Increase in planning fees

Following the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) consultation on increasing planning  application fees in February 2023, the Government has responded to confirm that this will now be taken forward with draft regulations laid on 20th July. See here.

Whilst the consultation suggested that the planning fee increases would be introduced from ‘Summer 2023’, the Government has announced that they will now not come into force until 1st April 2024.

The proposed planning fee increases will be 35% for major planning applications and 25% for all other applications. Furthermore, fees will increase annually on the 1st April each year, using the Consumer Prices Index (CPI). Any annual fee increase will be capped at 10%.

Furthermore, the ‘free-go’ for repeat applications (i.e. those withdrawn or refused) will be removed. A knock on consequence of this may be an increase in the submission of appeals, however the Government believes that amendments and improvements to schemes should be addressed through the pre-application stage to ensure that high quality schemes are submitted first time round.

The Government explain that following the increase in planning application fees, it is expected that the performance of local planning authorities will improve. To support this, the Government is also amending the ‘planning guarantee’ policy – which gives applicants the right to a refund of fees if their submission is not determined within 26 weeks – by reducing it to 16 weeks for non-major planning applications. However, it remains that this does not apply if an extension of time has been agreed between parties.

The Government has also scrapped their plans to ‘ring fence’ the additional income generated by the planning fee increases. The Government noting that local authorities were best placed to make decisions about funding local services, including planning departments.

Overall, there is support from those within the industry to increasing planning fees provided local planning authorities can improve their service and speed up decision making. Whilst a step in the right direction, there are a number of other factors that also need to be addressed by the Government and local planning authorities including recruitment, retention and skills.

For confirmation of any of the details, and how they may affect your interests, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Local Plan and Housing Land Supply Update – April 2023

The first quarter of 2023 has seen a number of changes to the progress of Local Plans and housing land supply positions of the local authorities within our region.  Our latest update (April 2023) can be found within the table below.   For confirmation of any of the details, and how they may affect your interests, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Click here to view the table

Pro Vision’s response to the consultation ‘Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill: Reforms to National Planning Policy’

As practicing Town Planners, we represent a wide range of clients including private individuals, farmers, businesses, housebuilders, landowners, and strategic land companies and working across a wide range of housing and commercial projects from inception to delivery. Our team has reviewed the consultation and we provide the following response below.

Introduction

We support the Government’s commitment to delivering 300,000 homes a year. However, we firmly believe that the changes proposed to the National Planning Policy Framework (‘the Framework’) will result in the delivery of significantly fewer less homes. We do support the objective behind the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (‘the LURB’) of increasing home ownership, ensuring that the environment is protected, and speeding up plan-making and the planning process generally; however, we consider the changes proposed by the Framework are confusing, with competing and conflicting objectives, and a watering down of the checks and balances that currently underpin our planning system. We do not believe these changes will resolve the housing crisis or improve the planning system.

In the foreword to the 2012 Framework, it was stated “sustainable development is about positive growth – making economic, environmental and social progress for this and future generations. The planning system is about helping to make this happen”. The Framework has lost this vision – quite literally in that this clearly articulated vision has been deleted. Instead, of a clear vision, this Framework presents us with competing and confused objectives – boosting housing supply on the one hand, but misplaced protectionism on the other.

Questions from ‘Chapter 3 – Providing certainty through local and neighbourhood plans’

Chapter 3 Q1 Do you agree that local planning authorities should not have to continually demonstrate a deliverable 5-year housing land supply (5YHLS) as long as the housing requirement set out in its strategic policies is less than 5 years old?

No. We consider that LPA’s should continually review the delivery of sites allocated to meet the housing requirement and should be required to demonstrate a deliverable 5 year supply to keep LPA’s accountable.

Take Basingstoke and Deane Borough for example; it adopted its Local Plan in 2016 and the effect of that adoption was to create a 5 year housing land supply. However, within 18 months of adoption, it was held on appeal that the supply had fallen below 5 years and the Council has not been able to rectify this position since. Why? Because of the adopted spatial strategy which relied on a few large-scale strategic allocations that had significant infrastructure requirements and which have been slow to deliver (a well-documented national issue). Also, planning applications took a lengthy time to be determined due to the complexity of the project i.e. the Manydown application for c. 3500 homes took 4 years to achieve planning permission from submission and is still not delivering now 7 years after the adoption of the plan. So clearly, whilst the Council did allocate sites to meet the housing requirement, the delivery trajectory was unrealistic and the strategy did not allow for sufficient growth elsewhere in the Borough to maintain supply.

