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Planning matters

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A Licence to Refill: How fast-track pavement licences can help pubs and restaurants spring back from lockdown
Updated 22 July 2020 to reflect the Business and Planning Act 2020 It has been more than 100 days since pints were last pulled and restaurants were full. And as the country begins to ease out of lockdown and restarts the economy, ongoing social distancing measures require pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes to adapt, whilst indoor space remains restricted. But, businesses that adapt and take advantage of new legislation could thrive post-lockdown. Part of the Government’s solution for supporting the hospitality industry and promoting wider economic growth and recovery includes proposed new legislation for fast-tracked pavement licences - reducing the consultation period for pavement licence applications from 28 calendar days to 7 days (5 working days). This measure, included in the Business and Planning Act 2020, is now in force and offers a unique opportunity for pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes to expand their facilities and provide comfortable outdoor space for their customers without needing to wait for a planning permission. If businesses take this golden opportunity to go al-fresco this summer, the hospitality industry will be in a prime position to reap the rewards of pent up demand. No longer will we have to rely solely on takeaways, banana bread and supermarket beer. What exactly do the pavement licences allow? Government guidance explains that once a pavement licence is granted to an applicant by the local authority, the licence holder can place removable furniture over certain highways adjacent to the premises which the application was made for, for certain purposes. The process has been streamlined so that businesses can quickly secure these licences in time for summer 2020 and, where they are granted, these licences will remain in place for between 3-12 months (depending on the local authority’s decision), but not beyond September 2021. The new pavement licence legislation only applies in England and other regulatory frameworks also still apply, meaning venues will still require alcohol licences and will need to comply with the requirements for food businesses. The new licences will provide deemed planning permission for anything done by the licence-holder which would previously have required planning permission under Part 3 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. It will provide a quick and cheap route for cafes, restaurants, pubs and bars to secure a pavement licence more easily than ever before, enabling them to operate safely and at optimum capacity, while observing social distancing. How to make an application Part 1 of the Business and Planning Act provides that applications for the new pavement licences be available to pubs, bars or other drinking establishments, and for the sale of food or drink for consumption on or off the premises. The Bill also sets out what removable furniture is permitted, which includes: Counters or stalls for selling food or drink; Tables, counters or shelves on which food or drink can be placed; Chairs, benches or other forms of seating; and Umbrellas, barriers, heaters and other articles in connection with the outdoor consumption of food or drink. It is important that the furniture is removeable. It cannot be fixed and should be easily moved and stored away on an evening. Applications will need to specify the type of furniture being proposed, as well as the relevant highway, premises, days of the week and times of day that the pavement licence will cover. The applicant will also need to provide evidence of public liability insurance and the local authority may also request additional information and evidence including plans, lease documents, photos and specifications of the proposed furniture and details of how it will be arranged, but other information may also be required if the Local Authority deems it necessary. Fees will be set locally but will be capped at £100. If an applicant has already made an application for a pavement licence under the existing regime and wishes to substitute that application for a new application under the new rules, a fee would not be charged and the original application would be treated as withdrawn. Determining an application The local authority must publicise the application and allow representations for 7 days after the application is received. A notice of the application will have to be displayed on the premises so that it can be easily read by passing members of the public from outside the premises for 7 days. The local authority has a further 7 days to determine the application once the consultation period ends and will take in to account Government guidance, consider representations, consult the highway authority and any other relevant person deemed appropriate. If they fail to determine the application within 7 days, it will be deemed to have been granted. The authority can reject the application for some or all parts of highway specified and any or all purposes for which the application is made (i.e. it can decide the space that the licence will cover). The local authority can also attach conditions when granting a licence. These conditions could relate to public safety, amenity and access. Licences will automatically include a “no obstruction condition” and may require smoke-free areas to be defined. The needs of disabled persons in particular are to be taken into account when determining whether furniture put on the highway is an obstruction. The Local Authority may revoke a licence if the affected area of highway is later found not to be suitable, there is a risk to health and safety, anti-social behaviour is being or is at risk of being caused, or the highway is being obstructed. When can I make a pavement licence application? Immediately. Where can Lichfields help? Lichfields understands the urgency in supporting the recovery of the hospitality industry as the country eases out of lockdown and while social distancing measures remain in place. Throughout lockdown, our series of blogs ‘The High Street isn’t dead, long live the High Street’ have identified changes and emerging opportunities on the High Street, with the latest blog in the series looking specifically at repurposing the High Street for summer dining. Lichfields has also been closely monitoring the progress and development of the Business and Planning Act. We have reviewed the guidance and we are well placed to prepare and manage applications for new pavement licences on behalf of pub, bar, restaurant and café operators. We have good relationships with local authorities across the country and are ready to liaise with officers regarding the new procedures to achieve swift, positive outcomes.  

