Getting to grips with planning law and with neighbourhood planning … New books in our library

Anyone who reads our blog will know that our research team care about supporting the use of evidence in practice, whether that’s in social services, in housing, or in planning. And one of the unique resources we have to help do this is our very own library!

Created over forty years, there are more than 60,000 books and reports in the library collection, as well as hundreds of different journal titles. Our members can borrow any book from our collection via a postal loan service – offered free as part of the organisational membership subscription to our Idox Information Service.

While quick reads – such as the briefings written by our own team – will always be popular given the pressures on people’s time, there’s still a place for real books. Many organisations use membership of our service as a way to support their staff’s CPD – whether that’s informal personal development or supplementary support for staff doing formal courses or degrees.

Supporting professional CPD

We’re regularly adding new books to our collection and two that caught my eye recently are in the field of planning. We’ve a lot of members who work in planning across the UK, including the RTPI (Royal Town Planning Institute) themselves, and as a profession, planners commit to maintain and develop their expertise through Continuing Professional Development.

Using our book loan service is one way that our members can access new publications and stay up-to-date with current thinking in their sector.

  • Localism and Neighbourhood Planning

Neighbourhood planning was one of the rights and powers introduced under the Localism Act of 2011, and was expected to offer ” a new way for communities to decide the future of the places where they live and work”. Six years on, a new book edited by Sue Bronhill and Quintin Bradley, reflects on whether neighbourhood planning has succeeded in increasing democratic engagement with the planning system.

In particular it examines how localism has played out in practice, especially given the legal and technical skills that are required in planning. As well as exploring the situation in England, the book also looks at how multi-level governance is being applied in the other parts of the UK and in countries such as Australia and France.

It raises interesting questions about whether neighbourhood planning has changed the institutional structure of planning and the power relations involved. It also asks whether an even more progressive form of localism within planning might emerge.

  • Essential Guide to Planning Law

With the planning systems and law devolved within the UK, a book which provides an overview of how practice differs in each nation is much needed. This book covers all the core areas, from development management, planning conditions, planning control and enforcement. It also addresses the planning arrangements in specialist areas such as minerals planning, waste planning and marine planning.

The book serves as a useful reminder of how and why planning decisions are made, and the legal frameworks that underpin planning practice.

The Idox Information Service

As Dr Mike Harris, Deputy Head of Policy and Research at the Royal Town Planning Institute, has said, it’s important that the planning profession is able to access and use evidence and research.

“Research and theory can help to lift the perspective of practitioners beyond the day-to-day demands of the job, to provoke reflection and discussion about the wider social purposes and values of planning. It can also help us better to defend planning from those who would seek to erode it further.”


Our members include policy makers and practitioners from organisations including local authorities, central government, universities, think tanks, consultancies and charities. They work in challenging environments and often need evidence to inform service delivery or decision-making.

Get more information on membership here or contact us to arrange a free trial of our service for your organisation.

Scottish planning … on the long road to modernisation

Rural_Urban Landscape_iStock_000004526499MediumPlanning, and more specifically ensuring the delivery of new housing, has probably never had a higher profile on the political agenda in recent years. The focus on the performance of planning authorities is, of course, happening within a context of ongoing resource constraints and the wider Brexit-related uncertainties.

Within Scotland, there also appears to be a renewed debate and potential conflict between the plan-led system versus ‘planning by appeal’. And so its timely to look at some key recent developments which suggest the priorities in 2017.

Moving forward on the recommendations of the Independent Review

Work to take forward the reform of the Scottish planning system is ongoing, and six themed working groups are now in place in order to inform the preparation of a White Paper expected to be published for consultation at the end of 2016.

The themes covered by the working groups are:

  • Strong and flexible development plans
  • The delivery of more high quality homes
  • An infrastructure first approach to planning and development
  • Efficient and transparent development management
  • Stronger leadership, smarter resourcing and sharing of skills
  • Collaboration rather than conflict – inclusion and empowerment

Our August issue of SPEL Journal contained a number of articles commenting on the Planning Review.

