From the ‘Planoraks’

Local PlansPlanning for the Future Aug 7th Written By Zack Simons

In the wee hours of the morning the Government published two consultation documents:

  • Planning for the Future”: read this version if you like lovely pictures and have a screen the size of a bus, and this version for everyone else.
  • Changes to the current planning system”: only one version to read, and no pictures.

So. Where to start? Well, do you have 5 minutes? If so, join me for a few bite-sized headlines on what’s actually being consulted on in “Planning for the Future”. As there’s enough to fill months of blog posts, I’ll stick to 2 biggies – plan-making & development management (we’ll come back another day to infrastructure payments and some mega-exciting ideas about digitising the planning system). And I’ll round it off by mentioning 3 big things which aren’t on offer. At least not yet.

Right. Here goes. Deep breath.

Plan-making

What hasn’t changed? Lots. The fundamental structure of the planning system, for one thing. We still have local planning authorities adopting local plans which guide development in accordance with a National Planning Policy Framework. So far, so familiar.

So what’s new? Also lots, including:

  • Local plans won’t need to be “sound” or “deliverable” anymore – which, as you may remember, I think’s a good idea.
  • No more “duty to cooperate” – which again, as you may recall, I think’s another good idea. That said, no plan yet for how to deal with cross-boundary strategic issues. More of that in a mo.
  • The new statutory test for local plans to meet at sped-up local plan examinations (30 months from 1st consultation to adoption!) = “sustainable development”. Because, we’re told, that term is “well understood” (not by me!, ed.).
  • No more sustainability appraisals for plans, but we don’t yet know much about the “quicker, simpler” approach which might replace them. Ditto for EIA of individual planning applications.
  • Auf wiedersehen to localism, as the NPPF is to set national development management policies – again, in my book, another good idea given some of the mind-numbing repetition in these sorts of policies we tend to find across the country.
  • So what’s left for local plans to do? Well, zoning. Sort of. They’ll have to carve up the country into 3 different areas. What are they? Repeat after me:
    • Growth – areas suitable for “substantial development”, a term we’re told will be “defined in policy to remove any debate about this descriptor” – planoraks who have already lived through a round or two of planning reforms might find the idea of “removing debate” about something as important as that a little quaint. Still, local plans will set out what use classes, height and densities get the green light. Adoption of the plan confers outline planning permission for development within those parameters – more on that in a sec.
    • Renewal – again, local plans set out the acceptable uses, heights and densities. Then there’s a new statutory presumption in favour of permission for specified uses by, we’re told, emphasising the “plan-led” approach.
    • Protect – here we… protect. Green Belt (NB there’s not a scintilla of reform on offer for planning in the Green Belt – more on that below), AONBs, local wildlife sites, open countryside and lots of other things. Including conservation areas. Which may make life difficult in cities like London, where many boroughs are more or less one enormous conservation area.
  • Plus we’re on for new design codes – either as part of the local plan, an SPD, or a neighbourhood plan (albeit it doesn’t sound like the Government is quite sure yet how neighbourhood plans fit into this brave new world).
  • Finally, we get lots of (I think) brilliant ideas about digitising plan-making, and making them shorter, more web-based and more visual. More on this in a future post.

Development Management

What hasn’t changed? Lots. We’d still need planning permission for new development, and we’d still (sometimes anyway – see below) get permission through discretionary decisions by local planning authorities on whether to grant it in line with the development plan and other material considerations.

Again, so far so familiar.

What are the routes to permission in this brave new world? Best to take it zone by zone:

  • Growth areas: adopting a local plan would confer outline planning permission for the prescribed uses within the set parameters of height and density. Subject to meeting the requirements a masterplan and design codes. To get your full permission, you’ll either need a reserved matters application, a Local Development Order (linked to a masterplan and design codes) or – if it’s a real biggie e.g. a new town – potentially a development consent order (bit more on them here). Very interestingly, it looks like the Government wants to keep these kinds of applications away from the control of planning committees and (somehow) force cases where “the principle of development is established” to be delegated to officers, which may make for some… interesting discussions in town halls.
  • Renewal areas: consent can be granted through permission in principle, a full planning application, or a Local / Neighbourhood Development Order (i.e. same as now). But all bolstered by that statutory presumption in favour of permission for specified uses which meet the design code + other prior approval requirements.
  • Protect areas: you need a full planning application (i.e. same as now).

Even in growth and renewal areas, you can bring forward schemes “different to the plan” through a full planning application (i.e. same as now).

Lots of (overdue, and – I think – exciting) ideas about digitising, standardising and shortening this bit of the process to try to make things quicker and easier, including new standard planning conditions, and a single max 50 page planning statement for major development. That’s it. That’s the application. 50 pages. Sounds good to me.

And an awwwwwful lot of detail still to come: e.g. on the detail of the new system for Environmental Impact Assessment and Sustainability Appraisals, how the Listed Buildings Act will be reformed, the detail of this new national design body, and how the consolidated new infrastructure levy will actually fund enough affordable housing (to name but a few).

3 things which aren’t (yet) proposed

If you asked 100 planoraks to name 3 ways to get housing delivery up towards the Government’s 300,000 annual target, I think a fair few of you might say:

  1. Liberalise our approach to building on the Green Belt;
  2. Re-introduce the regional tier of plan-making abolished by Eric Pickles in 2011; and
  3. Resource local planning departments properly.

Well, the political behemoth that is the Green Belt is one of the only aspects of the current system which has managed to escape any tinkering at all. Our radical once-in-a-generation reforms weren’t quite radical enough to go there.

Re-introducing regional planning isn’t proposed, but that said nothing is proposed yet to replace the abolished duty to cooperate when it comes to dealing with cross-boundary issues. So there’s a discussion to be had there.

And resourcing – well, the paper accepts that spending on planning has been substantially cut, and that has led to shortages of qualified personnel. There’s a lot in the paper about a “culture change” in planning departments to make them more tech-savy and outward looking, which is all very well. But a bold new era of digitised plan-making will be expensive. There’s a promise of a “resourcing and skills framework” – so we’ll wait and see on that. But not yet a promise of the cold, hard cash it’s likely to take to make these reforms actually work.

