All posts in Localism

A long running saga relating to housebuilding in Ingleby Barwick has been brought to an end today with a government appointed planning Inspector allowing the development of 200 homes on farm land at Ingleby Barwick, close to the controversial new Free School.

Darlington based Prism Planning represented the landowner and farmer of the land, Ian Snowdon at a public inquiry in March of this year and it has taken the Planning Inspector nearly 9 months to decide that the scheme was acceptable. The inspector found for the appellant on all counts, noting “The social and economic benefits of the new housing would be very significant indeed and would make an important contribution to the Borough’s housing supply. The scheme would include a useful and much needed contribution to the stock of affordable housing in Stockton-on-Tees.”

He went on to note that “The site forms part of a wide area south of Ingleby Barwick as far as Low Lane that is being comprehensively redeveloped to provide much needed housing and other facilities. The appeal result comes at a time when there is a significant national focus on the need for new houses to be built with significant concerns that not enough housing is being built. A new Housing white paper is promised by the government just next month.

Responding to the decision, Steve Barker of Prism Planning, who gave evidence at the inquiry said; “Stockton have recognised that they haven’t been able to demonstrate a 5 year housing supply for some time now and the debates over development in this corner of Ingleby have used up a lot of time and resources for landowners and the Council alike. I hope that now this final decision has been made all parties can start to move forward positively and work in partnership to make things happen on the ground. A lot of time has been spent arguing when we could have been focusing on improving the area and meeting our housing and leisure needs.” It is likely that a detailed application for reserved matters will now be submitted to the Council in 2017.
Not content with having just seen the Housing & Planning Bill being passed into law (Royal Assent gained on 12th May), the Government announced more changes to world of town and country planning. The Queen’s speech this morning has announced legislation “to ensure Britain has the infrastructure that businesses need to grow”, a key element of which will be a Neighbourhood Planning & Infrastructure Bill. The Government hopes that the Bill will curtail councils’ ability to attach planning conditions which delay development. The Government has previously expressed concerns that some councils misuse conditions in an attempt to halt or delay developments from proceeding. The Bill will prevent councils from attaching pre-commencement conditions to planning permissions other than when absolutely necessary. The same Bill will aim to provide a fillip to the neighbourhood planning system, making the neighbourhood plans more easy to review and update and requiring planning authorities to support neighbourhood forums. It is also intended to reform the compulsory purchase regime. Planning, a world of constant change at present!
Hambleton Planning Committee unanimously voted to grant planning permission for up to 40 dwellings on Land to the Rear of Long Street, Thirsk, bringing to an end a 35 year saga concerning the development history of the site. The site, which is laid to grass and located adjacent to Thirsk Community Primary School, had once been allocated for recreational development. However the funds for its development never materialised and a Local Plan Inspector required the recreational allocation to be struck out of the Local Plan unless it could be properly funded. Members of the Planning Committee recognised that the long term future of the site now lies with residential development and were happy to grant Prism Planning an outline consent for up to 40 dwellings on the site as a way of bringing the site back into beneficial use. The site is probably one of the most sustainable housing sites ever to come forward in Thirsk in recent years, lying just at the back of Long Street and within convenient walking distance to the town centre. The permission was granted subject to a Section 106 Agreement being completed relating to the provision of affordable housing and financial contributions towards public open space. In granting the planning permission, members recognised that Prism Planning and its partner consultants had worked hard at canvassing the views of local residents and responding to the positive criticism that had come forward. Members are looking forward to seeing the reserved matters application in due course so the hunt is now on for a development partner interesting in taking the site forward.
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The long awaited National Planing Policy Framework has been published. You can view the document here, or check back soon for detailed analysis.
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In a written ministerial statement, Planning Minister Greg Clark has put a timescale on publication of the final version of the NPPF framework, with the Government aiming to put it out by 31st March 2012. The minister has strongly defended the planned changes to the framework, which see 1,300 pages of planning guidance distilled into 52, saying in a written response to criticism: “Our reforms aim to strengthen local decision making and reinforce the importance of local plans.” Meanwhile the Daily Telegraph has set about on its ‘hands off our land’ campaign and has quizzed Local Government and Planning minister Bob Neill. Mr Neill told the Telegraph in this article: “By the end of the year we will be in a very different place. We are genuinely prepared to listen to sensible improvements that have been made. He added: “It was never intended to be a charter for inappropriate development in the countryside.” Now local councils, planners and developers wait with baited breath and differing ideals to see what exactly this “very different place” will look like, and if it will get the UK building again. Forward thinking Prism MD Steve Barker has expressed his sense of relief at having a date set, but says he still has doubts: “It’s very welcome news that a reasonably short timescale has been put in place to get the NPPF out in the wider world. Given the extent of problems with the construction sector and record lows in house building, it’s clear that it’s going to take a lot of determined effort by public and private sectors for the country to begin to build again. My fervent hope is that councils don’t think they have to wait until April to begin to respond to the challenges we so clearly face.” Outside of the NIMBY brigade in the Telegraph, no credible developers have ever thought the NPPF was a charter to concrete the countryside with insensitive new development. However there is evidence that some officers in local councils are hoping that the guidance will be radically revised and they won’t have to change their attitudes. It’s clear from the Minister [Clark] that such dinosaurs need to be made extinct!” As the Telegraph article states, an 18 month “transition period” is among changes being considered by the Government, giving councils more time to draw up local development plans. “Or perhaps it will give those local councils who do not wish to change their attitude more time to stall action and hold back adoption of the new NPPF.” Steve added. We’ll be sure to keep you posted with news from this heated debate as it unfolds.