Scottish Government plans for the year ahead

In addition to this, the Programme for Government published on 7 September included announcements in a number of areas of interest to planning and environmental law.

Legislation which will be promoted during 2016-2017 include a Forestry Bill which will complete the devolution of forestry to the Scottish Government. Early 2017 should see proposals for a new Climate Change Bill which will sit alongside a Climate Change Plan and accompanying Energy Strategy expected to be published this winter. These will outline the Scottish Government’s intention to reduce Scottish emissions by 80% between 1990 and 2050 and “represents a bold statement of Government’s priorities for the coming decades”. The Programme for Government also reiterates the continuing commitment to the target of supplying 100% per cent of electricity demand by renewables by 2020.

There is mention of a Circular Economy and Zero Waste Bill. This is due to be introduced in the second half of the parliamentary session. This Bill sits under the 2016 Circular Economy Strategy, Making Things Last, which, among other things, establishes Europe’s first food waste prevention target. No detail is given as to what this Bill will contain but it is mentioned alongside a commitment to continue working with local authorities on improving recycling rates and to consider the role of deposit return schemes, which perhaps gives some clues.

The key planning-related news in the Programme is that a Planning Bill is to be brought forward early in the parliamentary session (this was subsequently clarified to mean autumn 2017). This follows the recent independent review of planning.

The recommendation for Simplified Planning Zones, which came out of this review, is also to be implemented. This will be done ahead of the proposals for legislative change in the Bill. The purpose of these Simplified Planning Zones is to encourage housing development, and ties in with a commitment to deliver 50,000 new affordable homes over the next five years with 35,000 of them being available for social rent.

Indeed, on 13 October, the Scottish Government published further details of the SPZ pilots – Scottish Ministers have committed £150,000 to support 3 or 4 SPZ housing pilots and are inviting authorities to apply. They suggest that SPZ could be used to support housing in a variety of contexts, for example to:

  • support town centre living
  • support urban regeneration
  • promote diversification of housing types and supply, and innovative housing delivery.

The Programme for Government also suggests that we should see interim measures to modernise compulsory purchase orders so that vacant and derelict land can be brought back into use in communities. The Scottish Law Commission submitted a report at the end of  September to the Scottish Government on proposals for an overhaul of compulsory purchase, following consultation.

Finally, moves continue to be made in the controversial area of land reform following the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016. During this programme, the Scottish Government will be taking steps to implement the 2016 Act, including recruitment of the new Scottish Land Commissioners and consulting, in the autumn, on a Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement. There is also an ongoing consultation about proposals for a register of controlling interests in Scotland’s land to improve transparency in the ownership of land, with regulations to go before the Scottish Parliament in 2017.

Environmental Impact Assessment reform

In August the Scottish Government began a consultation about implementing reforms to the environmental impact assessment (‘EIA’) procedure. This relates to how Scottish Ministers propose to bring the requirements of European Directive 2014/52/EU (known as the ‘EIA’ Directive) into Scottish legislation, which must be done by 16 May 2017.

The consultation paper is accompanied by draft regulations in relation to town and country planning and electricity works, with parallel adjustments to be made to the other regimes where EIA applies, including forestry, trunk roads and marine licensing. A separate consultation will be held on ports and flood management. The consultation closes at the end of October 2016.

As Professor Colin Reid of the University of Dundee notes in the most recent issue of SPEL Journal “The overall goal of EIA remains that of ensuring that projects likely to have significant adverse environmental effects are identified and approved only after undergoing a thorough and open assessment procedure. The precise procedural formalities can go much of the way to ensuring that this is done effectively and efficiently, but ultimately it is how well the developers, authorities and public engage with the process that will determine how far it succeeds.”

