The deadline to provide feedback to the Government on the upcoming planning reforms is fast approaching and the consultation closes at 23.45 Thursday 29th October 2020.
We are pleased to share below thoughts and feedback given by one of our Panel members, Arthur Tatchell. Arthur is an experienced Chartered Architect and Passivhaus Designer:
"This consultation seeks views on the proposals to reform the planning system in England. The following notes have been written after reading the proposals. They are not exhaustive.
The Forward from the Secretary of State makes interesting reading when he refers to building environmentally friendly homes that will not need to be expensively retrofitted. It is the opinion of many professionals that houses built to current building regulations will not meet that standard (ref: Tomas Gartner – RIBA presentation “Energy Retro-fitting”). I believe the Passivhaus (or similar, measured) standard should be the minimum, as in Europe.
Land is to be identified under three categories: Growth; Renewal and Protected areas. Local Plans and design codes will contain just a core set of standards. This appears simple and I do not think the detail has been addressed, especially with design codes which could lead to “pattern book” designs.
If Local Plans are subject to a single statutory “sustainability development test”, where does that leave para79 proposals, because by nature of the type of development these are often remote, away from town and village centres?
Local Authorities and the Planning Inspectorate will work to a statutory timetable – They should already do this – There is a statutory time limit of 13 weeks for applications for a major development and 8 weeks for all other types of development unless subject to an EIA, in which case a 16 week time limit applies. There is already a “planning guarantee” of no more than 26 weeks. This does not replace statutory time periods. This is not enforced.
Sanctions will be levied if targets are missed. Who levies sanctions? Is it the developer who is suffering loss, or Central Government who are clawing back monies given out to Local Government.
What is missing here is funding to employ planners to the correct level to allow them to do their work.
Central Government have created a shambolic planning system through savage funding cut-backs.
Use of digital and other technologies will help, although it is not a magic panacea. The Government must take into account those on low incomes, those who have learning difficulties, the blind, the elderly and the infirm. Not everybody has, or fully understands, computers and computer technology, whatever approach is taken must be fully accessible to all.
Pillar One – Proposal 1
Local Plans should identify land in the Growth: Renewal: Protected categories and should be assessed against single statutory sustainable test. It is not clear where the conversion of redundant rural (farm) building are addressed, or the development of Para79 houses.
With a “supposed” focus on environment friendly development and net-zero homes by 2050 it is a shame that this consultation document does not even contain a policy for “one-planet living” as adopted in Wales (https://theoneplanetlife.com/what-is-one-planet-development-in-wales/).
If the drive is to leave “an inheritance of environmental improvement” with energy efficient homes built closer to where people work, then the emphasis should be on brown field developments to protect the green belt and funding incentives should be in place to support this.
A “National Model Design Code” is mentioned. How is this possible? We all are aware of regional variation in style, size, scale, material choice, colour and many more influences that affect “design” in specific areas. Surely a house on the North Yorkshire moors cannot have the same set of design “rules as one located on the beach in Cornwall? Clarification is needed to a National Model Design Code.
Pillar One – Proposal 2
Contrary to the above, proposal 2 mentions design guides and codes to reflect local character, form and appearance. I believe this is what is in place today. A concern with design codes and guides is that some authorities use these documents as gospel sticking rigidly to the written word. These documents are guides and should be interpreted as such.
I believe a more flexible approach within an agreed set of guides and codes is required. This should not prescribe a specific design approach as used for Poundbury. It should be based on local “influences” and should allow a variety of styles or designs.
Pillar One – Proposal 4
Use of brownfield land for housing, at greater densities. This is not consistent with the desire to have “wider, tree lined streets and open green spaces”. Have the lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic not been understood where areas of higher population density attract a higher risk of infection?
Pillar One – Proposal 6
A more modular software landscape to encourage digital innovation. This has the risk of developing a two tier planning process – those that have, and those that do not. A planning system needs to be all inclusive not based on an assumed level of ability and understanding. Planning departments need to be returned to a full compliment of staff in order to process applications – No matter how advanced the “digital innovation” is, it takes men and women to operate these systems, to assess matters and to provide a decision. Planning authorities need to provide a supporting role and should re-open their doors and reinstate the duty planner role.
Do Local Plans really need 30 or 42 months to produce? If a major complaint is over time issues, and the Government has “digital innovation” in place, together with the appropriate staffing levels, why can’t this be reduced to 18 or 24 months?
I doubt the National Model Design Code details will work because these do not include regional characteristics or influences. It is suggested that “what works locally” can be added as a supplement. This is exactly what we do not want, it creates confusion and an extra layer of bureaucratic “red tape” that the Government want to do away with. Why can’t we just have regional design codes?
Pattern books of design should be avoided at all costs. To suggest these have helped to deliver some of our most popular and successful places is unfounded. Allowing pre-approval of “popular and replicable designs” through permitted development undermines the design process and promotes pastiche. It should be remembered that we are now looking to develop building fit for the coming generations which include forms, densities and technologies not seen in the past. Design must be allowed to develop and evolve – as it has in the past.
A new “arms-length body reporting to Government”, re-focusing of professional skills and the appointment of a chief officer for design and place-making.
What is going on here, why construct yet another quango or tier of bureaucracy when there are systems in place today to provide a better service as suggested by the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission.
The chief officer for design and place making would be a role perfect for a qualified architect. This person could be responsible for minor or non-complex planning applications. For major or complex planning applications the architect would engage with a Design Review Panel (a process endorsed by the NPPF) where panel members of the appropriate professional background could be called upon. The benefits of this approach is that on one-hand the decision making is local and appropriate to need, and on the other allows authorities access to a group of highly skilled, impartial and independent professionals specifically chosen to match skills to the development proposals." [NB : Design Review Panels are paid for by the applicant, so do not represent a cost to the public purse. Design Review Panel should however be demonstrably independent from applicants and local authorities.]
The thoughts above are the personal opinions of Arthur Tatchell and are provided to encourage debate regarding the upcoming planning reforms. We hope everyone engaged in the planning process will have time to read the 'Planning for the Future' Consultation (August 2020) and complete the online consultation, which can be access by clicking here ...