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Consultation Launched Regarding the Calculation of Housing Need

The Government has launched its long-awaited consultation on a proposed standardised methodology for the calculation of housing need across England; responses are invited until 9 November 2017.

Presently, disagreements as to the most appropriate methodology for defining housing need have increased the timescale and costs of many applications, appeals and Local Plan Examinations. The adoption of a single methodology is proposed as a means of addressing this situation.

The proposed methodology seeks to utilise household growth projections, provided by the Office for National Statistics, to set a consistent baseline. Thereafter, plan-makers are required to use the workplace-based median house price-to-median earnings ratio from the most recent data available, to factor affordability into the housing need calculation process. Applying this approach would see a significant increase in the potential housing need in some parts of England, said the Government, so the final proposed stage caps the level of any increase according to the current status of the local plans:

  • For authorities with a Local Plan adopted in the last five years, a cap of 40 per cent above the annual requirement set in the local plan is proposed.
  • For authorities that don’t have an up-to-date local plan, the cap is 40 per cent above whichever is higher of the projected household growth for their area over the plan period or the annual housing requirement in their local plan.
In some areas, particularly in the South of England, the proposed methodology sees significant increases in the number of houses proposed to be built annually. Via the proposed methodology, the London Borough of Greenwich, for example, would see its annual housing target rise from 350 to 3,317 units. The above being said, despite the consultation being proposed as part of the Government’s measures to address the housing delivery crisis, a number of areas see substantial decreases in proposed housing delivery. Oxford, regularly cited as one of the least affordable places to live in the country, sees its housing need figure slashed by more than half. Birmingham, a key regional city and regeneration focus with a very recently adopted Local Plan, sees its annual housing figure reduced by 870 homes per annum, compared to its most recent housing needs assessment. Barrow Borough Council are told, via the consultation, that its housing need figure should be zero.

The consultation document is at pains to note that ambitious Councils can plan for higher growth, but one must question what incentive do they have to plan for more? Considering that the Government has retained its commitment to protecting the Green Belt, options to increase housing delivery in many locations will remain difficult, especially with the influence of local politics and neighbourhood planning across the Country.

For all of the population projections in the world, and their subsequent fiscal manipulation, the following points remain hugely pertinent when considering housing delivery:

  • 'Five year land supply’ is not and never was intended as a means of resisting or restricting housing delivery. Instead, it sets the onus on Councils to identify and deliver a minimum number of houses, not a ceiling figure as it is so often construed. Whilst setting a ‘need’ figure is crucial to supply analysis, it is perhaps more important that Officers and Members understand that ticking the box of delivering a minimal housing requirement target does not mean that further housing could and should not be delivered beyond this point;
  • The NPPF enshrines a presumption in favour of sustainable development. It does not contain a caveat that this ‘golden thread’ of national planning policy should be ignored where minimal housing targets are met or exceeded. If a site is sustainable and logical, it should remain so regardless of the localised housing land supply position. This position is frequently overlooked and is a direct inhibitor to housing being delivered in suitable locations; and
  • The Government still seems at a loss as to how best to stimulate house building. One must ask how this centralised push to set housing targets sits alongside the thrust for greater localism and neighbourhood planning? The planning system remains a key barrier to the delivery of much needed housing and further attention must, we feel, be directed towards getting the system to function more effectively, inclusive of Councils having sufficient resources and high quality Planning Officers to appropriately prepare Local Plans and assess planning applications or their respective merits.

We would be delighted to advise you further regarding how this current consultation might impact on any schemes or sites you might be considering, and to assist you in making representations. We look forward to answering any queries you might have in due course.

What’s in a Word?

The English language is wonderfully diverse, with umpteen / loads / lots of words meaning the same thing and still more with the subtlest variance in their meaning. It is the greatest yet most infuriating language in the world, not least to those of us who earn a crust by its written form or by reading the efforts of others. You read of a site “in close proximity to ……” and must ask yourself “what other sort of proximity is there?” (Before I retire, I must get that one off my chest.)

What a shame, therefore, that we must use our language to write the law, especially planning law and particularly conservation law. If only the people producing the CA&LB Act 1990 had considered the chaos that might ensue from their use or misuse of words, they might have thought twice or thrice – you’re OK with numbers.

The problem with the written law, in this context, is that it’s meaningless, or it means something different to each person using it. In my experience, it tends to mean one thing to one group (let’s call them conservation officers) and something different to another group (let’s call them everyone else), but, hey, it keeps us all in work.

Three words that are a particular nuisance in our corner of the conservation world are “alteration”, “repair” and “character”, innocuous chaps around whom arguments rage, appeals are fought and litigation abounds.

