Tuesday, 12 January 2021

 Virtual Hearings: The Solution?


This week I took part in my first virtual Planning Hearing for a relatively simple case, but with over 20 objectors present most of whom were Councillors and generally wanting to speak. As a consequence, with a site visit, the Hearing lasted two full days.


What was different:


1.     Obviously the use of Zoom technology. This largely worked with only occasional droppings of the signal with some resultant delays. What it did mean though was that everything took longer. And it was much more tiring for the principal participants, as concentrating on a screen in this case for seven hours a day is going to fully test the fittest. 


2.     This must have been particularly the case for the Inspector, as the Planning Inspectorate ran the technology, so any glitches he had to manage. There was case officer support (essential in controlling the access lobby), but overall the Inspector had to manage that aspect. I believe there are suggestions to do away with this technical support. This really does seem like a bridge too far.


3.     There was a much greater equality of the actors. All have the same screen presence, so third parties, especially by being in much greater numbers could more easily dominate the debate. This meant that there could be much greater divergence in discussion from the actual differences between the two main parties, as defined in the Statement of Common Ground.


4.     The virtual approach certainly facilitates much greater public involvement, because of this equality. None Rule 6 parties seem to be able to ask direct questions and not to have to commit to travel and therefore it is less of a burden for them. By the same token though, it was easier for the Inspector to control this participation in a form conducive to the holding of what should be formal events.


5.     It may have just been the preference of this Inspector, but a formal Opening and Closing by each sides planning witness was requested on the day. This increased the need for these two witnesses to act as advocates, as well as expert witnesses. I wasn’t really prepared for that, but on reflection I think this is good thing.   Especially in virtual hearings it helps to try and focus attention on the key issues. Personally, I also found it a good discipline to enhance what one should be doing: namely addressing the overall planning balance.


Signpost to the Planning Inspectorate



1.     Preparation as always is key. You need to be even more confident of your whole case and the planning law and policy behind it. And your proofs need to be as short as possible. The Statement of Common Ground is likely to be even more important, so the Hearing can focus on the disputed issues.


2.     In the current Covid climate they are a necessary substitute to keep the planning system moving.


3.     One needs to remember that you are being viewed up close and personal by all the other participants, so good personal habits, as well as not looking as though one is just reading out evidence and really are in command of your case is important.


4.     The event worked better than I thought. There has to be even more emphasis on quality management and succinctness by all the parties. Virtual is definitely more tiring than actual events, so one needs to be even more disciplined to get the key messages over. It also means even greater reliance on experienced Inspectors to control the disparate participants.


5.     I can see the temptation of an under resourced and target failing Inspectorate to continue to hold virtual events. And there is certainly scope for them going forward as a viable alternative to real events. My appeal was not design based, with lots of plans and visuals, which I think will be much harder to properly consider in a virtual hearing as effective screen sharing is tricky. 


6.     Either way my case has taken 14 months from appeal submission to just the Hearing. Hopefully we will get a decision soon!


Friday, 8 November 2019

21 years old and still running reasonably fast!

For me, this year's Annual Midlands Development Management Conference in Leicester was as good as ever with 150 people in attendance. Not that I could be considered biased tho’ as Landmark Planning was running it!

The substantive topics of Biodiversity Off Setting (Nick Sanderson – Ramm Sanderson), Viability (Matt Spilsbury – Turleys) and Air Quality (Daniel Clampin – WYG) were, as usual, bookended by the framework topic  of Planning Legislation, National Policy and the year's key legal cases (Christian Hawley  & Hugh Richards – Brum No. 5).

While Nick’s talk went through the greater requirements in terms of Appropriate Assessment, as a consequence of “People over Wind”, the main focus was Biodiversity Off setting. The DEFRA Metric Calculation Tool 2.0, introduced in July, looks quite complicated. Its implementation, already in local Counties such as Warwickshire, but likely to be introduced everywhere, given the current Environment Bill with a 10% increase in habitat value requirement, will have major implications. Hopefully, they should have the desired objectives in terms of biodiversity enhancement, but the implications for development including costs and reduced numbers on site could be significant. Daniel’s talk had some of the same resonances in relation to Air Quality. Again the Environment Bill trials meeting the World Health guideline levels of fine particulate levels, but for the present the "Land Use Planning and Development Control: Planning for Air Quality” document published by IAQM & EPUK in 2017 is considered the bible.

At least with viability Matthew Spilsbury was able to talk about the Standardised iMethodology in Viability Assessment, as described in the updated planning Practice Guidance of this September. It is still clear that  there will be still be considerable debate about the Benchmark Land Value and the level of Developer’s profit to justify the risk and costs involved. Particularly with the latter, it is not clear how this fits with the major house builders development models.

