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Planning matters

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I’m often asked what my most interesting, or favourite project during my 7 years at Lichfields has been. It’s a difficult question to answer. Due to the very nature of our business and indeed the make-up of our Edinburgh office, I’ve worked on a wide variety of projects – from signage applications for Hampden Stadium that needed to be in place by the Cup Final, all the way up to large mixed-use developments like Elements Edinburgh at Edinburgh Airport. My mind does however more often than not revert back to my time working on a number of projects at Cameron House Hotel. Lichfields' involvement in the Cameron House estate extends long prior to my joining the company, and a review of our work to date serves as a good indication of the varying needs, in planning terms, of the evolution of a 5 start hotel throughout changing markets. As construction on one of our most recent planning permissions nears completion, this blog is an opportunity to reflect on those projects and the lessons learned. For those who may not be as familiar, Cameron House is a 5-star luxury resort comprising hotel, marina, golf course and lodge park. The resort is located on the banks of Loch Lomond, to the north of the town of Balloch, within the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. Cameron House itself is a Category ‘B’ listed building and is comprised of a mansion house mostly dating from two phases of development: 1812-4 and 1866-7, though excavation work in 2017 revealed surviving fabric of an earlier building (which likely dates back to the 1600s). For three centuries Cameron House belonged to Smollett family who over that time are said to have hosted a number of dignitaries - James Boswell and Samuel Johnson, Winston Churchill, Sir Anthony Eden as well as Princess Margaret and Empress Eugenie of France. The family sold the house in 1985 and it was converted into a hotel in 1986. It has been subject to a great deal of investment since then to make it the 5 star resort it was to become - a number of extensions, including a modern leisure wing in 1989, an eastern accommodation wing in 2006 and a gin terrace in 2016 prior to the most recent extension, just complete, to provide a new ballroom and additional bedrooms. Like its time as a private house the property has continued to host and be popular with dignitaries, politicians and celebrities looking for a luxury place to stay not too far from Glasgow. Lichfields involvement in Cameron House commenced not long after the construction of the accommodation wing, initially in the form of supporting evidence to accompany architect led development proposals within the estate in 2008. Shortly thereafter we, carried out due diligence work in advance of a prospective sale, reviewing development that had taken place on the estate and comparing it against planning permissions and Listed Building Consents relating to the site. Exercises such as these are essential in establishing the degree of risk associated with the purchase of an established and going concern such as a hotel resort. Lichfields carries out tasks such as this on behalf of many clients, and although more often than not it is behind-the-scenes and low-profile work, it can form a key component to any transfer of asset between parties. My own role commenced in 2015, in relation to minor works to relocate LPG tanks within the historic walled garden at the rear of the hotel. Not all that glamourous I grant you, but plant associated with hotels of this scale more often than not have planning implications. This saw me move on to assisting in securing permissions (both planning and Listed Building Consent) for works to extend the late 1980’s leisure wing to incorporate an elevated gin terrace for guests and diners of the Great Scots Bar. I am happy to report the terrace supported its first marriage proposal shortly after it opened. Early feasibility work into the potential to develop a bedroom and ballroom extension to the hotel followed but was put on hold when extensive damage was caused to the historic core of Cameron House in December 2017. Lichfields had an instrumental role in securing the relevant planning permissions and listed building consents to reinstate the building and get the hotel back up and running. The degree of interaction with the salvage and reclamation, redesign and rebuild of the hotel was complex and extensive. Key to the enabling of these works was a constructive and pragmatic relationship with the Local Planning Authority (LPA), in this case the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority. Officers of the National Park Authority have provided an exemplar planning service in reacting swiftly and with flexibility in response to fast moving circumstances arising from a damaged Listed building which required intervention. Consents required to facilitate this process have included implementation of a salvage and reclamation strategy through Listed building consent to enable emergency demolitions to take place, with regularisation applications post-event. Temporary access proposals saw the upgrade of a historic access to the south of the estate to allow guests to visit those facilities that remained open while construction had exclusive use of the principal access onto the trunk road network. This temporary solution has resulted in legacy benefit through the retention of a newly resurfaced route from Balloch to Cameron House. Interestingly for a planning consultant we were on site working hand in hand with the architects and contractors as the project evolved. While reinstatement work progressed, bedroom and banqueting extension works resumed. Planning permission and Listed Building Consent were sought and approved, in close collaborative work with the LPA. The principal applications were supplemented by an array of other associated applications including:   Amendment of a historic legal