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Rolling out the roll-back

Rolling out the roll-back

James Cox 18 Oct 2019
Many of us who studied Physical Geography at school or university will remember Yorkshire’s Holderness coastline as providing a classic case study as to the impacts of coastal erosion. This infamy is well-founded and media coverage often reminds us of the devastating impacts that the UK’s fastest eroding coastline continues to have on everyday lives. Within the East Riding of Yorkshire, local press reported in March 2019 that up to 230 homes could fall into the sea during the next nine decades, as well as more than 500 holiday chalets, statics and touring caravan pitches. More recent articles report how in Withernsea, there are just five metres of clifftop to go before East Riding Council will need to shut a road that will, effectively, cut off 55 homes as well as hundreds more holiday chalets. Yorkshire is not alone in this battle, with similar stories being reported in Norfolk, East Sussex and West Wales to name but a few of the other areas of the UK most severely impacted by erosion. Whilst coastal defences provide a useful and important role in many local planning authorities’ response to these issues, they are often impractical or unviable and present significant cost to the public purse (as, indeed, do decisions not to protect the coastline). This leaves coastal activities and businesses literally exposed to the elements, putting their future viability at risk in areas where economic challenges are already well documented.So what else can the planning system do to help? Paragraph 167 of the National Planning Policy Framework (2019) puts the designation of Coastal Change Management Areas at the heart of its strategy for tackling coast erosion. Within these areas, paragraph 167 goes on to say that Local Planning Authorities should: a) Be clear as to what development will be appropriate in such areas and in what circumstances; andb) Make provision for development and infrastructure that needs to be relocated away from Coastal Change Management Area. In response to provision b), we have seen an increasing amount of coastal planning authorities adopt so-called “roll-back” policies as part of their development plans to proactively manage the hazard of coastal erosion at a local level. Typically, these policies establish the principle of a development that is at risk from coastal erosion being relocated to an alternative, lower risk location which – in other circumstances – may not normally be considered acceptable in wider planning terms. At Lichfields, we have recently relied on the application of a roll-back policy to successfully justify the relocation of a large number of caravan pitches at a Holiday Park on the east coast of Yorkshire. To do so, our planning submission needed to address a number of matters that were outlined within the pre-application response received from the local authority. First, was the need to quantify the level of erosion that was taking place at the Park which, given the sheer unpredictability of coastal activity, is as much an art as it is a science. That is to say, erosion rates can only ever be estimated, with storm events and rising sea levels all having the potential to dramatically accelerate these processes. This was observed first-hand, with the above photograph showing the aftermath of a winter storm event in which the cliff edge retreated by several metres over the course of a few hours. Second, was the need to demonstrate that the proposal was, indeed, a roll-back of existing pitches rather than simply an extension to the Holiday Park ‘via the back door’. This was achieved via a commitment to removing existing pitches from the rolled-back area (following the installation of new ones) and then restoring it back to its original, undeveloped state thereafter. This, at the subsequent planning committee, proved to be a very important factor in persuading Council Members to unanimously vote in favour of the application, against a not insignificant amount of local opposition. Had the roll-back policy not existed – and it is noted that the neighbouring coastal authority has no such provision within their adopted development plan - then the same proposal would simply have been considered as new development in the countryside, with other local plan policies and material considerations taking centre stage in the determination of the application. Would it still have been approved? Probably. But a scheme of a more contentious nature may not have been. Moreover, the fact that the roll-back policy did exist helped establish the acceptability of the principle of the proposal from the outset. This, in turn, gave the Holiday Park operator the confidence to respond to the threat of coastal erosion now and in advance of it adversely affecting their business or comprising the safety of its guests. This surely has to be what good planning is all about. Image credit: Alastair Tindle

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Planning for economic needs – implications of the amended PPG
Amid the flurry of pre-summer recess updates to the Planning Practice Guidance were two new additions on planning for economic needs. The first relates to specific guidance on, “how can authorities assess need and allocate space for logistics?” (new para 31), and second, guidance on the wider question of, “how can the specific locational requirements of specialist or new sectors be addressed?” (new para 32). The addition of logistics within the PPG is perhaps not surprising given it was one of the notable updates made to the revised NPPF published earlier this year. As we have summarised previously, it is welcome to see this critically-important sector being given specific recognition (particularly as the sector is not always universally welcomed at a local level) and this is now reflected in the guidance. Importantly, the PPG emphasises that policies for logistics should be formulated “separately from those relating to general employment land”. However, this has typically not been the case in all local plans. Part of the issue is that logistics space markets and networks often cut across local authority boundaries, with wide functional economic market areas and specific needs in terms of access to the strategic transport network, power capacity and labour supply. This emphasises the need for collaboration between local authorities and also engagement with logistics operators and developers – the sector should embrace this invitation to help plan-makers better understand their current and future needs. Further, research by Lichfields on the ‘last mile’ segment of logistics highlighted that planning is to some extent still catching up with this fast-moving sector, and needs to better understand industry trends. Some 58% of authorities surveyed viewed the lack of an up-to-date local plan as a key barrier to meeting last mile needs. The PPG now points to a broad range of evidence being considered to help determine local logistics needs, including “changes in the local population and the housing stock as well as the local business base and infrastructure availability”. The second addition to the PPG on understanding the locational requirements of specialist or new sectors appears, at face value, to be a recognition that traditional ‘predict and provide’ approaches to employment land forecasting are not without their limitations. The PPG cites high tech, engineering, digital, creative and logistics as examples of such industries, where clustering can drive innovation, productivity and economic growth. These and other fast-growing sectors don’t always fit neatly into traditional B use class definitions, so it’s arguably a rallying call for a more nuanced understanding of the inter-relationships between sectors and space and the factors that drive competitive advantage. More qualitative evidence and engagement with businesses and occupiers in this regard will contribute to better plan-making. Echoing the revised NPPF (see para 81a), there’s also now specific reference in the PPG to the need to take account of policy and evidence contained in Local Industrial Strategies. There are currently 6 Local Industrial Strategies in place nationally, and with more on their way, they will have an increasingly important role to play in setting the direction of policy as well as future public funding to support delivery. Lichfields’ work on a number of Local Industrial Strategies nationally has reinforced how getting land use planning policies right is critical to facilitating local economic ambitions. The challenge now is how to translate broad strategies to enhance regional economic productivity into clear and focused policies in future local plans, and having the evidence in place to back these up. Image credit: DNPBFN SWNS Alamy Stock Photo

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