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Members of Stockton Planning Committee voted almost unanimously to approve proposals for a new leisure country club with swimming pool to be built on the outskirts of Yarm. The scheme was promoted by Prism Planning and had been with the Council as an outline application for nearly a year. Protracted debates and negotiations had taken place over how the site would be accessed. Stamina and perseverance have been key skills honed during the prolonged consideration of this scheme. Clearly it all paid off as members supported the scheme, subject to a S106 agreement addressing the means of access. The key challenges for the team involved integrating access arrangements with other nearby commercial proposals that might, or might not, get developed and which laid outside of the control of the applicant. The planning system does not address such uncertainties very effectively as the year long debate testifies but the positive result for the client was well worth it in the end. The new club will provide a full size 25m swimming pool, a fitness suite and spar, as well as a series of exercise rooms for dance classes. The facility will also incorporate a café and a restaurant, to be operated by the same winning team that have delivered the Hudson Quay Brasserie in Middlehaven Docks at Middlesbrough. Outside a new vineyard and market garden will supply the restaurant with much of its fruit, vegetables and importantly, its wine! The vineyard will be the most northerly vineyard in the Country, to the best of our knowledge. The next stage of the proposals will see a reserved matter application worked up, based upon the concepts set out in the outline submission. Prism would like to particularly thank Fore Consulting ( for all their in depth highway support during the consideration of the proposals, as well as the eye catching designs from Summerhouse Architects ( which helped sell the scheme most convincingly at planning committee. And that wasn’t the only success for Prism Planning at Stockton’s Planning Committee yesterday – see the next blog for further updates on our prowess with hot food takeaways!

Prism would like to thank all attendees and organisers for joining us at the offices of TBI Law Firm for the Housing and Planning Bill seminar. It was a maximum capacity turnout with a mix of professionals from ecologists to developers and estate agents. We introduced planning aspects of the emerging bill, discussing the main provisions and took questions.

The concept of starter homes was discussed. Starter homes will be discounted at 20% of market value, restrictions such as being only for first time buyers under 40 will apply. It is clear that the bill aims to boost the supply of housing in England, however the impacts on established affordable housing types looks far from certain. There will also be a new statutory duty for LPAs to promote delivery of starter homes.

Another of the key parts of the Bill will be new measures to be established under the heading of Planning in England. These give new powers to allow the Secretary of State (SOS) to override EIP planning inspectors and also allow selective focus on parts of the EIP process. Should the SOS be dissatisfied with the progress of a LPA local plan they could intervene, details of which will be introduced in secondary legislation.

The Bill also proposes Permission In Principle (PIP). This is proposed to be an automatic consent which grants permissions on brown field land, these would be listed in a register or local plan. The PIP system could be different to the way that existing outline applications presently work.

Should the bill be passed there will need to be secondary legislation passed for further details on how the bill will be interpreted. We hope to provide a further update when the Bill likely progresses or should any serious revisions take place.

Prism have just won permission at appeal for a farmhouse to help a well established farming family continue their business through into the third generation. The case involved a mixed use arable and sheep farm with a growing line in breeding heavy horse hunters at Town Farm, Stillington. With around 500 sheep already on the farm and a developing equine business we were confident that there was a robust case to pursue. However the Council weren’t so sure and employed a national firm of experts to help them assess the case. The Council’s advisors seemingly hadn’t read too much of the National Planning Policy Framework and wrongly advised the Council on a range of key matters. At the ensuing appeal, the Inspector found that both the Council and their experts had wrongly applied national tests in their assessment, being unduly pessimistic as to the labour needs of the holding and critically, had tried to disaggregate the various parts of the farming business. This was a fundamentally wrong approach and Prism’s approach was found to have been correct. The case marks our third appeal win in a row for our specialist agricultural work and has established us as one of the regions leading expert practitioners in this field. Coincidentally it was also our third win in a row for equine related work and shows that it’s not always a good idea to take advice from some of the national firms whose specialist knowledge is not quite so robust when it really matters.
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.

