Planning matters blog | Lichfields

Planning matters

Our award winning blog gives a fresh perspective on the latest trends in planning and development.

Draft NPPF: more emphasis on healthy and safe communities
Whilst the connection between the quality of the built environment and health outcomes has long been established, in 2012 the NPPF introduced a step change in the breadth of factors that we as place-makers should be considering as part of the planning process. Gone were the days of ‘health’ policy being limited to the delivery of a health centre, or ensuring a site can be accessed by a footpath. The NPPF recognised that the health of communities can be affected by decisions across a range of land uses, from spaces that encourage social interaction to the provision of schools, and from the delivery of social, recreational and cultural facilities to the active use of public areas. Whilst no definition of health is included in the current NPPF, the thrust of chapter 8, ‘Promoting healthy Communities’, reflects the World Health Organization’s well-recognised definition: “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.
Chapter 8 of the consultation draft NPPF retains this broad approach but of greatest significance, the chapter includes added emphasis on the promotion of safe communities. Overall there is a clear aim for policies and decisions to achieve healthy, inclusive and safe places. To this end, the chapter continues to promote social interaction and the creation of safe and accessible places where crime and disorder - and the fear of crime - do not undermine community cohesion. However, there is also a new paragraph on enabling and supporting healthy lifestyles through the provision, for example, of safe and accessible green infrastructure, sports facilities, local shops, access to healthier food, allotments and layouts that encourage walking cycling.
By far the most significant proposed change in this chapter (and one that reinforces its new title) is the introduction of a paragraph to promote public safety and to take into account wider security and defence requirements (paragraph 96). The proposals are unfortunately responding to our modern reality that attacks do occur (thankfully relatively rarely in the UK). Whilst back in July 2017 the Chief Planner reminded local planning authorities of the role the planning system plays in ensuring appropriate measures are in place in relation to counter-terrorism and crime prevention security, national policy has been restricted to general paragraphs on crime in Chapter 8. The draft NPPF is now more explicit and introduces two elements to the proposed policy:
  1. anticipating and addressing all plausible malicious threats and natural hazards, especially in locations where large numbers of people are expected to congregate; and,

  2. recognising and supporting development required for operational defence and security purposes, and ensuring that operational sites are not affected adversely by the impact of other development proposed in the area.
In terms of the first element, the draft NPPF helpfully provides examples (but not an exhaustive list) of relevant locations as a footnote (Footnote 32). There are some of these developments that are more obvious for assessment (e.g. sports facilities and places of worship) but the need to assess restaurants is perhaps less so. However, the examples reflect the sectors identified in the Crowded Places Guidance (2017) published by the National Counter Terrorism Security Office and highlights that having better security for all these areas makes it harder for terrorists to plan and carry out attacks as well as reducing the risk of other threats such as organised crime.

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For crime prevention reasons, we are already familiar with the careful choice of what information (such as internal layouts) to include on submitted plans, but these proposed assessments will require more in-depth consideration and analysis. Applicants and their consultant teams will need to work closely with local police, counter-terrorism security advisors and local authority emergency planning teams as part of the pre-application stages of a project. Having worked on a similar statement in the past, confidentiality is key; many of these discussions are likely to take place behind closed doors and the final assessments will be published in confidential reports. The Crowded Places Guidance is an excellent starting point for developers and their design teams.
Turning to the remainder of the chapter, the other main proposed change relates to estate regeneration (paragraph 94). It states that planning policies and decisions should consider the social and economic benefits of estate regeneration (which can include better homes, improvements to neighbourhoods, new community facilities, training and employment and more). The draft Framework also states that local planning authorities should use their planning powers to help deliver estate regeneration to a high standard. It’s clear that the Government links estate regeneration to improved health outcomes. However, the need for close engagement with the community is arguably not one of the Government’s priorities – a notable difference when compared with the London Mayor’s recent consultation on resident ballots, and draft paragraph 153 which introduces the need to consider community views on the acceptability of wind energy development.
In discussing national planning policy on health, it is noted that the draft revised NPPF does not introduce any new requirement for Health Impact Assessments (HIA) to accompany planning applications. However, from experience we know that local planning authorities are increasingly issuing guidance on creating healthy communities and making HIAs an application validation requirement for a range of development proposals. In the context of extreme fiscal challenges, the NHS, Public Health England, local authority teams and government departments continue to look at prevention measures across all policy areas. As such, it is expected that the number of local planning authorities that require the health implications of proposed developments to be assessed at application stage will rise further, as more post-NPPF plans are adopted.
Overall, promoting healthy communities is staying very much on the Government’s planning agenda but with a new focus on national security and defence, beyond what has been seen before.
Lichfields will publish further analysis of the consultation on the revised NPPF and its implications. Click here to subscribe for updates.