Finally, before the white paper came out, I asked:

Given that there are still authorities which have not adopted a local plan in the modern era, what happens in the transitional period (which could take decades!) before everybody’s zones are fixed? If they’re ever fixed? The traditional TCPA 1990 regime in some towns, the brand new zonal system elsewhere?

I still haven’t found the answer to that one!

When might it all happen? Well… the consultation runs to 29th October. After that there’ll be a need for “further development” of all this stuff, then primary legislation, secondary legislation and a new NPPF. No easy task. The white paper aims for new local plans in place by the end of this Parliament – so that takes us to 2024.

Take an hour this weekend, readers. Pour yourself something cold. Sit somewhere quiet and (hopefully) sunny. And read this thing cover to cover. And then get your consultee hats on, and sharpen those pencils. Or, maybe better for the all-digital future, charge up those Ipad styluses. We have until the end of October.

In the meantime, stay well, planoraks.

Local PlansPlanning for the FutureAug 7 Written By Zack Simons

FOSH © 2021

View from the CPRE

We raise concerns about the rules that control new building works and emphasise the need for community involvement.

Robert Jenrick, housing secretary, has today proposed changes to reform an ‘outdated’ planning system. The government says that the changes are intended to speed up the planning process and allow more building as the country recovers from the coronavirus pandemic.

But we at CPRE, the countryside charity, are raising queries about elements of the proposals, including the risks of community voices being lost in the process. The government’s Planning for the Future White Paper includes plans around potential zoning systems and spells out plans for more consultation and planning to take place digitally. But as Tom Fyans, our deputy chief executive, notes, bringing activity online can risk excluding some voices: ‘As things stand, the government seems to have conflated the ‘digitalisation’ of planning with democratic planning – they’re not the same thing.’

Consulting communities

CPRE has long argued that the voices of local people need to be more included in planning developments so that communities can ensure that they get the developments they need and in the right places. But the new proposals aren’t clear on how this democratic approach to planning can be ensured. As Tom says:

‘The key acid test for the planning reforms is community involvement and on first reading, it’s still not clear how this will work under a zoning system.’we also need robust legal guarantees that the public are consulted regarding new development.’Tom Fyans, CPRE deputy chief executive

‘Although we welcome the government’s commitment to all areas having a local plan in place, we also need robust legal guarantees that the public are consulted regarding new development. Red lines on a map are not going to build trust in the planning system.’

Carbon neutral, affordable housing: missed chances

We also campaign for action to address the climate emergency, and the way that new housing is built can play a significant role in this. New homes should be built with the climate crisis in mind – but we feel the government miss the mark on this, lacking ambition. Tom expresses our disappointment at this missed opportunity.

‘The government’s aim to deliver carbon neutral new homes by 2050 is pitiful and represents 34 lost years given that the Code for Sustainable Homes aimed to achieve the same thing by 2016 and was dropped by the government. If this government is serious about tackling the climate emergency, it needs to be much, much more ambitious on new builds.’’The government’s aim to deliver carbon neutral new homes by 2050 is pitiful.’Tom Fyans

And we are also concerned about how the government will ensure that new homes built in rural areas are truly affordable, supporting the needs of local people in areas at crisis point with a stark lack of available housing – not least for key workers.

‘On affordable homes, our concern is how this approach might play out in the countryside. In many rural areas, house prices are often more than ten times average earnings, and so the 30 percent discount won’t cut it. Local authorities should be able to provide the sorts of homes needed in their area – homes that local people can afford.’

Brownfield-first

The government’s proposals include reference to building on brownfield land (that is, land that has been previously developed) – an area that we’ve long campaigned on. Making use of this neglected land before greenfield sites should be a priority. But we emphasise the need for local authorities to be a part of this process, to ensure that much-loved green spaces are protected. Tom urges that this consideration not be overlooked, saying:

‘We have long advocated for a genuinely brownfield-first approach and on this aspect, the government seems to have listened. But if a brownfield-first approach is to work, local authorities need to be able to prioritise the building of those sites and reject unnecessary losses of greenfield land.’

FOSH © 2021

Good Planning

Why our planning system must be made fit for purposeFriends of the Earth

‘Good planning is essential to protect the environment from development pressures. But recent reforms threaten to compromise the ability of the planning system as a whole to deliver in the public interest.’

Kate Gordon 29 Jul 2019

At a time when councils around the country are adopting the language of the climate emergency and there are huge development pressures on the environment, a good planning system matters more than ever.

Yet recent reforms threaten to undermine the gains made, such as the introduction of neighbourhood planning, and compromise the ability of the planning system as a whole to deliver in the public interest.

Friends of the Earth has long campaigned for a fair and transparent planning system that delivers sustainable development and equitable outcomes.

In this article, Kate Gordon, senior planner at Friends of the Earth shows how the current planning system is failing to do so and suggests solutions to redress the balance between land-use demands, including the delivery of new homes, and sustainable development objectives.

Why planning matters

The planning system provides the basis for decisions on the amount, location and form of new development. Where, how and what we build have significant implications for our environment.

Planning is – or should be – a key mechanism for delivering sustainable development. How we plan matters too.

Planning is a combination of advocacy, negotiation and regulation. But even the best plans and policies cannot achieve good outcomes if developers, councils and other bodies lack the necessary wherewithal to implement them and the wider planning, regulatory and policy framework is not conducive.

In England and Wales we have what is known as a ‘plan-led’ system.1 This means the local plan and other planning policies, such as those set out in neighbourhood plans, provide the starting point for planning decisions. In theory, this provides for a high degree of local democratic accountability and influence.

Plan-led system

One welcome change has been the introduction of neighbourhood planning2 enabling communities to draw up their own plans, which are then used to guide decisions on new development alongside the local plan.

