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Planning news - 8 February 2024

Built environment professionals advocate for children in Commons committee inquiry

Lack of space for children affects their mental and physical wellbeing, the House of Commons Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee has heard – and there should be clearer planning guidance on delivering spaces for the young. 

The committee is holding an inquiry to look at how better planning and building and urban design in England could enhance the health and wellbeing of children and young people. 

It wants to find out more about how children and young people experience outdoor spaces in towns, cities and rural areas, as well as what policy interventions from local and central government could help to deliver streets, estates, villages, neighbourhoods and parks that enable kids to enjoy active outdoor lifestyles and engage with others. 

Health inequalities 

Asked whether the government is taking seriously the relationship between the built environment and how children develop, Dr William Bird, chief executive of Intelligent Health, said: "No". 

In planning legislation, Bird explained, "children are mentioned just once, I think" and "there is no consultation with children at all". 

It is thought that this is ok for children, he continued, because "the really important thing is the economic benefits that we are going to get from an environment” but "the children are the economic benefits for the future". Their needs must be taken seriously because the consequences of children having a poor start and spending too little time exercising outdoors is something the NHS will have to deal with, he said. 

Aside from the obvious benefits of physical activity aspect, Bird argued that children who play out in outdoors “pick up bugs that are absolutely essential for our development and our gut biome”. Moreover, research was showing a lessening of health inequalities where green spaces were designed into deprived areas where children were subject to a range of stresses. 

Professor Alison Stenning of Newcastle University noted that there is not a secretary of state for children, separate from the Department for Education. Someone, Stenning argued, should take responsibility to work across government to hold in mind children’s needs in their built environment. "One of the most important things very early on is a clear statement of children’s rights to be in their built environment, demonstrating quite how beneficial that is to children themselves and to the wider community," she said.  

Hanging out 

Alice Ferguson, associate and board director at Playing Out, explained that the organisation was created because as parents, its founders felt their children were "missing out on something really vital that we had all grown up with". 

"We were probably the last generation who had grown up where playing out was a very normal part of most children’s lives... nobody gave it a huge amount of thought." 

Benefits of doing so included physical activity and socialisation. Plus, it was free. 

Playing Out supports parents across the UK and works with councils to put the policies in place that allow regular road closures so that children can play out.   

Of course there is the odd complaint, but Ferguson noted that once "they see the reality of it, people just see all this benefit", that it is helping to build a "stronger, safer and friendlier community".   

Asked by chair Clive Betts if there were enough playgrounds within a 10-minute walk whether such schemes would be needed, Ferguson said that "ideally, we should not need any schemes". 

“Currently, what is stopping parents from letting their children out and stopping children from having that everyday play is related to the way we have allowed the built environment to become very traffic-dominated and unsafe in other ways for children to be out there. That is what needs to be tackled and addressed." 

One hundred local authorities do have a specific play street policy now, said Ferguson, but others are reluctant, often saying that central government guidance and a simplification of the legislation would help them to put such policy in place. 

Helen Griffiths, chief executive at Fields in Trust, explained that one reason for the charity's establishment in 1925 was the recognition that there were not adequate places for children to play. It sets out the amount of accessible green space per head of population there should be in communities to be able to meet the needs of children, young people and the wider community, commonly known as the 'six acre standard'. This covers formal sports provision and informal access to the spaces mentioned by previous witnesses, she explained.  

Almost 100 years after Fields in Trust first recommended setting standards for outside space provision, "it feels like that guidance and those principles are still so needed". 

Although that guidance exists and 75 per cent of local authorities adopt the Fields in Trust guidance in their plan-making, there is a "huge gap" in terms of what is delivered and implemented. 

While many local councils will make reference in their plan-making to the need to meet minimum standards of outdoor provision, "there is not enough traction for them to push developers to deliver against that," she explained. 

"Through the design process and the planning process, there is an idea that ‘we are going to meet these minimum standards, and these are the kinds of spaces that are going to be delivered’, but we can probably all give examples of where the reality looks starkly different to what anybody expected to happen when they first had sight of the plan." 

One of the issues here, she said, was a lack of tools available at the early stages of planning. 

