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A framework for housing

A framework for housing

Simon Coop, Lucy Benbow, Emily Broom & Abbie Connelly 10 Dec 2018
This is the second of two blogs that considers the implications of the new policy for development in Wales. Having previously considered the broad concepts of well-being and placemaking that are central to PPW10, this blog looks at specific policies relating to residential development. Although PPW10 includes policies relating to all development sectors, housing delivery represents a key focus. It is appropriate that this is so, given that housing completions in Wales have fallen from a long-term average of 9,100dpa since 1974 to an average of just 6,400dpa over the past 10 years. The average housing supply in Wales has similarly fallen from 4.36 years in 2013 to 2.89 years in 2017. Deliverability of housing sites Over recent years, a major problem in Wales has been the fact that many allocated housing sites have not been delivered. PPW10 seeks to respond to this through a more detailed assessment of deliverability and viability at the plan-making stage. An initial site viability assessment is to be undertaken by those promoting sites at the Candidate Sites stage, whilst a high-level plan-wide viability appraisal is to be undertaken by authorities at the Deposit stage. This approach does offer the potential to prevent the allocation of sites that are unlikely to be viable, but the ability to provide meaningful viability evidence depends on the availability of information regarding expected policy requirements, relating to affordable housing, CIL and s106 contributions. Such details will not normally be available at the Candidate Sites stage, casting doubt over the veracity of any such assessments. Where up-to-date development plan policies set out the community benefits that are expected from development, planning applications which comply with them “should be assumed to be viable and it should not be necessary for viability issues to be considered further” unless there are exceptional circumstances why this should be necessary. PPW10 sets out some examples of such circumstances, for example, the availability of further information on site costs, or economic changes. The reality is, however, that over the lifetime of a plan, these may not be “exceptional” and so the case for viability testing at planning application stage may remain strong. As another means by which to ensure sites deliver, PPW10 requires planning authorities to “identify where interventions may be required to deliver the housing supply”. Public intervention can be important in helping to bring some sites forward, although PPW10 does not offer any guidance as to the nature of such intervention, and this should not be seen as an excuse to allocate sites that are unlikely to come forward for some reason. In considering the quantum of land to identify for residential development, we welcome the fact that that PPW10 specifically refers to the importance of identifying an adequate supply to meet the identified level of housing need and “make a locally appropriate additional flexibility allowance for sites not coming forward” although some clarity on the scale of uplift that would be appropriate would have been helpful and reduced the scope for argument at LDP examination. In spite of the disapplication of paragraph 6.2 of TAN1 over the Summer, PPW10 maintains the requirement for local planning authorities to ensure that “adequate land is genuinely available or will become available to provide a five-year supply of housing”. It states that this will require sites to be: Free, or readily freed from planning, physical and ownership constraints; and Economically viable. For land to be regarded as “genuinely available” it must be in a Joint Housing Land Availability Study or, until a JHLAS is required to inform the first Annual Monitoring Report, in the housing trajectory agreed as part of an adopted development plan. The retention of the five-year land supply requirement is welcome and shows that housing supply will remain a material consideration in the determination of planning applications. However, reference to sites that “will become available” is likely to raise concerns regarding the likelihood of future delivery and the ability of particular sites to make a positive contribution to meeting local housing needs. In order to boost delivery, local planning authorities are required to “set a locally determined target for the delivery of small sites” and to work with developers to encourage the sub-division of large sites where this could help to speed up the delivery of homes. No guidance is provided as to how such targets might be set or what expectations might be established regarding the sub-division of sites, and there is a risk that overly restrictive targets might actually serve to undermine delivery. New settlements PPW10 states at paragraph 3.49 and 3.50 that “new settlements should only be proposed as part of a joint LDP, an SDP or the NDF. This is due to their significance and impacts extending beyond a single local authority. New settlements should only be proposed where such development would offer significant environmental, social, cultural and economic advantages over the expansion or regeneration of existing settlements”. Importantly, the new settlement threshold of “1,000 or more dwellings” that was stated in the draft PPW10 has been removed, as has all reference to major urban extensions. Whilst the support for large scale residential development is welcome, PPW10 still suggests that new settlements cannot be brought forward as part of a (non-joint) LDP and the fact that SPDs and joint LDPs are not currently forthcoming could continue to hinder the delivery of development. Moreover, the lack of reference to urban extensions is a matter of some concern as thee may be cases in which this would represent a more appropriate solution to the need for new housing growth. Nevertheless, the requirement for new settlements to be self-contained remains and there is greater clarity that they should be linked to high frequency public transport, essential social infrastructure, health care provision, retail and employment opportunities to ensure that new settlements do not become isolated housing estates. However, PPW10 has introduced the requirement for new settlements to be self-contained before occupation, which could have very serious implications for phased construction of development, to the extent that it may undermine delivery altogether. Previously developed land PPW10 sets out a search sequence for identifying sites to be allocated for housing in development plans that planning authorities must follow which: Starts with the re-use of previously developed and/or underutilised land within settlements; then Land on the edge of settlements; and then Greenfield land within or on the edge of settlements. Importantly however, paragraphs 3.51 and 3.52 do recognise that not all previously developed land is suitable for development and that the scale of issues associated with their development (e.g. contamination) may impact on the speed and viability of development. To this end, it is a welcome addition that PPW10 recognises that delivering regeneration sites can take longer and that local authorities should consider excluding them from housing supply so that the development plan requirement is not dependent on their delivery. At paragraph 4.2.16 PPW10 requires planning authorities, land owners and housebuilders to work together constructively to identify deliverable housing land in sustainable locations. However, the requirement to take a wider than local authority approach to the site search will create complexity in the absence of joint LDPs or SDPs. Green Belt/Wedge PPW10 states Green Belts should only be proposed as part of either a Joint LDP, SDP or NDF and Green Wedges should be proposed, and be subject to review, as part of the LDP process. The distinction between different plans is welcomed as it will ensure clarity regarding which plan to engage in order to promote development on suitable and sustainable sites that fall within existing Green designations. Conclusion It is evident that housing delivery is a key focus, as PPW 10 refers to the importance of identifying an adequate supply of housing to meet the identified level of housing need. Although, PPW pays more regard to the importance of ensuring that development is deliverable, it fails to provide clear policy interventions that will assist in addressing these issues – and crucially that will intervene where delivery is not happening. A failure of policy in respect of deliverability has resulted in much needed development not coming forward in many areas of Wales. PPW10 is headed in the right direction on this matter but in our view, should go further. This makes it even more important that TAN1 paragraph 6.2 is reinstated as soon as possible.

