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Proposals unveiled for starter homes on rural exception sites

Relaxed planning rules covering the construction of low cost ‘starter homes’ for local residents could be extended to rural towns and villages in England as part of plans to boost the rural economy which also include moves to make neighbourhood planning more straightforward.

Last week the Treasury and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs unveiled a package of proposals aimed at boosting rural productivity.

A key element would involve amending planning rules to allow so-called ‘starter homes’ to be built on Rural Exception Sites for the first time.

According to the policy paper, the government intends to make it easier for local areas to establish their own neighbourhood plans. They could then use these to allocate land for new homes, including starter homes on rural exception sites. The government also intends to review the existing threshold for the conversion of agricultural buildings into residential buildings.

Ministers have promised that in the current bidding round for Enterprise Zones (which closes on 18 September) preference will be given to proposals involving smaller towns, districts and rural areas.

The government has committed to a review of planning and regulatory constraints facing rural businesses. That exercise will be completed by 2016.

Ministers have also announced that a fast-track planning certificate process will be introduced for establishing the principle of development for minor development proposals.

In addition the administration has promised to improve rural transport connections, provide fairer funding for rural schools and work with private sector providers on “alternative solutions” to make broadband internet access available in the most rural areas.

View the press release

Roger Milne

UNESCO calls foul over housing scheme near Blenheim Palace

Proposals to build hundreds of new homes at Woodstock would harm the setting of Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire’s only UNESCO World Heritage site, the UN agency’s specialist adviser has warned.

That’s the stance of the International Council on Monuments and Sites – known as Icomos – which advises UNESCO which designated Blenheim Palace a World Heritage Site in 1987.

Icomos-UK has written to Cherwell District Council which is due to determine plans for a major residential development on part of the Blenheim Estate on 1 October voicing its concern.

The scheme, known as Woodstock East, has been on the drawing board for some time and now involves plans for 1,200 new homes rather than the 1,500 originally mooted.

Pye Homes and landowner Blenheim Estates are behind the project and insist their scheme will be sustainable and help provide the income necessary for the upkeep of the palace and its grounds.

But Peter Marsden, chair of Icomos-Uk has told the planning authority that the “development would physically overpower the existing settlement [Woodstock]. Changing the character of Woodstock would further harm the setting of the World Heritage Site.”

He also raised fears about the visual impact of the development, whose closest buildings would be about a mile from the palace – the birthplace of Winston Churchill. Many local residents share the concerns voiced by Icomos-UK.

The development straddles the boundary between West Oxfordshire District Council and Cherwell District Council. The former is due to consider the proposals on 22 September.

View more information about the development on the Woodstock East website

Roger Milne

Newt initiative unveiled by Natural England

An innovative approach to protecting one of England’s most threatened amphibians could enhance their population and reduce delays to major building projects.

That’s in prospect now Natural England (NE) is due to launch a pilot project designed to make the licensing system for great crested newts easier.

The aim is to take a more strategic approach to the conservation of newts, ensuring that resources are focused on newt populations and habitat that will bring the greatest benefits to the species. At the same time it will make the licensing process much more straightforward for developers on sites where newts are found.

Under the current system, developers on sites with great crested newts are required to carry out a survey and assessment before applying to NE for a licence to move the animals before building work can begin. This process is costly and time-consuming and, because it is restricted to the active season of great crested newts, presents a real risk of development delay.

The new approach, to be trialled by NE and Woking Borough Council in Surrey this autumn, will involve survey work to establish the size, location and connectivity of local great crested newt populations.

Testing for traces of newt DNA in pond water has already been undertaken across Woking to establish where these amphibians live. This is a new survey technique.

This information will be used to produce a local conservation plan for the newts which will identify areas where development will have the least impact and specify where new habitat will be created to ensure a healthy overall population.

