All posts tagged government

The Government have just issued new guidance on the conversion of redundant agricultural buildings that have made the process of getting consent a whole lot easier. In theory the conversion of barns has been something that the government has been supporting, having introduced new permitted development rights to allow it in April 2014. Although the rules appear to be straightforward, practical experience of their implementation has been mixed with a number of Councils trying to evade implementing the rules as the government has intended. A number of cases have also fallen at appeal with Inspectors taking an extreme interpretation of the rules and refusing to allow conversions for isolated buildings. The problems have been highlighted recently by the Country Landowners Association who drew the government’s attention to the way that the rules have been blatantly misinterpreted by resistant Councils. Today the government have responded issuing a swathe of guidance that should make exercising the new rules an easier and more straightforward task. Cynics may view it as blatant electioneering. This may well be the case but if it makes the task of getting barns converted, then we at Prism will welcome the changes. We have managed to obtain permission to convert a number of barns to dwellings and not all of the buildings have been old historic structures. It is an area of planning law we know quite well so if you have a potential project why not get in touch?

Today has been a quiet day in the office, a time for reflection on the meaning of life and the National Planning Policy Framework that has just appeared yesterday. Yesterday we faced a barrage of phone calls from anxious clients wanting to know how they were affected by the new proposals and whether it really was the developers charter as some wilder parts of the media had suggested.

Mr A, who owns a field in the middle of nowhere in particular was most disappointed that he didn’t have his golden ticket for his new house but for other clients the position seems less clear.

On the one hand we are told that the guidance takes immediate effect and that decision makers should apply its principles straightaway. Yet buried in the back of the document, hidden in the annex is the statement that for 12months from the date of publication, decision makers may continue to give full weight to their old LDF policies, even when they conflict with the new NPPF, provided the ‘old’ policies stem from no later than 2004. 

A number of us who have struggled with the absurdities of ‘One App’ validation requirements will perhaps take heart from the idea that validation lists should be frequently reviewed and that LPA’s should only request information that is relevant, necessary and material to the application. I wonder if that means I don’t have to procure the Air Quality Report sought for a proposed leisure development built just above the high tide mark up the coast from here?

I was pleased to see the continued reference to LPA’s looking for ‘solutions rather than problems’ and the continued emphasis on approval of sustainable developments wherever possible. However from past experience I shudder to think how we are going to get to grips with measuring  and assessing sustainability.

There is interesting and positive clarity on the greater emphasis given to assessing viability and it is interesting to note the reference to mitigation taking into account the need for competitive returns to a willing landowner and willing developer. Now all we need to do is to work out how to use the HCA’s assessment tool and we have got it cracked!

I was also struck by the new definition of Veteran Tree defined because of its great age, size or condition.  This got me thinking to the prospect of a Veteran Planner defined because of its age and circumference…..I certainly think I qualify on both fronts!

I’m sure that as I continue to plough through the guidance there will be more interesting nuggets of new information to delight and frustrate us in equal measure so I’ll keep you all posted with my thoughts.

The long awaited National Planing Policy Framework has been published. You can view the document here, or check back soon for detailed analysis.

Hartlepool Borough Council has published the last draft of its Core Strategy which will shape the future of planning in the Borough.

The Core Strategy sets out the main planning framework for the Borough for the next 15 years and has been drawn up following extensive public consultation over the past two years.

Consultation on the draft will run for the last time, from Monday 13th February to Monday 26th March. If you have any comments to make, or want to know more about the impact of the documents on you, get in touch with us today.

The headlines of the documents include:

  1. Allowing up to 5,400 new homes to be built over the next 15 years.
  2. Achieving this growth within the existing urban area as well as through a major new residential development to the south-west of the town and a smaller, limited area of new housing at Upper Warren.
  3. Earmarking Wynyard for further executive housing and prestigious business development and Elwick and Hart for small scale housing schemes.
  4. The creation of green spaces across the borough, including in Golden Flatts and in the new residential development in the south-west and the retention of the green areas which give a strategic gap between the town and Hart and Greatham.
  5. Promoting tourism and leisure developments, particularly at the marina, Seaton Carew and on the Headland.
  6. Policies to protect and enhance the town centre area and to support the creation of an innovation and skills quarter.
  7. Promoting the port, Oakesway Industrial Estate and the Southern Business Zone for business, recognising the town’s three new Enterprise Zones and safeguarding land for a new nuclear power station.

Following the conclusion of consultations, the draft Core Strategy will be examined at a public hearing by a Government Planning Inspector, ensuring that the document is realistic in its aims, the Inspector will also consider any comments made during the final consultation.

