Author Archives: Richard Anderson

 

World famous Sir Terry Farrell objected to a proposed extension for one of his first ever designs

 

The 1970s designed and built “The Colonnades” building in Bayswater, West London, was subject of a planning application to extend upwards by 1 and 2 storeys with 11 flats.  Proposed by existing residents, the application attracted 50 letters of objection and 23 letters of support.

Sir Terry Farrell objects to the additional storeys believing that his original design will be adversely affected.  Although not a Statutorily Listed building, the original design and character of the area is afforded some protection sitting in a Conservation Area.

The application was due to go before Westminster Council’s planning sub-committee on the 9th June with a recommendation for approval, however the application was (on the day) withdrawn so committee members were unable to consider and determine it.  It is unclear if the applicants are re-considering there proposals with a view to submitting another application or if any future plans have been put on hold or dropped complete.

Original article: https://www.homesandproperty.co.uk/property-news/architect-sir-terry-farrell-objects-plans-extend-colonnades-bayswater-a138741.html

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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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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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COVID-19 Encourages Virtual Planning

 

Quick planning (ish) legal test – do some or all the following mean anything to you – S73, S106, S25, S78?

S73 – develop without compliance with conditions (TCPA – Town & Country Planning Act)

S106 – legal agreement (T&CPA)

S25 – councillors can vote on an application upon which they have expressed a view (Localism Act)

Good (ish) going so far?  What about S78?  Well keen planners out there, S78 (T&CPA) does allow an appeal to be made in relation to an application, but another more recent S78 has far different implications.

S78 of the Coronavirus Act 2020 (1) came into force on the 4th April 2020.  Regulation 5 of said legislation allows local authorities (amongst others) to meet, consider and decide matters away from a single location in person (say the Council Chamber) and effectively convert the time tested tradition of planning applications being determined in the Council chamber,  in person to, wait for it – an online accessible medium.

The single most important benefit for planning is that in this lockdown stay at home environment, planning applications can still be determined by committee and an important end game in the planning system, determination, is not obstructed.

Many planning authorities have been webcasting planning committee meetings prior to the Virus Act, benefits amongst others being:

  • Interested parties including members of the public can observe committee dealings without physical attendance, particularly when committee times vary (2pm, 6pm, 7pm) and may not be conducive to travelling to X or Y Town Hall and having to actually be there.
  • Committee Member’s behaviour can be observed prior to the determination of an applicants’ own application. Spot the silent majority/minority, Cllr A who adores Policy Res1.2 so much that all applications are tied to it, or Cllr B who always seems to reiterate/repeat what Cllr C says.
  • Officer’s behaviour can also be observed. From the methodical, steady presenting officer to the officer who politely reminds the Chair that precedent has been set elsewhere, right through to an officer who was observed being unable weather the storm which many Cllrs brought to home on numerous applications (not helped by a weak Chair).
  • Agent’s behaviour can be observed and critiqued

Now the key difference is that all planning committees are being dragged into reality and being forced to conduct planning business in public over the web in real time.  I have observed a Hertfordshire planning authority conduct their affairs extremely well (and this was their first online attempt).  The Chair assumed his normal controlling authority, the presenting, questioning, determining format was scrupulously deployed and third parties were very fairly dealt with and in one case questioned by Members.

I have, however, also observed a Kent planning authority where webcasting has been in operation way before the Virus legislation came along and where Members who were unable to come to a view on a particular aspect of an application decided to down (online) tools, halt the meeting and retire to another (non-onlined) room without officers “to discuss” and then return with an answer.

In the future, with online working increasing other staples of Council meetings should/could be shelved.  What about the 60-odd, 100 sometimes +300 page paper agendas which are churned out of the Council’s print section a week in advance of meetings, to be followed by 10, 20, 30+ paper addendum in the run up to the meetings?  Hardly sustainable, especially when said Councillors may extol the virtues of their own Local Plan policy Sus2.1 which seeks to ensure developments install Electric Vehicle charging points.

One note of caution which I learned (the hard way) prior to online committee meetings being mandatory, remember, if you are acting on behalf of the applicant and are speaking before committee, you may be being recorded and webcast.  Having been asked at the last minute to substitute a colleague who was ill, I turned up to a planning committee trying to assimilate the bare essentials (and more) before the coveted 3 minute speaking slot.  3 minutes done and dusted, relatively easy ride from Member’s questions, planning permission granted, leave Chamber at 9.30, pm, home just before midnight – job done!

