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Portal updates: Welsh NMAs and sustainable development indicators and support for .docx

This Friday we will be rolling out some  improvements to our online application service.

Firstly, applicants will be able to submit Non-Material Amendments to authorities in Wales online. The form will be available from the form chooser.

Secondly, if your local authority is using the most up-to-date Portal connector you will also be able to submit the new Welsh sustainable development indicator data automatically to LPA back-office systems.

Finally, we have also made a change to our system to let applicants submit .docx Word attachments with their applications.

The site will be offline between 05:00 and 07:00 while we make this change.

No Planning Bill in Queen’s Speech but plenty of planning-related legislation

Although there was no stand-alone planning bill promised in this week’s Queen’s Speech there is plenty to exercise planners and planning authorities in the new government’s first legislative programme.

As expected there will be both a Housing Bill and a Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill.

Controversially the former will require housing associations to allow tenants to buy their homes as well as providing the statutory framework to support the delivery of 200,000 Starter Homes on brownfield sites.

Also in the Housing Bill will be provision for a statutory register of brownfield land, measures to simplify and speed up neighbourhood planning and a requirement for local authorities to support custom and self-builders as part of the administration’s Right to Build initiative.

In respect of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, ministers will provide the legislative muscle to deliver the pioneering Greater Manchester deal and future ones – both in large cities which choose to have elected mayors and in other places.

Also promised are more measures to expand the existing programme of Growth Deals. A proposed Bus Bill would provide the option for combined authority areas with directly-elected mayors to be responsible for the running of their local bus services.

The administration’s Energy Bill will remove the need for energy secretary consent for large onshore wind farms above 50 megawatts.

This will put local planning authorities back in the driving seat. The National Planning Policy Framework will be changed to give effect to the manifesto commitment that local communities should have the final say on planning applications for onshore wind farms.

Also listed in the Queen’s Speech is a High-Speed (London-West Midlands) Bill which would give the government deemed planning permission for the new high-speed rail link between London and the West Midlands. This includes CPO powers.

A Wales Bill would devolve powers to Welsh Ministers for the consenting of energy schemes both onshore and offshore of up to 350 megawatts capacity.

PM David Cameron called the legislative programme of more than 25 bills “challenging but doable; optimistic but realistic”.

Access’s dedicated section on the Queen’s Speech.

Roger Milne

House building momentum on the up

Official statistics released this week show that 40,340 new homes were started in England during the first three months of this year, the highest quarterly number since 2007.

The figures show that the momentum from 2014, which saw 137,310 new homes started, up 10 per cent on 2013 and 60 per cent from the low point in 2009, appears to be gathering speed.

The figures also indicated that seasonally adjusted house building starts in England were estimated at 40,300 in the first quarter of 2015, a 31 per cent increase compared to the previous quarter.

The seasonally adjusted level of starts in the March quarter 2015 increased by 11 per cent on the same period a year earlier.

Seasonally adjusted completions were estimated at 34,040 in Q1 2015, 10 per cent higher than the previous quarter. The seasonally adjusted level of completions in the first three months of this year increased by 21 per cent on the same quarter a year earlier.

Private enterprise housing starts (seasonally adjusted) were 30 per cent higher in Q1 2015 than the previous quarter, while starts by housing associations were 36 per cent higher.

Seasonally adjusted private enterprise completions increased by seven per cent and housing association completions increased by 24 per cent compared the previous quarter.

Housing and planning minister Brandon Lewis said: “House building is at the heart of our plan to ensure the recovery reaches all parts of our country.

“These figures show these efforts are reaping results, with house building starts having more than doubled since 2009, and completions at their highest for nearly six years.”

View the release document (PDF, 1.39MB).

Roger Milne

Application submitted for Trowbridge 2,500-home urban extension

An outline planning application has been submitted to Wiltshire Council by Ashton Park Trowbridge and Persimmon Homes for a mixed-use urban extension including 2,500 homes in south-east Trowbridge.

The Ashton Park Urban Extension application, which also includes proposals for the Yarnbrook and West Ashton Relief Road, is supported by a master plan which was the subject of consultation with the local community in 2013/2014 while the Wiltshire core strategy was at an advanced stage of preparation.

The core strategy was adopted in January and the council secured government funding to contribute to the costs of the road.

Ashton Park is a key strategic allocation in the core strategy and is fundamental to delivering the council’s housing and employment requirements over the next 10 years.

The application provides for 2,500 new homes and 15 hectares of employment and retail activity, including a business park and two local centres.

