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.