You only need Listed Building Consent (LBC) for “demolition” (just understood either side of Shimizu v Westminster), ”alteration” or “extension”, but the last two only apply if those works to a listed building “would affect its character as a building of special architectural or historic interest.” And there is the rub – who knows what constitutes an “alteration” (adaption / amendment / adjustment / modification, etc,)? Why is there no mention, in relation to LBC, of “repairs”? Are they the same or does one start when the other stops? Is there a difference between a good repair and one that is poorly-done? Why does a repair or an alteration need listed building consent, provided it’s done well?

When you’ve sorted that lot out, you can move on to the trickier question of if / how the character of the building might be affected. If it is not, then there is no need for LBC. Here the waters get deeper, because the effect only relates to the building’s special architectural / historic character, not to its use. In refurbishing a pub, you would have to decide whether a new bar affected its character as a listed building, as a pub, maybe both or neither. Maybe the bar fitting was a perfect replica in an unspoilt C19 London boozer? It’s a minefield for which we have section 7 of the Act to thank. If only its creators had used words not in the thesaurus, words with only one meaning, which we knew and understood.

A repair must surely be straight forward. You get a hole in your jeans, you give it to Mum and she repairs it – simple. Nowadays, maybe she doesn’t and it’s a fashion statement, but, in stitching up or flashing some leg, have you changed the character of your jeans? Of course, Mum may consider it to be an alteration, in which case you’re in trouble. Heaven forbid if she cuts them to make shorts, a change in character and probably demolition, or introduced a paisley wedge to create loons (OK, so I remember the Seventies), probably an extension.

The arbiter of what constitutes a repair, an alteration or a change in character is the Conservation Officer. Competent and knowledgeable as they are, this can become a self-fulfilling prophesy, in which all repairs are alterations and all alterations affect the special character. Recently the LB equivalent of a CLOPUD has been introduced, letting applicants spend eight weeks seeking a ruling on the need for LBC before making the inevitable application, for fear of committing an offence. There are any number of equally knowledgeable and experienced experts elsewhere who might make such a judgement – spread the burden - but the government rejected this option.

With the advent of the NPPF / NPPG, we hoped for some clarification, but there was nothing. Conservation muddles along, to the disadvantage of applicants and probably to the detriment of the “heritage assets” – at least the names changed. If anything, conservation seems to have become harder, less flexible and with tougher application regimes. It cannot be beyond the wit of legislators to better define a repair and to exclude it from the need for LBC, perhaps allowing that a positive effect does not require permission. Maybe, when updating the list, Historic England could take the trouble to define / describe/ suggest those features which are important to its character. Any number of historic building experts might help. The day of the unhelpful listing description should have passed by now. Maybe the negative NPPF options of “significant harm” and “less than significant harm” could be extended to encompass “no harm”, “not much harm” or “wow, it’s really rather good”.

Examples from recent WP experience:- would LBC be required to:-

  • Add an air con unit to others on the second floor of a 1980s extension?
  • Introduce attenuation into walls before replacing the lathes and plastering in lime plaster?
  • Replace irretrievably damaged timber sash windows with new but identical replicas?
  • Carcass decayed structural timbers, using materials, fittings and techniques to the appropriate BS?
  • Open up an internal doorway last used in 1935?

Of course, LBC was required in each case.

In their near-continuous overhaul of the planning system, recent governments, simplifying the planning system, have continued to ignore conservation legislation, maybe assuming that it’s all perfectly clear - no need for an overhaul – but it is not fit for purpose and this job is long overdue.

In the meantime we struggle on with Section 7, in the fear that the law is indeed an ass / donkey / mule.

The housing white paper - not much stick and even less carrot!

The housing market in England is broken. This seems to have become a universal truth and, as such, it’s hard to deny. A harder proposition is to fix the blame for the failure and to fix the problem, whoever or whatever is to blame. The latest in a long line of potential fixers is the newish Communities Secretary, Sajid Javed. In February he released the long-awaited and long-overdue Housing White Paper – but is it a cure for what ails us or just another sticking plaster slapped onto the wound that never heals?

Never one to miss the chance of a football analogy in an article on planning, I’m writing only hours after the unbelievable sacking of Claudio Ranieri, the original Tinkerman, and here, in government, we have yet another tinkerman, pressing all the buttons in no particular order, in the hope that, by chance, he gets the combination right. Sajid should know that it was only when Claudio stopped tinkering that he found the answer, if only for one season – but what an answer it was.

So, what’s in the White Paper that might give us hope or lead to more despair?

