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The staycation is here to stay

The staycation is here to stay

Helen Ashby-Ridgway 02 Nov 2017
I am looking forward to attending the Rural Entrepreneur Live event at Birmingham’s NEC next Wednesday (8 November 2017). In readiness I have dusted off a recent blog I prepared on the importance of the ‘Staycation’ to the South West economy, which was first published for Insider back in July. Travelling with a young child is not easy. Not only is there the challenge of packing everything you need into too few suitcases but you need to keep the toddler entertained during travel and be on full alert in the hottest of climes. And that is if things go well. Last summer my three year old daughter caught chicken pox on holiday in Italy. Had we been on holiday in the UK we would have simply driven home to our creature comforts. Our experience was simply bad luck. But, I have to say that those events made us think, should we stay in the UK this year? We are not alone. Holidaying in the UK is a popular choice that many of us are increasingly making. According to VisitBritain 44.7m holiday trips were taken in England in 2016, 2 per cent higher than in 2015 and 12 per cent higher than in 2008. Whilst the total number of holidays each year has fluctuated the ten year trend for England shows growth. Source: GB Tourism Survey The 2008 global financial crisis and the 2009 UK recession corresponded to a significant boost in the growth of domestic holiday trips in England, perhaps the two doing more to promote the Great British holiday than anything for some time. The change in exchange rates between the Pound and other currencies have helped. The ‘weak’ pound makes the traditional Mediterranean holiday not as value for money as it once did – paying in Pounds for a 10€ pizza is 16 per cent more expensive in July 2017 than it was on the 23 June 2016 and nearly 30 per cent more expensive than two summers ago.This is not yet as staggering a change as in 2008, but significant nonetheless for British holidaymakers in Europe. Source: Bank of England We are also taking more holidays: the ONS reports that 2016 saw a record number of visits to the UK by overseas residents and visits abroad by UK residents. We are finding excuses to take more short breaks by celebrating greater numbers of life events and with an appetite for gaining new experiences on holiday, the so called ‘staycation’ or holidaying in the UK is growing and it is boosting the UK’s economy. Around £85bn was spent on tourism in England in 2015 and when direct and indirect benefits are taken into account tourism in England contributes £106bn to the British economy while supporting 2.6m jobs (Visit Britain 2016). Tourist spending in local economies is for the taking and regions should be vying to increase their share. Between 2006 and 2015 , the South West experienced a 21 per cent growth in tourism spending. However, whilst this is strong performance, the region has seen its share of tourism national spend decrease (from 31 per cent to 29 per cent) despite tourism spending in England rising by 32 per cent over the same period. Whilst this is good news for the English tourism sector, it’s a lost opportunity for the South West. Source: GB Tourism Survey Without a doubt there are opportunities within the South West to reverse this trend. Indeed, the quality and beauty of the beaches and coastline go far beyond those I have visited in any Mediterranean country. It will be those local authorities that welcome and actively encourage tourism development that will gain the greatest economic benefits to boost their local economies. Local planning policies have often been restrictive and focused upon the control and limitations of development, such as holiday parks. But investment by operators is vital. The most proactive are focused on ensuring that their facilities and accommodation can attract repeat and new visitors year after year. We are seeing some local planning authorities in the South West responding positively to the challenge. Cornwall Council and Weymouth and Portland Borough Council are two examples where they recognise the need to support the tourist market through constructive policies and a culture of seeking opportunities. In my view this must continue to ensure the South West does not lose out to other regions who are also looking how to strengthen their share of that increased expenditure. As a country we are good at showcasing our tourism offer and while we continue to find excuses to spend a weekend or week away in the UK, the South West must take advantage of its strong position and ensure that we maintain and grow our regional tourism offer in the future. The ‘staycation’ seems to be here to, well, stay. In May, Lichfields published the Rural estates: economic benefits of rural tourism insight. This examined rural areas and the potential for country estates to diversify their existing operations, to include provision of tourist accommodation.

