Planning matters

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Should property developers be using social media to engage with e-citizens?
Traditional consultation events such as public exhibitions often attract time-rich individuals in the community who hold strong views about development (and not always positive ones). However, communities are not single entities and it is important to find ways of encouraging the ‘silent majority’ - those who would not normally participate in the planning process but who could stand to gain from it - to engage.   In today’s 21st cyber century, promoting participation through the use of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter is thought to help to ensure that online communities ‘Friend’, ‘Follow’ and ‘Like’ proposed developments. But does the use of social media in the development sector also have unintended consequences that need to be anticipated and addressed?   PROS There is no doubt (particularly to a Generation Y millennial like me) that sharing information and consulting on development proposals via social media platforms is a more relevant way to engage in the ‘digital by default’ world that we live in.   Other pros include:   Inclusivity: Traditional face-to-face methods of engagement are often dominated by the vocal minority. Online, via social media platforms, the silent majority may, however, be more likely to voice their opinions and engage in the consultation process.   Accessibility: Information can be spread quickly and accessed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. With a tap on a phone or tablet, previously disengaged and underrepresented groups can become involved, respond and comment on consultations on pre-application projects, and on planning applications, with ease and speed.   Reach: In the UK, Facebook has a total of 44 million active users and Twitter 14 million. If used effectively, they can form part of a tailored engagement strategy to reach out to interest groups or to find out what the community at large is thinking.   CONS Although there are clearly a number of pros, social media can also be counterproductive. Cons include:   Fake news: Just as prospective developers might want to set out their case and encourage instant and meaningful online consultation, self-appointed ‘anti-social mediaists’ can try to undermine and disrupt engagement and consultation projects by spreading misinformation, rumours and echo chambers.   Representation: The digital landscape has no geographical boundaries. As such, whilst social media platforms provide the opportunity to reach out to a wider demographic, there is a danger that feedback may not be representative of the local community/ those actually impacted locally.   Cyberactivism: Social media can be used as a way to mobilise NIMBY opposition and achieve digital activism objectives. Although unlike a localised neighbourhood petition gaining momentum as a result of door-to-door canvassing, e-campaigning is fast and far-reaching.   Based on the above pros and cons, should property developers be using social media to engage with the public as part of consultation processes? Interestingly, a survey undertaken by Remarkable Group and pollster YouGov, which involved asking over 1,400 UK councillors their opinions on social media in relation to planning consultation, found that: 75% of the 1,401 councillors interviewed said social media is an important or very important engagement tool; 34% believed public responses gathered via social media should be included as part of a Statement of Community Involvement (SCI); 60% believed developers should be engaging with local communities through social media; and 74% believed social media would add value when reviewing planning applications. The importance and value of social media in planning-related consultations should not be taken for granted, although whether we will see application site notices and local plan and neighbourhood planning letters replaced with push notifications sent direct to smartphones - and church hall public exhibitions superseded by online forums - in the short term remains to be seen. But moving forward, using social media should be considered as a potentially vital component in a developer’s consultation and engagement strategy, whether it’s for monitoring social media activity, or actively engaging with it.   At Lichfields, we recognise the potential power and value of social media platforms and consider that digital outreach cannot be ignored. We know how to capitalise on the pros and combat the cons in development strategies. For more information please contact us.

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The London Plan: A new direction for planning in London