Sites for a new secondary school and two primary schools are among the community facilities proposed. The proposals include an extensive network of open spaces linking to the Peoples Park and town centre.

A spokesman for the developers said: “We look forward to working with the council and interested parties to secure an early planning permission so that the development can come forward in a planned manner and generate further investment into Trowbridge as well as improving the strategic highway network along the A350.”

View further information about the proposed development on the Wiltshire Council website

Roger Milne

Top wildlife sites under threat

Many of England’s top wildlife sites are under threat from pollution, inappropriate grazing (particularly by deer) and the impact of invasive species.

That’s the assessment of a report just published as part of Natural England’s project to establish the long-term management of the country’s 338 Natura 2000 sites. These include Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs). Most are also Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

The initiative, known as the improvement programme for England’s Natura 2000 sites (IPENS) project, sets out a blueprint for the long-term management of these designated sites.

They include some of the country’s most familiar landscapes including the Northumberland coast, the New Forest, the Norfolk Broads and Salisbury Plain.

There are 338 Natura 2000 sites in England, in both marine and terrestrial locations, covering more than two million hectares.

A site improvement plan has been produced covering every site. The plans present the best available evidence in support of actions required to achieve and maintain sites in a good condition. More than 6,000 specific actions have been identified in the individual plans.

These include the need to draw up local plans to improve habitat connectivity, more adaptive coastal management and a programme of both lake and river restoration.

Dr Andy Clements, Natural England board member and director of the British Trust for Ornithology, said: “England has a diverse range of habitats resulting in a wonderfully rich and varied wildlife. The IPENS project has enabled Natural England, the Environment Agency and other partners to more effectively target our conservation efforts on Natura 2000 network sites and surrounding areas.”

View the IPENS summary report

View the IPENS report

Roger Milne

Ofgem launches power plant planning probe

Energy watchdog Ofgem has opened investigations to see if five generators provided false or misleading information to National Grid about planning consents for some of their proposed generating units that took part in the December 2014 capacity auction.

The companies being investigated are Adret Ltd, Alkane Energy UK, Berangere Ltd, GF Power Peaking Ltd and Power Balancing Service Ltd.

A condition of participation in the first-ever auction last year was that any new-build generating units put forward had to have already secured planning approval.

The Capacity Market is part of the government’s reforms intended to ensure sufficient capacity on the system to keep the lights on. National Grid runs an annual auction to decide which generators and providers of demand-side response will be awarded a capacity agreement, in return for providing capacity at times of system stress.

An Ofgem spokesperson said: “The opening of these investigations does not imply that we have made any findings about non-compliance.”

GF Power Peaking Ltd secured capacity agreements for all nine of its new-build generators; Berangere Ltd (formerly registered as GFE 2015 Ltd) secured capacity agreements for all three of its new-build generators; Adret Ltd (formerly registered as GFE 2017 Ltd) secured capacity agreements for two out of three of its new-build generators in the capacity auction; Alkane Energy secured capacity agreements for nine of its ten new-build generators in the auction and, finally, Power Balancing Services Ltd secured capacity agreements for four of its six generating units.

View the Ofgem press release

Roger Milne

Planning round-up 28 May

Greater Cambridge local plan hiatus

Planning inspectors considering the local plans for the greater Cambridge area have recommended that examination of the strategies should be suspended while the planning authorities do more work on the housing provision and the sustainability appraisals involved in the focus on new settlements.

However, the inspectors have stressed that this should not be interpreted as “an indication that further releases of green belt land would be necessary to ensure soundness”.

The inspectors questioned whether the way Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council have assessed the number of new homes needed has taken account of market signals such as house prices and affordability, a requirement of new national planning guidance published after both councils had already worked with communities for over two years to prepare plans and were ready to submit them to government.

The submitted local plan for Cambridge included provision for 21,100 more jobs and 14,000 new homes. The plan submitted by South Cambridgeshire plan included proposals for 22,000 new jobs and 19,000 new homes up until 2031.

View the Cambridge City Council press release.


Pickles knighted for services to local government

Eric Pickles, the former Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, is being granted a knighthood for his service as an MP and to local government. He also has a new role as anti-corruption ‘tsar’, Downing Street has announced.

Pickles has been MP for Brentwood and Ongar since 1992 and served as chairman of the Conservative Party from 2009 to 2010.

Before entering Parliament he was leader of Bradford Council from 1988 to 1990 after first becoming a councillor in 1979.