Next morning (9.30ish) the project’s architect called to congratulate on getting permission.  I was somewhat perplexed as I had only informed the client the night before.  This particularly keen and assiduous relatively junior architect had viewed the committee proceedings online and seen and heard my inclusion wanted or not!  One other slightly irritating feature of the online webcasting is that anyone (client, colleague, boss, junior team members, even family and you yourself (!!), can observe and mark out of ten your efforts!

Overall, this is a welcome temporary measure which should be made permanent, post virus conditions.  Indeed, many local authorities have already introduced successful webcam recording conditions.  Having spoken to officers and Members any initial hiccups have been swiftly remedied.  One officer (and indeed mine with two authorities) is that fewer items are being put on the agenda as many applications (with one authority) seemed to be taking longer to determine.  No fault of Members or officers just time-lag, repetition being needed, some contributor’s (Members, speakers, applicant, etc) online presence not there when required. From a practical and procedural perspective one officer stated that agenda setting and preparation for the committee meeting was “smarter and more effective.”  For that authority, a result has been the faithful monthly committee meetings now occurring weekly.

A great way in which to prepare for committee meetings noting officer and Member traits in the expectation that when it is your turn to be under the virtual microscope you can also “perform” efficiently, calmly and authoritatively – all resulting in – “planning permission granted” !!!

 

 

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The Conservative Party Manifesto 2019

 

The Conservative Party launched their election manifesto on Sunday 24th November 2019.  Amongst some of the usual planning ‘suspects’ such as greenbelt, new homes and affordable housing, the party has chosen also to pick up on more specific matters such as design, electric charging points and even expecting all new streets to be lined with trees.  Starting with the usual planning ‘suspects:’

  • Greenbelt/brownfield – will continue to protect and enhance the greenbelt by continuing to focus new development on brownfield land.  At the same time, they have pledged to make the countryside more accessible to local communities whilst improving poor quality land which, where possible, can increase biodiversity
  • New homes – continue to progress towards the target of 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020’s, the belief is that at least a million new homes can be delivered over the forthcoming Parliament term
  • Affordable homes – renew the Affordable Homes Programme following a publication of a new Social Housing White paper

Thereafter appear a number of specific topics designed to be tackled by policy, investment or particular geographic focus:

  • Design – encouraging/expecting local communities to decide on their own design standards when development comes forward.  This builds on earlier policy announcements which aim, through central guidance, to bring through a more ‘uniform’ approach to design standards when being assessed at local levels
  • Development infrastructure – bringing in policy to ensure that development infrastructure is delivered before residents occupy new homes, the spur being a new £10bn Single Housing Infrastructure Fund
  • Cycle infrastructure – the introduction of mandatory design standards for new cycle routes with a new £365m Cycling Infrastructure Fund to support this
  • New homes for local families – through developers S106 contributions in the planning system, enable councils to discount homes in perpetuity by a third to local people who cannot otherwise afford to buy in their area.  The implication here is that this is can assist in the provision of ‘key worker’ accommodation for the likes of the commonly recognised police, teachers and nurses through to other less commonly picked up such as local authority town planners and probation officers
  • Electric vehicles – rolling out a £1bn fast-charging network to ensure everyone is within 30 miles of a rapid electric charging point
  • The setting up of a new independent Office for Environmental Protection which will issue and oversee specific legal targets to deal with subjects such as air pollution
  • Trees – ensuring all new developments where streets are created, to have trees lining them

There then also appear a number of initiatives which are less planning specific, more national or regional ‘boosters’ which have less immediate or exact planning impact, examples being:

  • A new £3.6bn “Towns Fund” to improve the local economy of an initial 100 towns
  • Funding new youth clubs and services (£500m), new civic infrastructure (£250m) and a Community Ownership Fund (£150m), this being to encourage local communities to take over community assets which are under threat
  • Regional ‘boosts’ – applying “Northern Powerhouse” principles to Liverpool, Tees Valley and Hull, investing in the Midlands Rail Hub and funding city-regions to upgrade transport series  to parallel London

Read our key points from the Liberal and Labour  Manifestos.

Visit our blog again soon where we will give our opinion of the General Election results. 

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The Environmental Bill looking to improve biodiversity with developers – post Brexit?!

 

“The Queen’s Speech was made on 14th October 2019 and amongst a myriad of pledges, policies and statements across all areas, The Environment Bill was announced.  Suitably vague, and as the Government cannot command a majority (and is still trying to deal with Brexit), no date has been set for a second reading which would begin to turn this statement into legislation.

A summary of the Environment Bill has been made by House of Commons researchers and can be found here, In terms of development, the only key announcement is that it will “Improve biodiversity by working with developers.”  Further detail awaited likely post Brexit and General Election, could be a long wait!

If you are interested in the pledges set out in the speech, the full 130 page Queen’s Speech analysis can be found here.