agreement to update a Land Management Plan which will see the appropriate management of the historic estate into the future;  Permission to establish and implement a lighting management plan;  Advertisement consents in and around the estate;  Installation of extensive plant within the estate;  Refinishing existing and retained hotel components; and  Multiple variations requiring NMVs and discrete stand-alone Listed Building Consents. Our work on this estate over some 14 years demonstrates the planning needs of a 5-star luxury hotel in a historic setting that needs to invest and change to remain at the top of the game. It is a testament to the work of the owners that the hotel has evolved to meet the changing aspirations of its customer base and the diligent work of the National Park Authority to effectively regulate this evolution. The Cameron House of today is a luxury five-star resort. It boasts a magnificent new grand foyer, library, and a brand-new Lobby Bar serving the finest champagnes, cocktails and afternoon teas. Today the Cameron House Hotel offers 140 guest bedrooms, including 24 luxury suites, a completely remodelled Cameron Leisure Club and The Tavern Bar. The wider Cameron House Resort is also home to an award-winning spa complete with a rooftop infinity pool, an 18-hole championship golf course, and a 234-berth marina. Guests can enjoy an array of water activities along the banks of Loch Lomond, including adrenaline-fueled speed boat and jet-skiing trips, kayaking and katakanu excursions, as well as peaceful paddle boarding, fresh-water fishing, or opulent champagne cruises onboard the impressive Celtic Warrior. Visitors can enjoy unparalleled views through scenic bike hire trails, falconry experiences, pony treks, clay pigeon shooting, 4x4 off-road driving adventures, Segway safaris, as well as a list of picturesque walks and hikes curated by the hotel’s leisure and events team. It has been a pleasure to have played a small part in the history of Cameron House, ensuring this beautiful hotel resort remains one of Scotland’s premier tourism destinations.  

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Updated 24 September, following a further Government publication At the end of a week of much speculation about the future or otherwise of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (aka Not the Planning Bill), a new Planning and Infrastructure Bill was announced. The Government also confirmed that it is in discussion with nearly 40 authorities regarding the creation of new Investment Zones, which “will provide time-limited tax reliefs, and planning liberalisation to support employment, investment, and home ownership”. These announcements came within and alongside the Government’s Growth Plan 2022, which was presented by the Chancellor and published on 23 September. The Plan is built around the Government’s aim of achieving an annual average growth rate of 2.5%. As part of its mission to cut taxes, streamline the public sector, and liberate the private sector the Government plans to get the housing market moving and to cut ‘red tape’. It also plans to “accelerate the construction of vital infrastructure projects by liberalising the planning system and streamlining consultation and approval requirements”. Planning and Infrastructure Bill The Chancellor noted in his speech that the time taken for Development Consent Order decisions to be made is getting longer. The Government consider that, “Delays are partly a result of a complex patchwork of environmental and regulatory rules, some of which are retained EU law. The government wants to reform and streamline these arrangements to promote growth whilst ensuring environmental outcomes are protected”. According to the Growth Plan, the Planning and Infrastructure Bill is to provide legislation intended to accelerate priority major infrastructure projects across England, including by: “minimising the burden of environmental assessments; making consultation requirements more proportionate; reforming habitats and species regulation; and increasing flexibility to make changes to a Development Consent Order once it has been submitted”. The Plan observes that the proposed reforms build on changes already underway, including new powers to enable fast track consenting for some projects and faster post-consent changes. Indeed, new primary and secondary legislation for environmental assessments and habitats and species regulation has been long anticipated in a post-Brexit world – and the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (LURB) does make provision for a new environmental assessment process. If changes to environmental assessments are to be made via this newly-announced primary legislation, does this suggest that it is the Environmental Outcomes Reports proposals in the LURB that could fall away or be amended? Albeit the Environmental Outcomes Reports are proposed for the whole of the UK, whereas the Planning and Infrastructure Bill appears to be for England only. And regarding the future of the LURB, recent Written Answers by junior Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities ministers refer to the ongoing future of that Bill. The day before the Growth Plan was published, Lee Rowley MP said in response to a question about giving residents greater input on local developments: “The Government has brought forward a Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill which currently contains proposals to allow communities to understand proposals more easily through making planning more digital and through simplifying the plan-making process. The Bill also currently contains a placeholder clause for ‘street votes’ to give residents a direct way to make their views known on certain proposals. The Bill will continue to be considered by Parliament in the coming months ahead.” Related to the above, the proposal to make consultation requirements “more proportionate” appears to mean for infrastructure projects, rather than necessarily for all planning