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Covid-19 - Keeping the planning cogs turning

Covid-19 - Keeping the planning cogs turning

Helen Ashby-Ridgway 06 Apr 2020
The Welsh Government is clear, ‘It is vital that planning services play a full part in responding to the current health emergency and making preparations for recovery’.   It’s not the first time that you will have read over the past couple of weeks that we are in uncharted territory. The foundations of our country have been disrupted beyond comprehension and we are faced with challenges few of us could have imagined. There is worry, pain, loss and perspective and the priority for everyone must be to protect the health of individuals and their communities. The planning system is going to be stretched and resources will be diverted. However, we must also look beyond the immediate crisis to provide foundations for the future.   RTPI research published in 2018 found that during the financial year 2016/17 planning created an all-Wales value of circa £2.35 billion[1]. It included the provision of 558 direct FTE jobs in Local Planning Authorities, enabled the creation of 7,146 FTE jobs, generated £4.5m of business rates per annum and contributed £130 million to infrastructure and education through off site S106 and CIL contributions. The importance of the planning system to the economy cannot be understated. In a week where we have seen calls for the planning system to be paused, we have also seen leadership. The Welsh Government has been proactive in providing guidance to local planning authorities to help them continue with their work; to recognise that there will need to be some urgent amendments to the regulations to allow changes to current requirements; and, to help local authorities quickly understand their positions in terms of local development plan preparation. We have also seen a number of local planning authorities taking active steps to keep applicants, agents and the development industry abreast of how their teams will be operating for the foreseeable future. The majority are pressing ahead, recognising that there is a need to keep the cogs turning. Many officers are mobilised to work from home, applicants are being strongly encouraged to submit applications and fees online, neighbour notifications will continue and there are means to erect site notices. LPA’s are making better utilisation of photographs and aerial imagery and are being helpful in the arrangement of meetings through tools such as Skype and MS Teams. Paving the way for other LPAs to follow, Pembrokeshire County Council has agreed to delegate all planning applications to officers. Clearly there will be challenges; officers have loved ones and families to support at home, carrying out site visits will be more difficult and there will need to be some thought to ensuring that communities can engage in the development process. We are all adapting to different ways of working. However, these are not insurmountable. England has already made regulations that allow the holding of remote committees. These came into force on Saturday 4 April. We hope that the Welsh Government will be as equally swift. Now more than ever we need to think innovatively to keep the planning system operating. We need to do this to: Maintain the best development management services that local planning authorities can, so that applications are still validated, conditions on those that are approved can be dealt with and discharged and current applications can be determined; Avoid survey data becoming out of date – this is particularly important for ecology surveys on larger projects with sensitive ecology baselines; Ensure that a backlog of applications does not build up to the extent that LPAs are overwhelmed well beyond the ‘Stay at Home’ period; Ensure that contractual obligations between developers, landowners and funders are met; and critically to, Ensure that the impacts arising from the current crisis are minimised as far as possible to allow individuals, organisations and communities to start building again at pace. The planning process plays a crucial part in the development industry. It is key to the economy and to reinstating those jobs that may be furloughed or lost jobs and to creating new ones, once the economy begins to recover – as it surely will.  Planning permissions granted now will lead to a faster recovery period once the lockdown has passed. It is exactly the time for the Welsh Government to continue leading and ensuring that local planning authorities have the legal frameworks in place to adapt to this new world and for the planning system to keep its cogs turning. It is exactly the time for the local planning authorities to respond proactively to the challenge by supporting their residential and business communities and to ensure that we are in a strong place to weather the storm that we are in. Now is not the time for the planning system to grind to a halt.    [1] RTPI Value of Wales Planning Toolkit 2018  

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Draft TAN15: A move towards risk-based assessment?

Draft TAN15: A move towards risk-based assessment?