A clear vision 

In response to Natalie Elphicke MP asking what more could be done to make sure that connectivity of place and access to play is considered, Gemma Hyde, projects and policy manager at the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA), said it was about making sure that there is a clear vision within planning policy that places need to be connected. 

"It is about the local authority having that view of not only that red-line boundary where the development is taking place but also how that sits within the wider context of that neighbourhood, village or town. It is not just about what falls within the red line but that connectivity piece," Hyde explained. 

It was also, she added, about thinking ahead about whether development may one day go beyond that line in order to make sure places are connected. 

Elphicke asked whether or not local planning authorities had sufficient powers to implement this connectivity vision. Hyde responded that local authorities faced resourcing and expertise constraints and that the picture was variable across the country. "The answer is yes in some places and no in others," she replied. 

On whether greater guidance should be given to how and when green spaces and playgrounds are delivered within development, Hyde noted that some sites do it well, but that these often have a master developer that can bring forward parks. Long-term stewardship of spaces was also a challenge, she said, observing that it was “really important” that, from the very beginning, when planning for a green space, park or planting trees along a street, “you think about the management structure for that. Who is going to look after it? How is it going to be paid for?" 

Ferguson agreed that there should be clearer guidance and standards. "We have seen the results of leaving things to the goodwill of housing developers and social housing providers. 

"Unfortunately, it means a very patchy situation for children. Generally, their needs are not a high priority. It is really important to have national standards that make it very clear that there is a duty on any housing providers, private or social, to consider and meet children’s needs for access to outside space." 

Griffiths added: "At the moment, we are making it very clear that we do not really value it... Until we can redress that priority and that culture shift around the profile and the place that has on the agenda, it will be very difficult to make that change." 

Noting that funding for parks and green space maintenance had seen a £350 million real-terms cut since 2010, she stressed: "It's hardly any wonder that those facilities are in decline." 

Leeds City Council was put forward as an example of a local authority that has voluntarily decided to prioritise play as an instrument for improving health and wellbeing by appointing a play sufficiency officer. But not all councils are able to follow suit, said Ferguson. 

Like Stenning, Hyde advocated for a secretary of state for children. Further, if the government has “a stated commitment to promote, protect and realise children’s rights, that should flow into everything that the government are thinking about in a really holistic way. Having health in general and children and young people specifically mentioned and prioritised in national planning policy would be a good place to start". 

Responding to a question from Ian Byrne MP, she went on to describe the potential impact of including children and young people in the NPPF. "There are ways of including the consideration of children and making policy with children,” said Hyde. She listed several tool that do this, including a childhood version of the Place Standard tool and a youth engagement tool called Voice, Opportunity, Power, which people could use. 

“It would bring into thinking about the design of places what children and young people need. Really importantly, lots and lots of those things, if not all of them, are also good for everybody else. 

“It is not an afterthought. We are not doing something and then thinking, ‘what do the kids want?’ It is right there and embedded from the very beginning." 

Ferguson suggested looking at how Welsh and Scottish governments have incorporated children’s rights more fully into their law and a play sufficiency duty into their planning systems. 

“There are already models there that we could follow. There is a lot that the government could do, if this was understood and taken seriously, and if there was some sort of cross-departmental approach to tackling it.” 

Written and oral evidence on this inquiry can be found on the UK Parliament website1. This evidence session took place on 24 January. 

5 February 2024 
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Defra designates catchment areas where wastewater works must be updated

The Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) has designated 16 sensitive catchment areas under the Water Industry Act 1991.     

The effect of this notice is that within these areas, water companies must guarantee that wastewater treatment works serving a population equivalent to more than 2,000 meet specified nutrient removal standards by 1 April 2030. 

Local planning authorities, when considering applications for development drained via sewer to a wastewater treatment that must upgrade, will need to “consider that the nutrient pollution standard will be met by the upgrade date for the purposes of Habitats Regulations Assessments”. 

The renovation of wastewater treatment works is intended to enable new housebuilding in areas dealing with nutrient pollution.  

Nutrient neutrality issues are affecting 74 local authorities. Nutrient pollution is an urgent problem for freshwater habitats and estuaries which 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. 