Basingstoke is just one example of the picture in many Council areas. LPA’s should be held accountable for the plans they produce and adopt. Maintaining a rolling 5 year supply and demonstrating this through a continual review ensures that a sufficient supply of housing is continually coming to market. This ensures the housing needs are met, that sufficient affordable housing is being delivered and also brings forward CIL/s106 funding / improvements.

Chapter 3 Q2 Do you agree that buffers should not be required as part of 5YHLS calculations (this includes the 20% buffer as applied by the Housing Delivery Test)?

No. The purpose of the introduction of the buffer was to improve the prospect of meeting the planned supply. The retention of a buffer is therefore vital.

The objective of this amended Framework is to ensure a ‘sufficient’ supply of homes. A buffer is therefore necessary to help LPA’s ensure a sufficient supply because the delivery of housing is contingent on a number of factors which can and do change overtime. A 5% buffer added to the housing requirement should therefore remain. We also consider that the 20% buffer should remain in areas with a persistent under delivery of housing and where there is a lack of reliable evidence that the shortfall in 5 year supply will change in the immediate future.

Chapter 3 Q3 Should an oversupply of homes early in a plan period be taken into consideration when calculating a 5YHLS later on or is there an alternative approach that is preferable?

No. We consider that it might be possible for the Government to incentivise LPA’s who over-supply against the requirement in any given year through the New Homes Bonus or similar i.e. an additional payment is given to those authorities to invest into their planning services. However, from a decision-making perspective, we consider that past oversupply should not be taken into account because it could not be certain that such oversupply in the past would meet the housing needs of the market now i.e. did the oversupply provide the right type of housing in the right locations. Given this ambiguity, we do not support this change.

Chapter 3 Q5 Do you have any views about the potential changes to paragraph 14 of the existing Framework and increasing the protection given to neighbourhood plans?

We do not support the blanket protection proposed, as not all Neighbourhood Plans are prepared equally.

 

We have had direct experience of working with Neighbourhood Planning Groups in the plan-making and decision-making stages. Our experience has been positive as well as unfortunately negative and we have seen good sustainable sites that score well through the Council’s own evidence, dismissed for non-planning reasons. But we have also had positive experiences where the Neighbourhood Plan has supported growth and ensured the vitality of its community through good sound planning.

We do recognise that a good Neighbourhood Plan can be a valuable tool to a local community. Therefore, where a Neighbourhood Plan has been adopted to deliver the housing requirement set by the LPA, and where it can be proven that the Neighbourhood Plan has been effective in bringing the allocated sites forward for development, we would support the additional protection being proposed by Para 14 to those areas. Essentially, we suggest that the Neighbourhood Plan needs to be accountable and demonstrate it is being effective to benefit from the protection.

We have seen Neighbourhood Plans allocate housing significantly less than the housing requirement set in a recently adopted Local Plan – the Woodcote Neighbourhood Plan in South Oxfordshire is a recent example. In this area, sites have been allocated that have limited prospects of being delivered, and which are too small to deliver affordable housing or other infrastructure benefits. We do not consider that is good planning, and therefore in those areas, where the Neighbourhood Plan did not plan for the requirement set to the area, and/or where there is no clear evidence that the allocated sites are being delivered, we do not consider the plan should benefit from the protection.

Questions from ‘Chapter 4 – Planning for housing’

Chapter 4 Q6 Do you agree that the opening chapters of the Framework should be revised to be clearer about the importance of planning for the homes and other development our communities need?

We do agree that the Framework should be clear at the outset as to its vision and purpose which surely in the context of this country’s housing crisis should be to provide the homes the country needs. Therefore the opening chapters should give great emphasis to boosting the supply of housing and ensuring the right number and type of homes are built in the places where they are needed. This should also recognise that planning is about striking a balance between economic, social and environmental impacts and benefits.

Chapter 4 Q7 What are your views on the implications these changes may have on plan-making and housing supply?

