Monday, 17 December 2018

Planning Major Town Extensions

A Monday morning on site in December is hardly something to set the heart racing, but I had a very interesting time.

Taylor Wimpey and William Davis were presenting their emerging 1500 house Wellington Place scheme at Market Harborough to the Council.

What was interesting was that such a broad range of people were giving their take on their role in the development of a major site.

Photo taken from the safety of compound

Myself and Adrian MacInnes (WD) described the planning and development context. The initial concept was a thought in 1999, but it has taken until 2017 for the first houses to be occupied at the sustainable urban extension. While the planning stage was tortuous it had advantages in that a proper context was set; residential design issues were addressed; and as a consequence the reserved matter applications so far have been relatively painless. It has to be recognised that this lead time from land acquisition to first completions of 18 years is not exceptional for schemes of this scale.

 Simon from Breheny’s described all their initial infrastructure work from roads and bridges to sewers and sustainable drainage areas. The house builders praised the separation of this specialism, which meant that the infrastructure experts could get on and deliver what they do best, while William Davis and Taylor Wimpey could concentrate on delivering houses.

In responding Cllr. King for Harborough drew attention to the multiplicity of roles within the Council that would impinge on the scheme, which, in years to come, will be an integral part of Market Harborough.

Finally, the local Vicar and Church of England Community Worker described where they could get involved, offering soft community development skills, which is more their province than the house builders.

The session really was a master class in the need for an incredibly diverse range of skills to work together. Only if this is achieved will a major new suburb to Market Harborough emerge as a desirable place to live. The event also reminded us that any scheme of this scale from initial concept to the completion of the last houses could take up to 30 years. You have to be in it for the long haul.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

20th Annual Midlands Development Management Conference

This is my summary of my key points from Conference on 8th November. It was World Town Planning Day!

As organiser I am hardly unbiased judge, but I thought t was a great day.

Less clarity and more confusion is how James Burcher (Brum No 5) characterised the new NPPF at the start of the day. On the positive side he saw a clearer route through the presumption in favour of sustainable development aided, of course, by the one case on the NPPF to reach the Supreme Court (Suffolk Coastal et al). Clarity was also improved in the design, green belt and heritage areas. However, the housing supply and demand advice is a buggers muddle and with more recent information, such as changing housing forecasts and Government's praiseworthy wishes to enhance supply there will need to be a NPPF 2019 at the rate we are going. The new Annual Position Statements will likely end up with much litigation  - generally over the summer - when the Courts won’t be sitting leading to further delays over decision making.

James Burcher, Peter Wilkinson and Hugh Richards
outside the venue.

This year we ran a number of double acts to give different perspectives on the same subject. The first related to the prior approval regime where Pritpal Singh and Ed Stacey focussed on classes O and Q. While Pritpal emphasised the reduction in bureaucracy in the system and increased number of housing units created, Ed was able to point to studies, for example in Leicester, where only 21% of such residential conversions met national space standards (as an easy indicator of quality).

David O’Neil gave an extremely clear exposition of dealing with sport and recreation in planning applications.  The new NPPF gives a useful suite of policies (paras 91, 92, 96, 97, 118 and 182). The planning in this area is all about protecting, enhancing and providing land and facilities for sport and recreation And at the same time it is all about balance and working with authorities and providers.

Chryse Tinsley and Tim Rose discussed the difficulties of providing and maintaining sustainable urban drainage systems (SUDS). Chryse trailed the soon to be emerging Leicester guidance to developers. If established, as described, with schemes created to enhance the design of new areas instead of just bare engineering solutions, this should be a real improvement on much current provision throughout the country. A view that was heartedly endorsed by Tim as an engineer and generally representing private sector interests.

The role play in the afternoon was a gem. By a 60/40 ratio the majority of the audience did not agree with the Inspector (we have had 90 / 10 against in the past!); and less than 3% of this audience got the costs claim result the same as the Inspector. Albeit our esteemed advocates were as gobsmacked as me with the result. As for lessons be very careful in stating in residential development appeals whether the tilted balance is applicable. This is whatever your viewpoint on the merits of the case. And also make sure you understand the CIL Regulations 122 /123 on suggesting any S106 contributions. Or you could be facing cost claims.

