Weekly planning news
Planning news - 26 October 2023
Lords amendments on NDMP scrutiny reversed by government
Amendments made by the House of Lords to the levelling up and regeneration bill have been reversed by the government during a session in the House of Commons.
In the first ping-pong debate, housing and planning minister Rachel Maclean acknowledged the strength of feeling in both the House of Lords and the House of Commons in making sure that national development management policies (NDMPs) are produced transparently, with clear opportunities for scrutiny.
She argued that the government has in response strengthened the consultation requirements in the bill for NDMPs, to make it clear that “consultation will take place in all but exceptional circumstances, or where a change has no material effect on the policies”.
Matthew Pennycook, MP for Greenwich and Woolwich and Labour's shadow housing and planning minister, set out the opposition's thoughts that “it cannot be right that national policies that will have a far greater impact on local communities than any existing national policy statement and that have significant implications for the status and remit of local planning can be developed without an obligatory and defined public consultation and parliamentary approval process”.
Speaking in favour of the Lords' amendment (44) that would require NDMPs to be scrutinised by both houses, Pennycook welcomed what he described as the government's “subtle shift” but contended that the government amendment would see the form of consultation on NDMPs remain, “as in the original drafting of the bill, whatever the secretary of state 'thinks appropriate'”.
It would, he continued, replace a precise set of requirements with an “ambiguous and loosely” worded clause that would allow ministers to “determine the nature of the consultation to take place and give them the freedom not to consult in instances where they feel it is necessary, or expedient, to act urgently – however they choose to interpret that phrase”.
That, Pennycook concluded, is “problematic”.
Wendy Morton, Conservative MP for Aldridge-Brownhills, sought clarification over the circumstances in which the secretary of state might consider no consultation to be required, and Helen Morgan, Liberal Democrat MP for North Shropshire, set out that the party strongly believes that the government “should be scrutinised by Parliament, rather than just being able to dictate planning policy from the top”.
Greg Smith, Conservative MP for Buckingham, asked the government to find a way of ensuring that when “we say that local decision-making is paramount, we really mean it”. He argued there should not be such “get-out clauses that sometimes a statutory consultation simply cannot answer”.
“Otherwise, we will set a dangerous precedent where people put in place their local plans and neighbourhood plans and believe that they are in control, but then a national monster – in whatever form it takes – comes along and walks all over that.”
Theresa Villiers, Conservative MP for Chipping Barnet, urged the government to consider going further and accept that there must be parliamentary scrutiny.
Maclean responded to the concerns: “I want to be clear that, where a decision is made in accordance with the development plan, national development management policies and a specific local policy, and NDMPs are relevant considerations but not in conflict, as part of a planning judgment, it will still be for the decision-maker to decide how much weight is afforded to those different policies based on their relevance to the proposed development. The precedence clause sets out only what should be done in the event of a conflict between policies and where they contradict one another. We do expect such conflicts to be limited in future because of the more distinct roles that national and local policy will have.”
Addressing Morton's concern, Maclean explained that this refers to “very limited circumstances such as the unprecedented situations that we saw during the pandemic”.
The government envisaged that the provision would be used only in emergency situations.
The motion was made and the question put that the house disagreed with Lords amendment 44 by the housing and planning minister. There were 302 ‘ayes’ and 152 ‘noes’.
Virtual meetings and planning fees
On virtual council meetings (amendment 22), a series of MPs argued in their favour, with Pennycook noting there are circumstances in which they “are necessary or useful, and that their use could help to reduce barriers to public engagement, particularly in relation to the planning process”.
Smith, however, expressed hate for virtual meetings, and commented that it is “beyond me why we cannot in some way permit such local decision-making to take place”.
The government, said Maclean, believes it is important that councillors cast votes in person and they are “present, active participants in local democracy”.
Maclean made the motion to disagree with the Lords' amendment to allow local authorities to meet virtually, which the government won by 303 ‘ayes’ to 157 ‘noes’.
The government laid draft regulations in Parliament in July that would increase planning fees by 35 per cent for major applications and 25 per cent for all other applications.
Daisy Cooper, Liberal Democrat MP for St Albans, argued in favour of Lords amendment 82 on planning fees, saying that the “government’s refusal to allow local councils to pass on the true costs to developers is lumbering local people with poor planning services and delaying the delivery of sustainable housing”.
The motion that the House disagreed with the amendment was asked, eliciting 304 ‘ayes’ and 12 ‘noes’ – seeing the government defeat the amendment.
Victoria Hills, chief executive at the RTPI, commented: “Following the votes on the levelling up and regeneration bill in the commons, the RTPI is disappointed that new nationally imposed planning policies are not likely to receive the same level of public consultation as local plans and will not be scrutinised to the same degree as similar policies for nationally-significant infrastructure.
