Converting the High Street

Last month’s Budget contained some interesting planning nuggets. One related to the Government’s desire to bolster the nation’s High Streets. It appears that Mrs May and her Planning Minister James Brokenshire will be looking soon to introduce additional planning freedoms for vacant shops and commercial property to change use to housing by modernising the Use Classes Order. Northern Planners will be keeping an eye on this one as it will potentially have benefits for our clients, especially in town centres like Knaresborough where under used parts of the High Street certainly need rationalisation through conversion to much-needed residential accommodation.

The Government also used the Budget to endorse the findings of Sir Oliver Letwin’s report on build out rates for housing. He has concluded that large housebuilders are not engaged in systematic speculative land-banking and that new planning initiatives are required to ensure that where local authorities allocate sites of 1,500 houses or more, a greater variety of housing ‘product’ is encouraged and infrastructure is provided to deliver development. Here in Harrogate District, the Council’s decision to promote a new settlement means that Sir Letwin’s recommendations will be read with close interest.

“We just have a few conditions…..”

This month sees the introduction of the long awaited requirement for councils (and inspectors) to consult applicants on proposed pre-commencement planning conditions before simply imposing them on permissions as has been the custom for many years. Anyone who has had such a condition placed on their consent will know the frustration that this type of condition can have if poorly thought out. They can frustrate and delay development unnecessarily. They can also lead to legal confusion if they are just ignored. So care has also been needed in their use. Time will see how the new consultation arrangements work out in practice. Let’s hope we see an improvement. Unfortunately, that said, it has also come to our attention that a few councils up and down the land have started to use the revised National Planning Policy Framework to shorten the standard time set out in conditions for starting your development. A number are using paragraph 76 to justify a reduction in the normal implementation period for planning permission for single house plots. This is a worrying situation. Such permissions are frequently hard won. Northern Planners are often closely involved in scrutinising the need for/wording of conditions and their successful challenge and discharge. Let us know if we can help you.

Building Breakthrough for Bickerton

Northern Planners is delighted to report that at the tail end of last month we secured permission for a major housing development in Bickerton village for our clients Noble Homes.

This 21 home proposal was contrary to the emerging new Local Plan which has not identified the settlement for general housing growth.

Practice Manager, Amy Naylor commented as follows on the victory:

‘This is a great result for our clients against many odds. It shows the need for developers and their planning advisers to weigh up the timing of their schemes to maximise the potential for consent. The development includes much needed affordable homes as well as a new village shop and will help support the local bus service as well as facilities in nearby communities. The contribution to local housing land supply plus these other benefits has tilted the planning balance in favour of the scheme at a time when the new Local Plan was still open to change.’

We mentioned in our last blog that Harrogate’s new Local Plan has now been submitted for Government examination/approval. Time may well be running out now for proposals like Bickerton to gain permission if they do not, as the face of things, fit with its provisions.

Northern Planners are always able to assess the chances of permission in these circumstances.

As Amy notes:

‘Planning success is often a question of good timing. When the planets align, circumstances may well favour a result that would otherwise be impossible. Pushing at an opening door with good planning arguments and evidence can make all the difference.’


We start this Month’s blog with some good news for one of Northern Planners’ clients. We have just received news that our appeal for Mr Gary Baines has been allowed by the Inspectorate. Mr Baines was wanting permission to develop a self-build property for his retirement in Rathmell, near Settle. His application, however, was turned down by Craven District Council on highway grounds. Despite a technical objection and statement of evidence by North Yorkshire County Council, Northern Planners managed to convince the Inspector that the existing access and access route is safe and suitable for the likely traffic that will be generated. Our Graduate Planner, Sophie said:

‘This is a victory for common sense and the principles set out in Manual for Streets regarding sensitive access design in rural areas. The County Council’s demands would have resulted in an over-engineered approach inappropriate to the local setting.’

We wish Gary all the best for the future. If you are struggling with any issue regarding the successful development of your site/project, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.


Northern Planners are currently looking for a Chartered Town Planner, specifically with DCO application experience, to be based in our Knaresborough office. Please contact us for more information.

Clearing planning conditions

We are often asked by our clients to help them address the requirements of conditions that Councils impose on planning permissions. Last month saw a significant development in this area of practice, with the Government’s publication of new legal rules on pre-commencement conditions – those that require various actions to be undertaken prior to development starting on site. These rules are set to come into force in October 2018 and are intended to curb Councils from attaching this type of condition to permissions without first consulting an applicant. Whilst not an outright ‘ban’ the new Regulations will hopefully concentrate local authority planners’ minds on the need for such conditions and how they are expressed.

This can only be a good thing.

Using offices for housing – some findings on impact

This month has seen a trio of research publications on permitted development from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). One of these looks at the impact that office to residential conversions have had under the General Permitted Development legislation. One of the case studies is Leeds, where effects have not been as severe as some other areas studied by the RICS research team. Elsewhere in the country, the authors conclude that substandard accomodation has been provided through these freedoms in addition to loss of planning fee income and affordable housing contribtion monies. On the positive side, of course housing has been provided and the RICS team estimate that many millions of pounds worth of planning officers time has been saved in them not having to have processed applications for these types of schemes. We will see if these reports have any ‘impact’ on the Government’s approach to permitted development! Whether this is the case or not, is always worth looking at what is possible under these provisions – here at Northern Planners, we know our way around the relevant legal Order and what is possible to do without an application for express planning permission!


