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

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]

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]

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

PD and Space Standards

In September 2020, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick announced that all new homes delivered through Permitted Development Rights (PDR) will have to meet the minimum space standards, as set out currently in the Nationally Described Space Standards (NDSS). The Government has recently advised Parliament that this change is expected to come into effect on the 6th April 2021.

The minimum space standards will ensure that new homes delivered through PDR start at 37 sqm. for a new one-bedroom flat with a shower room (or 39 sqm. with a bathroom). The NDSS are set out below:

(SOURCE: TECHNICAL HOUSING STANDARDS – NATIONALLY DESCRIBED SPACE STANDARD – MARCH 2015)

It is anticipated that there will be a transition period with the new rules. Most notably, it is likely that there will be no requirement to meet the minimum space standards where prior approval is granted, confirmed as not required or granted by default prior to the 6th April 2021, or where a permitted development scheme has been submitted to the Local Planning Authority for prior approval before the 6th April 2021.

This further change by the Government is a response to opinion that many new homes being delivered through PDR – including offices to residential (Class O) and agricultural buildings to residential (Class Q) – were of poor quality, with cramped accommodation. It follows previous Government regulations that came into effect in August 2020, which requires new homes created by PDR to provide adequate natural lighting in habitable rooms.

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]

2021 set to be a busy year for Local Plans

Plan making is in a state of flux with radical proposals to move to a more zonal based system put forward in the Planning for the Future White Paper published in August, labelled as the most significant change to the planning system since its inception in the 1940s.

Consultation on the government’s proposals has now closed and we wait with interest to see how the government responds.

Changes proposed in the White Paper include setting a 30-month target for preparation and adoption of Plans (some have been taking well over five years); overhauling sustainability appraisal, and the Duty to Cooperate, an issue that has caused significant difficulties for many Local Planning Authorities (LPAs). For example, Tonbridge & Malling in recent months where we (amongst others) have been challenging the Council’s compliance with the duty and the Inspectors have identified failings and have halted the examination.

Winchester City Council (WCC) anticipates that government changes to the planning system (if adopted) could be rolled out by 2022/23, ahead of their own Local Plan adoption.  WCC is putting itself forward as a pilot authority for the new way of preparing local plans.

Meanwhile, although some authorities like Winchester have decided to wait for further direction from the government (we understand from a recent Agent’s forum that Test Valley Borough Council is another), local plan work continues in many areas, with all LPAs expected to have an up-to-date adopted plan by the end of 2023, or risk intervention.

East Hampshire District Council has just this month approved to amend its approach to its emerging new Local Plan to respond to the anticipated changes arising from the White Paper.  This includes extending the plan period and identifying the need for at least another strategic site allocation.

We are actively involved in a number of live local plan consultations, promoting client interests,  including:

  • West Berkshire Local Plan Review (Regulation 18) – deadline 5th February;
  • Wiltshire Council (Regulation 18) – deadline 9th March;
  • Dorset Council (Regulation 18) – deadline 15th March.

(Local plan deadlines are subject to change, so please check with us for the latest position).

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]

Draft Building Safety Bill and new energy efficiency standards

Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy in 2017 the Government has introduced a draft Building Safety Bill. The Bill proposes to create a new Building Safety Regulator with increased powers to manage the Building Control process and impose sanctions.

It also proposes three strict Gateways throughout the design and construction of each high-rise building (defined as a building over 18m to the upper storey), firstly at planning, then at building control and finally at completion. Prescribed information will be required at each stage, including from the developers, to maintain a ‘golden-thread’ of information from conception to occupation. This seeks to maintain a record of design changes and intent throughout the process to ensure accountability is maintained. Alongside this developers will have a duty to check and sign a declaration that they are satisfied that the people they instruct to work on their behalf are competent to do so.

Following completion, in high-rise buildings, owners will be required to appoint a Building Safety Manager who will be responsible for the day-to-day management of building safety and ensure a clear point of contact for residents.

In order to produce the information required at each gateway it is likely that the buildings will need to be designed using BIM (Building Information Modelling), whereby the building is developed and detailed in a 3D environment with scheduling and construction information integrated within it that can be collaborated on by the whole design team.

Pro Vision has for many years been using BIM and we are already utilising BIM software to deliver a wide range of projects.

 

Whilst many of the changes are specifically related to buildings over 18m to the upper floor or 6 storeys in height, it is Government’s intention for many of these changes to be rolled out to all buildings over time. It is therefore important for anyone in the development industry to know and understand the direction of travel and the potential implications to the way in which buildings are designed, procured and constructed.

Other changes coming forward include those to the Building Regulations energy efficiency standards. These will likely require developers to reduce carbon emission targets within their buildings by an additional 31% over current regulations. This is likely to require more thermally efficient construction as well as a greater requirement for on-site renewables. Equally, Accredited Construction Details, which currently allow developers to use standard junction details to model the heat loss through a building, are being withdrawn and developers may be required to appoint a suitable specialist to calculate heat loss through each individual junction in a building. These all have the potential to add cost and time for the developer during the detailed design and construction phases of a project.

Changes to the Building Regulations are likely to come in spring 2021 and so developers looking to begin construction later this year should be aware of the implications. The Building Safety Bill is likely to become law this summer / autumn and so the industry is currently in a period of gearing up for this to ensure that we can design, procure and construct buildings in a safe and accountable way.

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]