However, damage caused by wider reforms far outweighs the benefits of neighbourhood planning and some question whether the system is fit for purpose.3

Strategic planning vacuum

As predicted almost a decade ago,4 we’ve been left with a strategic planning vacuum, following the abolition of regional planning5 and prior to that, county structure plans.

Since it’s impossible to plan with no strategic co-ordination, an array of responses has emerged, such as city-region plans, joint plans, or the work of the National Infrastructure Commission. However, the plethora of different types of strategic plan (some statutory, some not) and uneven geographic coverage (not all places have a strategic plan) is confusing.

Deregulation and permitted development undermine local accountability

The deregulatory nature of reforms, such as granting permitted development (PD) rights to cover more substantial forms of development,6 together with the introduction of a so-called “presumption in favour of sustainable development,”7  directly undermine local accountability and limit councils’ ability to manage development on behalf of communities.

PD allows developers to sidestep the local plan and override democratically agreed planning policies.8 Policies designed to deliver development in the wider public interest are ignored to the benefit of individual applicants.

A raft of evidence shows how granting PD rights to changes of use, such as allowing offices to convert to homes with no need to apply for planning permission, has led to poor outcomes.9 Examples include sub-standard housing,10 housing in unsuitable locations such as the middle of an industrial estate,11 failure to provide affordable housing,12 and loss of offices in town centres.13 

The government recently extended PD rights further, to allow changes of use from retail to housing, and upwards extensions. Both these measures could make it harder for councils and communities to proactively plan for their high streets and town centres.14

Planning for (un)sustainable development?

The ability of the planning system to deliver sustainable development is inextricably linked to the ability of planning authorities to plan for a balance of land uses, tailor their plans to their circumstances and use their plans to decide whether development proposals go ahead or not.

However, the planning system’s overriding objective today seems to be delivering new homes at the cost of almost everything else. Wider considerations, such as the environment, the quality of what gets built and who benefits, are all too easily brushed aside in the drive to meet targets.

National Planning Policy Framework: a gap between aspiration and reality

A major drawback of our present planning system is a failure to embed sustainable development principles throughout all decisions, plans and proposals.15

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)

“The planning system should support the transition to a low carbon future in a changing climate, taking full account of flood risk and coastal change. It should help to: shape places in ways that contribute to radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, minimise vulnerability and improve resilience; encourage the reuse of existing resources, including the conversion of existing buildings; and support renewable and low carbon energy and associated infrastructure.” (paragraph 148)16

Unfortunately, there’s a gap between aspiration and what happens in practice – a situation not helped by the approach to sustainable development set out in the revised NPPF.

This is weak compared with the original 2012 version, which cited the Bruntland definition and made clear the aim should be to integrate economic, environmental and social objectives, not trade them off. Most United Nations Sustainable Development Goals17 are directly relevant to planning, yet national planning policy largely ignores them.

The revised NPPF (February 2019) takes a silo approach to sustainable development with little apparent attempt made to integrate the different aspects.

Lack of planning principles and tools to support a low-carbon future

As a result of the revised NPPF, welcome aspirations like supporting a transition to a low-carbon future fail to be translated into clear planning principles. Guidelines are omitted where needed most or an approach advocated that risks locking us into carbon dependency. The NPPF chapter on the economy omits to mention a single planning measure needed to deliver a low-carbon, environmentally sustainable economy.

Apart from a passing reference in a footnote to the Clean Growth Strategy, there are no pointers on how to plan for a sustainable economy. On renewables the NPPF is encouraging, with the exception of onshore wind energy18

To move beyond aspiration requires measures to facilitate and prioritise renewables and zero-carbon development throughout the planning process at all levels. National policy does not offer these measures.

Concerns regarding the ability of the planning system to deliver sustainable outcomes are widely shared. The Raynsford Review of planning19 reports “There was strong feedback from public sector planners that sustainable development was no longer an operational principle of planning” (p44) and that the 2018 NPPF definition of sustainable development “leaves out core internationally agreed principles” and “Important ideas such as the precautionary principle” (p43).

Planning for sustainable development requires as much consideration to be given to the location of development as to what form it takes. This means achieving high environmental standards in new builds and siting developments where facilities are close by and can be reached by public transport, walking and cycling.

Yet we still allow development in unsustainable locations. Research commissioned by the Royal Town Planning Institute found that less than half of new housing built between 2012 and 2017 was within 2 km of a railway station.20

UK homes unfit for the future

The Committee on Climate Change has found UK homes to be unfit for the future, commenting that policies to support low-carbon measures have been weakened or withdrawn, including Zero Carbon Homes.

It notes that “Local authorities do not have sufficient resources to address these concerns and there is not enough use of local and urban planning to make progress on climate change mitigation or adaptation. There have been some positive clarifications to the National Planning Policy Framework in England to address overheating and flooding, but the revisions have removed the requirement for local authorities to give active support to energy efficiency improvements to existing buildings, and have failed to clarify how far local and regional authorities are permitted to go in setting their own tighter standards for new-build homes Carbon Homes and the Code for Sustainable Homes.”21

The Planning Act 200822 introduced a duty on councils to ensure that their local plans include policies that address climate mitigation and adaptation. Planning authorities are, however, limited as to how far they can go towards setting the high environmental standards required to deliver resilient, zero-carbon developments. While they can specify standards better than Building Regulations,23 policies they adopt must be “viable” and “deliverable”. Developers will object.

Yet until such time as higher standards are enshrined in national policy and legislation, planning authorities should be free to set standards they believe necessary to ensure development is sustainable.

Such an approach would encourage applications from developers who are able and willing to rise to the challenge,24 deter those who are not, and thereby help create a level playing field.

Similarly, affordable housing provision should be mandatory and developers not allowed to abnegate responsibility because they’ve paid too much for the land in the first place.

What are the solutions?

