Category: Opinions | December 17, 2020
Many of us are currently in the midst of the celebration of Advent, and the 12 days of Christmas which begin on Christmas Day (25th December) and end on Epiphany (6th January) are soon upon us. So what should those involved in planning law and policy need to note and reflect on over this festive period?
1st Day - Planning reform
The Planning for the Future white paper published in August 2020, setting out the Government's proposals for "once in a generation" reform of England's planning system, has proved controversial, as have separate proposals to reform the current system of calculating housing need. This briefing from the House of Commons Library which was published on 11 December 2020 examines those proposals and the other planning changes already made during the Covid-19 pandemic. A good summary of current and future proposals.
2nd Day - National Infrastructure Strategy
The long-awaited National Infrastructure Strategy was published in November 2020, in tandem with the Spending Review. The government said the strategy was designed to address issues that had held back UK infrastructure, including “stop-start” public investment, slow adoption of new technology, policy uncertainty, and delayed project delivery. It would also help the UK meet its target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, boost productivity across the country, support private investment, and accelerate project delivery. The National Infrastructure Strategy also reflects the government’s reform programme, Project Speed, which was launched in summer 2020 to review the infrastructure lifecycle and identify where improvements could be made. In contrast to the Spending Review, which is focused on the next 12 months, the strategy seeks to look further ahead into the shape of the nation’s infrastructure in the years ahead. It expands its view beyond economic infrastructure to wider considerations of social infrastructure. A good read over the holidays given the comprehensive coverage of issues. The government said the strategy would be followed by a series of detailed publications setting out further details, so watch this space.
3rd Day - Heathrow and the Aviation National Policy Statement
The Supreme Court unanimously allowed Heathrow’s appeal on 16th December 2020. The Supreme Court ruled that the Government’s decision to designate the ANPS was lawful, giving it legal effect and reversing the decision of the Court of Appeal. This provides greater policy certainty to support the submission of the DCO application but time will tell whether Heathrow will proceed and what will happen at PINS given the DCO process scrutinises individual development proposals against the relevant legal and policy context. A press summary of the judgment is available here.
4th Day - The Draft London Plan
There is now a further update to the draft London Plan situation. The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government wrote to the Mayor of London on 10 December 2020, setting out an agreed approach to 11 policy Directions issued to the Mayor in March 2020 and issued two new Directions for the Mayor to amend his London Plan before it can be published in its final form. The letter invites the Mayor to re-submit his draft London Plan for final approval, as soon as is practical. The Secretary of State has requested that the Mayor amends tall buildings policy DP9 so that a borough’s definition of a tall building should not be less than 6 storeys or 18 metres measured from ground to the floor level of the uppermost storey. Where there is no definition the tall buildings policy in the London Plan will apply to buildings over 6 storeys or 18 metres, rather than the 25 metres in height in the Thames Policy Area, and over 30 metres in height elsewhere in London that is stated in the current ITP London Plan. The Secretary of State has requested that the Mayor amends Policy E4 Land for industry by inserting “In exceptional circumstances when allocating land, boroughs considering the release of Green Belt or Metropolitan Open Land to accommodate housing need, may consider the reallocation of industrial land, even where such land is in active employment uses”. The amendments relating to the previous 11 Directions cover matters including parking standards, land for industry and logistics, and housing density.
5th Day - High Streets
In a submission made to the Housing Communities and Local Government (HCLG) Committee’s inquiry into how town centre businesses and amenities can be supported through the pandemic, the Mayor has set out some of the key issues affecting London’s high streets, alongside the actions being taken by his office and the additional support that is required from Government. The Mayor’s response is available here.
6th Day - The Future of Towns
Demos, along with KPMG, have researched what people in towns want the future of their towns to look like. Their findings in their report released in December 2020 outline the challenges of uniting people in towns behind any particular vision of the future.The future for towns seems even more uncertain now than it did before the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic poses existential risks to local businesses in towns across the country, some of which are the lifeblood of their local communities. On the other hand, a shift towards remote working – together with the promise of large-scale investment in towns as part of the government’s “levelling-up” agenda – could be a once-in-a-generation opportunity for towns. The research shows that towns are complex and largely misunderstood, with the same patterns in attitudes consistent across all types of towns in England, from ex-industrial towns to affluent towns. Demos is calling for local government to engage both the public and businesses in conversations about the future of their towns, to solve the divide and build inspiring visions. Copy of the report is available here.
