Growth and Infrastructure Act receives Royal Assent

On 25 April the Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 received Royal Assent. With this new law, which arrives just over a year after the implementation of the NPPF, comes a raft of changes to planning policy. Whilst the news has already created headlines in planning circles it is worthwhile noting that none of the Act is stand-alone, as it only amends existing Acts.

One of the most talked about changes is the opportunity it grants developers to seek the renegotiation or discharge of affordable housing obligations of Section 106 agreements and make developments viable. Under previous legislation the applicant had been required to wait five years before being able to make a formal request to vary planning obligations.

Advice provided to Local Planning Authorities (LPA) by the Department for Communities and Local Government has outlined the need for the applicant to submit “clear, up-to-date and appropriate evidence” and an “open book review of the original viability appraisal” in order to demonstrate that the proposals are no longer viable due to the current economic climate.

The Government will be hoping that this change will clear a backlog of housing developments which have stalled in recent years and, in turn, boost the house building industry.

Another interesting aspect of the Act is that it enables developers to take a planning application directly to the Planning Inspectorate when the LPA has “consistently failed to meet statutory requirements to consider applications on time.”

Away from large-scale development, the amendments also include the highly debated measures to extend permitted development rights for home owners to allow extensions of up to eight metres. This is a twofold increase on the previous permitted rights which only applies to single-storey extensions and ensures that neighbours must be consulted.

Speaking after the Act received Royal Assent, Planning Minister Nick Boles commented:

“The Growth and Infrastructure Act is a major landmark for the coalition government. These new laws will reform our economy so it can boost investment, growth and jobs by streamlining a lot of confusing and overlapping red tape that all too often gets in the way of people’s everyday lives.”

Posted in Localism, Neighbourhood planning, NPPF, Planning policy, Politics | Tagged , , | Comments Off

The NPPF – A year on

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), the 59 page document intended to kick start house building and stimulate the economy, recently celebrated its first anniversary as bona fide Government policy. Anyone with an interest in planning and construction or those who work in the industry must have had their head in the sand for the past 12 months if they haven’t caught up with the inherent presumption in favour of sustainable development, such has been the coverage received in the national press.

Looking back over the past year, there are two early indications are that the NPPF is shifting into gear:

  • Firstly, Greg Clark MP – Financial Secretary to the Treasury and former Minister for Communities and Local Government – reported (the day before the document’s anniversary) that the number of new homes granted planning permission had increased by 25% in the 12 months following the publication of the NPPF. Another positive contrast can be found in Scotland and Wales (where planning matters have been devolved and the NPPF does not apply) where planning permission for new homes fell by 10% and 3% respectively.
  • Secondly, councils’ housing targets are rising, a point reinforced by Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners who have found that the ‘NPPF has been putting upward pressure on housing targets in local plans’. This is reversing the trend of reducing targets following the abolition of the Regional Spatial Strategies in 2010. Whilst higher targets will not have an immediate effect and considering many local plans are still in the draft stage (meaning the NPPF will now take precedence until they are finalised), simple maths suggests that over the lifetime of the plans the higher housing targets will result in a greater numbers of new builds.

The document is obviously not without its critics, who argue that the localism agenda has been forced to take a back seat in the name of economic recovery. Both local and national groups fear the loss of green spaces and shrinking green belts as a result of poorly designed, hurried planning applications intended to maximise profit.

One thing is for certain, public consultation to find middle ground will become even more vital as the NPPF moves into its adolescence. Here at Remarkable Engagement we run regular public consultations across the length and breadth of the country and find that localism is a topic discussed at most public exhibitions. Consultation guarantees residents have the opportunity to feed into the planning process and goes a long way to reducing any concerns about a client’s application.

Working closely with local communities, elected representatives and key stakeholders, Remarkable ensures the localism agenda sits alongside the NPPF to deliver sustainable, supported development.

Posted in Engagement, Localism, NPPF, Planning policy, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off

Should planning policy cater to specific uses?

In 2012 Cambridge City Council became the topic of news articles and blog posts across the country when it introduced a new planning policy aimed at safeguarding the future of public houses in the historic university town.

The ‘Interim Planning Policy Guidance on the Protection of Public Houses in the City of Cambridge’ (or the IPPG in simpler terms) requires a site to be marketed for 12 months as a premises which is free of ties and restrictive covenants, which otherwise might deter a prospective independent landlord. After the 12 months the policy allows for planning permission seeking change of use, whether it is residential, business or retail.

On the surface of things, the policy would appear to tick the boxes of the NPPF by protecting important community facilities, and this is the crux of the argument being presented by the council. Across the country there are increasing numbers of vacant public houses which have fallen victim to the changing drinking habits that have come with the economic downturn. On a personal level, I can’t remember having driven into town or city in recent months without passing a vacant pub.

Whilst I suspect that many local communities would support the idea behind this policy, in practice it has the potential to hinder development, prevent investment and create an influx of undeveloped and derelict sites.

Interestingly the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) has publicly opposed the introduction of the policy and last month moved to take the policy to judicial review. The group has criticised the council for “exceeding its powers under planning laws as well as going against the spirit of the NPPF”. In their press statement which followed the decision to proceed with a judicial review, the BPPA cited the restrictive nature of the policy and how it undermines the NPPF as the reasons for the High Court action.

