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Town planning… an Olympic sport

Owain Nedin 15 Aug 2016
The town planner… elbow patches on the jumper, well-worn cords, comfortable shoes, never without a packed lunch/flask and epitomised by a fetish for maps. Fettered by rules and regulations, but seemingly willing more red tape in which he/she can immerse themselves and their expertise. The geek of the property world no doubt, but a necessary part of the process, one our clients wouldn’t want to do without (we hope). Not, of course, my view of this wonderful profession and the people in it, although perhaps an opinion held by some…But wait – what’s this, could it be, surely not?! All this time, the contemporary planner hails from similar stock to Wiggins, Ennis-Hill and Farah. That’s right, people of the property world, town planning was an Olympic event and all who practice it are, by the most tenuous link possible, of Olympic pedigree.For four consecutive Games (1928-1948) town planning was part of the Olympics, gold medals and all. In the 1932 Games in Los Angeles, John Hughes (me neither) won Gold for GB for ‘Design for a Sports and Recreation Centre with Stadium, for the City of Liverpool’ (solid name, nowadays it would be ‘Project Badger’ or something similarly abstruse). I cannot confirm whether it was actually built (nothing new there perhaps…) but I’m pretty sure the victory was thoroughly well-deserved. And all without the natural advantage of the winners at the following Games (Berlin 1936) where the victorious pair, from Germany, won for the planning of the actual Olympic stadium. So why did the medals stop I hear you cry? Well I’m informed[1] there was concern that the winners would benefit professionally from victory, not of course in the spirit of the Games and its amateur roots. Having said that, every time I switch on the TV at the moment, whether it’s trainers, broadband, cars, watches, credit cards (I could go on), it looks like Usain Bolt is benefitting pretty nicely on the back of being an Olympic champion. In fact the professional benefits seem to be part of the deal nowadays and this therefore begs the question – why not bring it back???I can imagine it now. Team GB’s Planning Team. Bye bye ill-fitting short sleeve shirts and non-ironic hand woven ties… Hello Stella McCartney-designed Adidas tracksuit. Winter training camps in sunnier climes (i.e. the Isle of Wight), being pulled out of committee meetings for random drug tests and arriving at the Olympic Village only to redesign its place-making strategy and scrutinise the cycle parking provision.OK maybe not. But during this Olympic period, why not spare a thought for our forefathers, Olympians in their own right, and wonder what it might be like to go for gold in 2020…“And the gold medal for town planning goes to……”Well, that’ll be Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners of course… 1932 Summer Olympics Gold Medal Anyway, that’s enough daydreaming – I’ve got to finish a CIL calculation for ‘Project Badger’. [1]  


Office to Residential Permitted Development Right Made Permanent.
On Friday the Secretary of State made good on the Housing and Planning Minster’s Statement of November last year, laying the Statutory Instrument to extend the permitted development right (PDR) for office to residential change of use. It will come into force of 6th April. Many of the changes ‘hinted’ at last year are included, and the surprises we might have expected are not. The headlines are as follows: The PDR will be permanent, with the 30 May 2016 deadline removed. Any PD scheme must be completed within three years of the date of prior approval. The trigger is now ‘completed’ rather than the use having to have been ‘begun’. The noise generated by commercial premises and its impact on intended occupiers of the residential units may now be considered (in addition to transport and highways impacts, and flooding and contamination risks). The areas which are currently exempt from the PDR will continue to benefit from their exemption until 30 May 2019. Beyond this date, an Article 4 Direction would be needed to remove the Right. All future applications must state the number of units proposed. There is a requirement for the legislation to be reviewed a minimum of every five years. And that’s it. No space standards. No requirement for starter homes. No real surprises. Allowing noise impacts to be considered seems a reasonable addition; in practice it may take a while for both applicants and local authorities to gain a fair understanding of how this can be applied or indeed mitigated for – but without an impending time limit, both parties can take a little longer to work this out without the risk of losing the Right. It also, of course, gives applicants more scope to appeal, without the fear of not having enough time to build out the scheme once they have gone through the appeal process.The removal of ‘the use of the building…was begun’ is a step forward for clarity. This wording in the 2015 and current General Permitted Development Order (GPDO) added unnecessary uncertainty into the process, having never been formally defined. It is replaced with the clearer condition that a developer can complete the development within three years of the date of prior approval. This also applies to existing prior approvals. Of course, if time is running out on some of those, the extended Right means that a prospective developer can now simply re-apply and gain another three years.The exempt commercial areas are still exempt, and will be until 30 May 2019. This gives the likes of the City of London, Westminster and other inner London Boroughs plenty of time to apply for Article 4 Directions to remove the Right; I would expect these to come forward in the next 12-18 months.All change of use to residential prior approval applications made after 6 April 2016 will have to state the net uplift in units proposed. The cynics in this office (no names mentioned) suggest this is simply a way for the Government to track the success of office to residential PD (although not delivery of course). I on the other hand am sure there is another perfectly rational reason for inclusion of this requirement … I will let you know when I work it out.No news yet of the right to knock down and rebuild under the offices to residential PDR. The main reason for this is a need first to facilitate the necessary GPDO changes via a technical clause in the Housing and Planning Bill 2015 - 16, which would allow for such works to be considered as permitted development (they currently cannot be). Once the Housing and Planning Act is passed (assuming it gains Royal Assent more or less in its current form) then I expect a PDR for the demolition of an office and its replacement with residential use to follow shortly thereafter.The new statutory Instrument also introduces a PDR for the change of use of light industrial B1(c) to residential – although this will not come into force until 30 September 2017 and will only run until 1 October 2020. This temporary right, much like the PDR for ‘Warehouse, Storage and Distribution to Residential’ is limited to 500sqm and must consider the impact on the industrial offer in that location. The amendment Order also introduces the change of use of laundrettes to residential (my colleagues have their own view on this)In making the office to residential change of use permanent, the Conservative Government continues to back the delivery of housing on brownfield land. There is no doubt it will impact on available office space (it already has) and in many Central London areas, the office values are making the PDR a less viable option. But outside Central London, I suspect the office to residential PDR will remain as popular as ever and the added certainty is likely to drive a spike in activity in the near future.NLP Planning will be hosting a breakfast event on office to residential PDRs in early April. Follow me on Twitter for more updates - @OwainNedin