A call for chaos on the high street

Copied from Sunday Telegraph Business section – 9th September 2018

If somebody who wants open a new business on the high street can’t afford to apply for a change of use planning application and wait UP TO 8 weeks, then that business is probably going to fail not long after opening.

Then there’s the matter of an inappropriate use opening up next to an existing business, just because that vacant unit was available and has a willing owner.  Who picks up the pieces when the two businesses clash?  The local council of course.

RETAIL

Retailers and landlords: rip up planning laws to save high street

A COALITION of retailers, landlords, councils and pubs has called for planning laws to be torn up so that abandoned shops can be turned into cafes, galleries, gyms and other businesses that could help rejuvenate Britain’s decimated high streets.

Empty units in the middle of towns and villages are often hard to let because it can be difficult and expensive to get permission to change their use. For example, a unit used as a hairdresser’s needs permission to be changed into a nail bar.

“At present, it can take about eight weeks and cost about £500,” said the British Property Federation, which represents shops’ landlords. It wants to change the rules to keep up to date with modern shopping habits, as online sales take retail business away from high streets.

This makes it crucial those selling “experiences” can move into empty units once used for retail.

The landlords’ call to chop back planning rules was joined by other groups who said the move could revitalise high streets. The proposals came in responses to an inquiry by the housing, communities and local government select committee.

“Traditional shop uses have become increasingly blurred, as coffee shops also become mini-libraries, and independent gyms house cafes. Although businesses have adapted to challenges, planning laws have not,” said the Federation of Small Businesses. “Planning conditions seek to regulate every type of floor space, from sale space to a gym floor. These strict regulations and planning conditions drastically reduce businesses flexibility and adaptability, reducing their ability to compete.”

The British Retail Consortium agreed, calling for regulators to “ease of change of use [rules].”

The Booksellers’ Association said it wants “simply less red tape”. It wants more creative use of empty space to bring shoppers back to the high street, including “use of empty shops to promote arts activities and artisan crafts”.

Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), said “transforming the fortunes of high streets is eminently possible”.

“High quality visitor experiences” help as does a recognition that “far more than just ‘shopping’ is allowing some town centres and their high streets to change and thrive,” said British BIDs.

The Local Government Association said it is time to recognise “a contraction in retail floor space” may be needed to help high streets survive.

The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government said high streets should specialise if they want to thrive. “Examples include Ludlow’s reputation as a centre for ‘slow food’, Norwich’s coordinated approach to its medieval heritage and the ‘alternative’ identity created in Stokes Croft, Bristol.”

We are being jammed, crammed into even smaller spacers and boxed into corners when we try to fight back

My only disappoitment with this comment piece, is that Tom Welsh talks more about cars, that most of us use no more than 5% of the time we own them.  Even when he refers to roads, it’s about problems fitting the moving cars on to them.

He does however get on to the auwful boxes we are forcing our young people to put their hearts and souls into and maybe even raise a family in, if then priced out of the market for larger properties.  Here’s where the roads come into play, with the narrowness of those now built in residential developments, turning pavement parking into the standard practice.

Comment piece from Sunday Telegraph 9th September 2018

Stop ramping up our daily stress by cramming us into smaller, tighter spaces

Much about modern life seems designed to provoke fury. Sinks in hotel bathrooms are too tiny to fill up even the miniature kettles they provide. Household goods are too complicated to fix without the services of an expensive expert. Now we have statistical confirmation of another failure by design that drives people mad: parking spaces are too small for today’s cars.

This is largely because cars have expanded in size. The most popular models have widened on average by 17 per cent since the late Nineties, to provide more room for passengers and to cram in all the technology that regulation and drivers demand. Roads and parking spaces haven’t widened to accommodate them, however.

Many streets have in fact become narrower to fit in bus and cycle lanes. Dents, scuffs and even bad backs from drivers angling themselves awkwardly from their vehicles are the sad consequences of too-small parking bays. Terrible drivers who feel the need to park across two do little for societal calm, either.

