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We’re moving….

As part of our move out of government we’re also moving out of the government building we’ve been in for the last 12 years!

We’ve managed to find an office not far from our current Bristol base and are looking forward to our own place.

The team’s mobile phone numbers will stay the same, but landlines and email addresses will change, including the Support desk.

We’ll be moving over around the end of August and I’ll provide updated contact details nearer the time, as well as a firm date.

Government announces local plan ‘deadline’ and urges more Inspectorate pragmatism

Planning Minister Brandon Lewis told Parliament this week that the government would intervene where local authorities had failed to produce a local plan by “early 2017”.

In a written Commons statement he said: “We will intervene to arrange for the plan to be written, in consultation with local people, to accelerate production of a Local Plan.”

The minister’s comments came as Lewis’s colleague Communities Secretary Greg Clark wrote to the Chief Executive of the Planning Inspectorate Simon Ridley voicing concern that some inspectors were taking too tough a line on shortcomings in some strategies.

The Secretary of State said: “We have recently seen significant positive plan-making progress: 82 per cent of authorities have now published local plans and 64 per cent adopted plans compared with 32 and 17 per cent in May 2010 respectively.

“It is imperative that this positive progress is maintained, and the government is open to taking further measures to achieve this if needed. As inevitably a plan cannot exactly account for future circumstances there is a real value in getting a local plan in place at the soonest opportunity, even if it has some shortcomings which are not critical to the whole plan.

“We have acknowledged this in planning guidance by setting out that local plans may be found sound conditional upon a review in whole or in part within five years of adoption. Many inspectors have already demonstrated commendable pragmatism and flexibility at examination to enable councils to get plans in place.

“I have, however, seen recent examples where councils are being advised to withdraw plans without being given the option to undertake further work to address shortcomings identified at examination. In order to maintain plan-making progress and to recognise the cost and time to a council prior to submitting a plan, it is critical that inspectors approach examination from the perspective of working pragmatically with councils towards achieving a sound local plan.”

Clark stressed the importance of inspectors highlighting significant issues to councils very early on, and of giving councils full opportunity to address issues.

He also highlighted a recent note published by the Planning Advisory Service where commitment to early review has featured in recently adopted local plans.

View the written statement

View the letter to the Chief Executive of the Planning Inspectorate

Roger Milne

Lancashire underground gas storage scheme finally gets the go-ahead

Energy Minister Lord Bourne has granted a development consent order for the Preesall underground gas storage project proposed by Halite Energy on the east side of the Wyre Estuary in Lancashire. The project will be used to store and extract gas from local underground salt caverns.

Bourne said investment in the new infrastructure would provide sufficient storage space for initially 130 million cubic metres of gas (which could rise to 900 mcm provided certain extra conditions are met) and was “essential” to help keep the lights on and bills down.

The minister took the decision rather than Energy Secretary Amber Rudd following mounting concerns over an assumed conflict of interest involving her brother Roland Rudd whose lobby firm had canvassed the government to back the project.

Halite’s proposals were originally snubbed by the Coalition administration last year against the advice of the planning inspectors who examined the scheme. That refusal was over turned after a High Court challenge and reconsidered by ministers.

Earlier gas storage plans for the site proposed by Halite’s predecessor Canataxx had been unsuccessful following widespread local opposition including both Lancashire County Council and local planning authority Wyre Borough Council.

The decision letter issued by the Department of Energy and Climate Change said there was a “pressing national need for the development of new nationally significant gas storage infrastructure of the type proposed.”

View the press release

Roger Milne

Draft regulations published over fracking in safeguarded areas

The government has published the draft regulations which set out the conditions under which hydraulic fracturing would be allowed to take place beneath National Parks, Areas of Outstanding National Beauty, the Broads and World Heritage Sites. The administration is stipulating that fracking can only take place below 1,200 metres in those areas.

The government pointed out that drinking water aquifers were not normally found below 400 metres.

The statement said that the government had a “clear commitment to ensure that fracking cannot be conducted from wells that are drilled in the surface of National Parks and other protected areas in such a way as to not impact on conventional drilling operations”.

This does mean that operations under protected areas could still take place from outside their boundaries. Environmentalists have voiced concern that these particular safeguards do not include sites of special scientific interest as originally expected – and promised.