Conclusion

As can be seen, the next year looks like it could bring some significant changes to the planning system in Scotland. The Scottish Planning and Environmental Law Conference, and SPEL Journal, provide much-needed channels for the planning community in Scotland to consider these challenges, and stay up-to-date.

Further reading

A Plan for Scotland: The Government’s Programme for Scotland 2016-2017. S King, Scottish Planning and Environmental Law Journal, Issue 177 Oct 2016, p102

Environmental Impact Assessment reform. C Reid, Scottish Planning and Environmental Law Journal, Issue 177 Oct 2016, pp102-103


An annual subscription to SPEL Journal is £145. For further details or a sample copy, please contact Christine Eccleson, SPEL Journal’s Advertising Manager, on 0141 574 1905 or email christine.eccleson@Idoxgroup.com

Planning for later life … where does retirement housing fit in strategic planning?

Rural_Urban Landscape_iStock_000004526499MediumHow does the planning system recognise and reflect the needs of different social groups for housing and amenities? And how should planning respond to current demographic trends? You would assume that these questions would be central concerns of strategic planning and local plan creation, given the long-term view that these processes require. Arguably however, statutory land-use planning has actually been relatively indifferent to the specific needs of age.

Planning around the ‘nuclear family’ norm

The regulation of land use and development is informed by broad strategic assumptions regarding economic, demographic and social changes.  And in addressing the provision of housing, the tendency has been to meet the needs of the ‘nuclear’ family. Other groups, such as the young, the unemployed, the socially excluded and those in ‘later life’, tend to be accommodated at the margins or by default. This is often satisfied through the planned provision of social and educational facilities, rather than being driven by the aspiration for a fully integrated society.

Planning and housing policy interconnect in the UK in a complex and confused way. Housing shortages, the lack of affordable housing, an aggressive geographical divide, widespread social exclusion, the rise of ‘generation rent’ and dysfunctional housebuilding practices all coexist as problems which planning policy is expected to solve.

Meanwhile the realities of 21st century life – such as the fragmentation of extended families due to employment opportunities and longer life expectancy – is creating a market for appropriate housing for older people. Planning for retirement housing has been described as the UK’s next housing crisis.

Planning for retirement housing

Research has pointed to demand for retirement housing increasing as older people (especially those with income, wealth, social networks and health) seek more appropriate accommodation for their later lives. And left to market forces, those in later life compete with first-time buyers for smaller properties.

Failure to downsize can exacerbate wider housing market pressures and create very real psychological and health costs for individuals. Planning has a role here – as shown by a recent Demos study demonstrating how better design of retirement accommodation can help to address the blight of loneliness in later life.

A recent report by Anchor – a not-for-profit provider of housing and care for older people – highlights the issues created by the absence of appropriate retirement housing provision. They argue for a National Task Force on retirement housing; exemption from stamp duty for retirement homes; and reform of the planning system (in England) to remove current disincentives to constructing appropriate numbers of retirement houses.

In terms of changes to planning, they suggest that local planning targets for retirement housing be introduced in local plans; that retirement homes projects be exempt from planning obligation provisions and that eligibility for the Community Infrastructure Levy be reviewed; and that retirement housing should be given the same priority status as affordable housing in development plans.

Similarly, a new All Party Parliamentary Group report on housing and care for older people, published in June this year, calls for a significant change in the focus of Government policy away from concentrating simply on support for first time buyers.

Planning as a symptom or the cause

We’ve written before on this blog about the need for planning to address the need for lifetime homes and age-friendly neighbourhoods. There’s also a lot of research going on into how housing and communities can be planned and designed to assist people with dementia.

Not everyone enjoys later life in the same way and there are considerable discrepancies and inequalities evident – often reflecting earlier life chances. While the planning system has a role to play in addressing these issues, we must recognise that it is a symptom of a wider failure to confront the needs of older life within society. There is a need for a respectful national conversation about how we address the public (social) and private realities of the modern economy.