Around 150,000 homes are blocked in the planning system by nutrient neutrality rules, according to the Home Builders Federation (HBF). 

According to the policy paper, the designation of these catchments took effect on 25 January, the day the paper was published.  

The phosphorus sensitive catchment areas are: 

  • Poole Harbour SPA/Ramsar   
  • River Avon SAC   
  • River Axe SAC   
  • River Camel SAC   
  • River Derwent and Bassenthwaite Lake SAC (only applies to catchments of Bassenthwaite Lake (River Derwent and Tributaries SSSI unit 1) and River Marron (unit 124 of River Derwent and Tributaries SSSI))  
  • River Eden SAC   
  • River Itchen SAC   
  • River Kent SAC (only applies to catchments of units 104 and 111 of River Kent SSSI)  
  • River Lambourn SAC   
  • River Mease SAC   
  • River Wensum SAC   
  • Somerset Levels and Moors Ramsar   
  • Stodmarsh SAC/Ramsar   
  • The Broads SAC/Ramsar, only the following: Bure Broads and Marshes SSSI; Trinity Broads SSSI; Yare Broads and Marshes SSSI; Ant Broads and Marshes SSSI; Upper Thurne Broads and Marshes SSSI. 

The nitrogen sensitive catchment areas: 

  • Poole Harbour SPA/Ramsar  
  • Solent (catchments of): Chichester and Langstone Harbours SPA/Ramsar; Solent and Southampton Water SPA/Ramsar; Solent Maritime SAC and Portsmouth Harbour SPA/Ramsar. 
  • Stodmarsh SAC/Ramsar  
  • Teesmouth and Cleveland Coast SPA/Ramsar  
  • The Broads SAC/Ramsar, only the following: Bure Broads and Marshes SSSI; Trinity Broads SSSI; Yare Broads and Marshes SSSI; Ant Broads and Marshes SSSI; Upper Thurne Broads and Marshes SSSI. 

Poole Harbour, Stodmarsh and The Broads were designated as both phosphorus and nitrogen sensitive areas. 

According to the paper, a “limited exemption process will be completed by 1 April 2024, when wastewater treatment works exemptions will be confirmed, which may affect the levels of nutrient mitigation that development must secure for specific wastewater treatment works in some catchments. It is important that planning decisions continue to be taken based on material planning considerations”. 

The policy paper3 and a map 4 of the sensitive areas can be found on the UK Government website.  

1 February 2024 
Laura Edgar, The Planner


Welsh Government proposes body to oversee compliance with environmental law

The Welsh Government has proposed the establishment of a body to oversee implementation and compliance with environmental law by Welsh public authorities. 

According to a white paper consultation document, Securing a Sustainable Future: Environmental Principles, Governance and Biodiversity Targets for a Greener Wales, the new body would "enhance our collective capability to promote, preserve and sustain our environment". 

Following Brexit, The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) was set up by the UK Government through the Environment Act 2021, an independent non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). OEP provides oversight of public authorities in England and Northern Ireland as well as non-devolved public authorities in Wales,  monitoring whether such public authorities are complying with environmental law. Environmental Standards Scotland (ESS), established by the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Continuity) (Scotland) Act 2021, seeks to secure improvements in the effectiveness of, and compliance with, environmental law by public authorities in Scotland. 

Speaking in the Senedd, Welsh climate change minister Julie James explained that the white paper sets out proposals to introduce a bill to establish a statutory environmental governance body for Wales.  

She said the bill would also "embed environmental principles into Welsh law, ensuring there is no drop in environmental quality or standards following our departure from the European Union" and "introduce a new approach towards biodiversity targets to combat the ongoing nature emergency". 

The proposals, said James, reflect the Welsh Government's commitment towards a greener Wales to tackle climate change and the nature emergency, which is set out in the programme for government. 

James explained that the body would take an escalatory approach, working with Welsh public authorities to put things right. 

"However, where this is not possible, the body will be rightly empowered to take effective enforcement action to ensure compliance." 

According to the white paper, Welsh ministers will introduce a strategic nature recovery framework to protect and restore nature. This framework would include statutory biodiversity targets comprising a headline nature positive target in the bill and a suite of supporting biodiversity targets to be set by Welsh ministers in secondary legislation.  