Sue Manns, the forthcoming RTPI President in 2020,  gave a very clear presentation on the relationship of understanding human psychology to secure effective public consultation. The more early consultation with a ‘blank’ sheet of paper, rather than fixed schemes,  even if labelled draft, the better. I wholeheartedly endorse the spirit of the message. However, achieving it in practice, from bitter experience, is incredibly difficult when everything is wanted yesterday.

Finally, we had the Hugh Richards' (Brum No. 5) tour de force on a year of key planning cases with no one leaving before the end as usual. This year, for me, the most useful elements were the context at the beginning and the postscript at the end. For context the 10 key observations of Lord Carnwath in the Suffolk Coastal case (I am afraid you will have to research this yourself, as its too long to write here (Supreme Court May 2017)) were really useful. As a postscript Hugh felt that the new definition of ‘deliverable sites’ in the NPPF would take on great significance going forward.

So as usual a very informative day and thanks so much to all the participants who make it so good. 

Peter Wilkinson

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Reflections on 70 Years of Planning

John Dean Memorial Lecture/Young Planners Conference 
John Dean: 8 June 1931 - 2 August 2018

This week I had the honour(?) to chair a couple of major Planning events. A distraction from the day job but you do need to raise your gaze. And to talk to others to know the trends.

Two very senior public sector Planners separately bemoaned to me about the continuing  ‘dismantling’  of Planning with ‘prior approvals’, 'permission in principle’ and even neighbourhood planning dumbing down standards. It was seen as a conspiracy to reduce the status of planning. 

While I also regret these changes I don’t think it is some sort of Government conspiracy. More about trying to create publicity and being seen to do something.

In my opinion such injunctions in the new NPPF related to  design quality, including the curse of value engineering; greater need for Plan justification for removing green belt; and, front loading of viability assessment enhances the role of public sector Planning not diminishes it.

For me on the dark side of Planning, but caring just as passionately as my public sector colleagues, getting approval is harder not easier. With applicant Planning Appeal success down to an all time low of 25%, with even longer wait times for decisions, its even harder. 

The trick is to accept the new reality and move on.

L to R Grant Butterworth, Martin Bradshaw, Sir Peter Soulsby, Alwyne Dean, John Acres, Peter Wilkinson.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Memorial Service and Lecture for John Dean

John will be remembered by many members as City Planning Officer of Leicester for over 22 years, an ex RTPI President; Planning enthusiast par excellence; and, an all round good egg. As previously reported he passed away in August and a Memorial Service at Leicester Cathedral is being held at 3pm on Thursday 1st November. All are welcome.

On the same day, Thursday 1st November, John was due to give a major speech on:

   Reflections on 70 Years of Planning

So to celebrate his life , there will be a special evening of talks held at City Hall in Leicester the same evening. Martin Bradshaw (ex Civic Trust Director and former RTPI President) and Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester City Mayor) will reflect on the life of John and the subject of 70 years of Planning since the introduction of the Town and Country Planning Act in July 1948. Martin intends to weave John’s observations into his own thoughts to give a unique perception of the 70 years through which both lived. 

The current RTPI President John Acres will also be in attendance, as will a number of other famous Planners from previous and current eras.
The talks will start at City Hall at 5:30pm. The event is free but a booking is required through eventbrite:

Please circulate so all his old colleagues and friends know.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Speeding Up House Building

Recent LGA research into speeding up housing build rates struck a particular chord with me. And two points in particular.

Firstly, it called for an end to binary arguments on whose fault delays are. Councils and Developers frequently blame each other and clearly that is the easiest way to grab a headline or soundbite. 

The reality is that from initial identification of some land by a prospective developer to the occupant moving into a new home an absolute myriad of steps is involved. And a myriad of expertise of a wide variety of players. The joining up of all the dots is at least as important as the dots themselves. No one person can be ‘expert’ at more than a few tasks.  The process, while not completely linear, is very tortuous. There is a long critical path, where one slip can bring the whole exercise to a grinding halt.
So lets have less confrontation and more negotiation (incidentally Landmark Planning’s strap line!)
Secondly, the conclusion of the press release for the research document, calls for greater Planning Officer control.

In that it meant "empowering officers so that they are not just ‘post boxes’ for other views but have the capacity and capability to add value”. 

A massive round of applause to that. How frequently are applicants in the position where they have to satisfy every requirement of all the consultees? It means designing down to the lowest common denominator, which is a complete recipe for dumbed down design and mediocrity.