The council will put in place the new habitat, so that when development results in habitat loss, the habitat gains will already be in place to compensate. Where there are sites of high conservation value for great crested newts it is likely that developers will seek to avoid those areas.

NE insists that this system ought to improve the habitat legacy for great crested newts as well as reducing delays and costs to developers.

View the press release

Roger Milne

Innovative flood protection scheme for Morpeth

A tourist destination in Northumberland, affected by flooding in 2008, is benefitting from an innovative £26m scheme which has just been completed

The Morpeth flood scheme, which opened on Monday (24 August), will protect residents by storing millions of gallons of flood water upstream – one of the largest projects of its kind built by the Environment Agency.

The Morpeth flood scheme will benefit more than 1,000 homes and businesses in the town and is the largest flood protection project completed in the North East. The upstream reservoir on the town’s Mitford Estate works by storing up to 1.4 million cubic metres of water when river levels are high – enough to fill more than 560 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

In September 2008, severe and prolonged rainfall caused 1,000 properties in the town to be flooded and forced hundreds of people to evacuate.

The scheme has also created 17 hectares of new habitat for local wildlife. Some 3,500 endangered white-clawed crayfish have been relocated upstream of the River Wansbeck – one of the last places in the UK where the native species has a stronghold.

The project has been jointly delivered with Northumberland County Council, which provided £12m in funding – one of the largest partnership contributions the Environment Agency has so far secured.

View the press release

Roger Milne

Call for flexible CIL charges to help small builders

A new report commissioned by the Federation of Small Business (FSB) suggests local planning authorities could inadvertently be costing small house builders millions of pounds because of Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) charges. The FSB argues these extra costs risk blocking otherwise viable housing projects.

The FSB commissioned an assessment by BCIS, the building cost information service run by professional body RICS. BCIS found that on average, smaller house building projects of 10 units or less, typical of developments run by smaller firms, had significantly higher basic building costs. The difference lifted average house building costs by 14 per cent when compared to larger developments.

BCIS claimed there was no evidence of councils making allowance for these higher costs when stipulating the CIL charge.

BCIS calculations suggested that local authorities could be overcharging smaller house builders by as much as £100,000 per project.

This added cost was a significant burden to smaller house builders, and was likely to be pushing many much-needed urban brownfield housing projects beyond viability, claimed the FSB.

FSB National Chairman John Allan urged local planning authorities to adopt a more flexible approach on CIL. “They should consider the size of the proposed project when deciding how to set the levy, and ensure small house builders aren’t overburdened with unaffordable costs” he argued.

View the press release

Roger Milne

Planning round-up 27 August

Quartermain to head PINS as Ridley moves back to DCLG

The Department for Communities and Local Government has announced that its Chief Planner Steve Quartermain is to take over as Interim Chief Executive of the Planning Inspectorate.

Simon Ridley, the present incumbent, is set to return to DCLG in September as Director General for Decentralisation and Local Growth.

Quartermain will take over as acting chief executive of PINS in the interim, supported by Mark Southgate, currently Director for Major Applications and Plans at the Planning Inspectorate, as Chief Operating Officer.

Ridley was appointed PINS Chief Executive 12 months ago having previously been Director of Local Government Finance at DCLG. DCLG will recruit a new PINs chief executive.

Quartermain is expected to resume his duties as the department’s chief planner once that exercise is completed. Senior DCLG colleagues of Quartermain will carry out his duties while he is working at PINs.

View the press release


English housing starts up but completions down

Latest official housing statistics show an increase in the number of homes built but a slowdown in the number of starts.

Seasonally adjusted house building starts in England are estimated at 33,280 in the June quarter 2015, a 14 per cent decrease compared to the previous quarter. The seasonally adjusted level of starts in the June quarter 2015 decreased by 6 per cent on the same quarter a year earlier.

Seasonally adjusted completions are estimated at 35,640 in the June quarter 2015, four per cent higher than the previous quarter. The seasonally adjusted level of completions in the June quarter 2015 increased by 22 per cent on the same quarter a year earlier.