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A ‘Minor Material’ clarification

A ‘Minor Material’ clarification

Robert Dibden 13 Jul 2017
The recent judgment of the Supreme Court in relation to Suffolk Coastal District Council v Hopkins Homes and Richborough Estates v Cheshire East Borough Council raised a number of wider implications for planning, not least concerns regarding the role of the courts in planning decision-making and the over-legalisation of the planning process. For a number of years now, developers and landowners have used the judicial review process as a means of holding planning decision- makers to account, and ensuring the rigour of the planning system generally. Lichfields’ Newcastle office’s latest first-hand experience of the process in action offers helpful insight into both the workings of, and interrelationship between, England’s planning and legal systems, and the idiosyncrasies of a particularly well-used provision of the Planning Acts. The case centred on the use of Section 73 (s73) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, which allows applicants to seek permission for a minor material amendment (‘MMA’) to a previously approved scheme. In this specific case, a developer in York had obtained planning permission for a mixed use development described as: Erection of 8,000 seat community stadium, leisure centre, multi-screen cinema, retail units, outdoor football pitches, community facilities and other ancillary uses... Planning permission was granted subject to a number of conditions, including a requirement for the development to be in accordance with various approved plans. A short time later, the developer sought to update these plans by way of an MMA application. Amongst other amendments, the MMA application included increasing the capacity of the cinema by around 20%, and increasing the overall amount of floorspace made up of town centre uses by around 40%. Lichfields were subsequently appointed by an existing cinema operator in York to review the s73 application, in light of the potential adverse impact on their own business. During the course of this process it became apparent that the key question for the local planning authority to consider was whether, in fact, an alteration of this scale to the approved scheme could lawfully be approved (or indeed validated and then determined) by way of an MMA application. National Planning Practice Guidance advises : There is no statutory definition of a ‘minor material amendment’ but it is likely to include any amendment where its scale and/or nature results in a development which is not substantially different from the one which has been approved. The local planning authority contended that the proposed amendments were acceptable in this context, and proceeded to approve the application. During the six week judicial review challenge period following the grant of planning permission, Lichfields worked with Counsel to review the appropriate case law and primary legislation. This process indicated that guidance on the issue is less than clear. Whilst Planning Practice Guidance acknowledges there is no statutory definition of an MMA it is, by definition, inferred that the changes sought by such an application must constitute ‘minor’ alterations. High Court Judge Mr Justice Collins agreed that our client’s case was arguable, and a hearing at the Queen’s Bench Division in London was scheduled for January 2017. At the hearing, Counsel put forward the cases for the claimant and defendant respectively; each essentially focusing on v Coventry City Council Ex p. Arrowcroft Group Plc (2001). In summing up, Justice Collins contended that Arrowcroft established that, whilst there was no statutory definition of an MMA, the key principle is that it is not open to the local planning authority to vary a condition if that variation means that the precise terms of the original permission (i.e. the description of development) were changed by it. This reflects the wording of s73 itself, which states only that: "(1) This section applies, subject to subsection (4), to applications for planning permission for the development of land without complying with conditions subject to which a previous planning permission was granted. (2) On such an application the local planning authority shall consider only the question of the conditions subject to which planning permission should be granted, and— (a) if they decide that planning permission should be granted subject to conditions differing from those subject to which the previous permission was granted, or that it should be granted unconditionally, they shall grant planning permission accordingly, and (b) if they decide that planning permission should be granted subject to the same conditions as those subject to which the previous permission was granted, they shall refuse the application." In part, this reflects the retro-fitting exercise undertaken by Government in utilising s73 to regularise the format in which applicants seek post-permission amendments to schemes. In itself, however (and possibly at odds with Planning Practice Guidance), s73 fails to limit the extent of changes sought through MMA applications in terms of how ‘minor’ or indeed ‘substantial’, they are in practice. In York, the description of development for the original scheme was sufficiently vague, such that no reasonable change to the scale or capacity of the cinema in isolation could negate the appropriate use of s73. This in itself is an important lesson for applicants, and ensuring local planning authorities don’t tamper with a description of development prior to the validation of an application could be key to retaining the future flexibility of a planning permission. Nevertheless, the whole judicial review process proved invaluable in untangling policy guidance which was admittedly never intended as a purpose-made solution. For planning consultants, this relationship between the legal and planning systems plays an integral role in assuring applicants of the robustness (and indeed lawfulness) of their planning decisions. Without these checks and balances in place, it is arguable that the whole planning process could become less fair and balanced, particularly given the fragmented nature of much current planning policy. For our client, this meant challenging a questionable decision through the courts over a period of six months or so. It is to everyone’s benefit within the planning sector that such a process exists, and can be utilised where necessary.  

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