A DECC spokesperson said “The National Planning Policy Framework already makes clear that development should not normally be permitted if it is likely to have an adverse effect on a site of special scientific interest.”

The draft regulations surfaced in the wake of the publication of the latest report from the industry-backed Task Force on Shale Gas which insisted local environmental impacts from fracking projects can be kept within “acceptable limits”, provided best practices are embraced and stringent regulations are introduced and adhered to.

The report proposed forward a series of measures designed to strengthen the monitoring of shale gas wells and ensure full disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking projects.

The report also called for a relaxation of current planning requirements that require full planning consent before boreholes can be drilled for monitoring purposes.

View the draft regulations

Roger Milne

Clark backs council and blocks Lincolnshire housing scheme

Communities Secretary Greg Clark has backed a Lincolnshire planning authority and dismissed an appeal for a mixed-use sustainable urban extension of up to 970 new homes at Louth.

East Lindsey District Council had earlier refused outline permission for the scheme by developer Gladman Developments who wanted to locate the proposals on farmland some 2 kilometres south of the Lincolnshire market town.

The plans included a local centre with a community hall, shops, offices and a GP surgery.

Clark agreed with the inspector that the scheme would not be sustainable and would cause “adverse effects on the function and character of the town and the surrounding countryside”.

Clark gave “significant weight” to the provision of housing, including 30 per cent affordable housing, in an area without a demonstrable five year supply of housing land. He also acknowledged the “modest” benefits of providing a primary school, shops, a doctor’s surgery, a community centre, public open space, and transport improvements.

However Clark agreed with the inspector that the proposals would be intrusive to landscape views and would extend Louth into the surrounding open countryside “in an incongruous manner”.

The communities secretary’s decision letter concluded that the negative impacts of the scheme were sufficient to “significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits … taken as a whole.”

View the decision

Roger Milne

Cornish devolution deal falls short of council wish-list

The government has granted Cornwall the first of its new county deals, devolving powers over health and social care integration, bus services and economic development to the unitary council.

However the devolved powers fall short of Cornwall’s wish-list. It had requested to be allowed to use a share of fuel duty paid locally to help maintain roads; retain a share of stamp duty to finance affordable housing and take control of government-owned land to provide social housing.

Cornwall had also made a case for retaining part of the income from right-to-buy sales to invest in building new homes. In addition it wanted greater influence over the development of the power grid and geothermal energy and more local control over coastal protection.

John Pollard, Leader of Cornwall Council, welcomed the government’s announcement. “This is the first stage of a longer journey towards delivering the full case for Cornwall,” he said. “Cornwall has the opportunity to develop a devolution deal which will provide a blueprint for other areas. This is no short term fix. We are serious about a different approach to economic growth and strong communities.”

In a separate but related development the government suffered a defeat in the Lords over its proposal to require elected mayors as part of devolution deals in major conurbations.

During a debate on the Cities and Local Government Devolution bill, peers passed an amendment which said that a secretary of state for communities and local government could not use their power to make an order creating an elected mayoralty “as a condition for agreeing to the transfer of local authority or public authority functions”.

View the press release

Roger Milne

Planning round-up 23 July

Beagle-breeding facility allowed on appeal by Clark

Communities Secretary Greg Clark has allowed on appeal controversial proposals for a facility where beagles will be bred for use in animal experiments at Grimston near Hull originally refused by East Riding of Yorkshire Council. The scheme involves listed building consent.

The inspector who held the recovered appeal had recommended that listed building consent should be allowed but argued that full planning permission for the erection of a new building and the demolition of existing buildings at the site should not be permitted.

Clark concluded that the scheme should be allowed as it was broadly in line with development plan policies and the harm to heritage assets would be of a low order.

View the decision


Hatfield energy from waste project blocked a second time

Environmental services company Veolia’s proposed waste recycling and energy recovery scheme at New Barnfield, Hatfield has hit the buffers again.

Communities Secretary Greg Clark, acting on the recommendation of the planning inspector who held the recovered appeal, has refused the project which was backed by Hertfordshire County Council but bitterly opposed by local residents, Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council and local MP Grant Shapps, a former housing minister.