“We’re also concerned that MPs voted against the return of virtual planning committee meetings. This result not only undermines the profession’s ability to modernise and encourage wider public participation in planning and planning decisions, it goes against the grain of digital engagement and inclusivity in placemaking.
“Without these important clauses in the levelling up and regeneration bill, we worry that these reforms will not produce a more democratic, transparent and community-led planning system. This is a missed opportunity to transform our planning system for the greater good of society.
“We urgently call on the Lords to challenge the government’s approach to protect the important principle that planning decisions must remain local and as accessible as possible to the public.”
More information on the bill can be found on the RTPI website1.
Paul Miner, head of policy and planning at countryside charity CPRE, said: “The threat posed by NDMPs is not new. In September, the CPRE successfully campaigned with partners across the environment and housing sector, along with thousands of our supporters for an amendment to the LURB that would require public and parliamentary scrutiny of all new NDMPs.
“However, last Friday the government ignored the views widely held amongst parliamentarians and swiftly tabled the last-minute amendment that effectively reverts the bill back to its original state.
“This outrageous and underhanded power grab resets any progress made to safeguard local democracy in planning decisions. It could give government free rein to fast-track developments that damage the environment or amend local social housing targets – all while avoiding public or parliamentary scrutiny.
“CPRE accepts that NDMPs have a role to play but we strongly oppose the idea that government can pick and choose when local people should be allowed to scrutinise and challenge them. Government ministers should not have more say than locally elected councillors over what happens on someone’s street."
18 October 2023
Laura Edgar, The Planner
National network planning policies must align with net-zero, say MPs
The government has been urged to revise parts of the draft revised National Networks National Policy Statement (NNNPS) that would determine whether large new projects are compatible with net zero laws, based on the emissions that they would exude during their lifetime.
This recommendation was made by the Transport Committee.
The current NNNPS was published in 2015 and it is used when decisions are made on Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP).
The committee notes that the government wants to revise the NNNPS to avoid legal challenges delaying projects by clarifying how planning policies and climate legislation interact, but warns that this draft NNNPS cannot do that.
Both the National Infrastructure Planning Association and Transport Action Network told the committee that the NNNPS should be reviewed every five years, which is in line with a commitment the National Infrastructure Commission4 (NIC) reiterated last week (18 October) and first made in April 2023.
The committee's report states that the review was “overdue”.
“It was launched to bring the policy framework for major infrastructure schemes up to date, and as a response to legal challenges to schemes prompted by the introduction of significant net zero legislation. The government should have been proactive and reviewed the NNNPS upon the introduction of net-zero targets, and should do so when any changes are made to the net-zero target policies," it explains.
Therefore, the committee recommends, as did the NIC, reviewing the NNNPS every five years, with a shorter term where changes in policy decisions or policy drivers warrant it.
The report also highlights that the draft NNNPS does not take note of a Climate Change Committee’s5 recommendation in its June progress report to Parliament that new road projects should only be permitted if they “meaningfully support cost-effective delivery of net zero and climate adaptation” and that a review should be carried out on the roadbuilding programme.
It urges the government to respond to this recommendation by reviewing the roads programme and explaining why this recommendation will or will not be taken forward.
Although the Climate Change Committee’s recommendations do not relate directly to the NNNPS, the committee argues that "acceptance of them would change the policy environment in which the NNNPS operates and, presumably, prompt further review. Obtaining clarity on this issue is important for establishing whether challenges to NSIPs on climate grounds are likely to continue”.
Transport committee chair Iain Stewart MP said: “Flaws in the current NNNPS are partly to blame for the perennial problem of why major infrastructure projects become delayed by legal challenges, so there is a lot riding on this work to produce a new set of planning policies.
“But a number of witnesses, including some who themselves launched legal challenges against such projects, told us the current draft won’t provide the legal certainty that DfT needs. One of the government’s objectives in revising the NNNPS is to balance the net zero goals with infrastructure projects that could increase greenhouse gas emissions. Given the concerns we heard, we urge the government to amend the draft NNNPS to provide a definition of ‘residual’ emissions and to state explicitly its understanding of the legal precedent for permitting major infrastructure schemes which result in increases in emissions.
“The draft NNNPS should also promote more scrutiny of the way the government examines the options for building new road or rail schemes, and shows the evidence behind its forecasts that more congestion is inevitable if we don’t build more motorways and A-roads.”
Other recommendations in the report include:
- The Department for Transport must do more to provide transparency on its approach to assessment and decision making. This includes publishing the National Transport Model so that it can be independently tested and verified; publish its own estimated congestion forecasts for the Strategic Road Network; and publish its own estimated congestion forecasts for the Strategic Road Network.