7th Day - Climate Change and the Build Environment
Covid-19 has been seen by many as an opportunity to transform our way of life and act in a more environmentally conscious way. America now has a President-Elect who is very pro clean energy, wants to deliver net zero by 2050 and has pledged to recommit America to the Paris Agreement. Even our own Prime Minister has put tackling climate change at the top of his priority list and COP26 is being hosted in Glasgow come November 2021. This is then the time to ask where is the built environment profession in the fight against the climate emergency given that there seems to be a gap between the climate commitments and the practical implications and what are the measures that need to be prioritised to achieve net zero carbon in London? A report, ‘Net Zero London’, released by the New London Architecture (NLA) looked at this very question. Quite rightly, the report states that London has made significant commitments to net-zero carbon as it is ahead of many cities but has a long way to go. It will need a continuing commitment and development of expertise at city and borough level, plus the ingenuity, resolve and understanding of all elements of the built environment sector as a whole and substantial investment.
8th Day - Green industrial revolution
On 18th November 2020, the Prime Minister set out his ambitious ten point plan for a green industrial revolution which will create and support up to 250,000 British jobs. Covering clean energy, transport, nature and innovative technologies, the Prime Minister’s blueprint will allow the UK to forge ahead with eradicating its contribution to climate change by 2050, particularly crucial in the run up to the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow next year. The plan – which is part of the PM’s mission to level up across the country - will mobilise £12 billion of government investment to create and support up to 250,000 highly-skilled green jobs in the UK, and spur over three times as much private sector investment by 2030. The Prime Minister’s ten points are available here.
9th Day - Environmental Bill
The Environment Bill 2020 is a once in a generation opportunity to protect our environment and set a course for nature recovery in the UK. After the 31st January 2021, the UK government will be directly responsible for environmental law and policy for the first time in decades. In the face of a climate and ecological emergency, it’s more important than ever that we have a robust framework for improving our natural environment. The Bill returned to Parliament on 3 November) 2020 after a pause due to the coronavirus outbreak. Following the Bill’s completion of Committee Stage, it will be further scrutinised by the whole House of Commons at Report Stage and Third Reading, after which it will move to the House of Lords for further debate and scrutiny. Watch this space come 2021. See updates here.
10th Day - Levelling up agenda
The Government has set out its intention to address this inequality and ‘level up’ underperforming and left-behind parts of the UK through a programme of infrastructure development, investing in education, skills and scientific R&D. A package to build more homes, end rough sleeping and support and level up communities across England were announced as part of the Spending Review. The measures can be seen here.
11th Day - Pilkington issues and Section 73 issues
Two important cases to reflect on this year have been the Court of Appeal decision in Hillside Parks Limited v Snowdonia National Park Authority  EWCA Civ 1440 (Case analysis here) and the Court of Appeal case in Finney v Welsh Ministers  EWCA Civ 1868 (Case analysis here). Hillside does not change the law, but it does enforce that planning permissions must be construed holistically and that overlapping planning permissions for the same land should be approached with extreme caution. Developers should be careful when building out complex multi-phase developments who wish to amend their developments to reflect a changing market or specific tenant requirements. Combined with the recent Court of Appeal decision in Finney, which prohibited the use of section 73 to vary a planning permission where that variation would be inconsistent with the description of development, many developers will be faced with the only option of re-applying for planning permission for the entire development.
12th Day - Elections
Thursday 7 May 2020 should have been local election day in England and Wales. Parliament passed emergency legislation to delay the elections because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The Coronavirus Act 2020 postponed the elections for: 40 Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC) in England and Wales; London Mayor and members of the Greater London Authority (GLA); Councillors in 118 English councils; Local authority mayors in Bristol, Liverpool and Salford; 4 combined authority mayors (Greater Manchester, Liverpool, Tees Valley, and West Midlands); and Parish council elections in some parts of England. These elections will now take place on 6 May 2021. Local elections in England are already due to take place on 6 May 2021. They will be for all seats on 24 county councils, six unitary county councils, Doncaster Council and the Isles of Scilly. The councillors elected for these seats will be elected for their normal four-year term. Voters may be voting in two or more elections in May 2021 as a result of combining this year’s delayed polls with those already scheduled next year. The City of London Corporation elections have also been postponed to March 2022. The next scheduled UK general election is currently May 2024, although the current Government has committed to abolishing the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011.
Merry Christmas to you all.