The broader problem is an obsession with rationing space. Britain feels overcrowded partly because the population has grown strongly, but also because the authorities are determined to squeeze as much as possible into as little room as they can, a perverse fixation on ever greater density. This leaves passengers on trains uncomfortable, new-build flats and houses barely inhabitable and much smaller than older properties, and a trip to the shops by car far more stressful than it need be. Ironically, cars are one of the few things that have changed to meet a natural demand for more comfort. Meanwhile, council car parking spaces rigorously stick to the minimum size permitted by law in order to cram more vehicles in.

Policy changes could fix all of this, of course, and release some of the fury that is built into our daily lives. Land is expensive, and should ideally become cheaper. Travel costs on rail are already high, so operators attempt to pack more into commuter trains. But they could avoid proposed measures like the outrageous scrapping of first class carriages, which enable people to escape the packed-in discomfort we are expected to put up with.

But would any of this get a fair hearing today? Politicians and regulators are wedded to three principles that conspire together against public comfort. First is an unhealthy belief in targets, which sees 200,000 homes built a year as a triumph, even if they’re just inner-city box flats and not the family houses people actually want; and which trumpets unusable bays as meeting demand for parking.

Second is a blind faith in regulations, wherein things are designed to meet regulatory criteria, rather than to satisfy consumer demand. Third is a skewed mania for equality – exacerbated by snobbery – in which those who choose to take up more room, whether by buying a family car or wanting a family home, are deemed to be offending against efficient use of space. It isn’t the owners of large cars we should be fuming against

A salutary lesson for any landowner tempted to turn blind eye to tenant’s activites

Landowners’ liability for occupiers’ abandoned waste

Angus Evers
Joanne Sear
United Kingdom May 25 2018

An unsuccessful appeal by a landowner against a conviction for knowingly permitting an unauthorised waste operation on its land has highlighted the risks to landowners of incurring criminal liability if former occupiers abandon waste on their land.

The High Court has recently clarified the circumstances in which landowners can face criminal liability for waste abandoned on their land by former occupiers. Commercial landlords need to be aware of the risks and consider how they might be minimised, because the judgment imposes virtually strict liability on landowners in circumstances where occupiers cease trading and abandon waste on their land.

Background

Salhouse Norwich Ltd owned a site in Norwich, which it leased to a mattress recycling business. The business did not have an environmental permit or a waste exemption. In August 2015, the Environment Agency served an enforcement notice on the tenant, requiring it to remove the mattresses. The tenant didn’t comply, and ceased trading, abandoning over 20,000 mattresses (weighing 471 tonnes).

The mattresses remained on the site after the tenant ceased trading. Salhouse Norwich proposed a remedial plan to attempt to clear the site, but the Environment Agency rejected it and charged Salhouse Norwich with the offence of knowingly permitting the storage of waste without an environmental permit. One of Salhouse Norwich’s directors was also charged in a personal capacity, because the company was said to have acted with his consent or connivance, or the offence was attributable to his neglect.

Both Salhouse Norwich and the director were convicted in the Magistrates’ Court, receiving a fine and 150 hours of unpaid community work respectively. They both appealed.

The appeal

On appeal, the High Court upheld the convictions and found that Salhouse Norwich and the director were guilty because:

  • the continued presence of the mattresses on the land after the tenant abandoned them amounted to a waste storage operation; and
  • they had known that the mattresses were present on the land, but had failed to ensure their removal.

All the Environment Agency therefore needed to prove was that Salhouse Norwich and the director knew that the mattresses were present on the land and had done nothing to prevent them being there. There was no need to prove any positive act by them.

What does the case mean for landowners?

The judgment is a harsh outcome for landowners, as it seems to require them to take positive action to clean up their land if former occupiers abandon waste on it. Once they are aware of the presence of a former occupier’s waste on their land, they are guilty of knowingly permitting an illegal waste storage operation if they do nothing to remove it.

