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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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Affordable Housing – Court Ruling Wraps Minister’s Knuckles and it’s “As You Were” (for now)

When Planning Minister Brandon Lewis issued a ministerial statement in November 2014 announcing that LPAs could not impose affordable housing or S106 commitments on housing schemes of fewer than ten units, it was seen as government help for small-scale buildiers for whom modest sites are their main business and who are potentially crippled by 30-50% affordable requirements. Some LPAs, especially those with tight boundaries and little housing land apart from windfall sites of fewer than ten units, saw this as depriving them of the limited opportunities available to secure affordable housing. Reading Borough Council and West Berkshire Council challenged the proposal.

In a ruling dated 31 July 2015 Mr Justice Holgate quashed the Secretary of State’s attempt to adopt national policy by way of a ministerial statement and with it those parts of the NPPG that introduced the changes. The DCLG has indicated that it will be seeking leave to appeal the decision.

The ruling effectively constrains the government in seeking to override adopted development plans by way of what is basically national guidance. Those development plans which already sought affordable housing or contributions thereto for sites of fewer than ten units have now been reinstated. Those plans which previously applied their policy to a greater number were unaffected by the ruling and are unaffected by the judgement. Those LPAs which have yet to adopt a development plan need to get a move on, but at least they are not, for now, constrained by the November 2014 statement.

The winner in the process are authorities, like Reading, who can continue to seek affordable housing from smaller sites, although, to do so, they are likely to have to deal with more claims for exemption based on reduced viability. The losers appear to be the small local buildings for whom the policy change was intended, especially those who, since November last year, have secured or promoted development sites based upon the presumption that there would be no affordable housing.

This is unlikely to be the end of the story. The High Court ruling does not pass judgement, one way or the other, on the need for a threshold below which affordable housing may not be sought. It simply rules on the process by which the Secretary of State chose to introduce that threshold. He will have to think twice before using a ministerial statement to change on-line planning guidance and in presuming that, in so doing, he has created or changed national policy. Rules is rules, Brandon.

The same challenge/ruling also dealt with the lesser-known matter of vacant building credit. Developers of sites in which vacant buildings were to be re-used or redeveloped as part of a larger scheme could discount those buildings against the requirements for affordable housing. This “policy” has also been quashed, so, while buildings that have been lawfully occupied for the requisite period may be exempt from CIL, affordable housing policies in adopted local plans will apply across the whole site.

A DCLG challenge to Holgate J’s ruling appears, on the face of it, to be a pointless reaction. If the government thinks a threshold is appropriate and necessary, then it needs to ensure that, in seeking to change policy, it does so through the proper channels and not in a manner described in the High Court as inconsistent with the statute, unfair and unlawful, failing to deal with obviously material considerations and a breach of its public sector equality duty. These strong words seem to undermine the government’s idea that changes to planning policy and practice can be introduced by periodic tweaking of the NPPG. Think again, chaps.

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The Green Belt - Nice or Noose

In an earlier article I asked what the election had in store for planners and developers, and I came to the mixed conclusion that we might expect a comparatively quiet time, given the upheaval and constant tinkering that has beset the profession/industry in the last parliament. Now the ace-tinkerer, Sir Eric Pickles, has moved from his post at the DCLG, we should indeed expect a period of consolidation, all the more so when the coalition’s last act was to produce a comprehensive update of the GPDO, the first since 1995. Surely, when we’ve printed 160+ pages and understood the new numbering and rehashed PD rights, we’ve earned the right to a bit of peace and quiet?

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New Midfielder for Planning United FC – but will the tinkering ever stop?

INTRODUCTION

It’s been months since the last shake-up of the planning system. How on earth have ministers been filling their time since last having a bash at it? For the most part they’ve been changing jobs in the departmental transfer window. We’ve lost Bolesy and have a new Minister for Planning – Brandon Lewis. While bums on seats have been shifting, there has also been a good deal of turmoil in the fraught world of planning tactics and strategy, to get Planning United FC working as the Premier League outfit that it should be.

DCLG published an important consultation paper which picked up on a lot of the 2013’s temporary measures, on a lot of ideas thrown up by the autumn statement, Queen’s speech and budget and on some crackpot notions that seemed like a good idea at the time.

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Latest News on the Planning System

INTRODUCTION

It’s been, what, months since the last shake-up of the planning system. How on earth have ministers and civil servants been filling their time since last having a bash at CIL? For the most part they’ve been changing jobs. We’ve lost Bolesy and have a new minister of state for planning – Brandon Lewis (catchy nickname to follow) assisted by Penny Mordaunt and Kris Walker, the latter having special responsibility for pubs (nice work if you can get it). While bums on seats have been shifting there has also been a good deal of turmoil in the fraught world of planning policy and wizard ruses.

As a result there has now been published an important consultation paper which picks up on a lot of the temporary measures introduced last year, on a lot on ideas thrown into the pot in the autumn statement, Queen’s speech and budget and on a few crackpot notions that seemed like a good idea at the time.

The consultation runs to 26 September, and anyone who makes planning applications, or better still, employs Walsingham Planning to make them needs to be aware of the proposals. It’s a lengthy read, with a few laugh-out-loud jokes, but here is a brief summary and commentary which will hopefully allow a meaningful and timely response to the new proposals.

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Launch of National Planning Policy Guidance (NPPG)

The Government discarded many 100’s of pages of planning guidance amid much fanfare and controversy when NPPF was introduced in March 2012. NPPF has continued to hit (some) headlines as some Councils and local residents have felt besieged by applications for housing in areas that cannot meet their requirement to have a 5 year supply of housing sites available. Many such applications have been allowed because of the NPPF requirements.

It was with very much less fanfare that the Government re-introduced 100’s of pages of planning guidance in a web based form as NPPG a couple of months ago. It will take time before the subtle differences between previous Guidance and NPPG become apparent and there has already been much investigation of the minutiae of wording to see if NPPF is being gently nudged in a different direction.

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New Permitted Development Rights – Enough to make a farmer forget the weather or a shop owner rejoice?

Hot on the heels of controversial measures to allow change of use of offices to residential new powers were launched in April to allow some agricultural buildings and shops to be converted to residential uses.

The new powers continue the rather curious system of requiring potential developers to go through a “prior approval process” under which they must advise Councils of their intentions and there are a limited set of circumstances in which the Council can then require that a planning application be submitted. But, as illustrated in a recent appeal case, the Government intends that those powers to require planning applications to be made should be used in only a strict interpretation of those limited circumstances.

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Walsingham Planning 30th birthday

We are very pleased and proud to be able to celebrate 30 years in practice advising clients, negotiating schemes and achieving positive outcomes.

The 100 FTSE index was started; Torvill & Dean won gold, Steve Redgrave won his first gold medal at the Los Angeles Olympics, the Miner’s Strike, Tommy Cooper dies, the Thames Barrier is opened, an earthquake in North Wales, the BT share sale to the public………and Cliff Walsingham starts a planning consultancy – 1984 a year to remember.

The Company has come a very long way from those early days in 1984 when Cliff started up with just a secretary and a handful of clients. We have grown to have 2 offices, owning one of them freehold, 17 employees and a successful record with a list of 140+ different clients active in 2013.

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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.