We consider the amended Framework misunderstands the root cause of delays to the delivery of housing and other economic development. Many of our clients are striving to bring forward their sites, but face barriers at the local level that result in the delay to the delivery of sustainable housing. A significant barrier is the under-resourcing of planning authorities and the inherent delay this causes to the processing of applications.

The proposed changes to the Framework, ironically, result in greater uncertainty and in our view will result in fewer homes being delivered and will further complicate the plan-making and decision-making process.

Chapter 4 Q8 Do you agree that policy and guidance should be clearer on what may constitute an exceptional circumstance for the use of an alternative approach for assessing local housing needs? Are there other issues we should consider alongside those set out above?

Yes, we agree that policy and guidance should be clearer, but where an LPA seeks to use an alternative approach, that decision, and the process then followed, needs careful, robust and rigorous analysis both by the public and at Examination. Hence, we do not support the removal of the need for plans to be justified. We will also point out that the standard method is already an advisory starting point.

Chapter 4 Q9 Do you agree that national policy should make clear that Green Belt does not need to be reviewed or altered when making plans, that building at densities significantly out of character with an existing area may be considered in assessing whether housing need can be met, and that past over-supply may be taken into account?

No. Firstly, Green Belt is a spatial planning tool, it is not an environmental designation. That does mean there are sites washed over in the Green Belt where development can be accommodated without harm.

Secondly, we wonder whether the MP’s who heard the Statement made by the Minister of Housing and Local Government to the House of Commons on 26 April 1955 as to the importance of Green Belts understood at that time its significance for Town and Country Planning in the 21st Century! Was the statement ever intended to mean that a Green Belt would act as an unchangeable policy constraint for ever more?

Rt. Hon Duncan Sands MP addressed the Commons stating that “I am convinced that, for the well-being of our people and the preservation of the countryside, we have a clear duty to do all we can to prevent the further unrestricted sprawl of the great cities”. It cost 3d to receive this statement in print at a time when this countries population was around 52 million. This country’s political leadership has changed many times over in the 68 intervening years– even our currency has changed, and this country has joined and since left the EU. There have been significant other changes, but in many ways our planning system and our Green Belt policy, is still stuck in the 1950’s.

To plan effectively for the well-being, housing and economic needs of the 67 million people in England today, we cannot afford to hold the Green Belt as sacrosanct. The Green Belt around London is in fact around 3 times larger in area than Greater London itself. It includes significant areas of farmland, and only a modest proportion of this land is actually publicly accessible – note that was one of the main drivers being establishing Green Belts.

But we think it important to remember that in his Statement, Rt. Hon Duncan Sands MP used the term “unrestricted sprawl” and this term exists in the Framework today. We understand this does not mean that any development in the Green Belt should be prevented, instead we understand it to mean that it should be possible to release areas of land on the edge of a built up area that have clear and well defined boundaries without that act leading to unrestricted sprawl. There are many such sites, and many are in sustainable locations on the edges of our existing towns and villages.

We are strongly concerned that if Local Planning Authorities are not required to review Green Belt boundaries, housing needs will simply not be met. Another consequence of this is that development will be forced into more and more unsustainable locations, away from main transport corridors for example.
For example, recently Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council produced a report which concluded that the housing market was overheated meaning that house prices were too high for the majority of people in need of a home. The Council’s paper stated that the only way to meet the housing need of the Borough was to release land from the Green Belt for housing. This Council, who have a significant housing land supply shortfall and no up-to-date Local Plan, should be supported and guided by National Planning Policy to review all the options for meeting housing needs, including the Green Belt, and should be directed to select the most sustainable options for development, even if that means marginal encroachment into the Green Belt.

Chapter 4 Q11 Do you agree with removing the explicit requirement for plans to be ‘justified’, on the basis of delivering a more proportionate approach to examination?

No. Whilst we do agree that the current plan-making process is onerous, expensive and time-consuming, this will not be addressed by the removal of the requirement for plans to be ‘justified. We strongly oppose that change which we feel goes to the heart of plan-making. Public Authorities should be accountable for the decisions they make in the public interest. The requirement for plans to be justified should remain otherwise the process will become even more politicised, based on short term interests rather than long-term legacy.