applications. Notwithstanding, it is a fairly big shift to a narrative of growth and progress and away from the seemingly core objective of planning reform being higher levels of community engagement, which we have been accustomed to hearing. Other announcements related to the Bill’s proposals to speed up infrastructure delivery include a non-exhaustive list of infrastructure projects that will be accelerated, with the aim of construction starting on all those projects by the end of 2023. This includes 86 road projects, sixteen local transport projects, ten rail projects, 21 energy projects and two decarbonisation funds. The Growth Plan 2022 also announced that the Government will be: “bringing onshore wind planning policy in line with other infrastructure to allow it to be deployed more easily in England”. Albeit the Government also said via a Written Answer of 23 September that the position regarding onshore wind remains unchanged for now. The Plan also proposes reforms to accelerate roads delivery, including by consenting more through the Highways Act 1980. And there is a reference to “altering the system for Judicial Reviews so that lengthy claims can be avoided”, which follows recent reviews and proposed legislation in this regard (see Simonicity). Investment Zones The Chancellor has announced that the Government is already in discussion with 38 local and mayoral combined authority areas in England to set up Investment Zones, but also indicated that these represent the “areas keen to be involved now, with more to come”. Within these zones growth and development will be accelerated by liberalising the planning process, among other measures. Investment Zones will be delivered by the government working in partnership with Upper Tier Local Authorities (UTLAs) and Mayoral Combined Authorities (MCAs). It will be each area's responsibility to promote sites and show the potential economic benefit of development in the area. There has also been further commitment to establishing Freeports and the Government will work with local partners involved in current and prospective Freeports to consider how Investment Zones can benefit them. Particularly relevant to planning are the proposals for accelerated development: “There will be designated development sites to deliver growth and housing. Where planning applications are already in flight, they will be streamlined and we will work with sites to understand what specific measures are needed to unlock growth, including disapplying legacy EU red tape where appropriate. Development sites may be co-located with, or separate to, tax sites, depending on what makes most sense for the local economy”. It is not immediately clear how one lawfully streamlines a planning application that is already “in flight”. The intention might be that this applies to identified sites, rather than currently live planning applications; the Plan also refers to “the streamlined mechanism for securing planning permission” - this may have simply been a turn of phrase, given guidance now published (see below). The Government is yet to provide detail on the scale of deregulation but noted that they will seek to work with devolved administrations and local partners to introduce Investment Zones across the UK “as quickly as possible”.  The Plan promises that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities will shortly set out more detail on the planning offer. Accordingly, on 24 September, the Government published guidance on Investment Zones in England, which sets out the in-principle policy offer from the government to all MCAs and UTLAs in England, whether they have been involved in earlier discussions or not. It says: "For developments in the early stages of planning, and to encourage new development to come forward, there will be a new faster and more streamlined consent to grant planning permission. This consent will reduce many of the burdensome requirements which has made the planning of large sites slower and more complex than it should be, to enable developers to bring forward good quality development which responds to the market. In particular, we will: remove burdensome EU requirements which create paperwork and stall development but do not necessarily protect the environment; focus developer contributions on essential infrastructure requirements; reduce lengthy consultation with statutory bodies; and relax key national and local policy requirements. Key planning policies to ensure developments are well designed, maintain national policy on the Green Belt, protect our heritage, and address flood risk, highway and other public safety matters - along with building regulations - will continue to apply. For developments which already have permission, we will work with developers and local planning authorities to ensure planning is not a barrier to the accelerated delivery of these sites.  All Investment Zones will have a mandate to boost growth; in Zones, the planning system will not stand in the way of investment and development". (Emphasis is in the Guidance). The Government has identified the 38 authorities it has started discussions with regarding an Investment Zone being designated in their area and has identified the areas it considers to be “illustrative sites that may have the potential to accelerate growth and deliver housing in the way the Investment Zone programme envisage”. MCA or UTLA-funded development corporations or dedicated delivery vehicles could be established, provided they do not slow down development. Primary legislation is required in order to enable the offer on tax and simplified regulations. A fact sheet provides a summary of how Investment Zones are intended to work was published on 23 September.   HM Treasury, Growth Plan 2022 Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities and HM Treasury, Investment Zones in England Guidance Lichfields Resource on the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill    

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