The property roller coaster – planning reform to be rethought

Eric Pickles vague compromise on planning reform keeps the house happy (for now).

Worrying times in the world of property with a seemingly constant flow of bad new, good news, contradiction and spin. I thought I might try to track it with my property roller-coaster.

First we’re on a downward loop as we learn that the proposed planning reform, to allow homeowners to extend by as much as 26ft is now to be rethought. Eric Pickles had to compromise in the vaguest terms to prevent a defeat and ensure that the house disagreed with a Lords amendment giving power to local authorities to opt out of the reforms. Now it’s back to the Lords to debate further.

Read more in the Telegraph >> Government planning reforms in disarray after backbench rebellion

Good job I never started on those plans for my single story, palatial, garden room…

Flanking manoeuvres and good design…

It seems that the government are undertaking flanking manoeuvres on the green belt…

It seems that the government are undertaking flanking manoeuvres on green belt protection through the new Economic Development Bill. My scepticism spews forth driven from several sources including, Nick Boles MP recent comments that the green belt is only safe “for now“, the forth-coming aforementioned Bill that reportedly will look to sacrifice the green belt at the altar of the construction industry and Eric Pickles commitment to protect the green belt “the green belt plays a vital role in stopping urban sprawl and we will protect it“. I can’t help but read that like the board of a football club backing the current manager, there’s usually a stab in the back behind the fine words of reassurance.

This caused me to think again about one of the documentary foundations of all this change and threat, the National Planning Policy Framework.

Burrowing through it again, I found this intriguing section that I wanted to share (apologies for the hacked about editing):

7. Requiring good design
56. The Government attaches great importance to the design of the built environment. Good design is a key aspect of sustainable development, is indivisible from good planning, and should contribute positively to making places better for people.

Planning policies and decisions should aim to ensure that developments:
> will function well and add to the overall quality of the area, not just for the short term but over the lifetime of the development;

> respond to local character and history, and reflect the identity of local surroundings and materials, while not preventing or discouraging appropriate innovation;

59. Local planning authorities should consider using design codes where they could help deliver high quality outcomes. However, design policies should avoid unnecessary prescription or detail and should concentrate on guiding the overall scale, density, massing, height, landscape, layout, materials and access of new development in relation to neighbouring buildings and the local area more generally.

60. Planning policies and decisions should not attempt to impose architectural styles or particular tastes and they should not stifle innovation, originality or initiative through unsubstantiated requirements to conform to certain development forms or styles. It is, however, proper to seek to promote or reinforce local distinctiveness.

61. Although visual appearance and the architecture of individual buildings are very important factors, securing high quality and inclusive design goes beyond aesthetic considerations. Therefore, planning policies and decisions should address the connections between people and places and the integration of new development into the natural, built and historic environment.

63. In determining applications, great weight should be given to outstanding or innovative designs which help raise the standard of design more generally in the area.

64. Permission should be refused for development of poor design that fails to take the opportunities available for improving the character and quality of an area and the way it functions.

65. Local planning authorities should not refuse planning permission for buildings or infrastructure which promote high levels of sustainability because of concerns about incompatibility with an existing townscape, if those concerns have been mitigated by good design (unless the concern relates to a designated heritage asset and the impact would cause material harm to the asset or its setting which is not outweighed by the proposal’s economic, social and environmental benefits).

66. Applicants will be expected to work closely with those directly affected by their proposals to evolve designs that take account of the views of the community. Proposals that can demonstrate this in developing the design of the new development should be looked on more favourably.

National Planning Policy Framework page 14

Quite simply, who decides what is good design? That statement seems to try and cover all the bases and fails to cover any of them: have design policies but don’t enforce them, let ‘good’ design over-rule all else, let everyone decide…

Permitted development extension limits to be doubled

The government is due to announce a temporary increase in the maximum depth of extensions that can be built under permitted development rules.

