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Planning news - 7 August 2023

Government to change water pollution rules to ease housebuilding

The government has announced that a change to nutrient neutrality rules will be made through the levelling up and regeneration bill so more houses can be built. 

Developers and some Conservative MPs have criticised the rules for preventing homes from being built in certain areas. 

The Planner reported in July1 that a letter had been sent to the government warning it not to scrap measures intended to address nutrient neutrality issues but instead make a commitment to an environmental approach to resolving nutrient neutrality that draws on the progress already made. It was put together and sent by Dr Gabriel Connor-Streich, CEO of Greenshank Environmental Limited.  

Nutrient neutrality issues are affecting 74 local authorities, with nutrient pollution being an urgent problem for freshwater habitats and estuaries that are home to wetland birds, fish, and insects. Increased levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, for example, can speed the growth of certain plants, which disrupts natural processes and damages wildlife. 

In 2018, ‘Dutch N’ came before the European Court of Justice, which ruled that articles 6(2) and 6(3) of the EU Habitats Directive, as implemented in the UK by the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017, should require that new development affecting Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) achieve nutrient neutrality. 

Natural England2 responded by revising guidance for local authorities on how to conduct an appropriate assessment of all housing applications to guard against nutrient-related problems. Developers are expected to mitigate or offset pollution. 

The government said that “legacy EU laws” on nutrient neutrality are “blocking the delivery of new homes, including cases where planning permission has already been granted”. 

Housing secretary Michael Gove said: "We are committed to building the homes this country needs and to enhancing our environment. The way EU rules have been applied has held us back. These changes will provide a multibillion-pound boost for the UK economy and see us build more than 100,000 new homes.   

“Protecting the environment is paramount, which is why the measures we’re announcing today will allow us to go further to protect and restore our precious waterways whilst still building the much-needed homes this country needs.   

“We will work closely with environmental agencies and councils as we deliver these changes.”     

Media reports in July suggested amendments would be made to the levelling up and regeneration bill, currently being debated in the House of Lords, to change the nutrient-neutrality requirements for new developments. 

This was confirmed today (29 August). The government expects developers to be able to begin construction on these homes in “a matter of months”.     

Research by the Home Builders Federation3 (HBF) suggested that the issue of nutrient neutrality is holding up an estimated 145,000 new homes, with 41,000 fewer homes to be built each year until solutions are found.  

Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, highlighted that the solicitor general Michael Tomlinson said during the parliamentary stages of the retained EU law bill in May and June that provisions would be retained – and the environment secretary wrote a letter in July to the Office for Environmental Protection stating a commitment to upholding environmental protections. 

Bennett said: "But, just a few weeks later, they are planning to do precisely the opposite. They lied – this is a disgraceful move that undermines public trust in this government. 

“Make no mistake – this is a licence from the government for the commercial housebuilding lobby to profit from the pollution of our rivers. Vague offers of money as compensation are not the same as a legislative requirement – and even the existing rules are extremely modest. 

“The UK is ranked as one of the worst countries in Europe for water quality and the public are rightly outraged at our rivers being used as open sewers by water companies. Scrapping the rules that are merely trying to stop rivers from becoming even more polluted will allow vested interests to make more money at the expense of our rivers and the natural environment. 

“The government has made repeated pledges that they won’t weaken environmental standards and committed just eight months ago to halve nutrient pollution by the end of the decade. This is another broken promise and makes clear that the prime minister would rather look after the interests of developers than the environment – money talks. 

“These rules are about preventing pollution, not housing. Piling on pollution from developers into rivers already suffocating from poo and agriculture pollution will only mean greater pressure is put on farmers to make bigger and faster cuts to nutrient pollution.” 

The amendments come alongside new environmental measures that the government says will tackle pollution at source and restore habitats. 

This includes “significantly expanding” investment in and evolving the Nutrient Mitigation Scheme run by Natural England. The investment will be doubled to £280 million to offset the “very small amount” of additional nutrient discharge attributable to up to 100,000 homes between now and 2030. 