The proposals had been earlier refused by former Communities Secretary Eric pickles but the refusal was quashed by a High Court ruling a year ago.

However Clark ‘s decision letter following the redetermined appeal concluded, like the planning inspector, that the scheme represented inappropriate development in the green belt and posed harm to the setting of heritage assets at Hatfield House and Park.

View the decision


London round-up

  • The British Property Federation (BPF) has urged government to use its promised review of the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) to stop London councils setting ‘sky-high’ charges which risk constraining growth of the UK’s Higher Education sector.
  • A new report says that housing conditions in London are ‘worsening at a much faster rate than the previous decade’, with 59,000 homes per year needed to meet demand. That’s the conclusion of London School of Economics researchers in an assessment, produced for housing association Family Mosaic, the researchers warned that a shortfall of 30,000 homes a year in London is ‘entirely plausible and may well be a major underestimate’.
  • A new report from business lobby group London First and Terence O’Rourke has analysed progress across all 38 Opportunity Areas in the capital and identified the challenges they face.
  • Proposals for what would be the City of London’s new tallest tower have been submitted for 22 Bishopsgate. The £1.5bn 62-storey office block would be a 278 metre-high skyscraper, taller than the Shard.
  • London Mayor Boris Johnson has announced a new ‘Growth Commission’ to help realise Crossrail 2’s full economic potential across the capital and the UK
  • North London Islington Council is consulting on new rules to make it harder for developers to ‘game’ the planning system and avoid building affordable homes.
  • Londoners are being invited to give their opinion on four new designs for a bridge across the River Thames between Nine Elms and Pimlico.


Big four retailers fail to activate a third of proposed new stores

Just under a third of planning applications submitted by the ‘big four’ supermarkets across the UK have been built, according to latest research compiled by construction industry data provider Barbour ABI.

Its figures show that of the 556 projects approved for Tesco, Asda, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s since January 2010, only 179 schemes are under construction or have been completed.

Tesco has the lowest planning-to-construction ratio, at 21 per cent. Morrisons, on the other hand, has a planning-to-construction ratio of 56 per cent.

View the press release


Council submits draft local plan despite DCLG housing land concerns

Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council has decide to submit its draft local plan for examination despite being told by the Department for Communities and Local Government that latest household projections indicate the council should be making provision for significantly more new homes.

The Merseyside planning authority is proposing sites for 615 new units every year during the lifetime of the strategy. Latest projections suggest that figures could nearly double and be over 1,200 new homes annually.

View the press release


Landmark traveller appeals redetermined and allowed

Two gypsies who earlier this year won a landmark ruling that the former Communities Secretary Sir Eric Pickles had discriminated against travellers by intervening in appeals involving pitches at green belt locations in the London Borough of Bromley and Dartford, Kent have this week had their appeals allowed by planning inspectors.

View the decision


Brummie CIL scheme due to start next year

Birmingham City Council is set to adopt a Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) charges scheme for England’s second biggest conurbation. The regime is due to come into force from January 2016.

The council is one of a handful of planning authorities who have given the go-ahead to implement the CIL in advance of an adopted development plan.

View more information


Ministers decide not to intervene over potash project

Ministers have announced they will not intervene and hold a public inquiry into controversial plans for a £1.7bn potash mine beneath the North York Moors National Park. Charity the Campaign for National Parks, said it was considering a legal challenge over approval of the project.

View the press release


Third time lucky for Derbyshire theme park redevelopment

Plans by developer Waystones for 300 homes on the site of a former Wild West-themed amusement park in Derbyshire have been approved by Amber Valley Borough Council after two previous bids for the redevelopment of the site were unsuccessful. The American Adventure in Derbyshire closed in 2007 and the land has been unused ever since.

View the press release


Gloucestershire football club’s ambitious goal

Forest Green Rovers which hopes to be a Football League club within five years has unveiled ambitious proposals for a £100m sports facility which will include a new stadium for the club.

The development, dubbed ‘Eco Park’, will be a 100-acre sports and green technology centre at Junction 13 on the M5.

Half of the scheme will be dedicated to creating state-of-the-art sporting facilities, including an all-seater stadium, training fields, 4G pitches, multi-disciplinary sporting facilities, as well as a sports science hub. The other half will involve a green technology business park, providing up to 4,000 jobs.

