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On a recent trip to New York City I visited the High Line, a 1.5 mile-long former elevated railway line built in 1934 to carry goods to and from Manhattan’s largest industrial district. Its elevated position allowed trains to load and unload their cargo inside buildings, without disturbing road traffic. The last train ran along the railway in 1980, leaving its obsolete infrastructure standing above the Meatpacking and Chelsea Districts of the city. It was envisaged that the structure would be demolished and indeed that was the call from local property owners in the 1980s. However the structure was not demolished and in 1999, in true Jane Jacobs’ style, ‘Friends of the High Line’ was founded by Joshua David and Robert Hammond[1], residents of the High Line neighbourhood, to advocate the High Line’s preservation and re-use as public open space. The inspiration was the Promenade Plantée in Paris, an elevated linear park built on top of obsolete railway infrastructure in Paris which opened in 1993. Local support for the retention of the line grew and in 2004, the New York City government - spearheaded by the new business savvy mayor Michael Bloomberg - committed $50 million to help establish the proposed park. Construction began in 2006, with the design being led by landscape architect James Corner Field Operations. Whilst the initial idea was not that of urban planners, the project and the regeneration of the area were boosted by designation in June 2005 as the ‘The West Chelsea Special District’ by City planners - no doubt influenced by Bloomberg. This designation assisted in unlocking opportunities for new residential and commercial development, as well as facilitating the reuse of the High Line as a unique park and thoroughfare. The designation also set out regulations to ensure the preservation of light, air and views around the High Line so as to maintain the openness of the space.[2] Rather than destroying this valuable piece of our history, we have recycled it into an innovative and exciting park that will provide more outdoor space for our citizens and create jobs and economic benefits for our City Mayor Michael Bloomberg Today, the High Line is a hive of activity, not only a valuable public open space for local residents but a tourist attraction in its own right, especially for an urban planner like me! The public park weaves itself around and underneath high rise buildings and above the busy car-dominated streets below. There is even an amphitheatre looking down at the traffic on 10th The landscaping is brilliantly designed and combines vegetation with remnants of, and references to the old railway, to create a truly fascinating sense of place. Whilst walking along the route I couldn’t help noticing the scale and intensity of development taking place alongside the route and the fact that the High Line is being used as an unique selling point for a number of schemes. It became clear that the public open space attracts high density, private development and that homes in close proximity to the asset are using the High Line to justify higher house prices. For a project that cost approximately $260 million to build, it is estimated that tax revenues from the impact of the High Line due to new development and increased local property values was $900 million over a 20 year period[3]. An additional $2 billion in new economic activity[4] is attributed to the High Line. On top of this, millions of tourists (7.6 million in 2015[5]) visit the park every year and spend money in the local area. The public open space is clearly an economic success. Interestingly, the delivery of the project was financed by a combination of public funds, money raised by the ‘Friends of the High Line’ group (including monetary gifts from wealthy backers) as well as finance from a planning obligation-style deal that allowed developers at three sites to build additional floors in exchange for improvements[6] (to the value of $22 million) to the High Line. Whilst walking along the route I couldn’t help noticing the scale and intensity of development taking place alongside the route and the fact that the High Line is being used as an unique selling point for a number of schemes. It became clear that the public open space attracts high density, private development and that homes in close proximity to the asset are using the High Line to justify higher house prices. What Joshua David and Robert Hammond have done (with the help of some imaginative and persuasive residents, wealthy financial backers and New York City planners) is to successfully rethink the notion of traditional public open space by reusing leftover railway infrastructure. There is most definitely a lesson to be learnt for councils, developers and built environment professionals in the UK that public open space doesn’t have to be a swing, slide and roundabout and that open space doesn’t have to adhere to strict regulations such as the commonly-used FIT Standards in order to be successful. Similar schemes are now emerging across London such as the Peckham Coal Line, Southwark Low Line and Camden High Line suggesting that local authorities are starting to understand the benefits of alternative forms of open space. The notion of public open space is often thought of in the traditional sense as a play area or a playing field. However as shown in New York City, public open space can be inherently different and when done well can act as a key catalyst for positive change. It can have a substantial positive impact on the economy, in parallel with the more obvious social and environmental benefits that are normally derived from open spaces.   [1] http://www.thehighline.org/about[2] http://global.ctbuh.org/resources/papers/download/2463-the-high-line-effect.pdf[3] New York’s High Line Park: An Example of Successful Economic Development by John Rainey http://greenplayllc.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Highline.pdf[4] New York’s High Line Park: An Example of Successful Economic Development by John Rainey http://greenplayllc.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Highline.pdf[5] http://www.thehighline.org/blog/2017/01/10/high-line-magazine-b1g-da-a-and-parks[6] http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/108-06/mayor-bloomberg-friends-the-high-line-host-rail-lifting-ceremony-mark-start-of#/0

