Live arts should be the throbbing heartbeat of any city.
Cultural opportunities, the creative arts and a vibrant night-life are obviously a big reason why those who are the basis of the local economy and its growth, particularly young professionals, choose to put down their roots in a place.
Venues and studios for independent creative arts – for bands, performers and artists to play, rehearse, create – are the petri dish from which something grows that comes to define a city, that may become a mainstream business, employer and exporter in its own right (and we are increasingly in a world where the creative arts and tech are intertwining, making this even more likely).
I’m not talking of dead cultural artefacts, Government money for another Beatles attraction in Liverpool, I’m talking about the between-spaces, the meanwhile-uses, the forgotten-buildings, the spaces-set-aside-by-enlightened-owners – where (at low cost and with a looser set of constraints), from apparently unpromising seeds, flowers bloom.
This is personal for me – it may be for you too. I grew up in Southampton and it was all about the local music venues – seeing people like me 12 feet away on a foot-high stage, then trying it myself, amateur hour or what? – and then about choosing London as my university town, yes for the music and culture – got to confess it wasn’t at that point for the employment opportunities. Where I then stayed, for decades.
As I’ve gradually moved away in time and distance from all this, I’ve realised more and more how important grassroots/independent culture is – not just in the way that it provides a channel for young people to express the raw creativity that we all have before it’s schooled and worked out of us and which often is the most powerful (for being honest) form of artistic expression – but also how important it is for cities and towns themselves. Nowhere should end up as a husk, an artefact, a collection of once interesting buildings and not much else.
We’re going to have a discussion about all of this at a Clubhouse session at 5pm on Monday 1 November, at which I’m so glad that I will be joined by people who know much more than me about how to make culture thrive in cities. Clara Cullen is venue support manager at the Music Venue Trust, which exists to help protect, secure and improve grassroots music venues across the UK. Tom Clarke is national planning advisor at the Theatres Trust, which seeks to protect the future of live performance (of all kinds), by protecting and supporting theatre buildings which meet the needs of their communities (he’s also a live music nut). Stacey Adamiec is a strategic place maker, working with agents, landlords and authorities to create flexi and creative spaces. And most poignantly for me, we have Richard Williams. Richard at one time was leader of Southampton City Council but this is nothing to do with that. In 1981 he released a compilation album of tracks recorded by Southampton bands, called City Walls. It was my last year at home before heading to London – I loved that album as a snapshot in time and place. He then wrote a book about the process of getting it together, “A Curry With John Peel”, and then, this year, 40 years on (40 years!) he released another album of tracks by today’s Southampton bands, City Walls 2. To compare and contrast is fascinating. I am so looking forward to the discussion and very much hope that you can join us – details at the end of this blog post.
It’s been tough for grassroots venues. With conflicting needs for land, given the understandable pressure for brownfield sites to secure housing and employment development; with less and less public funding, nationally or locally, and then in this recent time of pandemic, fear and lockdown.
But in recent years there have at least been some signs of light.
The “asset of community value” designation process introduced by the Localism Act 2011 has helped many venues (eg Heaven, Brixton’s Club 414, Guildford’s Boileroom, the Birds Nest in Deptford, Half Moon in Herne Hill and the After Dark club in Reading to name just a few) but of course the designation ultimately is more of a nudge than providing any absolute protection.
To have the “agent of change” principle included within national planning policy back in July 2018 was a big step forward. In the current NPPF this is paragraph 187:
“Planning policies and decisions should ensure that new development can be integrated effectively with existing businesses and community facilities (such as places of worship, pubs, music venues and sports clubs). Existing businesses and facilities should not have unreasonable restrictions placed on them as a result of development permitted after they were established. Where the operation of an existing business or community facility could have a significant adverse effect on new development (including changes of use) in its vicinity, the applicant (or ‘agent of change’) should be required to provide suitable mitigation before the development has been completed.”