Go-ahead for Lancashire landfill extension

Communities Secretary Greg Clark has approved a Development Consent Order for the proposed extension of the Whitemoss landfill site at Skelmersdale, Lancashire.

The DCO – the first approved by the new Secretary of State – is for the construction of new hazardous waste management facilities at the site. This will involve the construction of new landfill void to the west of the existing landfill site for the disposal of hazardous waste together with associated development.

The project is earmarked for land in the green belt and was viewed as inappropriate development.

However, Clark agreed with the three planning inspectors who examined the proposals that there were “very special circumstances” which justified approval for the scheme which met national policy objectives, was in a suitable location and was planned to have a limited (20-year) lifespan before being restored.

View further information on the National Infrastructure planning website.


Brecon Beacon barn conversion charges row

Brecon Beacons National Park Authority has come under fire for proposals yet to be finally approved to triple the planning charge for dealing with barn conversions

Groups including the Country Landowners’ Association have expressed concern about the Authority’ s policy on barn conversions and a move to set a fee of £90,000 per conversion.

View the consultation draft (PDF).


Call to protect tranquil areas

Conservationists have argued that national data and mapping are needed to protect most tranquil parts of England.

New research from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), just published, shows that better data collection and a new indicator of tranquility are needed to increase protection for England’s most peaceful areas.

In surveying a range of authorities, from National Parks to borough councils, CPRE’s ‘Give peace a chance’ report shows that 90 per cent of authorities would like better guidance and new data to develop tranquility policies.

More than 90 per cent of respondents support the case for new national tranquility maps, which CPRE believes could greatly help local authorities when new infrastructure projects are planned.

View the CPRE’s ‘Give peace a chance’ report.


North Yorkshire fracking proposal submitted

Proposals to frack for shale gas in North Yorkshire have been submitted to the county council.

Third Energy has applied to fracture underground rocks at a site near the village of Kirby Misperton in Ryedale and then pump gas from the field.

The site, in the Vale of Pickering, is close to the Flamingo Land theme park and holiday resort. Protests against Third Energy’s plans have already been launched by local residents under the banner “Frack Free Ryedale”.

View Third Energy’s press release.


Wiltshire solar farm appeal dismissed

A planning inspector has backed Wiltshire Council and dismissed an appeal by solar farm developer Sun Edison for a 12-megawatt array on land at Little Chatfield close to listed buildings.

The proposed scheme is a mile from the Norrington Solar Farm, which although developed had its planning application quashed earlier this year after a legal challenge.

View the decision notice (PDF).


London round-up

  • A new report has proposed that London’s Mayor should have a discretionary power to determine all planning applications for 50 homes or more in a borough for a set period of time if, over a three-year period, the borough fails to reach its annual averaged house building target and cannot demonstrate it is trying to improve its performance. That’s the headline recommendation of a London First document: ‘Carrots and Sticks: a targets and incentives approach to getting more homes built in London’, laying out new measures that could help solve the capital’s housing crisis. Also proposed is a new financial incentive – called the London Housing Delivery Bonus – to encourage boroughs to accommodate more new homes in their area. Co-authored with planning consultancy Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners, the report shows that only 18 out of 33 London boroughs met or exceeded their annual targets between 2010 and 2013, dropping to only 12 out of 33 boroughs between 2003 and 2013.
  • London Mayor Boris Johnson has issued detailed advice – in the shape of Social Infrastructure Planning Guidance – to ensure the conurbation has the schools, hospitals, open spaces and places of worship it needs to flourish.
  • Meanwhile, Johnson has also asked developers to respond to proposals to redevelop Albert Island, a slab of land owned by the Greater London Authority in London’s Royal Docks, where there is the potential to create hundreds of new jobs and build vital new marine facilities.

View the Social Infrastructure Planning Guidance (PDF).


Stafford access road project moves forward

A £35m proposed access road in Stafford has received the backing of the county council’s cabinet and will be the subject of a planning application.

The route is being partly funded by £16.1m from a government growth deal. Other funding is coming from the Local Enterprise Partnership and the council itself.

The Stafford Western Access Route will be a new road connecting the A518 Newport Road to the A34 Foregate Street

The road, between Martin Drive and Grey Friars Place, will link into a further section of carriageway being built by developers who are building to build 2,200 homes to the west of Stafford.

View more information on the Stafford Western Access Route.


Lake District bangs the drum for World Heritage status

A bid for the Lake District to win World Heritage status has been backed by local councils, tourism chiefs, businesses and charities and supported by a detailed report arguing the case for the sub-region’s inclusion on the Unesco list. This will be presented to the government before a formal submission to the UN body in 2016.