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On 25th February 2016 the Use Classes Order (1987) was amended in Wales to introduce a new C4 use class, which has been in place in England since April 2010. Use Class C4 covers the use of a dwelling house by not more than six residents as a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO)[1]. Prior to the introduction of this use class, landlords could convert a standard dwelling to a HMO of up to six people living together as a single household without the need to apply for planning permission. Now, this conversion will constitute a material change of use of the land from use class C3 (Dwelling House) to C4 (HMO) which Councils will be able to assess against their statutory development plan. Meanwhile, converting back to C3 from C4 does not require planning permission as it is considered permitted development.As a consequence of this amendment, Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) will possibly have more control over the number and location of HMOs within their area. LPAs would most probably argue that this is a positive given that a high concentration of HMOs can create transient communities as well as contribute to parking and waste problems (45% and 51% of students in Cardiff and Swansea respectively live within the private rented sector.) Other issues, perhaps more important, include valuable family housing being lost from the housing stock and converted into HMOs, making it increasingly difficult for first time buyers to access the housing market. It remains to be seen if Councils will refuse planning permission for HMOs going forward and if this will see more HMOs reverting back to family housing[2].This brings us on to the subject of purpose built student accommodation (PBSA). PBSA has become increasingly popular recently for developers and for students. The benefits for students are clear: often, a better standard of living, on-site facilities as well as increased security and the benefit of not having to deal directly with landlords/agents. PBSA is proving to be a clear attraction for students and its recent proliferation has seen numerous students opting for PBSA in preference to HMOs. This is likely to lead to the traditional inner city homes that have hitherto provided the mainstay of student housing, potentially converting back to family homes, which may be no bad thing. Understandably, the relatively cheap cost of renting a room within a HMO will still hold some appeal to students outpriced by PBSA which implies that HMOs still have an important part to play in the supply of student accommodation.However, PBSA is not without its own planning complexities with regards to how schemes are considered by LPAs. Generally, PBSA is classed by LPAs as a Sui Generis use as it does not fall within any specific use class. NLP’s experience is that PBSA is evidently different to conventional residential housing (C3) and is arguably more akin to a hotel (C1) in its operation as it includes management personnel and on site facilities such as laundry, reception and common rooms[3], but the approach of dealing with PBSA applications differs dramatically from one LPA to another.However, we have also seen instances of LPAs requesting that applications for PBSA specify the use class as C2 (residential institutions), C3 (dwelling houses) or C4 (HMO), depending on the particular circumstances. Some LPAs argue that a PBSA comprising studio flats should be classified as C3 due to the fact that studios include their own kitchen and bathroom. On the other hand, some LPAs argue that PBSA comprising cluster flats of up to 6 people should be classified as C4.Uncertainty around the specification of a specific use class for PBSA has enormous implications for the sector,  especially if LPAs start requesting affordable housing contributions on PBSA applications that fall within Use Class C (even though the nature of the accommodation is quite clearly different to open market housing). Prominently, this would have an impact upon development viability. For example, Oxford City Council has an adopted policy which states that planning permission will only be granted for new student accommodation that includes 20 or more bedrooms if a financial contribution is secured towards delivering affordable housing elsewhere in Oxford[4]. (With the sum in Oxford amounting to £140 per sq m, a notional PBSA scheme of 5,000 sqm would need to pay £700,000 in financial contributions).Given the relatively recent boom in PBSA development, the correct approach with regards to the use class of PBSA is yet to be tested in a court of law and therefore the varying approaches of LPAs looks set to continue into the future. However, what is clear in the current market is that PBSA is a form of development that is becoming increasingly popular for students and developers alike and there are implications of this, not only on supply of student accommodation but also on the fabric of some areas with traditionally high concentrations of students. This could lead to a perceptible number reverting to family homes – without the need for planning permission, of course! [1] A HMO of more than six residents continues to be classed as Sui Generis.[2] Oxford City Council’s adopted Sites and Housing Plan considers that 20% of buildings in HMO use within a 200 metres’ length of street is likely to result in over concentration. Cardiff Council’s draft HMO SPG also uses the same threshold.[3] This is the approach taken by NLP on a site in Swansea for 750 student bedspaces comprising studio and cluster flats as well as communal and management areas.  

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