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The High Street isn’t dead, long live the High Street #3
On Friday, the latest ONS retail figures[1] showed High Streets had started to bounce back. There had been a 12% increase in retail spend in May 2020 compared to April's record 18% drop[2], primarily driven by growth in food, DIY and garden centre goods and non-store retailing. It’s nonetheless 14% lower than in May 2019, the average hiding a wide range of variations across the different retail sectors. Since then, and from 15 June, ‘non- essential’ shops have been re-opening, so the statistics will no doubt be improving. High Streets Task Force (HSTF) footfall data for Monday 15 June showed this to be an average of 65% of that experienced on the same Monday last year, excluding London where footfall across the capital was much lower[3]. But how does this feel on the ground and what are the signs of how high streets might transform after the COVID-19 pandemic? Shopping in London Lordship Lane, East Dulwich, SE22 In south London, I anecdotally observed that Walworth Road / Elephant & Castle (a ‘Major Centre’ in London’s ‘Town Centre Network’), East Dulwich (a ‘District Centre’) and other nearby district and local centres all had increased footfall last week, but by far the greatest shopping activity remained at the food and drink shops and market stalls – albeit last week’s media reports suggested that this varied across the country too. Lockdown’s eating and drinking at home (and now sharing picnics in gardens and parks with friends and family) is still keeping the supermarkets, independent food shops and markets busy, despite 33% of all retail spend now being online. Oxford Circus, Oxford Street, London ‘Comparison shopping’ (as it was once known) in London’s West End presents another picture. At 10am on Saturday 20 June, the West End was almost as quiet as in early Lockdown, but by 11 o’clock there was the occasional short queue outside Oxford Street stores (as individual shops reached their number per sq. m quota[4]). By 1pm, it felt close to a pre-Covid weekday. Everyone in-store seemed accustomed to distancing from shop staff and other customers, following the one-way route markers, and using the separate entry and exits points at larger stores. Next, Oxford Street, London The hard part is understanding the rationale for different retailers’ policies – i.e. being able to try on shoes and outerwear at some shops (but not anything requiring a changing room) and not at others. The latter leads to trying on everything purchased at home and having to return the goods to the store within a week or a month if dissatisfied. That makes the experience closer to shopping online (returns are more of a nuisance), but at least one can see and gingerly touch goods, be informed by 1:1 advice before making a selection and have immediate self-delivery. Small numbers of West End ‘shopper visitors’ seem to be using public transport to get there. Others are driving, but the dominant travel mode is cycling. Once there, those walking the streets are predominantly couples or small groups, demonstrating that shopping remains a sociable activity we want to share. Transformational Trends Walking and cycling continue to become more attractive options in many towns. In the capital, Transport for London and boroughs councils are rapidly allocating more road space to accommodate the significant increase in active travel modes[5]. Some streets are now or will become car-free and others have newly restricted private vehicle use. The Mayor’s Healthy Streets policies[6] and initiatives are in effect being accelerated to accommodate pandemic-based travel demand which, as a consequence, is helping to maintain enjoyment of the clearer skies and better air quality – at least during the summer. But will these green shoots of optimism, that vitality and viability will return to our town centres and high streets grow to become the ‘new normal’? Will sociable activities occur in central areas, with social-distancing continuing in a future ‘pandemic cautious’ world? Town centres have always been the places where people come together to meet to exchange goods, services, money, ideas, leisure and other experiences. They have always continually evolved, as society’s needs and demands of them change. Inevitably, the current pandemic has and continues to rapidly accelerate their C21 evolution. The transformational trends or latest pressures on our high streets affect demand for space and its use, the design of buildings and public realm, and transport access. On space and its uses, we are seeing (and will see more of): An increasing functional demand to work and shop remotely and more locally, to enjoy community, cultural and leisure activities locally too, all within a continuing decrease in retail space demand overall; Greater fusion of uses or sharing spaces across longer days: sports shops with