Natural England will work with local authorities, the private sector, and others on nutrient pollution and the long-term health and resilience of the river systems, and the government intends to work with the housebuilding industry to ensure that larger developers make an "appropriate and fair contribution" to this scheme over the coming years. It said it is in discussions with the HBF on the right structure and approach. 

The government argues that its nutrition reduction plans will help it deliver on its legal target to reduce nutrient runoff from agriculture by at least 40 per cent by 2038 and by 15 per cent in nutrient neutrality catchments by 2028. In addition, it said they will reduce phosphorus loadings from wastewater by 80 per cent by 2038, and by 50 per cent by 2028.   

Stewart Baseley, executive chairman of the HBF, said: “Today’s very welcome announcement has the potential to unlock housing delivery across the country, from Cornwall to the Tees Valley, where housebuilding has been blocked despite wide acknowledgement that occupants of new homes are responsible for only a tiny fraction of the wastewater finding its ways into rivers and streams.   

"The industry is eager to play its part in delivering mitigation and protecting our waterways. We look forward to engaging with the government on the right way to do so, now that ministers are acting upon the arguments that builders both large and small have been making for so long. 

"With some areas having been blighted for four years, the prospect of a swift resolution will be much-needed good news companies on the verge of going out of business, their employees and for households most affected by housing affordability pressures. Builders will be able to bring forward otherwise stalled investment in communities and get spades in the ground so we need Parliament to get this solution onto the statute book."  

The overall package includes: 

  • A commitment to more work on developing Protected Sites Strategies in the catchments most affected by nutrient neutrality and with the most acute housing pressures. 
  • Reducing nutrients entering the water from new development with new laws is expected to drive significant investment from water companies to upgrade wastewater treatment works to the highest technical standards by 2030. 
  • Conducting at least 4,000, inspections on farms each year – making sure that slurry and other sources of nutrients are being handled in a way that minimises pollution of the water environment.    
  • Reducing nutrient run-off into rivers from farms – supporting farmers by investing £200 million in grants for improved slurry storage infrastructure and precision spreading equipment. This makes another £166 million available for new investment into slurry infrastructure.   
  • Investing £25 million to drive innovation to help farmers manage plant and soil nutrients to increase resilience, reduce input costs and improve productivity as part of a more circular economy for nutrients.  
  • Introducing 2024 payment premiums into environmental land management schemes to will accelerate take-up of certain high-priority options, including those that provide benefits for water quality.    
  • Publishing a River Wye action plan in the autumn to tackle the unique issues in Herefordshire.    
  • Ensuring that new homes built do not place undue stress on already stressed local water networks by consulting this year on new requirements where needed for Sustainable Drainage Solutions to reduce pressure on storm overflows from new homes and flood risk.   

Amendments to the levelling up and regeneration bill were published late in the day on 29 August. A list of these can be found here under 'amendment paper' on the UK Parliament website4. The amendments will be considered by the House of Lords on Monday 4 September. 

29 August 2023 
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Councils plan for joint local plan 

Cheltenham Borough Council, Gloucester City Council, and Tewkesbury Borough Council are working together on a ‘fresh approach’ to plan-making across their areas. 

The Cheltenham, Gloucester and Tewkesbury Strategic and Local Plan (CGTSLP) will bring together four core elements – formerly the Gloucester, Cheltenham & Tewkesbury Joint Core Strategy and the local plans for each of those areas – under a single examination setting out a long-term vision for development. 

All three councils have approved their local development schemes (LDS) to ensure that future documents that are set out by a planning policy framework for all three districts are “robust and make a positive impact towards the national effort to address climate change”, said the councils. 

The LDS sets the outline programme for the joint plan, which is: 

  • A public consultation (Regulation 18) in autumn/winter 2023. 
  • A public consultation (Regulation 18) in spring 2025 – this outlines the preferred options. 
  • A public consultation (Regulation 19) in spring 2026 – this provides an opportunity for representations on the ‘soundness’ of the plan before it is examined by an independent Planning Inspector. 
  • Submission of the local plan to the secretary of state (Regulation 22) in spring 2026. 

