Thursday, 19 September 2019

The FUNGAR project

Interesting to read about the research (a £2.5 million project funded by the European Commission) into the use of living fungi within the walls of your home to help monitor and regulate heating, lighting etc - the creation of a natural 'smart' home. 

Will it require a new breed of horticultural engineers to maintain these homes?

Ironically the first such designs may even qualify for the NPPF para 79 exception of being a truly outstanding or innovative' that means a can be built in isolated locations in the countryside  - which would be the least ecologically-friendly location.  However the first prototypes are planned for somewhere in Denmark and Italy.

Monday, 16 September 2019

Calling all landowners…

Both of the new planning authorities in Dorset are taking their first steps towards a new Local Plan for the two areas. 

Today, Dorset Council launched their ‘call for sites’ which runs until 25 October.  They are looking purely for sites for 10 or more dwellings, which may leave them looking for other ways to cover custom and self-build opportunities.

Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole will be following suit shortly, after their Cabinet meeting last week discussed the timescales for preparing their plan and gave the go-ahead for a call for sites to be launched, which will similarly run for 6 weeks. 

No doubt many of the sites that are submitted will be those that have been previously considered and not made the grade in previous Local Plans, but it also provides an opportunity to identify other site options if landowners who have not previously responded pick up on the consultation. 

Friday, 9 August 2019

Two more Neighbourhood Plans through

Milborne St Andrew and Broadwindsor Neighbourhood Plans went to the polls yesterday.  Summer holidays and drizzly weather and may have slightly dampened turnouts but still very respectable. 
Both plans passed with good majorities.
In favour 
Milborne St Andrew 894  34.7%  281  29  90.6% 
31.2%  301  100  75.1% 

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Developers ruled "too late" to challenge a Neighbourhood Plan

Useful Appeal Court judgement on the timing of challenging Neighbourhood Plans through a Judicial Review published earlier this month.  The basic point, as far as I understand it, is that developers should not wait until the very end (when the Local Planning Authority 'make' the plan) to make a challenge, if the legal challenge could have been raised earlier in the process.  A sensible decision on the face of it - the key point (para 37) being that the basic intent of the legislation is "to enable claims to be brought straight away when the grievance in question arises; and prevent them being put off to a later stage of the process, or its end – thus avoiding the cost, disruption and uncertainty of challenges that could and should have been made sooner"

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Purbeck Local Plan Examination - Week 1

Certainly a busy week in Wareham for Inspector Ms Beverley Doward BSc BTP MRTPI.  This was the first week of the Local Plan examination hearing sessions, which sat for full days Tuesday through to Thursday and continued onto the Friday morning. 

Of particular interest to many will be the discussion on the housing numbers - as this is the first Local Plan tested following the end of the transition arrangements under the old NPPF.  A key issue was establishing the baseline - Purbeck District Council had used the 2016 year as the starting point for their calculations, but others felt either the 2018 or 2019 years should have been used.  Having looked at the NPPG wording, the Inspector indicated that she was minded to use the 2018 figures as the latest confirmed at the time of submission (in early 2019), with the 2017 affordability ratio (as published in March 2018) for the same reason.  Using these, the annual housing target will have to go up to at least 180 dwellings per annum (rather than 168dpa) with further consideration still to be given to whether there are exceptional circumstances to raise this further, including the likely shortfalls in Christchurch and the New Forest.

There was also a lot of debate around the sustainability appraisal and habitats regulations, and Green Belt release (particularly the large-scale release proposed at Morden Park, which has been included to facilitate a holiday park that in turn will enable a strategic SANG to be delivered and additional environmental improvements made within the park).

From a Neighbourhood Plan perspective there was a clear steer from the Inspector that the District Council should consider further which policies are truly strategic (rather than 'all') and how wording could be modified so that Neighbourhood Plans are not needlessly over-ridden or curtailed by the new Local Plan. 

The hearing sessions will resume in early August for a further week, focusing on the site allocations and the controversial 'small sites' policy that certainly received a lot of flack this week.  For more information the examination webpage is

Friday, 28 June 2019

Just over the county boundary...