physiotherapy rooms; organic foods and household goods, alongside therapy rooms and yoga studios; and daytime coffee shops transforming in the evening into wine bars or craft beer taps; New innovations in high street leisure, continuing the escape rooms, ping pong and crazy golf trend; Increasing numbers of new homes being delivered above a wider range of ground / lower floor uses and on the edges of consolidated centres, alongside school, civic, community and other activities On design: Separate entry and exist points being provided at all but the smallest shops, with the redesign of internal retail layouts to accommodate change in a shopper-friendly yet commercial manner; New, active frontages including restaurant, bakery and coffee-making windows, accommodating a switch from ‘dark’ to ‘light’ kitchens (as more vacant retail space becomes available); And on transport: Reduced or removed on-street car parking, so as to devote more space to outdoor café seating, shop queuing & window browsing, walking and (covered/ secure) cycle parking, and to better integrate shopping on both sides of a high street; Through traffic removal in some but not most centres, with buses remaining but reducing as modal shifts occur (and when autonomous vehicles become a reality); Servicing to all types of high street occupiers occurring more outside main trading hours. The commerciality of centres and opportunities for development will remain, but what works will differ as centres develop more distinctive mixes in response to greater local demand. This points to new challenges to larger and sub-regional centres, but probably not the regional capitals and central London, where their long standing, multi-functional base will provide a more robust platform from which to transform - and assuming that tourism and overnight hospitality reignites in the latter. Transformational Partnering and Outcomes Many local planning authorities are grasping the nettle to lead the charge in identifying, masterplanning, curating and delivering required change, working with local communities, private sector partners and other stakeholders operating in their town centres and high streets. Basingstoke, Bishop Auckland, Redcar, Staines and Woolwich are a few examples of town centres where Lichfields is currently working to help shape and deliver change to achieve stronger futures. Nationally, Government Funds[7] (£3.6bn for Town Deals, £1bn for Future High Streets and Historic England’s High Streets Heritage Action Zones, and £50m for Reopening High Street Safely) are adding significant resource to deliver positive change in our town centres. The HSTF has been established to provide advice and support on Covid-19 recovery and high street transformation[8]. The HSTF has been undertaking research, and building resource and skills base capability, prior to launching full services imminently. On 19 June, the HSTF held the first of five ‘Route Map to Transformation’ webinars, sharing and discussing experiences across the country to help others create and deliver changes in their own centres. The ‘Route Map’ comprises a ‘4Rs’ proposition: Restructure, Reposition, Rebrand and Re-invent, with most parties presently grappling with how to restructure and place manage their different centres. There are clearly strong aspirations, creative curating and development, alongside additional public funding streams and management going into our town centres right now, with a focus on quick delivery this year and next, as well as the longer term. It’s an unchartered journey of seeking to carve out positive change, especially where there have been business and development failures. The desire to pro-actively plan, collaboratively design and curate a change for the better in our high streets has never been more needed and it does feel that we have the collective resolve to rise to that challenge. How that is manifest will only be evident over time, although observed changes already underway are clear indicators. We will continue to analyse and comment on the changes in future  ‘high street’ blogs. [1] ONS, June 2020, Retail Sales Index[2] Lichfields 19 June https://twitter.com/LichfieldsTT/status/1273985269314785282[3] High Street Task Force Research – presented by Cathy Parker, HSTF Research Lead, at HSTF webinar 19 June.[4] The Prime Minister’s announcement today of the likely retraction of 2m in favour of 1m social distancing will have a significant impact on the high street, both for the ‘first movers’ adjusting again and for others for whom it might tip the balance to make re-opening profitable.[5] Streetspace for London plan, Transport for London, TfL website[6] The London Plan – Intend to Publish version, December 2019, Policy T2: Healthy Streets[7] MHCLG website: e.g. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/1-billion-future-high-streets-fund-expanded-to-50-more-areas[8] https://www.highstreetstaskforce.org.uk/  