Fundamental to SJ’s strategy seems to be a welcome departure from the Thatcherite ideal which, to many observers, broke the housing market in the first place – the ideas that 1) every Englishman/woman should own their own castle, and 2) the country’s prosperity went hand-in-hand with universal home-ownership. Much of the thrust in the White Paper is aimed at making it easier to instead develop purpose-built schemes for the private rental market. Affordable privately-rented homes, rather than home-ownership, is to be made easier, though this will be part of a long-term strategy change rather than a quick fix. In fact, the whole White Paper is very much a statement of intent rather than an action plan for producing the vast number of new homes that the country needs – leading to much criticism, in the press and online, that SJ has already missed an opportunity to shift the market into the higher gear that is needed.

A private rental strategy that provides young couples and families with a place on the housing ladder has got to be better than one in which rented accommodation is actually more expensive than a crippling mortgage. Truly affordable housing for rent, allowing time for all the other lifetime commitments – saving for a deposit, pensions, etc - must better than one false promise of home ownership for all. On the continent, that far-off place to which we no longer belong, most families don’t even think of home ownership until they are in their forties, simply because the private-rented market is affordable and it works. It is to be hoped that SJ has it in mind to use the German or Dutch system as a model and to aim for one like it. Let’s not call it Council Housing this time, but those decades up to Thatcher’s cut-price dismantling of the public rented housing market were perhaps not so bad after all.

Councils no longer build housing, so there is a certain irony in the conclusion reached in the White Paper that blame for the underperformance of the housing market rests with local planning authorities. This is apparent in the “housing delivery test”, to be applied as the means by which LPAs are held accountable for the delivery of new homes, or, more particularly, a failure to deliver. The Local Plan, as ever, is the tool used for establishing a level of assessed housing need, and, if the delivery rate falls below par (25% in 2018, 45% in 2019, 65% in 2020) then, to misappropriate Russell Crowe’s words in Gladiator, the government will “unleash hell”. In this context, hell will appear in the form of uncontrolled but “sustainable” (Hurrah) development in unprepared, but still not Green Belt, locations.

The five-year land supply, for so long a pipe dream for many planning authorities, may, thankfully, have had its day, with the option to agree land supplies on an annual basis. A more hand-to-mouth approach may help, but, when the simplest housing application can take a year or more to resolve, it is not the only answer.

The big stick approach implicit in the White Paper – “deliver housing where you want it or it will go where it’s not wanted” – cannot surely be the answer; nor can it be right that local authorities, no longer building houses, and local planning authorities, facilitating but not delivering housing, should be made the scapegoat for the broken system. There was a sense, a hope even, that the White Paper would also apply the big stick to the housebuilding industry, in the hope that those whose role is actually delivering new homes would implement the permissions that they have, but this hasn’t’ really happened. The hint that councils might use compulsory purchase powers to bring forward stalled developments is not, in this decade of austerity and local government cost-cutting, going to open that particular floodgate, nor is the threat of “completion notices”, stipulating completion in two years of commencement. This big stick is pretty limp and there is a distinct lack of carrot.

New housing, for purchase or for rent, is only going to come forward when those in need of it can afford to buy or rent it. The sort of threats contained in the White Paper is not going to force housebuilders to implement consents when purchasers simply cannot afford their product. That the definition of a starter home in Greater London is one costing up to £450,000 surely tells the government where the housing problem starts and ends. Having to borrow way beyond your means to get on the housing ladder is what got us all into the mess that we’ve been in since before 2008.

The White Paper does away with the legal requirement that new developments must include 20% starter homes, though it will surely come as a relief to most young families that starter homes should only be available to people with incomes below £80,000 – on which planet? – an income which thankfully just allows MPs to qualify. Backtracking from the commitment to starter homes, only on the table since 2014, has been justified on the grounds that such a commitment would adversely impact on the delivery of other affordable homes. When most LPAs are seeking 40% affordable housing from major schemes, having half of that as heavily discounted starter homes for first-time buyers seemed, to me at least, like a sound idea, with the other half given over to rental or shared-ownership schemes of all shapes and sizes, but apparently it’s not. The government has given up on it before even giving it a chance. For those who aspire to home ownership, giving them access to such houses was surely an idea worth pursuing. Ministers have apparently “listened to concerns” as to the wisdom of their starter homes initiative and, as a result of these “concerns”, given it the elbow. Hopefully, those whose views so swayed the government were concerned at the 20% threshold and not at the concept of a threshold, per se, allowing that the initiative is merely down and not out.

As ever with a government exercise in tinkering, the White Paper promises so much more than it delivers. Maybe expectations were too high. It actually says more about the way in which the housing crisis has been mismanaged by previous governments, of all hues, than it does about how the current government intends to turn things about. Recognising that home ownership is not the be-all-and-end-all of life is a good start, as is a commitment to affordable, good-quality rented housing rather than buy-to-rent slums, but these are ideas and not answers. Much of the press response to the White Paper has been negative – a damp squib, a missed opportunity, etc. When the only organisation that sees the White Paper as a success is CPRE, then we know that we’re still in deep trouble.

