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Planning news - 27 January 2022

Study reveals build-to-rent sector is growing in the regions

The pipeline of build-to-rent homes grew by 8 per cent in 2021, suggests analysis published by the British Property Federation (BPF).

Undertaken in partnership with Savills, the research shows that construction of such properties in regional cities is “significantly outpacing” London.

In total, there are 70,785 complete build-to-rent homes in the UK, which is a year-on-year increase of 26 per cent. There are 141,215 under construction or at the planning stage, compared with 131,190 in 2020.

Figures, which are published quarterly, reveal there were 26,820 homes under construction in regional cities in Q4 of 2021, 27 per cent more than a year earlier. During 2021, work began on building 13,527 homes in regional cities, which is three times more than the number reported for London.

Ian Fletcher, director of real estate policy at the BPF, said: “The build-to-rent sector continues to expand rapidly and in 2021 we started to see signs that delivery across the regions is beginning to outpace London.

“Build-to-rent is not just about increasing housing provision, it is a major economic driver, helping attract and retain skilled workers and serving as a catalyst for urban regeneration. The strong growth of the build-to-rent sector across the regions will support the government’s levelling-up initiative and help to revitalise town and city centres.”

Jacqui Daly, director of residential research at Savills, added: “The geographic spread of build-to-rent shows that many more local authorities are beginning to understand the need for new rental stock and planning consents are rising as a consequence.

“At the same time, build-to-rent is becoming hugely competitive for investors, with a record level of capital deployed in the sector in 2021. If investors are able to find markets and stock to invest in, we expect delivery in the sector to double in size within a few years.”

In 2020 there were 187,315 build-to-rent homes either completed, under construction or in the planning process. By the end of 2021, this had increased by 13 per cent to 212,177 homes.

19 January 2022
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Pandemic exacerbates decline in high street vacancy rates

During the Covid-19 pandemic, 2,426 commercial units became vacant across 52 towns and city centres in the UK, compared with 1,374 between 2018 and 2020.

Think tank Centre for Cities’s Cities Outlook 2022, an annual economic assessment of large urban areas in the UK, explains that the loss of sales in prosperous city centres is linked to increased business closures.

For example, the number of empty shopfronts in Oxford and Newcastle increased by eight percentage points because sales fell.

Central London was the worst affected between the first lockdown and Omicron’s onset at the end of 2021, with 47 weeks of sales lost. Centre for Cities said Birmingham (46), Edinburgh (43) and Cardiff (43) were not far behind London.

The think tank found that Burnley lost the fewest weeks of sales at eight weeks, with Warrington losing 11 weeks and Huddersfield 12 weeks.

Analysis also revealed that fashion retailers – rather than pubs and restaurants – were the hardest hit.

According to the outlook report, high streets in “economically weaker” places have been less affected by Covid-19. It points to Newport, Sunderland and Blackpool as examples; in the years before the pandemic was declared, store vacancy rates increased by 3.6 percentage points, but since 2020, this has fallen to 2.5 percentage points.

Those areas that are better placed economically saw business closures increase by 3.5 percentage points during the pandemic, which is up on the 1.4 percentage points recorded pre-pandemic.

Centre for Cities says this suggests that the government’s Covid-19 support “successfully stalled the decline of many struggling high streets but was less effective in economically stronger places due to higher rents and a lack of custom from office workers”.

However, the think tank anticipates that because of their higher levels of affluence, if and when restrictions end and office workers return, “they will likely recover quickly”. But the economically weaker areas of the North and Midlands may face business closures that government support merely delayed.

Andrew Carter, chief executive at the Centre for Cities, said: “While the pandemic has been a tough time for all high streets it has levelled down our more prosperous cities and towns. Despite this, the strength of their wider local economies means they are well placed to recover quickly from the past two years.

“The bigger concern is for economically weaker places – primarily in the North and Midlands – where Covid-19 has actually paused their long-term decline. To help them avoid a wave of high street closures this year, the government must set out how it plans to increase people’s skills and pay to give them the income needed to sustain a thriving high street. Many of these places are in the so-called Red Wall, so there is a political imperative for the government to act fast, as well as an economic one.”

Policymakers should run campaigns to encourage leisure visitors back when it is safe to do so and provide part-time season tickets to encourage workers back to the office, Centre for Cities suggests, to avoid “permanently levelling down” prosperous places.

For the places that are struggling, the forthcoming levelling-up white paper should consider the fundamental economic problems affecting them to address high street decline, such as investing in skills and ways to strengthen the wider local economy. Cities Outlook 2022 can be found on the Centre for Cities website1.