Legislation changes took a back seat this year, but Christian Hawley had plenty of national policy and practice guidance to get his teeth into. For me the most interesting was the interpretation aspect. While Tesco v Dundee has historically fixed the role of the Courts in arbitrating on interpretation  they are not prepared to get involved in the NPPG, other than on grounds of Wednesbury unreasonableness or irrationality. And, increasingly, Government policy is being promulgated by this method with no consultation or scrutiny and almost silently issued. This could end in tears at some point.

Hugh Richards finished the day with his usual tour de force on planning cases determined in the last year. The EWCA judgement of only two days before, establishing that on S73 applications the operative part of the application, that is the description cannot be changed, was discussed in some detail. Hugh had taken the trouble to fully outline Justice Holgate's summation of the principles behind the NPPF’s presumption in favour of sustainable development in this year’s Monkhill V SoS case. This was circulated to all delegates in the packs.

And I hope its not just me but I always enjoy the role play session the most. This year we chose a shopfront and signage application, small scale, but Christian and Hugh were still able to put two totally different viewpoints forward that split the audience 52 – 48 (shades of Brexit!) in favour of dismissal. The real result was approval. Better than last year's when only 3 out of 125 got the ’right’ answer!

What is apparent from all the presentations is the continuing  greater complexity in all of the specialist aspects of the development management process, as well as the legal and policy context. The generalist Development Manager or Planning Consultant has to do his / her best to grasp the principles, but will never fully understand the complexity of each discipline. Then when trying to mediate between different expertises, when there are divergences, there is a requirement for the wisdom of Solomon. It emphasises that to be good and to be more than a box ticker requires seriously high level expertise and experience. Good luck everyone!

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Mainstreaming Sustainability

This was the 10th in the series of free Landmark Planning CPD events at the Parcel Yard over the last five years.

Two guests this time, from Citu and East Midlands Housing Group presented their most ambitious energy efficient schemes for 15 minutes in an informative and entertaining way.

Jonathan Wilson from Yorkshire developer, Citu, focussed on their large scale private sector scheme at the Climate Innovation District in Leeds. 

Not only is the scheme innovative in terms of reducing energy use within the dwellings it is much more comprehensive. Space is saved by largely eliminating car parking and not creating vast turning areas and access for emergency vehicles. Private / public space boundaries fences are eliminated. The timber frames of the dwellings are all built at a factory on site, while innovative working multi skilled work teams help to secure real quality. Air tightness standards are high and insulation is recycled glass. Even a primary school is going to be built on site and a new bridge over the River Aire to significantly improve connectivity. . It all came over as very exciting; while surprising to as all in the audience, was a resident of their first scheme at Little Kelham, Sheffield who seemed equally enthused.

The second presentation by Wayne Evans and Purnima Wilkinson was very much a contrast of a Housing Association passivhaus scheme in Leicester. This presentation was much more technical, rather than evangelical, focussing on the construction details of an exclusively two storey housing scheme. That is no criticism; more it emphasised the synergy between the two presentations, but still allowed joint discussions on technical matters, such as timber frame use and how much detail and none blame culture is needed to achieve difficult targets in matters such as excellent air tightness.

The discussion that followed was lively and did not hesitate for a minute. In the usual fashion it was followed by small groups discussing the presentations in the bar for which the Parcel Yard is well suited. Thank you so much Jonathan, Wayne and Purnima.

Copies of the powerpoint presentations can be obtained by emailing le@landmarkplanning.co.uk.

Friday, 21 June 2019

Leicester Office Development 2019

One of a series of Leicester Business Voice lunchtime events to discuss burning current issues.

This one was superb with three, very knowledgable speakers (Bob Woods – Mattioli Woods, James Phillips – APB and David Beale – City Council).

The conundrum is how to secure more office employment in the City. Figures show that while Leicester is a top 10 retail destination and 13th in population of UK cities; it is only a top 30 office location. But offices rents for Grade A accommodation are currently only about £18 per sq. ft and this is not enough for a developer to make a profit. Here James Phillips gave an excellent idiot's guide to the necessary development appraisal.

Mattioli Woods Scheme, New Walk, Leicester
I believe that it is all the significant schemes this century have had to have some public sector support to fly. David Beale went through the realistic alternatives for the City Council to help. Apart from the smaller, but very successful schemes of its own, such as the Depot and Friar Mill, the Council can't get into developing the big critical impact ones like the 50,000 sq.ft Mattioli Woods scheme at the bottom of New Walk.

It is not only the total cost and risk per se for a Council, like all others severely restricted in funds, but also rules on state aid. Instead its support has to be more nuanced, like CPO powers (for example at the Waterside – but note the massive effort and time involved), planning briefs and lease underwriting, etc.

Ian Woods, who went through his 30 year journey from a private garage start up to a 600 employee company, had made 5 moves to get to the bottom of New Walk. He explained the rationale each time. And how now the City centre ticked the boxes for his staff, both for the ambience of the place, but also the accessibility for the many walking, using the bus or taking the train to work. And that is what mattered, as staff retention for him was critical.

