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Planning in the countryside: current issues

Summary

• This briefing covers a number of current issues of particular interest to local planning authorities with responsibility for rural areas, focusing particularly on permitted development rights, protected landscapes, renewable and low-carbon energy and rural housing.
• The written statement on local planning made by Planning Minister Nick Boles on 6 March 2014 included the Government’s decision on the latest proposals to extend permitted development rights for agricultural buildings to allow them to be converted to residential use without planning permission a move which could have significant implications for some rural areas.
• The 6 March statement also launched the final version of the new Planning Practice Guidance (PPG). The LGIU is producing a separate briefing on the PPG but this briefing highlights the sections of particular relevance to rural areas including light pollution, minerals, protected landscapes, renewable and low carbon energy and rural housing.
• Other planning-related announcements and policy developments in recent months with particular implications for rural areas include proposals to provide increased benefits to communities hosting wind farms and to introduce a ten-unit threshold for affordable housing section 106 contributions.
• This briefing will be of interest to elected members and officers with responsibility for planning and the natural environment in rural areas.

The first Community Energy Strategy: opportunities for local authorities

* The Community Energy (CE) strategy provides a framework for support to increase the role of community groups in the distribution, production and saving of energy; with the aim of contributing to national carbon reduction targets, energy efficiency, local resilience, reductions in fuel poverty and localism.
* It has been developed closely with the various CE groups and coalitions in the UK, and enjoys their broad support. While the focus of the strategy is on communities, the vital role of local authorities in facilitating and co-driving local decentralised energy and energy efficiency is a significant part of the strategy.
* The strategy mainly announces incentives and initiatives which cover England, recognising that in Scotland and Wales, support systems and funding for CE groups already exists and good lessons can be learnt. It will be of interest to those working across different types of local authorities, especially in community engagement, energy and planning.

Update on Fracking

On 13 January 2014, David Cameron announced that councils would be able to keep 100 per cent of business rates they collect from shale gas sites. This adds to community benefits already agreed with the extraction industry of £100,000 when a test well is fracked and a further 1 per cent of revenues if shale gas is discovered. The Government has offered considerable support for the exploration and possible development of shale gas, despite the controversy surrounding the associated technique of fracking. Water contamination and seismic disturbances are among the associated environmental risks. This briefing deals with what is known so far about shale and oil and gas deposits in the UK, the associated risks and possible benefits, and the regulatory regime governing onshore exploration and development. It will be of interest to members and officers in all tiers of local government with an interest in environmental sustainability, local economic development, and planning.

National Infrastructure Plan

The National Infrastructure Plan 2013 brings together analysis of the UK’s infrastructure needs to 2020 across different sectors setting out the government’s approach to identifying and delivering that need.

Whilst many of the major investment decisions are made by government, the Plan contains specific projects in the localities of many local authorities and has broader implications in their responsibilities for housing and planning. It also covers the Government’s approach to encouraging local infrastructure and economic growth.

The Plan announces moves to treat planning conditions as approved where they have failed to discharge a condition on time together with making a Local Plan a statutory requirement.

The Government is also undertaking a review of the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Planning Regime with a focus on streamlining the process. Introducing a specialist Planning Court to tackle delays to infrastructure delivery which are taken to judicial review. It has also published for consultation a draft National Networks National Policy Statement.

This briefing will be of interest to cabinet portfolio members and officers with responsibilities for economic development, regeneration, housing and planning.

What does the Autumn Statement 2013 spell for local government?

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This is a statement which recognises that growth begins on our local high streets. Business rates will be discounted for SMEs and payments scheduled over 12 months. In welcome news for finance directors across the land HM Treasury has pledged …

Housing Progress Report

- This briefing takes as its starting point a range of key statistics to review progress made on a number of housing issues including housing supply, homelessness and housing sales.
- There is evidence that the housing market is gaining more confidence with fewer mortgage arrears, and repossessions and increased mortgage lending including to first time buyers.
- However, with house building falling by 14% and with the sector barely building half the housing required to keep up with population growth, while house prices rose by over 4% and new mortgage advances increased by 19%, these are not signs of a well-functioning housing market.
- While progress continues to be made on reducing the number of empty, non-decent homes and overcrowded properties, rates of homelessness continue to increase standing 33% higher from when the Coalition Government came to power.
- This briefing will of interest to all elected members and officers with responsibilities for or an interest in housing, economic development and regeneration.

Risk: Corruption in UK Local Government

This new report by Transparency International UK analyses the institutional robustness and integrity of English local government and its resistance to corrupt practice. It will be of interest to elected members and officers with responsibility for standards, audit, procurement, planning, and corporate policy.

Housing Standards Review consultation: achieving quality as well as quantity?

• The Housing Standards Review consultation proposes reducing hundreds of standards on housing quality to fewer than ten – the deadline for comments is 22 October 2013
• Local planning authorities (LPAs) would need to undertake a rigorous viability test for each standard they wish to include in their local plan
• The housing/construction industry will still be able to create voluntary codes, however LPAs will not be permitted to mandate these in their local development plans – there are concerns that this may stifle attempts to use policy to encourage locally appropriate solutions
• The consultation includes questions around adopting mandatory minimum space standards for new housing, although the government would prefer that the industry develop a voluntary code
• If approved, the standards would abolish the Code for Sustainable Homes – some elements of the Code are retained, but not all
• The government would prefer to publish a set of ‘nationally described standards’ that are separate to the Building Regulations, with the aim of integrating the standards into the regulations at a point to be determined
• The consultation ranges across a range of professions and interests – this briefing will be of interest to officers and portfolio holders in planning, building control, housing, environmental health, adult and social care, and public health.

The future of high streets: progress since the Portas Review

Eighteen months on from the Portas Review of high streets, the Government has published a progress report on national and local policies and initiatives to revitalise high streets and town centres. This briefing summarises the report and offers comment on key related developments and issues affecting high streets policy.

This briefing is relevant to councillors and officers across all areas and all tiers of local government, particularly those involved with planning and economic development.

Nick Boles: An update on planning reforms

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Nick Boles, Planning Minister, addressed the All Party Parliamentary Local Government Group for their final meeting this summer. Representatives from around thirty local authorities were present as well as a number of parliamentarians and relevant stakeholders. Highlighting the aims behind …