View more information on the Lake District website.


Heritage site funding

Lottery funding worth nearly £100m is being given to nine heritage sites, including projects to preserve Britain’s scientific and technological history.

One of the biggest awards – worth £12.1m – is for Jodrell Bank in Cheshire one of the birthplaces of radio astronomy.

In addition, the funding will mean:

  • £8m to revamp the Science Museum’s extensive Medicine Galleries
  • £9.3m to restore and open up Derby Silk Mill in the Derwent Valley
  • £10m to make Great Central Railway a unique double-track ‘preserved’ railway between Loughborough and Leicester
  • £9.5m to digitise the British Library’s Save our Sounds Collection
  • £10.3m to redevelop Dorset County Museum
  • £12.4m to restore Lincoln Cathedral
  • £15m to refurbish Glasgow’s award-wining Burrell Collection
  • £11m to transform East London’s the Geffrye Museum

View more information on the Heritage Lottery Funding website.


Exeter homes scheme sorted

Communities Secretary Greg Clark has confirmed his predecessor’s ‘minded to allow’ decision involving Millwood Homes (Devon) Ltd’s appeal over proposals for 420 new homes and two care homes on land at Pinn Hill near Exeter originally refused by East Devon District Council.

As part of this successful appeal determination, the developer will be expected to pay an increased contribution for each new dwelling which will be used for nearby Special Protection Areas and a Special Area of Conservation.

View the decision letter and Inspector’s Report.


Snub for ex-PM Heath’s Salisbury garden plans

Plans for events to be staged in the garden of the former home of Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath in Salsbury have been turned down by Wiltshire Council.

The Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation wanted to stage 24 events a year for up to 150 people at Arundells, in Cathedral Close, Salisbury. But the planning committee refused the proposal on the grounds of the impact it would have on neighbours despite officers recommending the use should go-ahead.

View more information about Arundells.


Kent council mulls Manston airfield CPO

The new UKIP-led Thanet District Council has confirmed it is reviewing an earlier decision not to pursue the compulsory purchase of the Manston Airport site in Kent.

The council held an extraordinary meeting to decide if it should review the decision made by the previous administration.

Kent County Council has said it cannot support a compulsory purchase order on the information currently available.

The airport closed in May 2014 and several months later, a majority stake was sold to Chris Musgrave and Trevor Cartner for redevelopment.

View more information on the Thanet District Council website.


Appeal Court judges spell out why Luton’s legal challenge failed

The Court of Appeal has given its reasons for rejecting Luton Borough Council’s challenge to the grant of planning permission by a neighbouring authority, Central Bedfordshire, for a controversial urban extension at Houghton Regis.

View more information.


Roger Milne

City Devolution Bill promised in next week’s Queens Speech

A City Devolution Bill will be one of the highlights of next week’s Queen’s Speech, chancellor George Osborne has confirmed.

However, he has made it clear that what the government is calling “a radical new model of city government” will depend on the metropolitan areas involved agreeing to an elected mayor.

Osborne said the legislation would “pave the way for Greater Manchester – and, importantly, other cities as well, to take greater control and responsibility over all the key things that make a city work, from transport and housing to skills, and key public services like health and social care”.

Osborne told councils: “We will hand power from the centre to cities to give you greater control over your local transport, housing, skills and healthcare. And we’ll give the levers you need to grow your local economy and make sure local people keep the rewards.

“But it’s right people have a single point of accountability: someone they elect, who takes the decisions and carries the can.

“So with these new powers for cities must come new city-wide elected mayors who work with local councils. I will not impose this model on anyone. But nor will I settle for less.”

The chancellor pointed out that London had a mayor and that Greater Manchester had agreed to have a mayor as part of the Northern Powerhouse initiative.

In the speech Osborne also promised the new administration would extend a form of the City Deals programme to cover counties and towns. In addition he invited bids for the creation of more Enterprise Zones.

View the full speech on GOV.UK

Roger Milne

Welsh Planning Bill voted through by the Senedd

The Bill ushering in major changes to the Welsh planning system including a new requirement to consider the implications for the Welsh language completed its passage through the Senedd this week.

Assembly Members voted 39 to 10 to approve the Planning (Wales) Bill on Tuesday evening (19 May).

The legislation will obtain Royal Assent later this summer after a four-week period during which the legality of the measures are double-checked.

