Monthly Archives: June 2020


Planning Bill (modestly?) aims to speed up economic recovery


Planning 2020

The Government yesterday/on 25th June published the “Business and Planning Bill.”  This aims to relax certain planning (alongside other licensing financial and (even) HGV) regulations to help breathe some life into the economy.

Whilst the only permanent planning change proposed is, for many, pretty insignificant and will allow Planning Inspectors to implement “flexible deployment” when considering how best to hear/consider a planning appeal – written representations, hearings or local inquiries – or a mix of all three, there are temporary measures proposed to run more widely.

These include the introduction of a fast-track application process for varying planning conditions and construction site working hours (days, hours, what is required?) and the extension of some planning permission expiration periods applicable to permissions due to expire shortly and those which have expired already.

For permissions which have expired and were subject to an EIA, further environmental approvals will be required.  Finally, the ability to allow an “electronic inspection” of the London Plan will be introduced.

This Bill is legislation playing catch-up to several recent Ministerial pronouncements and it is only at its first stage of passage through the Houses of Parliament.  All stages of the Bill have been scheduled for debate in the House of Commons on 29th June.  Thereafter it is pinged back and forth with the House of Lords (1st, 2nd and 3rd readings) before being given Royal Asset and introduced to us as The Business and Planning Act 2020 (no date given as yet!).

This brief foray for Planning into the Houses of Parliament will not be solitary as the Secretary of State yesterday, when under fire for his determining role in a Westferry planning application, reminded us from the Despatch Box, that he considers a wholescale reform of the planning system is required and that a new Planning Bill will be brought forward “in weeks.”


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New Planning Principal Joins Urbanissta Team


EllenWe are delighted to welcome Ellen Nicholson, who joins our team as Planning Principal.  Ellen joins us following a two-year spell in Australia, where she worked in Sydney as a Planner in local and state Government, as well as in a planning consultancy.

Ellen comes predominantly from a local Government background having worked for the London Borough of Newham for six years in enforcement, regeneration, and major developments.  Her focus in the Majors Team was on large-scale residential schemes in and around Royal Docks, and some unique applications including the Secret Cinema site in Canning Town.

Ellen says:  “On my return to the UK I was keen to explore options in the private sector, and was thrilled to be offered a job at Urbanissta.  I’m really looking forward to developing my planning knowledge and experience in this role.”

As part of her working holiday, Ellen spent three months in rural Western Australia picking strawberries and pruning vines.  She says it is safe to say she is more suited to office work!  In her spare time, like the rest of the team, Ellen is currently daydreaming of holidays and the pubs reopening.  She continues to keep active with home workouts and walks around the Essex countryside to counteract her dangerous chocolate addiction.

Jo Hanslip, Urbanissta Founder and Director, commented:  “We’re really pleased to welcome Ellen to our growing team.  Her experience in a local authority working on large scale schemes will be really useful as we continue to deliver these projects for our clients.”

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Judicial Review Against Planning Inspectors Granted to Sevenoaks Council


Judicial Review Against Planning Inspectors Granted to Sevenoaks Council

Judicial review has been granted to Sevenoaks District Council against the decision of a Planning Inspector to reject its emerging Local Plan over failure of the Council to meet the duty to cooperate.

The Inspector’s final report on the draft plan, issued on 2 March 2020, followed an examination of the Council’s draft Local Plan which had taken place in September and October 2019.  It had asked Sevenoaks Council to withdraw its Local Plan and concluded that the Plan was not legally complaint with regard to the duty to cooperate, because the Council had not satisfactorily worked with neighbouring authorities to accommodate homes it could not plan for as a result of the green belt and other restrictions.

The Inspector, Karen Baker, accepted that the Council had prepared a joint evidence base with other local authorities, including a Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) with neighbouring Turnbridge Wells Borough Council. However, she stated that the assessment of housing did not include any specific provision for meeting unmet needs of adjoining areas, which the SHMA stipulate need to be considered through the duty to cooperate.

Sevenoaks District Council in their response vehemently refused to withdraw the documents, consequently in April they issued a legal challenge to the Inspector’s decision in the High Court. The Court had issued a notification granting permission for review.

