Monday, 8 December 2014


I was recently asked by the local RICS to give a talk on a year in planning. As it was in the evening and in a restaurant I obviously threw in some wilder comments to keep the audience awake, but because it counted as an hour’s CPD I thought I should the subject justice.

For a Year in Planning or so, I focused on what I see as the two good areas and two bad ones for Planning in this time. Hence I have called it a curate’s egg.

Bishop: "I'm afraid you've got a bad egg, Mr Jones"; Curate: "Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!" "True Humility" by George du Maurier, originally published in Punch, 9 November 1895.


1.   The introduction of the clear, comprehensive, simplified and accessible national policies in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in March 2012 and the subsequent more detailed work on particular topics in the National Planning Policy Guidance (NPPG) in March 2014 has been the big planning plus by this Government.

2.   Locally for Leicester, the Mayor’s drive to connect disparate parts of the City together with clear and substantial investment (gleaned from a wide variety of sources) in both the public realm and public buildings is fantastic. The City should benefit for decades to come.


1.   The abolishment of Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS) by this Government has dramatically reduced the ability of many Councils to properly assess and then effectively respond to their “objectively assessed housing need,” as defined in the NPPF. This has led to the delay or postponement of many Council’s Local Plans.

2.   The plethora of constantly changing secondary legislation, such as G.D.O. permitted development rights and the Use Classes Order with a variety of consent regimes. It is now so complicated that no practitioner, however switched on, is confident of his knowledge of the whole regulatory framework.

So there you have it: a curate’s egg!

Peter Wilkinson

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Landmark's 16th Annual Midlands Development Management Conference

As ever the annual event held in Leicester City centre proved as popular and interesting as ever. A sell out crowd (140) heard the usual mix of a legal update; key planning topics (this year -  heritage, building sustainability, and affordable housing) and a role play of a real planning case. The day is one of my highlights of the year both for the content, but also for the meeting of so many old friends.

Swami narayan mandir in Leicester: this year's theme.

For the lawyers Hugh Richards (Birmingham No.5) reviewed the year in planning law. He particularly drew out that more than ever politics was relevant, with politicians getting even more involved in the decision making. As an example he highlighted how the mood of UK PLC had so radically changed in terms of supporting wind farms. Only 2/3 years ago they were the future now their approval is the exception rather than the rule.

Green belts were also being defended for all their worth (at least upto the election) and the current position was that all the benefits and disbenefits of any development should be weighed in one exercise (albeit loss of openness was a particularly high ranked trump). This position had not endured for all the year. And as an aside it was wrong to come to a conclusion on  'openness' by reference to visual impact.

Simon Stanion of Marrons focussed on 5 year land supply and the critical importance of it in Council decision making on housing. The role play in the afternoon was used to illuminate this issue through a recent Daventry decision. The audience voting went virtually totally on 5 year land supply grounds. However, in this case, almost perversely in this case in real life, the Inspector found in the Council's favour with no five year land supply and no special landscape characteristics. (The winning advocate was heard to mutter sotto voce that his opponent was robbed!).

Andrew Harris (URS) gave an illuminating review of the importance of cultural heritage issues above and below ground and was followed by Graham Hutton (Linden Homes) on building sustainability and Jim Patman (EMHG) on the current affordable housing minefield. They were all good, but I particularly latched on to Graham's review on how much better in cost benefit terms fabric first improvements are compared with the use of most renewables. Now all I have to do is convince some Development Management Planners!!

I hope all the participants got as much out of the day as I did.

Peter Wilkinson 

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Richard Rides Again

Something to be published in Spectrum Magazine soon.

Richard III and Leicester

Well not literally, but after 500 plus years he is certainly getting a good airing.

Discovered under a car parking space marked "R" you perhaps could be surprised its taken over 500 years to find him again. However, found he was and it did take that time.

Last medieval king, last English king killed in battle and arguably our most controversial king as well. You have to say that finding him in Leicester is a result for the City.

In just over the two years since he was found, Leicester has fought off the claims of York to be his final resting place and geared itself up to honouring him in major ceremonies next March. That the Archbishops of both Canterbury and Westminster (Heads of the Church of England and Rome respectively) in this country will be in attendance speaks volumes for his importance. 