24 January 2022
Laura Edgar, The Planner

RTPI Cymru suggests strengthening planning policy to promote local sustainable development

To promote the concept of living locally in rural Wales, national, regional and local planning policy should be strengthened so that sustainable development outcomes can be delivered.

This is one of several recommendations set out in RTPI Cymru’s paper Living Locally in Rural Wales.

It considers whether the 15-minute neighbourhood principles can be applied in rural Wales with the view to making rural places more sustainable.

The paper highlights that the principles “resonate well” with the provisions of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, as well as the rural policy framework in Future Wales: The National Plan and Planning Policy Wales.

The 15-minute neighbourhood model is a “useful tool” for reinforcing a local focus on planning policy and decision-making, including improving digital connectivity and online ways of working so there is less need to travel to access services.

But there are “substantial challenges and complexities” to implementing the idea in rural areas. Flexibility therefore, in the principles is needed. The paper states: “When considered in a rural context, for example, some rural communities might require the addition of a further principle to specifically address ‘Local Productivity and Enterprise’. This might relate to agricultural diversification or support for local business to cater for the needs of the local community.”

A holistic approach will be “vital”, and it must be supported by planners, other service delivery partners and local communities. The paper continues: “There are several planning tools that can support living more locally including place plans and planning engagement tools. They will not suit or necessarily be needed by all communities, but the key is to integrate inclusive and meaningful engagement within and throughout the process.”

Rhian Brimble, policy officer at RTPI Cymru, commented: “Heightened by the pandemic, planners and stakeholders are looking at alternative methods for addressing pressures and opportunities in rural areas, as well as tackling key issues such as the climate, the environment, the economy, society and health.

“The 15-minute neighbourhood model aims to encourage and support communities to access their daily goods and services locally, by sustainable means. This, of course, becomes more complex in a rural context. The paper therefore considers the concept, without the set measure of a time frame or distance, using ‘local’ as a more fluid term.

“This paper aims to initiate a discussion in Wales on the opportunities, and different impacts of living more locally in rural Wales and how planning can embrace this.”

Living Locally in Rural Wales recommends:

  • Retaining and strengthening national, regional and local planning policy which promotes the principles of living locally to deliver sustainable development outcomes.
  • Moving the planning system to a more outcome-focused performance measurement to support the delivery of sustainable places on the ground.
  • Funding pressures have had a significant impact on rural local authorities and service provision in rural areas. There is a strong case for the Welsh Government to be ‘proactive’ in encouraging and supporting local planning authorities in ensuring that these important services are adequately resourced.
  • Supporting joint working involving planners, other partners, agencies and sectors, to align strategic goals, investment priorities and outcomes and indicators collaboratively, to facilitate meaningful impact.
  • Digital and technological advancements should be developed to support local areas where possible, rather than a continued use of larger regional or national distribution centres for goods and services that require significant transport and which bypass local services and do not support the local economy. Planning has a role to play in supporting this wider local agenda though development planning and decision-making.

Living Locally in Rural Wales can be found on the RTPI website2.

24 January 2022
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Phosphate problem could still blight North Wales LDPs

Two North Wales replacement local plans look to have made significant progress this week after a lengthy hiatus as the planning system grappled with the problems posed by tough new targets imposed by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) designed to ensure developments do not increase phosphate pollution in rivers which form part of Special Areas of Conservation (SAC).

The inspectors examining the draft local development plans (LDPs) for Flintshire County Council and Wrexham County Borough Council said the phosphate pollution policy issue had raised ‘considerable uncertainty’ over the viability of housing sites included in the two blueprints. As a result, the neighbouring councils have cooperated with National Resources Wales (NRW) and prepared a draft catchment phosphorus reduction strategy covering the River Dee, the river most at risk from pollution from development in those two local authorities.

This offers a way for some new development to come forward irrespective of whether sites are allocated for development in the LDP or situated within existing unitary development plan settlement limits, subject to the implementation of mitigation measures outlined in the strategy – ensuring that wastewater treatment plants remove phosphate and the provision of sustainable drainage schemes (SuDs).

This and other work has persuaded the inspectors that they now have enough information to determine the soundness of the plans. The councils have been informed of the inspectors’ stance.

The Welsh Government has endorsed the approach taken by the two authorities “given the advanced stage reached by both plans in their progress to adoption”.

However, the administration has stressed that for those local planning authorities submitting LDPs for examination in the future “relevant mitigation measures/approaches should be costed and included in viability assessments, shaping affordable housing policies section 106 monies being sought ensuring development remains viable and deliverable”.

The phosphate issue is casting a long shadow over housing and development in Wales – and not just in respect of development plans.

“It is also having a significant, detrimental impact upon the determination of individual planning applications,” explained Wrexham County Borough Council’s chief planner Lawrence Isted.