Rowena Hay, leader of Cheltenham Borough Council, said: “Planning is at the heart of place-making, strengthening the connection between people and the places they share, if we get this right, we will deliver connected and active communities that are embedded within a climate change led approach and strengthens our economy. Like the previous JCS, the CGTSLP will set out the strategic development strategy; development requirements like jobs, houses, and retail; joint strategic and generic policies as well as locally specific policies. The CGTSLP will supersede the JCS in its entirety and ensure local plan policies are up to date.” 

31 August 2023 
Laura Edgar, The Planner 


Claire Coutinho appointed as energy security secretary 

Claire Coutinho has been appointed to replace Grant Shapps as Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero. 

Shapps replaces Ben Wallace as defence secretary. Wallace said last month that he would be leaving the role the next time Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made changes to his cabinet – as well as stepping down as an MP at the next election.  

The MP for Welwyn Hatfield had been in charge of the energy brief since last year when Sunak became prime minister. 

Coutinho was elected to Parliament as MP for East Surrey at the 2019 general election. She has previously served as parliamentary under-secretary of state for children, families and wellbeing (October 2022 to 31 August 2023) and parliamentary under-secretary of state for disabled people (September to October 2022). 

Welcoming Coutinho to the role, RenewableUK’s chief executive Dan McGrail commented: "We need urgent intervention from the new secretary of state to re-establish the UK as the best destination for international investment in renewables, as our competitors are upping the ante and trying to lure developers and manufacturers elsewhere. 

“There is already a lot of goodwill in the sector towards Claire, who championed offshore wind in her maiden speech in 2020, highlighting our global leadership in this technology. She was also a member of the Conservative Environment Network, which champions the case for moving faster and further on renewables to deliver cheap power for consumers and strengthen our energy security. 

“We’re looking forward to meeting her in her new role as soon as possible, to discuss new measures which will help us to strengthen the UK’s position as a world leader in clean tech, and enable the government to reach its net-zero goal on time and at the lowest cost”. 

31 August 2023 
Laura Edgar, The Planner 

Permission sought for low-carbon urban village in Birkenhead

Plans to transform the Hind Street area of Birkenhead, including building 1,600 homes, have been submitted to Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council. 

The low-carbon urban village will be close to Birkenhead town centre and two railway stations – Birkenhead Central and Green Lane. 

Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council and regeneration firm Ion Property Developments Limited have worked with other stakeholders to create the plans. 

The 26-hectare Hind Street Urban Garden Village Project is aimed at fulfilling the council’s desire to remove the 1960s flyovers that currently act as a visual and physical barrier to the town centre. It is hoped that removing them will encourage integrated communities and foster economic growth. 

As well as the homes, a new primary school and up to 60,200 square metres of commercial space feature as part of the application, alongside remedial and infrastructure works for the southern section of the project. 

The application is in line with Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council’s emerging local plan (2021-2037), which calls for brownfield sites to be transformed into residential-led regeneration opportunities. It will see the former Birkenhead Gas Works and the Mollington Train Maintenance Depot repurposed. 

Under the plans, the former Dock Branch train line will become an active travel corridor and leisure route, to connect with other active travel routes being planned for the town. The scheme will also exceed the biodiversity net gain targets established by the emerging local plan. 

Steve Parry, managing director of Ion, said: "The new and existing neighbourhood, which includes 1,600 new homes, will enjoy new and more seamless connections within the neighbourhood and to the town centre itself, as well as much better connections to Liverpool and other city region transport hubs. We’re working hard towards a goal of achieving the highest quality green urban village, which we hope will set a standard for innovation, connectivity, and quality of life.” 

Ion is working with WSP (planning consultancy, transportation, and environmental assessment) and BDP (masterplanning and architecture). 

29 August 2023 
Laura Edgar, The Planner 

Best practice guidance for planners on badgers published

Badger Trust has issued best practice guidance for developers, ecologists, and planners in England and Wales on the planning and development issues that can affect badgers, their setts and habitats. 

