Planning matters blog | Lichfields

Planning matters

Our award winning blog gives a fresh perspective on the latest trends in planning and development.

Moving on up? Levelling-up town centres across Northern England
It has, without question, been a challenging year for our town and city centres. As the global pandemic continues and lockdowns come and go, a raft of the nation’s most famous retailers have disappeared from high streets across the country. As in the rest of the developed world, the Covid-19 pandemic has been a ‘game changer’ for the sector. With the growth in online shopping over the last decade or so, most centres had already devised strategies based on re-focusing their offer away from retailing and toward a leisure and food and beverage-based offer. However, successive lockdowns have acted as a catalyst in speeding up changes in shopping behaviour, and impacted directly on the leisure and hospitality sector to the extent that it is now quite unclear how centres will function as restrictions ease. In the North of England, our town and city centres have suffered more than most in recent years. While Covid-19 has sped up the process of change, even prior to the pandemic many centres were already experiencing major challenges due to both changes in shopping behaviour and weak underlying economic conditions. The Government’s Levelling Up Fund Prospectus, published in March 2021, identifies a total of £4.8 billion to be invested over the coming years to support town centre and high street regeneration, local transport projects, and cultural and heritage assets across the country. In addition to the Levelling Up Fund, as part of the Government’s wider package of interventions, there are three key funding streams, which have already seen a great deal of uptake across the North: Future High Streets Fund – This fund seeks to allocate £830 million to help deliver transformative changes to struggling high streets; Towns Fund – 100 cities, towns and areas have been invited to bid for part of this £3.6 billion fund designed for proposals which drive economic growth. In many places, town centres are integral to these schemes; and High Street Heritage Action Zones – Seeking to transform High Street buildings which can help to fuel economic, social and cultural recovery. Town centre stakeholders are responding with a range of radical and ambitious projects. These include strategic interventions by local authorities, including through the acquisition of shopping centres and use of Compulsory Purchase Order powers. With innovative and ambitious strategies now in place in many towns – and Government funding available to support delivery - there are grounds for optimism over the future of our town centres. Lichfields’ Insight, ‘Moving on up? Levelling up Town Centres across Northern England’, reviews the various different funding bids currently under consideration. Using this research, we have identified six key themes which underpin the different plans and strategies currently under consideration. These are: Health and Wellbeing - With the demise of retail, we need to find a reason to draw visitors into town centres. As well as more pleasant and healthy outdoor spaces and experiences, this could also involve locating other essential services close to transport hubs where they can help to maintain footfall. Education - Universities and colleges have long been key parts of daily life in our city centres. Opportunities exist to locate student populations in the heart of these centres, where they can contribute to vitality and viability. Tourism - Many of the North’s town and cities have fascinating visitor attractions and dramatic physical and geographical environs. An ambitious and coherent tourism strategy should seek to make the most of these unique assets to drive trips to their town centres. Heritage - The North has a rich and varied history, the remnants of which live on in many of our town and city centres. They can make a real contribution to the environment and attractiveness of these towns as visitor destinations. Digital and creative - Whilst retail may never return to its previous levels, flexibility is required to re-purpose the floorspace left behind by these vacancies. Utilising new funding streams and planning reforms, space should be made to accommodate innovative small businesses which will contribute to the vibrancy and culture of town centres. Town centre living - As retail space recedes, we need to ensure our town centres remain attractive places to live. As well as making an invaluable contribution to housing supply in our urban areas, maintaining a meaningful 24-hour population in town centres will in turn drive demand for services and facilities which contribute to the vitality and viability of the centres. With these themes in mind, our Insight provides evidence across the North of innovation, optimism and ambition in the town centre sector, which means the future may not be as bleak as many sceptics would have you believe.