Among changes to the planning system, we need to do the following:

  • As recommended by the Raynsford Review,25 there should be a legal duty to plan for sustainable development when drawing up development plans and deciding planning proposals. This should be underpinned by a robust definition of sustainable development, along the lines adopted by the Brundtland Commission, and translation of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals into national planning policy and guidance.
  • Reinstate balance in the planning system, so that it gives clear recognition to managing land-use change in the public interest. Quality, sustainability and the needs and challenges of existing places and communities must lie at the heart of a reformed, repurposed system.
  • Restore planning powers to local authorities. A revised NPPF should set out a presumption that “local decisions are taken locally and that local powers should only be withdrawn in clearly defined and transparent circumstances.”26
  • Scale back PD rights so these only apply to minor development, such as building a garden shed or erecting a solar panel, with the exception of essential works carried out by utilities and statutory undertakers. This would restore the ability of local councils and communities to manage development for their area in line with their aspirations.
  • Require planning authorities to plan for zero-carbon development and developers to both deliver it and work with communities, energy providers and utility companies to deliver sustainable energy infrastructure.
  • Require all new development to incorporate renewable energy technologies, such as solar panels on every rooftop, and all new development to achieve Passivhaus27 or BREEAM28 standards or equivalent.
  • Ban any further fossil fuel extraction unless the Committee on Climate Change’s three tests are demonstrably met and all other social and environmental effects are acceptable.
  • Reinstate a strategic / regional tier of planning with consistent, transparent governance arrangements.
  • Continue support for neighbourhood and community-led planning with strengthened governance arrangements in places without a parish or town council.
  • A statutory duty that neighbourhood plans must include policies that deliver climate change adaptation and mitigation measures for their neighbourhood area.
  • Stronger protection for nature, including wildlife habitats, accessible green space and agricultural land, and greater recognition of the wider value of undeveloped land.
  • Amend the approach to planning for housing to give greater recognition to need, as opposed to demand, and to the role of planning in addressing interregional imbalance.
The government must strengthen the planning system, not undermine it

In March this year, the Communities Secretary indicated that the government intends to publish an “accelerated planning green paper”29 this autumn.

Proposed reforms are expected to include measures to speed up planning decisions and the rate at which new homes are delivered. A new Future Homes Standard for low-carbon housing is to be consulted on.

It’s essential that we plan and build in the right way, so further measures to deregulate, given the evidence of the harm this has caused, should be resisted. On the other hand, the green paper provides an opportunity for the government to present an ambitious programme of reforms designed to strengthen and reinvigorate our planning system, not undermine it.

Planning is critical to the delivery of a wide range of public interest outcomes: health, wellbeing, prosperity and high-level objectives that support these, such as becoming zero carbon or delivering on the 25 Year Environment Plan.  

To achieve these objectives and outcomes, government reforms must empower planning authorities and the communities they serve, so they can plan for and manage development for their area effectively, and place obligations on developers to deliver.

FOSH © 2021

PFTF – Overview

Planning for the Future (PFTF) – overview by HTA Design LLP

Introduction 

1.1. On 6th August 2020 the Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick launched consultation on Planning for the Future , a new white paper which sets out sweeping reforms to the planning system in England. These reforms aim to streamline and modernise the planning process whilst presenting design quality and sustainability as two key anchors, reforming developer contributions, and ensuring more land is available where needed for development. The emphasis is on ‘outcomes’, fundamentally interpreted as the numbers of homes that will be delivered, not long-term outcomes in terms of housing and places that promote well-being. 

1.2. In the consultation document, the existing planning system within which the country operates is criticised as being a barrier to building homes, with the Housing Secretary explaining that it is too slow in providing housing and too ineffective in requiring developers to fund the infrastructure to support them. It is also suggested that the planning system does not effectively engage with communities, who could be more meaningfully engaged if the system were more digital-focused. Further criticism includes that it is too complex, there is little focus on design, it is not trusted by the public and forms of assessing housing need, viability and environmental impacts are too opaque. We would not disagree with any of the more detailed points raised regarding areas of the planning system that are problematic.   

1.3. This note will briefly set out the proposed reforms, and some of the key areas to consider further as the consultation progresses and additional guidance is released by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). This note will conclude by setting out the next steps of this consultation and how we can become more involved in this. 

2. The Proposed Reforms 

     2.1. Reform of Local Plans 

2.1.1. Whilst the National Planning Policy Framework will stay and be representative of all ‘general planning policies’, Local Plans will need to follow a nationally described template, and be prepared and agreed in 30 months, in consultation with local communities. They will need to identify clear rules for development and classify areas into three zones: Growth (for ‘substantial development’), Renewal (where planning permission ‘in principle’ will be given), and Protect (such as the green belt, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), conservation areas and it could also cover back gardens). 

2.1.2. Areas labelled for ‘growth’ will be approved for development via an outline planning consent at the same time as local plans are prepared, allowing for new homes and infrastructure to be built ‘quickly and efficiently’, providing that local design standards are met. To obtain full planning consent, detail needs to be submitted by either a reserved matters application, Local Development Order or a Development Consent Order as appropriate. 

2.1.3. Specific uses such as residential, healthcare and education in ‘Renewal’ areas will benefit from much quicker development, again if they are well-designed. Proposals could go ahead once a full planning application, or a Local Development Order is approved. 

2.1.4. Areas labelled ‘Protect’ will be safeguarded, and development here will need to submit a full planning application for approval – which is no different to the current system. 

2.1.5. Local Plans will no longer be required to be ‘sound’ or ‘deliverable’, and local planning authorities will no longer be bound by a duty to cooperate with neighbouring authorities. 

2.2. Digitising and Technology 

2.2.1. Information on development proposals will need to be made available to view online ‘by default’, in a shift to encourage more virtual community engagement. Using the PropTech sector and associated technology, the aim here is to ensure that proposals are more accessible and allow for people to view them who are on-the-go. Councils will also look to modernise how planning officers work, improving transparency and productivity. The Covid-19 pandemic underlines how important and beneficial such changes could be for the planning system. 