The figures showed there were over 131,000 completions in the last 12 months, 15 per cent higher than in the previous 12 months and at their highest annual total since June 2009.

View the statistics


Green light for Sussex port expansion

Expansion plans put forward by the French owners of Newhaven Port have been approved by Lewes District Council subject to agreement on conditions.

The owners want to build a new berth and slipway, and deepen a channel to upgrade facilities at the East Sussex facility. The plans involve redeveloping the East Quay by demolishing part of the East Pier structure and refurbishing the existing multi-purpose berth while also building a new multi-purpose berth and slipway at the southern end of the East Quay.

The proposals also involve dredging the existing channel leading into the harbour so bigger boats can be handled at the port. The scheme is in line with a master plan for the town which envisages a key role for an upgraded port in helping regenerate the town.

Conservationists remain concerned at the impact on shingle habitat and residents have complained the development will mean the loss of a sandy beach.

View the press release


Special measures memorandum published

The Department for Communities and Local Government has formally published a memorandum setting out its criteria and justification for changing the threshold for so-called under-performing planning authorities. The criteria involve speed of decision-making and quality, measured by decisions which go to appeal and how they fare.

Originally English LPAs faced special measures when 30 per cent or more major development applications failed to be determined in the statutory time. Subsequently this was raised to 40 per cent and will now be 50 per cent.

DCLG has pointed out that so far only three planning authorities have been subject to special measures. In the case of two of them the designation has been lifted. None was designated on the basis of quality of decisions.

The department has also insisted that since the new regime came into force in 2013 there has been a significant improvement in LPA performance. District matter authorities determined 75 per cent if major applications on time during the first quarter of 2015 compared to 60 per cent in the second quarter of 2013 when the new arrangements came into force.

View the guidance


Referendum success for Cornish NPs

Two Cornish neighbourhood plans (NPs) reached a key milestone last week when residents were polled on the document. In the case of the Roseland Peninsula NP nearly 75 per cent of the residents who voted backed the plan. The turn-out was 40 per cent.

Meanwhile in respect of the Quethiock NP just over 88 per cent of those who responded to the ballot favoured the NP. The turnout was just over 33 percent.

View more information


Nottingham and Cambridge transport schemes

Full services on Nottingham’s new tram lines started this week. The £570m project to extend the Chilwell and Clifton lines began in March 2012 and took eight months longer than originally scheduled.

Plans for a £44m second railway station for Cambridge have been approved by the city council. The proposals include a 450 square metre station building, three platforms and bicycle and car parking.

Plans for the north city station previously submitted by Cambridgeshire County Council were given the go-ahead 18 months ago. However the project was taken over by Network Rail. It submitted its own “substantially unchanged” plans.

View the press release


Energy project developments

  • Ribble Valley Borough Council has approved proposals for an 11 hectare solar farm at Gisburn, Lancashire which will involve the installation of nearly 20,000 solar panels.
  • North York Moors National Park Authority has approved an application for a conventional onshore gas scheme at Ebberston Moor which will involve building a 13.9 kilometre pipeline to an existing gas-fired power station at Knapton.
  • A Carmarthenshire councillor who failed to declare a £25,000 payment from an energy firm before a vote on its wind farm plan has been suspended for three months.
  • Scotland’s last coal-fired power station, Longannet in Fife, is to close on 31 March next year owner Scottish Power has announced. The company has also said it is abandoning plans to build a new gas-fired power station at Cockenzie in East Lothian.
  • A plan to expand England’s second biggest onshore wind farm, located in the Lancashire Pennines, has been recommended for approval by officers from Rosendale Borough Council. The proposal involving an extra 16 turbines at the existing 26 turbine Scout Moor facility also requires permission from Rochdale Borough Council.


