A recent survey undertaken by the ‘Planning’ of local authority chiefs, of which 46 replied, shows that these authorities had so far received 262 applications to convert offices to residential. This breaks down into an average of 10.2 applications for London councils and 2.8 applications for non-London councils.

The following is a summary of the responses:

• 25% of applications involved occupied offices
• 67% of decided applications have been approved
• 25% of local authorities are considering following Richmond, Islington and Brighton by introducing an Article 4 direction to opt out of the permitted rights
• 89% of local authorities predict a loss of income due to these new rights
• 47, largest number of applications received by a council; Richmond Council

The president of the Planning Officers Society said that his members had expressed concern over the high number of occupied offices being targeted. In general, the number of applications has already bypassed the Governments prediction of 85-175 applications this year. It is unknown how many applications will be considered during 2013.  While this survey only represents 15% of local authorities in England, a more comprehensive survey is required to give a real indication on the effect of this new law.

Bracknell office to residential decisions

Bracknell has received 9 prior approval applications for office to residential since 30th May; of which 5 are pending, 2 have been granted and 2 have been refused.

One application, for a conversion to 4 flats, was refused by the council based on the impact to the highway. The application did not include any designated parking, and thus would encourage off-street parking which would be ‘detrimental’ to the road safety and flow of traffic.

One of the granted schemes is for a 35 bed conversion of a 3 storey office block. It includes the use of an existing car park with 88 spaces, which will have no impact on the highway or road safety.

These two applications highlight the importance of transport prior to the approval of applications. Therefore, having no existing car parks will make it harder for applicants to prove to the council that the residential space will not increase off street parking. Parking mitigation measures will need to be included in any submitted scheme.

Oil Companies to be allowed to drill underground without notifying property owners

The Government has released a consultation on the proposed changes to planning legislation, making it easier for energy developers to submit planning applications.  Companies will be able to apply for planning permission to drill for oil/gas under people’s property, without notifying them first. The Government ‘considers that underground operations (for oil/gas) are different in character from other existing forms of development’, as the ‘development’ is at a significant depth underground. A new planning application form for this development type is also proposed. The consultation can be found here. 

Inspector approves industrial scheme which is contrary to the local plan

Wrexham County Borough Council has refused an extension of an industrial site, as they argued the development was outside of land designated for employment use, under their Unitary Development Plan.
Since this decision was made last year Planning Policy Wales (PPW) guidance has been introduced, which surpasses the local plan and favour’s economic growth in appropriate locations. The Inspector overturned the decision based on this new policy.

The scheme will create 100 new jobs and allow an existing business to expand on site; it was otherwise looking to relocate away from the district which could have put 160 jobs at risk.

Government overrides inspector’s recommendation for a 100 home scheme

An Inspector recommended that a 100 home scheme at Tarporley, Cheshire should be refused, on grounds that it would be ‘intensely damaging’ to the parish council’s intention to develop a neighbourhood plan. 
In contradiction to the council’s recommendation the government had approved the scheme, agreeing with the developers’ argument that land for housing within the district was at a chronic deficit, and the local plan was outdated. Thus, the development should go ahead based on the presumption in favour of sustainable development under the NPPF. The parish council were against the development as they argued they would rather the development was plan-led under the proposed Neighbourhood Plan.

St Albans proposal in the Green Belt decision overturned

It has been argued by a developer that St Albans Council needs to build 688 new homes a year until 2028 to meet unmet housing demand. The said developer submitted a 116 dwelling and care home at Sewell Park which was refused by both the council and inspector. A high court judge this week said the inspector made a ‘fundamental’ legal error (as the decision was based on the revoked East of England RSS and had misapplied the NPPF), and has asked the DCLG to relook at this application.

Smithfield redevelopment plans called in by the Government

The proposed redevelopment of Smithfield’s was approved by the City’s planning committee, but was called in by central Government. Eric Pickles said the ‘application is one that he ought to decided himself because the proposal concerns matters that are of regional and national controversy’. A public inquiry will now be hold at a date yet to be confirmed.

Environmental Offsetting green paper

Many countries around the world (such as America and India) have systems in place whereby a developer can build schemes in environmentally sensitive areas, under the conditions that they offset any damage by paying for conservation activities elsewhere. DEFRA has released a green paper this week which includes this proposal and says offsetting will work best if used as part of the planning system. This could have the potential to help the planning system deliver more for the economy and environment. The Green Paper can be found here. 

Planning fees to be refunded, if applications are not determined within 26weeks of validation

The recent amendment (2013) to the Town and Country Planning Regulations (2012), state, under regulation 5, that any fee paid by an applicant, for a planning permission application or approval of reserved matters, should be refunded if the council fails to determine the application within 26 weeks of the date when a valid application was received (this is not refundable if the council and applicant have agreed to extend the time for determination) This change will put pressure on councils to make a decision before this date, or potentially lose out on substantial planning fees.

Extension of planning permission to cease

Introduced by the last Labour Government, the extension of planning permissions for an additional 3 years was renewed at the start of the coalition Government. Since, the Government has been reviewing planning guidance as part of the Taylor Review, and has decided not to renew this extension of planning permission. This has been implemented to stop developers sitting on land with planning permission granted which will help stimulate the development sector.

Adam Smith Institute calls for planning deregulation to increase house building

The Adam Smith Institute which promotes free market ideology has warned that the help to buy scheme will worsen the housing crisis (by increasing housing prices, which will make home ownership impossible for the poor). A recent paper states that a ‘radical liberalization’ of the planning law is required through supply side economies.

Such policies could include; relaxing urban planning rules, releasing farmland for housing, and the removal of mandatory affordable housing from private developments. An institute spokesman said, ‘Radical liberalization of the planning system has the potential to drive massive economic growth, drastically reduce housing costs and give millions more a chance to own property of their own’. The Government has responded to this paper by arguing home ownership is now ‘at its most affordable for 6 years’.

Labour Party launches review on Infrastructure Planning

Labour has launched the Armitt Review on the long term planning for infrastructure in the UK. It calls for a new independent National Infrastructure Commission to be established which will identify the UK's long term infrastructure needs, and monitor the plans developed by Governments to meet them. This body will undertake an evidence based assessment each decade of the infrastructure needs over the next 25-30 years focusing on nationally significant infrastructure (as defined in the 2008 Planning Act). This report would then be passed to the Government to obtain parliamentary approval and then onto the Governments departments to produce plans of how to deliver these schemes. A full report can be found here.

Notting Hill Gate – redevelopment proposal

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is proposing major changes to Notting Hill Gate, and are currently writing a development brief for the area. The council will be running a public exhibition and workshops from the 10-19th September, more information can be found here.

HS2 Plans for Manchester

HS2 is not due to arrive in Manchester until after 2032; however the City Council, Government and key stakeholders are already planning a new regeneration project around Piccadilly Station (where HS2 will arrive). This will be a multi-million pound scheme for a new gateway quarter based on the success of the recent redevelopment of Kings Cross and St Pancras. The plans will seek to link the station to East Manchester via a new boulevard which will include a new tram interchange and coach station. The first phase could start within the next 3 years.

5th Neighbourhood Plan found sound

The Lynton & Lynmouth Neighbourhood Plan (in Devon) has been found sound and will now go to referendum. The key themes of the plan is to provide affordable housing to meet local needs, whilst resisting the development of second home’.

The DCLG said that over half of English councils have received applications to designate areas for Neighbourhood Plans, with Herefordshire leading the way with 40 applications.