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The case for the high street – part two
This blog follows on from my blog last week, describing our research into the issues facing town centres in the North East, and our findings following the roundtables we held in Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Hexham, Berwick-upon-Tweed and Stanley. In this second instalment, I look at the recommendations coming out of our work with the North-East England Chamber of Commerce (NEECC), and the need for a holistic approach in making our centres fit for the twenty-first century.    There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to ‘saving’ the high street. If there was, then we would have cracked the problem long before now. Each and every town centre is different. That goes as much for the approach of traders towards engaging with other stakeholders as it does to the retail offer and shopping environment provided. Whilst the Business Improvement Districts (BID) in Newcastle-upon-Tyne has racked up some impressive achievements – increasing average spend by 16% in a three-year period – that in Hexham (in nearby Northumberland) has ended up in relative acrimony. Their success can only be achieved through effective collaboration but, as my colleague Summer Haly has highlighted in her own blog, they can play a significant role in generating economic growth. With the views from the roundtables held in these and three other town centres (Hexham, Berwick and Stanley) at the forefront of our minds, our joint (NEECC/Lichfields) report provides recommendations in four key areas. 1. Creating a vision The single-most important objective should be to create a vision of what town centres should look like and offer to visitors - enshrining this in a strategy, with a set of short, medium and long-term actions. One or more Unique Selling Points (USP) should be developed as part of this vision, and then promoted along with every aspect of the centre. This includes the retail and leisure offer, other things to do/places of interest and how to get there (not forgetting where to park…). The coastline in Northumberland is stunning, but how many tourists actually consider visiting Berwick upon Tweed Town Centre, or even know where it is? Not many, apparently – but surely, this is a missed opportunity? 2. Broadening the offer Of all the attention paid to town centres over the last year or so, probably the biggest theme has been the shift away from retail. This is not as easy to solve as it sounds, given that the food and drink sector has shown signs of saturation in some locations. That said, smaller centres still have some catching-up to do, particularly those with an evening economy focused towards alcohol – and ‘family friendly’ is the watchword here. To its credit, the Government is alive to the need for more flexibility, as shown by a succession of amendments to the permitted development rights (PDRs) regime, and further PDRs proposals included in a consultation currently underway. But local authorities must also think about what new (non-retail) ‘anchors’ they can attract, in order to keep people coming in. 3. Taking a pro-active and holistic approach Environmental improvements alone won’t solve all town centres’ problems but they do help. Getting the basics right means keeping the centre clean and tidy, safe, attractive and easy to navigate. To see these improvements, though, people need to be drawn in on a regular basis, and a well-curated programme of events can play a part, reinforcing the centre’s role as a civic heart. New residential development and student accommodation (in the right locations) also help to generate additional footfall and spending in existing facilities. They are not Main Town Centre Uses in planning speak but bring a range of benefits. 4. Business leading the way They might not want to hear this, but retailers could do more to secure their future – by reinvigorating their offer and the customer experience, for example. Independents, however, also need better support from local authorities in order to thrive. Perhaps more than national multiples, the more tailored-service independent traders typically offer gives them a decent chance of bucking recent trends towards use of the internet and out-of-centre retail parks, but to do this they need help and advice (the ones we met in Stanley, County Durham, certainly felt so). As I suggested in my previous blog, they need to embrace the internet, develop and promote their online offer, and promote delivery and click-and-collect services where they can. Final thoughts We cannot look at these issues through rose-tinted glasses. The economic circumstances of individual areas, particularly in the North-East, mean that some centres will inevitably contract and their importance diminish. But is it worth investing in our town centres? Certainly it is. Although their social role is perhaps even more important, the economic benefits of a thriving town centre far outweigh the short-term costs in, for example, creating an effective centre management function or creating a prospectus for investment (as Middlesbrough Council has done). What is the right approach for one centre may be wrong for another. Our recommendations could be seen as a shopping list (excuse the pun) for town centre stakeholders to pick from. Neglecting one area at the expense of others, however, is unlikely to reap the same rewards. In an age when social media and instant information rule, it is not enough having the right offer if no-one knows about it. Having met people from all parts of the North-East, I’m confident we can re-establish our centres at the heart of the community. Where there is a will, there is a way.

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