2.3. Design Codes and ‘Beauty’ 

2.3.1. There is strong emphasis that new housing needs to be ‘beautiful’, echoing the recommendations and ethos of the ‘Building Better, Building Beautiful’ Commission which published its final report, Living with Beauty, in January 2020. 

2.3.2. ‘Pattern books’, which will take the form of style guides for ‘popular and replicable designs’ will help establish strong, local guidance on good design. These local design codes will follow a national design code, which will set out rules for development across the country. They will need to underly the Local Plan, and the community will need to be involved in their production as will a new design body which will oversee the creation of local design codes.  

2.3.3.  A ‘fast-track’ process will be created to approve beautiful buildings which reflect ‘local character and preferences’ without delay. 

2.4. Reform of Developer Contributions 

2.4.1. Section 106 agreements and the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) will be replaced with a new infrastructure levy which be a fixed proportion of the value of a new development, above a set threshold, which is envisioned as helping to deliver more affordable housing. It will also fund local projects such as roads, amenity spaces and subsidising a discount for first-time buyers. At the same time there is an expectation that affordable housing will be delivered ‘on-site’. 

2.5. Housing Requirements and Targets 

2.5.1. The Government will set out a nationally determined, binding housing requirement. Local planning authorities will then need to set out which land is designated to help meet this requirement, rather than how much, with those authorities in more affluent areas of the country required to release the most land. The assumption is also that development will largely take place on brownfield land and within existing urban areas. 

2.6. Sustainability and Climate Change 

2.6.1. All homes delivered under the new planning system will need to be ‘zero-carbon ready’, with a requirement that all new homes are carbon neutral by 2050 and that new homes will not require retrofitting. 

2.7. The Construction Sector 

2.7.1. The reforms are also intended to help Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) access the housing industry, in an effort to improve diversity and competition away from large, well-established housebuilders. The promotion of SMEs and self-builders in the industry is hoped to foster greater innovation, and encourage higher standards. 

2.7.2. The use of Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) are encouraged. 

3. Key areas for further consideration 

3.1. There is no doubt that these far-reaching reforms are coming at time of unprecedented economic, societal and market instability. There is general consensus that the issues within the planning system identified within Planning for the Future are indeed prevalent, and do need to be addressed going forward. Steps to support the housing industry and the wider economy, as both begin to show signs of waning in light of impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, have been welcomed by many key players as an effort to rejuvenate parts of the country which have been most affected. 

3.2. There are also fundamental aspects of the planning system which remain unchanged, which within the context of these reforms it is useful to bear in mind. These include plan-making, where local planning authorities will still need to adopt Local Plans in accordance with the NPPF – which is also not set to change. Admittedly they will look different. In some instances, with recently adopted plans, local authorities will be given 42 months to change to the new format, so change will not be immediate. Additionally, it is the case that proposals for development which are not in accordance with the Local Plan and its aspirations for Growth, Renewal and Protection zones will still need to seek full planning permission. 

3.3. Overall, there is no theoretical reason why a zoning system could not work in principle. However, with local planning authorities taking on the responsibility for zoning all of their land into three precise categories, there is an urgent call to ensure that they have the right in-house planning, architectural and surveying skills to assess sites for their suitability within ‘Growth’ and ‘Renewal’ areas, and to test their capacity. Resourcing is consequently a major conundrum, which is further aggravated with many planning departments already having cut spending by up to half since 2010 . Any system, let alone one of zoning and neatly categorising, cannot be implemented effectively by planning authorities which have been chronically starved of funding and will continue to be. 

3.4. To remedy this, a change in culture is therefore required. Local planning authorities need to be resourced better, and soon, to allow them to get to grips with these fast-paced reforms and be democratically accountable in delivering an effective planning service. The alternative is that the private sector needs to become involved as a partner in effectively giving sites planning permission, which inevitably comes with its own unique set of challenges and conflicts which would need to be overcome. It will also cost money. Additional plans for investment and Government support for PropTech industries would be crucial if this is to be a hallmark of a new digital age for planning. 

3.5. MHCLG will need to issue guidance to help clarify the position of local planning authorities who are in the process of preparing a new Local Plan – principally, if they should continue preparing a Plan which would be in line with the current regulations or change course to comply with the emerging guidance. Some local planning authorities have already raised concerns where they are at an advanced stage of the plan-making process, and altering course now would be almost as disruptive as starting the process from the beginning. Another matter mandating further guidance is on how this system would navigate the intricacies of site-specific challenges and constraints. This echoes wider criticism of zoning arrangements for over-simplifying land assembly and development, which is an undeniably complex and detailed process even when extricated from the planning system. 

3.6. In relation to design codes and the emphasis on ‘beauty’ as the principal consideration for emerging proposals is concerning for a multitude of reasons. First, ideas of beauty are not all the same, and are subjective in a similar sense to how ‘good’ design can be interpreted. ‘Provably popular’ design in one setting could well be disliked in another. Secondly, although beauty is a virtue of design, it is not the sole purpose of good design which should be of a high quality and meet all three tenets of sustainability (economic, social, and environmental); high-quality homes are more than their appearance and more than ‘beautiful’. Thirdly, the focus on beauty above other design considerations could give rise to a stifling of individualism and innovation. These concerns are compounded by the idea of a ‘fast-track’ process to automatically approve development which is considered ‘beautiful’. 

3.7. In reference to design codes, these can be interpreted as widely as the concept of ‘beauty’, and do not always translate into ‘quality’. They would be likely to fail in this pursuit if they are not context-specific and co-designed with residents and local communities. The details on how a national design code will be prepared and implemented are keenly awaited. As the centrepiece of the new planning system which is to be led by beautiful design, it must be applicable to a wide variety of contexts. A key concern here is that once it is established as a basis for development, opposition against proposals which are designed in compliance with it will be stifled. Therefore, it is critical that all stakeholders are involved and participate in its consultation process, before the window of opportunity is closed and not reopened until such a time as the national design code is subsequently reviewed.  