Further, and in relation to the Duty to Cooperate, a significant issue is the lack of alignment of Local Plans. If Authorities worked together in a more cooperative way and aligned Local Plans, it is possible that costs could be reduced by sharing of data and information for example, a Green Belt assessment could apply to a housing market area which often straddles multiple administrative areas. This could help authorities ensure their respective needs are being met by focusing development on the most sustainable locations. The current system whereby LPAs can be plan making with little or no regard to strategic cross boundary issues, or on completely different timelines, is a serious problem. For example, the three West Kent Authorities failing to work together effectively on a green belt review and relying on three separate evidence bases has led to two of those Authorities Plans being found unsound at Examination.

Chapter 4 Q16 Do you agree with the proposed 4-year rolling land supply requirement for emerging plans, where work is needed to revise the plan to take account of revised national policy on addressing constraints and reflecting any past over-supply? If no, what approach should be taken, if any?

No. There should be no change to the requirement to demonstrate a 5 year housing land supply requirement, even whilst a new Local Plan is being prepared.

Chapter 4 Q18 Do you support adding an additional permissions-based test that will ‘switch off’ the application of the presumption in favour of sustainable development where an authority can demonstrate sufficient permissions to meet its housing requirement?

No. Permissions granted and homes delivered is not the same thing. A key aspect of the Housing Delivery Test is in the word “delivery” and a deliverable site does not mean the same as a site with planning permission. Further guidance on the meaning of deliverable would be welcomed. Further, the role of the planning authority does not stop at the granting of the permission, but it endures through clearing conditions and supporting the applicant to get building. The presumption should be triggered by the delivery test, not by the granting of permissions.

Questions from ‘Chapter 5 – A planning system for communities’

Chapter 5 Q23 Do you agree that we should amend existing paragraph 62 of the Framework to support the supply of specialist older people’s housing?

Yes. We support these changes – we support the provision of the right type of homes for all sectors within the market, young or old, everyone has a right to a good home.

Chapter 5 Q30 Do you agree in principle that an applicant’s past behaviour should be taken into account into decision making?

No. The long standing and important principle of the planning system is that applications should be determined on their merits.

This change also gives us significant cause for concern regarding resources. Planning Authorities are already stretched, and this change would inevitably take the focus away from assessing the planning merits of a development now and instead place the focus on something that has happened in the past. As professional planners this cannot be right. Planning should be focused on a balance of the benefits of the development against its impacts. It should be about making fair and robust decisions. It should not be concerned with who the applicant is or events of the past unrelated to the proposal today.

Further, we consider this could lead to grossly unfair decisions resulting in unnecessary appeals i.e. an applicant today being denied permission due to a slow delivery on a site in the past and time being spent exploring the reasons for the past slow delivery and what that means for the development today. This process would expend a significant amount of time and resource and as above, takes away from the fundamental principle of balancing the harm of the proposal today against its benefits.

In any event, this would be a toothless policy because Applicants could use differing names for projects.

Questions from ‘Chapter 6 – Asking for beauty’

Chapter 6 Q33 Do you agree with making changes to emphasise the role of beauty and placemaking in strategic policies and to further encourage well-designed and beautiful development?

We consider that the term “beautiful” and what is meant by “beauty” needs to be clearly defined. Design is like art, what is pleasing to one person could be disliked by another. Planning is similarly subjective. To assist, rather than adding further terms and terminology, the Government should assist by clearly defining terms used and deferring what is meant by achieving a well-designed place to local level design codes and guidelines.

We trust that our views will be taken into consideration. We would finally add that we consider piecemeal changes to the NPPF are not helpful. The industry is looking for certainty; all these changes in policy and intended policy yet to be published is having a direct impact on confidence in the planning system, undermining efforts to build back better.

Local Plan and Housing Land Supply Update – November 2022

We are continually monitoring the progress of Local Plans and housing land supply positions of the local authorities within our region.  Our latest update (November 2022) can be found within the table below.   For confirmation of any of the details, and how they may affect your interests, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Click to view the table

Appeal success over definition of the planning unit for countryside estate in the South Downs

We were delighted to win an appeal recently for the Cowdray Estate in the South Downs National Park, testing the concept of ‘the planning unit’.