View the press release


Energy projects round-up

  • The site for a £10bn nuclear power plant scheme in Cumbria has been confirmed after a deal to secure land near the existing Sellafield complex was completed. Joint venture group Nugen said it had paid an undisclosed sum for a vast tract of land at Moorside where possibly three new nuclear plants may be sited.
  • Green Power Company EDF Energy Renewables has decided not to proceed with its appeal against refusal of permission for a 14-turbine wind farm proposed for a site north of the A303 at Bullington Cross near Winchester. The application was turned down at a joint meeting by three Hampshire councils last year.
  • Plans for a solar farm on 44 hectares of land at Charborough Estate which is owned by Dorset MP Richard Drax and will be run by green power company Good Energy have been given the go-ahead by East Dorset District Council.


Legal round-up

  • The long-running legal battle by supermarket giant Tesco to block rival Asda’s plans for a new out-of-town superstore at Lydney in Gloucestershire has moved to London’s Court of Appeal. Tesco, which claims that it will lose more than a third of its town centre store’s trade to the new Asda, hopes the Court of Appeal will reach a different decision than High Court judge Mrs Justice Patterson, who dismissed its claim last year.
  • A lawsuit against the planned Hinkley Point C nuclear power station has been filed by green power supplier Greenpeace Energy and nine German and Austrian utilities.


Awards and competition corner

Members of the public are being asked to take part in a new competition designed to celebrate England’s ten most attractive and inspiring places. England’s Great Places has been launched as part of the celebrations to mark the centenary of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI).

RTPI president Jane Askew said:

“Your great place could be a natural landscape, a historic town, perhaps a national park. It might be a vibrant and diverse community you are especially proud of, a special place within a city, a stunning cultural quarter or a neighbourhood. You could nominate an area that has undergone significant regeneration and has been transformed by that process.”

Each place nominated will also be judged against how it was shaped, protected or improved by planners and the planning system.

Members of the public can make their nominations until 1 September. An eminent panel will then produce a list of 10 regional winners, who will all go forward to a public vote to find England’s Greatest Place.

In a separate but related matter the overall winner of the inaugural Civic Voice National Design Award is the motorway services area between junctions 11a and 12 on the northbound stretch of the M5 in Gloucestershire.

View more information on RTPI’s England’s Great Places


Roger Milne

Amendment change on the new Planning Portal website

The single biggest issue reported to us by LPAs when processing online applications is receiving amended (or resubmitted) applications via the Planning Portal.

With the impending launch of our new website this autumn, we are working with our supplier to improve this function.

Local authorities have told us that ideally they would like to receive only the new or amended documents as part of a new process.

However, we are constrained by what can be delivered as we cannot change the 1APP connectors or the XML schema (our common data standard) for communicating applications to LPA back-office systems without a schema version update.

This is because one of the key requirements for the phase 1 launch of our new website is to minimise any impact on LPAs and their ICT Suppliers, we have therefore taken the decision to not introduce any schema changes for the initial go live.

So, with this in mind we will be introducing the following additional functions to the amendment process to let LPAs better understand the changes made from the original submission.


1. Capturing what’s changed

 On the current system the applicant is asked to choose one of the following options:

Changes to the supporting documentation ONLY
– this is free and you may do this more than once

Changes to the forms and documentation
– according to the changes made charges may apply

We will be retaining this question on the new system. However, we will also ask the applicant to provide details of the amendment changes made. This will be a mandatory question.

Capturing this from the applicant will support the existing ‘attachment summary‘ that details any changes to attachments.

The system will also create a new amendment supporting document (a new Planning Portal auto-generated document) that will capture the details provided by the applicant of the changes made, the amendment option they selected and information on when the original application was submitted and transferred to the LPA.


2. Changes to application email notifications

In addition to this we will introduce new email notifications to LPAs for amendment applications rather than send a generic application notification as per the current service.

The amendment email notification will have different email subject text to highlight it’s an amendment and will include details of when the original application was submitted and downloaded by the recipient LPA i.e. times and dates, along with the particular amendment type selected by the applicant.

Receiving additional information at both of these key stages should ensure that LPAs receive clear information and notification that it’s an amended application.