Greg Mulholland, MP for Leeds North West and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Save the Pub Group, has waded into the debate and condemned the BBPA for only representing the views of big businesses. Mr Mulholland rebranded the group as the “Big Brewers’ and Pubco Association”, commenting:

“The democratically elected Council have done exactly what Ministers envisaged in the Localism Bill, which is to build on the National Planning Policy Framework and introduce local policies to suit local needs, in this case to give greater protection to pubs and to give local communities a say over their future.”

The introduction of this policy, and the ensuing debate, again highlights the greyer areas of the NPPF which will only become clearer as the relevant issues come to the fore. When it comes to the judicial review and the eventual High Court decision, we could find ourselves with yet another case of the Localism V NPPF.

Posted in Engagement, Localism, Neighbourhood planning, NPPF, Planning policy | Tagged , , , | Comments Off

Localism vs NPPF

In perhaps the greatest clash yet between the government’s rhetoric over localism and planning, judges at the High Court have thrown out an appeal by Tewkesbury Borough Council against an application to build 1,000 new homes to the north of Bishop’s Cleeve, Gloucestershire. In his ruling, Mr Justice Males found that the council was unable to provide an up to date Local Plan or details of a five year housing land supply and that the principle in favour of sustainable development contained in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) therefore took precedence over the opposition of the council.

High Courts of Justice, Anthony M

Despite the advance warnings and one year suspension of NPPF enforcement, in order to provide councils time to formally allocate housing sites, many up and down the country have still yet to do so, or remain in varying stages of consultation. Tewksbury Council had originally failed to consider applications from two developers (one for 450 homes and one for 550 homes) within in an acceptable time frame and an appeal was lodged with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles, who granted permission in July 2012. He justified the move by pointing to the pressing need for housing across the borough and the lack of a demonstrable five year supply by the council.

In their own appeal, Tewksbury Council asserted that the Localism Act had shifted far greater importance onto the opinion and decisions of planning authorities. They should, it was claimed, be the main driver and authority for spatial planning decisions. This argument was dismissed by the judge, citing the lack of any supporting evidence in the act for any radical change that would supplant the powers of the Secretary of State.

Developers are likely to take heart from the ruling, which demonstrates clear legal backing and precedent for the principles contained within the NPPF and will be of particular interest to those facing long delays or obstructions from councils. Whilst localism advocates and council officials may be aggrieved by the decision and feel it undermines the supposed greater emphasis being placed on devolving decision-making and local solutions, there is some solace to be found. Both the Secretary of State and Mr Justice Males’ decisions make specific reference to the lack of identifiable housing supply in their justifications. In areas where this has been formally set out, developers are likely to find little sympathy should they seek to act outside Local Plans.

This ruling should act as a catalyst for concerned councils to step up efforts to identify and set aside land to fulfill rising housing need nationally. Where this process is assisted by both community groups and interested developers, the results are likely to be particularly resilient.

Posted in Localism, NPPF | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off

Development takes centre stage in the Eastleigh by-election

With only three days remaining to polling day, future Greenfield development within the Eastleigh constituency is taking a central role in the by-election.

The Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, widely acknowledged front runners in the election, have been campaigning to prevent future large scale development in the constituency. Over the course of the campaigning, A3 newsletters have been distributed discussing what kind of development would be most suitable for Eastleigh borough.

The Liberal Democrats have focused on the proposals for a gravel extraction scheme at Hamble Airfield and new housing in Hamble Lane

This is leading to accusations of hypocrisy from both sides, alongside the usual mudslinging we have come to associate with most forms of elections.

Needing to demonstrate a five year land supply, the Liberal Democrat controlled Borough Council Planning Committee last week granted Outline Planning Permission to build 1,400 homes on Greenfield land near the town of Hedge End. In contrast, the Conservative controlled Hampshire County Council is planning to build a gravel extraction pit in the southern part of the constituency.

Earlier this month Conservative candidate Maria Hutchings joined protestors in Botley to march against the plans for 1,400 new homes in Boorley Green.

Both parties have been quick to criticise the other for ignoring community campaigns against the respective plans and in turn have promised to protect the constituency’s green space if elected to Parliament.

It’s worth noting that national coalition policy has been geared to encourage development in an effort to ‘kick start the economy’. An aspect which has been somewhat ignored in the election campaign.

On the face of it the Labour candidate appears to be staying out of this particular aspect of local campaigning, highlighting that the election is for a new Member of Parliament and not for the borough council (with whom development decisions rest).

The extent to which development will sway the electorate’s decision on Thursday remains to be seen, other considerations such as candidate personalities, national economy or the demise of Chris Huhne will all no doubt play a part. But this election could be an indication of future campaigning tactics in tight swing seats, where large scale developments increasingly feature in the national spotlight.

If this is the case, political parties and local MPs will surely seek to become increasingly involved in pre-application consultation to prove they are listening to the views of the community.

Posted in Engagement, Localism, Neighbourhood planning, Planning policy, Politics | Tagged | Comments Off