Dorset and Devon local plan moves

The planning inspector examining the draft Joint Local Plan for West Dorset, Weymouth and Portland has concluded the strategy is sound provided the planning authorities include a number of modifications consulted on earlier this year.

These include increasing the housing requirement from up to 13,220 dwellings over the plan period to a bigger total of 15,500 dwellings by 2031.

The plan highlights development on sites at Weymouth, Littlemoor, Chickerell, Bridport and Crossways. The inspector has said the councils should review the plan by 2021, looking again at the development potential of Dorchester and Sherborne.

The inspector has removed the reference to a Trunk Road Service Area as part of the park-and-ride site proposed south of Dorchester. The councils are expected to formally adopt the plan in October.

Meanwhile the final draft of the North Devon and Torridge Local Plan is being amended to reflect the revised policy on thresholds for affordable housing which has just come into force following a High Court case won by two Berkshire planning authorities against the government.

View more information about the Local Plan for West Dorset, Weymouth and Portland

View more information about the North Devon and Torridge Local Plan


Lancashire homes approved

South Ribble Borough Council has approved two planning applications totalling around 650 homes on brownfield land in Lancashire.

Bovis Homes’ proposals for around 385 dwellings at Penwortham Mills got the go-ahead as well as plans by Morris Homes and National Grid Twenty Seven for 281 homes on a former gasworks site at Lostock Hall.

Bovis secured full permission for a first phase of 181 homes and outline permission for a second phase of up to 204 dwellings. Planning officers had recommended both schemes for approval.

View more information for Penwortham Mills proposal

View more information on the Lostock Hall proposal


Affordable housing provision appeal succeeds

Broxtowe Borough Council’s refusal of a developer’s request to remove the entire affordable housing requirement from a 116-dwelling scheme at Nuthall, Nottinghamshire has been overturned by a planning inspector.

The planning authority had required 25 per cent of the housing to be affordable. The inspector used a mixture of the appellant’s and the council’s viability evidence and concluded that there was no realistic prospect of any affordable housing being viable.


Canterbury barracks makeover

Howe Barracks in Canterbury is set to become a new neighbourhood of 500 homes. As well as the green light for new housing the 30 hectare scheme includes community space and three sports pitches.

The main concern raised by councillors during the debate on the proposals was the fact that only 26 per cent of the homes will be affordable housing. The city’s local plan recommends that all new developments should include at least 35 per cent affordable housing. Officers argued the smaller figure was justified because of the development costs.

The barracks was built during the 1930s to house the Royal East Kent Regiment – known as The Buffs – and continued to be used by different army regiments until 2013, when the Ministry of Defence relinquished control of the site.

View more information on the developmen


London round-up

  • New proposals for the last remaining central London section of the Mayor’s flagship East-West Cycle Superhighway have been published. The plans provide a trial two-way segregated cycle track on Spur Road, in front of the Queen Victoria Memorial at Buckingham Palace, closing the last gap in the route and providing continuous fully-segregated and protected cycling across central London from Tower Hill, through Parliament Square to Hyde Park Corner and Lancaster Gate. However Transport for London is facing a judicial review challenge from black cab drivers over the construction of a section of cycling ‘superhighway’ along the Embankment on the north bank of the Thames.
  • Developer Eco World Ballymore has revealed designs for a 35 metre high suspended swimming pool at Embassy Gardens part of one London’s newest neighbourhood, Nine Elms on the South Bank. The outdoor pool will link two residential buildings at the 10th storey – a world first – and allow residents to swim from one building to the next.


Legal round-up

  • The property developer who illegally modernised the Grade II-listed Llanwenarth House near Abergavenny where the hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful was written has been told by a judge to fork out £300,000 – or go to jail. He could also face a bill for up to £750,000 to restore it to its original state.
  • A High Court judge has quashed a decision by the former Communities Secretary Sir Eric Pickles to refuse planning permission for a site where a gypsy and his family have lived since 2008. Pickles’ decision went against the recommendation of the planning inspector who considered the appeal triggered by the original refusal of Bedford Borough Council. The inspector concluded that permission should be granted for a limited period of two years. The current Communities Secretary will have to consider the case.