This will inform the LPA’s planning registration team that a previous application has been received and prompt them to cross-reference it with the original to understand the changes made and what the applicant is proposing to change.

This should help avoid amended applications being treated as new applications and registered separately, which currently causes LPAs a myriad of processing issues.


3.  Amendments to applications with ‘submitted’ status

We’re also fixing the issue where the original application has a status of ‘submitted’ – in other words it has been sent to the LPA but hasn’t been downloaded.

To address the instances where the original application has a status of ‘submitted’ (i.e. it’s been sent to the LPA but it hasn’t been downloaded to the back-office system and the applicant subsequently amends the application, these are currently removed from the LPA’s queue of applications awaiting retrieval.

This causes great confusion as the LPA receives the initial email notification of the submission but the application cannot be found or accessed by their 1APP connector.

In these instances the LPA has no idea about what has happened to the application, generating Service Desk calls.

To improve this process on the new website (i.e. the applicant amends an application with a status of ‘submitted’), the service will send an email notification to the LPA advising them that the application has been withdrawn pending further amendment.

This will avoid confusion of why it’s not been retrieved correctly into the back-office system and inform the LPA’s planning registration team to take no further action.


4.  Improving the content that sits around this function

We shall review the content that sits around the process and improve this by highlighting instances of when applicants should use the amendment process and or alternatively email supporting information to the LPA if the application has been registered.

We hope you’ll agree these are much-needed change and with the planned changes will help LPAs to quickly and easily identify amended applications.

More will follow shortly on other improvements we’re developing for the new website.

Osborne unveils package of planning reforms

The government has unveiled a further package of radical planning reforms as part of a wide-ranging Productivity Plan drawn up by the Treasury and Chancellor George Osborne.

The planning measures include a threat of direct intervention by the Secretary of State over the production of local plans where local authorities are judged to be too slow and the creation of a zonal system for brownfield land involving automatic permission for housing.

In addition, ministers want a tighter planning performance regime which would mean local authorities would be judged to be underperforming if 50 per cent or fewer decisions meet statutory timetables or who fail to process minor applications in line with a significantly tighter “planning guarantee”.

Also planned is legislation to allow major infrastructure projects with an element of housing to be considered as part of the Planning Act 2008 regime and treated as nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs).

The government has announced it is scrapping the requirement on new-home developers to offset new-build carbon emissions by making a contribution to carbon reduction elsewhere.

In addition the administration is proposing to extend permitted development rights to taller mobile masts in both protected and non-protected areas in England. A call for evidence on these proposals has been published.

The Productivity Plan also confirms last week’s budget promise of a new roads fund created from all the Vehicle Excise Duty paid on cars registered from April 2017.

This fund will be invested directly in the strategic road network. A second multi-billion pound Road Investment Programme will be published for the period after 2020 before the end of the present parliament.

There has been a mixed response to the proposals, but significantly a similar reaction from planners, developers and local authorities that many of the new measures will only work if the government addresses the severe shortage of funds within local authority planning departments.

View the press release

Roger Milne

Ministers threaten to intervene on local plans

Councils that fail to agree a local plan could face direct government intervention under new reforms just proposed.

Over the summer recess, the government will set a deadline by which time local authorities will be expected to have local plans in place, after which the Secretary of State will have the power “to arrange for a local plan to be written, in consultation with residents”. The government also intends to produce league tables of local authorities ranked by their progress in developing their local plans.

Ministers have committed to making local plans “more responsive to local needs”. Significant streamlining of the length and process of local plan-making is promised along with strengthened guidance on the duty on local planning authorities to cooperate on key housing and planning issues. More detail is due in the autumn.

In a further bid to boost house building the government will legislate to grant automatic planning permission for housing on suitable brownfield sites identified on the new statutory registers of such sites (subject to a limited number of technical details).

The government will also consider how policy can support higher density housing around key commuter hubs. One option under consideration would mean mayors in London and across the country could use new powers under the Devolution Bill to use development corporations to deliver higher density housing in designated areas’.

Also promised are additional compulsory purchase reforms to further modernise the system, already undergoing major changes. Details will be announced in the autumn. “These will allow local authorities and others to drive forward and shape brownfield development, but will not alter the principle of Secretary of State sign-off on CPOs”.

View the Productivity Plan

Roger Milne


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