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Planning matters

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 Temporary Permitted Development Rights to Support Welsh Businesses
The Welsh Government’s Chief Planner issued a letter on 30 March 2021 setting out that a number of temporary permitted development rights (temporary PDR) were to come into force on 30 April 2021. These relate to temporary use of land, change of use of units in town centres, street furniture and awnings. According to the Chief Planner, the purpose of the temporary PDR is: To support the reopening of businesses and their efforts to create safe environments for the public to feel confident to return to the high street, hospitality and tourism sectors. As a result of covid-19 and the need to social distance and ensure adequate ventilation for customers, a number of businesses, especially in the hospitality sector have had to move quickly to adapt their premises so that they can operate profitably and safely within the health guidelines. This has included additional outside seating areas, covered areas, pop up counters and pop up shops. The Chief Planner’s letter is therefore timely and notes that the temporary PDR provide a co-ordinated approach with Welsh Government grant funding that has been made available to the private sector to adapt property and the public realm at this time. The changes also coincide with the easing of lockdown in Wales with outdoor hospitality premises allowed to open from 26 April 2021. Subject to restrictions and conditions, new Part 4A (Temporary Changes of Use) and amended Part 42 allows: It is necessary that before proceeding with the development, the conditions, restrictions, and definitions that apply to these new permitted development rights are fully understood. “We do not want the planning system to act as a barrier to recovery” We welcome the recognition from the Welsh Government that there is a need for the planning system to be responsive, flexible and pragmatic to assist with the recovery from covid-19. In discussing Class A, Part 4A the letter explains that even if the temporary PDR cannot be utilised and a planning application is required then the Local Planning Authority should prioritise these applications. It states: Authorities should seek to support businesses and organisations, where the planning impacts are acceptable, to maximise their potential to operate over the forthcoming spring/summer months as coronavirus COVID-19 control measures are relaxed. Short term permissions and conditions should be used to manage planning impacts which would be inappropriate on a permanent basis. It is reassuring to hear the Chief Planner saying that the planning system should not act as a barrier to recovery and that businesses can proceed with these minor developments without the need to apply for planning permission and even if permission is required then these should be fast-tracked and considered pragmatically. Town Centre Uses – A move towards diversity With the rise of internet shopping, high rents and business rates and a failure to diversify, town centres were struggling even before the pandemic. The situation by now is much worse with town centre stalwarts such as Debenhams and Topshop the latest to go out of business leaving large voids. Local Development Plan policies have historically sought to protect the change of use of A1 uses in town centres to other uses, especially in primary frontages. However, the Chief Planner’s letter highlights a change of direction by facilitating the temporary use of town centre units for alternative uses for a period of up to 6 months. This includes A1 uses in primary frontages which have for so long been protected from any change away from A1 retail use.The letter notes that if the alternative use proves successful then a planning application will be required to retain the use beyond 6 months. Where it has been demonstrated during the temporary period that the planning impacts are minimal, or where the impacts could be managed through conditions, sufficient weight should be given to the social, economic and broad regeneration benefits of retaining an alternative use. It will be interesting to see what kind of temporary uses pop up in the town centre within the temporary period and whether these are retained in the long term. Whilst all of this is helpful and should be welcomed, it must be noted that this is nowhere near the flexible system present in England where the use class order has recently been loosened dramatically with the introduction of Use Class E which encompasses the old A1 (Part), A2, A3, B1, D1 (Part) and D2 (Part) uses but with some restriction such as shops (less than 280 sqm) selling essential goods. The Chief Planner’s letter notes that this is a solution for the short term, and we wonder therefore if a more flexible approach to town centre uses will become permanent in the future in order to safeguard the vitality and viability of town centres. Lichfields Can Help Whilst the above temporary PDR appear to be modest and simply tweaking around the edges, we do think that they will assist the hospitality sector and town centres in adapting their premises so that an expensive and lengthy planning application or planning enforcement can be avoided. If you are unsure whether you are able to take advantage of the new permitted development rights, then we would be more than happy to discuss your situation and assist with a notification or planning application if required.