Planning minister Carl Sargeant said the Bill would create a world-class planning system “delivering timely, fair and consistent decisions that will enhance the built, natural and historic environment in Wales”.

The Bill introduces a new legal framework for Welsh ministers to prepare a national land use plan, to be known as the National Development Framework for Wales. This framework will set out national land use priorities and infrastructure requirements.

The legislation also makes provision for the production of so-called Strategic Development Plans to tackle larger-than-local cross-boundary issues, such as housing supply and areas for economic growth and regeneration. These will focus on three areas: Cardiff, Swansea and the A55 corridor.

In addition, the Bill emphasises the need for pre-application consultation and requires local planning authorities to provide pre-application services.

The new measures also mean that planning applications for nationally-significant projects will be made to Welsh ministers. Applicants for planning permission will also be able to apply to the Welsh ministers for planning permission where a local planning authority is deemed to be poorly performing.

The legislation will also reform the development management system, improve enforcement and appeal procedures and make changes in relation to applications to register town and village greens in line with reforms introduced in England.

View more information on the Planning (Wales) Bill

Roger Milne

Durham and Essex local plans in the melting pot

Two more English local plans are facing an uncertain future following stand-offs involving the local authorities involved – Durham County Council and Maldon District Council – and the planning inspectors examining the strategies.

Durham County Council is seeking a judicial review after failing to persuade an inspector to review an earlier highly critical interim report into the authority’s development plan for the county.

The strategy was branded as “unrealistic” and “flawed” in term of key elements like job creation, housing provision, the need for green belt development and the environmental impact of new roads. The inspector refused to review his criticism of the county plan.

Ian Thompson, the council’s corporate director of regeneration and economic development, said: “It came as a disappointment that the planning inspector has declined to reopen the examination.

“We maintain the plan offers the best prospect for economic growth and have explored every option and opportunity in our efforts to demonstrate this, which has included employing independent planning experts to review our business-backed predictions for growth.

“We now have no choice but to pursue this matter through the courts by way of a Judicial Review.”

In the plan, the county council said it wanted to build 31,400 homes and create thousands of jobs over the next 20 years, in a bid to attract more businesses and people to the area.

Separately, the inspector examining Maldon District Council’s local development plan has incensed the Essex local authority by suggesting it should withdraw the strategy after issuing an interim report concluding it was unsound because its provision for traveller sites was based on an outdated and inadequate assessment of housing needs.

In a statement Maldon DC said it was “shocked and extremely concerned” about the planning implications of the inspector’s ‘interim findings’. The council had suggested it should produce a separate plan to deal with the traveller issues. This course of action was rejected by the inspector.

The planning authority added: “The council has spent a great deal of time, money and goodwill to produce a local development plan to help meet the needs of the local community whilst protecting the local environment and the character of the district.

“The council will be strongly challenging the planning Inspector’s interim findings and is requesting that the examination in public is continued so that the plan can be adopted as soon as possible. “

View more information about the County Durham Plan

View the latest documents for the County Durham Plan

Roger Milne

Sheffield consults on city centre retail makeover

Sheffield City Council this week began consultation on ambitious plans designed to transform the city centre into a top shopping destination.

Proposals for what is known as the Sheffield Retail Quarter include new offices, homes and restaurants as well as new shops for the first time, detailed proposals have been released to give a flavour of what could be possible around Barkers Pool, Pinstone Street and Moorhead.

The proposed scheme, designed by Leonard Design Architects, comprises approximately 84,000 square metres of mixed-use development. As well as new retail and leisure floor space just under a quarter of the scheme will involve offices and around 120 flats.

The proposed design reflects the rest of the city with attractive public squares, historic buildings and outdoor streetscapes. There could also be new car parks, bus and cycle routes and a new cycle hub.
The council has stressed that the proposals will incorporate the best of contemporary design while preserving the historic character of the area. The planning authority is working closely with English Heritage and will preserve Leah’s Yard and The Citadel (Salvation Army building), as well as facades along Pinstone Street and of the old Sunday school.

The city council has been assessing the best way forward for the city centre since ending a partnership with developer Hammerson in 2013.

Simon Green, Sheffield’s Executive Director for Place, said: “Everyone recognises that Sheffield’s city centre needs a massive boost, which is why we are proposing this ambitious scheme.

“The retail quarter can play an important role in securing Sheffield’s economic future, and will complement regeneration schemes such as Castlegate, The Moor, West Bar and the Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District.”

View further details on the Sheffield Retail Quarter website

Roger Milne


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