The planning system plays a vital role in enabling the delivery of development that will support the UK’s economic recovery during COVID-19. The Coronavirus Act 2020, which received Royal Assent on 25 March 2020 makes provision for Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) to change the way in which they hold their meetings. This came into force on 4 April 2020. DLP Planning Ltd have been working across our offices to provide a schedule of LPAs current self-contingency measures that are in place in response to Covid-19.
Six weeks on from changes in legislation, we are seeing a mixed response from LPAs across England. The work DLP Planning Ltd have undertaken highlights a diversity in practice with some LPA’s already holding virtual Committees during May 2020.
Several LPAs within West Midlands and London have successfully executed virtual Planning Committees with Members determining applications for schemes that are either departures to Local Plan policies or those with multiple objections. Some of the other Regions have been taking a more cautious approach, reviewing their internal procedures and IT options for holding virtual meetings. It is anticipated that the take up of virtual Committees will spread across LPAs in England as Council’s set up their legal and IT systems. Virtual Committee meetings have been successfully facilitated by different methods, including Microsoft Teams.
In terms of work on Plan Making, there appears to be is a mixed response. Some LPAs are continuing to press ahead with policy work in line with their current timetables, whilst others are pausing work for the foreseeable future.
What is clear is the eagerness of LPAs across the UK to embrace this current crisis, with front runners setting a fast pace of change made possible by legislation. This has allowed politically sensitive applications to be progressed. DLP Planning Ltd schedule provides a summary of LPA’s current self-contingency measures and will assist clients in making decisions on their strategy for current and proposed planning applications. A link is provided to the current Schedule and DLP Planning Ltd will be providing regular updates as the situation changes.
John HelyarCOVID-19 and LPAs Self Contingency Measures
The 2019 draft London Plan emphasises the importance of delivering the homes that Londoners need and highlights the significance the lack of supply has had on London’s housing crisis. The Plan highlights the need for 66,000 new homes each year, of which 43,000 should be genuinely affordable. DLP Planning has undertaken research into the number of planning permissions granted for housing schemes (minor and major) in 2019 by London Borough Authorities (LBA) in order to establish which boroughs are performing well in helping to meet the housing targets set in the London Plan. The research project also assesses the relative performance of LBA’s in granting residential planning permissions based on the number of applications they have received.
National statistics about the number of planning applications made and permissions granted in England are released every three months by The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG). It covers information on planning applications received, including decisions on applications for residential developments. DLP Planning Ltd have reviewed the 2019 figures for the LBA’s (under the District Planning Application Statistics file PS2) and found that in 2019, LBA’s granted a total of 51138 permissions.
Our investigation identifies which LBA’s have the best and which have the most challenged track record for granting residential applications. Out of the 32 London Borough Authorities, the City of London had the highest percentage rate (98%) in granting planning permissions, compared with the London Borough of Harrow who only approved 65% of the total applications for residential development that they received.
DLP Planning Ltd.’s research also demonstrated that there is a great diversity in the total number of applications received between LBA’s. For example, Barnet received 3208 housing related applications, compared to 580 in the City of London, 658 in Waltham Forest and 747 in Kingston. However, these figures do not necessarily reflect the scale of the developments proposed and total number of houses granted planning permission by Borough. Therefore, the percentage granted may not be a fair reflection on their performance. To account for this, DLP Planning Ltd weighted each LBA’s performance against the total number of granted permissions. The research and statistical analysis can be found in the link below and summarised in Figure 1: Total Planning Permissions Granted for London Borough Authorities in 2019 (Percentage).
John HelyarPlanning and Development Control Statistics: London Borough Authorities in 2019
The likely impacts of Covid-19 are clear for house builders; a decrease in the number of completions for this year and potentially longer build out rates for sites already under construction. This is expected to affect the land supply position of many local authorities across England and be a slow down on any recovery to the economy. But what could be done about this? In our recent client briefing note, Alex Roberts explores how Government can respond through policy and what local authorities should do to ensure their land supply positions are sufficiently robust.
Government have already announced there will be a change to the standard methodology to get closer to their target of 300,000 new dwellings built each year. This change may come in shortly, and could lead to some 5YHLS assessments slipping under 5 years. A change to the standard method has been discussed since it came in to place in 2018.
Whatever the alteration Government make, it will need to remain simple and be genuinely effective in achieving what is a central objective of Government policy, to boost housing (and economic) growth across England. Post the Covid-19 lockdown, the need to boost short-term economic performance will likely become even more pressing so increasing supply could take on an extra importance
We consider there are going to be different impacts for land supply assessments for the 2020/21 period and the 2021/22 period, in general we consider the challenges faced this year will be around presenting evidence that sites are deliverable. For next year, it is likely some authorities will move into the 20% HDT buffer and could have fewer applications to put into the housing supply, both factors could reduce land supplies, even in areas with previously very strong levels of supply. .
The Court of Appeal reversed the High Court’s decision in Finney v Welsh Ministers  EWCA Civ 1868. The effect of the High Court decision had been that Section 73 (S73) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 could be used to vary not just the conditions to a planning permission, but also the description of the development itself. The Court of Appeal has, however, ruled that to vary the description of development is outside the remit of S73.
Going forward, it will be important to consider the description of development at the planning application stage. The Applicant is likely to seek as much flexibility as possible in the description of development, but this must be sufficiently detailed to allow the proposals to be understood for the purposes of consultation.
Local Planning Authorities may seek to have more precise terms included in the description of development. Indeed, the National Planning Practice Guidance notes identify that before publicising and consulting on an application, the LPA should be satisfied that the description of development provided is accurate. Essentially though, the LPA should not amend the description of development without first discussing any revised wording with the Applicant or their Agent. This discussion needs to consider the implications of Finney and changes to the wording may need to be resisted.
To allow the certainty required, substantive detail can be controlled by conditions to future planning application which could then be subject to S73 application without amendment to the description of development.
Acting on behalf of Countryside, DLP has secured full planning permission to bring forward Doncaster’s largest stalled brownfield regeneration site. The scheme includes the delivery of a range of open market, rental sector and affordable homes, as well as extensive areas of formal and informal open space. The scheme is a partnership with Sigma Capital (Build to Rent element), and Homes England funding is being sought to support the delivery of 26% affordable housing.
The application site is a former railway works located close to Doncaster Town Centre and adjacent to the River Don. Despite a number of previous permissions being granted for the redevelopment of the site, and some remediation works having already been undertaken, viability issues had prevented delivery of housing on the site.
DLP worked collaboratively with the Local Planning Authority and neighbouring residents to develop a scheme which addressed previous concerns regarding contamination and residential amenity. The proposals also had to respond to heightened considerations regarding flood risk, following a major flood event at Fishlake in Doncaster during the application process.
The scheme was considered by Members as part of Doncaster Council’s first virtual planning committee and having satisfied the Committee that matters including heritage, biodiversity and noise had been fully considered, the application was unanimously approved, subject to the completion of a legal agreement.
John HelyarPlanning permission secured for 671 homes on Doncaster regeneration site