This blog draws on an article by Professor Greg Lloyd (Ulster University & Wageningen University) published in Scottish Planning and Environmental Law Journal: Greg Lloyd (2016) Planning for later life. SPEL 175, pp50-51

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Read our other related blogs:

Is there any value in preserving our built heritage?

By Alan Gillies

Concerns that Edinburgh may lose its World Heritage Site (WHS) status hit the headlines in October, as a team from the UK committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites, UNESCO’s official adviser on cultural World Heritage Sites, arrived in the Scottish capital for a visit.

Two controversial planning applications for luxury hotels in the city were the focus of attention – the conversion of the former Royal High School (at one time the planned home of the new Scottish Parliament); and the redevelopment of the 1970s St James shopping centre.

The hotel on the St James site, with its ‘spiralling ribbon’ design, was approved by the council’s planning committee in August against the recommendation of council planning officers. The Old Royal High School application is yet to be decided, but is reported to have attracted over 2000 objections via the council’s e-planning portal. Historic Environment Scotland, statutory consultee for planning applications, has also lodged its official objection to the Royal High School scheme.

Although there is uncertainty over whether Edinburgh’s World Heritage status is genuinely under threat, the controversy has highlighted an important issue for planners and city policy makers everywhere. What is the value of conserving the built heritage of a place?

The benefits of World Heritage Site status

In terms of the World Heritage status itself, there are doubts over its benefits for sites like Edinburgh that are already well-known and established tourist destinations. According to Aylin Orbasli, Oxford Brookes University, “This is partly because the heritage tourism map of the UK is already drawn. Bath, Edinburgh, York and Oxford are all popular tourist attractions regardless of whether they are World Heritage Sites or not (Bath and Edinburgh are, York and Oxford are not).

UNESCO itself acknowledges that less well-known UK sites “potentially gain more” than those famous prior to UNESCO designation. As an example of the benefits for smaller sites, it highlights the Cornish Mining WHS, whose annual income has increased by 100% since gaining World Heritage status.

Even for more established sites, UNESCO argues that money invested in conservation by authorities in connection with World Heritage status encourages private sector investment. Using the Edinburgh World Heritage Site as an example, it reports that £414,246 in public grants for building conservation leveraged in additional funding from private sources of over £1.9 million in 2011-12. The most recent figures  for 2013-14 from Edinburgh World Heritage still show that every £1 of public spending leveraged in about £5 from other sources, albeit on a lower level of spend – just under £180,000 in public grants resulting in a total spend of £971,563 on conservation.

Are there drawbacks to WHS status?

A 2010 Oxford Brooked University study of Bath World Heritage Site commented on the planning and development pressures created by the status, including as an example the city’s controversial redevelopment of another 1970s shopping centre (Southgate).

The study found that the city’s WHS status “places additional responsibilities on the local council that are beyond its normal duties”, incurring costs that have to be met by the council itself. It concluded that “Bath does not gain any discernible additional economic benefit from being a WHS”. However the report does suggest that the status had enabled better preservation, stricter development control, attention to detail and investment in the public realm that may not otherwise have been as rigorous.

Wider benefits of the built heritage

Studies of the value of the built heritage more generally have been more consistently positive.

English Heritage’s most recent estimate is that built heritage tourism contributed £5.1bn in the UK in 2011, and that, after including indirect and induced effects, the total economic impacts of built heritage tourism included 393,000 jobs and £14.0bn of economic output.

From a business location perspective, the popularity of historic areas has been highlighted by research for the Heritage Lottery Fund, particularly for those in “the most highly productive parts of the economy” – professional services and the creative and cultural sector. It also found that the ‘heritage premium’ associated with the occupation of these listed buildings (the extra gross value added (GVA) they generate over and above the amount generated by businesses in non-listed buildings) is £13,000 per business per year.

Social and community benefits

There are also non-financial benefits. A study by Newcastle University in 2009 found “the first robust evidence” that living in more historic built environments is linked to a stronger sense of place, and that interest in historic built environments is also linked with higher levels of social capital.

