Looking through my latest ‘Planning’ magazine, after checking the jobs out, I went through the appeal section, anxious to see whats got permission and who has had costs awarded against them. I’ve yet to come across a planner who doesn’t read it in this way!
I was struck by two decisions showing diametrically opposed interpretations of the new NPPF and the old guidance that it replaced. In one case, an inspector dealing with a proposal for an agricultural workers dwelling had referred to the now superseded Annex A to PPS7. He had decided that it was still a material document and the advice it contained was capable of being a material consideration. By way of contrast, and at the same time, another inspector, dealing with a proposed quad bike track in the Green Belt has noted that whilst it would have been permissible pre NPPF, it was no longer permissible because the detailed wording contained in the old PPG 2 has not been rolled forward into the NPPF. This is perhaps not surprising considering that the NPPF is a considerably slimmed down volume of material. In the absence of the NPPF repeating the wording of the old PPG, it previous advice was no longer applicable and the scheme had to be refused opined the Inspector.
We expect our planning inspectors to be consistent in their application of policy and material considerations. Faith and confidence in them starts to be eroded when they appear to operate on individual whims.
This all the more worrying when they have been highlighted as having a new role as an alternate planning authority for those situations where the LPA simply can’t get decisions made within the required timescales. This prospect, whilst a somewhat draconian step, will appeal to many developers as a fastrack route to approval. It does seem as if the PI need to undertake some in house staff training in the interim!! I am sure Mr Pickles will have this firmly in hand.
Last week, the media reported significant changes being proposed by the coalition government to the Country’s planning system with some reports going as far as saying we have an affordable housing holiday. The summary below shows just what is being proposed. As always there is a healthy dose of ‘hype’ between what was reported and what is actually being proposed.In many instances the mooted changes are actually consultations about changes or measures that will be introduced some time in the future. There is an awful lot of detail missing from the announcements already made. Yes, another round of reforms might be in the offing but you might want to talk to us about the fine detail before making any firm plans!Financial Measures
- Further subsidies under Right to Buy.
- Get Britain Building fund re-launched with £570m.
- Growing places £770m.
- Institutional investment to be assisted by £200m fund for provision of rented accommodation for institutional investment.
- Debt Guarantee of up to £10 billion of draw down for developers and housing bodies .
- Funding for an additional 15,000 new affordable homes.
- Refurbishment of 5,000 homes.
- Increase released of public sector land for development
- Mediation Task force to help unlock stalled sites.
- Planning applications to be determined by the Planning Inspectorate where there is historic poor performance.
- Speeding up planning appeals.
- New expedited commercial appeal fast track.
- Longer time to replace older permissions.
- Increased remit for Infrastructure Planning Commission.
- From 2013, new powers to appeal against old, unviable S106 agreements.
- Review of locally derived standards.
- Encouragement to consider the use of brownfield land in Green Belts for housing.
- Consultation on increasing the permitted development rights for householders.
- Increasing permitted development rights to allow change of use from offices to shops in High Streets.
Two appeal decisions have been handed down this week that pave the way for an exciting new development in Norton that will help clean up a neglected corner of its Conservation Area.
Prism has obtained consent for 5 new starter homes at Marmaduke Place on the site of old lock up garages. Prism worked carefully with the owner of the site to bring forward a sensitively designed scheme that made the most of the sites special character. Having initially agreed with the scheme, the Council then effectively changed its mind and refused to approve the scheme, wanting to explore the conversion of an old workshop on the site instead.
In an important ruling, the Inspector noted that the detailed submission on viability made by Prism on the workshop’s conversion contrasted sharply with the lack of contrary evidence put forward by the Council and went on to note that Prism’s approach was consistent with the RICS, BCIS and even English Heritage. He went on to allow the appeal, noting that the gains in the scheme significantly outweighed the loss of the workshop.
In a related appeal he also found that Prism’s interpretation of the National Planning Policy Framework in relation to Conservation Areas was correct and found that the Council had wrongly understood and applied the new guidance. In particular, he found that Prism had applied the correct test, weighing up the overall benefits of the scheme and considering the improvements to the Conservation Area as a whole. The Council had taken too narrow an interpretation of the new framework, thinking that its role was to preserve the (non-listed) workshop rather than safeguard and improve the Conservation Area.
Prism had appealed the non determination of both the Planning Application and the Conservation Area Consent, when it became clear that the officers of the Council weren’t applying the right understanding of the new National Planning Framework.
Assessing the viability of new developments is clearly going to be an important new feature of the planning world but it needs to be done in an honest and transparent manner. Councils need to recognise that it’s still a tough world for developers and adopt realistic and sensible stances. All too often it seems that Councils get advised by those who haven’t undertaken development for some time and are out of touch with what’s needed in the present climate. In this case they even attempted to argue that historic conversion work could be undertaken without a contingency budget. Even English Heritage accepts this isn’t a safe way to proceed!
It is a welcome vindication of the hard work of the Prism team and a tribute to the stamina and perseverance of the owner that he kept faith even in difficult times. The NPPF is trying to achieve a step change in the way in which development is considered and hopefully its messages, particularly when translated through appeal decisions will start to change the way in which planning departments consider proposals.