As a very good friend, a Council Planning Officer, said to me recently on a major housing scheme we are negotiating. Here we are with the highway authority imposing their standards on us, which compromise the design. We, as Planners, consult everyone, but how much does everyone else in setting their standards? They just impose their views on the Planners.

So go on Councils, empower your Planning officers to actually use their training and strike balanced judgements. You never know, we might help get better houses built out quicker. And wouldn't that please the Government.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Very sad to hear of John Dean's (22 years Leicester City Planning Officer and RTPI President 1987). 

John worked with Landmark Planning for a while after he left the City Council to provide some suitable gravitas to a young company.

The families intention is to hold a private funeral service for family and close friends, but to hopefully arrange a memorial service in Leicester Cathedral in October. This is when all his many collaborators will be invited to remember a great Planner.

Sincere condolences to Alwyne and all their family.

Friday, 22 June 2018

Hard Print is Not Dead

Present Day

I have been a daily subscriber to the Leicester Mercury for over 25 years. As it’s from the same stable as the  Derby Evening Telegraph and Nottingham Evening Post I imagine they have taken similar trajectories in sales, design and content. I believe that in the 1980’s the Mercury would sell plus 150,000, but it is now down to less that 30,000 daily sales. While they might not have been as popular, the other two evening papers will doubtless have seen similar declines. From the 1990’s onwards I have seen regular stories about redundancies at these papers (and others) as a consequence. 

The obvious inference from these facts is that this decline with a spiral of falling circulation and declining standards is terminal. And of course it might be.

But actually I think (and hope) not. What has really surprised me is that the quality of the Mercury seems to have measurably improved in the last few years. Pictures, now both in colour and black and white have improved in quality by a significant level. They are better, sharper and more pertinent to the written word. The content is more varied with a more magazine-like feel and broader appeal, which, for me at least makes sitting down for a quiet 15 minute evening read much more pleasurable. 

And finally the accuracy of the content. I am sure nearly everyone when reading a story about something, which they know about,  has said in the past that either some fact may be wrong or the interpretation is flawed. Well I can only comment about the area for which I have some expertise and can therefore comment authoritatively: property, planning and development. I am sure I am not looking through rose tinted spectacles, but I feel the standards here have also risen substantially in the last few years.

So well done Mercury (and others?). I hope you can make another 100 years. At the moment you certainly deserve to do so.

Monday, 15 January 2018

St Georges Churchyard, Leicester in Context

Historically Town Planning was associated with the visionary development of places and spaces from new towns in the medieval period (Market Harborough) through the industrial revolution (Saltaire) to those of the 1950's and '60s (Milton Keynes). In terms of spaces I don’t think anyone would question the quality of John Nash's Regent Street. But this progressive nature of town planning has largely been lost in the latter part of the twentieth century. It is now often replaced by a regulatory and bureaucratic regime that frustrates both developers and objectors in roughly equal measures. The flair has gone out of town planning.

In my opinion over the last few years Leicester has started to readdress this balance, but  in a way that is more sympathetic to the existing urban fabric than much of Konrad Smigielski's plans of the 1960's. The "Connecting Leicester" project, for example, has, and is, substantially improving much of the City centre. The De Montfort campus has been transformed; the restoration of buildings such as the Great Hall and City Hall are a delight; and, the Highcross Centre is a first class example of modern facilities integrated into an existing urban fabric.

As with progress everywhere one is never going to agree with every proposal. I certainly don't. At first I was very unsure about the proposals to transform the context of Lutyen's War Memorial on Victoria Park. Now it has been implemented, I can see that, in say 10 years, there is every possibility that it could be another special place. For sure our City Fathers will not get it right every time, but at the moment I think their win loss record is at least as good as Alex Ferguson's (65%) and he is widely acknowledged as the most successful Premier League Manager of all time with 13 league titles.

And for me this transmits to the current debate about St Georges Churchyard, including the loss of 21 trees. Public comment has been almost universally negative. At the very least we should give the City Council the benefit of the doubt; given their recent track record. In time I am also very confident that their approach to opening up this dark and dank space will be seen as another positive contribution to the City. If anything, I think, the opposition has caused them to scale back their plans with the removal of less trees than originally proposed. I would have been more positive; further opened up the space; and, removed more of the trees; especially those that are somewhat misshapen and becoming overly mature. 

Lets see the works undertaken and ask those who are constantly carping to refrain until the works are undertaken. In my opinion the City has another winner on its hands and it could be another fine example of positive town planning in Leicester.