There is a part of me that is looking forward to the day, which is not too far off, when I’m going to have lots more shelf space in the office. Out will go the 10ft length of Planning Policy Statements and the even older Planning Policy Guidance notes and in their place will come a slim volume, just ½ an inch thick (or 15mm for the converted amongst you). Some of the old PPG’s I doubt have ever been opened by the team – at least not since they were bound up to have as an essential reference tool for the practice. I’m sure we will manage without them.

The new guidance is causing major rifts to open up within the profession. The invitation to comment is being taken as an opportunity to lambast those within the profession who hold a different view. One national journalist, presumably writing with a certain amount of his tongue stuck firmly in his cheek, has accused the new guidance as leading inevitably to new bungalows being built upon the white cliffs of Dover. Others have talked about there still being so much short-termism, nimbyism and delay that not a lot will happen as a result.

Generally those supporting the new framework have been slightly more measured in their support than the opponents. The latter have likened the reforms to the debacle over student loans and sale of the forestry commission. One leading pundit has even gone so far as to write that “Planning will no longer serve the interests of the public or the environment!”

Personally I find these words and attitudes extreme and unhelpful. Trying to find words of comfort to assist an out of centre proposal one of my clients wishes to take forward, I struggled to find any seismic shift in core guidance. Others have pointed out that concepts such as Green Belts remain firmly untouched. On the whole, when studied carefully I don’t think that it represents the end of planning as we know it.

What it is trying to do is to change attitudes and approaches, particularly in planning offices up and down the country. Those who simply act as conduits for feedback on development proposals will have to apply their critical thinking they were trained for. They need try to problem solve and find solutions to issues–not to simply reject a proposal because they have received an adverse view.

Like it or not the country needs new development; people don’t live in allocations the last time I checked, they live in houses actually built. If they are not being built, something needs to be done. Perhaps the presumption in favour will help to address this. I do hope so.

What is clear is that over the last 5 years, under the guise of modernising and improving the system, we have ended up with a complex and burdensome approach. Our policies have become mired in complex and bewildering arays of documents of various stages of completion. Our planning applications require so many documents and investigations to underpin them, many of which simply to prove a negative, that good schemes aren’t coming forward because there is too much cost and risk involved. Those applications that do make it through the validation process seem to face universal claims for financial contributions as Councils attempt to fill depleted coffers and officers think that developers are still cash cows to be milked whenever the opportunity arises.

We do need to return to basics and Sir Peter Hall does well to remind us that all we are doing is to return to the system as it was set up in 1947. I do hope that opponents of the reforms will in the remaining time available, focus more on the adjustments required to get the new system to work. Its not free of errors and areas for improvement, but the danger we face is that the current focus on extreme interpretations will result in a lack of attention to detail and the guidance comes in without the final polish it could be given.

We’ve digested the proposed changes to the NPPF and brought you a run-down of a few points of interest and importance. The draft of the NPPF this information was taken from is subject to change as a result of the consultation process, but much of the content builds upon previous ministerial announcements and isn’t new.

Most developers will approve of the new ‘Golden Thread’ running through the guidance –the new presumption in favour of development. Once fully in place the default answer to an application being submitted will be ‘yes’ unless there is a good reason to say ‘no’! Such a seismic change in approach will not sit happily with all local authority planners!

This is one of the most fundamental reforms of the planning system and is being hotly contested by anti-development pressure groups who are mounting campaigns to force a ‘U’ turn similar to the one mounted over sale of forestry land. Those who find themselves in support of the new guidance will need to consider whether to make their support public to add a counterbalance to the objectors.

An increased emphasis has been put on the importance of meeting development needs through plans and doing so in as sustainable a manor as possible. Plan-making and development management is to be proactively driven by opportunities to deliver sustainable development, rather than constrained by barriers.

The local Government will further support the Government’s energy and climate change policy and zero emissions target by identifying suitable areas for low-carbon and renewable energy sources.

On the subject of zero carbon homes, the government are looking at ways to make the current assessment tools simpler. We have a range of tools covering energy measurement –Code for Sustainable Homes, BREEAM etc and they can seem quite daunting to work through. However there is no suggestion that the government are backing away from the 2016 carbon neutrality commitments set by the previous administration. In fact over the last few months there have been several key note speeches from ministers, reaffirming their commitment to pursuing the 2016 end date, despite the difficult economic climate. Those developers who took the idea of reforms to mean weakening of the Code seem likely to be profoundly disappointed.