“There are currently around 60 applications which cannot be determined because of this issue and given that applications continue to be submitted and we cannot refuse to register them if they are valid, the number of such pending applications will continue to rise. Other councils in Wales have similar numbers.”

Each application now requires what is called an Appropriate Assessment under the Habitat Regulations to assess the impacts of the proposed development on the SAC and then to provide either on-site or off-site mitigation to overcome such effects, so that the development is ‘phosphorus neutral’.

Even when an Appropriate Assessment is completed, there is no guarantee that it will enable a positive recommendation to be made on a planning application. Unless the development proposals deliver adequate levels of phosphorus mitigation that can be secured through conditions and/or planning obligations, the assessments are likely to conclude that the proposals will have an adverse effect on the SAC and that the planning applications should be refused.  

NRW is increasingly recommending this. “There are growing fears that this issue could become an effective moratorium on new development in Wales,” said Isted.

He added: “The only option available to the council to clear the increasing backlog of applications is to refuse them on the grounds of harm to the SAC, which is what other badly affected authorities, such as Brecon Beacons, Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Powys are already doing and many others are moving towards.

“Such refusals will increase the appeal caseload of the council, putting considerable pressure on officers and diverting them from their normal activities, not to mention the impact it will have on applicants.”

Both planning authorities were signatories to a letter sent by Planning Officers Society Wales to Welsh ministers and the government’s phosphates oversight group in December.

This letter emphasised the significance of these issues and the effects they are having on development proposals and the determination of planning applications across Wales.

It requested that the administration give “urgent consideration” to offering leadership, support, and advice on the “very significant problems” facing planning authorities.

21 January 2022
Roger Milne, The Planner

RTPI launches site to raise awareness of planning among public

A ‘Planning Your World’ website has been launched by the RTPI to raise awareness of the planning professions within the general public.

Using the website, the institute intends to illustrate the value of planning within the community. It will host case studies and profiles of current planners and aim to help young people to develop careers in the industry.

The idea for a website came about following a survey of 2,000 people in July 2021. The survey sought to gauge public understanding of the planning professions.

It found that 73.2 per cent claimed to understand the role of town planners but they “did not truly comprehend” the scope of the professions or the ways in which planners can “positively impact” communities, the economy and the climate.

In addition, the survey found:

  • 28.5 per cent recognised that planners can influence the economy.
  • 32.7 per cent recognised that planners can influence recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • 37.4 per cent recognised that planners can influence issues around climate change and the environment.

The website will be regularly updated with case studies and profiles, and planners will be encouraged to share case studies of their work for inclusion on the site.

Victoria Hills, chief executive of RTPI, said the institute was “shocked” by the results.

“If we are to train the next generation of planners, we need people to understand the importance of the industry today.

“That’s why we’re proud to launch our Planning Your World site, a user-friendly hub packed with industry knowledge directly from experts. It is our hope at the RTPI that this new interactive website will be a launch pad for potential new planners, who can see that a career in planning is richly rewarding and has a genuine positive impact on the lives of millions.”

Timothy David Crawshaw, president of RTPI, added: “There is a concerning lack of understanding surrounding the planning industry, as demonstrated by the RTPI survey. Planning is about more than just housing and new development. It is a world-changing profession with positive impacts on the economy, health and wellbeing, as well as holding the ability to tackle the climate crisis.

“Professional planners take into account the interests of local communities, technical considerations such as transport infrastructure and the environmental impacts of developments to ensure the best outcomes for the local area. I’m proud that one of my first acts as RTPI president in 2022 has been to launch an initiative that demonstrates these values.

“Education is a cornerstone of the RTPI, from apprenticeships to scholarships and university accreditation. Planning Your World aims to target an even more inclusive demographic to help those interested, from all ages and backgrounds, understand the industry and learn how they too can improve their communities through a career in planning.”

To submit a case study to the RTPI, email: Visit the website here4.

20 January 2022
Laura Edgar, The Planner

News round-up

Woodland grows at Beinn Eighe

NatureScot has calculated that the woodland cover at Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve (NNR) has increased by 41 per cent through long-term tree planting.

Cover has increased by 158 hectares to 223 hectares. This increase has occurred since Beinn Eighe was designated as the UK’s first NNR in 1951. About 800,000 trees have been planted, most which have been Scots pine, but also broadleaf species such as birch, aspen, holly, rowan and oak.

Woodland expansion has created ‘corridors’ connecting the ancient fragments of woodland, allowing animals to move more freely and augmenting the range of rare woodland plants, said NatureScot.