Plymouth enterprise zone confirmed

Ministers have confirmed that south west England will benefit from its second government-backed enterprise zone.

Plymouth’s South Yard naval dockyard has been approved as the site for a new enterprise zone that will be focused on growing the marine industry.

The site could deliver 55,000 square metres of new floor space, providing space for hundreds of new jobs and offering a unique opportunity to develop the deep water access and facilities that Plymouth is renowned for.

View the press release


Milestone for coastal initiative

The government has insisted that the number of jobs, apprenticeships and training places established as a result of its Coastal Communities Fund has passed the 10,000 mark.

Over the past 3 years, the government has invested some £120m in projects across the UK to help seaside communities tap their economic potential, create business opportunities and ensure their long-term future.

View the press release


Clooney CCTV consent

Hollywood A-lister George Clooney has been given permission to install 18 CCTV cameras at his £10m listed country home.

The film star and his lawyer wife Amal want to erect the cameras on poles up to 5 metres high in the grounds of their manor house in Sonning Eye, on the Oxfordshire-Berkshire border. The local parish council initially raised concerns over privacy and the CCTV system’s visual impact.

South Oxfordshire District Council said planning permission was granted as the CCTV system will not be detrimental to the special architectural and historical interest of the property


Furore over Housing minister’s expenses

Housing and Planning Minister Brandon Lewis has been forced to defend the fact he has claimed Parliamentary expenses of over £30,000 for London hotel stays during the past two years. He is a Norfolk MP but has a second home in Essex. That revelation was highlighted by the Sunday Times.

View the news story on the Sunday Times website


Defibrillator conundrum

Planning permission is not needed after all to install two potentially life-saving defibrillators, Harrogate Borough Council has confirmed. A couple who raised more than £4,000 to install one device in Knaresborough and another in the spa town were originally told planning permission was required which would cost £195 for each installation.

View the news article


Roger Milne

More fracking battle lines drawn up as latest shale gas licenses identified

Planning authorities, predominately in the midlands and the north of England, will find themselves in the fracking front-line following this week’s announcement by the UK’s oil and gas regulator that 27 onshore blocks are being formally offered for firms to hunt for oil and gas as part of the so-called 14th licensing round. This involves shale gas exploration and the prospect of fracking.

A second group of 132 further blocks has been subjected to detailed assessment under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010, the findings of which are now out for consultation.

Subject to the outcome of that consultation, the Oil & Gas Authority (OGA) will announce offers for the second group of licence blocks later in the year. The licences for all offered blocks will then be granted after the terms and conditions have been finalised.

Tens of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) fall within the oil and gas exploration blocks in England identified on Tuesday (18 August).

Energy firms like IGas, Cuadrilla and Ineos are among the companies who have been successful in winning some of the blocks announced. Igas was awarded seven areas, Cuadrilla has won two, and Ineos has also won three.

The blocks cover an area of 2,700 square kilometres. There are 53 SSSIs in the blocks, including in Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and around Sheffield, according to environmental campaigners.

A “block” is an area of land, typically extending to 10 square kilometres. The licence granted under the provisions of the Petroleum Act 1998, affords exclusive rights to licensees “to search and bore for and get petroleum” in all the various stages of oil and gas operations.

The licence itself does not confer on the licensee any consent, approval or permission to carry out specified development activities – all activities, such as drilling, will necessarily require further consents, including planning permission and environmental permits.

It’s likely there will be a far larger number of SSSIs in the 132 blocks that could be offered in a second tranche of the round, including sites in North Devon, the Isle of Wight, and a large concentration in North Yorkshire.