The South Somerset Local Plan Review 2016-2036 Preferred Options Consultation (Regulation 18) has been published today, with consultation running from now to 18 September.

Its proposed housing target is based on the new Government methodology and the 2014-based household projections, so for South Somerset this means 716 dwellings per annum (no major difference from the 725dpa target in the adopted plan).

However the plan does include a change in the settlement hierarchy with a new class “village” identified, slotting in between rural centres and settlements.  Stoke sub Hamdon has been ‘down-graded’ from a rural centre to a village whilst 11 of the rural settlements have been ‘up-graded’, including places like Queen Camel, Sparkford and North Cadbury.  All of these “will” have provision made some development, with a target of 60 dwellings per village (in addition to the 120 dwellings already completed between 2016-2018 and 470 already permitted across the 12 villages).  Exactly how this growth will be managed is not clear, as no allocations or settlement boundaries are proposed, the plan simply states that “growth is expected to take place adjacent to the existing built settlement”

Lots more for those communities to digest over the coming weeks…

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Inclusive and age-friendly designs

Update to national planning guidance today - a new section on housing for older and disabled people.  It is not just the internal layouts (and therefore Building Regulations) that have a bearing on getting this right.  Points to remember include:

> Flexibility and space in the design and layouts;
> Entrances to buildings are clearly identified, so that they are easy to find, well lit and can be reached by a level or gently sloping approach;
> Parking spaces and setting down points in proximity to entrances;
> Landscaping schemes designed for ease and comfort of movement on foot and with mobility aids, with public spaces including step free spaces and seating.


Building better (as well as faster)

Report out today on the broken housing market and achieving the mystical 300,000 new homes every year.  One topic of interest was build quality – with Government and local authorities criticised for not doing enough to prevent poor build quality of new homes. 

Key recommendations were that the Government department (MCHLG) should set out how local authorities, developers, and other agencies will prevent, penalise and compensate for poor residential build quality.  The Department’s design guide should also be revised to define what a sufficient quality of final build should look like. 

The Royal Institute of British Architects made the point in their submission that the design skills in local planning authorities had been cut back too far, and whilst design review panels can help these are no substitute for a properly resourced planning system. 


Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Community Involvement - what Dorset says

Consultation on the draft Statement of Community Involvement has just started, with Dorset Council asking for feedback by 2 August. 

At just seven pages and fairly generous spacing, the question is, does it say enough?  In my experience the main issues raised by members of the public are not hearing about planning applications and the lack of officer support on neighbourhood plans.  I am not sure this Statement really addresses those questions clearly - the word "may" certainly appears at least 10 times!

So this is your chance to comment - what would you like them to actually say and stick to?

Planning-dominated Cabinet meeting

Today's June meeting of the Dorset Council Cabinet had a lot to talk about planning. Two Neighbourhood Plans are to go to referendum in August (Broadwindsor and Milborne St Andrew) and Bere Regis Neighbourhood Plan officially "made". The Bournemouth, Christchurch, Poole and Dorset Waste Plan is also to be adopted after both Councils agree.

But of broader interest is the Local Development Scheme and recommendation to halt work on the individual Local Plan Reviews (with the exception of the Purbeck Local Plan that is already at examination) to crack on with a new Dorset-wide plan.  Just over 2 years of evidence gathering and consultation, before the plan is examined and finally adopted.  The timetable includes:
  • Options Consultation: September 2020
  • Publication of draft plan: September 2021
  • Examination: Summer 2022
  • Adoption: Spring 2023
And as part of it, Cinderella (or the Dorset-wide Gypsy, Traveller and Travelling Showpeople Site Allocations Plan), which has been in preparation for longer than I care to remember, will finally get to go to the ball.

Friday, 7 June 2019

Latest Dorset Neighbourhood Plan examination news

In case you missed it, Sutton Pointz have caught up with Bridport to now be at their pre-examination 'Regulation 16' consultations.  Neither plan are specifically allocating sites, but are setting the context in which they hope better planning decisions will be made for their respective areas.

Bridport's examination documents can be found here: 

Sutton Pointz proposed Neighbourhood Plan and supporting documents can be found here:

Going postal in Purbeck

Last day to submit statements for the Purbeck Local Plan examination. 