Last year, in response to the pandemic, work by the Theatres Trust and others secured two important additional protections for concert halls, venues for live performance and theatres:
• A ministerial statement on 14 July 2020 confirming that venues should be protected, at least for a temporary period, against land owners seeking to argue lack of viability based on the then precarious financial position that many were in:
“The Government recognises that the temporary closure of theatres, concert halls and live music performance venues due to Covid-19 has the potential to lead to permanent loss of important cultural and economic assets, and is determined that otherwise viable facilities are not lost forever.
The purpose of this Written Ministerial Statement, is to set out how local planning authorities should approach decision-making to prevent the unnecessary loss of these venues. With immediate effect, local planning authorities should have due regard to their current circumstances when considering whether to grant planning permission for a change of use or demolition of a theatre, concert hall or live music performance venue that has been made temporarily vacant by Covid-19 business disruption.
Where an alternative use or demolition for a long-term vacant theatre, concert hall or live music performance venue is proposed, local planning authorities should consider the application in the normal way. The Theatres Trust is a statutory consultee under the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (England) Order 2015 (S.I 2015/595) for applications seeking to develop any land where there is a theatre and will have an opportunity to comment on any application relating to theatres.
This policy remains in place until 31 December 2022 unless superseded by a further statement.”
• A change to the General Permitted Development Order on 9 November 2020, meaning that planning permission is now needed for their demolition, in the same way as had previously been introduced for pubs.
I’ll leave others to comment on whether the measures in this week’s Autumn Budget and Spending Review were sufficient but obviously there were various announcements which are potentially relevant:
• “the first 21 projects to benefit from the £150 million Community Ownership Fund – which will help communities across the UK protect and manage their most treasured assets. This investment puts community priorities at its core and will improve the local infrastructure crucial to everyday life, such as transport and town centres.”
• “Tax reliefs for museums, galleries, theatres and orchestras will further support the cultural life of towns and cities across the UK”.
• “a new temporary business rates relief for eligible retail, hospitality and leisure properties for 2022-23. Eligible properties will receive 50% relief, up to a £110,000 per business cap”
• “funding the £800 million Live Events Reinsurance Scheme”
The Government’s long-awaited Levelling Up White Paper will apparently provide additional proposals. I’m conscious that in many ways this shouldn’t all be about the Government, whose most important role may simply be to “do no harm”. There are an increasing number of important voices and organisations – aside from the Music Venue Trust and Theatres Trust and many other groups, in London of course since 2016 Amy Lamé has been our first “night czar” and able to cast a light on important underlying issues – including the safety of women out at night, and the return of the night tube (from 27 November).
But what more do we need to see, across the country (and in towns as well as cities)?
Do join us at 5pm on Monday – we can chew over all of this, led by our special guests, but hopefully share our own stories about how important grassroots live venues and indie city culture more generally are/have been for us, our families and communities. Just talking about the music is also fine! Link to app here.
“For years, going green was inextricably bound up with a sense that we have to sacrifice the things we love. But this strategy shows how we can build back greener, without so much as a hair shirt in sight. In 2050, we will still be driving cars, flying planes and heating our homes, but our cars will be electric gliding silently around our cities, our planes will be zero emission allowing us to fly guilt-free, and our homes will be heated by cheap reliable power drawn from the winds of the North Sea. And everywhere you look, in every part of our United Kingdom, there will be jobs. Good jobs, green jobs, well-paid jobs, levelling up our country while squashing down our carbon emissions.”
The document is of course hugely important. Together with the Government’s heat and buildings strategy published the same day, this is the detailed plan, presented to Parliament pursuant to the Climate Change Act 2008, which sets out how our country will achieve its net zero carbon target by 2050. But it has a wider role ahead of next month’s COP 26 event in Glasgow, both pour encourager les autres and, more formally, to be “submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as the UK’s second Long Term Low Greenhouse Gas Emission Development Strategy under the Paris Agreement.”
It’s a detailed document, 368 pages – full of initiatives, science, business exhortation, more acronyms than you could shake a stick at and a fair degree of management consultancy/policy wonk speak (for instance, repeated use of “no regrets” and “low regrets” options terminology). After an evening’s scrolling I’m in no place to determine whether it’s brilliant or bonkers in its world-leading optimism. In fact, as someone always in need of a mental map as to how these sorts of strategy fit into the wider international and national legislative and policy framework, it was a relief to get to the technical annex (from page 306) and the client science annex (from page 362), which made for refreshingly clear if bracing reading.