The Section 195 appeal followed refusal of a Certificate of Lawful Development regarding relocation of the maintenance yard from one part of the Estate to another.  The inspector was satisfied that, notwithstanding the large scale of the core part of the Estate, it represented a single planning unit, and therefore, relocating a composite use within that same unit did not require planning permission.  Being unable to precisely define the farthest extents of the planning unit was not critical, given that we were able to demonstrate a clear relationship between the composite uses in the core area.

James Iles, Director, represented Pro Vision at the appeal hearing, alongside Rob Walton QC of Landmark Chambers.

A copy of the appeal decision is available here

Darling Buds of May Nursery

We are delighted to have achieved Permission in Principle (PiP) on appeal on land adjacent to the Darling Buds of May Nursery, Headley, near Newbury, for a scheme of between five and nine dwellings.

Permission was refused by Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council over concerns relating to landscape impact and flood risk and land outside of the settlement boundary.

However, in allowing the appeal, the Inspector agreed that the proposal broadly complied with the development plan, made appropriate use of previously developed land, was contained within the local landscape, and would benefit the borough’s supply of housing, contributing to the presumption in favour of sustainable development.

Pro Vision provided planning, design and ecology services. Technical Details Consent (TDC) is now required.

The appeal decision can be accessed here

Pro Vision is a Carbon Neutral Plus Organisation

Climate change is a significant problem that affects us and will affect future generations if nothing is done about it. Whilst figures vary, the construction industry contributes around 5% of the UK’s annual CO2 emissions and overall households contribute to around 40% of the UK’s CO2 emissions. Here at Pro Vision, we are therefore very aware of both the responsibility and the opportunity we have as a development consultancy that deals with all aspects of the construction process from planning through to the design of buildings and their construction on site.

As a company we have made various changes to the way in which we work in order to reduce our CO2 emissions and ensure that we are acting responsibly in relation to the climate. As part of this commitment we have been on a journey of quantifying our CO2 emissions and looking at ways of offsetting them.

Working with Carbon Footprint our first step was to quantify the amount of CO2 we produce as a business. Taking into account all our work-based activities, our emissions for 2021 equated to 1.2 tonnes of CO2 per employee. This is around a third of the average for a business of our type and we are incredibly proud that we have been able to limit our CO2 emissions to this extent. We are aware, however, that the pandemic had a significant impact on suppressing our emissions and so we are committed to the challenge of ensuring that going forward we seek to maintain and, as far as possible, improve upon this figure in our post-pandemic world.

Our, next step looked at ways to offset these CO2 emissions. Our team agreed to fund a number of internationally certified projects that are reducing CO2 emissions. Climate change is a global problem and therefore we have sought to fund projects both in the UK but also in other countries where the money we use to offset our emissions can often go further and have a bigger impact in terms of CO2 reduction.

The projects we are funding are varied and include: tree planting in UK schools; a programme looking at reducing deforestation through supporting economic development in Brazil; the installation of wind turbines in Maharashtra state in India; the implementation and installation of grid connected renewable energy power plants in India and; the construction of a wind farm in Peralta, Uruguay.

These projects are important because they both help reduce CO2 emissions as well as providing employment and opportunities for people in often poorer parts of the globe. Additionally, we are happy to be able to fund the planting of trees in the UK in order to have a direct impact within our own community.

Whilst our financial input into these much larger projects may only be limited, by partnering with Carbon Footprint we are able to ensure that the money we invest to offset our emissions can be pooled with many others to bring about significant change in terms of CO2 reduction for the planet.

Pro Vision also decided that we want to go further than just offsetting our emissions and we have pledged to offset an additional 25% beyond our own emissions. In order for everyone to limit global temperature rises it is imperative that globally we don’t just limit or offset our own emissions but that we look to actively reduce the amount of CO2 emitted. It is because of this that we felt, as a company, that it was an important step to go beyond merely offsetting our own current emissions.

Having undertaken this work Pro Vision are proud to announce that we have been certified as a Carbon Neutral Plus organisation. We are committed to doing our part to help reduce our CO2 emissions and contribute towards helping limit the effects of climate change for us and for future generations.

Full Planning Permission Gained for Pamber End

Pro Vision has successfully gained Full Planning Permission for our landowning client for a 13-unit residential development in the Hampshire village of Pamber End.