With 3 paper copies required (email is not enough), and in light of the Climate emergency declared by Dorset Council at their first meeting on 16 May, I hope Royal Mail have bought in e-trikes to the Dorset depot as part of their carbon cutting trial!

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

The 5 year supply - latest

The first set of planning application reports to be considered by the new Dorset Council are all now online.  One key thing to note is that, at least for the time being, decisions are still going to based on the separate housing land supplies on the previous local authority areas, rather than trying to take the temperature across the whole area.  Not that this particularly helps any of the areas.  West, Weymouth and North Dorset have all struggled to demonstrate a 5 year supply for some years, and East Dorset declared in December that they too have fallen below a 5 year housing land supply.  Only Purbeck are claiming that they have in excess of 5 years - though interestingly their January statement was based on the housing requirement of a 2012 Local Plan (which I am pretty sure is more than 5 years old), and their latest (May) statement is using a 10% buffer (which means they are relying on this being confirmed through the Local Plan examination) and they are also including some of the proposed Local Plan allocations in their supply - which arguably shouldn't be included at this stage.  So who knows where they are, right here, right now? 

Having said that, there is certainly still lots of movement in the planning arena that could help turn around the deficits.  One of the applications coming to the new Western and Southern Planning Committee is the outline application for up to 500 dwellings plus employment, retail and hotel uses at Littlemoor - nearly 4 years after the Local Plan's adoption.  As well as the 175 or so affordable dwellings this should also bring in over £4 million on developer S106 contributions - not an insignificant amount.

Friday, 17 May 2019

Dorset Local Plan updates

Couple of updates this week on the Local Plan situation.

The new timetable for the Dorset Local Plan Review is to be considered by the newly formed Cabinet at its meeting at the end of June (as announced by David Walsh - pictured - who has taken on the Cabinet role for Planning).  This should clarify whether the East, North and West Dorset's separate plan reviews are to be abandoned in order to focus on the combined plan.

Purbeck's Local Plan examination is moving forward, with the issues and Inspector's questions now published and two hearing sessions set for early July then early August.  Inspector Beverley Doward has raised about 150 questions to be answered - so it is understandable why she is setting a strict word limit on written responses!  Deadline for further submissions is set at 5pm on Friday 7 June 2019.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Better late than never

Glad to see the Neighbourhood Plan grants have been re-opened for this year - a late start (the grants usually open early April - but I'm guessing there were other political distractions) but perhaps making up for the delay with a welcome addition of additional £10K grant funding option to help bring forward affordable homes for sale. 

Another Neighbourhood Plan examined

The Examiner’s report on the Milborne St Andrew Neighbourhood Plan has been received – and subject to a few changes it has passed and should go referendum (or ‘people's vote’ if you like!) probably in August or September. 
The Examiner was satisfied with the plan’s approach to assessing and dealing with the area’s housing needs, including the mixed use site allocation opposite the Business Centre (which is subject to a live application).  In general he was happy with nearly all the policies, with a couple of very minor wording changes.  The two policies that he felt did need a bit more refinement were the one on design (where he has left it to the Parish Council to make some changes, mainly to simplify it) and the one on parking standards (where he has said we should delete the need to comply with our proposed parking standards, because he felt that this would be over-prescriptive and also he wasn’t convinced it was helpful to deviate from the county standards).
So the Neighbourhood Plan is certainly gaining weight - which will need to be fully considered when all the 'rejected' sites whose applications are in and waiting for a decision get decided. 

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

When positive policies are not silent

A judgement handed out last month in the Appeal Court reinforced an earlier decision on how to interpret 'positively worded' policies.  Basically the question posed in the appeal was whether a policy that says 'housing should go here, here or here' means that houses shouldn't be allowed elsewhere, or whether the "silence" on other locations means that anywhere else is fair game.  