We will return to this topic post Brexit!

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Planning fee refunds for delayed decisions

 

Yesterday, Esther McVey, the Minister of State for Housing and Planning, told the Evening Standard that property firms would receive planning application fee refunds if councils took too long to determine planning applications.

This means, in her words, that planning departments “are held to account.” In addition, she stated that “we are looking at some of the things we can do to make planning smoother, faster, more effective.”

Ministerial Statement one thing, translation into reality another, detail to follow, if so when?

Watch this space…

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British Housebuilding Industry – House of Commons Debate

 

On Thursday (5th September 2019) the House of Commons was subject of a Backbench debate on the British housebuilding industry.

Called by Siobhain McDonagh, Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden, a background of housing supply, affordability and homelessness was presented to MPs. Thereafter, a detailed expose of the10 housebuilders in the FTSE 350 index was highlighted, concentrating heavily on the 4 housebuilders who are also in the FTSE 100 index. Matters such as landbanks, Chief Executive pay/bonuses, housing completions, and affordable housing provision were discussed.

Siobhain McDonagh MP opened the debate by looking at the current housing crisis, the record of the FTSE 350 companies and their contribution to solving this crisis. Pay inequality issues which she believes are rife across the industry were also raised.

Housing completions and supply at FTSE housebuilders

Source: Debate on a motion on the British housebuilding industry, page 5 – download PDF

The MP bemoaned the fact that between 2017 and 2018 only 6,464 new social homes were built, the second-lowest on record and referred back to the 1950s and 1960s when 150,000 and 203,000 council homes were delivered by Governments. With a current target of 300,000 new builds a year which has not yet been reached she focused on the 4 housebuilding companies who are in the FTSE 100 index, Barratt, Persimmon, Taylor Wimpey and Berkeley. She highlighted Persimmon who had completed 16,449 homes and posted profits of £1.1 billion, half of which were subsidy through the Government’s Help to Buy scheme. Overall, she stated that together, these 4 companies collected a pre-tax profit of £3.68 billion despite completing only 53,198 homes, less than 18% of the Government’s build target.

Short-term land banks at FTSE 350 housebuilders

Source: Debate on a motion on the British housebuilding industry, page 7 – download PDF

The question was then posed that maybe volume housebuilders could not build out due to lack of developable land. This then turned to land banking with the extent to which the 10 housebuilders did this.

Several studies have considered whether land banking takes place. For example, a report by
Molior for the London Mayor in 2012 found that of the 210,000 existing planning permissions
for new homes in London, 55% were in the control of building firms while 45% were in the
control of non-building firms such as investment funds, historic landowners, government and
‘developers’ who do not build. Molior concluded that accusations of land banking directed at
builders were ‘misplaced.’ An updated report in 2014 found a smaller percentage of planning permissions held by non-developers.

It is acknowledged that developers retain stocks of land with planning permission as a strategy for managing pipelines and ‘smoothing out peaks and troughs in resource allocation.’ There are also holdings of ‘strategic land banks’ which are sites without planning permission which is generally held ‘under option,’ i.e. not recorded as in the developer’s ownership. Shelter and KPMG conclude that incentives to get strategic land through planning are “very high.” The MP highlighted that these 10 companies had a collective land bank of 470,068 yet only completed 86,685 homes between them.

If land banking is not the main problem, there does appear to be a case for ensuring that most of the suitable land for development is held by firms who intend to build on it.

Pay made to Chief Executives and ratios to staff employed in their firm was also a focus drawing on research from the High Pay Centre.

CEO pay ratio at FTSE housebuilders

Source: Debate on a motion on the British housebuilding industry, page 9 – download PDF

Whilst it was stated that it is in no doubt the CEOs worked hard, particular attention was paid to
Persimmon who after a Dispatches investigation and their then Chief Executive refusing, when on camera, to answer questions, had already been in the spotlight. MPs felt it wrong for Jeff Fairburn to be awarded a £75 million bonus despite, in their view, a substandard number of homes being built. In addition, it was highlighted that the median pay for an FTSE 100 house building CEOs is 228 times that of the typical worker, with Persimmon soaring to 964.
In terms of town planning, matters were raised but not extensively discussed during the debate,
these focused on:

– In Siohban McDongh MPs view (and experience at Connect House on a south London industrial
estate) the use of Permitted Development rights to convert office buildings into residential
resulting in poor living quality conditions
– The use of viability assessments at the planning application stage to lessen or not produce any
affordable housing when viewed against policy – the practice should be investigated
– Making it easier for self-build homes to be constructed for both market and social tenure. Here it was alleged by Richard Bacon MP that for
– Calls for further debate on the Town Planning system generally, Help to Buy, planning law and
building on the Green Belt Unsurprisingly, MPs highlighted particular constituency matters which practically leant weight to their arguments:
– George Howarth MP referred to a development in Summerhill Park which has had ongoing
leasehold issues.  When trying to meet to discuss, the MP informed the house that Redrow
Homes refused to and referred to Redrow as “arrogant.”
– Mark Francois MP referred to 3 housebuilders working in close proximity to each other in
Rayleigh each having contra-flow traffic lanes. When the schools went back last week, this
resulted in gridlock. When the MP contacted all 3 to seek resolution he found the smallest,
Silver City finished works within a week, Countryside shutting the lanes in the rush hours with
Barratt David Wilson offering him a wholly unsatisfactory response. Criticism was levelled at
the Highways authority for not anticipating the cumulative impact
– Many MPs lamented the 30% loss of SME housebuilders during the recession and wished to put matters in train to assist them in “standing up” to the 10 volume housebuilders subject of this debate. Here it was alleged by Richard Bacon MP that for SMEs “It is a very risky enterprise, and actually local planning authorities prefer dealing with a small number of large companies because it is easier for them.

There was little time left for the debate to seek the views of Shadow and Government Ministers:

– The Shadow housing Minister reeled off statistics to try to prove the Government were not
delivering and pointed to Labours plans if elected to sort this
– The Minister, Esther McVay, also did the usual political numbers scoring, “300,000 new homes
by the mid-2020s” and political acceptance, “the market is not working” and “there are not
enough homes built.”   It appears the only “new” thing she stated was establishing a new
“Centre for Excellence” in the north for construction and housebuilding.  Not much else was said

A short parting shot from Siobhan McDonagh MP was to seek clarity when discussing affordable housing:

“I want to ask that we ban the word “affordable” in the context of housing. “Affordable” means 80% of market rent, but the vast proportion of our constituents could never afford 80% of market rent. Let us talk about social housing rent and owner-occupation, but let us also clearly address the question of what is affordable, because the “affordable housing” is not affordable.”
A question was then put and agreed by the House. They resolved:
“That this House notes with concern the ongoing shortage of housing and the housing crisis across England; further notes with concern the number of families in temporary accommodation and the number of people rough sleeping; acknowledges that there are over one million households on housing waiting lists; recognises the Government’s target to build 300,000 new homes each year; acknowledges that this target has been missed in each year that the Government has been in office and that the number of homes constructed by housebuilding companies that are deemed affordable is insufficient; notes the pay ratios between executives and employees in FTSE 350 housebuilding companies; and calls on the Government to tackle the housing crisis as an urgent priority.”

For reference:
– House of Commons Research Briefing Paper …
https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CDP-2019-0205
– Hansard transcript details … https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2019-09-
05/debates/40C1B81A-B890-47D4-BE94-F2B12444A20D/BritishHouseBuildingIndustry
– Parliament TV coverage of the debate … https://parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/de8c2a28-4dd2-
47e5-9283-7411a0abff01 Debate commences at 1545.

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Must planning committees follow officers advice in reaching decisions?

 

 

In the news…

The House of Commons research team has issued a document to help answer this question.  Whilst most in the development industry will be aware of the machinations, suspense and in some cases surprising manner in which planning committees reach their decisions, this document offers a step by step guide to those in this industry and the wider public.  In addition, it rolls out many facts and statements such as:

  • In the year ending March 2019, 94% of planning applications in England were delegated to officers
  • For councillors and officers in local authorities, reference is made to the Local Government Association/Planning Advisory Service “Probity in Planning” guide
  • Whilst some may speculate that applications determined against officers recommendations are more likely to be allowed on appeal, Lichfields’ 2018 research demonstrates just that https://lichfields.uk/media/ 4419/refused-for-good-reason- when-councillors-go-against- officer-recommendations.pdf

If you want to discuss any of the topics that we cover in our blog articles, we’d be happy to have a chat. Contact us today.

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‘British housebuilding industry’ – House of Commons to debate

 

British housing debate

British housebuilding news…

**Latest news**

3rd September –  British housebuilding industry – House of Commons debate

With the matter of Brexit appearing to have subsumed all political discourse, I am pleased to report that the House of Commons is still scheduled to debate a motion on the British housebuilding industry this Thursday, 5th September – perhaps MPs will see this debate as welcome respite?

August 12th – On 5th September the House of Commons will debate a motion on the British housebuilding industry.  Taking place in the main Chamber, the debate will be led by Siobhain McDonagh, Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden.  Further details will be made available prior to the debate taking place.”

Watch this space…

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