A Nature Recovery Action Plan detailing the action needed to achieve the statutory biodiversity targets would also be part of the framework, as would Local Nature Recovery Plans, which would be produced by Welsh public authorities. 

James added: "Our ambitions are to ensure protected sites are maintained and enhanced, to avoid unnecessary environmental damage right across Wales and undertake proactive restoration of nature in areas where it has been degraded." 

The proposals have been developed as part of the co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru. 

The white paper consultation document can be found on the Welsh Government website5.  It closes on 30 April. The Senedd plenary session, which took place on 30 January, can be found on the Senedd Cymru website6.   

Laura Edgar, The Planner 
6 February 2023 

Logistics centre approved in Leicestershire

Charnwood Borough Council has granted outline planning permission for Phase 2 of Watermead Business Park. 

Boundary Real Estate (Boundary)'s plans are for the development of up to 61,000 square metres of warehouse/industrial space intended to provide a gateway location into Leicester. 

It is anticipated that up to 918 permanent and 447 temporary jobs will be provided through the development of “high-quality employment space”. 

The 31.06-hectare site, part of the Raynsway portfolio acquired by Boundary in 2022, is located between the towns of Thurmaston, Wanlip, Birstall, and Syston, approximately three miles north of Leicester City centre.  

Mike Morrison, founding partner of Boundary, said: “We have been working extremely closely with Charnwood Borough Council, Leicester City Council, the mayor, and various regeneration groups, along with our design and planning team, to develop a regeneration that not only provides jobs and growth for the region but is also is an exemplar in environmental terms.” 

The new development will target a BREEAM Excellent rating while the buildings will target EPC A ratings. A full life cycle assessment with be undertaken to ensure that the design, construction, and operation of the buildings meet the highest environmental standards. 

On-site, EV charging points will be installed, along with electric bikes.  

1 February 2024 
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Revised plans for Smithfield Birmingham lodged

Revised plans for the regeneration of a 17-hectare site in Birmingham have been submitted to the city council. 

This comes after Lendlease updated the designs for Smithfield Birmingham and sought views for them, as The Planner reported in October 2023.   

The designs were changed to address an objection from Historic England to the planning application and respond to changes as a result of the Building Safety Act 2022. 

Proposals include more than 3,000 new homes and have the potential to create 9,000 jobs. 

The large events space was called Festival Square but has been renamed Manor Square. It has been relocated to sit above the buried moat and manor house of the de Birmingham family, to celebrate the importance of the site as the birthplace of Birmingham and the city’s historic Bull Ring Markets. 

The new Bull Ring Markets have been designed to avoid building over the buried archaeology of the moat and manor house while retaining their historic location next to St Martin’s Church. The markets will be located in two buildings – one consisting of a food market, dining hall, restaurant and event space, and the second the home to the rag market. The outdoor market will be located at the front of the markets. 

Colin Murphy, project lead on Smithfield Birmingham for Lendlease, said: “Throughout 2023, Lendlease and our design teams redesigned aspects of the masterplan to further enhance and protect the heritage of Birmingham’s markets. It’s been great to speak to people about the changes and hear their views on the development. The resubmission of our planning application reflects that engagement and is an important step forward in Birmingham’s transformation as an international city.” 

The application is due to be considered by Birmingham City Council’s Planning Committee in early 2024. 

31 January 2023 
Laura Edgar, The Planner 

News round-up

Student accommodation plans in Liverpool green-lit   

Liverpool City Council has approved plans by McLaren Property for a 242-bed student accommodation scheme on Myrtle Street, neighbouring the University of Liverpool campus. 

Almost a third of the scheme will be studios with the rest arranged in four, five and six-bedroom clusters around common rooms. Alongside essential shared facilities like a laundry room, residents will also have access to bookable guest rooms and a variety of amenity spaces such as a social lounge, study hub and cinema room. 

The Myrtle Street scheme is designed to support the health and wellbeing of residents and to target BREEAM Excellent through an efficient building envelope and services. Residents will also have the use of storage space for 81 bicycles. 