The judge (Lord Justice Lindblom) makes clear that, where there is an obvious intention behind the policy (such as the hierarchy of locations for new housing), it would make a nonsense for a liberal approach to be applied to other locations for development that are clearly not part of the plan's strategy.
Having been involved in policy writing for more years than I care to remember, I have seen the writing styles swing from negatively worded policies to increasingly positively worded phrases in a vain attempt to shrug off the NIMBY and controlling image of planning.  But although on the one hand there is the presumption in favour of sustainable development, on the other, the reason you need planning permission is because without it, development is unlawful - or to put it simply, the answer is "no".  So a positively worded policy makes more sense when it implies that 'other' options should be treated negatively, and it is good to see that this judgement helps.  However it still reinforces the need for policy writers to consider all the angles when they draft their development plans.

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Upper Marshwood Vale shows what it can do

Upper Marshwood Vale is showing that even in sparsely populated areas there is a will to get Neighbourhood Plans in place to promote development that should benefit the local community. 

Their pre-submission draft plan is now out for consultation.  It includes policies that highlight the important places and spaces in the area, a more flexible approach to allow the conversion of existing buildings to provide new homes, as well as being 'open for business' for small-scale employment.  It also proposes two site allocations.  The first, a site opposite the Marshwood school, should provide a new site for the now closed village shop to re-open, as well as improved parking (for use by the school and church), in return for a limited number of new homes.  The second, the Three Counties Nurseries site on the outskirts of Marshwood (a redundant site), is where some live/work units could be allowed to be develop.

Final results in for the 2 May in Dorset - and Bere Regis

The new Dorset Council have a slim Conservative majority, with many of the towns being Lib Dem strongholds for this term.  If my maths is right the Conservatives party managed to get just over 39% of all the votes cast, and won 52% of the seats on the new Council.

A very different picture in the other major vote that took place on the 2 May, which was of course the Bere Regis Neighbourhood Plan referendum.  With 447 votes in favour of the Plan (92 votes against) this was a ringing endorsement made by 83% of those voting.  Congratulations to all those involved.

Friday, 3 May 2019

The results are in (well partly)

The Government has today published its response to the consultation on further changes to a number of permitted development rights. 

It continues to support having greater flexibility on the high street, with permitted development rights for shops to offices likely to be introduced (but giving prior approval discretion to halt changes that would hurt the town centre’s vitality).  The possibility of upward extensions to allow housing above shops is still ‘on the cards’ though needs more thought.  A similar, though possibly more luke-warm response, was also given to whether the replacement of commercial buildings with residential development should be introduced (or is this simply being kicked into the long grass?).  The permitted development rights for larger residential extensions is to be continued – but with a fee requirement to help cover local Council’s costs.  The temporary permitted development rights for B8 storage to housing are to end.
Somehow this feels a bit like tracking the local council election results – who’s in, who’s out and which area needs a recount!  At the moment the Dorset results are showing a Conservative majority (with 24 of the 82 seats declared) – but still plenty to speculate about.

Monday, 29 April 2019

Broadwindsor examined

The Examiner's report on the Broadwindsor Group Neighbourhood Plan was received at the very end of last week, recommending that the plan (as modified by some very minor changes), should proceed to a referendum.

The Examiner says "It is clear that a great deal of commitment and effort has gone into the production of the BGPNP, and that it is founded on a desire to provide suitable and environmentally friendly homes, local employment and local services, whilst protecting the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty which is highly valued by the local community."

This is likely to be the first to go in front of the new Dorset Council, who are legally required to consider the Examiner's report before the plan can have its referendum.

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Laid-back Dorset

Interesting article in one of the planning magazines earlier this month regarding the differences in enforcement activity across the country. 

Taking a look at the Dorset stats for 2018, North Dorset, Purbeck and Weymouth and Portland all join the ‘laid back’ club (unless there really are no planning contraventions happening out there – which doesn’t appear to be the case from what I have heard), with no enforcement notices and only two planning contravention notices served (both in North Dorset).  West Dorset is also well below average (with 2 enforcement notices and 3 planning contravention notices served).  Only East Dorset (serving 6 enforcement notices and 13 planning contravention notices) was anywhere near “average” for a shire district.  To put this in perspective, across the Dorset Council area, there was 1 enforcement notice served for every 446 planning applications received.
Makes me wonder how many enforcement officers will be deemed necessary in the new Council – how “expedient” are they?