In the news today…

The government is due to announce a temporary increase in the maximum depth of extensions that can be built under permitted development rules.

From next month, the maximum depth of rear, single-storey extensions will double from the current three metres for semi-detached homes four metres for detached homes to six and eight metres respectively. This in an attempt to cut red-tape and stimulate both the construction industry and wider economy. It will be a temporary increase, reverting to the original rules sometime in 2015.

I’m not sure that planning permission is what is stopping people from building extensions – perhaps lack of money is a more overwhelming factor… But this may well be the green-light that home-owners need to get building.

New fast-track planning permission for the development of barns proposed

The Daily Mail reports on a new fast-track route through planning controls for the conversion of barns…

In an article today (which I won’t link to as it has horrible pop-up windows when you land there), the Daily Mail reports that a new fast-track route through planning controls for the conversion of barns is being proposed. The proposals, under changes to the Use Class Order, cover conversion into shops, cafes and other types of non-residential venues (the Mail uses rock music venues as a example, not sure there’s a massive demand for those). Consultation on these changes runs until the 11th September 2012.

Such a loosening of controls is seen by Greg Clark, Planning Minister as a way to boost the rural economy, making it easier to develop new businesses and create new jobs.

Planning fees will also be increased by 15%, to allow more staffing in planning departments and therefore (theoretically?) faster throughput for applications… which is nice.

Personally, loosening up planning controls always makes me nervous and makes me ask why? If there’s a really good reason for a development then would this really make it more likely to happen?

Just what is ‘sustainable development’?

Sustainable development – with the term now enshrined in planning law, what does it mean?

With the National Planning Policy Framework still fresh and being ruminated over, one theme that is never far from thought is sustainable development. With the term now enshrined in planning law, what does it mean?

The NPPF document opens with this:

International and national bodies have set out broad principles of sustainable development. Resolution 42/187 of the United Nations General Assembly defined sustainable development as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs*. The UK Sustainable Development Strategy Securing the Future set out five ‘guiding principles’ of sustainable development: living within the planet’s environmental limits; ensuring a strong, healthy and just society; achieving a sustainable economy; promoting good governance; and using sound science responsibly.

Resolution 42/187 is a reference to the report ‘Our Common Future’ produced by the Brundtland Commission in 1987. The Brundtland Commission was established in 1983 by the United Nations with the goal of uniting countries to work together in the pursuit of sustainable development. The Commission was dissolved at the end of 1987 following publication of the report.

In the Brundtland definition, there are two key concepts of sustainable development:

  • The concept of needs. The basic, essential requirements for human life, weighted toward the world’s poorest people, who should be given overriding priority,
  • The idea of limitations as imposed by current technology and social organisation on the environment’s ability to meet both present and future needs.

The report also identifies three pillars of sustainable development – economic growth (economy), environmental protection (environment) and social equity (society).

So that’s the background. The NPPF takes this a step further with those five guiding principles:

  1. Living within the planet’s environmental limits,
  2. Ensuring a “strong, healthy and just society”,
  3. Achieving a sustainable economy,
  4. Promoting good governance,
  5. Using sound science.

Those are basically, the three pillars with firm foundations of good governance and sound science. This is further spelt out in the Framework:

…to achieve sustainable development, economic, social and environmental gains should be sought jointly and simultaneously through the planning system. The planning system should play an active role in guiding development to sustainable solutions.

So far, so clear. I hoped that the framework would further explore each of these areas to provide greater clarity and provide narrower definitions that could facilitate meaningful debate. In that I was disappointed, the five principles remain bones with very little flesh on them except what we can imply from the framework. The words governance and science don’t even appear in the report again after that opening quotation.

I know I’m being unreasonable, I know that this is a framework and there’s still plenty of work to do. But currently, the answer to the question “just what is sustainable development (currently in the UK) ?” seems to be “it depends” and that is more a lawyers charter than anything else.

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* I quite like the acronym ELF – Environment, Local people, Future