This year, the main planting phase will end with the planting of the final 20,000 trees. In the future, NatureScot explained that natural regeneration would help to expand the woodland further, while the organisation would only use targeted planting for under-represented species in areas where there is no seed source.

London to host Ecocity World Summit

London has won a bid to host the biennial Ecocity World Summit in June 2023.

First held in 1990, the event aims to bring together urban stakeholders from across the world to discuss the key actions cities and citizens can take to rebuild human habitat in balance with living systems.

This year, it will be a hybrid physical-virtual summit at the Barbican Centre. It will be held from 6-8 June, 2023.

Schoolchildren, academics, professionals, investors, trade associations and political groups from across the city will join together to share new thinking.

Amy Chadwick Till, director of Ecocity World Summit 2023, said: “Past Ecocity summits have an amazing track record of enabling tangible local action; I am excited about the opportunity for our London summit partners to drive local change. By facilitating global knowledge sharing and highlighting new thinking, projects, and policy frameworks from around the world, we can offer inspiration and tools for cities to deliver on global needs. Design workshops that tackle real-world briefs, a virtual offer that connects in cities with fewer resources, and city activation through the festival in June will, I hope, leave a powerful positive legacy beyond the three-day summit itself.”

Online service to track remediation of at-risk buildings

The government has announced that a new online service will allow leaseholders to track Building Safety Fund applications.

Under the new Leaseholder and Resident Service, those living in tower blocks will have access to updates on the status of their building’s application to the government’s Building Safety Fund.

The government said the service is designed to speed up the process of removing unsafe non-ACM cladding from the highest-risk buildings. It is also intended to force building owners to be more transparent, exposing those who have failed to take action to make their buildings safe.

Lord Greenhalgh, building safety and fire minister, said: “It is unacceptable that four years after the Grenfell tragedy innocent leaseholders are still living in buildings with unsafe cladding.

“Building owners are responsible for making their buildings safe, and we will no longer allow them to shirk from their duties and hide behind processes and corporate loopholes.

“Everyone – including leaseholders – has a right to know what is happening with their building and to live safely. Today’s launch is a key step in providing them with both the service and the peace of mind that they deserve.”

Rotherham allocates funding to towns and villages

Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council has announced the first six schemes in a £4 million package to be invested into smaller town and village centres.

The investment is part of the council’s Towns and Villages Fund (TVF).

The money has been allocated to areas of the borough that are not supported through government funds, such as the Levelling Up Fund and the Towns Fund.

Local councillors have been working with their communities to draw up a wish list of sites they want to see improved.

The six schemes include the creation of green space outside Ridgeway Convenience Store in East Herringthorpe.

Hotel approved in Birmingham

Birmingham City Council has granted planning permission for a hotel at Paradise Birmingham.

It will be located on the corner of Paradise Street and Suffolk Street.

The hotel will be 17 storeys high and will contain 152 bedrooms. It has been designed through a collaboration between hotel experts at ISA Architecture & Design and Paradise masterplanners Glenn Howells Architects (GHA).

The plans are part of phase two of the £700 million redevelopment of the city centre.

Two commercial buildings, several leisure destinations and the revamp of Chamberlain Square, Congreve Street and Centenary Way, have already been delivered.

Boardman to lead active travel body

The government has launched Active Travel England, a cycling and walking agency that will be led by former racing cyclist Chris Boardman as interim commissioner.

Boardman has left his role as Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s (GMCA) transport commissioner.

Active Travel England will be responsible for driving up the standards of cycling and walking infrastructure, the government explained. It will manage the national active travel budget and award funding for projects that meet the national standards set out in 2020.

It will inspect finished schemes and ask for funds to be returned for any that have not been completed as promised, or have not started or finished by the stipulated times.

Inspections will be carried out and reports published on highway authorities about their performance on active travel.

Boardman will be involved in the full stand-up of Active Travel England, including the recruitment of the chief executive and management team, while the Department for Transport (DfT) conducts a “full and open competition for the permanent commissioner role”.   

Four councils join Local Land Charges Register

Plymouth City Council, Sutton Council, Babergh District Council and Mid Suffolk District Council have joined HM Land Registry’s Local Land Charges (LLC) Register this month (January).

Mark Kelso, programme director for HM Land Registry’s Local Land Charges Programme, said: “We are working hard with local authorities across England and Wales to ensure property buyers can obtain the information they need quickly, making the conveyancing process simpler for everyone. I am really pleased that as a result of this effort people buying property in Plymouth, Sutton, Babergh and Mid Suffolk will now have access to instant LLC search results.”

Those requiring LLC searches in these areas will now need to obtain them from HM Land Registry rather than going directly to the council.

25 January 2022
Laura Edgar, 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 - 27 January 2022

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      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 © 2023 Planning Portal.