This post was discussed at the P&DG London Breakfast Seminar held on 14 July 2016 at the University of Westminister, London
Following the result of the EU referendum, I offer a few thoughts on planning in the context of ‘Brexit’ and some examples of where we are using flexibility in planning consents to give confidence in more less certain economic times.
While there are clearly a number of factors that influenced the vote, it seems evident that the referendum was seen as an opportunity for much of the country outside of London to express its disaffection. A lot of the most economically weak areas of the country, who apparently rely heavily on our membership of the EU, voted to leave it.
In a sign that the Royal Town Planning Institute had, perhaps, marked it’s card early, it announced at Christmas, in a competition to show off the ‘diverse places that planners and the planning system have created, protected and enhanced’, that England’s greatest place is the Liverpool Waterfront – A place would simply not exist, as it does now, were it not for 10s of millions of pound of EU funding
My suspicion is that for many communities, there is a sense of disconnection from the infrastructure funding and large scale inward investment schemes that purport to serve local economies, but which primarily operate at an inter-regional, national and international level.
The Government’s localism agenda, as far as planning is concerned, got rather lost in the wake of the economic downturn, and the disingenuous political rhetoric, which made people think that they could resist growth and change rather than getting them to engage with it and shape it.
The process of devolution and the role of the LEPs in delivering local growth and regeneration has been too slow and come too late for the EU vote and it will be vital going forward to think carefully about regional economic development to ensure that is actually delivers for communities. It will require entrepreneurial LEPs to connect the local to the large scale so that regeneration is inclusive and delivers tangibly to local economies.
Perhaps the EU was too strange a concept for a lot of people to engage with at a local level. One criticism has always been that it’s funding never really generated much investment leverage. While there will undoubtedly be less money around for regeneration, maybe Brexit will drive the money that is available to be better directed, better connected, to work harder and to do more.
While uncertainty can certainly provide opportunity to those willing to take an informed risk, an opportunity is only a good one, if it can be successfully executed. For this reason, our priority continues to be providing dedicated, professional and informed support to our clients, driven by the imperative of securing the best, most valuable and most deliverable planning permissions that we can.
We are currently using a ranges of techniques to impart greater flexibility in the way that permissions are delivered to enhance marketability and to add value.
Among other things, The Housing and Planning Act 2016 contains the primary legislation for Starter Homes. It will have significant implications for the application of existing Local Plan Affordable Housing policies.
Within the new Act, Affordable Housing is now much more broadly redefined as, being for people whose needs are not adequately served by the commercial housing market and now includes Starter Homes
The mechanism for introducing this revised definition is reserved for secondary legislation likely to emerge after the summer recess
Starter Homes are a new form of Affordable Housing for first time buyers between the ages of 23 and 40. These homes will be sold at no more that 80% of open market value, to a maximum of £450,000 in Greater London and £250,000 across the rest of England.
Again, secondary legislation is yet required to determine the scale of sites which will be required to deliver starter homes, however the Government’s ‘Starter Homes Technical Regulations’ consultation suggests that the requirement will apply to sites of 10+ units (or 0.5ha) with a minimum 20% provision. Re-sale values will ‘taper’ back up to full open market value
Potentially the secondary legislation and guidance will only require traditional Affordable Housing to be delivered at a residual proportion, where adopted Local Plan policy requires in excess of 20% Affordable Housing. Viability issues would continue to provide an exception.
Importantly, the Act also includes powers for the Secretary of State to direct compliance with the starter homes policy if a Local Planning Authority continues to try and apply outdated Affordable Housing requirements.
As it stands, starter homes would generally still be liable to CIL where charged and amendments may be required to CIL regulations if this is not to prove a disincentive to starter home delivery in CIL charging areas.
In the light of the wider uncertainties in the property economy in the wake of the EU referendum, anything that will improve the viability of housing delivery is to be welcomed. With housing values set to be squeezed in the South East, and viability in low value areas already marginal, legislation to reduce the burden imposed by traditional affordable housing mechanisms, and in finding alternative solutions to addressing the housing crisis, is essential. The existing models do not work effectively for housebuilders or registered social landlords and have clearly failed to meet need.
The existing definition of affordable housing imparts the most significant cost burden on housing delivery and is the key determinant in viability on the majority of sites.
In our own discussions with housebuilders it is clear that they see huge potential for starter homes to unlock the regeneration of marginal sites.
Even in the absence of formal legislation, a number of enlightened authorities we are working with, are already agreeing to the provision of Starter Homes in lieu of traditional notions of Affordable Housing. In our view, it is worth starting those conversations with planning officers and housing officers now, to identify key opportunities for improving land values, profitability and delivery.
Over the last few years we have secured a number Lawful Development Certificates lifting the restrictions on bulky goods retail from units at various out of town retails parks across the country. Following a review of recent case law, P&DG has established that in many cases, the wording of the original conditions does not prevent the operation of an unrestricted retail use from the site. In every case, the Council has accepted the robust case made and the potential for any A1 retailer to operate from the units has now been established along with an uplift in land value.
In the new era of retailing, investors are realising that the more flexible the format of the asset the greater chance of letting and less chance of void periods.
Recognising the significant changes that have taken place in town centre retailing Planning and Design Group have becomes specialists in obtaining flexible retail / food and drink /leisure uses in prime retail locations. In many cases, despite out-dated policy restrictions on the proportion of non-A1 retail units, P&DG has successfully made the case for expanding the range of town centre uses in a difficult market, where online retailing continues to divert trade. Offering the potential for increased leisure uses mixed with major high street names, gives retail centres an improved offer and will help to secure their future.
Using Class V of the General Permitted Development Order P&DG has gained consents which allow uses to switch between A1 (retail) and A3, A4 and A5 uses for up to 10 years, giving maximum flexibility and opportunity to landlords.
Whatever the EU has done to support planning and regeneration in this country, it has clearly failed to connect with the very communities and economies it has sought to help. It is essential in future that regional economic development actually delivers for communities. It will require entrepreneurial LEPs to connect the local to the large scale so that regeneration is inclusive and delivers tangibly to local economies. Further, the inevitably reduced scale of public funding, and the increased demands on private sector funding, will mean that regeneration monies will need to deliver a much greater social and economic return on investment than has previously been the case.
In the meantime the day job goes on in a world where death, taxes and uncertainty are the only certainties. While planning policy goes in cycles of permissiveness and restrictiveness, permissiveness seems set to stay for a while – the opportunity and the challenge that arises, is not in getting planning permission as an end in itself, but in getting flexible, adaptable, deliverable planning permissions – allowing technology and entrepreneurship to secure a future for our town centres; and, securing deliverable, viable permissions for housing that can be delivered where it is needed, not just where values – and resistance – is highest.
The next Seminar is scheduled to take place on Thursday 29 September at THE Nottingham Conference Centre. Please contact P&DG for more information and to book a place:
Tel: 01623 726256 or