The scheme includes 5 affordable dwellings and a mix of dwellings including 2, 3 and 4 bedroom homes. The scheme also includes over 1600sqm of on-site public open space, with biodiversity net gain secured via planting of a significant area of new woodland.

The approval sought to rely on a previous, but lapsed, permission for 11 units, as well as the continued shortfall in 5-year housing land supply in Basingstoke and Deane Borough.

Pro Vision undertook all the architectural drawing and planning work and co-ordinated with other specialists. Our ecology team provided inputs on the biodiversity aspects of the project, including protected species.

The Environment Act 2021 – What you need to know

Last week, when climate change was high on the Government’s agenda through COP26, the long-awaited Environment Bill was given Royal Assent and has now become the Environment Act 2021. This Act requires, by late 2022, the Secretary of State for DEFRA to set long-term legally binding targets on air quality, biodiversity, water, recourse efficiency and waste reduction within the UK which will be overseen by a largely independent body. The Act is a landmark piece of legislation for nature conservation, and whilst it was over 1000 days in the making, it aims to halt the declines in nature by 2030, with the Government required to publish a 25-Year Environmental Improvement Plan setting interim targets for each 5-year period.

The Act provides the basis for the legal creation of the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP). This will be a new independent public body which will monitor and report on environmental law and advise the Government on environmental matters. On its website, the OEP states that it will “protect and improve the environment by holding government and public authorities to account against their commitments and environmental law”. It is anticipated that the OEP will be legally formed in the next few days with an interim non-statutory form in place since July 2021. The OEP will seek functional independence by early 2022.

The Act has been promoted as a tool to implement changes across all environmental sectors including air quality, biodiversity, water, and waste reduction and resource efficiency. At Pro Vision, our team of planning consultants and ecologists have been monitoring progress of the draft Bill since its introduction in 2018. Richard Osborn, an Associate Director Town Planner, and Louisa Jones our Ecology Director, look at the headlines of the Environment Act 2021 in relation to development:

Local Nature Recovery Strategies

  • Local Planning Authorities (LPA) will be required to assimilate new Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRS) for the environment and nature’s recovery into their local planning system – we can expect this to feature in the preparation of emerging Local Plans and we are already seeing a ‘Green’ call for sites in some Local Planning Authority areas. LNRS will map the most valuable sites and habitats for wildlife and identify where nature can be restored through, for example, the creation of wildflower habitat, green spaces, or new woodlands and wetlands. This creates opportunities for land owning clients to put forward land which might not otherwise be developable for nature conservation and/or open space.

Biodiversity Net Gain

  • All new development will be obliged to demonstrate a 10% biodiversity net gain (BNG). On sites where BNG is secured, it would have to be managed for at least 30 years. This will most likely need to be secured by a legal agreement and hence early discussions with legal professionals are recommended. A two-year transition period was set out in the consultation documents so it is anticipated the 10% BNG requirement will be a legally mandatory requirement by 2023, however some LPAs already require net gain.  BNG is already posing a challenge on existing sites and allocations where mitigation is sought now, but we can now expect BNG to be a key consideration in assessing planning applications, and it will play a significant role in the allocation of new sites through Local Plans. Developers will need to ensure they can demonstrate a net gain on site or have a mitigation strategy such as purchasing credits to off-set the impact through a District or County-wide scheme where available.
  • A publicly available “biodiversity gain site register” must be set up for each development site and maintained for at least 30 years after the scheme has completed. The register must be kept under review by the Secretary of State who will also have the power to increase the period for which habitat enhancement must be maintained.

Ancient Woodland

  • Whilst the suggested 50m buffer to Ancient Woodland proposed by the Lords failed to gain traction, the Government has made a commitment to review the National Planning Policy Framework to ensure that it is being correctly implemented in relation to ancient woodlands. The Act will strengthen the current woodland protection enforcement measures.

In anticipation of the Environment Bill becoming law, Pro Vision’s ecology team has already been applying the principles of BNG to development proposals over the last 12 months and is well placed to advise on all aspects of this new requirement.

If you would like to know more about these issues or you want to discuss how these changes might affect a specific project, please contact Louisa Jones (Director of Ecology) on 01962 677 044 or 07502 300 503 or email
[email protected]