The fullest and most direct reference to planning in the whole strategy is probably on page 267:
“National planning policies already recognise the importance of sustainable development and make clear that reducing carbon emissions should be considered in planning and decision making. The National Model Design Code provides tools and guidance for local planning authorities to help ensure developments respond to the impacts of climate change, are energy efficient, embed circular economy principles, and reduce carbon emissions. The government is considering how the planning system can further support our commitment to reaching net zero. We will make sure that the reformed planning system supports our efforts to combat climate change and help bring greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. For example, as part of our programme of planning reform we intend to review the National Planning Policy Framework to make sure it contributes to climate change mitigation and adaptation as fully as possible.”
There is no indication of how the planning system can help, or when the NPPF is to be reviewed. Of course the twin dangers are of, on the one hand, a set of changes in the near future that address net zero and then a further set of changes to reflect whichever changed direction planning reform more generally is to embark upon following the pause to the white paper thinking, and, on the other hand, a long long wait, whilst everything is knitted together.
The role of the planning system is of course intertwined with the various proposals within the Environment Bill, given plenty of airtime in the document, and, after all this is policy bingo, there are plenty of references to levelling up.
The present vacuum ahead of any hard news on the NPPF or wider reforms is of course being filled with noise, suggestions, exhortations (see eg There’s a climate emergency, and the planning system is not helping (Andrew Wood, CPRE, 18 October 2021) and, particularly recommended, joint guidance published on 19 October 2021 by the RTPI and TCPA on planning and climate change). You’re at a gig and the lights have gone down, the background music has been killed and there’s the occasional roadie scuttling across the stage.
Normal people can stop reading at this pointand jump to the end. But for the cut and paste junkies, here are some other quotes from along the way:
“Deliver four carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) clusters, capturing 20-30 MtCO2 across the economy, including 6 MtCO of industrial emissions, per year by 2030”
“Following the Phase 1 of the Cluster Sequencing process, the Hynet and East Creating the skilled workforce to deliver net zero and putting UK Coast Clusters, will act as economic hubs for green jobs in line with our ambition supply chains at the forefront of global markets to capture 20-30 MtCO2 per year by 2030. This puts Teesside and the Humber, Merseyside and North Wales, along with the North East of Scotland as a reserve cluster, among the potential early SuperPlaces which will be transformed over the next decade.”
“We will also take a place-based approach to net zero, working with local government to ensure that all local areas have the capability and capacity for net zero delivery as we level up the country. And Government is leading the way – embedding climate into our policy and spending decisions, increasing the transparency of our progress on climate goals, and providing funding to drive ambitious emissions reductions in schools and hospitals.”
“These opportunities show that net zero and levelling up go hand in hand. Delivering net zero allows us to boost living standards by supporting jobs and attracting investment in the green industries of the future, which can be in areas that need this the most. Crucially, delivering net zero also involves supporting workers employed in high carbon industries that will be affected by the transition, by giving them the skills they need to make the most of new opportunities in the green economy. But the link between net zero and levelling up is wider than just the economy, net zero can deliver wider benefits for people and communities across the UK by helping spread opportunity and restore pride in place.
We are already taking action to make the most of these opportunities. We have embedded a net zero principle in our levelling up funding initiatives, such as the Levelling Up Fund and the Towns Fund, so that these schemes can contribute to meeting our net zero targets and help places to reduce their carbon impacts. Later this year, we will publish a Levelling Up White Paper. This will build on the actions the government is already taking to both deliver net zero and level up across the country, including the ones set out in this strategy, and set out new interventions to improve livelihoods and drive economic growth in all parts of the UK.”