The value people place on historic environments has been further shown in a study by researchers at the LSE, which found that house prices in conservation areas averaged around nine per cent higher than other areas. From a planning perspective, this study was also interesting in that it suggested that conservation areas were actually a popular planning policy both among planners and among the public. Planning officers appreciated the heightened ability to push for high quality new build in designated areas. And, surprisingly, home owners in the conservation areas who had applied for permission were more likely to have positive attitudes toward planning controls than those who had not applied. Perhaps this indicates that the perception of how restrictive planning controls are in conservation areas is not borne out in practice?

Heritage and city development

Of course the danger to be avoided is the temptation to regard historic areas as something to be ‘pickled in aspic’. Cities are living, changing places and the aim of designations such as World Heritage Site and conservation area is not to prevent development.

In fact the main objectors to the two planning cases in question in Edinburgh are not against the building of the hotels as such, but are based on certain specific design grounds. In the St James case, objections were over choice of materials and the effect of a height increase on the skyline; and in the case of the Royal High School, Historic Environment Scotland has objected over the scale of the proposed hotel, which would “dominate and overwhelm” the existing building.

Whatever the outcome of the current planning cases in Edinburgh, and the questions over the city’s World Heritage status, the available evidence does indicate that the built heritage provides significant benefits for cities. The challenge for planners is to find the right balance between conserving the historic nature of such sites but at the same time allowing them to continue to develop to meet the needs of current and future generations. As it says in the Scottish Government’s historic environment strategy, the historic environment should be “cared for and protected, enjoyed and enhanced.”


 

The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of further information on planning and development. To find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.

Further reading:

Can cities exploit, conserve & promote their historic environment?

Values and benefits of heritage

Our place in time: the historic environment strategy for Scotland

The economic impact of the UK heritage tourism economy

Heritage works: the use of historic buildings in regeneration – a toolkit of good practice

The economics of uniqueness: investing in historic city cores and cultural heritage assets for sustainable development

The costs and benefits of World Heritage Site status in the UK

Building Britain’s future: how the Infrastructure Act will affect local authorities

By Steven McGinty

After several months of debate, the Infrastructure Act was given royal assent on the 12th February 2015, introducing a number of important changes. The Bill was announced in the Queen’s Speech with the intention to:

“bolster investment in infrastructure and reform planning law to improve economic competitiveness”.

On the day of its assent, Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, expanded on this, explaining that:

“This act will hugely boost Britain’s competitiveness in transport, energy provision, housing development and nationally significant infrastructure projects. Cost efficient infrastructure development is all part of the government’s long term economic plan, boosting competitiveness, jobs and growth.”

The Act has resulted in a number of policy changes.  The majority of these are relatively mundane and are unlikely to engender much public scrutiny; however, there are a few high profile and controversial changes. Below I’ve outlined some of the most important changes for local authorities, as well as communities.

Land Registry

The Act has introduced changes to Local Land Charges, transferring responsibility from individual local councils in England and Wales to the Land Registry, which will be providing a broader range of services. This was recommended in the ‘Land Registry, Wider Powers and Local Land Charges’ report, which suggested a need to standardise costs and provide a more predictable service.

This has been criticised by the Local Government Association (LGA), who have suggested that local councils are best placed to meet the needs of businesses and local residents.  They have also raised concerns about the costs involved in making technical changes to local council systems, as well as the disruption it would cause to the property market. It’s estimated that local councils have about 20 million entries on their registers of Local Land Charges, across 350 local councils.

Community Rights and energy exploration (fracking and renewable energy)

Individuals within or connected to a community have been given the rights to buy a stake in renewable electricity schemes.  This appears to have been well received, as local residents are now able to receive some of the financial benefits of local electricity production.

However, changes to hydraulic fracking have been a lot more controversial.  The Act allows energy companies the right to exploit petroleum or deep geothermal energy, without notifying the owners of the land, as long as it’s at least 300 meters below surface level. They also have the right to put any substance underground, to change the condition of the land, and to leave material behind.