Prior Approval – He Shoots, He Scores – or does he?

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When the coalition government decided to make development control a “Noddy and Big Ears” sort of business, easy to understand, even by development control officers, their plan was to make everything Permitted Development. We were going to have new housing, converted from each and every land use that was not housing to start with, huge extensions to houses, factories, warehouses and loads of other freebies that would make the junior DC officer’s role redundant, except for their regular losing battle trying to understand and apply the Advert Regs. Said planners could be diverted to local plans, in an effort to get the Development Plan finished by 2011, no 2012, oh all right 2015, last chance 2017.

Of course, it didn’t happen. What sort of idiot was it who thought the planning system should be or could be simple? Had he/she never been a planning consultant or DC officer, desperate to maintain a degree of mystery about what they do? How could it possibly work if the GPDO was written by Enid Blyton? Regular readers will know that the government were persuaded, instead, to make the system more complicated, rather than less so, by introducing into the team the “holding midfielder”, Prior Approval. He was an untested, probably foreign, player whose role was to slow things down, put his foot on the ball and stop all the long-ball nonsense that the previous Director of Football wanted to play.

So, how has he done? His transfer has been made permanent, he’s a regular player, but has the new system worked? Do we have a Leicester City on our hands, burning bright for a season and mediocre in the difficult second, or are we still Sunderland without Big Sam? (say no more).

If the new GPDO changes of use system, post-Prior Approval, were a success, would Martin Goodall’s recent volume “A Practical Guide to Permitted Changes of Use” really need to be 341 pages long? Would it be needed if “Enid” had, after all, re-written the GPDO?

Setting aside the ongoing crisis over new-build housing, DCLG figures for 2015/16 suggest that 12,800 homes were created through offices converting to residential use, so that sounds like a promising start, notwithstanding that 10,400 homes were demolished in the same period. The first figure is actually on the low side, mainly because, as it’s PD and as there is not yet a requirement for a Register of PD applications, no-one really knows how many conversions have actually taken place or how many are in the pipeline. What’s more, we can’t really tell whether Prior Approval has been a hindrance or a help in this process because the figures don’t tell us how many PA submissions were rejected. The third option, under Class W (11) of the GPDO, is even more of a mystery, because, if the LPA makes no decision in eight weeks, the Permitted Development conversion can take place anyway, probably with no record until Council Tax catches up.

The DCLG data shows 30,600 dwellings created through changes of use, but not how many involved Prior Approval and how many needed planning permission. It’s all a bit hit and miss.

Top of the pile for office conversions is Croydon, with nearly 600. Well done them, though it probably just tells us that they built too many offices in the 1980s.

If the jury is still out on the numbers game, there remains a good deal of concern among local authorities over the loss of affordable housing, the loss of s106 contributions, the quality of the resultant accommodation and the surprising number of agricultural buildings that are suddenly capable of residential use.

12,800 new dwellings would, on a good day, give up over 5000 affordable units and vast sums to spend on classrooms, library books and a swanky system to tell you that your bus is late. The loot has been diverted, and, while most of the new dwellings will be in the rented sector, control is clearly lacking as to their allocation and, maybe, their quality. The planning office has no control over the size of the dwellings and no authority to determine a PA submission on the basis of housing size, mix, quality or tenure, but, if they did, you might as well require a full application.

The lack of quality control in the PA system does not seem to stop planning authorities from turning down more PD/PA agricultural conversions than they support. 226 new dwellings in a year has got to be a disappointment. Of course, some of the prospective dwellings were a couple of beams held up by string and their “conversion” was not too far from a total rebuild. Newer rules, which overcame the usual presumption that rural buildings were, by definition, in unsustainable locations, have tightened up on the rules as to what “conversion” actually means.

So, has Prior Approval been worth the inflated transfer fee, or would Team Planning have been better off with another free-wheeling midfielder creatively passing the PD ball to the striker to score a tap in? (Grealish to Kodjia - GOAL). Early days, perhaps he needs another season, but you’d have to say that, so far, Prior Approval has not yet proven his worth. He’s confusing planners, slowing down the game, compared to the original “free PD” idea and he’s doing no favours to Council finances or affordable housing targets. What price on a re-think when the team next gets a new manager? 2017??

