Planning matters

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28 Days Later: mandatory pre-application public consultation in Wales
From the 1 August 2016, applicants for all major planning applications in Wales must have undertaken pre-application consultation with the public, the community and specialist consultees before submitting their applications to the LPA. It is exactly four years since the Independent Advisory Group (IAG) made recommendations to the Welsh Government that included making pre-application public consultations compulsory (in certain circumstances) and the question in everyone’s minds is whether or not the requirements will have the desired effect of enhancing consultation and engagement in the planning application process?The new regulations (summarised below) require applicants to prepare a final suite of documents and then to consult with the local community as well as statutory stakeholders for a minimum period of four weeks, prior to making a planning application.While there is certainly no zombie apocalypse on the horizon, there are grumblings and some surprise that the Welsh Government did not opt for compulsory engagement before the planning application proposals are fully worked-up. As a result, one suspects the changes will draw criticism from the community that the requirements fail to meet the recommendation of the IAG to deliver “meaningful public engagement at a time when there is an opportunity to influence design decisions”.The new procedure has two main facets: to involve third parties (including stakeholders) at earlier stages and to seek substantive responses from specialist consultees prior to the submission of the application. The effect should be a more streamlined system in which applications can be determined within the statutory timescales and communities have an opportunity to influence the development before the submission is made. There is a clear onus upon the applicant to properly consider any material comments and set out its response before the LPA considers the development proposal. There also remains a further opportunity for stakeholders to comment once the application has been submitted. It is indisputable that this is more collaborative for the community than the outgoing approach.For the applicant, will it also spell improvements to the planning system, in terms of increasing certainty? Theoretically, yes. Issues raised by the community, possibly hitherto unknown, would be considered earlier while specialist consultees are required to make substantive responses. These should result in a shorter, more certain, determination period. However, it remains to be seen whether a reduced overall programme between initial site appraisal and the completion of development (and with it, the achievement of economic and sustainable growth) will materialise.If it results in more timely decision-making, reduces the overall development timetable and helps sustainable forms of development to come forward, then it should be welcomed as a means by which to address the continuing housing crisis and the need for other forms of development in Wales.There are ways that NLP can help with the new pre-application statutory consultation and engagement process, in order for applicants to ensure they make best use of the changes in their development programmes: NLP can provide the full suite of consultation, engagement and planning services for an integrated service to our clients by applying our thought leadership as well as experience and knowledge of the planning system; NLP’s Smarter Engagement approach provides a focused and active strategy for consultation and engagement. It can be effectively adopted for the minimum requirements or it can be used to create a tailored strategy for any project’s needs and client objectives; NLP has an in-house, high quality graphic design service to produce bespoke consultation material where wider engagement forms an integral part of the planning strategy. This approach ensures that we can deliver innovative design solutions which help achieve differentiation and market advantage for our clients. Further, these can be combined with our GIS, mapping and data services that transform information and to communicate key messages effectively; NLP also has an in-house website design and hosting service which has a tiered approach to meeting the individual needs of any project. These range from an elementary yet client-branded display for the minimum requirements (to avoid excessive printing costs), through to fully interactive, dedicated websites updated throughout the development process for continued community engagement; and, NLP’s bespoke stakeholder toolkit for Wales is designed to take a systematic approach to ensuring the legal requirements of consultation are met, as well as creating efficient documentation of the process ready for preparing the Pre-Application Consultation report. NLP will be closely following the progress of the changes to the planning system over the coming months. We would be pleased to speak with you regarding the new regime, or to tailor a programme for your project. For further information please contact Helen Ashby-Ridgway at our Cardiff office 02920 435880. 

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The Implications of Brexit on Population Projections and Housing Need
The reality of Brexit prompts the question for planning of whether it will impact on the need for housing, and in particular change the housing requirements in emerging Local Plans. An element of the planning effect relates to process issues (e.g. delays in introducing new planning reforms) but we can leave this for another day. This blog focuses on the migration statistics used within the population projections that underpin Local Plan housing figures[1].Net international migration to the UK in 2014/15 was 336,000 (636,000 in, 300,000 out). The split between EU/Non-EU is around 50:50 (latest figures show 49:51) so on that basis each component (EU and non-EU) would represent net flow of c.168,000 p.a.The Office for National Statistics (ONS) 2014-based Population Projections which Government guidance says Local Plans must use to underpin Objective Assessments of Need for housing in Local Plans were released in 2015. They already assume that net in-migration will reduce from current levels to 185,000 p.a. by 2021; a 45% reduction on the 2015 net level. It is assumed to decline as follows: The 2021 levels are then projected forward as a constant until 2037. Although a reduction in net migration to the “tens of thousands” was an aspiration of David Cameron, it seems unlikely that net in-migration would fall below the long term figure assumed by ONS with or without Brexit; if anything, the figure of 185,000 p.a. is still likely to under-estimate future levels. Given the share of net inflows from non-EU countries (168,000 p.a.) is already capable of being controlled by UK Government migration policy (which since 2010 has been seeking to reduce it) it is reasonable to assume no reduction due to Brexit. Therefore, hypothetically, and all things being equal, in order for the ONS Projections long term migration estimate (185,000 net p.a.) to be achieved, net flows from within the EU would have to fall to just 17,000 p.a. (ie reduce by 90%).All this supports the idea that the ONS projections were, in any event, adopting very cautious estimates of net in-migration for the long term, and thus cautious estimates of population and household growth for planning purposes. Although the ONS did not explicitly take account of Brexit, there is no evidence available to support the notion that leaving the EU will see a reduction in migration of a scale that would be necessary for population estimates to fall below projected levels. What does this all mean for housing numbers? The effect of Brexit is impossible to gauge at present because the UK will most likely remain a member of the EU for at least the next two years whilst the terms of exit are negotiated. There is currently no evidence base for arriving at an alternative set of assumptions about future expected migration until the terms of withdrawal are settled, and indeed, it might even be that Brexit simply results in an agreement that links UK access to the Single Market with continuation of the free movement of labour.  Equally, were the UK to have a controlled migration relationship with Europe, this might prove just as incapable of reducing EU-migration as it has proved with non-EU flows. Further, if emigration flows out to the EU reduce as part of controls, any changes might simply cancel each other out.There is simply no way of knowing at this stage, and no coherent basis for Local Planning Authorities, developers or Inspectors to settle upon a different set of migration figures than those currently available from ONS in planning. The next set of ONS projections to be produced (2016-based) will be required to get to grips with the appropriate relevant long term assumptions to adopt.In summary, the current basis for UK estimates of housing need are already predicated on a 45% drop to total net-in-migration by 2021, so for Brexit to have any downward pressure on planned housing targets in Local Plans, it would need to be assumed that Brexit resulted in European net-migration to the UK falling to virtually zero over the medium to long term. This seems unlikely.There are other factors driving household growth, including natural change in the population, and age structure (an increasingly elderly population means a greater number of single person households), so migration is only part of the story. Further, many local plans set housing requirements based on factors such as employment growth, the need to improve housing affordability, and the need for affordable housing. All of these can put upward pressure on estimates of housing need drawn solely from population projections. The data in summary: *Approximately half of inflows to the UK are from outside of the EU. For the purposes of this analysis we have assumed this is also applicable to the net figure.Figures may not sum due to rounding.[1] Housing requirements in Local Plans are based on Objectively Assessed Need which is calculated using demographically-based projections that apply household formation rates to estimates of population change in order to arrive at the number of households in a given local area. Other factors such as employment, market signals and affordable housing need are also considered.  

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