The trust aims to widen knowledge and make sure that best practice requirements are easier for planners, developers, ecologists, local authorities, wildlife crime investigators, and nature lovers to understand – and ensure that badgers are properly protected. 

Badgers and their setts are protected under the Protection of Badgers Act (1992); it is illegal to disturb, harm or destroy a badger or its sett either with intent or through negligence. The trust emphasises the importance of interested parties understanding the law and best practice when encountering this mammal and its habitat. 

Planning and development activities are some of the most common threats to badgers reported to the Badger Trust, with more than 50 per of badger crimes reported relating to sett interference – 20 per cent of which are related to housing and development projects. 

Two guides are available – one focused on England with a foreword by TV presenter Chris Packham MBE, and one focused on Wales, with a foreword by Welsh ornithologist Iolo Williams. 

Dr Hannah Trayford, campaign and research manager for the Badger Trust, said: “We get reports every week from local badger groups and individuals on planning and development issues affecting badgers and other wildlife. These guides aim to help planners, developers, ecologists, planning authorities, and local people know what they need to take into account so that new developments make space for badgers and our precious wildlife is properly protected. 

“All too often, developments don’t make space for badgers, with dire consequences for this iconic mammal. Badgers are unique, with their setts and habitats protected under the law. Badgers follow the same foraging pathways across generations and are an essential part of the ecology of the countryside.  Now, more than ever, we must protect nature and ensure humans can live harmoniously with badgers and other wildlife. These guides help anyone involved in the planning process in England and Wales to do this and make adequate space for badgers.” 

The guides can be found on the Badger Trust's website5

29 August 2023 
Laura Edgar, The Planner 

News round-up

Work to start soon on Passivhaus housing scheme 

A build lease agreement has been exchanged between North Somerset Council and its chosen developer Stonewood Homes to deliver 52 new Passivhaus homes for local people. 

The scheme, which was approved in February 2021, is being built on council-owned land to the south of The Uplands in Nailsea. The project has been supported by a £557,000 grant from the government’s Local Authority Accelerated Construction fund, administered by Homes England, around £128,000 in Homes England capacity funding, and a £481,000 grant from the One Public Estate Land Release Fund for site infrastructure. 

It will include: 

  • 20 homes (40 per cent) to meet local demand for affordable housing, including rented and shared ownership, to be managed by Alliance Homes. 
  • 17 adaptable or accessible homes, which will provide for people with mobility difficulties, or for those who develop them during their lifetimes. 
  • All 52 homes will be Passivhaus-certified, the highest standard of energy efficiency – meaning lower carbon and lower energy bills for residents. 
  • A higher than usual proportion of two-bedroom homes, as well as eight bungalows and features designed to enable home-working and/or downsizing – all intended to help meet local needs. 
  • All homes are at least 10 per cent bigger than required by National Space Standards. 

Solar panels and electric vehicle charging points in all homes. 

Mark Canniford, North Somerset Council’s executive member for spatial planning, placemaking and economy, said: “It’s important for local authorities to lead by example. This scheme demonstrates that it is possible to deliver much-needed affordable housing for local people while at the same time securing innovative design, quality and improved sustainability. By delivering on the council’s land, at an allocated site, we are helping to reduce pressure for speculative development at unplanned and less sustainable locations.” 

Stonewood Homes will be delivering commitments to social value, including creating local employment, apprenticeships, work placements, local contract awards, promotion of local businesses and funding to local schools. 

Construction on the scheme, which will be marketed as ‘Elm Grove’, is expected to be complete by the end of 2025. 

Retirement village announced for Brent Cross Town 

Brent Cross Town has announced a joint venture between Audley Group and Senior Living Investment Partners (‘SLIP’) to deliver Brent Cross Town’s first retirement village. 

The £8 billion net-zero park town is being delivered by a partnership of Related Argent and Barnet Council and will provide specialist homes for later living. 

The 0.6-acre plot at Brent Cross Town has been acquired by the Audley Group and SLIP joint venture, which will develop a retirement village with about 150 homes as part of Audley Group’s Mayfield Villages. 

Brent Cross Town will be the second Mayfield Village in the UK and the first to be developed in London. 