The Planning Olympics – Been There, Done That, Got the Medal

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With the Rio Olympics a recent and glorious memory, let’s think back to an earlier golden age for British Olympians, a time when Team GB ruled the world and claimed the Gold Medal in a far more taxing and important event than horse dancing, synchronised smiling or slow cycling. The year is 1932, the place is Los Angeles, the event is Town Planning??? And the winner, ahead of a dangerous Dane and a battling Belgian, was John Hughes of Great Britain for his work on a sports stadium and leisure centre in Liverpool.

Can it be true? Was it Anfield or Goodison Park that claimed the accolade of Gold Medal Arena? It was true, but actually it was neither, as the stadium was never built. That’s the thing about planning as a profession – you train and train and train and you put in a podium – finish performance on the day but if no-one turns your dreams into reality, you are soon forgotten, perhaps like poor John Hughes (1903-1977) who, when Googled, comes way down the list, beyond the John Hughes who directed Home Alone.

1932 was an Olympic year when, as you won’t recall, Team GB did not exactly cover itself with glory. John Hughes’ gold was one of only five that we achieved (town planning, mens 800m, mens 50,000m walk, coxless pairs and coxless fours, if you really want to know), so maybe his efforts deserve a belated “thank you” (if you’re listening, Claire Balding).

The Arts were celebrated at The Games between 1912 and 1948 and Team GB gloried in a total of nine medals over seven Olympiads, really hitting their stride in 1948, in London of course, when, in what might have been termed Amazing August, John Copley took the silver in Engraving and Etchings, Alfred Thomson won gold in Paintings, Rosamund Fletcher was awarded a bronze medal in Reliefs (for “The End of the Covert”) and who can forget Chintamoni Kar’s silver medal-winning Statue “The Stag”. One might have felt especially sorry for Ms Fletcher who, justifiably proud of her bronze medal, may have been concerned to find that neither the gold nor the silver were even awarded, like coming third in a one-horse-race. Times were particularly hard for our Artist-Athletes in those days, all the more so when the whole concept was dropped after 1948.

Thank heavens for the Royal Town Planning Institute and its annual, sought-after Placemaker Awards, not be confused with the Laying-the-Table Oscars. If only the RTPI secured lottery funding, maybe Placemaking could relive the glory days of L.A. in 1932. Maybe the BBC would jump on the bandwagon, with Strictly Come Placemaking or The Great British Placemake. The opportunities open up before us, and ahead of the World Cup in 2018, maybe the RTPI can become official sponsors to the Team GB Placekicking team. What’s in a name?

Art and artists continue to play an intriguing role in town planning and architecture, not least in the penchant for naming buildings as if they were statues. The Shard, The Gherkin and The Cheese-Grater, in presentation-model form, may well have given The Stag or The Sulky Driver (Gold for Sculpture 1936-Berlin) a run for their money.

At Walsingham Planning we’ve had a couple of run-ins with the Spencer family, Sir Stanley (1891-1959) and his lesser-known brother Gilbert (1892-1979). Stanley Spencer’s work in his home turf of Cookham is well-known, and rightly so, but his paintings of the area, done in the 1930s, have now formed the basis of a conservation area extension and the motivation for a local pressure group seeking to resist development in the area, despite the artistic licence used by Sir Stanley in his placement of local landmark buildings. Gilbert’s residence in Upper Basildon and his use of a shed in the back garden as an artist’s studio prompted, mid-appeal, the listing of the said structures and the dismissal of that appeal, in part on the basis of a painting that Gilbert knocked off of the garden. You never know when art and planning are going to cross swords, but it is clear that works of art can indeed be material considerations. Better check, before building that changing room by the swimming pool, that David Hockney did not get there first.

Back to the Olympics and our efforts to have town planning restored to the event. It is, as we know, a multi-disciplined event and, sadly, it is more often than not run over a long distance and with very slow performance times. With all due deference to Ms E-H and Ms J-T, the planning application process is at least a heptathlon. You start with the sprint, hoping that pre-app will be over quickly, though it rarely is. There are any number of hurdles races, though the submission, validation and consultation processes, with validation maybe the highest. For weeks you may be throwing stuff at the LPA, hoping that your persuasive arguments will travel farthest (shot putt) or skewer the opposition (javelin). There’s a long jump before you get to the committee, maybe with a couple of no-jumps along the way, and a high jump in dealing with the members’ curve ball questions on the night of the meeting. If all goes well, you struggle through to the last event, the long-distance haul that is the s106 agreement and the discharge of conditions, never forgetting the Anti-Doping Agency of the planning world, the judicial review. Hopefully, it’s a team event. Go, go, go Team TP.

If you can mix more metaphors than this in one article, than it would indeed be a PB and worthy of Gold at the next Olympics. Roll on Tokyo 2020. Start training now!

