Districts declare high street emergency as retail applications plummet

So what exactly is the government willing to take responsibility for? Councils have to do more to deliver the housing people need, councils need to do more to make the houses that are built, better quality and prettier, councils need to do more to promote and sustain the high street.

Let’s not forget that councils need to do all this with less funding from central government, despite being given an ever increasing list of burdens by Whitehall. The Homelessness Act being the latest financial black hole into which cash is pouring like a Las Vegas casino.

The funding deficit is now replaced by, in part, non-domestic rates such as those paid by the high street shops that have been decimated by successive government policy decisions and illogical increases in those rates.

Now in a lovely twist of the knife in local government’s back, we hear ever increasing calls from various parties for councils to do more to reduce the burden of business rates on the high street.

The number of applications by retailers to England’s district councils have nearly halved in the past four years, contributing to the high street crisis.

An analysis by the District Councils’ Network (DCN) reveals that members received 1,258 applications in the year ending June 2019, down from 2,216 since June 2015.

The DCN, which represents 191 district councils, says the figures show that high streets are in a state of “emergency”.

The analysis of government figures for England also shows that planning applications for new housing have slumped to a four-year low.

District councils received 31,073 applications for new homes in 2019 – the lowest since 2015.

DCN says the figures reflect the ongoing economic uncertainty and falling confidence from developers in the housing market.

It is calling on the government to give all districts the long-term funding they need to revive high streets, and to give them flexibility to raise finance locally, for instance, to set business rates relief.

Districts also want the government to guarantee the continuation of the New Homes Bonus to ensure that councils have the funding to deliver services and attract the new investment critical to thriving communities.

“These figures paint a worrying picture about the future of our high streets and town centres, and highlight the uphill battle we face tackling the housing crisis,” said DCN leader for stronger economics Mark Crane.

“There are huge opportunities to reshape places into thriving community, cultural and employment hubs – by investing in new housing, infrastructure, services and events.

“However, district councils, which are responsible for delivering housing and improving high streets, need the funding certainty and powers to transform town centres, to attract investment into infrastructure, and to build new homes.

“While there is a growing amount of energy and schemes invested in tackling these issues from Whitehall, the national complexity and focus on short-term results risks underutilising the ambitions of district councils to deliver change over the long term.”

1 November 2019
Huw Morris, The Planner

The Coronimbys – Lets Quarantine them Forever

Forward thinking and longterm planning appears to be a lost skill in this country.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

A new breed has come forth on twitter in recent days.  The coronimbys.  They never really liked human beings anyway, seeing them as a resource consuming, pollution creating blight (except for them of course), with this misanthropy used to resist housing, HS2, new airports, new anything all in a pseudo environmental anti development brand of eco-fascism why denies all hope of human ingenuity to fix, mend and restore the environment.

Oh how they now welcome Covid, it gives them the perfect excuse to say aha we now no longer need the housing.  It has all gone away because of recession.  Hang on I havnt noticed a mortality rate, like the Black Death, of 30% (which byu the way led to the biggest wave of new settlement building in history in the 14th Century as the economy recovered.)   Of course if we can create trillions at teh stroke of a bankers…

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This month’s big idea, from this month’s Housing Secretary

Taking the Easy Way Out: Developers Warned on Poor Quality Homes

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has warned developers building poor-quality homes that they will have to “change their practices” as he called for a “systematic change” in Britain’s approach to planning and design – as reported in on 24/10/19 in the Times: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/housing-secretary-robert-jenrick-warns-developers-over-poor-homes-p2326f92x

The Government is tackling poorly designed homes – not poorly constructed homes with the launch of a National Design Guide.  This reminds planning authority that planning permission should be refused for developments that failed to take the opportunities available for improving the character and quality of an area and the way it functions.

The guide specifically discourages features that create barriers or segregation within a development.  So poor doors and exclusive playgrounds are out (see “Poor doors: the Segregation of London” & “Too Poor to Play”.

It encourages well-designed building which are functional and sustainable.  Things such as simple electrics, lighting and water systems which are discreet, well-maintained and easy to access to maintain.  It is a sign of the bad design and bad quality housing that the Guide needs to state these obvious facts.

Good design also means that places are robust, durable and easy to look after.  Regrettably, again, this is a feature which is all too often missing from new housing.

Addressing bad design is positive but it seems like the easy way out for the government.  It doesn’t touch on the bigger and more difficult issues of poor construction and appalling workmanship that we see on a day to day basis.  None of these issues will be addressed by the new design guidelines.

It is time for the government to focus on the problems buyers of new build homes are facing which stem from workmanship not design.  Missing insulation, defective floors, leaks, crumbling mortar, badly constructed brick walls and other serious structural problems.It’s time the government took action to make sure builders get these basics right.