Get Britain building?

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
Planning Measures
  • 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.
One of the North East most iconic landmarks has started a path to a new life with a little help from Prism. Spanish City is a listed building on the seafront of Whitley Bay and is recognised as a nationally important example of our Edwardian forefathers. In its hey day the complex attracted thousands of people to the town and was a vital part of the tourist economy. Sadly the spectacular buildings have fallen into disrepair and haven’t been used for around 15 years. Members of North Tyneside Council resolved to approve a planning application for the start of works to the complex that will see around £20m being invested over time to provide a new hotel, care home, housing as well as new shop units and the refurbishment of the complex itself. We spoke at the planning committee and helped members understand the nature of the programme and the approach of our client, Robertson Construction. It was a testimony to the quality of the scheme and the presentation of the supporting case that no member of the Council opposed the application. A great deal of effort was put into working with the local community and nearly 700 residents wrote in support of the scheme whilst less than 50 objected. Thanks go to Results Communications for all their hard work. The grant of the outline consent will now be followed up by more detailed reserved matter applications and listed building consent applications. There is still a lot more planning work to do but at least the Spanish City complex has hopefully started its journey towards a new life. We are very grateful to Robertsons for being involved in such a fascinating and challenging project.
The NPPF starts to bite … Local Plan Housing Allocations Two northern councils have run into problems with their core strategies relating to housing land supply and whether they should include an extra 20 per cent buffer of land for homes. The Inspector examining Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council’s Local Plan has suspended proceedings for six months as he said he had “significant doubts” about its attempt to demonstrate an adequate supply of deliverable housing land. Meanwhile, Hull City Council has asked for a six-month suspension of its Core Strategy examination as it has also been challenged by the Inspector over housing land supply. The new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) says that councils should maintain a five-year land supply with an extra five per cent buffer, although this should be 20 per cent where there is “a record of persistent under-delivery”. In both cases the Inspector has said that a buffer of 20 per cent is required due to past under-performance. It is understood that the Inspectors are basing their assessments on housing completions. This has led some to argue that this is an unfair basis on which to assess Council performance as it takes no account of the current economic climate under which house-builders and not building anywhere near to the number of houses they were before the financial crash. They argue that whilst there may be an undersupply of housing, proper account should be take of permissions that have not been implemented. However form a purely practical perspective, people can only live in completed houses and an unbuilt permission is useless to someone in need. The Home Builders Federation has said that most councils should consider using a 20 per cent buffer as few have delivered on housing and they must be realistic about the types of sites the market can bring forward. The Royal Town Planning Institute has said that the suspension of Wigan Council’s examination was an example of the NPPF biting and showed that councils have to take the buffers very seriously. The thrust of these two decisions leaves developers in an interesting position. Potentially, shortfalls in delivery might open the door to arguments for new permissions being obtained. The arguments to support such positions will usually require specialist help and are not likely to be straightforward. In particular, council annual monitoring reports are not likely to give all the answers and specialist Freedom of Information requests may have to be made to get the evidence needed. As you would probably expect us to say, if you think you might need help with this, contact the team at Prism!

If you regularly read this blog, you will no doubt be aware that the Localism Act received Royal Assent in November 2011.

As the Government states; “[the Act] takes power from central government and hands it back to local authorities and communities – giving them the freedom and flexibility to achieve their own ambitions”.

The majority of the Act has now been brought into fruition with the remainder coming into force in April 2012. Quite a significant chunk of the legislation related to public administration mechanisms and has little impact on the planning system, such as accountability of local pay, reforms to social housing regulations and the ‘Freeing Cities’ initiative.

The big news for planners comes with modification to enforcement procedures which will bring in new powers for Local Authorities to take action against those who deliberately conceal unauthorised development.

Local Councillors will also be pleased to know that the rules on ‘predetermination’ have been clarified; freeing councillors to express their opinions for local issues without the fear of legal challenge.