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Beautiful Development – In the eye of the beholder?
‘Say no to ugliness’, that is the message to councils in the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission’s interim report ‘Creating space for beauty’, which looks at how England should address the poor-quality design of new buildings and places whilst ensuring a sufficient supply of new homes. In the eyes of the Commission, building beautifully comprises walkable, human-scale developments, and buildings with finely textured designs and materials, and it urges changes to the planning system to make the delivery of such developments a key objective. The report argues that the political focus on building more homes cannot be just a numbers game and about houses alone; it must be about making vibrant, characterful places, which people enjoy living and working in. This reflects broader changes in government policy, with far greater emphasis being placed on design quality in the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), published in February. In theory, well-designed development proposals should be more popular and readily supported by Councils; achieve higher returns for developers and provide better places to live and work. However, the Commission suggests that beyond our historic urban centres and conservation areas, development is driven by utility and convenience, resulting in a wasteland of mediocre developments filled with bland boxy buildings.   The Commission urges a re-think and emphasises the need for higher standards of design and early community engagement in the design process. The report tasks planners, architects, developers and communities to decide together what constitutes beautiful development, but can a consensus really be reached if stakeholders have radically different tastes, or will popular preferences prevail every time? If not, who will ultimately decide what constitutes good design and will this be supported or provoke a public outcry and endless delays? Three main recommendations are made in the report: one, that securing beautiful development should be a core aim of planning policy and practice; two, that ugly retail parks and supermarkets should be replaced with mixed-use developments; and three, that communities should be given an effective voice early in the design process. By drawing up higher-quality development proposals and engaging communities in the design process, the report suggests that development will be less risky, produce higher returns and secure more support. Simple! The Commission argues that planners should be diverting their attention to place making and remodelling existing developments. Planners are expected to develop the skills to critically assess proposals in terms of landscape and urban design, place making, architecture and the associations between urban form, wellbeing, and health. The report also recommends giving planners the appropriate policy tools to help them secure higher standards of design from development proposals. The Bourne Estate, London Source: Matthew Lloyds Architects At present the NPPF only sets out general aspirations to create attractive places, it does not define how to achieve it, nor does it effectively require those aspirations to be met. Instead of high-quality design being a ‘nice-to-have’, the report recommends that it be embedded alongside sustainability as a core aim of the NPPF. Could high-quality design be considered a material benefit that could outweigh harm when determining the planning balance in future? Interestingly, the recommendation that underused and failing retail parks should be redeveloped for high-quality, mixed-use communities has received considerable attention. The report derides retail parks as ‘boxland’ developments, a by-product of a planning system that undervalued place making. The Commission wants planners to be at the forefront of the process of wiping retail parks off the map, but the quest to remodel existing development also extends to the high street. The report urges planners to tackle gaudy signage, street clutter, and poor-quality shop fronts and rigorously enforce higher standards of design. This would likely require more stringent design codes to help instruct future development proposals and make clear what is expected from new developments. The Malings, Ouseburn Source: Ash Sakula Architects The Commission acknowledges that public trust in experts is at an all time low and that too many neighbourhoods feel themselves to be the victim of development. The report argues that the public want new buildings to reflect the history, character, and identity of their surroundings. It recommends that communities play a bigger role in plan-making and design process so that they can define what beautiful development means to them. This would likely require planners to carry out public consultation exercises more frequently and mediate between competing subjective opinions on design. Local authorities and national government are also urged to deliver more beautiful public buildings that demonstrate civic pride in architecture, ideally with the public being engaged in the selection of winning designs. If the public are given a more prominent role in the design process, will it stifle the development of innovative design as developers retreat to more conservative styles that are likely to gain public support? The report suggests that if greater public involvement results in more traditional bricks and mortar developments at the expense of modernist glass and steel boxes, then so be it. The report offers several examples of well-conceived development, including Roussillon Park in Chichester; Nansledan in Cornwall; and the work of Matthew Lloyd Architects at the Bourne Estate in London. In Newcastle, The Malings in Ouseburn is praised for creating a dense walkable development. The Commission argues that the popularity and commercial success of these schemes demonstrates the payoff from a careful approach to design. With improving technology making it possible to create finely textured buildings without unsustainable labour and manufacturing costs, similar developments could be delivered more frequently in future. Nansledan, near Newquay Source: Adam Urbanism If the Commission’s recommendations are implemented, the delivery of high quality ‘beautiful’ design will require planners to assess development proposals as much for their design quality as for their sustainability and with significantly more public engagement to inform the process. However, in our experience, design quality is very rarely the main reason for objections to planning applications, so could the quest for beautiful development and a boost to housing delivery be doomed to fail?  The role of planners could be about to become far more design-led and potentially more complicated. While it is good that planners are placed at the heart of the solution, how will they cope when planning departments are already under resourced and overworked? How will consensus be achieved amongst so many competing groups on such a subjective and contentious issue? Crucially, if design is to become a more integral feature of the planning process will it become a more common reason for refusal and undermine the delivery of new homes, or as the report predicts, will it generate public support for attractive proposals and provide a boost to housing delivery? The Commission’s final report is due to be submitted to the government at the end of 2019.

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