3.8. The reform to S106 and CIL also needs to be handled with care and caution. The proposals appear muddled. CIL is to cover affordable housing to a similar extent as ‘current levels’; yet it also stipulates on-site provision. A new infrastructure levy would also need to consider the new types of housing which are beginning to emerge, such as Build-to-Rent, though further guidance on how the new rates will be calculated and subsequently reviewed should be made clear. As it stands, there is conflicting wording on the revenue from the new levy, and scepticism that these revenues are realistic and achievable. 

3.9. The target for all homes to be carbon neutral by 2050 is less than ambitious. Though this commitment does remain nevertheless is encouraging, though the target has been pushed back to 2050 from 2016 as the Government had historically intended. It is disappointing that the standard is being set this low, considering that the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) is determined in its pursuit to meet this target by 2030, twenty years earlier.   

3.10. Despite this, the reference to MMC is welcomed by many stakeholders within the industry, as a gesture of the Government’s growing support for innovative and sustainable methods of construction. MMC is already gaining traction as the future standard by which most construction will take place, given its proven advantages in reducing construction time and minimising associated impacts (including embodied carbon).  

4. Next Steps 

4.1. The consultation on Planning for the Future closes on 29th October 2020. It is open to everyone, across public and private sectors as well as the general public. 

4.2. Responses can be made online by emailing planningforthefuture@communities.gov.uk, or writing to the Planning for the Future Consultation at MHCLG in London. 

4.3. HTA

info@newlondonarchitecture.org

020 7636 4044

HTA Design LLP. – housing design specialists has been quoted widely in the press since the release of the Paper. 

Links:  

NLA London

Inside Housing

Planning Resource

The Times

Architects’ Journal

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Planning for the Future

The Government has unveiled proposals to deliver new housing by overhauling England’s planning system.

The reforms proposed in the ‘Planning for the future’ consultation include overhauling the planning process, agreeing local housing plans in 30 months and requiring every area to have a local plan in place.

A new Infrastructure Levy system would replace the system of developer contributions with the aim of delivering more affordable housing, a fast-track system for ‘beautiful buildings’ would be created and all new homes would be ‘zero carbon ready’.

The consultation explores the accessibility of the planning system, with the aim of ensuring the planning process engages local communities at an earlier stage.

Under the plans, land will be designated into one of three categories – for growth, for renewal or for protection. Local plans would set rules, rather than policies for general development. Communities will set the agenda for their own areas, with the categories for all land across England decided through local consensus.

There are also proposals which aim to protect green spaces, allow for more building on brownfield land and trees in streets. Decisions on the Green Belt will stay with local authorities as they prepare their plans. Meanwhile, a First Homes scheme will provide newly-built homes at a 30 per cent discount for local people, key workers and first-time buyers. The Local Government Association submitted a response to the First Homes consultation in May, and the Government has now responded to those submissions.

They said in their media response – which has been reported widely – councils are committed to ensuring new homes are built and share the aspiration of improving the current planning system to provide greater certainty for communities, encourage brownfield development, to deliver better infrastructure and increase local involvement. Any new system needs to focus on ensuring planning permissions are built, and provide local control over developments.

“We look forward to engaging with the Government to ensure their aspirations of an improved system work in practice. As we analyse the proposals in detail, and prepare our own submissions on the various consultations (see more below), we encourage councils to share your own views”

Some reactions from ‘the inside’.

We were promised “radical reform”. So does the much-anticipated Planning for the Future white paper deliver on that promise? Well, like the curate’s egg, it is good in parts. It contains some interesting new ideas but at the same time it recycles some old ones.

Probably the biggest innovation is the proposal to split areas into three ‘zones’: ‘Growth’ areas where permission in principle will be granted on identification of a development site in the local plan; ‘Renewal’ areas which will be subject to a statutory ‘presumption in favour of development’ and ‘Protection’ areas where development will be discouraged.

“Many of you will have spotted that not all these ideas are new”

Many of you will have spotted that not all these ideas are new. Permission in principle is a concept already on the statute books (albeit that the provisions are not yet fully in force). Older practitioners will remember previous presumptions in favour of development (Lifting the Burden, anyone?).  There are already areas where development is discouraged – eg, the green belt, AONBs, development affecting the setting of heritage assets, etc. As a number of commentators have pointed out, much of this could have been achieved within the existing system.

So, how would this all work? Well, as so often, the devil will be in the detail.

The identification of the three zones, the white paper tells us, will fall to local planning authorities as part of a completely new local plan process which will be more democratic and involve greater opportunity for public participation. A total of 30 months will be allowed for this process.

I am not the first to point out that speed of process and increased public participation are often uncomfortable bedfellows. The fact that, under the current plan system instigated in 2004, we still do not have full up-to-date plan coverage hardly inspires confidence that the 30 month timescale can be met.

“I am not the first to point out that speed of process and increased public participation are often uncomfortable bedfellows”

As for the granting of planning permission, even where permission in principle has been granted by the zoning of the site in the local plan, consideration will still need to be given to all the material considerations we consider now – residential amenity, environmental impact, etc. A glance at any committee report on a major application will put this in context. ‘Principle of the development’ (which is all permission in principle decides) is typically only one of a dozen or more main issues that need to be considered. 

Plus ca change…    

Nigel Hewitson is a planning lawyer with Gowling WLG

Andrew Martin, senior planner, casts his eye over the proposals in Planning for the Future and finds – among some digital gems – that not all is quite as it is billed

Having reviewed the proposals set out within Planning for the Future, the forthcoming reform is not perhaps what I was anticipating.  In the build-up to publication there was much speculation in the press, possibly fuelled by the content circulated by the Policy Exchange think-tank over recent months, that we were going to be facing a full-blown zonal system commensurate to that in the US and elsewhere.  This has turned out not to be the case.

In essence, the proposals represent a means of transitioning to a hybrid style system, one which comprises simplified elements of the existing system alongside an increase in the use of tools and characteristics often associated with zoning. 