The Local Plan is dead, Long live the Local Plan

In an earlier post, we reported on the draft revised National Planning Policy Framework published in March. We pointed out a number of changes that might be of immediate interest/use to our clients. Another significant but longer term issue that is reflected in the draft document is change to the Development Plan regime. In future, Local Plans as they are now understood, will be discretionary. Instead, local planning authorities will be required, as a minimum to set out their key priorities in a strategic plan covering a small set of high-level issues. This requirement stems from the 2017 Neighbourhood Planning Act. The look of the new system has yet to be fully articulated – it will still be possible for authorities to produce additional ‘local’ plans to their strategic plan but perhaps this detail might well increasingly be provided by community-led neighbourhood plans, like those Northern Planners have had a hand in here in Yorkshire, such as Cottingham and Oxenhope. Understanding what the Development Plan is for an area is vital, given that its policies and proposals are the basis for decisions on planning applications. Northern Planners are expert at this.

March News

All Change for National Planning Policies

This month sees the publication of a draft new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). Proposed new clauses promote:

  • Affordable housing on brownfield Green Belt land;
  • Houses for successor farmers;
  • Exception sites for entry level home developments, and;
  • Greater flexibility on sunlight/daylight standards in higher density housing schemes.

It will be interesting to see if some of these changes make it into the final version, after the current consultation finishes in mid-May. As ever, Northern Planners will be exploiting all the new opportunities for the benefit of our clients.


V is for Viability

Along with the draft NPPF (see above), the Government is also consulting on its revised approach to developer obligations. They propose that in future, viability assessments should be primarily undertaken at the plan-making stage and be based on the Existing Use Value plus Landowner Premium technique. The Government is also proposing to allow certain local authorities to introduce a Strategic Infrastructure Tariff. In the longer term, the Government will continue to explore options for going further e.g. contributions to affordable housing and infrastructure could be set nationally, and be non-negotiable.


Even More New Homes on the Farm

Government has also announced that next month, the rules on what can be done to redundant farm buildings without planning permission, will change.  New permitted development rights will mean up to 5 new homes will be able to be created rather than the maximum of 3 currently allowed.

If you have any buildings you think might be candidates for this bonus windfall, please get in touch and we will check out the potential.


Good Bye Land Banks?

Immediately after November’s Budget, the price of many housebuilding companies’ shares dropped a little because of an apparent perceived fear by the investment market over potential Government action to end the so-called practice of landbanking.

So what did the Chancellor actually say and what will it really mean for planning?

Whilst speaking about housing supply, Mr Hammond said:

‘….. one thing is very clear: there is a significant gap between the number of planning permissions granted and the number of homes built. In London alone, there are 270,000 residential planning permissions unbuilt. We need to understand why. So I am establishing an urgent Review to look at the gap between planning permissions and housing starts. It will be chaired by my Right Honourable Friend for West Dorset and will deliver an interim report in time for the Spring Statement next year. And if it finds that vitally needed land is being withheld from the market for commercial, rather than technical, reasons. We will intervene to change the incentives to ensure such land is brought forward for development, using direct intervention compulsory purchase powers as necessary.’


There have been previous studies that have looked at the reasons for the delay between the granting of planning permission and the start of development on consented sites. These have found a variety of factors at play: the landowner cannot get the price for the site that they want;  a developer cannot secure finance or meet the terms of an option;  the development approved is not considered to be financially worthwhile (perhaps due to a change in localised market conditions); pre-commencement conditions take longer than anticipated to discharge;  there are supply chain constraints hindering a start;  an alternative permission is sought for the scheme after approval, perhaps when a housebuilder seeks to implement a scheme where the first permission was secured by a land promoter, etc. etc.


These studies have also looked at options to incentivise developers to get cracking. One by the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs in 2016 (Building More New Homes) looked at possible changes to the legal definition of what constitutes a bona fide start on site, the threat of compulsory purchase of sites and the optional use of business rates on undeveloped consented sites after a reasonable period. It preferred the latter option. (No reduction of the current 3 year period for making a start was contemplated nor the greater use of completion notices to force developers to finish their developments within a shorter timescale once started.)


We now see the spectre of Councils or the Homes and Communities Agency (soon to be called Homes England) being encouraged to seize sites from ‘recalcitrant’ developers, probably at some sort of discounted figure (e.g. 50% of market value) and then this land being added to some sort of pot that they can then use to build houses.


As far as we can see the ‘Gap Review’ outlined by Chancellor Hammond in his Budget speech may have implications for land promoters in particular. They will need to ensure that their permissions are as attractive as possible to potential housebuilder purchasers and have ironed out as many issues as possible without the need for umpteen pre-commencement conditions to be satisfied after the ‘main’ permission has been secured. This will be especially important if authorities in the new policy environment are able to decline further major applications on the same site during the lifetime of the main permission that has been secured.

On outline planning projects, Northern Planners are adept at establishing the key parameters for site development that allows future flexibility for the developer. We also have experience of heading off potentially long lists of pre-commencement conditions that can hold up development.