“The characteristics of the net zero challenge – requiring action by multiple parties across the public and private sectors, delivery at pace, and management of large uncertainties – underline the need for strong coordination in policy development and clear signalling to markets. Government taking a systems approach to policy will help to navigate this complexity. We must consider the environment, society, and economy as parts of an interconnected system, where changes to one area can directly or indirectly impact others. This will help to ensure we design policy to maximise benefits, account for dependencies, mitigate conflicting interests and take account of learning as we go. It reduces the risk of unintended consequences, ensuring individual decisions designed to help achieve net zero do not end up hindering it or other important objectives.”
“New standards and regulation.
In certain areas government will need to support and complement market-led decarbonisation with standards and regulation to ensure that, where appropriate, green options are pursued, while high carbon options are phased out. This will help to accelerate low regrets areas like energy efficiency, such as ensuring our homes are built to new standards, and high impact areas like zero emission vehicles. It will also ensure suppliers of higher-carbon technologies and fuels provide low carbon alternatives, driving deployment at scale.
• Planning and infrastructure.
Low carbon solutions rely on transforming the infrastructure needed to deliver them. Increasing electricity generation needs to be accompanied by building out a flexible grid. Alongside dedicated hydrogen infrastructure, new CO2 transport and storage infrastructure is needed for the use of CCUS which will require investment of around £15 billion from now to the end of the Carbon Budget 6 period. We need to ensure that low carbon energy generation can be connected to sources of demand geographically, which means improving knowledge of local circumstances and opportunities for generation. We also recognise the importance of the planning system to common challenges like combating climate change and supporting sustainable growth.
• Sustainable use of resources.
Net zero will mean maximising the value of resources within a more efficient circular economy. It will need a significant increase in the use of certain types of resources – critical minerals like lithium, graphite, and cobalt, as well an increased demand on resources like copper and steel – from manufacturing green technologies to building large-scale infrastructure. This will require new robust supply chains and provide economic opportunities, but there will be environmental trade-offs, and potential negative impacts on habitats, biodiversity, and water resources to be managed carefully. For example, ammonia emissions from anaerobic digestion, which can use waste as a feedstock, can also affect biodiversity and health.
• Understanding land use trade-offs.
Like other resources, our land is finite and competition for it will need to be managed as we rely on natural resources and use land for multiple new purposes, such as perennial energy crops and short rotation forestry for energy generation, while allowing for afforestation and peatland restoration to sequester and avoid emissions. We will also need to ensure net zero is compatible with wider uses of land such as agriculture, housing, infrastructure, and environmental goals. These land use challenges are exacerbated by the impact of climate change on the availability of productive land and water in future.”
“New Buildings. We will introduce regulations from 2025 through the Future Homes Standard to ensure all new homes in England are ready for net zero by havinga high standard of energy efficiency and low carbon heating installed as standard. This should mean that all new homes will be fitted with a low carbon heat source such as a heat pump or connected to a low carbon heat network. To reinforce this, we will consult on whether it is appropriate to end new gas grid connections, or whether to remove the duty to connect from the Gas Distribution Networks. As an interim measure to the Future Homes Standard, we plan to introduce an uplift in standards, effective from June 2022, for England that would result in a 31% reduction in carbon emissions from new homes compared to current standards. We will also respond to our consultation for the Future Buildings Standard for new non-domestic buildings.”
“47. We are driving decarbonisation and transport improvements at a local level by making quantifiable carbon reductions a fundamental part of local transport planning and funding. Local Transport Plans (LTPs) – statutory requirements that set out holistic place-based strategies for improving transport networks and proposed projects for investment – will need to set out how local areas will deliver ambitious carbon reductions in line with carbon budgets and net zero.
48. We will embed transport decarbonisation principles in spatial planning and across transport policy making. Last year, the government set out proposals for a new and improved planning system, central to our most important national challenges, including combating climate change and supporting sustainable growth. The National Model Design Code, published in July this year, guides local planning authorities on measures they can include within their own design codes to create environmentally responsive and sustainable places. The National Model Design Code provides tools and guidance for local planning authorities to help ensure developments respond to the impacts of climate change, are energy efficient, embed circular economy principles and reduce carbon emissions.”