“It is not the wholesale overhaul of the existing planning system that had been widely speculated”

It is not then, in my view, the wholesale overhaul of the existing planning system that had been widely speculated.  However, this does not detract from the scale of the changes and challenges ahead, both logistically and politically.  As a consequence, it remains to be seen whether the reform will actually tackle the key driving issues of delays, uncertainty, and complexity.

Within the white paper there were still, of course, the usual disparaging references to the planning system being a barrier to growth and delivery, implying that responsibility for the ongoing housing crisis largely falls at the feet of planners and of planning departments – a rhetoric which ignores a large number of other factors at play.

Moreover, it was difficult to grapple with the emphasis on better design when the same government has just introduced a range of further potentially harmful permitted development rights. But that aside, there are on the face of it a number of positive proposals that could address some of the current issues faced, if implemented effectively.

The first thing which immediately stood out to me was the ambition to revolutionise the integration of digital technology and data into the planning system. Public consultations, local plans, design codes and planning applications, amongst a long list of other planning matters and processes, are all set to be given a shake-up in terms of their composition, visual presentation and opportunities for interaction.

“Even as a planner it can be disheartening to face large volumes of primarily text-based policies”

Delivering on this promise could have numerous benefits, including wider-reaching community engagement, greater transparency and a far more spatial approach to how we plan for the future. It would also be no bad thing to make local plans more digestible. Even as a planner it can be disheartening to face large volumes of primarily text-based policies, many of which duplicate issues covered by the NPPF, something that the reform similarly seeks to address.

Secondly, it was at long last refreshing to see that the value of planners and of planning departments is being recognised, even despite the initial aforementioned references to planning being a barrier to growth and delivery. Whatever stance you take, hate them or love them, it is fundamental that planning departments are sufficiently resourced going forward or else the reform is destined to fail from the outset.

Proposed transitional funding, alongside increased income generation through planning application fees, in addition to cost savings associated with the abandonment of press advertisements, is all therefore welcome. I would, though, suggest that additional funding could be given to planning departments which abide by statutory targets, rather than financially penalising those who do not. Basically, given the current context of under-staffed and overworked planning departments, the carrot may be a more attractive incentive than the stick.

“Given the current context of under-staffed and overworked planning departments, the carrot may be a more attractive incentive than the stick”

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Seymour Drive – Update

SEYMOUR DRIVE – URGENT – APPEAL OBJECTIONS DUE 1st SEPTEMBER

After the illegal tree felling at Seymour Drive, many of the local residents have vigorously opposed the development of the woodland they used to enjoy.  The local community submitted Letters of Objection to the Planning Applications to the SHDC and details of the felling’s to the Forestry Commission.

 For the Applicant to describe an illegally felled wood as an ‘unused’ or ‘brownfield’ site, or to commission a post-felling Ecology report which blandly notes ‘no trees’ present, displays a disregard for the facts, the local community – and the environment.

The Applicant made a number of Planning Applications, including one for 9. Houses. All the Applications were turned down by the South Hams District Council. In the case of the nine houses, the Applicant has submitted an Appeal to the Planning Inspectorate in the hope of having the Councils decision, in that case, overturned.

The full detail of the Appeal is available on the SHDC Planning File and the Planning Inspectorate’s Web site has the procedure, and guidance, for making a representation to the Appeal Inspector.

If you are uncertain of the procedure, or of how to best construct an effective letter to the Inspector, then there is a simple ‘Planning Guide’ here on the Friends of South Hams Web site.

The woodland – before it was illegally felled

Please support the community of Seymour Drive, and if you have not already sent a letter objecting to the Application, please consider writing to the Appeal Inspector BEFORE THE 1st September outlining the ‘material planning reasons’ why the Appeal should be refused.

The hilltop woodland the Forestry Commission say was illegally felled

Appeal Details

Planning Application Ref: 2583/19/FUL – Applicant Name: Mr Holloway

Description: Erection of 9 no. dwellings and associated works (resubmission of 0852/19/FUL)

Address: Land At SX 861 514 North of Seymour Drive Dartmouth  

Application Date: 15 August 2019

Decision Refusal

Appeal Date: 23 July 2020   

Interested Party Comments due by 1st September 2020

 Appeal Determination Date: Not yet decided

Appeal Type: Written representation      

Appeal Case: View Appeal Case APP/K1128/W/20/3252623

NB The Lead case is now :  APP/K1128/X/20/3252613

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Learning Material

Every journey starts with a few steps! It is said that there is more to be learned from our mistakes than from our successes!

South Hams District Council have a policy which commits them to learn from mistakes and complaints. The Winslade wind turbine case proved a rich source of ‘learning material’.

The SHDC policy about complaints is very clear. There is a commitment to use complaint information in a positive way to identify training requirements, improve processes, and share learning to prevent similar occurrences in the future. There is also a pledge to take measures to ensure that what is complained about does not happen again.

Councillors have the right to make planning decisions which are contrary to the officers’ professional advice. But, if they do, their decision must be based on an tive assessment of the material planning matters involved, and the weighting balance, which leads to their contrary decision, must be “clearly and convincingly” explained separately in the record of the application.

In discussing, and then determining a planning application, or other planning matters, Members must confine themselves to the planning merits of the case and the reasons for making a final decision should be clear and convincing, and supported by planning evidence.

If members wish to refuse an application against officer advice or impose additional conditions to a permission, the reasons for refusal or the additional conditions to be applied must be clearly stated at the time the propositions are moved at the meeting.

Old ‘corporate defensive habits’ die hard and the faults illustrated by the Winslade wind turbine case clearly demonstrate that there is some way to go before the SHDC can truly claim to be an “open, transparent and learning Council” or to have adopted all the lessons from the Winslade affair.  They really have made a start down the ‘learning’ path. However, there is still some way to travel before the Council tax payers of the South Hams will recognise them as a truly open and “learning organisation”.

First published in 2018 following the Winslade Public Inquiry.