The London Plan: A new direction for planning in London

Margaret Baddeley & Giorgio Wetzl 29 Nov 2017
The draft London Plan has been published today for consultation, starting on 1 December this year and ending on 2 March 2018. The aim is that the Plan will be examined next autumn, and published just a year later. For now, the draft Plan is a material consideration in determining applications but chances are that it will carry little or no weight, at least until there is a response to consultation submissions, or after its examination.   The Mayor is using the draft Plan to deliver his manifesto commitments, according to the Plan this is justified by the scale of his election victory. As a consequence, it sometimes deviates from existing national policy and guidance, including where it reflects ‘the particular circumstances’ of London. The Mayor also says its content is supported by ‘a proportionate evidence base’.   Lichfields won’t comment on the draft Plan’s length; instead, we focus on its ‘more ambitious and focused’ content that starts to set new directions for planning London from 2019 to 2041 (with a review of its housing targets before 2029). These include delivering 65,000 homes each year (each borough’s housing targets are confirmed as published in October), achieving a zero carbon target by 2050 (including carbon free travel), and 80% of all trips in being made by foot, cycle or public transport by 2041.   The first of the draft London Plan’s two new ‘pillars’ is the concept of ‘Good Growth’ – this is ‘sustainable growth that works for everyone, using London’s strengths to overcome its weaknesses’ i.e. growth that is ‘socially and economically inclusive and environmentally sustainable’. It is no longer a term just used for design. The second is the ‘Healthy Streets Approach’ that is already being taken by the Greater London Authority (GLA), which puts improving health and reducing health inequalities at the heart of planning for transport and public space.   Despite the ordering of its content into topic chapters, the draft Plan states that it has to be read as a whole, with the order of policies being ‘no reflection on their importance or weight’.   So, turning to the draft Plan’s highly detailed policy content – this straightway causes some minor difficulties as there are policies included in other paragraphs (e.g. on ‘tenure integration’), but we will ignore that for now – here are our main observations on the new stances:   Housing The threshold approach is here to stay, confirmed as per the Affordable Housing and Viability SPG. A threshold approach is now proposed for small sites as well, to trigger the ‘presumption in favour of development’ policy. The impression is that, in London at least, this approach to planning will be further extended, if it can achieve its goals. Rumours that the affordable housing threshold would be raised to 50% - or even 65% - were unfounded. The 35% affordable housing threshold (for viability purposes) will stay in place until at least 2021, while the strategic target remains set at 50%. The reference to 65% affordable housing comes from the related identified need in the London SHMA. Interestingly, boroughs may consider applying localised affordable housing thresholds (more than 35% 'where possible') in Opportunity Areas, to provide certainty and ‘help prevent land price rises based on hope value’. The fast-track application determination route, initially designed for for-sale housing schemes that provide 35% affordable housing (and meeting other requirements), will be extended to more developments, such as Built to Rent, specialist older persons’ accommodation and purpose-built accommodation (both for students and shared living). The affordable housing tenure differs according to each development’s specifics. Small sites (up to 0.25ha and capable of delivering 1-25 homes) are the main new element in the ‘increasing housing supply’ catalogue of policies. These should be included in brownfield registers, and some of them granted permission in principle, as the Mayor expects almost 25,000 homes a year to come from these sites over the next decade. A presumption in favour of residential developments will also apply in certain circumstances –including, infilling, the densification of existing schemes within PTALs 3-6 or within 800m of a Tube or rail station, or a town centre. Existing supermarket sites, surface car parks, and edge of centre retail/leisure parks with sustainable transport should deliver ‘housing intensification’ through redevelopment, with new homes above e.g. commercial uses and transport infrastructure too. Town centre policies themselves hold no great surprises. Minimum space standards in the current London Plan remain unchanged. Communal amenity space in a housing development, e.g. as in Build to Rent/ ‘compact living’ etc., is not a justification for not delivering these minimum standards. The draft Plan is not anti-basement, nor anti the permitted development right (PDR) for changes of use of offices to homes – but it does not hide GLA support for Article 4 directions to prevent both (the office to residential PDR crops up numerous times and in many contexts).   Employment The Central Activities Zone (CAZ) and Northern Isle of Dogs will ‘remain vital’ to London’s economic success, but growth elsewhere in town centres across London will be ‘equally important’. Future potential reserve locations for CAZ office functions are Stratford and Old Oak Common. Low cost business space and affordable workspaces are promoted via s106, with fleeting policy reference to viability evidence for the latter. Strategic Industrial locations and Locally Significant Industrial Sites (SILs and LSISs) can be considered for intensification/ colocation and substitution (there is a handy diagram of what this means at Figure 6.3 in the draft Plan) – this has to be plan-led. Mixed use or residential development can take place on Non-Designated Industrial Sites but again, plan-led (and with higher expectations for affordable housing).   Design Design policies seek to micro-manage the impacts of all manner of development projects, particularly tall buildings. While the development industry has said that increased densities will sometimes have to be at the expense of good design, the draft Plan states that housing density should result from a design-led approach linked to planned levels of infrastructure. The first step in delivering good design is an evaluation to identify the capacity for growth (PTAL is still a measure for referable developments). Then design analysis and visualisation are required, masterplans and design codes follow, and design scrutiny using design review is undertaken. Post-Grenfell, a Fire Statement will have to be submitted with all major development proposals.   Green infrastructure The Green Belt, local green and open spaces, green roofs, street trees will all be protected. Metropolitan Open Land is not protected in the same policy terms; the local plan process should be used to change boundaries, whereas Green Belt ‘de-designation’ will not be supported. There is a new ‘urban greening factor’ for assessing new developments.   Transport Car-free developments (housing and commercial) feature in well-connected locations in new maximum parking standards that no longer give ranges. The Mayor continues to oppose Heathrow’s expansion – unless there will be no additional noise or air quality harm. Despite concerns around uncertainty already expressed, Mayoral Community Infrastructure Levy (MCIL) will be charged, to secure funding towards transport infrastructure of strategic importance ‘such as Crossrail 2, and potentially other strategic transport infrastructure’.   Our first conclusion today is that the draft Plan requires some stiff editing before submission, with a lot less detail (after all, what will there be left for the supplementary planning guidance mentioned here and there in the draft Plan, that can be more ‘fleet of foot’?).   Second, the draft London Plan justifies the ‘Good Growth’ pillar as follows:   ‘Every individual decision to provide affordable housing helps to make the housing market fairer. Every decision to make a new development car-free helps Londoners to depend less on cars and to live healthier lives. Every decision to build or expand a school improves the prospects of the next generation of Londoners.’   But from the development sector’s perspective, taking this approach has been instrumental in the draft plan’s policies taking on such a phenomenal degree of micro-control.   We can see a well-thought through strategic spatial development strategy, currently buried deep within the overly complex consultation document: that strategy needs to be extracted, published and consulted on and (eventually) approved in its own right. It is that spatial strategy that should be the new strategic plan for London.   The Draft London Plan can be read here.  Further analysis of the Draft London Plan and its implications can be read here. Click here to subscribe for updates.

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