In addition to or instead of prosecuting for carrying out illegal waste operations without a permit, the Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales and local authorities have powers to serve notices on landowners requiring the removal of waste when it has been illegally deposited or illegally stored on land. Failing to comply with such a notice is also an offence. As highlighted in our March 2018 update ‘Imminent changes to waste rules – it’s not all rubbish‘, these powers have recently been extended significantly, and the position now is that a landowner can also be served with a notice requiring it to remove waste when the waste was deposited with legal authority but where that authority has expired, when the occupier cannot be found, or when the occupier was served with a notice but didn’t comply with it. Landowners can also be charged landfill tax if they knowingly permit the illegal deposit of waste on their land.

Our experience is that, where possible and practicable, regulators will pursue occupiers in preference to landowners. However, regulators will look to landowners to make up the shortfall where an occupier has disappeared or become insolvent.

Before allowing a third party such as a tenant or licensee to occupy its land, a landowner should carefully consider the nature of the occupier’s business and whether it involves waste. If it does, the landowner should ask:

  • Are the necessary environmental permits and planning permissions in place for the occupier’s proposed use of the land?;
  • Is the occupier’s business established and reputable?;
  • Is the occupier’s business financially solvent?

If the answer to all of these questions is yes, then the risk of the occupier disappearing and abandoning waste is reduced. Prevention in these circumstances in better than a cure.

Stone and Salhouse Norwich Ltd v Environment Agency [2018] EWHC 994 (Admin)

Network Rail has no interest in our traffic issues

Recently the local press published a letter suggesting that South Holland District Council could somehow have required the rail companies to do something other than what they eventually did with the line through Spalding.

I did send the newspaper a response, as the writer did raise a number of valid questions that needed answering.  To date, this has not been published.

Dear sir,

Further to Mr Delve’s letter re traffic grid lock in Spalding being caused by increased use of the rail line. He refers to a rail loop proposal and asks why the council didn’t require Network Rail to build this, rather than carry out the upgrade work that allowed for the increased rail traffic.

If only it were that easy. The ‘rail loop’ he refers to, was in fact a protected corridor identified by the district council in an early plan. Its inclusion was more in hope than anticipation, that the rail company would see the logic in bypassing a town centre with four level crossings and no bridges, at some point in the future.

As the local planning authority, South Holland would never have been under any illusion that it could compel Network Rail to do anything other than the Railways Act allows it to; upgrade the existing line, whatever the impact. Even our encouragement for the development of a Rail Freight Interchange, failed to prompt the company into becoming more engaged.

Since the original upgrade proposals became known to South Holland DC, the council has made every effort to reduce the impact. First in meetings with Railtrack, when proposals included the potential for level crossing closures of up to 40 minutes in the hour. We also looked at the potential for a road bridge on Winsover Road. Then with Network Rail, a company that regrettably, has been somewhat less forthcoming.

We are now working in partnership with Lincolnshire County Council and local developers, to progress the delivery of the Spalding Western Relief Road. This road is one of only four strategic road projects in the county council’s local transport plan.

Working with LCC we successful bid for £12m from central Government, to support major housing delivery projects, a crucial element of Spalding Western Relief Road scheme.

Cllr Roger Gambba-Jones
Cabinet member for Place
South Holland District Council

National Planning Policy Framework revisions due any day now – here we go again?

Legal landscape: Let’s hope the revised NPPF can provide much-needed clarity
By Ian Graves

A revised National Planning Policy Framework could bring clarity to planning, says Ian Graves, but he fears government will avoid difficult decisions about green belt and neighbourhood planning.

Six years since the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which saw 1,300 pages of planning regulations condensed into just 65, the government has confirmed its intention to publish a consultation draft of the revised framework this spring. The review will be welcomed by planners, developers and local authorities.