The Dormouse’s Revenge

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For centuries, back to Roman times and still in places such as Croatia and Slovenia, the dormouse was considered a delicacy, stuffed and then roasted or fried – yum, yum. To distinguish him from his from dormouse chums, Glis glis (according to Linnaeus in 1766) has become known as the Edible Dormouse or the Fat Dormouse – so much for political correctness, when such fattist comments are permissible. What bad luck when, had Glis been less portly and less appetising, he might have been protected by law and kept from the oven, in the same way that his relative Muscardinus avellanarius has been. Maybe Glis should have acquired a posher Latin name.

as this got anything to do with planning or has Thackeray finally lost his marbles? It has in fact, become increasingly more important to planning and to developers, though I think poor Glis is still on the menu somewhere.

The Hazel or Common Dormouse (Muscardinus etc) is one of the UK’s most endangered mammals, although, with a population of 45,000, you might be forgiven for agreeing that it is indeed common and questioning whether it needs protection. It is, nonetheless, afforded a very high level of legal protection and it is Natural England’s advice to LPAs that survey reports and mitigation plans are required when protected species might be affected, as a part of the planning application process and not as a condition of planning content.

Ok, we are becoming accustomed to having to take account of badgers and great crested newts or, in the Thames Valley, the dreaded Dartford Warbler (wasn’t that Mick Jagger?), but the common dormouse is becoming a particularly tricky customer. If the LPA will not deal with your planning application without a survey and mitigation and if your Stage 1 ecological report suggests a possible common dormouse habitat, then you’re stuffed, not quite in the same way as poor old Glis, but enough to make him chuckle, go on a diet and reach for the hazel Just For Dormice.

The problem is three-fold (as opposed to Penfold, who was, I believe, a mole and, therefore, not protected). Firstly, the dormouse is a particularly lazy fellow and, if it’s a bit chilly, can hibernate for up to nine months of the year. Secondly, through recent research, it has been shown that the dormouse habitat is far more extensive than was once thought, now happily living in hedgerows, scrubland, conifer plantations and coppiced woodland as well as the traditional chez dormouse areas, mature woodlands with a good supply of hazelnuts. Thirdly, the surveys required to establish a presence, or indeed a non-presence, are onerous to say the least.

The cuddly dormouse appears to have made the planning application a seasonal event, only to be submitted in the winter after an exhaustive and possibly fruitless search that has taken up all of the previous summer and extended across both the application site and neighbouring land with the same habitat characteristics.

Of course, the government has helpful advice on measures to be adopted by way of mitigation, top of the list being “persuasion”. This is probably not the same gun-law as might be used in Somerset or Gloucestershire to persuade badgers to leave town. It involves clearing the affected area, by hand, a bit at a time and only during the winter, so that, on waking, the dormice find that the habitat is not quite as nice as they thought it was when they went to sleep. This might take two winters for large development sites, and, even when the little darlings have been persuaded to move on, tree stumps and earth cannot be moved until the following summer, in case some of them overslept.

If, after all this, you have no option but to relocate them, subject to licence, they should not be moved to an area with an existing dormouse population. Hopefully, someone else will have spent the previous year checking that one out.

This is indeed the Dormouse’s Revenge for all those years when he was nothing more than a tasty snack. A creature which, according to Countryfile, weighs as little as two £1 coins has the capacity to cost house-builders and, consequently, house-buyers several million times its own weight, in delays to the building programme for the much-needed upsurge in new homes. For most of us, our knowledge of dormice began and ended with a fat chap sitting next to the Mad Hatter and nodding-off during a tea party, so it should come as no surprise to find elements of Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland here, in the level of protection afforded to these creatures and in the unreasonable demands placed by the government and by Natural England on applicants and LPAs charged with being pro-active in delivering ambitious housing targets. Perhaps Alice grew up to be ecologist.

Onwards and Upwards? – Londoners Reach for the Skies to Solve the Housing Crisis

At a Green Belt seminar in Oxford in 2015, faced with a tricky question from the floor regarding where new housing in rural Surrey might go, if not in the Green Belt, a CPRE delegate, without the hint of a smug grin, suggested “upwards”. There was no recorded presence of a DCLG or Mayoral mole in the audience, but who knows because, a few months later, (February 2016) DCLG/Mayor of London have issued a consultation paper “Upward Extensions in London”.

Answers, not on a seaside postcard referring to erections or mine being bigger than yours, are requested by 15 April 2016, online to www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/Z6SGGNB. The consultation is not to be confused with the ongoing debate, especially in Westminster and Ken & Chel, about the propensity of wealthy householders to seek even more indoor pools and home cinemas by building under their existing houses and gardens.