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Time to decide: a rough guide to the economic, housing and planning policies of the main parties in the Welsh Senedd election
The people of Wales go to the polls on 6 May in the sixth general election since the formation of the Senedd (formerly the National Assembly for Wales) in 1999. This will be an election like no other that we have seen. Set against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, policies relating to health and economic recovery are central to the manifestos of all of the main parties. This will also be the first general election in which 16 and 17 year olds are able to vote. The impact of this context remains to be seen – as Labour seeks to retain the control on the Senedd that it has maintained for the past 22 years, and looks to achieve an overall majority for the first time. This blog provides a high-level summary of the key policies of the four main parties in Wales on a number of key areas: the economy, tourism, housing and planning. It is not intended to set out in detail all of the policies of each party but instead provides a broad overview of the policy context that may shape the development industry over the next Senedd term. Whilst all of the parties seek to chart a course to the post-Covid future, with common themes including a return to the freedoms that we once took for granted, a growing economy, and a greater focus on environmental concerns, their specific targets and policies vary considerably. The economy As illustrated below, the economy of Wales lags behind that of the UK in a number of key metrics. This has been a long term structural characteristic, but research undertaken by Lichfields in April 2020 found that large parts of Wales were subject to a particularly high risk of economic harm as a result of Covid-19. Whilst Wales has clearly not been the only part of the UK to experience decline, its underlying structural base and differences in the lockdown restrictions have had a profound effect. Rebuilding the economy – and narrowing the divide with the rest of the UK – must be at the heart of the next government’s agenda. Figure 1 Comparison of key economic metrics of Wales and Great Britain Tourism Tourism is one of the key economic sectors in Wales which accounts for over 9% of total employment. Prior to Covid-19, tourism enjoyed rapid growth but there were 100m fewer visitor days in 2020 compared to 2019. The economic impact of Covid-19 on the Welsh tourism sector in 2020 amounted to £6bn – equivalent to 63% of 2019 value of the sector. However, tourism has a significant role to play in the economic recovery of Wales with there being significant pent-up demand to go on holiday and foreign holidays remaining in doubt for 2021. Going forwards, the tourism sector will look to the Welsh Government for policies that support its future development and enable it to contribute towards economic recovery across Wales. Housing Like the rest of the UK, Wales is in the midst of a housing crisis. Fewer than 6,000 dwellings were completed in 2018/19, against estimates of need of between 9,000 and 12,000 which is itself is below the average of 14,000 completions each year in the 1970s. Figure 2 Housing completions in Wales 1974-5 to 2018-19 Source: StatsWales. Note data for 2018-19 does not reflect a full year Against this context – and in recognition of the clear economic, social and environmental benefits associated with an increase in housing delivery, it is not surprising that each of the main parties in Wales have included policies relating that address the need to increase the supply of new housing. However, the scale of growth that is anticipated by each party varies very significantly, as does the emphasis that has been placed on the provision of market – as well as affordable – housing. Planning The planning system is central to the delivery of all the objectives of each party relating to economic growth and housing supply. Whilst the Labour manifesto is silent on the topic, the other main parties include a range of measures that will update the system and – to a lesser or greater extent – undo many of the recent changes that have been made to the planning system in Wales. The bottom line We know not to focus too much on opinion polls but these continue to put Labour ahead – albeit not by enough to achieve its long-sought majority. Because of Covid restrictions necessitating the quarantining of ballot papers after the polls close, we will not know which party – or parties – will form the next Welsh Government quite as quickly as usual. The specific shape of the legislative agenda that emerges over the next Senedd term will depend on the political landscape after 6 May, the extent to which Covid-19 continues to derail the usual business of government, and the ability of the next government to fund its package of policies in the context of a severely weakened economy and an historic national deficit. Our ask of whichever party is in power next month would be to prioritise the following: 1.  Increase the delivery of market and affordable housing – recognising the importance of housing in both sectors to build mixed and sustainable communities, house the local workforce, and ensure that everyone has access to a good quality home. Increasing the delivery of housing will also have a profound economic benefit in terms of investment, direct and indirect job creation during the construction phase, and on-going spending by residents once the homes are occupied. 2.  Require a realistic assessment of need for housing and reward those authorities that meet/exceed their housing targets. 3.  Support the reuse of brownfield land but recognise that there is insufficient previously developed land to meet our future development needs. 4.  Focus on economic recovery, driven by emerging sectors – including environmental/green sectors – whilst also recognising the role of existing economic strengths, including: a.  Biosciences/medtech; b.  High tech sectors; c.  Manufacturing; d.  Logistics; e.  Creative industries; f.  Tourism; and, g.  Agriculture.  5.  Strategies should be prepared for each of these sectors, recognising the existing strengths in different parts of Wales, the challenges and issues that exist and the policy interventions that would ensure that their future economic contribution could be maximised. 6.  Maintain an adequate and well-trained workforce in order to encourage inward investment and indigenous growth. 7.  Ensure that the planning system is equipped to facilitate the economic and housing growth that Wales needs if it is to complete nationally and internationally.‍  Disclaimer: This blog has only been able to provide an overview of policy proposals in a number of key areas. Copies of each of the main parties manifestos are available here:https://movingforward.wales/#manifestohttps://www.conservatives.wales/plan-recovery-and-changehttps://www.partyof.wales/manifestohttps://www.welshlibdems.wales/manifesto21

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