New Zealand Tackles Nimby Defence of Property Interests Head in in New National Policy Statement

Lessons in spatial planning policy from the other side of the world – is ANYBODY on this side listening? In fact, will anybody stay in the job long enough to even understand it enough to try?

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

A very interesting read

Of course the New Zealand System is based on resource management which the draft statement says has not been focussed enough around spatial planning, or social and economic considerations.

Current processes for public participation tend to favour wealthier property owners over others (in particular younger, non-English speakers, ethnic minorities, the less educated and renters)….

Some planning decisions on urban development appear to consider only the effects on the natural environment or specific amenity considerations, and not how the urban environment meets the social, economic and cultural needs of people and communities. Many decisions
focus on the adverse effects of development, and do not adequately address its benefits (including for future generations). This can have a local and national impact…

The Government intends to introduce objectives and
policies in the NPS-UD that would:
• emphasise that amenity values can change over time, with changes in communities and…

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The Strategic Tradeoff in New Style Strategic Plans

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The story of strategic planning since the 2004 Act has been in large part an innovation of new styles of plan facing the harsh reality of  contact with the Planning Inspectorate.

Now the results of the NEGC and West of England examinations into new style joint strategic plans offers an opportunity reflection similar to that following the unsoundness fining of the first core strategy for Stafford.

Although strategic planning has seen an inevitable revival the reason why it has not been welcomed with open arms is that in England we have never got the structure or geographical level of strategic planning right.  Numerous messing around with local government structures always short of a comprehensive form has led to a messy combination of strategic plan structures covering districts, unitaries, counties and combined authorities.  Though we have moved beyond the weak duty to cooperate to an effective duty to plan strategically there…

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How can we allow this to be happening in this day and age?

Windowless permitted development flats approved at appeal

A plan to convert a light industrial building into 15 flats under permitted development rights has won permission at appeal, despite seven of the units lacking windows and the inspector commenting that they “would not be a positive living environment”.

So why would a supposedly intelligent and well trained planning inspector, having made such a statement, still permit such a sub-standard form of development to go ahead?

Unfortunately, this summary is from a subscription site, so I am unable to get any further details.

Electric Vehicle Charging points to be Made Compulsory – but at £16k a time it will kill Affordable Apartments

Ludicrous piece of knee jerk policy making. Pandering to to some idealised image of a zero carbon car owning society within 25 or 50 years? Meanwhile we continue to build junk housing that fails in nearly every other category of providing decent accommodation that can cater for any sort of change to family circumstance. Need a bit more storage, you’ll need to move. Need room for a baby, you’ll need to move. Need to park a car, you’ll need to move. Want any sort of outside space – good luck with that one. Wondering where to put the 2, 3, 4 + wheelie bins your refuse and recycling now has to go in? Don’t bother looking for the well designed outdoor storage provided as part of the building regs, because central government were too busy wasting money on the electric charging point for the car you’ll never be able to afford, or even park outside your shoebox of a dwelling.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

DoT

We are proposals to alter existing:

  • residential
  • non-residential

buildings regulations to include a requirement for electric vehicle chargepoint infrastructure.

The government proposes every new residential building with an associated car parking space to have a chargepoint. We propose this requirement applies to buildings undergoing a material change of use to create a dwelling.

Installing chargepoints in residential buildings will add an additional cost ofapproximately £976 per car parking space for an average home.

This is not correct.  If you are installing a chargpoint in af ront wall next to a parking space the cost for the socket is £45.   If you have flats where anyone can plug in (to avoid electricity rsutling) the cost of a digital charging pole is 14-16 thousand.  This will likely kill off affordable apartments and build to rent.  As of yet there is no technical solution to this at an affordable price.  The sensible…

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The Emergence of ‘Soft’ Strategic Planning

The legacy of Eric Pickles and his Conservative supporters across the country, have left this country with both the current housing shortage and a belief that Nimbies can win the day with the right MPs on their team.

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Soft planning is a new style of planning, nothing to do with its statutory status or otherwise.  We have non statutory strategic plans in places like Leicestershire and Surrey and emerging statutory plans with a ‘soft’ stage in places like Oxfordshire., Northamptonshire (next month) and Greater Exteter.  What all of these have in common is absolutely no sharp edges of housing numbers assigned to locations which might hurt a Nimby or upset a local politician.  They are easy to agree as there is no need to set up a structure to make hard choices that cannot be agreed through unanimity.  If you get housing numbers at all it is in an appendix stating need as a fact with a comment that this does not imply distribution. You might get a diagram showing growth locations, but only in the non statutory forms to get around SEA requirements.