Friday, 5 April 2019

Dorset Council launches

This week has seen the launch of Dorset Council - the new unitary authority replacing the old Dorset County, East Dorset, North Dorset, Purbeck, West Dorset and Weymouth Councils into one smooth and streamlined whole (we hope).

There will no doubt be teething troubles - their website has certainly been difficult to navigate with missing pages and content - but there has obviously been much going on behind the scenes in preparation.  The new planning application validation checklist is now online, plus a handy tick list by application type, which means that the local list of requirements (which for many had been out of date) now has some teeth - at least for the next two years. 

There is no notice of validation timescales - before the changeover this was running at 5 weeks for some of the councils.  Let's hope this doesn't have to get worse before it gets better!  Looking forward to see how the first planning committees operate at the end of May. 

I wonder what they would have made of the 'Headington Shark' - Bill Heine its protagonist RIP 3/4/19.  As the Planning Inspector put it back in 1992, when he considered Oxford City Council's pleas to refuse consent for its retention, "any system of control must make some small place for the dynamic, the unexpected, the downright quirky.  I therefore recommend that the Headington shark be allowed to remain"

Friday, 22 March 2019

No resting on laurels

Couple of news items of interest in the planning journals this week...

It would seem that Friends of the Earth, who challenged the sustainability credentials of the NPPF in the High Court and failed (see my earlier blogs) are not going to lay down without a fight.  According to their Barrister, Nina Pindham, they have applied to leapfrog the appeal system to take their case straight to the Supreme Court.

Also a timely reminder for Neighbourhood Plan Groups, with Middlewich having the dubious honour of being the third plan to fail at referendum.   A modest turnout (just under 20%) and a very narrow margin. 
Reading between the lines, the main angst seems to have been about the level of development proposed in the adopted Local Plan and that the Neighbourhood Plan did not argue against it (not that they could), together with the lack of a bypass to cater with the proposed growth, which although mooted has no funding.  There were also political divisions over the plan, with one party campaigning against it.  Will the town have an appetite to have a second go?

Saturday, 9 March 2019

Sweet sixteen (and counting)

With Hazelbury Bryan and Sturminster Newton Neighbourhood Plans being made this week, I make that 16 plans in place across Dorset (including Poole and Bournemouth) - plenty more at Examination to add to this list later in the year.  Looking at the map there is an obvious lack of plans in East Dorset, perhaps this will change following the new Dorset Council and increased awareness of those local Members.

Friday, 8 March 2019

The NPPF is off the SEA hook

Interesting to read the judgment of Mr Justice Dove on Friends of the Earth Limited vs SoS for Housing, Communities and Local Government that was released this week - [2019] EWHC 518 (Admin)

The upshot is that the Government have been let off the legal hook for any need to undertake a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for its national planning policy framework (NPPF) – and I can hear the collective sigh of relief from Whitehall. 
The judge recognises that there is a clear case to be made that the NPPF sets "the Framework for future development consent of projects" and could clearly “have significant effects on the environment”.  However he also concluded that it did not fall within the accepted definition of a plan or programme given that its existence or preparation was not mandatory or regulated in any way.  So on this ‘technicality’ an SEA is not required. 

That doesn’t mean to say it wouldn’t have been a good idea… though a wry smile did cross my face when I read that the Government had argued that nothing worthwhile would come out of any examination of its effects.  Tell that to all the Neighbourhood Plan Groups that have to go through the SEA hoops just for allocating a few small sites for new homes!
Having said all that, I wasn't looking forward to a scenario where the NPPF was quashed - though that would have certainly provided a lot more to post about!

Friday, 1 March 2019

Shout out today for two Neighbourhood Plans:

Sturminster Newton, where the Neighbourhood Plan referendum showed clear support for the plan (89% in favour) despite changes made by the Examiner to remove the 'reserve' status of two sites to allow them to come forward sooner - countering the point made by some developers that Neighbourhood Plans are a NIMBY's charter.  Interestingly the Examiner had deleted the Bull Tavern site (as the Local Planning Authority had objected to it on heritage grounds) but the Committee overturned the officer's recommendation to refuse permission, on the basis that the community benefits outweighed the heritage concerns.  It rather begs the question whether the Committee should have be more involved in responding to the Neighbourhood Plan consultations!