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Project speed gathers pace – more permitted development rights for education, hospitals, prisons and ports
The latest batch of new and revised permitted development rights seek to set the foundations for ‘Project Speed’, the Government’s strategy to bolster England’s public infrastructure and harness its economic recovery, following the impact of the pandemic and the UK’s exit from the European Union. The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development etc.) (England) (Amendment) Order 2021 will introduce revisions to The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development)(England) Order 2015 (GPDO). The legislation is set to come into force on 21 April 2021, though the timing of certain provisions may vary. While the property press headlines focus on the introduction of the new permitted development right for converting vacant buildings that fall under the new Use Class E to residential (covered in this blog, Class MA: Mercantile to Abode ), this blog looks at other changes, which are focused on supporting public bodies construct new buildings and structures and carry out other alterations and renovations. These also sit alongside separate permitted development rights which will grant port operators the same powers as those vested to airports, which will allow for small scale development without the need for planning permission. Commenting on the changes, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick commented: “The public also want improvements to public services as quickly as possible and so these changes will also help schools and hospitals to adapt quickly to changing needs with a new fast track for extending public service buildings. This will help deliver more classrooms and hospital space by helping them extend further and faster.” The changes will significantly increase the envelope of what is considered as acceptable without making an application for planning permission. We cover the key changes in detail below: Greater flexibility for schools, colleges, universities and hospitals to extend The big change for public service providers is the amendments to Part 7 Class M of the GPDO (2015). This permitted development right allows for the “extensions etc for schools, colleges, universities and hospitals”. The amendments increase the threshold for the amount of new floorspace permitted, while also now allowing prisons to benefit from the right, alongside education providers and hospitals. This class of the GPDO allows for new buildings as well as extensions, though these must be within the same use or ancillary to the existing use, while any new development must be situated within the curtilage of the premises’ boundaries. Buildings benefiting from Part 7 Class M will now be allowed to expand their facilities significantly - by up to 25% of the footprint of the current buildings on the site as of 21 April 2021, or by up to 250 square metres, whichever is the greater. This was previously limited to 25% square metres of the ‘original building’ or 100 square metres (with the exception of schools which were already capped at the new lower limit of 250 square metres). The height limit for new buildings (which does not include plant) has also increased from five to six metres, though this will remain capped at five metres within ten metres of a boundary of the curtilage of the premises. The “original building” continues to exclude buildings already erected under Part M. And the provision stating “where 2 or more original buildings are within the same curtilage and are used for the same institution, they are to be treated as a single original building in making any measurement”, does not appear to have been changed. Whereas some other permitted development rights, such as those for upward extensions, expressly provide for related building operations, such as access and egress, related storage, waste and plant etc; Part 7 Class M as amended only refers to buildings. Permitted development rights for the provision of hardstanding already exists for schools, hospitals and universities under the Class N of Part 7 of the GPDO. Surprisingly, perhaps, these remain unchanged though are limited to just 50sqm in total. No prior approval is required for schools, colleges or hospitals wishing to benefit from the extended PD rights. However, where the expansion of a school results in any increase in the school’s admission numbers, a travel plan must be submitted for the site within six months from the date of completion. This will need to outline the long-term management strategy for providing sustainable transport to and from the premises. Given the relative scale of many universities and the central and sometimes sensitive locations they often occupy, prior approval is however required for the following matters: transport and highways impacts of the proposed development; the design and external appearance of the erection, extension or alteration; or the impact of the development on heritage and archaeology. Where an application for prior approval is required, as with other prior approval procedures, development must not begin before the LPA either determines prior approval is not required, grants prior approval or the expiry of 56 days following valid application submission, without the LPA giving a decision. The Explanatory Memorandum confirms that secondary legislation is expected to introduce a fee of £96 for prior approval applications made by universities. As with the current requirements for Class M, development is not permitted within the curtilage of a listed building. Furthermore, the Class M materials condition relating to development on Article 2(3) land (i.e. national parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, conservation areas, the Broads, and World Heritage Sites) will also continue to apply, requiring new buildings and extensions to use materials of a similar external appearance to those used of the original buildings. This would only be assessed where external appearance is a prior approval matter – i.e. for universities. For schools, colleges, hospitals and prisons it would be for the developer to ensure that this condition is met. Expanded PD rights for ports, canals and other water related transport systems The new legislation has also expanded the permitted development rights for docks, harbour, water transport, canals and other inland navigation undertakings. The new measures relate to previous commitments made following the Government’s Freeports consultationlast October. Article 10 of the Amendment Order will widen the scope of Class B of Part 8 of the GPDO to provide, as the explanatory memorandum states, “dock, pier, harbour, water transport, canal or inland navigation undertakings greater flexibility to undertake development, supporting ports as an important economic agent further to the exit of the UK from the EU”, while also permitting such development to be undertaken by the statutory undertaker’s agent of development, allowing for works be undertaken by others on the behalf of the operator. The amendments include text, stating that development is now deemed to fall within Class B of Part 8 where: a.  it is urgently required for the efficient running of the dock, pier, harbour, water transport, canal or inland navigation undertaking, and b.  it consists of the carrying out of works, or the erection or construction of a structure or of an ancillary building, or the placing on land of equipment, and the works, structure, building, or equipment do not exceed 4 metres in height or 200 cubic metres in capacity The changes now bring PD rights for ports and similar water transport infrastructure in-line with those available to airports. With the UK now outside of the EU, there will likely be other planning changes in tow aimed at supporting the movement of goods, and the Government’s objective of delivering growth and regeneration through the introduction of Freeports. The Government had also previously stated it will consider a review of the current National Policy Statement for Ports (NPSP). Conclusions The changes reflect the general direction of travel for the planning system, with Ministers streamlining the application process for certain types of development, by expanding permitted development rights and simplifying the classification of use classes; for once the Government has very little to say about the design or appearance of development, except where this may potentially impact on designated heritage assets. The added flexibility will likely be welcomed by some operators, allowing for greater flexibility in adding additional capacity, while also allowing for the reconfiguration of existing buildings – something which many businesses and organisations have grappled with in responding to COVID-19. Clearly some public service and port infrastructure development will fall outside the remit of the newly expanded permitted development rights. In its response to the December consultation on these changes, the Government has confirmed that it will go forward with its plans to streamline the application process for ‘major development’ in this area, which will likely be brought about principally through amendments to the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (England) Order 2015. It has stated that these will involve: reducing the statutory determination period from 13 weeks to 10 weeks; shortening the statutory consultation period from 21 to 18 calendar days; requiring that local planning authorities notify the Secretary of State when they anticipate making a decision; and making clear that the policy in paragraph 94 of the National Planning Policy Framework about the importance of pre-application engagement is extended to these types of development. Although we await further detail on these additional measures, the Government has stated it intends to introduce them by the end of August 2021.   The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development etc.) (England) (Amendment) Order 2021MHCLG, Government response to consultation ‘Supporting housing delivery and public service infrastructure’    

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