A recent article released by financial and insolvency services highlights the need for investors to be vigilant when promised land which benefits from planning consent, only to realise they have been sold a plot of worthless land with no chance of development. AAH Planning Consultants recently reviewed a site for an investor, and found that he has purchased 30 plots in an area of high flood risk and part of a wider conservation area. Such a site is unlikely to gain planning permission, and certainly should not be purchased with ‘hope’ value without having a professional Planning Consultant comprehensively review the site. The increase of these misleading sales has seen a 100 per cent increase over two years in the number of complaints about land banking scams accepted for investigation.
The article continues, ‘Since 2009, 39 companies have been wound up that caused losses of £13.4m. To date, nine directors of land banking companies have been disqualified by The Insolvency Service for a total of 86 years. It is estimated that total losses from all land banking scams exceed £200m nationwide.’
In terms of evaluating land for planning, it would be wise to engage professionals that are governed by a code of conduct, such as the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). Members of this organisation are bound by a code of conduct and professionalism. At AAH Planning Consultants the consultants are chartered members, and will provide clients with a professional honest appraisal, which, according to insolvency services, is more important than ever.
The geographical expansion of both The Yorkshire Dales and Lake District National Parks looks set to go ahead as Natural England’s Board have decided to proceed to a collective increase of over 500 kilometers squared.
The proposed variation includes:
- to the north, parts of the Orton Fells, the northern Howgill Fells, Wild Boar Fell and Mallerstang
- to the west, Barbon, Middleton, Casterton and Leck Fells, the River Lune and, part of Firbank Fell and other fells to the west of the river.
The proposed variation to the Lake District National Park includes:
- to the east, an area from Birkbeck Fells Common to Whinfell Common
- to the south an area from Helsington Barrows to Sizergh Fell, and part of the Lyth Valley
Natural England’s recommendations are subject to confirmation by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and will be submitted by Natural England in the form of Variation Orders early next year.
What will this mean for occupants within these areas? In terms of planning consent, national park planning policy is much more stringent in terms of amount and type of development considered suitable. It may be prudent for residents to engage with a planning consultant as soon as possible to gain advice and assistance in order to achieve planning consent prior to the park being authorised.
The Association of British Insurers (ABI) have added more weight to Flood Risk Assessment over mounting concerns that the new draft planning policy could encourage development in areas at risk of flooding. The recent article in the telegraph is one of a number of recent comments made by various bodies over concerns on the new government policy which looks to not prohibit development in the countryside.
The most recent focus refers to concerns raised by Otto Thoresen, the ABI director general, who said the draft framework could “lead to a rise in inappropriate developments in flood risk areas, with people struggling to get insurance”. He continues that “the result would not be stimulation of the economy but misery for people when their homes are flooded.”
The erratic weather in recent years has lead to issues affecting thousands of people. If new development does not include mitigation measures to alleviate flood risk, through a professional Flood Risk Assessment, the potential long terms effects could be compounded.
The article in the telegraph continues that Mr Thoresen said that flood risk was rising, with one in six homes and 185,000 businesses at risk from rising water levels. A further 350,000 properties are likely to be at risk of “significant flooding” by 2035.
In response to the ABI claims, a spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “We are maintaining the requirement for a Strategic Flood Risk Assessment to inform local plans, and keeping the need for individual planning applications in flood risk areas to be supported by a site-specific flood risk assessment.”
Never has it been more important to ensure applications have a Flood Risk Assessment which will effectively mitigate any concerns raised.
The last week has seen considerable debate on the size of new built properties in the UK. RIBA itself has coined the phrase, ‘shoebox living’, which has been widely publicised in the media. Further research was undertaken on other countries in Europe, summarising that Ireland homes were typically 15% bigger, the Netherlands 53% and Denmark 80% larger than the average newly built UK home. What isn’t mentioned is that land prices are much higher in the UK, particularly in the south east, and that the majority of mainland Europe lives in apartment buildings.
In terms of this statistic, it is not surprising as density levels have been increased and there is pressure for developers and planners to redevelop brownfield land. The article raises some questions in terms of providing adequate spaces for people to live, while balancing the protection of the open countryside. This is particularly political at this moment in time, with the planning reviews pending and with the government indicating that there is a presumption in favour of ‘sustainable’ development, which could be used to develop greenfield sites.
The only way to regulate this would be to create rigid space requirements through national planning policy, which may in turn stifle the design and creativity of architects. As a Planning Consultancy, in terms of internal requirements, we are ultimately led by the developer and the current market. We have seen a recent change in the types of houses the main builders are looking to develop, which would actually be more in line with RIBAs suggestions. Some areas in the south east and within the M25 command such a high premium that maximising the space is, understandably, the developer’s priority. So where does it go from here? The only way to create more space would be to legislate, which is unlikely as the current government are seeking to reduce legislation. No one is denying more space would be better; however it is yet unclear what effect, if any, RIBAs comments will have upon the industry.
The recent BBC article which focuses on Mr Pickle’s and Mr Clark’s proposed changes to the planning system marks the beginning of the controversy around new planning legislation which the current government are trying to promote. One of the main areas for concern with the forthcoming legislation is that the Draft Policy Framework which reduces 1000 pages of policy to 52 pages. In order for this to be effective it involves much more general guidance, which may lead to vast inconsistencies in decisions. As the amount of guidance is reduced this can lead to planners interpretations, rather than policies and facts. It is my experience that providing more subjectivity to planning professionals can, and does, lead to vast inconsistencies across council areas, which provides another obstacle to planning reform, and to fulfil the wider aims to streamline the planning system.