RTPI awards Lord Richard Best honorary membership 

The RTPI has awarded Lord Richard Best OBE DL FAcSS HonRIBA honorary membership in recognition of his exceptional dedication to planning, which have made a lasting contribution to the creation of sustainable and thriving communities. 

Best is a life peer and cross bencher in the House of Lords, and a prominent figure in housing and planning-related organisations. 

He graduated from Nottingham University in social policy before serving as director of British Churches Housing Trust. Best's other roles include serving as director at the National Federation of Housing Associations from 1973 to 1988 and CEO at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) and Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust. 

Best was appointed to the House of Lords in 2001 as one of the first 'people's peers,' where he continued his advocacy for good housing and planning policy. 

Best said: “I am delighted to become an honorary member of the RTPI. I have worked with the institute on legislative change on many occasions and strongly support their role as a tireless advocate and upholder of the professionalism of the sector. I look forward to championing the RTPI’s endeavours not least in securing the resources planners need to undertake their vital work.” 

Views sought over conservation area proposals 

Residents of Garden Village in Hull are being asked for their views on proposed changes to its conservation area. 

Hull City Council’s proposals include the adoption of a new Conservation Area Character Appraisal and Management Plan (CAMP), as well as the adoption of new Article 4 directions concerning crossovers and hardstanding areas. 

The council is proposing to introduce a requirement to apply for planning permission for the creation of hardstanding areas within a garden of a dwelling fronting a driveway, as well as the creation of a cross over to a highway to allow access to the front or side garden of a dwelling. 

This is in response to concerns that such changes, including the loss of hedge boundaries, have impacted adversely on the character of the area. 

The council is also proposing to add some additional buildings in Garden Village to the Hull Local Heritage list. 

The public consultation  for Garden Village Conservation Area proposals closes on Thursday 15 March.   

Places for London searching for new development partner in east London 

Places for London has announced that it is searching for a joint venture development partner to work with in East London. 

The partnership would jointly bring forward a development scheme at the Limmo Peninsula in Newham, utilising Places for London’s existing estate, with the potential for other sites to be added in the future. 

The Limmo Peninsula site covers approximately five hectares of land, with 600m of river frontage, and sits within the Royal Docks and Beckton Riverside Opportunity Area. It was used as a work site for the Elizabeth line. 

The area has the potential to deliver up to 1,500 homes, including affordable housing, alongside a range of improvements for the local community as well as new residents. 

Ben Tate, head of property development at Places for London, said: “This partnership will form part of our wider programme, which seeks to build the homes and commercial spaces the city needs, while also generating vital revenue that can then be reinvested into the transport network.” 

Places for London is Transport for London’s (TfL) wholly owned commercial property company. 

The Hundred plans approved in Birmingham 

Birmingham City Council’s Planning Committee has approved plans for The Hundred – a 33-storey build-to-rent development on Broad Street. 

Howells acted on behalf of the specialist real estate investor and developer Urban Vision to secure approval for delivery of the 294 home scheme. 

The Hundred will be an all-electric ‘smart’ building that uses technology to reduce the carbon footprint and occupational costs of its users. 

The plans include communal amenities including co-working spaces and communal lounges, rooftop gardens, as well as opportunities for independent shops, cafés, or restaurants at street level. 

The development is expected to create more than 50 new jobs once operational, with more during the construction phase. 

Merlin Place plans approved in Cambridge 

Cambridge City Council has approved plans for a laboratory and office building at Merlin Place that will act as a 'gateway building' for the Cambridge North Cluster.   

National property consultancy Carter Jonas secured planning consent on behalf of Kadans Science Partner for the building, which has been designed by HOK. 

The six-storey 139,000 square foot building will include south-facing balconies, communal space and additional public café to the Cambridge North Cluster with external seating and social areas. It will feature end of journey facilities including showers, drying and changing rooms, internal cycle storage and an internal cycle maintenance area. 

Merlin Place is well connected from the A14, Cambridge guided bus way, the newly completed Cambridge North train station and expanding cycle routes. 

6 February 2023 
Laura Edgar and Prithvi Pandya, 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 - 8 February 2024

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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 © 2024 Planning Portal.