“The UK has a limited amount of land and delivering net zero will require changes to the way this land is used, for example, for afforestation, biomass production, and peat restoration. Opportunities for land to be used for multiple purposes, such as agroforestry will help to make sure land use for decarbonisation purposes is balanced with other demands, such as housing development and food production. These changes are likely to have varying effects on wider environmental outcomes and may completely alter the character of some landscapes and rural livelihoods (see section below). Land use change must be designed in a systemic, geographically targeted way with appropriate local governance and delivery structures which consider the complex range of interacting social, economic, and demographic factors. To support this, government is developing a Net Zero Systems Tool which aims to allow key decision makers to gain new insights and understanding, by highlighting dependencies and trade-offs within the land use system, as well as by demonstrating the knock-on effects of proposed policies. In addition, through the Environment Bill, the Government is introducing Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRS), a spatial planning tool for nature, allowing local government and communities to identify priorities and opportunities for nature recovery and nature-based solutions across England. The Bill includes a specific duty on all public authorities to “have regard” to relevant LNRSs and the spatial information they provide will support the development of local plans and other land use change incentives. Delivery of priorities and opportunities identified in LNRS will be supported by a range of delivery mechanisms including our environmental land management schemes, and in particular, the Local Nature Recovery scheme. By 2028, Defra’s current plans are for total spend to be evenly split between farm-level, locally tailored, and landscape-scale investment within ELM.”
“Local green infrastructure and the environment
34. Government will launch a new National Framework of Green Infrastructure Standards in 2022. This will support local areas and regions to deliver well-designed green infrastructure where it is most needed to deliver multiple benefits. These networks of green and blue spaces and other natural features, including trees, provide an opportunity to benefit local economies and bring about long-term improvements in people’s health and wellbeing. At the same time, it can help us to mitigate and adapt to climate change, through capturing and storing carbon, shading and cooling, and reducing flooding.
35. The Environment Bill is also creating a new system of spatial strategies called Local Nature Recovery Strategies to target action for nature and to drive the use of nature-based solutions to tackle environmental challenges like climate change. It is expected that there will be approximately 50 Local Nature Recovery Strategies covering the whole of England with no gaps and no overlaps. Preparation of each Strategy will be locally led and collaborative, with local government taking a critical role. This will provide local government with a new tool through which they can work with local partners to identify where effort to create or restore habitat would have greatest benefit for climate mitigation, whilst also having positive benefits for nature and the wider environment. Between 2021 and 2027, we will be doubling our overall investment in flooding and coastal erosion to £5.2 billion.
36. In addition, £200 million will be invested in the Innovative Flood and Coastal Resilience Innovation Programme. This will help over 25 local areas over six years to take forward wider innovative actions that improve their resilience to flooding and coastal erosion. The Environment Agency is also working with coastal authorities on a £1 million refresh of Shoreline Management Plans.”
Normal people you can start reading again…
I hope that was at least a taster and I recommend that you dip into the document itself. Whatever happens to the planning system, the initiatives set out in the document are undoubtedly going to be central to our lives and work over the years to come.
We’re going to be discussing all this for an hour or so from 6 pm on Tuesday 26 October 2021 on clubhouse. I’ve never been to a book club session but maybe it’ll be a bit like that, without the tortilla chips or wine. Join us. Link to the app here.
The blog posts, clubhouse events, any webinars you might have sat through in desperation through the last 18 months, they are all free, no charge.
Weirdly enough, planning lawyers just love talking about planning law.
Why did we become lawyers? Not so weirdly, but maybe we don’t talk about it enough, it wasn’t just for the sheer joy of sometimes winning an argument, completing a cryptic-crossword-puzzle of an agreement or working out what some statutory provision actually means. It wasn’t just because for us in the private sector of course there’s the money. It was because, maybe just a bit, maybe sometimes forgotten in the thrill of the CIL Regulations, at the root of it all we know that…
It’s the law that protects those who find themselves homeless through no fault of their own, in a financial tangle not of their own making, discriminated against, exploited or needing legal protection from those around them.