If you are looking to make a ‘minor’ application, for a small scale development it really does pay to make sure that the application is as complete and throrough as possible before submitting it.

Many Planning Authorities in the North East of England are imposing strict time limits to allow them to meet their Government imposed targets, particularly for applications with an 8-week determination target that are delegated to the Planning Officer for decision – these are applications where a decision can be reached without going before the Council’s Planning Committee.

These time limits can mean that applications need to be withdrawn, or worse are refused by the Council, where information is incomplete or when issues arise requiring further attention and resolution would take the application beyond the 8-week target.

This can seem unfair given the huge amount of work which needs to be undertaken and often doesn’t even guarantee a successful outcome.  Indeed, withdrawing an application to avoid refusal (refusal is nearly always better avoided if possible), preparing the additional information and then re-submitting can mean that an application that should take 8 weeks to approve can take 18-20 weeks!

It really does pay to get advice before you start and to make sure that you are providing the planning authority will all of the information that they might reasonably require to properly consider your application.  We offer free consultations and will always let you know what we think of your chances, good or bad.

As the festive break fast approaches, we are winding down in the office, recognising that there aren’t many of our colleagues in Local Government who want to get stuck into debates about the merits of our applications until they come back refreshed in the New Year. It’s a fair point and its got me wondering what 2012 has in store for us on the planning front.

As I pen this note, the headlines have been running with stories about the possibilities of the UK credit rating being downgraded for the first time in memory at the same time as the cross party MPs on the Local Government Select committee are expressing concern over the prominence being given to economic development in the National Planning Policy Guidance note. I can’t help but wonder about the different directions the planning system gets pulled in and whether we really are ready to face up to the realities of the current malaise in the construction sector.

The next year is clearly going to be an interesting one in the planning world with everyone waiting anxiously for April and the final form of the NPPF. On a personal note, I think putting more emphasis back onto brown field sites ahead of greenfield would be no bad thing, provided we recognise the challenges in land values and costs of tackling our brownfield sites.  Restoring the pre-eminence of brownfield over green is common sense in policy terms, provided we recognise that not all brownfield sites can be brought forward in the current economic climate. There I go giving undue prominence to economic considerations, contrary to the select committees concerns.

However it doesn’t matter what preferences a pressure group/lobby interest/planning authority might express –if it won’t work commercially, it simply won’t happen! This is the new world we all have to adjust to and the days of long S106 backed shopping lists of ‘good causes’ are well and truly gone.

It will also be interesting to see how the Localism Act beds down with us all and I await the first referendum on a planning matter with great interest. Mr Osborne’s continued reforms of the planning system are also of great interest and many commentators wonder just when we might have a period of stability in the planning system.  Whilst I would like the system to have a chance of bedding down, if he would just decide to take the inequities and inefficiencies out of the current validation system, I along with many other planners on this side of the fence would give him a huge ‘Thank you!’ for a job well done.

All the very best to everyone for 2012.


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.

With less than three weeks to go until the consultation period ends on the draft changes to the NPPF the debate is heating up. The major player for the opposition seems to be the National Trust, digging its heels in on matters concerning “sustainable development” and “greenbelt” — here we take a look at the latest developments in this ongoing conflict of interests with links to articles which state the facts and have generated much interest here in the Prism offices.

You may have seen in our newsletter that last Thursday (22.9.11) Planning minister Greg Clark faced the National Trust’s firing squad and stated his intent to listen to their concerns and take action. He also reassured those in attendance that he is determined to go ahead with the proposed changes but does not intend them to change the purpose of the planning system. You can read the article from the Guardian on this here.

You could be forgiven for being confused as to why the National Trust, owner of castles and similar rural heritage sites, is such a formidable enemy to make. Well let’s not forget their immense impact in the forestry debate which saw the government backtrack on policy in the face of outcry. This piece from the Economist explains why Mr Cameron might do well to get the charity on-side for this one, and why he might already be taking the steps by calling for dialogue.

Not only have the National Trust created a public backlash— inviting those opposing the plans to contact MPs-and lobbied party conferences, but now they have a list of demands rather resembling a list of ten planning commandments. You can see their demands here.

What’s next? Well there is sure to be a torrent of comment and debate around the demands, such as the comments here from Liz Peace stating that she believes the National Trust may have misread the NPPF. There will also be mounting support for the charity’s campaign with new petitions to sign appearing ever day and spreading like wildfire via Twitter and other powerful social media platforms. It’s certainly one to watch and an issue which will continue to dominate the planning world until the consultation closes on October 17th and we all wait with baited breath.

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!