A lot has changed since 2012 and it’s time for national planning policy to catch up. The proposals in last year’s white paper Fixing Our Broken Housing Market, the written ministerial statements on small sites and housing land supply, and the growth of neighbourhood planning all need to be integrated into the framework.

The revised NPPF will no doubt also be a key tool in the government’s efforts to fulfil its pledge to deliver a million new homes by 2022. This is the chance for the government to have its say on contentious issues surrounding the interpretation of the current NPPF. Is the presumption in favour of sustainable development really intended to be a ‘golden thread’ running through the whole of the framework, or just paragraph 14? What are “relevant policies for the supply of housing”?

Interpretation has thus far been left to the courts, but it is now time for the government to let us know its views and intentions. The hope is that doing so will bring much-needed clarity – although, of course, some may say that a revised document will merely bring another round of arguments about what those new policies really mean.

“Many of the most sustainable locations for new homes to be built are in fact within green belt land”

A major change is likely to be the introduction of a standard methodology for the calculation of objectively assessed housing need, following the government’s consultation late last year.

The adoption of a standard method will introduce a new level of predictability, transparency and certainty to the process, which many will see as desirable. Certainly, the current system whereby individual local authorities can choose how to estimate housing need isn’t working.

However, many commentators have suggested that the method proposed by the government will lead to large regional disparities in objectively assessed need, with big increases in the South East and reductions in some parts of the North.

It also doesn’t appear that local authorities will be obliged to plan for the full figure arising from the new methodology, with the indication being that some sort of cap on any increase in housing numbers over that in the current plan is likely.

One issue that seems unlikely to be addressed is the contradiction in policy between the focus on increasing the numbers of houses being built and the supposed ‘strong focus’ on maintaining protection for the green belt. There seems little acknowledgement from ministers that a more sensible policy on the green belt is necessary if the housing crisis is to be tackled.

Many of the local authorities experiencing the greatest demand for housing also find themselves constrained by large areas of green belt. Many of the most sustainable locations for homes to be built are in fact within green belt.

The answer should lie in a sensible reappraisal of the function and purpose of the green belt, together with a limited release of suitable land for development. Sadly, politics seems to have trumped economics on this issue.

Similarly, the contradiction between the expansion neighbourhood planning and the imperative to increase housing numbers is also set to deepen. Although the government claims that neighbourhood development plans boost housing supply, many in the development industry are sceptical.

Those with direct experience often find that the effect is to stymie rather than encourage the building of homes. Continuing to increase the importance of neighbourhood plans is likely to exacerbate that effect.

We can only hope that the government chooses to take the bull by the horns and address some of these long-standing issues. An update to national policy is sorely needed. The development industry will be watching and waiting with interest.

Ian Graves is a legal director in the planning team at law firm Shakespeare Martineau

Housing – not just a crisis of quantity

We will never reverse the low quality of the housing stock now being built in this country, until we confront the issues that caused it and are continuing to encourage it.

  1. Right to Buy – Since it’s introduction in 1980 by Margaret Thatcher’s government, Right to Buy has removed over 2 million social housing units from the system. Those in the most desirable areas, such as central London and the towns and villages of the Home Counties will never be replaced like for like, because the land is no longer available.  Even were any existing non-residential sites become available, given the open market value of housing in high demand areas, the private sector will always ensure that it outbid the local council. The Homes and Communities Agency, funded by DCLG, would be equally hard pressed to compete given its relatively limited budget for such uses.

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/aug/26/right-to-buy-margaret-thatcher-david-cameron-housing-crisis

The impact of this loss of affordable housing has forced ordinary, working class people further and further out to the edges of our large urban areas, in virtually every area of the country.

  1. Buy to Rent – this triggered a major building programme, which in turn encouraged the developers to produce a large number of lower quality off the shelf housing units, to fill the ever increasing deficit created by the RTB policy.

How many landlord properties are there currently in the market?