And if you have a problem like that, you don’t need a well-paid planning lawyer, you need a proper hero of a lawyer, often just working as an unpaid volunteer, within a law centre or pro bono agency.
My ask is that, if you have got any value out of any of this stuff – the blog posts, the on line events – in all conscience please do consider clicking on this link and donating £10, or whatever you think fit, to the London Legal Support Trust. It’s never been more necessary.
I’m doing the London Legal Walk on Monday with 22 colleagues. 10 km is no big deal as an endurance event, this is no marathon but it’s still a big deal in terms of the hundreds of thousands of pounds that it raises. In previous years there have been 15,000 or so lawyers taking part. Perhaps a good afternoon to stay away from EC4.
We are walking with the Lord Chief Justice and thousands of lawyers to raise funds for the London Legal Support Trust which funds Law Centres and pro bono agencies in and around London.
Two-thirds of the UK population don’t know how to get legal advice and 14 million people who live in poverty can’t afford to pay for it. The London Legal Walk raises vital funds to ensure access to justice for some of our communities’ most poor and vulnerable people.
Your support is needed now more than ever with the long-term challenges brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. Reduced funding in the charity sector means advice agencies are doing all they can to meet rising need despite a drastically restricted income.
The event supports over 100 legal advice agencies in London and the South East. We know that these agencies do a fantastic job in preventing homelessness, resolving debt problems, gaining care for the elderly, fighting discrimination and exploitation.
Please sponsor our walkers as generously as you are able.
Many thanks for your support.
Sorry that there’s no planning law in this post. More round the corner I’m sure! And be sure to tune into Clubhouse at 6 pm this Tuesday 19 October 2021 , when Charles Banner QC will be leading a session on all things Hillside – it’s been almost a year since the Court of Appeal’s judgment. Now that the dust has settled (has it?) and while we still wait to see whether the Supreme Court will grant permission to appeal, what are its practical implications? Link to app here.
Just as solutions are beginning to emerge to unlock the development embargos that have been in place in many areas due to the nutrient neutrality issue, areas of Sussex now have a new problem: water.
For over two years now, where the integrity of special areas of conservation or special protection areas (areas of nature conservation importance previously protected at EU level) are already under stress due to nitrate or phosphate pollution (usually due to historic farming practices), Natural England has been advising local planning authorities that an appropriate assessment cannot be reached under regulation 63 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 to the effect that further development, causing additional sewage or surface water run-off will not affect the integrity of nearby SACs and SPAs unless measures will are secured to achieve neutrality, either on or off site. Under the 2017 Regulations, unless a development can pass that appropriate assessment test it’s stuffed, no go.
Topically, HBF’s director for cities, James Stevens, has written an article Wading through the effluent in the October 2021 edition of Housebuilder magazine as to the problems being caused to housebuilders by needing to achieve nutrient neutrality, even where a technical solution can be found – the average costs being apparently over £5,000 per dwelling.
But those involved with development in Horsham, Crawley and Chichester, which fall within the Sussex North Water Supply Zone, are all now faced with an even more challenging issue: the potential need to demonstrate water neutrality. Natural England has become increasingly concerned as to the impact of groundwater abstraction on the Arun Valley SPA, SAC and Ramsar site. It has recently published its Position Statement for Applications within the Sussex North Water Supply Zone – interim approach (September 2021):
“Natural England has advised that this matter should be resolved in partnership through Local Plans across the affected authorities, where policy and assessment can be agreed and secured to ensure water use is offset for all new developments within Sussex North. To achieve this Natural England is working in partnership with all the relevant authorities to secure water neutrality collectively through a water neutrality strategy.