- The government should consider restructuring the National Policy Statements (NPS) for transport into one over-arching Transport NPS, which covers national networks, airports and ports. This would be used for determining new infrastructure for road, rail, strategic rail freight interchanges, ports, and airports. Ministers should then provide a clear rationale if they decide not to.
- The draft NNNPS does not include clause 5.29 of the current NNNPS, which requires the secretary of state to have regard for whether enough will be done to mitigate a new development’s harms to sites of biodiversity or geological interest. The committee argues that the draft NNNPS should be amended to include Clause 5.29. If the government declines, it must explain why.
- The draft revised NNNPS should be amended to provide a definition of, and clear and comprehensive guidance on, “residual” greenhouse gas emissions. This definition must make it possible to distinguish clearly between “residual” and unacceptable increases in emissions from an NSIP.
The report can be found on the UK Parliament website6.
23 October 2023
Laura Edgar, The Planner
Local authorities told to adopt ‘ambitious’ local plans ahead of reforms
Housing secretary Michael Gove has urged local authorities to ‘continue adopting ambitious local plans’ ahead of reforms to the system.
In a letter, he told local authorities that “it is only through the continued effort of local leadership, the endeavour of your teams and the engagement you lead with your communities that we will unlock the homes we need”.
His intention is for the regulations, policy and guidance required to prepare the first new-style local plans to be in place by autumn next year. This will see local authorities preparing, consulting and adopting their local plan within a 30-month time frame. The deadline for submitting a plan under the current system is 30 June 2025.
Until then, local authorities must continue to work on their plans. He warned that local authorities without an up-to-date local plan “are likely to be subject to the presumption in favour of sustainable development when facing applications”.
The consultation on the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)7, which concluded in March and for which the outcome is still awaited, proposed removing the rolling five-year land supply requirement. Gove explains that this is to provide flexibility, but only where a local authority has an up-to-date local plan. This means work on a new plan should begin when the existing plan is two-and-a-half years old.
The letter confirms that the refreshed NPPF will be published “in the autumn”, with Gove outlining a series of expectations.
First, he wants development to proceed on sites that are adopted in a local plan, with full input from the community. There must be “strong” reasons why it cannot proceed.
Second, councils should be “open and pragmatic” in agreeing to any changes to developments where conditions mean that the original plan may no longer be viable, rather than development not taking place.
Finally, he insists that better use should be made of small pockets of brownfield land by being “more permissive” so that more homes can be built more quickly and to give confidence and certainty to SME builders.
Gove also uses the letter as a reminder of the measures he announced in July to boost skills and capacity, including a £24 million Planning Skills Delivery Fund8.
The letter, sent on 8 September but released last week (19 October) can be found on the UK Government website.9
24 October 2023
Laura Edgar, The Planner
Emergency department approved in South West
Dorset Council has granted planning permission for a new emergency department and critical care unit at the Dorset County Hospital (DCH) site in Dorchester.
The Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust submitted its reserved matters application to the council over the summer after receiving outlining planning permission in January.
The plans to expand facilities, which are aimed at helping to meet increasing demand, feature in Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust’s Your Future Hospital programme. They will see the new buildings built on the site of the former Damers First School, as part of the government’s New Hospital Programme.
The Damers School building was demolished over the summer. Groundworks to prepare the site for development begin this month (October). Subject to full business case approval by the government, main construction work on the new emergency department and critical care unit is due to begin in 2024.
It will deliver a rooftop helipad, purpose-built spaces for both major and minor injuries and conditions, a mental health facility, a dedicated emergency paediatrics area, 24 critical-care beds, an ambulance arrivals area, and a fast triage area.
Matthew Bryant, chief executive of Dorset County Hospital, said: “This development is very important for the population of Dorset and will deliver much larger, state-of-the-art facilities for patients most in need of life-saving care.
“It will improve care for patients and help us attract and retain staff who want to provide high-quality specialist healthcare in modern facilities. It’s a very exciting time for us at DCH and we’re delighted that Dorset Council has approved the plans.”
The expansion has been designed by global design practice BDP and will be built by contractor Tilbury Douglas.
Nick Durham, architect director at BDP, and designer of the new unit, added: “The design of these new specialist facilities is based on creating flexible spaces that can adapt to changing patterns of demand, supporting a model of care focused on reducing pressure on these services. We have undertaken an inclusive and engaging consultation process with staff and wider stakeholders drawing on technologies such as virtual reality to ensure the design proposals are an accurate representation of their needs.”
23 October 2023
Laura Edgar, The Planner
Feedback urged for new rail stations for South East Wales
Transport for Wales has launched a public consultation on designs for five new railway stations in South East Wales, as well as new train services, as part of its plans to improve public transport.