Helen Ashby-Ridgway 25 Oct 2019
The Welsh Government’s (WG) delayed draft Technical Advice Note 15: Development, flooding and coastal erosion and Consultation Document have now been published. It follows consultation on the draft National Strategy for Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management earlier this summer. The impacts of flooding can be catastrophic to individuals, communities, businesses, the economy and to the natural and built environment. The effects of climate change cannot be denied and the evidence suggests that future fluvial and coastal flood events are likely to be more frequent and will present greater risks to us and to the environment. Our understanding of these changes and the risks has evolved since TAN15 was originally published 15 years ago. There has been no change as to how flooding is considered in policy since it was first published. Whilst in the last 18 months clarification has been made on the application of the justification test for highly vulnerable uses, flood classifications and assessment has remained untouched.  The publication of draft TAN15 follows a report (December 2018), prepared by JBA for the WG, on the performance of the existing TAN. JBA’s view was that when originally published the TAN was ‘ground-breaking’ in introducing flood zones and taking a precautionary approach. However, JBA concluded that due to technical advancements in understanding flood risk and management TAN15 ought to be reviewed. In particular, JBA recommended that TAN15 should: move from the precautionary approach to a risk-based assessment, to capture the sources of all flood risk including surface water flooding, to review the 4 tier Development Advice Maps that we use today and to provide an increased focus on assessing flood risk during development plan preparation and the making of site allocations. It also considered that the strong presumption against highly vulnerable developments in areas of greatest flood risk should remain. In our June Planning News, we reported anecdotal comments which suggested that the emerging changes would take a more restrictive approach to developments within DAM Zone C2. Having now seen the draft TAN, it is clear that it’s not only Zone C2 where WG wants to take a more restrictive approach. Here is a summary of some of the proposed changes: 1.   A Wales Flood Map (WFM) will replace Development Advice Maps (DAMs). There will be three flood zones: 1 – Very low risk (less than 1 in 1000 year), 2 – Low risk (less than 1 in 100 but greater than 1 in 1000 year), 3 – Medium and high risk (greater than 1 in 100 year). The draft states that the WFMs will be the starting point for consideration of risk. 2.  There will remain three categories of vulnerability of uses: highly vulnerable, less vulnerable and water compatible. Highly vulnerable uses will continue to include houses, caravans, schools, hospitals and vulnerable industrial e.g. power plants etc. The former emergency services category will become part of the highly vulnerable group and other than police stations etc they will also include buildings used as emergency shelters in times of flood (e.g. some leisure centres). The list of example uses for each category are greater and it’s made clear that any uses not listed are to be determined by professional judgment. 3.  Where a mix of uses are accommodated in a single building the vulnerability will be defined by the most vulnerable use. For larger developments with multiple buildings a single vulnerability category may not be appropriate and there will be some flexibility in how the vulnerability classifications can be applied e.g. in relation to proposed developments for housing and open space. 4.  In terms of the how the flood risks will be applied: In Zone 1 all vulnerabilities of use will be acceptable in principle provided that there is no increase in flooding elsewhere and flood resistant and resilient design in locally defined areas of future or current flood risk are included. In Zone 2 all vulnerabilities of use may be acceptable in principle but the proposal must pass a justification test and a series of consequences criteria will need to be met (e.g. evacuation, no increased risk of flooding elsewhere etc). In Zone 3 no highly vulnerable development will be considered acceptable. The draft is explicit that FCAs should not be prepared for such uses and there will be no requirement for NRW to respond. Less vulnerable and water compatible uses may be acceptable subject to a separate justification test and a series of criteria on the acceptability of the consequences. 5.  Looking at those justification tests in more detail: For Zone 2, the site will need to be in an area benefitting from flood defences OR must be part of a local authority initiative to sustain an existing settlement and is identified in an adopted Development Plan which has been prepared using a Strategic Flood Consequences Assessment (SFCA). Critically, to be acceptable in Zone 2, the development will also need to meet the definition of previously developed land.  So, essentially, any development in flood zone 2 must be on brownfield land. The justification test for Zone 3 (for less vulnerable development, essential transport and utilities infrastructure) requires that the scheme be allocated or be part of an allocation or be identified in an adopted Development Plan i.e. Development in Zone 3 is essentially plan-led and the draft states that such development is a ‘last resort’. 6.  The draft recognises that due to industrial legacy there are places in need of major regeneration in areas at risk of flooding. Decisions to enable large scale regeneration of population areas at risk of flooding should be taken through the NDF and SDP. 7.  SFCAs should be undertaken as part of the plan-making process although these may be cross boundary assessments to better understand risks across river catchments. Development Plans must also be based on a sound understanding of the Emergency Services’ ability to respond. 8.  TAN14 (Coastal planning) will be cancelled and coastal erosion will be dealt with in TAN15. The draft states that development should be avoided where there is a risk of it being impacted by coastal erosion over the lifetime of the development. Zones of development and no development should be identified in the LDP although acceptable uses can also be identified in the LDP. Commentary It seems that there are a few critical points arising from the consultation: 1.  It’s not yet clear on the extent of zone designations for a particular site or area compared with current mapping. The DAMs were not solely connected to NRW’s own flood risk mapping and the new maps will include a central climate change allowance. Proposals will need to demonstrate the acceptability of the proposal using a range of scenarios including upper limits. Until we have the maps it’s almost impossible to predict what the changes will mean for individual projects. 2.  WG is pushing the planning system further towards a previously developed land and plan-led approach to development. Whilst national planning policy already focuses on these it has hitherto not entirely removed the realistic potential for development to come forward by other means e.g windfall development. The emerging TAN could be seen as putting up hurdles to certain development (such as housing and tourist accommodation). The preparation of local development plans is not a quick process and there have been more than a few instances where plans have stalled, gone back to the drawing board, been withdrawn and/or have taken years to adopt. There have also been concerns regarding the lack of delivery against strategic growth requirements in plans that have been adopted. 3.  Historically towns have grown around coastal and river locations – some of these are in significant need of regeneration. The draft TAN proposes mechanisms to facilitate windfall development in less and highly vulnerable development in such towns falling under Zone 2 and it creates a framework for development in such areas falling under Zone 3. 4.  There is no mention of how the WFM might be challenged if the data used to inform the zoning is found to be inaccurate. 5.  Draft TAN15 and the National Strategy had originally been due for consultation together. For reasons unknown the TAN was published late – but not late enough for the consultation responses to the National Strategy to have been digested by WG and to inform the draft TAN. There are no easy decisions to make when it comes to flood risk and it’s even more difficult when different sides of sustainability are in tension with one another. It is important, indeed, in some instances, it is vital, that there are measures to protect areas at risk of flooding. However, until the WFMs are published it is unclear what impact the approach proposed in the consultation documents will have on achieving sustainable development (under all measures) if the TAN is adopted as drafted.   The consultation of draft TAN15 closed on 17 January 2020.

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