Whilst the strategy is evolving, Natural England advises that decisions on planning applications should await its completion. However, if there are applications which a planning authority deems critical to proceed in the absence of the strategy, then Natural England advises that any application needs to demonstrate water neutrality. We have provided the following agreed interim approach for demonstrating water neutrality:
The relevant authorities are now advising applicants accordingly. Crawley Borough Council’s website for instance now says this:
“Developers / planning applicants who can demonstrate water neutrality such as having significant water efficiency measures built into their development and by providing offsetting measures to reduce water consumption from existing development, and who are able to enter into legal obligations to secure these measures, would be able to proceed, subject to the planning process. The onus is on developers and planning applicants to demonstrate that they can deliver water neutrality for their proposals. For applications in these circumstances which are not able to do this, the Local Planning Authority [the council] when determining a decision, would unfortunately have no choice but to refuse them, as a matter of law, in light of the Natural England Statement.
The Local Planning Authority [the council] has written urgently to agents of affected applicants advising them of Natural England’s position and advising them that, for the time being, all applications where a positive decision / recommendation was / is to be made on an application will have to be delayed if they are within the Southern Water supply zone, until the matter of water neutrality can be addressed.”
Without speedy solutions, this is going to create real problems both for individual developers in the area and for authorities in bringing forward deliverable local plans.
No doubt there will be solutions in due course (and questions do have to be asked as to whether the issue really lies with the water abstraction licences, which presumably were the subject of appropriate assessment under the 2017 Regulations and their statutory predecessors, rather than with those who are seeking to have access the abstraction of which has already been licensed!) but how long will that take and at whose cost?
In the meantime, what an unplanned mess.
Simon Ricketts, 9 October 2021
Personal views, et cetera
Talking of Planning Law Unplanned…our clubhouse session will tackle this subject in more detail with practical, authoritative, input from special guests including Peter Home (mentioned above), Tim Goodwin, Charlie Banner QC, Richard Turney and others. Do join us at 6 pm on Tuesday 12 October. Link to app here.
We’re probably all increasingly familiar with the basic principles of biodiversity net gain. Even ahead of the statutory system being introduced which is the focus of this post, there is a growing policy basis for authorities to use at least a basic version of what is set out in the Environment Bill (although without any formal national prescription yet as to, for instance, the extent of net gain required or national process for the purchasing of credits).
The Environment Bill is reaching its final stages – report stage in the House of Lords is on 13 October 2021 and it then finally returns to the Commons (subject to the possibility of there then being some ping ponging between the Houses in relation to the Lords amendments I referred to in my 17 September 2021 blog post On Reshuffle Day, In Another Part Of The Forest) before receiving Royal Assent.
DEFRA indicated back in 2019 that once the Bill is enacted there will be a two year transitional period before the provisions on biodiversity net gain come into effect, but in that period there is going to be a lot of important stuff happening (and with the delays to the Bill whilst progress has been made on other aspects of the system might there be a prospect of that two years being abbreviated?). The robustness, and workability, of the system depends on:
⁃ sensible and efficient, but water-tight, administrative processes being set out in secondary legislation by way of regulations, for instance in relation to the pricing, availability and use of biodiversity credits
⁃ the availability of good data and methodologies (in relation to which Natural England has made good progress)
⁃ standardised, arrangements for securing long term (30 years plus) management arrangements by way of conservation covenants (not covered in this post but another crucial element of the Bill) and, our old friend, section 106 agreements
⁃ a workable system of monitoring and enforcement.
Before I briefly summarise the provisions on BNG in the Bill, given that the BNG system is going to live on for some time on a purely policy basis, I thought it was worth setting out that policy basis.
First of all there are relatively general references in the NPPF (extracts below showing amendments from the 2019 version).
There is more useful detail in the “net gain” passages within the natural environment section of the Government’s planning practice guidance.
Local authorities are under a general duty under Section 40 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 to have regard, in the exercise of their functions, to the purpose of conserving biodiversity, but the level to which they can prescribe particular approaches to BNG and the level of net gain required depends on whether they have policies in place addressing these matters – with the weight to be attached to the policy depending on the nature of the document.
Turning to the Bill itself, the provisions on biodiversity net gain comprise clauses 99 to 104 and schedules 14 and 15
Standard condition on planning permissions
Clause 99 introduces schedule 14, the effect of which I briefly summarise as follows:
• “The biodiversity gain objective is met in relation to development for which planning permission is granted if the biodiversity value attributable to the development exceeds the pre-development biodiversity value of the onsite habitat by at least the relevant percentage” which is 10% or such other percentage as is set out in regulations.