The article also focuses on MP’s concerns of the lack of housing, and the crisis that surrounds it, yet by removing the tier of Regional Planning Policy Guidance and the regional housing targets, this essentially removed one of the main drivers behind development, which encouraged housing growth, particularly in the absence of a replacement policy for the past 12 months.
The news of the planning reforms has started debates amongst columnists and professionals alike. As the planning system reforms it yet remains unclear as to the outcome, and how these central government policies changes will actually effect planning at ground level.
Recent planning appeals provide useful and informative information with regard to determining planning applications, and allowing planning consultants to justify applications. One recent interesting case is the certificate of lawful development application for a Christmas tree plantation in Devon. The inspector concluded that the land was used for forestry, not agricultural uses. This would mean that the hardstanding may not be considered as lawful. I would be confident that many of the Christmas tree distribution centres will not have consent, which would mean that there is potential for local authority action where development consists of hardstanding.
With revisions to Planning Policy Statement 3 (PPS3), there has been significant debate on the density of residential development, this has meant developers are unclear as to what constitutes as an acceptable density from a planning perspective. Interestingly a recent planning appeal determined in rural Northamptonshire for 14 dwellings was refused by virtue of being a density which was too low. It was concluded that the site made an inefficient use of land. This may be useful for developers, that, in spite of alterations to PPS3, development can still be considered as being too low a density.
Finally, a case in a conservation area in south westLondonfor the retention of a retractable awning was allowed at appeal. The inspector considered the awning to add to liveliness of the streetscene. Whist each conservation area may have a unique historic and or architectural interest, the fact that the inspector considered an awning acceptable in a commercial area could be a useful case to refer to, in justifying commercial alterations in the locality.
With continual international economic uncertainty, the UKdomestic 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 market and forthcoming changes to planning legislation, collectively combine to create great uncertainty in the market. The loss of regional housing targets without implementing an alternate driver for housing did nothing to encourage house building.
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 normally creates significant local opposition. One thing that I am confident about is that the future of planning and house building in theUK will be heavily impacted by the proposed government reforms, the success of which will become apparent in the future.
With recent news that local councils could be able to raise business rates from wind farms the question that planners and developers are considering, is will this mean council’s are more forthcoming in approving planning applications? With pressure from local residents groups, and anti-wind lobbyists, it leaves councillors and Local Authority Planners in a predicament. The benefits of collecting business rates will surely act as an incentive for cash strapped councils; however, as nearly all wind farms end up being determined at committee, it could lead to political suicide if local pressure groups, which consist of local voters, may move future support for politicians. I attended a committee meeting last week, where an application, which was recommended for approval for a single wind turbine was to be decided. The planning committee voted against the application, rejecting the proposal. What was more concerning was that a local councillor stated that he looked forward to the forthcoming localism bill, which would empower local communities further to resist turbine applications, the statement being met with shouts of support from councillors. This view, which admittedly was only shared at one individual planning committee, hopefully will not be shared at planning committees throughout the country. With over 50% of wind farm applications currently being refused by planning committees, this brings further complication to the localism bill, which seeks to further empower local residents and groups.
The proposal to give the councils the business rate will undoubtedly add another layer of complexity to the matter. The consultation to determine if the council receives the rates closes in October.
The recent flooding issues in Cumbria and across the north of England have recently prompted the preparation of a Strategic Flood Risk Plan for these areas, as is also the case for numerous other councils throughout the UK. The level of detail being prepared for the Strategic Flood Risk Plan will see Cumbria become one of the leading councils in the UK on flood risk.
The report concludes that there is no surface water flood risk of national significance in Cumbria, but it did identify areas of local significance that will be investigated in the future.
Experts stress the list does not mean these are the areas most likely to be flooded in the county as the report only accounts for surface and ground water, not main rivers. More analysis will be done to produce a final priority list.
Councillor Tim Knowles, cabinet member for environment, said: “We’ll also be able to focus maintenance works in the areas where there could be a risk of surface water flooding and work with planners and developers to make provisions in new housing developments.”
James Potter, a Flood Risk Engineer at AAH Planning Consultants states that never has it been so important to ensure that future development considers potential flood risk, and use professional reports to accompany future development in order to ensure future devastation does not occur.
The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) outlines that the Coalition Government’s national planning policy is currently seeking to remove the sequential approach which favours town centre uses over out of town office developments. This may present a challenge for struggling town centres, which have benefitted from national planning focus to support regeneration, and now, if Government proposals progress, concerns have been raised for development at Greenfield sites.
An impact assessment, published by the DCLG alongside the draft NPPF, said that the move would give developers a “wider choice over where they can seek planning permission for new office space”. The Sequential Test would still apply to retail and leisure uses, the draft NPPF makes clear.
Neil Sinden, policy director at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, warned: “This could signal a fresh wave of out-of-town business parks eating up green fields. We see no hard evidence to support the proposed changes on this issue.”
At AAH Planning we are watching these planning policy developments with interest. We would argue that it may actually make offices more affordable, as typically out of town office developments command lower rents and in these recessionary times, we would all welcome ways to keep business costs down. Of course, these changes would also provide significant opportunities for land owners, developers and existing office parks to seek expansion. Again, good for the economy, but not necessarily good for town centres or the green belt. This review of policy direction will no doubt generate lots of discussion in the months to come.
So what happens next? A 12-week consultation begins this week and the Government intends to implement the framework this year. It has also said it intends to “consult on simplifying other guidance on national policy as the next step”.
Is this going to encourage commercial growth or create an investment vacuum in towns and cities?