Image credit: Deptford Market Yard


Heritage in the North East: can it be the solution rather than a problem?
Historic buildings and sites are often seen as a burden, with high levels of risk and financial liability attached. But, in the North East, could they create opportunities and solutions, rather than problems?
Lichfields recently completed a pioneering study for Historic England looking at the economic, environmental and social returns offered by historic sites in London which have been declared as ‘at risk’. The study found that investing in such heritage assets can result in numerous benefits which go far beyond just the conservation of historic fabric, such as successful place making and regeneration, job creation, the enhancement of social facilities and vastly altered local perceptions.
The development industry in the North East is focussed on delivering the homes we need to address the housing crisis, creating jobs and promoting economic growth. But the economic context in which we are working is quite different from that of our colleagues in London. Is it possible for us to be able to use heritage assets in the same way, to realise wider economic and social benefits, and with heritage as the catalyst rather than the goal?
Is it a different picture?
Historic England compiles a register of designated heritage assets which are ‘at risk’ on an annual basis. Nationally, it includes scheduled monuments, listed buildings at Grades I and II*, places of worship listed at any grade, registered parks and gardens, registered battlefields, protected wreck sites and conservation areas. In London, the list is more extensive as it also covers Grade II listed buildings.
The graph below compares the types of heritage assets on the register in London and the North East. Most of the ‘at risk’ heritage assets in London (67%) are Grade II listed buildings, a figure which is to be expected given that 90% of listed buildings (both nationally and in London) have this grade. In the North East, scheduled monuments represent 58% of all ‘at risk’ assets, by far the majority; this category includes cairns, the remains of settlements, mining legacy features and rock art. These are features where the solution to their heritage-related needs is unlikely to be in the form of the new uses and occupation like other types of buildings and structures.
Figure 1 Proportion of assets on Heritage at Risk Register in each category

Source: Historic England with Lichfields analysis

Closer similarities between London and the North East appear when Grade II listed buildings and scheduled monuments are omitted from both areas (see the graph below), while just focusing on assets in urban areas in the North East also shows a similar picture of Heritage at Risk to London.
Figure 2 Proportion of assets on Heritage at Risk Register in each category shown

Source: Historic England with Lichfields analysis

This data shows that, given the parallels that can be drawn between the London and North East heritage at risk registers, there is potential for some of the benefits identified within the London report to be similarly achieved in the North East.
It also raises the question of whether Grade II listed buildings should be included on registers outside London, given the number which are probably at risk. Perhaps when considering how best to use heritage as a catalyst for economic growth, development and regeneration, a looser definition of ‘at risk’ should be applied, not just focussing just on those assets included on the Historic England register but any heritage asset - designated or undesignated - which could fall within the definition of ‘at risk’ and which, with investment, could deliver wider benefits.
Opportunities for the development industry
The map below shows a correlation between assets on the North East Heritage at Risk Register and deprivation in urban areas. The picture in more rural areas, such as Northumberland and Durham, is less clear. There may be several reasons for this pattern, including that output areas are larger in size and, as a result, areas of high and low deprivation may be averaged out. Also, most assets ‘at risk’ in rural areas are scheduled monuments which are generally at risk not because of lack of investment but due to other threats, such as agricultural practices. What is clear though is that particularly in urban areas in the North East, there is great potential for the regeneration and wider social benefits recognised in the London report to be achieved.
Some of the best opportunities for regeneration and wider social benefits may occur either when grant funding is available to close the viability gap between costs and the end value or financial return or, perhaps more importantly, when other benefits of investment, such as delivering economic, social or environmental improvements in line with ambitions for particular areas, can be prioritised over initial financial returns. For assets in public sector ownership, the requirement that land should not be disposed of for less than ‘best consideration’ is potentially a complicating factor and could result in missed opportunities if proposals for reuse and associated development are not explained well in relation to their consistency with planning policy, the asset’s current state of repair and its future existence and other potential non-financial and wider regeneration benefits and positive impacts.
Discussions with key individuals in the development and heritage sectors in the North East has also highlighted that to secure private investment, and perhaps reduce the need for grant funding which itself can be off-putting to developers, there is also a need for more to be done to ‘de-risk’ a heritage asset by providing greater certainty to future investors about the features which are most important and where there may, or may not, be scope for change. There is a clear role here for Historic England’s Enhanced Listing service, and/ or a detailed development brief, supported by a heritage assessment, to understand the special interest and development potential of the asset.
There are also potentially important roles for cross-funding and enabling development, which could help meet wider development needs and, through Section 106 contributions, support the conservation of heritage assets which would otherwise not receive investment without grant support. In such cases, heritage at risk may open up new sites for development which would have otherwise not been policy-compliant.
The historic environment in the North East, and in particular Heritage at Risk, presents an undervalued and underused opportunity to stimulate economic growth and help meet development needs, while also delivering wider social and environmental benefits.
Future work
The London Heritage at Risk study has identified a number of benefits of investing in Heritage at Risk and there is good reason to think that, despite the differences between London and the North East, the findings will hold true for other urban areas.
A number of potential solutions and opportunities presented by Heritage at Risk in the North East have been identified within this blog; a better understanding of the opportunities presented by investment in these heritage assets is of course still required, especially due to the different economic contexts and disparities between land values and investment returns in the regions compared with London. But the importance of the wider social and environmental benefits arising from such investment should not be understated or underestimated when compared with economic outputs which are easier to quantify. A tool to assess, quantify and share these would clearly be of huge benefit. Watch this space…!