TfW is looking for feedback on the designs of potential stations at Cardiff East, Newport West, Somerton, Llanwern, and Magor and Undy, including the types of facilities that people would like to see at each station.
Members of the public are also being asked for their views on new train services between Cardiff, Bristol, and Cheltenham Spa that could provide the new stations with up to four trains an hour and increase frequencies at existing local stations on the route.
If funded, the proposals would create new opportunities for direct local and cross-border travel on both sides of the Severn by public transport.
These proposals were key recommendations of the South East Wales Transport Commission and would be delivered as part of the South Wales mainline programme.
Geoff Ogden, TfW’s chief transport planning and development officer, said: “For us, unlocking the capability of the South Wales mainline is key to changing how people travel in the region. Our proposals for five new stations between Cardiff Central and Severn Tunnel Junction, together with the new services will offer more people the opportunity to travel on the railway.”
The proposals have been developed with funding from the UK Government, as part of the Union Connectivity Review.
The 13-week consultation closes on 14 January. It can be found on the Transport for Wales website.
19 October 2023
Roger Milne, The Planner
Leeds workspace scheme approved
Leeds City Council has approved plans to redevelop Wellington Plaza in Leeds city centre to deliver an increase in workspace.
Designed by Leeds-based DLA Architecture, the approved plans will increase floor space availability from 21,000 square feet to 77,000 square feet with grade A specification floorplates up to 10,000 square feet.
The internal space is designed to support the post-pandemic hybrid way of working with total flexibility for occupiers' fit-out. Communal spaces will include a large rooftop terrace, sky lounge, and business lounge linked to reception for occupiers and their guests.
Work on the £50 million scheme is expected to begin on site by early 2024.
Asian wedding venue to be upgraded
Birmingham City Council has approved plans to modernise an Asian wedding venue in Aston.
The grade II-listed Victorian tram depot on Trinity Road was transformed into the Majestic Conference & Banqueting Hall in 2013.
Part of the approved plans will see owner Taz Ulfat demolish and replace an existing and unauthorised wooden canopy with an enclosed and glazed first-floor terrace.
Improvements will also be made to the visual appearance of an existing single-storey extension and a new street entrance from Witton Lane will be created.
Planning consultancy Marrons supported the applicant.
Moda launches BTR consultation in Ladywood
UK rental neighbourhood developer Moda has launched a consultation on proposals for a 37-storey build-to-rent development, forming part of the New Garden Square neighbourhood in Ladywood.
The proposals are part of a new mixed-use community with up to 1,600 new homes, leisure and public realm, all set around a publicly accessible park.
The latest proposals would deliver about 450 new homes alongside a variety of amenities, as well as a space for retail, restaurant, or café floor space. This will contribute to the continuing regeneration of both the New Garden Square site and Ladywood as a whole.
Forming part of the emerging linear park, outdoor spaces in the form of courtyards and green public spaces will also be delivered.
The proposals are available to view online here10.
Partnership launched to improve biodiversity
National Highways and conservation charity Plantlife have launched a new £8 million programme that will improve species and habitats across England.
The Meadow Makers projects will help to restore biodiversity to over 100 hectares of grasslands across seven sites in the South West and North East.
The partnership with Plantlife aims for species-rich wildflower and waxcap grasslands to be restored and protected at scale.
By 2040, the project intends to contribute towards the wider goal of restoring 100,000 hectares of species-rich grassland.
Affordable housing scheme in Burnley green-lit
Burnley Council has approved plans for 73 affordable homes on Barden Lane in Burnley.
Mixed-tenure developer Countryside Partnerships will work in partnership with housing provider Together Housing to deliver the new development.
Work is due to start on site in November 2023.
A46 thoughts sought
National Highways is consulting local people on plans to upgrade the A46 Walsgrave junction in Coventry.
The public consultation period begins on Wednesday 25 October and will run until Wednesday 6 December.
The new-look junction on the A46 – known as a grade-separated junction – would allow for a free-flowing A46 carriageway while providing road users with the option to enter and exit the local road network when travelling from either a north or southbound direction.
It is hoped that the works will remove the bottlenecks that cause congestion on the outskirts of Coventry.
National Highways senior project manager Joe Mulqueen said: “This scheme is incredibly important because the A46 is a strategic link between the East and West Midlands and connects Coventry and Warwickshire to the motorway network.
“Current levels of congestion at Walsgrave and the impacts this has on journey time reliability are having a serious effect on communities and businesses and would constrain future development in the area.
“Once complete, the improvements will alleviate congestion and provide an economic boost for communities across the region.”
More information about the consultation can be found on the National Highways website11.
24 October 2023
Laura Edgar and Prithvi Pandya, The Planner