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Optimising Housing Delivery and London’s MOL

Optimising Housing Delivery and London’s MOL

Steven Butterworth 01 Jul 2019
Metropolitan Open Land (MOL) is a strategic planning designation, introduced by the 1976 Greater London Development Plan. Its purpose is to protect open land of significance for London as a whole, providing useful and attractive breaks in the built-up area (GLDP para 9.8). It is a different planning concept to the Green Belt (GB) but one afforded the same status and level of policy protection. Almost one third of London is designated as either MOL or GB[1]. Yet, in preparing the New London Plan (NLP), the Mayor of London has not reviewed London’s MOL or GB boundaries, nor is there any material change to his policies dealing with ‘inappropriate development’ proposed with the MOL or GB. Understandably, therefore, the extent to which London has capacity to meet its identified housing and other development needs within its own boundaries, outside the MOL and GB, was a big issue at the recent NLP Examination. There are relatively few major housing appeals in London where this tension is played out. The review of the factors that the Secretary of State or his Inspectors have found to collectively amount to Very Special Circumstances (VSC) to clearly outweigh the adjudged harm to the GB or MOL since the July 2018 NPPF, undertaken by Planning Resource on 13 March 2019, identified just one London MOL case and that related to the QPR Football Club training centre in LB Ealing. In the above context, the decision on 26 June to grant planning permission on appeal for 151 homes on a MOL site adjacent to Lower Sydenham station in LB Bromley – a scheme the Inspector found to be fundamentally different to the 253 homes scheme dismissed on the same site in 2016 – is of considerable interest. Dylon 2 Appeal Site Lichfields annotated Bromley Local Plan and Lewisham Core Strategy Proposals Maps Source: Aerial Photograph 2018 © Relta Ltd The 1.86ha triangular shaped appeal site (edged red above), to which there is no public access, lies on the edge of the New Beckenham MOL. The western edge of the site, next to the London to Hayes railway line and industrial estate beyond, contains small scale pavilion buildings and compounds for storage and vehicle parking. A track enclosing a grassed area, once a private sports pitch associated with the former industrial use of the adjoining site, lie on the eastern side of the site adjacent to the densely vegetated riverbank and large private playing fields beyond. Immediately to the north of the site lies Crest Nicholson’s Dylon 1 development (site edged orange), comprising 223 homes in 5 to 8 storey buildings, and Bellway’s 159 homes under construction in 5 to 9 storey buildings on the Maybrey Works site (site edged yellow). Planning Considerations The sustainable nature of the site next to  railway station providing good links to central London mainline stations was not contested. Four of the five main issues identified by the Appeal Inspector, Mr George Baird, are pertinent to the tension between optimising housing delivery and MOL policy.On the first issue, whether the Council could demonstrate a 5YHLS, Mr Baird found that all the recently adopted Local Plan allocations and all contested outline planning permissions to be undeliverable, as what LBB provided in its evidence and under cross examination came “…nowhere close to the clear evidence [required by the definition of ‘deliverable’ in the revised NPPF] to demonstrate that there is a realistic prospect that housing completions will begin on site within the relevant 5-year period” (Appeal decision, paras 9 & 18). These elements alone reduce Bromley’s supply from the claimed 5.6-years to 4.25-years, this being “…materially below a level of undersupply that the lpa acknowledge is significant” (para 18). On the second, the effect of the Dylon 2 scheme on the openness of the MOL, he found that: Spatially, the replacement of the previously developed land on 38% of the site with two (4 to 5 and 5 to 8 storey) buildings amounted to no greater building coverage and as such would have no greater impact on openness (para 20); and Visually, whilst the proposed buildings “would have a material impact on openness, that impact would be mitigated by the level of existing screening, its setting below the skyline and the gap between the two new buildings” (para 21). Dylon 2 Landscape Plan, © Ian Ritchie Architects Aerial Visualisation of Dylon 2 Scheme, © Ian Ritchie Architects On (3), the effect of Dylon 2 on the character and appearance of the area, Mr Baird considered: the buildings proposed are not ‘tall buildings’, as the two blocks of varying height would not exceed the heights of the buildings in the adjacent Dylon 1 and Maybrey Works developments, nor result in a significant change to the skyline (para 24); and “This staggering of height