services operator Moto Hospitality has launched a consultation on plans for a motorway rest area at junction 16. The plans include 50 electric vehicle chargers and 62 HGV spaces as well as solar panels for the station building, a green living roof and 0.40ha of wildlife habitats. The scheme could create 150 jobs. 

Moto will be consulting on its proposals until the end of September ahead of submitting an outline planning application to Wiltshire Council. 

“We recognise we have a huge part to play in reducing carbon emissions from transport and we are fully focused on reducing range anxiety for UK motorists through capacity, reliability, simplicity and charging speed,” said Moto head of property Jess Lockwood. 

Nottinghamshire and Vistry sign deal for 800 homes 

Vistry Group has signed a land acquisition deal with Nottinghamshire County Council to build around 800 homes some 2km north of Hucknall town centre.  

The 35-hectare site was granted outline planning permission in 2021 for up to 805 homes, 8.5 hectares of employment land for offices and warehousing, as well as retail within a local centre, a primary school and a skills academy in partnership with Chameleon School of Construction. 

Vistry will consult the community and then finalise the scheme before submitting a planning application later this year with a view to starting on-site in 2025. The project will aim to retain and enhance green infrastructure while offering a mix of private sale, private rented, affordable and shared ownership homes. 

“This really is the best possible use for this county council-owned land, which already has outline planning permission, as we look to create more quality, sustainable housing to meet the needs of our growing population,” said Nottinghamshire’s cabinet member for economic development and asset management Keith Girling. 

Maclean orders Spelthorne against local plan withdrawal 

Spelthorne Borough Council has been ordered by the government not to withdraw its local plan from examination.  

The intervention, under section 27 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 by housing minister Rachel Maclean, also orders the council to report to her officials monthly on the plan’s process under examination. 

Burnley plans clampdown on bedsits 

Burnley Council is considering tightening planning rules on converting properties into houses of multiple occupation (HMO).  

Currently. a single home can be converted into an HMO for between three and six people under permitted development rights. Under the council’s proposals, owners will have to submit a planning application. Larger HMOs are already subject to planning permission.  

“There is an increasing number of HMOs in certain parts of our borough and this can lead to issues such as antisocial behaviour and crime and increased pressures on parking,” said executive member for housing and leisure John Harbour.  

“HMOs can also meet a need for low-cost and flexible housing, particularly for young people and those on low incomes. But we need to get the balance right.  

“The proposal to remove permitted development rights won’t prevent HMOs being created but it will give the council more control over how many there are and where.”  

The proposals will go out for six weeks of public consultation, with feedback to be considered by the council’s executive next spring 2024. If the proposal is confirmed, the policy is scheduled to come into force in October 2024. 

19 September 2023 
The Planner 

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      Planning news - 21 September 2023

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