• The biodiversity value attributable to a development is “the post-development biodiversity value of the onsite habitat, (b) the biodiversity value, in relation to the development, of any registered offsite biodiversity gain allocated to the development”, and (c) the biodiversity value of any biodiversity credits purchased for the development”.
• The biodiversity metric is a document for measuring biodiversity value and it is to be published and updated from time to time by the Secretary of State.
• Pre-development biodiversity value for the site is measured as at the date of an application for planning permission (or the applicant and local planning authority may agree an earlier date). If activities are carried out on the land on or after 30 January 2020 without planning permission which reduce the biodiversity value of the onsite habitat, the biodiversity value is to be taken to be that which was the case immediately before those activities (a measure to avoid land owners intentionally reducing the pre-development biodiversity value).
• Post-development biodiversity value is “the projected value of the onsite habitat as at the time the development is completed”. There must be a condition or planning obligation requiring the habitat enhancement to be maintained for at least 30 years.
• Registered offsite biodiversity gain means any habitat enhancement where there is a legal commitment to carry it out and the enhancement is recorded in the biodiversity gain site register (see below).
• “Every planning permission granted for the development of land in England shall be deemed to have been granted subject to the condition” that a biodiversity gain plan has been submitted to and approved by the relevant planning authority.
• The biodiversity gain plan must show how the biodiversity gain objective is to be met either through on site enhancement by registered offsite biodiversity gain or by purchase of biodiversity credits. Regulations will set out the procedure the planning authority is to follow in determining whether to approve a biodiversity gain plan and the factors to be taken into account. At the moment there is no prioritising as between on-site, off-site and the purchasing of credits.
• The standard condition does not apply to development approved under a development order, on Crown land or any type of development which is specified within regulations as exempted.
• Regulations may modify or exclude these provisions for “irreplaceable habitat” and “must make provision requiring, in relation to any such development, the making of arrangements for the purpose of minimising the adverse effect of the development on the biodiversity of the onsite habitat”.
• There will be provisions in regulations to deal with the outline planning permissions, retrospective planning permissions and so on.
Clause 100 introduces schedule 15, which sets out how BNG works with in relation to nationally significant infrastructure projects, and the effect of which I briefly summarise as follows:
• If there is a national policy statement covering the type of development, it will be down to whether the national policy statement contains a biodiversity gain statement, in which case the biodiversity gain objective contained in the statement must be met.
• If there is no national policy statement covering the type of development, it will be down to whether the Secretary of State has made a biodiversity gain statement for that type of development, in which case the biodiversity gain objective contained in the statement must be met.
Biodiversity gain register
Clause 101 enables the Secretary of State to make regulations providing for a register of biodiversity gain sites – land which is legally required by conservation covenant (a binding mechanism provided for elsewhere in the Bill) or planning obligation to be maintained for habitat enhancement for at least 30 years and the “enhancement is made available to be allocated (conditionally or unconditionally, and whether for consideration or otherwise) in accordance with the terms of the covenant or obligation to one or more developments for which planning permission is granted”. The regulations will provide for the register to be open to the public, who should maintain it (the Secretary of State, Natural England “or any other person”), the information it includes and the procedure to be followed for a site to be placed on the register.
Clause 102 allows the Secretary of State to “make arrangements under which a person who is entitled to carry out the development of any land may purchase a credit from the Secretary of State for the purpose of meeting the biodiversity gain objective”, including the biodiversity value of a credit, its pricing and procedural arrangements, including “reimbursement for credits purchased for development which is not carried out”. “In determining the amount payable under the arrangements for a credit of a given value the Secretary of State must have regard to the need to determine an amount which does not discourage the registration of land in the biodiversity gain sites register.” Payments must only be used by the Secretary of State for the carrying out of habitat enhancement works on land in England, purchasing the necessary land and operating the arrangements. He must report annually on payments received/used.
This is such a big subject and it’s only going to get bigger.