With continual international economic uncertainty, the UK domestic residential sector looks to continue to have a tumultuous time. The Department for Communities and Local Government figures has recently released figures, showing that house building starts stood at 23,400 in the June quarter of this year, down 9 per cent on the previous quarter.
Housing completions also fell, from 29,020 in the first quarter of 2011 to 27,750 in the June quarter, according to the figures. The drop compares to a 23 per cent rise between the December 2010 and March 2011 quarters, the statistics show.
The lethal cocktail of the global economic situation, uncertainty in the housing marketand forthcoming changes to planning legislation, collectively combine to creategreat uncertainty in the market. The loss of regional housing targets withoutimplementing an alternate driver for housing did nothing to encourage housebuilding.
The news Homes Bonus Scheme, which the government will hope to incentivise councils to encourage housing development, seems to run in direct conflict with the Localism Bill, which seeks to empower Local communities. It is my experience that typically local communities are reluctant to encourage new residential development,as a typical housing development typically creates significant local opposition.One thing that i am confident is that the future of planning and house building in the UK will be heavily impacted by the proposed government reforms, the success of which will become apparent in the future.
A recent article highlighting the flooding risks the UK as climate change intensifies causes concern to both the naturalist and developer. With unpredictability in weather patterns throughout the globe the need to ensure that future development is protected from the risk of flooding is greater than ever. James Potter, one of the senior flood risk engineers within AAH Planning Consultants advises that the pressure for flood complaint development through a comprehensive flood risk assessment is greater than ever. James states that ‘many developers and architects will not only require a flood risk assessment to be compliant with planning and code for sustainable homes and Breeam, but also future occupants want reassurance that the development will not be a risk from flooding’. With climatechange set to continue, the pressure for professionally prepared reports, to mitigate flooding risks is greater than ever.
The Localism Bill recently received Royal Ascent. The recently released document provides further clarity on this matter, with a particular focus on the impact of neighbourhood community groups becoming empowered through the planning process. The report states that, ‘Neighbourhood planning will allow communities, both residents, employees and business, to come together through a local parish council or neighbourhood forum and say where they think new houses, businesses and shops should go – and what they should look like.’
The report continues to clarify how these plans will be created, by stating, that the ‘plans can be very simple and concise, or go into considerable detail where people want. Local communities will be able to use neighbourhood planning to grant full or outline planning permission in areas where they most want to see new homes and businesses, making it easier and quicker for development to go ahead.’
The worrying element is the length and detail of the neighbourhood plan. Should plans be over complex or detailed, it could have the opposite effect of enabling development, and actually adversely affect the streamlining of the planning process. What it could mean is that local community groups create a level of guidance that may be more complex or bureaucratic than the existing system. With a provisional implementation date of April 2012, the effects will seen by planning officers and planning consultants throughout the country.
Listed Building Consent is set to become a much less bureaucratic exercise, with owners potentially requiring much less restriction for undertaking works which are not in parts of the building which are contributing factors to the listed building itself. The findings have been published in the Penfold Review of non-planning consents, and is an initiative being led by the Department for Business Innovation & Skills (BIS).
The Government also plans to enable developers to seek a Certificate of Immunity (COI) from listing or scheduling at any time, valid for five years. This would change the existing arrangements whereby COIs are only issued in relation to listing and after the developer has applied for planning permission.
By removing this requirement, it is thought that this will reduce workloads of stretched council staff. Ministers have also announced consultation on options for allowing certification of applications for Listed Building Consent by accredited independent agents. ‘Accredited Agent’ as yet to be defined, however, it would be reasonable to assume that an individual should be a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute, as a minimum.
It remains to be seen what else Ministers will consider in order to make planning less bureaucratic, in an effort to stimulate the economy.
Details of revisions to local planning policies continue to emerge, with the latest movement towards Ministers plans to publish a prospectus shortly, inviting councils and communities to identify opportunities for “locally planned large scale development, which will take advantage of streamlined planning processes, giving communities a stronger say and developers greater certainty”. The details of the ‘streamlined process’ is yet to be determined, which will be received with great interest.