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Selworthy Court

Looking South from the Selworthy proposed development site

The views from, and into, the South Devon AONB from the proposed development site are nationally protected. Major development is restricted, and the Council have a duty to protect this important local asset.

Selworthy Court lies within the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Bowcombe Creek, a County Wildlife Site is 50 metres away. The site lies in very close proximity to the shoreline of Salcombe to Kingsbridge Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and within the South West Coast Strategic Nature Area.

The views from, and into, the South Devon AONB from the proposed development site are nationally protected. Major development is restricted, and the Council have a duty to protect this important landscape asset.

South Hams District Council have a legal duty to protect these sensitive areas and enhance the landscape, close to, and within the AONB. It is in a nationally prized landscape, which is the county’s major economic asset.

The application is for 18 houses with an additional 2 houses applied for on planning application 0207/18/FUL. A total of 20 houses are proposed. It would constitute a major development within the South Hams AONB. 

The applicants recognise that the site is within a highly protected landscape, where development is very highly restricted in the interest of The South Hams and the wider community. The proposed development would harm the setting of the AONB, and the uninterrupted panoramic views across the internationally valued and nationally protected landscape.

Click here for the letter of objection  to Selworthy Planning Application – In the protected AONB

Excellent news – Selworthy Appeal Decision.

Letters of Representation vigorously opposed the proposal to build 18 houses in the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty overlooking the Salcombe and Kingsbridge Estuary. South Hams District Councillors rejected the planning application in July last year, and the Planning Inspector has now rejected the developers Appeal against the Councils decision. 

The main planning issues in the case were:

• the effect of the development on the character and appearance of the surrounding area, with particular regard to the South Devon AONB; and 

• whether the development’s housing mix would be appropriate.

The ‘lessons’ for future include:

Not a major development, but!

While the Appellant and the SHDC considered that the development did not constitute major development with respect to paragraph 173 of the National Planning Policy Framework.  Some objectors disagreed. But the Inspector was satisfied that the appeal proposal, taking account of its nature, scale and setting, did not constitute major development in this instance. He notes: “However, this does not lead me to a different conclusion about its effect on the AONB or the character and appearance of the surrounding area and the Undeveloped Coast. ”  So even a ‘non major development’ can harm the countryside and AONB and other protected landscapes.

Harm to the South Devon AONB

The Inspector concluded that the proposal would “harm the character and appearance of the surrounding area, with particular regard to the South Devon AONB, and that the proposal failed to accord with Policies SPT1, SPT12, DEV23, DEV25 and TTV26 of the Districts Joint Local Plan.

Those plan policies require that development should: “respect scenic quality and the area’s distinctive sense of place and characteristics; and protect, conserve and enhance the site’s setting and natural beauty of the protected landscape, with particular reference to the special qualities and distinctive characteristics of the AONB and the unique landscape of the Undeveloped Coast. These policies are broadly consistent with the National Planning Policy Framework in so far as they relate to achieving well-designed places and conserving and enhancing the natural environment.

Even if housing supply is not demonstrated

The evidence presented indicated that the Council can demonstrate sufficient housing land supply following the recent adoption of the Joint Local Plan. However, “even if sufficient housing land supply could not be demonstrated, the harm to the AONB means that the application of Framework’s policies that protect areas or assets of particular importance, including AONBs, provides a clear reason for dismissing the appeal. “

Another excellent result for the South Devon AONB and the South Hams community, which provides some more important markers for future planning cases and supports the Friends of South Hams aims of protecting and enhancing the natural beauty of the Devonshire South Hams.  

Here is the Inspectors full  Selworthy Appeal Decision.  

The Letter of Representation was ‘mentioned’ in the Case Officers Report to the Council 

Here is the Letter of Representation 

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Local Plan Making

Statutory duty and the role of plans
What is the role of plans?

(For a taste of the Governments proposals to change these duties please see the ‘Planning for the Future‘ Consultation White Paper – August 2020)

The development plan is at the heart of the planning system with a requirement set in law that planning decisions must be taken in line with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise. Plans set out a vision and a framework for the future development of the area, addressing needs and opportunities in relation to housing, the economy, community facilities and infrastructure – as well as a basis for conserving and enhancing the natural and historic environment, mitigating and adapting to climate change, and achieving well designed places. It is essential that plans are in place and kept up to date.

Section 19(1B) – (1E) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 sets out that each local planning authority must identify their strategic priorities and have policies to address these in their development plan documents (taken as a whole).

The development plan for an area is made up of the combination of strategic policies (which address the priorities for an area) and non-strategic policies (which deal with more detailed matters). Paragraphs 17 to 19 of the National Planning Policy Framework describe the plan-making framework which allows flexibility in the way policies for the development and use of land are produced.

Paragraph: 001 Reference ID: 61-001-20190315

Revision date: 15 03 2019

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Local Leads!

From the Governments Plain English Guide to Planning

In the Government’s ‘Planning for the Future’ Consultation White Paper (August 2020) it is proposed the existing planning system in England should be entirely scrapped .

At the moment planning ensures that the right development happens in the right place at the right time, benefiting communities and the economy. It plays a critical role in identifying what development is needed and where, what areas need to be protected or enhanced and in assessing whether proposed development is suitable. 

Local people should take the lead in shaping their neighbourhoods and elected councillors have a key leadership role in the process – at the moment! The role of councillors in district, county or single tier councils will vary depending on whether they sit on the planning committee (which makes decisions on planning applications) or not. However, all councillors have a role to play in representing the views and aspirations of residents in plan-making and when planning applications affecting their ward are being considered. 

 Changes in the Localism Act 2011 clarified the ability of councillors to be able to discuss matters which may relate to a planning application prior to voting on that application at committee, as long as they can show that they are going to make their judgement on the application with an open mind, listening to all the evidence and not having  pre-determined their decision. 

A link to the Government’s Plain English Guide to Planning

But seismic change is now proposed. For the detail, here is the ‘Planning for the Future’. The Consultation period ends at 11:45 on October 29th.

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