Leicester City Council has moved incredibly rapidly in public procurement terms (including the acquisition of the building opposite the Cathedral on St Martins) to already have up and running a permanent visitor centre. I was lucky enough to have both visited it and been given an insiders talk by the architects Maber Associates and contractors Morgan Sindall.

What is my view?  The centre is really impressive and of least national standard. It is well worth a 2 hour visit, either in its own right or as part of a day or weekend out in the City. The centre very ably presents the key aspects of the story from the historical context of his life to the different ways he is remembered since his death. The exhibition also tells the story of his discovery including, of course, the science. The latter using another of Leicester's more recent and famous discoveries involved the distillation of the DNA. 

Hearing about the formation of the Centre from the insiders definitely enhanced the whole experience for me in explaining some of the design cues. For example: to replicate the crypt location where he was found (and now incorporated into the centre) the design reduces the temperature in that area. The ceiling is also lowered, so you are 'encouraged' to bow your head to honour the king, where a skeleton like hologram rests in the original grave.

The building is a pleasure to walk around as a little oasis in the heart of a bustling City, where one can also sit and have a coffee or lunch in a very pleasant ambience.

Outside a whole new Cathedral Square has been created, containing the relocated Richard III statue. This part of the City is being transformed wholly for the good.

But you would not expect me to write this review without some 'professional' critical points. So here goes. The legibility of the entrance to the centre is poor and at the time of writing the signage is virtually non existent. I can't believe this won't be addressed very quickly. Inside the Centre the courtyard is completely hard surfaced. Original designs I saw used grass (ideally artificial?), which would have calmed the space much better in my opinion and is a very effective solution, used in other high usage locations in the City.

But really ignore the carping, don’t even think about not visiting. It is for the whole family. And from a professional planning point of view form your own opinion on how it has honoured a former king and how it is and how it will transform another quarter of the City centre.

Friday, 15 August 2014

The Mayor needs the wisdom of Solomon

I have been asked to write a provocative article for next week’s Mercury Business Supplement – so for an early sight of it by avid readers of Landmark’s blog site.

Peter Wilkinson

The Mayor needs the Wisdom of Solomon.

Currently the hot topic among Leicester’s property world is should Spearing Waite be allowed to occupy the new premium quality offices on Abbey Lane; built to be part of Leicester’s Science Park?

It is the classic dilemma that faces public sector decision makers: how to reconcile competing qualitative issues, which are just not numerically measurable. What is the right answer?

SDC Securities has built a Grade A Premium office on Abbey Lane as part of the deal for them to build an Asda superstore. As well as the public benefit of research office accommodation, Ingleby have provided a pedestrian bridge across the River Soar. This will help open up a large tract of vacant brownfield land in the heart of the City for development.

The use of the offices is restricted to Research and Development Business Uses to link in with the City’s ambition to have its own Science Park near the National Space Centre.

Clearly Spearing Waite, as probably the City’s largest independent Solicitors practice with a first class reputation, do not fit this criteria. But they need to expand and move into premium accommodation, of which there is a dearth in Leicester.

As a City we need to retain the higher order jobs that solicitors offer to help maintain the City’s ambition to have a high knowledge and skill economy.

And if there is nowhere else suitable we could lose Spearing Waite and their economic multiplier to an out of town location?

But does the City Council hold out on not granting permission for Spearing Waite to use this building? Is the Science Park ambition realistic in this location?

Another big ambition is to bring into use the substantial areas of derelict land lying derelict across the River Soar east of the Science Park. Areas that should be developed in the emerging property industry upswing. Such an objective should be easier with more prestigious operations, such as high quality large solicitor practices, close by.

I have been associated with the scheme in the past and indeed my company did the initial planning, for the superstore, offices and bridge. But I hold no brief for anyone now. I also now have no inside knowledge on the detailed strengths and negotiating positions of either side. So my view cannot be absolute.

On balance, with the information I have, I would allow Spearing Waite to occupy this building. However, I would also say that I would not criticise an alternative viewpoint.  It is just too close to call.

The decision is actually with the Council planning officers and Planning Committee members, not the Mayor. But he will doubtless have an important position of influence. He needs the Wisdom of Solomon.

Reconciling competing qualitative issues (that are critical for the City) is what makes the job of Mayor so interesting and challenging. Despite what some might say he is very well qualified to do this.

Peter Wilkinson