Nutrient Neutrality continues to delay housing permissions in the Solent region

To provide some background, following European Court of Justice Judgements issued in late 2018, Natural England advised that nutrients arising from new development, particularly nitrates, were adversely impacting upon protected habitats and species in the Solent. The high levels of nitrates and phosphates entering the water environment was creating green algae, impacting on certain bird species and marine life.

Due to uncertainty over the potential future impacts, Natural England recommended that new development should achieve nutrient neutrality. A ‘nutrient budget’ must therefore be calculated to determine whether a development needs to provide mitigation. This applies to development with the catchment of a river that flows into the Solent (other areas in England have similar issues i.e., parts of Dorset within the catchment of Poole Harbour).

Since August 2019, LPAs in the Solent region have been working together – alongside Central Government and other stakeholders including Natural England – to develop a long-term strategic solution. The Government has also recently announced its intention to create an online ‘nitrate trading’ auction to enable developers to purchase ‘credits’ to turn land with high levels of nitrates into more eco-friendly habitats.

Meanwhile, some individual LPAs have developed local solutions, which has enabled some new housing to be permitted in the interim.

Provisional solutions include use of ‘Grampian conditions’, which allow development to be approved subject to securing mitigation off-site, usually before occupation. The legality of this approach is however being challenged given that it involves the protection of internationally protected habitats, and we understand there are some cases being tested through the courts at the moment.

Other possible solutions include site specific mitigation such as installing reed beds on site or offering up additional land as part of the development which can be planted as woodland planting or used as Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANG).

Most recently, Test Valley Borough Council’s Cabinet resolved to recommend to Full Council that it approves an ‘Off Site Mitigation Financial Contributions Framework’, following similar initiatives elsewhere in the region, such as in Winchester.  If implemented, this will seek a financial contribution of £3,000 per 1kg of total nitrogen (subject to indexation), which will go towards purchasing land elsewhere to provide off site mitigation solutions.

Full details here: https://democracy.testvalley.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=137&MId=2933&Ver=4

While progress is therefore being made, the impacts of nutrient neutrality is still a constraint on development and how it is addressed varies by LPA.

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 us on: 01794 368 698 or [email protected]

Virtual Reality? Reflections on planning committees and other public meetings moving online

Since the rapid transition to online meetings from the first lockdown in March, Pro Vision has been involved in many virtual meetings, covering planning committees, planning appeals, local plan examinations and parish council meetings.

Local planning authorities scrambled to amend their constitutions to allow online meetings and the Planning Inspectorate soon followed, to ensure that the planning system kept going as the pandemic unfolded.

We were involved in some of the very first online meetings, including Slough Borough Council’s first ever virtual meeting in May, where we won resolution for approval of a scheme of 75 flats on a previously developed employment site in a regeneration area.

While it was important and appreciated that local planning authorities sought to minimise the delay to their planning committee schedules, our experiences of virtual meetings have been mixed.

In one case, the weblink to the planning officer presenting our application was briefly lost during the member’s debate. By the time he returned only a few minutes later, members had concocted and agreed an extra planning condition (regarding parking restrictions, despite the issue being covered in the application already).

In another example, the committee chairman commenced on a vote on our application without having confirmed a recommendation.  The vote was restarted but half of the members had already revealed their position.

We noted that planning officers often struggled to coordinate the member’s debate and keep the focus on material planning issues.  For all participants, virtual meetings make it difficult to read body language and appreciate the atmosphere ‘in the room’.

However, there have also been several positive experiences, where in some LPA areas we have been invited to deliver virtual presentations to Councillors and Committees.  These meetings have been beneficial, enabling us to select the images and plans that we wish to present, and tell the story of the proposal as it was designed to be told, highlighting the benefits of the development and how any impacts are to be mitigated.  Several such meetings have also included a question and answer session between Officers, the committee and us on behalf of the applicant.

We were also heavily involved in one of the first virtual local plan examinations, the Tonbridge and Malling Local Plan.

The two planning Inspectors conducted the examination from their homes, with strict rules for participants.  All verbal contributions were directed through one of the Inspectors, as is the norm. Overall, there were few technological glitches, other than the occasional problems with raising of the virtual hand to request an invitation to speak, and the common phrase of many virtual meetings that “you’re on mute!”.  In some respects, this arrangement gave more focus to the event and cut out distractions such as heckling from members of the public or officer’s scrambling to find examination documents.

We have also experienced our first appeal hearing online in recent weeks, which concluded without any significant glitches, other than an instance of the Officers video links being left open inadvertently during a break, and we have a virtual inquiry lined-up in March in the London Borough of Harrow.

Are virtual meetings here to stay?