It is anticipated that construction of the new retirement village will start by the end of 2024. 

Barking community hospital plans approved 

The London Borough of Barking and Dagenham has approved plans for a new Community Diagnostic Centre in Barking. 

National property consultancy Carter Jonas secured planning consent on behalf of Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust. 

The 0.1-hectare site has been home to the Barking Community Hospital for over 100 years and has seen various redevelopments and additions. This application is the latest addition to increase outpatient capacity. 

The planning consent allows for the provision of a Community Diagnostic Centre, one of 40 centres. It will provide clinical spaces for the use of cardiology/respiratory/pathology physiological measurement, MRI/CT control, and procedure rooms.   

Wapping Wharf North plans submitted in Bristol 

A planning application has been submitted by Umberslade to Bristol City Council for the revised final phases of the regeneration of Wapping Wharf North. 

The revised plans include removing the double-storey rooftop restaurant on the tallest building and one storey on another block and redesigning CARGO and the market hall to make them more like the existing shipping container development. 

If approved, the plans will secure the future of the CARGO independent businesses and create a go-to leisure destination on the city docks.  They will also provide sustainable new homes, shops, restaurants, takeaways and workspaces, together with landscaped public spaces and more natural habitat for wildlife to improve biodiversity. 

Keighley industrial estate plans submitted 

Proposals for an eight-acre industrial estate known as Beechcliffe in Keighley have received funding of £7 million from the Keighley Towns Fund.   

The council-owned site, adjacent to the Hard Ings roundabout to the west of the A629, has been allocated for employment uses since the early 1990s. 

The first phase of work will be a feasibility study to look at the level of work needed to secure planning permission, remediate the site, and construct an access road, as well as upgrade the existing path that links Royd Ings with Utley with a new cycle and footpath route. 

The second phase would be undertaking a full programme of works to remediate the site and deliver plots for development. 

Council issues 3Rivers statement  

Mid Devon District Council has released a statement on 3Rivers, saying that it has delivered “successful housing projects” since it started.  

3 Rivers Developments Ltd, wholly owned by Mid Devon District Council, is an independent property developer that was established to deliver housing in Mid Devon and the South West. 

The statement cites notable projects such as the Orchard, Halberton, Threwstones, Tiverton, and a social housing development in Burlescombe. 

However, the council decided in March 2023 that 3Rivers would not embark on any new projects. At its cabinet meeting, it recommended that 3Rivers undertake a “soft closure” – meaning the business would cease trading. 

This recommendation from the cabinet will be put forward to the full council on 6 September for a final decision. 

The council will now seek independent advice to ensure that, should the full council agree to the closure, it is undertaken correctly to reduce any further financial exposure. 

Heathland habitat to be restored in Surrey 

National Highways has announced that it will restore 25 hectares of heathland in Surrey at the M25 junction 10 and A3. 

The project, beginning on Monday 4 September, aims to restore an area the size of 47 full-sized football pitches of heathland at Wisley and Ockham Commons in Surrey. 

It is hoped that the scheme will help bring the area back to life and have long-term benefits for rare and unusual wildlife. 

To restore the heathland and bring it back to life, National Highways said it will allow plants like heather (Calluna vulgaris), bell heather (Erica cinerea), gorse (Ulex Europaeus), wood sage (Teucrium scorodonia), perforate St John’s-wort (Hypericum perforatum) and Wavy Hair grass (Avenella flexuosa) to grow again. This will support the wildlife that needs lowland heathland to survive. 

Jonathan Wade, senior project manager, said: “Heathland is a diverse habitat, creating lots of homes for all kinds of animals, insects, reptiles, and birds. However, in the 1900s, many people didn’t think heathland habitats were useful, which meant vast swathes were lost to forests for timber production. 

“The long-term process of bringing this threatened habitat back to life starts with the removal of trees, which might seem concerning at first, but is a vital first step to getting the land back to its natural state.” 

30 August 2023 
Laura Edgar and Prithvi Pandya, The Planner


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    Planning news - 7 August 2023

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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.