Catherine Howard, a planning partner at international law firm Herbert Smith Freehills, said: “It is no coincidence that just ahead of the award of licences, the government last week announced measures designed to overcome the delays being experienced by shale gas operators in obtaining planning permission, as well as confirming that it will legislate to ensure planning permission is deemed to have been granted (without application) for groundwater monitoring required for shale gas sites.”

View the press release

Roger Milne

St Albans green belt housing appeals dismissed

Communities Secretary Greg Clark has dismissed two re-opened appeals, one for 116 dwellings and a care home and the other for 85 dwellings at a green belt location – largely open farmland – on the northern edge of St Albans in Hertfordshire. The site is located between the mainline railway and the A1081.

Both schemes had been refused by the local planning authority, St Albans City and District Council and dismissed on appeal by a planning inspector in 2013. However developer Hunston Properties mounted a successful High Court challenge which quashed the inspector’s decision. Subsequently the council went to the Court of Appeal which resulted in a ruling that the appeals should be reheard and redetermined.

The SoS agreed with the inspector that, despite the council having less than 3.7 years of housing land supply “the very special circumstances do not exist to justify allowing the inappropriate development”.

Clark’s decision letter concluded that the schemes represented “substantial green belt harm”. He also agreed with the inspector that the schemes posed “significant harm to the character and appearance of the area, diminishing its intrinsic character and beauty, causing real and serious harm with a lasting effect on the nature of the countryside”.

View the decision letter

Roger Milne

RTPI report challenges London green belt homes over car commuting

Proposals for one million new homes near train stations in London’s green belt could add between 3.9 and 7.5 million car journeys every week, according to new research by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI).

The report challenged the assumption that building in the green belt within easy walking or cycling distance of railway stations would be sustainable as the majority of new residents would use the train to get to jobs in London.

The RTPI examined commuting data for five medium-sized towns within the existing metropolitan green belt, towns which are centred on railway stations and have direct connections to central London.

The organisation said: “We found that in these five towns, only 7.4 per cent of commuters actually travel to inner London by train on a regular basis, despite living within easy walking or cycling distance of a station.

“The majority of commuters (72 per cent) instead travel by private vehicle, mostly driving to jobs within their hometown and to other places not in London.”

The five towns in the RTPI analysis were: Hemel Hempstead, High Wycombe, Watford, Maidenhead and Bracknell.

RTPI president Janet Askew said: “Quite apart from other good reasons why building in the green belt on such a scale might be opposed, these figures demonstrate a fundamental flaw in the reasoning that there is a quick fix and a sustainable solution to the housing crisis by putting large numbers of new homes close to railway stations.

“While it is difficult to predict exactly future commuting patterns, the overwhelming evidence is that people will use their cars and this will result in vastly increased numbers of car journeys in and through the green belt.”

View the press release

Roger Milne

Welsh planning minister bangs the drum for green power

Welsh Planning and Natural Resources Minister Carl Sargeant has written to planning authorities in Wales stressing that UK government proposals to fast-track shale gas development only apply to England.

He has also highlighted his administration’s moratorium on any proposals involving “fracking” and its preference for renewable forms of energy generation over oil and gas exploration.

Sargeant insisted: “Despite recent announcements in England, we still see renewable energy as a key element in ensuring that Wales achieves sustainable development for the benefit of future generations.

“Measures announced by DECC, and the UK government’s general support for oil and gas applications is contrary to the approach of the Welsh government of promoting renewable and low carbon forms of energy through the planning system and other measures.

“Our vision for future energy generation is based on embracing Wales’ abundant renewable energy resources which provide exciting and immediate opportunities. Wales is a green and clever land and we want to ensure that we address the issue of climate change immediately through the effective deployment of renewable energy technologies.

We still see renewable energy as a key element in ensuring that Wales achieves sustainable development for the benefit of future generations.”

And he added: “Local planning authorities must ensure that planning applications for renewable energy projects are determined within statutory timescales.”

View the letter

Roger Milne


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