The London Plan seeks to have 49,000 new homes built each year, this against the backdrop of an annual rate of 25,000 p.a. since 2008. Given that the Green Belt is a no-go area and brownfield sites just don’t seem to come up with the goods, the answer is to build tall. This is not specifically targeted at new builds, but by changing Permitted Development (PD) rights to allow additional storeys to be added to existing buildings. First reaction must be that creating taller homes does not automatically equate to more homes, but let’s look at the options put forward in the consultation.

PD rights, with prior approval, are, supposedly “a light touch approach to granting consent”, though anyone going down that route may be forgiven for sniggering. The consultation paper suggests that there might be a new PD right in London that provides for one or two additional storeys on an existing building, where the roofline of the adjoining premises is at least one or two storeys taller already, conditional upon the additional space being used to provide self-contained additional housing units. The right to grow would not be confined to existing houses, but could include shops and offices.

An alternative option, with the same objective, would be for London Boroughs to bring forward local development orders, permitting upward expansion in specific areas, perhaps around transport hubs or in town centres and high streets. The third option sees the London Plan introducing new planning policies to support additional storeys.

There are provisions in the consultation for multiple PD spurts, so that two or more neighbours, sitting next to and/or close to the big boy on the end of the block, could grow together, but only the immediate neighbour could grow on its own. The illustration, see below, rather suggests that if you press down on the tall building, one of the others may pop up, like the valves on a trumpet or a bump on a cartoon character’s head when whacked with a frying pan, but you get the gist. A and C in Example 1 can grow when they like and D can join in with C. B and E are good to go in Example 2 and could take C and D with them. It’s a good game.

Example 1 Example 2

If the consultation period did not run past April Fool’s Day, you might think that this was such a wheeze. Is it not one of the dafter ideas to come out of the DCLG and the Greater London Authority?

Are Londoners going to rush to build extra floors on their houses to provide self-contained flats on the roof? Where would the servants live? Are the foundations of London’s houses and shops built to take additional floors and do we have enough structural engineers to give us the answer. Granny can’t live up there in order to free up her one person, four-bedder, not with all those stairs, and, talking of stairs, will the PD rights include provision for a new stair tower, fire escape or lift to make sure that the “Crash in the Attic” is truly self-contained not to say safe? Are there enough lop-sided street scenes to make a difference and do we want building heights to be all the same?

A lot of government initiatives to promote new housing without trespassing into the green belt smack of desperation. This one has an element of comedy about it, even more so than recent escapades such as “Escape to the Industrial Estate” and a PD right to demolish an office block and rebuild it, bigger, as housing. Someone at the DCLG has an oversupply of imagination or maybe needs to cut down on the caffeine.

The ideas may be desperate, you might even say daft – but at least they are suggestions, there does not seem to be anything as definite from either of the London Mayoral candidates who seem only to rely on rhetoric.

Why not just have a sensible review of this country’s outdated Green Belt policy and leave the Permitted Development Order alone for a while, to recover from trauma of last year!!

Who knows, a review of Green Belt policy might also help to address housing difficulties in locations other than London. On the other hand, perhaps we should be grateful for any distraction from the prospect of months of political talking heads “debating” Brexit!

Walsingham Planning & Ian Jewson Planning combine practices

Walsingham Planning and Ian Jewson Planning are very pleased to announce that the two Practices are to combine. This combination will bring together greater experience, expertise and geographic spread to benefit existing clients, attract new business and re-invigorate the new company for the future.

The two Practices will continue under their own names as separate businesses during a period of integration and will then combine as Walsingham Planning in 12 months.

All staff and Directors are committed to the long term future of the businesses and to a successful integration. All three offices at Bourne End, Bristol and Knutsford will continue to operate as normal.

Stephen Brooker and Mark Krassowski will join Ian on the Board of Ian Jewson Planning during the integration period whilst Ian will join the Walsingham Planning Board. When the companies combine they will then be joined by Jonathan Vose to form the Board of Walsingham Planning once the integration is complete.

Work on all of our projects will continue as normal advising our clients, securing planning permissions, achieving positive Local Plan outcomes and resolving planning conundrums.

We see a bright future together providing an enhanced service to new and existing clients.

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Move Over Eric – Dave and George Want a Go at Crusading

Remember the good old days when the only person in the government interested in planning was Eric Pickles? The days when, if Eric hadn’t said it, it didn’t matter? Nowadays the planning system is fair game for each and every politician who thinks he knows his green belt from his brown field. Government policies and bright ideas (rarely combined) now come from a variety of sources, starting at the top. While there has been no major overhaul of the planning process for, what, several weeks now, there have been any number of terrific wheezes coming from all directions. In this article we can consider a few of them.