Not surprisingly, campaigners, such as Simon Clydesdale from Greenpeace UK, have criticised these changes, suggesting that the new legislation is encouraging fracking and is so loosely worded that it could possibly permit the burial of nuclear waste.

Discharge of Planning Conditions

The Act makes it clear that certain types of planning conditions can be discharged if on application to the local authority, the developer has not had a decision made within the prescribed period. It also allows the Secretary of State to make a development order relating to the discharge of a planning condition in an area. This would mean that local authorities would not be able to stop these developments for lack of written approval.

Mayoral Development Orders

These orders provide greater powers to the Mayor of London to grant planning permission for development on specified sites within Greater London. It’s been seen as a useful reform to make it easier for planning permission to be granted on complex sites that cross local authority boundaries. This has been viewed as important for tackling London’s housing shortage.

Although not all of the changes are as high profile as fracking, it’s important that local authorities take time to examine the Infrastructure Act, and to make sure that they are ready to respond to the new legislative environment.


Although many of the changes in the Infrastructure Act will not come into force until a later date, local authorities need to be aware of the possible impact on planning processes and procedures.

Over two thirds of UK local authorities use Idox solutions to effectively manage the property and development lifecycle.

The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of further information on planning issues. To find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Further reading

Not dead, evolving – high streets of the future

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Image Grand Arcade, Leeds, Gunnar Larsson via GNU Free Documentaion License

This week, individuals from local councils, town teams, business improvement districts (BIDs) and industry bodies will come together to share and learn from high street revitalisation success stories as part of the Future High Street Summit. The Summit, set up by retail expert and high street campaigner Clare Rayner in 2014, refutes claims that the ‘high street is dead’. It argues that far from being dead, it is instead ‘evolving’.

Looking at recent headlines, one would be forgiven for believing the high street was in terminal decline. For example, it was recently reported that in a study of multiple retailers across 500 towns, the net loss of stores in 2014 was nearly three times greater than in 2013 (987 compared to 371).

According to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the main challenges facing the high street include:

  • pressures on prices exerted by online retailers and large grocery stores;
  • increased costs, including business rates, rents, and the introduction of the minimum wage;
  • the ease and cost of starting an online business compared to a business on the high street;
  • the digital delivery of some products (music, books etc) removing the demand for high street music shops.
  • access and parking restrictions/costs in town centres
  • the growth in ‘out of town’ retail parks and large supermarkets
  • the lack of diversity, i.e. ‘Clone town’ syndrome

Showrooming’ – when shoppers look at products in store, then buy the product online from a different supplier – has also been identified as another potential threat to high street stores.

So given these challenges, does the high street really have a future?

According to Mary Portas it does.  In her recent reflections on the progress made since her 2011 review of how government, local authorities and businesses could better promote the development of more prosperous and diverse high streets, she argues against predictions of the high street’s demise.

She cites research by Deloitte, which found that 38% of people still visit their high street almost daily, and that that a significant proportion of people continue to use their local high street, particularly to top up on groceries (59%), buy health and beauty, and pharmacy products (55%), and buy shoes and clothes (50%). She also notes that a significant number of people reported visiting the high street to use the library (44%).

Indeed, even the statistics show some cause for positivity. The Local Data Company, which publishes a ‘End of Year Vacancy Report’ in February each year, recently reported a downward trend in shop vacancy rates, from 14.5% in February 2012, to 13.4% in May 2014 – the lowest rate since 2010.

Commenting on these figures, Clare Rayner, organiser of the Future High Street Summit, notes:

“Figures from LDC/bira show that high street vacancy rates have dropped a little; but the national averages mask the detail, which interestingly shows that there has been a net gain in independents and a loss in multiples. To me it’s clear that smaller businesses and independent retailers are the ones who are keeping our high streets alive – so it is essential they get the support they need from the relevant authorities and place managers.”