And what was Ian’s take? We are thinking the wrong way round.  It is not the building, it is attracting the people that is key. Make them want to be here and once here stay. Work more on creating the demand as a place where people want to work. Given that the environment of the City centre has improved and is improving dramatically over the last 10 years with over double the number of people living there in this time, the City is obviously doing something right. Now what is needed is to shout about it a bit more. 

Stolen from Fields of Dreams (1989) – “Build it and they will come” coupled with the Leicester City football club motto: "Keep the faith!” seems to be the answer!

Friday, 31 May 2019

The Cynic in me.


This is not original, but I had not seen it before and I really liked it – so I am sharing it.

We all know about giving 100% effort and are frequently exhorted to give 110% effort. But do you know the maths behind it?

If alpha characters:

are represented as numbers:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26.

H-A-R-D-W-O-R-K 8+1+18+4+23+15+18+11 = 98%


K-N-O-W-L-E-D-G-E 11+14+15+23+12+5+4+7+5 = 96%.

But: A-T-T-I-T-U-D-E 1+20+20+9+20+21+4+5 = 100%

And then, B-U-L-L-S-H-I-T 2+21+12+12+19+8+9+20 = 103%


A-S-S-K-I-S-S-I-N-G 1+19+19+11+9+19+19+9+14+7 = 118%

So, one can conclude with mathematical certainty, that while Hard work and Knowledge will get you close, and Attitude will get you there.

Its the Bullshit and Ass Kissing that will put you at the top of the tree. So now you know why some people are where they are!

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Does Good Design Pay

Tremendous thanks to Tim Garratt (Innes England), David Franklin (Franklin Ellis) and David Singleton (DSA Env + Design) for making Landmark Planning's latest pub seminar Monday nights event at the Parcel Yard, Leicester on “Does Good Design Pay” so illuminating and entertaining. I introduced the event with the Planning take on Good Design, stressing the importance of context and providing the latest on public policy at a national level. This then provided the framework for our guests to provide their views from a valuer and designers’ perspective.

We all got so wrapped in the debate forgot to take the guests' photo at the end! 100 professionals heard different sides of the debate in a modified pecha kucha style and then faced questions from an engaged audience. Many meanings to the question let alone the answer. 

One of the big issues is creating and evaluating value over time, with examples of multi award winning schemes failing the test of value within a few years. Do you value internals or externals? How do you value public and private costs? Too many questions to achieve a common consensus, except perhaps that there is a real exercise to be had in educating us and society as a whole, so that the issue can be better appreciated. And then decision makers will put greater value on the design issue in its own right.

And as a total aside, for me, I was very interested that Tim Garratt, as a valuer, reckoned in building sustainability terms that EPC ratings did influence investors significantly  more than BREEAM evaluation.

Any comments from attendees would be particularly welcome?

Friday, 8 March 2019

Citizen Jane: The battle for the City

Still available for over 3 weeks is this brilliant documentary screened last Monday on i player (BBC 4). I recommend it to everyone.

Jane Jacobs
Like most Planners I had read Jane Jacobs book: "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" at university. Even though it was written well over 50 years ago it is still required reading on planning courses. The book is a critique of 1950s urban planning policy, of tearing down existing houses and tenements and replacing them with high rise developments that have little or no relationship the street. Instead it celebrates  community with layered complexity and seeming chaos in active vibrant streets as the ideal location for human interaction.

The documentary brings all this to life so you really relate to the travails and ultimate successes of Jane as an urban activist in both New York and Toronto.

Of course we have all moved on; 50 years is a long time. Jane's views are now the accepted planning wisdom. The rationalists and the decentralists have been totally discredited. But I just wonder how much have we really learnt. We are still creating grand plans, large ’sustainable urban extensions (SUE), with a monoculture of housing divided by roads and parking. Any different use such as schools and shopping still turn their back on the street.

I asked a student the other day after a university field trip to Upton, Northampton a SUE of up to 15,000 people for his impression. The first thing he said was how lifeless the place was, particularly surprising as it was half-term. I think Jane would still be worried that we still have not got it right.

Jane herself is quoted as defining her three key lessons as:

“A city street equipped to handle strangers, and to make a safety asset, in itself, our of the presence of strangers, as the streets of successful city neighborhoods always do, must have three main qualities:

First, there must be a clear demarcation between what is public space and what is private space. Public and private spaces cannot ooze into each other as they do typically in suburban settings or in projects.

Second, there must be eyes upon the street, eyes belonging to those we might call the natural proprietors of the street. The buildings on a street equipped to handle strangers and to insure the safety of both residents and strangers, must be oriented to the street. They cannot turn their backs or blank sides on it and leave it blind.

And third, the sidewalk must have users on it fairly continuously, both to add to the number of effective eyes on the street and to induce the people in buildings along the street to watch the sidewalks in sufficient numbers. Nobody enjoys sitting on a stoop or looking out a window at an empty street. Almost nobody does such a thing. Large numbers of people entertain themselves, off and on, by watching street activity.”