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Planning matters

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Housing first: A new approach to addressing youth homelessness
For the last few years, I have been volunteering with a local charity which provides advice and food to the homeless in Newcastle via weekly outreaches. They have recently completed a permanent ‘hub’ building where anyone in need of support is welcome to take a shower, have a hot meal, get advice, or just hang out and relax for a few hours.  The one thing that they can’t provide at the moment, however, is accommodation and this is an area which is increasingly difficult for many young people to secure. In 2020 the north east was identified as having England’s highest rate outside of London of households assessed as homeless or at risk of homelessness (on the basis of presentation to their local authority).  Homelessness is by its very nature difficult to quantify. Street homeless or rough sleeping is the most visible evidence of the housing crisis but young people without a home may be found in various kinds of temporary accommodation such as bed and breakfasts, hostels, supported provision or sofa surfing with family and friends. It has been estimated by Homeless Link that about 44% of people who access homeless services in England are aged 18-24. This is unlikely to reflect the full extent of the problem as many people affected by homelessness may not, at least initially, approach their local authority for support. This is where groups such as North East Homeless, with whom I am involved, are especially important in signposting young people to the sources of help available to them. Research by Homeless Link found that a lack of affordable housing and emergency accommodation drive rough sleeping numbers. Although periods of rough sleeping are generally brief, they represent a time of heightened vulnerability for young people. Across a year the numbers may be small but for a young person one night on the street is one night too many. Hostels and supported temporary accommodation are important in providing young people with a place to live, but austerity and cuts to public services place them under considerable strain. Where supported environments are available, they are effective in helping young people to move on to permanent accommodation. However, in order to do so they need to access suitable and affordable rental properties, and even in a region like the north east known for its relatively cheap housing, these can be hard to find. Housing supply is not only an issue for young people wishing to live independently, it can also be the reason why they need to leave their parental home. Overcrowding due to a lack of affordable housing, or the breakdown of their parents’ tenancy in the private sector rental market are among the reasons given by young people for becoming homeless.  It is estimated that around one third of single homeless people in the UK have low or no support needs beyond a roof over their heads; they are homeless only because there aren’t enough houses. Centrepoint found in 2018 that as many as one-fifth of people living in supported housing may be ready to leave but can’t because there is nowhere for them to go. As explored in the blog published by Hannah earlier this year, this situation is unlikely to be improved in the north east by the ‘new’  Standard Method which uses projections based on historically low population growth followed by suppressed household formation rates experienced during the 2008 recession, meaning these projections are perpetuated in the future. This is particularly acute in the North, where the recession had a particularly significant impact. The conditions required by most private landlords often exclude many formerly homeless people. Young people with a history of homelessness can find it difficult to provide references and refusal on the grounds of insufficient income often limits the options available to them. This means that they have access to a limited supply of local authority or housing association provision. The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) recently found that only 67% of Local Authorities are building enough affordable housing to meet their overall housing needs and fewer are delivering enough homes for low income people. There is also a focus on provision for buyers rather than renters which is an unrealistic expectation for most young homeless people. A further issue is the focus on building family accommodation when planning for social housing. This means that even where stocks of social housing are available options may be limited for young, single people. To try and address this, the IPPR has recently recommended that regional stakeholders in the north east of England consider how a ‘Housing First’ model of accommodation provision for young people could reduce homelessness and improve long-term outcomes. The principle of Housing First uses ordinary housing in both the private rental sector and social housing sector, allocated to people in need without conditions. In the UK, the first Housing First pilot was set up in 2010 in Glasgow, followed by pilots in London and Newcastle in 2012. It’s based on the principle of housing being a basic human right and providing permanent accommodation for people straight from the street or those who have experienced repeated homelessness. Currently it is a very small sector in the UK, in 2017 there were just 32 active Housing First providers supporting around 350 people in England. The key characteristic of this approach is quick access to secure and permanent, or potentially permanent accommodation, without an extended period in supported housing or a need to prove ‘housing readiness’. Tenancies are not conditional on the acceptance of support at the beginning of the tenancy or its continuation as the tenancy progresses. Crisis and Homeless Link recently published a report to understand what is needed to implement Housing First at scale across England, Scotland and Wales. Housing First can only work if suitable housing can be identified and accessed. In some circumstances, LPAs are willing to consider off-site affordable housing but the recently published Lichfields’ Insight on affordable housing demonstrated that on-site provision remains the priority for national policy across England and Wales, with many authorities requiring the demonstration of exceptional circumstances to justify such an approach to affordable housing provision. However, given the relatively small numbers of properties needed for Housing First, earmarking even a tiny percentage of affordable housing contributions for off-site provision could make a significant impact on the implementation of Housing First. Aside from securing contributions towards new build facilities, options for local authorities and social housing providers could include buying existing private sector properties or converting existing larger properties into one-bedroom flats. It could potentially include the conversion of properties such as low demand sheltered housing, de-commissioned care homes, former hospital buildings, or hostels to create Housing First schemes or mixed developments in which Housing First apartments are ‘pepper-potted’.  