So what can high streets do to support independent retailers?

In Rotherham, Mary notes that mystery shoppers have been used to help local businesses improve their standards, by providing advice on quality, store layout and pricing. Local shop owners have been offered social media training, and there has been a ‘shop local’ campaign, showcasing the range of independent shops available. A ‘pop up high street’ has also been run at various locations, including council offices, retail parks, hospitals and local events, and town centre parking charges have been frozen.

BoxPark is another great example of support for small independent shops. It is a ‘pop up shopping mall’ in Shoreditch, London, created entirely from containers, and houses a variety of different independent retailers, artists and craftspeople.

In his book, ‘How to save our town centres: a radical agenda for the future of high streets’, Julian Dobson highlights Handpicked Hall, in Leeds, as a key example of good practice. Set up in October 2012 in a vacant department store, it opened up the space to a host of local producers, including “craftspeople, artists, food makers, fashion designers, a woman who wanted to open a vintage tea salon and even a man selling carnivorous plants. People that wouldn’t fit within a traditional market and couldn’t afford to kit out a shop of their own… None could have borne the cost of trading in a traditional high street shop.” (Dobson, 2015:109).

Unfortunately, Handpicked Hall closed in 2014, however, the majority of the retailers within it moved into the Grand Arcade. According to local business owner, Claire Riley, co-owner of Our Handmade Collective, “Taking the empty units within the Arcade has actually turned a forgotten and empty shopping arcade around, and we’re now proud to call the Grand Arcade the Home of the Independents.”

As well as support for local independent retailers, the high street also needs to evolve to address the challenge of e-commerce. According to Mark Hudson, retail leader at PWC, “The future can be seen by watching the ‘digital natives’ at work and play – those who have grown up with online shopping, mobile phones and ubiquitous broadband have a very different relationship with traditional high streets than the previous generations. Rather than try to recreate the past, the high street needs to evolve to be relevant to the future.”

In Ashford, they have sought to address this challenge by using technology to promote the town centre. They aim to develop a ‘digital high street’, which will take the format of an innovative website and app that will guide visitors through the town, providing special offers, and ‘click and collect’ features for all the businesses.

Of course, the high street has an importance far beyond retail. It also has a wider role providing services and meeting places, including libraries, health centres, tourist information centres, bus and rail stations, education centres, post offices, workspaces and meeting rooms.

Recent examples of such high street services include the relocation of Dorking library to the high street, the provision of creative craft classes in Leeds, meeting space for mothers and their children in Bristol, workspace for artists in London and short term respite services for children with disabilities in Bristol, Cheltenham and Swindon.

As Julian Dobson notes: “A high street, and wider town centre within which it sits, is far more than simply a collection of parcels of individually or publicly owned land, shops and highways. It is the heart that keeps a place alive.” (Dobson, 2015:256).

Sharing and learning from good practice, through events such as the Future High Streets Summit and the Great British High Street competition, is a key way of ensuring that the high street remains very much alive and relevant for the foreseeable future.

The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of further information on regenerating high streets, to find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Further reading

Propping up the market? (temporary retailing), IN Estates Gazette, No 1505 7 Feb 2015 (A53773)

Digital High Street Advisory Board (2015) Digital high street 2020 report (B41351)

Dobson, J (2015) How to save our town centres: a radical agenda for the future of high streets. London: Policy Press. (B41359)

PricewaterhouseCoopers (2014) The changing face of retail: where did all the shops go? (B37238 )

Resurrecting the high street (regenerating town centres), IN Local Government Executive, 16 Oct 2014 (A52351)

Town Teams, Portas Pilots and the future of the high street, IN Journal of Urban Regeneration and Renewal, Vol 7 No 3 Spring 2014 (A49469)

Institute for Retail Studies (2014) Town centre and high street reviews (The Retail Planning Knowledge Base briefing paper) (B38740)