There is proposed to be more support for the creation, protection, enhancement and management of green space. A new form of protection for local green space not already protected by National policy is proposed. This means local councils and communities can decide which areas of green infrastructure are important to them and put them forward for protection. It is however not intended to be a ‘nimbys’ charter and is clearly only intended to be used in special cases for special land.

On the local community subject; Local Councils are being asked to develop policies to protect community facilities and safeguard against unnecessary loss of facilities which are shown to be viable. The policies would not be limited to facilities in larger towns, but all facilities in rural areas as well.

It’s a lot about handing back the power to the local communities and Councils. Still on the agenda are Community Right to Build schemes relating to Green Belt sites to be permitted if backed by the local community as well as the continuing concept of neighbourhood plans supported by local referenda.

Also, it is proposed that the National Brownfield Target be removed and replaced by a system which allows local Councils to asses which land is most suitable for new housing developments based on local needs.

So that’s it, well almost all of it, in a rather large nut shell. If you have any questions or are wondering how this might affect you then send us an email and we will do our best to help!

Prism Planning has been very busy recently testing out the principles of the Localism Agenda. It is quite clear that once the Localism Bill becomes statute the general public will potentially have a strong mandate to shape their communities through the planning system.

Private developers have been quite cautious of these proposals. It has been argued that some conservative (note the little ‘c’) thinkers will simply become Nimby’s to the extreme – we at Prism have a much more positive outlook on the Bill, and recent jobs have only strengthened our views; let’s look at two which illustrate our point:

We have been involved in a residential scheme in the Haxby Road area of York. The project for affordable housing on the site of a former Co-operative Dairy created quite a stir locally. The Planning Officers recommended the scheme for approval, but during the Committee politics took its course and permission was refused.

During the Appeal it was quite clear that there were no hard and fast planning issues which meant that the scheme should be refused. The Inspector agreed with us and permission was subsequently granted with a partial award of costs.

The second case was closer to home, in Darlington where we are based, and was to a certain extent, a mirror image of that of Haxby Road. It involved the refurbishment of an existing Georgian house, through the development of two subservient homes within its large residential curtilage.

The Council in this case were against the proposals for reasons of conservation and planning policy. However following extensive consultation with local people it became increasingly obvious that the public were in support of the scheme and wanted the application to be approved. Once the day of Planning Committee came around, an army of supporters (and one or two objectors) made their presence known and the officers’ recommendation was overturned by the committee.

The point which I am trying to make is a simple one, the Localism Bill is not a “Nimby’s Charter”. The Bill will not give the public the ability to impose a negative planning agenda. Recent Ministerial Statements have argued that planning needs to be for growth and sustainability and just at these two cases show; if the public want to make a real positive impact through the planning system, they can!

Day 1 of the New Year and my first work resolution kept so far -must blog more regularlyand must address the comments that have been received to previous postings. Resolution number 2 about de-cluttering my desk can wait a while…..it doesn’t do to rush these things!

As I write this blog, the office are reviewing the objectors to a planning application we have in for a social housing scheme in a nearby town.  The site is a brownfield one with a series of derelict industrial buildings on it. The site is allocated for housing in the Local Plan.  Notwithstanding this, over 40 local residents backing on to the site have written in to object to the scheme and we have been warned by officers at the Council that we will face a hostile and difficult time at the forthcoming planning meeting.  It seems that its OK to have housing for those in need -as long as they are in a different part of the town where they wont have quite so much impact upon local property values.

In itself this isn’t anything new and hardened planning consultants are no strangers to the odd bit of controversy. Our application is supported by officers after a protracted battle with the highway engineers who have denied ever having supported the allocation of the site in the first place.  If members have confidence in their own officers and truly believe in a plan led system then we might just get a permission.   However I can’t help be concerned that after the launch of the Localism Bill and all the discussions about empowering communities to take their own decisions, there is a good chance that the application will be refused.  I’m sure the grounds will be dressed up to allude to some sort of policy conflict rather than simply because local residents don’t want it -but we all know what the real motivating factors will have been.

As we enter the brave new world of localism, whatever that will come to mean, a lot of planning consultancies as well as a fair number of planning officers I suspect, are looking on with a significant degree of fear and alarm that local communities will be looking to use the new powers they seem set to inherit to resist development and maintain their status quo. The theory of localism is very sound and its difficult to argue against its merits from an idlealistic perspective. However when has theory ever worked in practice?

If any proponent of localism is able to explain to me how a local community might vote for their status quo to be disturbed, I would love to hear from you -but please be prepared to explain with concrete examples not abstract theories.  For the moment I remain an ardent sceptic of the road we seem to be embarking upon. If our permission is granted, I might be prepared to admit the concept has some possibilities but I need a lot of convincing.

Now, back to de-cluttering the desk…….!