The High Court Judge, Honourable Mr Justice Swift, concluded that “all grounds for the Council’s claim are arguable, hence permission for judicial review was granted, thus clearing the first hurdle of the process”.

The Judge noted more than 800 pages of evidence setting out how the Council had worked with its neighbouring Councils during the production of the plan, whilst these neighbouring Councils supported Sevenoaks Council’s evidence and approach on this matter.

The Council’s Cabinet Member for Development and Conservation, Julia Thornton, noted that “This is great news as it means the High Court believes our position that the Planning Inspectorate may have a case to answer”. She further noted that the Council had followed the relevant guidance when they developed the Plan and the evidence, they had provided to the Planning Inspector justified their position.

The Council insisted that they had no choice but to take a legal route to demonstrate how serious and committed they are to their residents, against what they believe is a fundamental failure by the Planning Inspectorate to take account of the weight of evidence in front of them.

The Council strongly believe that the Inspector had erroneously interpreted key parts of the Local Plan requirements. The Council noted that their Local Plan was the “first in the country” to be assessed under the revised 2018 National Planning Policy Framework.

We will keep you informed of the Court decision concerning this case when the ruling is made.

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The highs & lows of … planning application submissions, the last 6 months


Large housing development aerial view in construction on rural countryside site Scotland UK

Planning professionals across the land have been, and still are, submitting planning applications on all natures and scale on behalf of clients across the country.  Whilst this has been occurring, a forensic analysis has been undertaken by EG Radius Data Exchange.  Some interesting findings have emerged. A subtitle of “silver linings in lockdown” invites interesting reading and reflection.

Reporting on a downward trend towards lockdown (23 March), the numbers in April plunged to the lowest since 2016.  However, the report does highlight a few interesting aspects, such as some parts of the country finding themselves with more large scale proposals, and particular sectors such as telecoms maintaining strong returns.

Some overall numbers to cogitate:

  • Before 2020 there was an average of 6,796 planning decisions per month, so far, in 2020 there has been a 12.5% decline
  • Slim pickings for approvals (up 1%) and refusals down (1%)
  • 2% increase in the number of homes approved compared to the same time last year
  • 1,295 telecom mast applications as the nation gears up for 5G
  • A 15.7% fall, year-on-year in applications submitted in the first 4 months of the year

Within the residential sector, negative figures strike (-25% for new applications, -29.2% for decisions) whilst office and commercial activity shoots up (21.2% new applications and 20.5% for decisions).  Not surprisingly private housing is the largest sector for UK planning, accounting for more than half of decisions last year.  Now its contribution has fallen 41.9%.  A slight silver lining for this cloud is that social housing decisions are up 12.9% and new applications also up albeit at 4%.  Bear in mind though, that social housing represents a total of only 3% of applications and decisions.

Across all sectors for applications, whilst offices and commercial applications leap by over 20% with a more modest 4% for social housing, apart from medical and scientific uses which remained static, all other sectors fell from between 8% (community and amenity) with the residential sector hitting -25%.

So, in an era of lockdown, the industry is looking to build new offices?  Does not seem logical when the vast majority are working from home and find it, er … works!  No, it is not the “office” tag which is resurging, rather the “commercial,” and within that lies the answer telecoms.  With the nationwide ambition being for 5G coverage, our nation requires the relatively innocent telecoms mast.  However, given our geography and the fact that 5G radio waves do not travel as far as 4G, the nation needs many of the innocent masts. In fact, they accounted for a third of all commercial and office decisions at the start of this year and more than 41% of all applications.

This may be the case but, according to the research, “Telecom masts have driven office and commercial activity, but only in certain parts of the country,” as evidenced in their graphic …

Approved telecomms applications

Turning to the residential sector, whilst although the number of new applications (-25.5%) and decisions (-29.2%) are down, approvals are on the up with a 7.2% rise to 210,973.  On a similar level, the number of homes in applications submitted at the start of the year was up 13% on 2019 totalling 373,972.