Are they useful.  Certainly…

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Ministers were warned about ‘shameful’ parking-space sized flats

Permitted development = Quantity over quality

Ministers and officials ignored warnings that developers were creating “unbelievably small” flats by exploiting a change in planning rules, The Times can reveal.

Civil servants who attended a meeting with a leading architect three years ago were shown evidence that the policy was resulting in terrible living conditions but allegedly dismissed it. The architect, Julia Park, sent a letter to ministers including James Brokenshire, the housing secretary, two years later arguing that the policy was being abused by “unscrupulous landlords”.housing secretary, two years later arguing that the policy was being abused by “unscrupulous landlords”.

Since 2013 permitted development rights have meant that developers can convert offices into flats without planning permission or minimum size requirements. The government did not start a review of the quality of the housing that was being created until March this year.

Yesterday The Times exposed three developers who have made millions from converting offices into tiny flats dubbed the “slums of the future”.

Some are 14 square metres, barely larger than a normal parking space and significantly below the minimum space standards that would apply under the planning regime. Many house children and vulnerable adults paying rent of about £800 a month for a bedsit, with one company, Caridon, receiving £8 million a year in housing benefit payments.

The Local Government Association and MPs called on the government to take urgent action. Martin Tett, the association’s housing spokesman, called on ministers to “urgently bring forward its commitment to review the quality of homes”.

John Healey, the shadow housing secretary, said that the “warning signs have been clear for several years but ministers have sided with developers rather than those desperate to get a decent home”. Mr Healey said that the government should “act now to make these developments go through the planning system and meet the same standards”.

An impact assessment published when the rules were changed in 2013 concluded that the move would probably lead to 140 applications a year. Instead, more than 11,000 applications have been approved in five years.

The assessment also dismissed the risk of “houses being located in unsustainable locations, such as industrial sites” as minimal because they wouldn’t be “attractive” for developers. A number of developments on industrial estates and overlooking major roads have been carried out.

Ms Park, who is head of housing research at Levitt Bernstein and chairwoman of the Royal Institute of British Architects’ housing group, met a senior planning official and her deputy at what was then the Department for Communities and Local Government in spring 2016 after raising concerns about the quality of office conversions. She highlighted an office-to-residential scheme in which two of the apartments were 13.5 sq m. “There is no outdoor space, no view and really nothing good you can say about them,” she said.

Ms Park said that the example was dismissed as a “one-off” and that that year, after a three-year trial, the change in the rules was made permanent.

In August last year Ms Park wrote to ministers to draw attention to Newbury House on the A112 dual carriageway in east London, calling it “one of the worst examples I have encountered, though it is by no means an isolated case”. She described “double studios” for two people as small as 14.7 sq m with no through ventilation, and said the building was in poor condition, with an open ground floor that was full of rubbish.

“We can only be deeply ashamed that people are living in this way, and equally ashamed that this is a direct result of a ‘flagship policy’ — one that continues to be hailed as a huge success by politicians and unscrupulous landlords, but few others,” she said.

A civil servant replied to Ms Park in October, insisting that office conversions were making “an important contribution towards housing supply” and were “producing homes that suit a range of needs and budgets”.

Ms Park wrote again to press her case. “The risk that mental and/or physical health could be adversely impacted by living conditions such as this is substantial,” she said.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said that permitted development rights for office conversions were being reviewed “in respect of the quality standard of homes delivered”.

Caridon said that it was providing affordable housing and denied the flats were substandard.

Only recently I read that the housing minister, James Brokenshire, is very well respected across the whole sector. This comment was made by a leading member of the LGA. It therefore comes as a disappointment to

Nitrate Pollution Moritoriums – Makes the Case why only the State can Plan Strategically

Does this have any impact for us as we border the Wash?

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

10,000 homes in South Hampshire put under moratorium.

Fareham cancels its Planning Committee

South Hampshire News

HOUSEBUILDING has stopped in Hampshire as local authorities seek legal advice on how to obey environmental advice from government – a move that has been branded a shambles by a senior councillor.

Government department Natural England has released a recommendation that all new-build homes have to meet strict environmental rules over nitrate levels. This, they say, is because high levels of nitrogen pollution are affecting protected sites in the Solent area and new housing contributes additional nitrogen to the water.

But developers say the target of being ‘nitrate-neutral’ is impossible to meet as nitrates are in drinking and waste water – and local authorities have stopped issuing planning permission while they seek clarity.

And councils still face having to hit government housebuilding targets,

One of the councils affected, Fareham Borough Council, has even cancelled its next planning meeting.

Leader…

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