Once we return to something like normality, we expect that we will see a rapid return to physical meetings such as public meeting in most cases.  Virtual meetings have enabled the planning system to keep moving during the pandemic, and some events, such as Case Management Conferences for appeals, and application meetings with key stakeholders may continue to be held online to save time and money.  Overall,  as trailed in the Planning White Paper over the summer, we do expect to see greater digitalisation of the planning system including greater use of online communications.  This is likely to include more live streaming of meetings and more online consultation events, rather than the traditional village hall meeting.

PiP in Practice

Following on from our previous blog[1], about Permission in Principle (PiP) as a fast-track route for securing planning permission for small scale development (up to 9 dwellings), we provide a brief update on how these new style applications have been faring in practice.

Although our experience has been mixed, we have had some positive results with Pip notably the first ever PiP approval in West Berkshire.

On the 28th October 2020 Planning Resource reported that between January and June 2020, Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council (BDBC) had refused all the PiP applications it had received. Just days later, three appeal decisions were issued that granted PiP for residential development in the Borough[2].

Each appeal involved a site located outside of the Settlement Policy Boundary, within the countryside, where new housing is generally resisted. However, as the Council could not demonstrate a 5-year housing land supply, the Inspector afforded very limited weight to its housing policies, while finding that they were not entirely consistent with the NPPF.

Despite one site being within the AONB[3] and all three sites being near heritage assets, the Inspector considered that there were no clear reasons for dismissing the appeals.

He concluded that the benefits arising from the new dwellings outweighed any adverse impacts.

In all three cases, the Inspector outlined that “I have no cogent evidence before me of harm arising from the appeal scheme in respect of matters including character and appearance, biodiversity, flooding, highway safety, traffic generation and neighbour living conditions. As this application relates to PIP, I am satisfied that these other matters should be dealt with through the TDC process.

Furthermore, he explained that “The Guidance [NPPG] also confirms that, following a grant of a PIP, the site must receive a grant of Technical Details Consent (TDC) before development can proceed, and that other statutory requirements may apply at this stage, such as those relating to protected species…

These decisions have provided clear guidance regarding detaching the ‘in principle’ matters when determining a PiP application from more detailed considerations at the later TDC stage.

They also clarify the timescales within which technical details must be approved and development implemented.  National guidance makes it clear that specific justification is needed to vary the default 3 year period.  In acknowledging the Council’s suggestion of a one-year permission, having regard to the extent of the housing land supply shortfall[4], alongside the Council’s expectation that the shortfall would be temporary, the Inspector in each of these cases concluded that he had not been provided with cogent evidence to determine that the housing shortfall will be short term and rejected the Council’s approach.

These decisions will undoubtedly improve the prospects for PiP applications  in the future, in Basingstoke and beyond, albeit the specific context of each proposal remains highly relevant.

And PiP is here to stay; in August 2020, Central Government consulted on proposals to extend the PiP regime[5], including extending PiP to allow for schemes of up to 150 dwellings.

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 us on: 01794 368 698 or [email protected]

[1] Click Here for Previous article
[2] THE APPEALS INVOLVED SITES IN BURGHCLERE (1 DWELLING – REF. 20/00191/PIP), WOOLTON HILL (4 DWELLINGS – REF. 19/02660/PIP) AND LITTLE LONDON (4 DWELLINGS – REF. 19/02278/PIP)
[3] THIS RELATES TO THE APPEAL AT WOOLTON HILL
[4] THE COUNCIL COULD ONLY DEMONSTRATE 4.86 YEARS OF HOUSING LAND SUPPLY
[5] AS SET OUT IN THE CHANGES TO THE CURRENT PLANNING SYSTEM CONSULTATION

 

Ecology News 2021

You might be starting to think about potential new projects. Many planning applications require ecological input prior to approval, this is becoming more relevant with the requirement for Biodiversity Net Gain in some council areas. Arranging for an initial ecology survey at the start of a project will help inform the timeline for submission of your planning application.

News

  • The long-awaited Environment Bill has been delayed for the third time due to the current pandemic. While this will delay the national requirement for biodiversity net gain, many local councils are already preparing policies and/or seeking a net gain from developments. Our ecologists are experienced at using the required metrics and have been re-training to use the new UK habitat classification system that forms part of the metric.
  • Although the UK has left the European Union, all wildlife laws and protections are still in place and remain largely unchanged.

Surveys

  • During the current pandemic, our ecologists are conducting survey work in line with government advice and are still able to complete the initial survey work. Many ecology surveys are highly seasonal so knowing if these are required early in the process will help with a smoother planning application. This time of year is a great time to get initial survey work completed.

Get in touch with one of our ecology team to learn more.

Pro Vision can assist on any ecological issues relating to your project. Don’t leave it too late. Contact our head of ecology Louisa Jones ([email protected]) T: 07502 300503