The First Crusade - Local Plan Delivery: – in October the Prime Minister, no less, pitched in with the announcement of a “National Crusade to get homes built”. This came some time before the more recent crusade in a part of the world more familiar with them, so the two should not be confused. The key role, in what we can call The First Crusade, rests, as ever, with local councils and with their local plans.

Twenty percent of councils do not have any sort of local plan at all and about a third do not have an adopted plan, this despite the fact that the requirement to produce them dates from about ten years ago. The crusading PM has set a target to enforce delivery of all missing local plans by 2017, a huge ask given the obvious lack of progress to date. Luckily, DC has a cunning plan, more Blackadder than Baldrick, so, if they are not delivered on time, the local plans will be produced by the government, maybe the Planning Inspectorate who seem to do everything else that local government can’t cope with, or perhaps by local people for whom DIY town planning is a popular hobby.

The Second Crusade - Living in the Office: – Permitted development rights were extended in 2013 to allow the conversion of offices to dwellings, up to 2016 and subject to the convoluted Prior Approval procedure, more of an expeditionary force than a full crusade. Our Lionhearted Prime Minister, him again, has now announced that this will be made permanent, and, the very next day, Planning Minister Brandon / Baldrick Lewis said the same , (“right you are, Mr C”) so it must be true. In addition, the new PD rights will permit the demolition of offices and their replacement with dwellings, along with the conversion of light industrial factories and, wait for it, launderettes to housing units. A touch of Pickles about this latest new right – remember his long-overdue rewriting of the Advert Regs dealing with flags?

If this is to contribute to the desperate need for starter homes – see below - then the new PD rights surely need to be tied in to ongoing changes to the CIL and affordable homes legislation. Changes of use by Permitted Development tend not to attract CIL; nor do they require the S106 agreements that deliver affordable homes, so maybe a bit more joined-up-thinking is to follow. The recent appeal case on the Thames near Tower Bridge, where a developer of luxury riverside penthouses pleaded an inability to afford all the due affordable housing contribution begged a number of questions in this regard:- why were the starter homes not on site? why only £15 million to pay? if an office can now be redeveloped as housing as PD, what price any affordable dwellings in central London?

The Third Crusade - Planning Permission in Principle: – Is it really such a radical change to promote more certainty for housing developers by introducing PPIP in the emerging Housing and Planning Bill? Didn’t this used to be called “outline planning consent”? – a red line round the site, “residential” written on the application form and a consent with about six conditions. Now that was certainty! Under PPIP, that consent will be automatic when local plans, neighbourhood plans and brownfield registers are in place beforehand, referring us back to the top of the page and the still–worrying lack of such documents in so many areas.

Developers will be able to apply direct for PPIP – not to the government or the Inspectorate, as we are now coming to expect, but to the local council. Who would ever have thought of that novel concept?

Brownfield sites, the intended target of PPIP, will therefore benefit from a sort of automatic planning permission. Shortcomings in the planning process are not, however, to blame for the country’s failure to delivery affordable new homes on brownfield sites. This goes far deeper than any delays in securing planning permission – if only it was as simple as a bit of pink colouring on the local plan map and a slip of green paper.

The Peasants’ Crusade - Loosen your Belts: - Of course, not all brownfield sites are contaminated, inner city, ex-industrial plots. Many are in unsustainable countryside, even green belt, locations where, in time-before-planning, country estates, factories and office HQs were built with no regard to what have become today’s land use criteria. The presumption of “brownfield-good, greenfield-bad” has always been a strange one, bringing with it the apparent right to redevelop an inappropriately located site on the basis that it had an equally inappropriate pre-planning history. This is to be compounded, following George (Lord Flasheart) Osborne’s own crusading venture, the recent Spending Review statement, which included the provision that Green Belt re-development for starter homes will be favourably treated in a manner similar to that for other “brownfield” sites. Most of these brown-field, green-belt sites are surely not in locations with good access to cheap public transport and are not best-placed to provide starter homes close to employment. If we are going to build in the Green Belt, and there is every reason why we should, let’s not pick the sites just because they were built on for a different purpose in a wholly different time.


The recent announcements from the PM, the Chancellor and the Minister may in time set the wheels turning for up-to-date local plans, major housing developments in redundant buildings and on derelict sites and vast quantities of affordable homes for first time buyers in sustainable locations. Time is, however, of the essence and in relatively short supply, and, if we are to emerge victorious from The Crusades, this continued tinkering with the planning system, a-la-Pickles, has to be replaced with more fundamental strategy to address the problem of house- and land-prices at its roots. Now that would be a cunning plan!!

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30 Years in business 1984 to 2014

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2014 saw Walsingham Planning celebrate 30 years in business as a town planning consultancy. We would like to thank all of our clients for their continued support and look forward to the next 30 years.