Landlords – the stats

– The number of landlords in the UK increased by 7% to reach 1.75 million in 2013-2014

  • In 2014, two million private landlords owned and let five million properties in the UK (Paragon)

Tenants – the stats

– In 2014-2015, 19% of households – equivalent to 4.3 million – were renting privately (English Housing Survey)

– The number of private tenants in England reached 3.84 million in 2011-2012 (English Housing Survey)

– Some 59% of 20 to 39 year-olds in England will be privately renting by 2025 (PwC)

– In 2015 there were 5.4 million households in the UK’s PRS, a number which will grow to 7.2 million by 2025 (PwC)

– In 2015 the PRS accounted for 22% of all UK households (ResPublica)

(homelet.co.uk/letting-agents/news/article/how-many-landlords-and-tenants-are-there-in-the-uk)

  1. Help to Buy – combined with the difficulties experienced by first time buyers in obtaining finance from the normal sources, has seem public money, that should have been spent on replacing the depleted social housing stock, sucked out of the system and placed straight into the pockets of the landowners and developers who are already applying a stranglehold on housing supply via their strategic land holdings and failure to follow through on extant planning permissions.

Even worse, the rules for getting money from the scheme have now been made so lax that, according to the government’s own survey, thousands of those who have used it, didn’t actually need to and could have purchased their own home without financial help from the taxpayer.

The government now plans to compound this, by placing a further £10 billion within their reach, while putting only £2 billion into replacing our severely depleted social housing stock.

The current proposed government funding of £2billion for affordable housing and a further £10billion to extend the Help to Buy scheme, is completely upside down and will simply continue the current lack of supply and lack of delivery we are experiencing.

Social Housing waiting lists

In 2016 there were over 1.2m on council house waiting lists.  This figure is actually down on previous numbers, because of what some might suggest is an attempt by central government to use local government as a way of covering up their failings.  By requiring a tightening up of the criteria for eligibility, tens of thousands of those previously entitled to be listed, have simply disappeared.  These families and of course single under 25’s, have been forced into the hands of what can be an over-priced and sub-standard private sector rented housing market, where security of tenure virtually non-existent and standard of accommodation often a lottery.

https://www.theguardian.com/housing-network/2016/may/12/council-waiting-lists-shrinking-more-need-homes

By 2021, a quarter of the British population will be in rented accommodation.  Much of it private and with potentially many of these tenants struggling to meet the ever increasing rent bill.

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2017/jun/12/one-in-four-households-in-britain-will-rent-privately-by-end-of-2021-says-report

Unless government allows councils to begin and then sustain a major council house building programme, the quantity of housing will always be squeezed by a profit driven market.  Not only will this continue the opportunities for exploitation of tenants, it will also ensure that developers are able to build to the lowest standards, safe in the knowledge that, no matter what they build, it will always be a sellers market.

South Staffs – A totally predictable ‘clusterf###k’ Local Plan Examination

Lots of good points in here, worthy of note for anybody working on their Local Plan now. Too late for us to make any changes (not that we need any, actually that’s up to the inspector to decide for us) as our examination in public starts on 10 Oct in Boston. It’s a public meeting so anybody can attend and listen to the proceedings.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Amongst the names of local authorities that are heading for disaster and have plunged over the cliff despite all warning there are a few sad cases, one that always come up are the likes of St Albans, South Oxfordshire, Erewash and yes South Staffs – all of which think they have a duty to obstruct and stick two fingers up to all of their neighbors.

They have taken advantage of the fact they have a core strategy (without allocations) adopted in 2012 before any overspill form any adjoining area, Black Country, Brum, Stafford, Cannock Chase or Wrekin was set; taking advantage of recent case law (including Cooper Estates v Tunbridge Wells BC [2017; EWHC 224 (Admin)]; Oxted Residential Ltd v Tandridge DC [2016; EWCA Civ 4140]; Gladman Development Ltd v Wokingham BC [2014; EWHC 2320 (Admin)];) that an allocations plan following a recent core strategy does not have to examine…

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