Newcastle City Council continues to be proactive in delivering Housing First accommodation and last year Changing Lives began work on converting a 56-bed hostel into 35 self-contained flats.  The aim is to provide every resident who becomes homeless with good quality, self-contained accommodation that is part of a rapid rehousing pathway that supports people to move back into suitable and sustainable homes as quickly as possible. Whilst the approach clearly works on a small scale, it remains to be seen if there is the political will and long-term funding available to make Housing First happen at a large enough scale to eradicate homelessness for young people with multiple complex needs. If you would like to make a donation to NorthEast Homeless to help improve life for young homeless people in the north east you can do so using the details below: Image credit: Ev on Unsplash


 Temporary Permitted Development Rights to Support Welsh Businesses
The Welsh Government’s Chief Planner issued a letter on 30 March 2021 setting out that a number of temporary permitted development rights (temporary PDR) were to come into force on 30 April 2021. These relate to temporary use of land, change of use of units in town centres, street furniture and awnings. According to the Chief Planner, the purpose of the temporary PDR is: To support the reopening of businesses and their efforts to create safe environments for the public to feel confident to return to the high street, hospitality and tourism sectors. As a result of covid-19 and the need to social distance and ensure adequate ventilation for customers, a number of businesses, especially in the hospitality sector have had to move quickly to adapt their premises so that they can operate profitably and safely within the health guidelines. This has included additional outside seating areas, covered areas, pop up counters and pop up shops. The Chief Planner’s letter is therefore timely and notes that the temporary PDR provide a co-ordinated approach with Welsh Government grant funding that has been made available to the private sector to adapt property and the public realm at this time. The changes also coincide with the easing of lockdown in Wales with outdoor hospitality premises allowed to open from 26 April 2021. Subject to restrictions and conditions, new Part 4A (Temporary Changes of Use) and amended Part 42 allows: It is necessary that before proceeding with the development, the conditions, restrictions, and definitions that apply to these new permitted development rights are fully understood. “We do not want the planning system to act as a barrier to recovery” We welcome the recognition from the Welsh Government that there is a need for the planning system to be responsive, flexible and pragmatic to assist with the recovery from covid-19. In discussing Class A, Part 4A the letter explains that even if the temporary PDR cannot be utilised and a planning application is required then the Local Planning Authority should prioritise these applications. It states: Authorities should seek to support businesses and organisations, where the planning impacts are acceptable, to maximise their potential to operate over the forthcoming spring/summer months as coronavirus COVID-19 control measures are relaxed. Short term permissions and conditions should be used to manage planning impacts which would be inappropriate on a permanent basis. It is reassuring to hear the Chief Planner saying that the planning system should not act as a barrier to recovery and that businesses can proceed with these minor developments without the need to apply for planning permission and even if permission is required then these should be fast-tracked and considered pragmatically. Town Centre Uses – A move towards diversity With the rise of internet shopping, high rents and business rates and a failure to diversify, town centres were struggling even before the pandemic. The situation by now is much worse with town centre stalwarts such as Debenhams and Topshop the latest to go out of business leaving large voids. Local Development Plan policies have historically sought to protect the change of use of A1 uses in town centres to other uses, especially in primary frontages. However, the Chief Planner’s letter highlights a change of direction by facilitating the temporary use of town centre units for alternative uses for a period of up to 6 months. This includes A1 uses in primary frontages which have for so long been protected from any change away from A1 retail use.The letter notes that if the alternative use proves successful then a planning application will be required to retain the use beyond 6 months. Where it has been demonstrated during the temporary period that the planning impacts are minimal, or where the impacts could be managed through conditions, sufficient weight should be given to the social, economic and broad regeneration benefits of retaining an alternative use. It will be interesting to see what kind of temporary uses pop up in the town centre within the temporary period and whether these are retained in the long term. Whilst all of this is helpful and should be welcomed, it must be noted that this is nowhere near the flexible system present in England where the use class order has recently been loosened dramatically with the introduction of Use Class E which encompasses the old A1 (Part), A2, A3, B1, D1 (Part) and D2 (Part) uses but with some restriction such as shops (less than 280 sqm) selling essential goods. The Chief Planner’s letter notes that this is a solution for the short term, and we wonder therefore if a more flexible approach to town centre uses will become permanent in the future in order to safeguard the vitality and viability of town centres. Lichfields Can Help Whilst the above temporary PDR appear to be modest and simply tweaking around the edges, we do think that they will assist the hospitality sector and town centres in adapting their premises so that an expensive and lengthy planning application or planning enforcement can be avoided. If you are unsure whether you are able to take advantage of the new permitted development rights, then we would be more than happy to discuss your situation and assist with a notification or planning application if required.