Wrigley, N and Lambiri, D (2014) High street performance and evolution: a brief guide to the evidence (B38664)

Mayor of London (2014) Learning from London’s high streets: a collection of essays, case studies, learning and inspiration (B38523)

Future High Streets Forum (2014) Good leadership: great high streets (B37725)

IDOX (2014) Town centres in Scotland: changing policy and practice (In focus) (B37581)

Can the NPPF be used to encourage better design? A look at a recent High Court decision…

by Laura Dobie

A recent High Court decision has significant implications for interpreting the design policies in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and the National Planning Policy Guidance (NPPG).

Handing down the decision in Horsham District Council v. Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (1), Barratt Southern Counties Limited (2) on 23rd January 2015, Mr Justice Lindblom stated “It is not a general principle in planning law that an acceptable proposal for development should be turned away because a better one might be put forward instead”, dismissing the notion that this principle had not persisted with the introduction of the NPPF.

The case revolved around the question of whether an inspector had failed to take account of whether a better designed scheme could be conceived for a development site.

The Court dismissed an application under section 288 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 by Horsham District Council for an order to quash the decision of the inspector – appointed by the first defendant, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government –  to allow the appeal of the second defendant, Barratt Southern Counties Limited (“Barratt”), against refusal of planning permission for a development of 160 dwellings on land to the north of West End Lane in Henfield, West Sussex.

The Council had contested the grant of planning permission. During an inquiry the council submitted that the proposed development was a poor design which obscured views of the landscape, that a well-designed scheme should contain view corridors to retain these important views, and that it was fundamental to the principles in the NPPF regarding good design and the need to incorporate development into the character of the area, that such a scheme should preserve these views.

The inspector concluded that the likely “adverse environmental effects” of the proposed development were “limited” and did not outweigh “the considerable social and economic benefits” with respect to the early provision of new homes in circumstances of a local shortfall. He considered that policy in the NPPF did not indicate that the development should be restricted, and that the development would therefore be “sustainable”, and “the presumption in favour of such development should be applied”.

The Council argued that the inspector was not entitled to grant planning permission for Barratt’s proposal while it was still possible for a scheme to come forward in which long views from the site would be better protected, in light of policy set out in paragraph 64 of the NPPF that “permission should be refused for development of poor design that fails to take the opportunities available for improving the character and quality of an area and the way it functions.”

In his ruling, Mr Justice Lindblom stated that the NPPF does not say that a proposal which does not take every conceivable opportunity to enhance the character and quality of an area, or which does not deliver as well in this respect as a different proposal might have done, must therefore automatically be rejected.

He noted that the inspector focused on the policy in paragraph 64, as well as the wider policies on the design of development within which that paragraph is set, and that he exercised his own judgment on the issues relating to “good design” and “poor design” in light of these policies, concluded firmly that the proposal was not of “poor design”, and brought that conclusion into the comprehensive assessment of the planning merits on which he based his decision.

Referring to the decision in First Secretary of State and West End Green (Properties) Ltd. v Sainsbury’s Supermarkets Ltd., Mr Justice Lindblom stated that in this case, the fact that an alternative approach could have been adopted in the design of the development, and that this could have maintained some views from the site which would have been obscured by Barratt’s development, did not mean that the design of the proposal the inspector was considering contravened government policy in the NPPF.

The judge went on to state that the inspector was entitled, and in fact, required, to exercise his own judgment on whether the scheme constituted poor design under the NPPF, and that he did so in an entirely lawful manner, applying NPPF policy appropriately. He noted that, “It may be that the council disagrees with him, but such disagreement is not ammunition for a legal challenge.”

The Court also reiterated the principle that an application under section 288 of the 1990 Act does not afford “an opportunity for a review of the planning merits” of an inspector’s decision.

This case indicates that an acceptable scheme cannot be rejected to encourage an improved scheme, given the design policies of the NPPF and the NPPG.

Full details of the final judgement are available here.