In addition, the Government has reiterated that it wants to encourage action on stalled development by allowing developers to require local authorities to reconsider those S106 agreements agreed in more prosperous market conditions prior to April 2010.
This is great news for developers that currently have onerous conditions, which now look like they will be able to be addressed. At AAH Planning Consultants we would be able to advise on individual cases.
The recently produced document, ‘Laying the foundation: A housing strategy forEngland’ sets out the latest government views on the future of residential planning and development. Interestingly the government identify that they cannot set targets from Whitehall, and seek to revoke top down targets, vast amounts of planning guidance or excessive regulation. The report continues to identify that this will, according to the government, provide more freedom. A presumption is that less planning guidance will in turn lead to easier development. Guidance provides a framework which allows all parties to have clarity and remove subjectivity with applications. Removal of policy may actually create more uncertainty and subjectivity with individual planning departments. There is little mention within this latest document of how localism will feature in the future of the planning system.
A recently produced draft statement sets out a profession based view of climate change. It describes scientific evidence, the pace and scale of change, economic and sustainability background, urgency for action and the key drivers now increasingly converting climate change into a business reality. The statement also reviews the important contribution of environment and sustainability professionals in climate change mitigation and adaptation, concluding with outline developments important to help practitioners and organisations in building a low carbon and climate resilient future. The statement also contains information and references that members will find useful in their own engagement work. With climate change being a key consideration for the government, and pressure to ensure that sites are ecologically sustainable, and are build outside of flood risk areas, combine to form part of a wider view to be taken by the government. The Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) themselves are looking for professionals to comment on this statement, in order to ensure that the views are reflected by industry professionals
As we now approach the final stages of localism, the pressure is mounting within both the public and private sector in terms of viewing the potential impact of the Bill. Questions regarding neighbourhood plans, how the government will incentivise the councils to develop, and what exactly constitutes as ‘sustainable development’, will shortly be answered.
During the final consideration of the Bill in the Commons, Decentralisation Minister Greg Clark insisted there was now considerable political consensus over much of the legislation.
He told the Commons, which approved all the most recent Lords amendments:
“It is important to say that we want to see more planning, not less.
We feel that over time the imposition from above has stood in the way of local communities expressing their own vision of the future of their community. That is what we want to give them a greater chance to do.
At the heart of that is the need to achieve sustainable development. Section 39 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 provides a duty on those preparing local plans to do so with the aim of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development.
Amendment 370 extends that principle to neighbourhood planning, with an explicit condition that it should contribute to the achievement of sustainable development. The duty to co-operate will require that public bodies should co-operate effectively on sustainable development.”
With the anticipated date of an April 2012 release, developers, planners and architects are looking to see its potential impact.
The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has recently released its formal comments for consideration. One of the main concerns revolves around the lack of clarity of the National Planning Policy (NPPF). The points have been summarised below:
- Clarification of the presumption in favour of sustainable development. The Government needs to define sustainable development more precisely. As drafted, the presumption risks a disruption in the smooth running of the planning system. Any change needs to be managed effectively;
- A tightening up of language. In parts, the language needs to be tightened up to avoid ambiguity and legal challenge;
- The document to have a spatial aspect, expressing a vision for development forEnglandas a whole, recognising that different parts of the country will be affected differently by policy;
- NPPF on the face of the Localism Bill. The status of and procedures for producing and reviewing the NPPF need to be embodied in statute to ensure proper public debate of issues and restore democratic accountability through Parliament; and,
- Positive planning needs to be holistic, and not reactive. The draft focuses on providing a basis for determining planning applications rather than genuine place shaping.
In essence, the RTPI comments call for clarity on a number of matters. No doubt one of the main concerns will be the appeal process, where in the absence of clear guidance, will undoubtedly mean a much higher number of appeals. This in turn may lead to a much higher dependence on case law to determine applications. We wait for the next stage in the process.
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