As a Scot myself, it is rare that across most sectors (other than whisky (not whiskey) and tartan) the country spends much time making positive noises.  However, on the rather nerdier planning front, the country has much to shout about, with Scotland leading the way in planning activity at the start of this year.

A couple of graphic snapshots adequately demonstrate this …

Top 10 council approved applications

UK graph

Whilst is would be rather pleasing to end on a positive, there is of the course the negative, planning permissions being refused with the report highlighting that “Greater London is home to eight of the councils most likely to refuse an application.”

Top Active Councils

So, from the above, it clear that planning has not ground to a halt.  It is also clear that some sectors are holding their ground with one, telecoms, pulling the office and commercial sector to the top of the class.  For the residential sector, whilst new applications and decisions are down, approvals are up for the same time last year.  So, with permissions already in place, applications being submitted, certainly on the residential front it is over to the developers to get back out there and get those permissions implemented, or in real terms, build!

A copy of the analysis by EG Radius Data Exchange can be found here.


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Buckinghamshire Becomes a Unitary Authority


Buckinghamshire Council became a unitary authority on 1 April 2020, with the four district councils – Aylesbury Vale District Council, Chiltern District Council, South Bucks District Council and Wycombe District Council with the Buckinghamshire County Council area now ceasing to exist. This is a result of the announcement on 1 November 2018 by the then Secretary of State for Housing Communities and Local Government, James Brokenshire.

The implementation of Buckinghamshire Council was overseen by the shadow Authority to ensure the smooth transition to the new Council. A total of 202 councillors make up the new Buckinghamshire Council, whose key responsibilities include setting a budget for the Council and appointing members to committees.

The new Buckinghamshire Council leader, Martin Tett, reiterated the readiness of his team across the Council amidst the challenges of the current Covid 19 emergency to work together to deal with an unprecedented national emergency situation in protecting, supporting and informing the residents and businesses in Buckinghamshire.

In a related development, Buckinghamshire Council had criticised the Planning Inspectors decision that the former Chiltern and South Bucks emerging Local Plan failed to satisfy the duty to cooperate by finding significant weaknesses and shortcomings in the proposed Local Plan. The emerging Local Plan was submitted for examination in September 2019.

The Planning Inspectors warned that there is a strong likelihood that the strategy would have to be withdrawn, since the Councils preparing the strategy had failed to engage sufficiently with regards to the unmet need of around 8,000 homes in neighbouring Slough.

The Head of Planning and Environment for Buckinghamshire Council had written to the Council on 12 May 2020 to point out the “significant shortcomings” and an “inadequacy of reasoning” in the Inspectors findings, and called for further examination hearing to address criticism of the plan. The Head of the Council’s Planning and Environment noted in the letter that:

“…Your letter correctly anticipated that the Council is disappointed with your initial findings but, having considered the substance of your letter, the Council is equally disappointed with the inadequacy of the reasoning which has led you to your initial findings…”

The Council’s letter also noted that the Inspector had failed to correctly apply the duty to cooperate, a legal requirement. Consequently, the Council stated that it would address the “significant shortcoming” in the Inspectors’ letter in due course.

Concerning the initial finding of the Inspectors on “the significant weakness”, the Council noted that the Inspectors had demonstrated that this was not an issue which can be dealt with appropriately exclusively on paper, hence, they require that the matter and the substance of the Inspectors response be dealt with at a hearing. Thus, the Inspectors responded in their letter to the Council dated 20 May 2020 that they acquiesce to that request.

However, the Inspectors reacted to the Council’s preference to have discussion in person with them rather than  a virtual event online, but stated that it may be many weeks or months before they can hold a hearing of the type envisaged by the Council.

We hope that residents, communities, and businesses will start to see more and more benefits of having a unitary council. More joined up local services, one single organisation serving them, more investment in local priorities and a stronger, louder unified voice to champion the Council at a national level.

It is not clear when the Council would adopt a unified Local Plan or whether the existing Local Plans and emerging plans of the former district councils, like that of the former Chiltern and South Bucks presently under examination will for the meantime serve as their development plans, until the Council is able to evolve a unitary development plan.


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