combined with the separation of the buildings, the finesse of the design and detailing…combine to create a development of exceptional architectural placemaking quality that has a lightness of touch and appearance. The setting of the development along the western edge of the site, the extent of the landscaped and publicly accessible park to the east and south combined with the lighter scale and mass of the development combine to create a development that relates sympathetically to the site and MOL’’ (para 26). Finally, the Inspector found there to be ‘other considerations’ which, collectively, clearly outweigh the substantial weight attached to the harm found due to the extent of the residential development proposed (by definition ‘inappropriate development’) and the harm adjudged to MOL openness, such that VSC exist to justify the Dylon 2 development (paras 35 – 38). Mr Baird attached very substantial weight to the contribution made to the provision of housing and, in particular, the pressing need for affordable housing. He noted only 65 net affordable homes were completed in Bromley between 2012 & 2017, the borough’s affordability ratio is 14.26 and the only 28% of the 1,424 affordable homes needed per year is forecast within the 5YHLS (para 33). The Inspector concluded that the future position for general and affordable housing in Bromley looks bleak and Bromley’s housing requirement is “…going to increase materially” in the NLP (para 35). He also attached very significant weight to the environmental and recreational benefits arising from the creation of a new public park, significant weight to the architectural and townscape quality of the scheme (commending the Appellant’s engagement of an architect and practice of national and international repute) and moderate weight to the economic, locational regeneration benefits of the scheme (paras 36-37). Commentary I consider this housing appeal success provides a useful London MOL example of the factors required to demonstrate that VSC exist. Whilst, every development proposed within the MOL or GB must be considered on its own merits, there are a number of factors in this case which I expect to have increasing resonance in London once the NLP is published in early 2020.These include (not an exhaustive list): Housing Need & Shortfall: If the London housing capacity-based target increases to anywhere close to the 65,000 dpa identified in the draft NLP ( as is expected), there are likely to be a number of (mainly outer) London boroughs which will be unable to demonstrate either a 5YHLS or a plan on how to address the shortfall against the increased requirement. Affordable Housing Need & Delivery: The extent of affordable housing completions, the likely supply against the need and local (un)affordability, and the contribution a proposal makes to both. Site Location: The extent to which sites lying on the inside edge of MOL are located close to transport hubs or in other locations with good public transport accessibility and are sustainable and suitable locations for housing. MOL site specifics, such as: how much is ‘previously developed land’ and how does the proposed development compare to the existing development footprint? can a MOL site be seen, from where and what is the sensitivity, and what is the visual effect of that change in volume on openness? how does a site relate (or not) to adjoining MOL? can public access and recreation and environmental benefits to the MOL be secured? Scheme Design: High quality place-making, landscape design and building architecture, responsive to an (often) transitional urban context, is required, such that a design by a creative architect can be highly influential. Overall, the pressure to review how GB or MOL sites (like Dylon 2) perform against the designation criteria is likely to increase. This can and ought to be addressed whenever an LPA undertakes a comprehensive review of its GB and MOL boundaries as part of its local plan evidence base, but far too few such reviews are undertaken by LPAs in London. Unless there are more individual borough reviews, or a comprehensive review of all GB/MOL land across London, perhaps conducted by a Single Joint Expert (as the Appellant’s team have promoted at the NLP Examination), then one can expect more housing within the MOL/GB to emerge throughout the lifetime of the NLP.   [1] Source: Greenspace Information for Greater London CIC, Mapping London’s Green Belt and MOL, September 2018: https://www.gigl.org.uk/mapping-londons-green-belt-and-mol/ Lichfields provided MOL, Housing and VSC (including Socio-Economic) Evidence to the Dylon 2 Inquiry, on behalf of Relta Ltd and Dylon 2 Ltd, the Appellant. Other Evidence was provided by West & Partners, Montagu Evans, Tetlow King, Ian Ritchie Architects and Mr P Finch. The team was led by Christopher Young QC and Leanne Buckley-Thomson of No5 Chambers.   

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