Holwell, whose plan was officially 'made' at Full Council this week.  But I am sure the volunteers will not rest for long - there is a certain Village Hall project that no doubt will take up the slack!

Friday, 22 February 2019

Dorset and the Housing Delivery Test results

The housing delivery test results for Dorset published this week make interesting reading.  Purbeck, West Dorset, Weymouth and Portland benefit from lower housing projection requirement figures than set out in their published plans and therefore are seen to be meeting their needs (with about a 30% margin of comfort).  The conurbation, East and North Dorset are all struggling, at least 15% below their requirements, and will have a 20% (rather than 5%) buffer applied to their 5 year housing land supply requirement in order to encourage the release of more housing land. 

The question will then turn to the impact this may have on the new authorities post-April.  There are no ‘split’ figures as yet for East Dorset and Christchurch, but, based on the joint figure, rural Dorset just scrapes through meeting 102% of its needs.  Whether this will ‘save’ North and East Dorset’s bacon from April onwards has yet to be seen.  Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole will continue to require a buffer regardless.
A revised NPPF has been also been published, bringing the guidance up-to-date with a few “minor clarifications” which appear to be related to the housing delivery tests, the definition and deliverable development and also in relation to using the presumption in favour of sustainable development when the Habitats regulations requires and appropriate assessment of the impacts.  Nothing that should cause major panic.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Double referendum

Nearly neighbours, Holwell and Hazelbury Bryan parishes both went to the polls last week for their respective Neighbourhood Plans.  Both plans tackled this issue of how much housing should be built and where it should go.

Despite the rather wintry conditions both had a good turnout of around 45% of the electorate, and a solid 'yes' vote (82% in Holwell and an impressive 92% in Hazelbury Bryan). 

Hazelbury Bryan in particular has been besieged by planning applications for housing outside the settlement boundary.  These have been vying for approval in the light of North Dorset's housing shortfall, trying to get in before the Neighbourhood Plan plugs the gap.  Just a week before the referendum an application for up to 35 dwellings had been recommended for approval, but members decided to go against their officer's advice to give great weight to the emerging plan.  The Neighbourhood Plan should now hopefully get the attention it deserves in future officer decisions.

Congratulations to both groups for all their work, which was clearly supported by local residents.

Thursday, 31 January 2019

First NPPF2 plan to be examined?

Purbeck District Council submitted its Local Plan for examination on Monday (28 January).  I'm wondering if it gets the record for the first plan to be examined under the revised (July 2018) NPPF, given the deadline for having plans examined under the 'old' NPPF ran out on the 24 January. 

It introduces some potentially controversial new policies such as the 'small sites policy', a 'second homes' policy as well as reviewing the Green Belt to release land around Lytchett Matravers, Upton and Wareham, and strategic allocations at Wool and Moreton (Crossways)

For more information see their Local Plan Review webpage

Friday, 11 January 2019

Pimperne votes YES

The results are in for yesterday's referendum on the Pimperne Neighbourhood Plan: 
   321 votes cast in favour,
   46 against. 
So I make that 87% in favour of the plan, with a very respectable (40%) turnout.

The plan allocates three sites for housing as well as a host of other policies to protect the historic and rural nature of the village and surrounding countryside.

Congratulations to all those involved in the plan's preparation.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Swings and Roundabouts

Back from representing a Parish Council this morning objecting to a planning application that was making the most of North Dorset’s lack of a 5 year housing land supply.  A revised scheme, the first having been refused back in the summer on the grounds of poor design.  Although some of the members said they didn’t like it or want to support it, they did think it was better than the one earlier scheme (which is now at appeal) and didn’t think they had strong enough grounds to refuse.  So not exactly a ringing endorsement for good planning! 

However not all is doom and gloom, as the 8 week decision target has had its desired affect for one of my clients today, with approval (on last day of the 8th week) to remove a restrictive holiday use condition on a rural building.  I’m sure they’ll see the bright side. 

Talking of swings and roundabouts I’m looking forward to hearing the outcome of the NPPF ‘sustainability’ challenge that is being heard in the High Court and is expected at the end of this month…