Beauty & The Beast; Wheat & The Chaff

Mike Best at Turley made the point most concisely in a tweet this week:

Two themes to this blog post:

⁃ the, partly inconsistent, changes to the planning system announced over the last week;

⁃ the difficulty of sieving out from this a lot more media chaff.

The pre Conservative party conference briefings in relation to planning reforms started last week with stories in the Sun, Mail and Telegraph. What a textbook example of choosing the media (Tory), the language (middle aged “turbo charged” concept) and the interests emphasised (home-owning families):

BUILD BOOST Tories to unveil revolution in planning rules next week to turbo-charge house building in Britain (The Sun, 27 September 2019)

Communities will get legal right to fight ugly buildings in their towns (Telegraph, 29 September 2019)

Families may be able to add two storeys to their home WITHOUT planning permission, under new government reforms (Daily Mail, 30 September 2019).

EXTRA SPACE Families could add two storeys to homes WITHOUT planning permission, under new government plans (The Sun, 30 September, updated 1 October 2019 – drawing heavily on the Mail piece above – do people get paid to write these pieces? I would do it WITHOUT payment).

Robert Jenrick’s conference speech on 30 September 2019 says very little as to the detail:

“…I will simplify the system.

I’m announcing new freedoms, including to build upward so that your home can grow as your family does too.

Reducing conditions, speeding up consent. Better funded local planning in return for efficient service. The beginning of a planning revolution.

Thirdly, no new home will be built in the country from 2025 without low carbon heating and the highest levels of energy efficiency.

We want better homes – and a better planet to match.

And fourthly, these new homes must be well-designed, safe, and rooted in places to which people can belong.

I am announcing the first national design guide and asking every community to produce their own. Empowering people to make sure that development works for them, in keeping with the local heritage and vernacular, with each new street lined with trees.

So, under the Conservatives, more environmentally-friendly homes, more beautiful homes, faster and simpler planning, and a leg up on to the property ladder.”

Motherhood is still good.

The next day we have his formal announcement:

Housing Secretary unveils green housing revolution (1 October 2019). The announcement includes:

Consultation on The Future Homes Standard: changes to Part L and Part F of the Building Regulations for new dwellings, (following on from his predecessor’s March 2019 commitment):

This consultation sets out our plans for the Future Homes Standard, including proposed options to increase the energy efficiency requirements for new homes in 2020. The Future Homes Standard will require new build homes to be future-proofed with low carbon heating and world-leading levels of energy efficiency; it will be introduced by 2025.

This document is the first stage of a two-part consultation about proposed changes to the Building Regulations. It also covers the wider impacts of Part L for new homes, including changes to Part F (ventilation), its associated Approved Document guidance, airtightness and improving as-built performance of the constructed home.”

Update as to the proposed Accelerated Planning green paper:

The government has also confirmed proposals to speed up the planning system, including the potential for more fees to be refunded if councils take too long to decide on specific planning applications.”

“Local residents will no longer have to contend with a complicated and outdated planning system, but a more user-friendly approach designed to simply the process. Small developers will similarly benefit from the simplification of guidance, with the introduction of a new tiered planning system.

Application fees will also be reviewed to ensure council planning departments are properly resourced, providing more qualified planners to process applications for new homes and other proposals.”

“The accelerated planning green paper will be published in November 2019. Government has also set out its ambition to reduce planning conditions by a third, and will take forward proposals to allow homes to be built above existing properties as well as seeking views on demolishing old commercial buildings for new housing, revitalising high streets in the process.”

So what can we expect?

Further reform of the application fees system

Greater use of technology in the application process

reduce planning conditions by a third”? Search me. Sensibly framed conditions are a crucial mechanism both in ensuring timely approval of applications without requiring unnecessary details at a premature stage and in ensuring that what is approved is what is built.

That there will be further work on the very difficult and not at all new ideas, supported by successive ministers, to expand permitted development rights “to allow homes to be built above existing properties” and “demolishing old commercial buildings for new housing”. I have covered the problems in various blog posts, for instance Permitted Development: Painting By Numbers Versus Painting The Sistine Chapel? (8 December 2018) and The Up Right (13 October 2018).

What is quite interesting is the additional detail in one of the Mail’s stories, although who knows whether any of it has any factual basis:

The right will be afforded first to purpose-built blocks of flats, but will eventually be rolled out to all detached properties.” [This right was originally framed around the creation of additional homes, not about home extensions. What possible justification is there for a massive extension in domestic permitted development rights?]

Ministers will also try to accelerate the conversion of disused and unsightly commercial properties into residential homes.” [except that we know that the criteria will not include whether the commercial properties are indeed “disused” and “unsightly” – see equivalent terminology before the existing office to residential permitted right was introduced]

Under a ‘permission in principle’ system, developers will not have to get detailed planning permission before the bulldozers can move in.“ [Interesting use of terminology – do we think that the changes might in fact be introduced by way of the “permission in principle” procedure rather than by amendments to the General Permitted Development Order? Even so, I don’t see that the problems would be reduced – how to arrive at a light-touch procedure which properly addresses legitimate and inevitable concerns as to for instance design, townscape, daylight and sunlight, overlooking and section 106 requirements such as affordable housing]

Announced publication of the MHCLG National Design Guide: Planning Practice Guidance for Beautiful, Enduring & Successful Places and update to the planning practice guide Design: process and tools.

The purpose of the national design guide is to address “the question of how we recognise well- designed places, by outlining and illustrating the Government’s priorities for well-designed places in the form of ten characteristics.

It is based on national planning policy, practice guidance and objectives for good design as set out in the National Planning Policy Framework. Specific, detailed and measurable criteria for good design are most appropriately set out at the local level. They may take the form of local authority design guides, or design guidance or design codes prepared by applicants to accompany planning applications.

This is how the ten characteristics are introduced, before being addressed in turn:

Well-designed places have individual characteristics which work together to create its physical Character. The ten characteristics help to nurture and sustain a sense of Community. They work to positively address environmental issues affecting Climate. They all contribute towards the cross-cutting themes for good design set out in the National Planning Policy Framework.”

Part 3 of the national design guide, a “national model design guide”, is “to follow”.

In the meantime of course the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission is working on its final report, anticipated in December 2019, following on from its interim recommendations that I covered in my 27 July 2019 blog post New Cabinet, Poor Doors, No Windows.

Christopher Hope in the Telegraph should also know better than describe planning practice guidance (that’s all it is, guidance, not even policy) as a “legal right”.

The inevitable challenge, obvious but so far unacknowledged by Government, is how to reconcile this earnest work that seeks to improve the quality of our places, with its continued attachment to deregulation via expanded permitted development rights.

Is it any wonder the public are confused and sceptical as to the planning system operates? They are continually being misled.

Simon Ricketts, 5 October 2019

Personal views, et cetera

Author: simonicity

Partner at boutique planning law firm, Town Legal LLP, but this blog represents my personal views only.

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