Friday, 28 March 2014

A Critique of the Decision to Scrap the Link between Hs2 and the Continent

Sir David Higgins, the man tasked with the delivery of High Speed 2, released his first report into the vital yet sadly controversial project last week (HS2 plus, DofT, 2014). We have been ruminating on this, with an eye on the reportage in the media.

While much of the associated headlines have lauded his proposals to extend Phase 1 up to Crewe as offering proof of the government’s commitment to the North (HS2 benefits to north could be delivered six years earlier, says Sir David Higgins, Guardian 17th March), the decision to scrap the proposed link between the new line and the existing High speed 1, was met with some murmurings in the media, but no real upset. It was endorsed immediately  by the Transport Secretary Patrick McLaughlin.

As MP for the Derbyshire Dales, one would hope that he would be more alive to the positive economic implications of the link for his constituents.– Another decision by an increasingly London-centric government affirming its ambivalence towards anything outside the M25 – an ambivalence shared by the national media.

Patrick Mcloughlin MP

Why is this connection so Important?
A link between High Speed 2 and High Speed 1 connecting Euston and St Pancras Stations would provide (conditional tense, we won’t write it off…yet)  the potential to run direct trains from the Northern Cities to Mainland Europe directly, giving these cities and their city regions better access to a huge market. To scrap the link ensures that all trains from Mainland Europe will go direct into London, re-enforcing the capital’s dominance over the regions and effectively relegating High Speed 2 into a branch line.  

So why is it to be scrapped?
Camden Council has waged  war against  the HS2 / HS1 link since the proposals were first announced.  The route itself, as is shown in the maps below, would have involved widening the existing railway link between St Pancras and Euston. Camden Council believes the process of construction would have resulted in ‘a decade of disruption’, threatening the viability of the legendary  market and making the area unattractive to tourists. A single look at plans (alongside a Google Earth image for comparison) corrects the misinformation - with the new track running atop the existing viaduct alongside track used for London Overground services.  

Plan illustrating a section of the proposed route through Camden
It has also been argued by Sir David, the Transport Secretary and others that there isn’t enough demand for direct services between the likes of Manchester and Leeds and Paris and Berlin to justify the cost of the link, yet without the link in place it is difficult to assess the demand. Plenty of people fly from our northern cities to mainland European cities and it is mad folly to deny them a more sustainable alternative.

It has to be remembered that Manchester and Leeds will not be connected to the network until 2030 at the earliest, so we are talking many years into the future. To write off these cities now shows a worrying lack of foresight especially as London overheats. Just to re-cap, we have been persuaded to spare Camden ‘a decade of disruption’ so that our great northern cities NEVER have direct train links to their continental counterparts. Sounds like a great deal!

How much would this Link have cost?
The link would have cost an estimated £700 million, from George Osborne’s overall budget of £42.6 billion a paltry saving of 1.6%, especially when one considers the potential economic boost such a link would have provided to the North of England.

How much will it cost to rebuild Euston Station?
Sir David also recommended that Euston Station be redeveloped (estimated  at £1.2 billion (er, only twice the ‘saving’). Jumping onto another bandwagon,  the Transport Secretary effused;

‘It is a significant opportunity to maximise the economic potential of the line and regenerate a site that has been neglected. It is also a significant opportunity to generate private sector investment that can reduce the overall burden on the taxpayer’

If Mr McLoughlin feels the area around Euston is in urgent need of regeneration, he quite obviously has never left Zones 1 and 2.

The ironic and sad fact of this is that the £700 million invested into the link would have had a much greater long-term economic return than the £1.2 billion to spruce up Euston Station, while based upon evidence elsewhere in both the UK and on Mainland Europe the presence of the High speed rail station in itself would have attracted substantial private investment into the area anyway.

So what can we conclude from all this?
Camden already has High Speed 1 on its doorstep, this enables it to attract new investment and substantial numbers of tourists as well as enabling its well-heeled and -connected residents (amongst whose number includes Stanley; Dad of Boris and prominent anti High Speed 2 campaigner recently quoted as saying all HS2 will do is enable Young female jihadists to get down from Birmingham 20 minutes quicker, London Evening Standard, 5th February 2014) to get a train to Paris or Brussels quickly and efficiently.

London already gets 1 and a half times the annual spend from foreign tourists than the Rest of England as a whole – we should be spreading wealth and investment around the country, not stimulating a Primary City of a scale and importance associated with the third world.

That the Transport Secretary is prepared to let the economic future of Camden Lock Market trump the likes of Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham and in turn effectively isolate the rest of the country from other European cities for the benefit of a few well-influenced North London luvvies says all that needs to be said about the stranglehold London has upon the rest of the country. 


Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Design and Access Statements get a Haircut

Design and Access Statements are the latest part of the planning system to receive a snip from the Government’s red tape scissors.

As of 25th June, in non-designated areas, a Design and Access Statement will only be required for major applications* and listed building applications.  In designated areas, such as conservation areas, the threshold for requiring a Design and Access Statement will be lower - one or more dwellings, or more than 100 square metres or more.

Good news or bad?

We have often found the validation process frustrating, with local authorities insisting on the submission of a document or report that we know will not materially influence the decision.  Such a rigid approach to validation can place unnecessary financial burdens on applicants.

The change to the requirements for Design and Access Statements puts into practice the requirement, contained in both the National Planning Policy Framework and the Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013, that the documents to be submitted with applications should be proportionate to the nature and scale of the development, and material to the application. 

Whilst we welcome the Government’s drive to introduce more flexibility and pragmatism to the validation process, we do not believe this should herald the end of Design and Access Statements for minor developments.  Just because they are not required by statute does not mean they are not needed to secure planning permission, as design can be a significant issue in all scales of development.  As a result, we anticipate that there will be cases when we will be advising our clients to submit a statement, even where there is not a statutory requirement for one.

Even though there has been a change in when the statement is required, there has not been a weakening in the importance of good design.  The promotion of good design is one of the 12 core principles of the National Planning Policy Framework – it emphasises that permission should be refused for developments of poor design that fail to take the opportunities available for improving the quality and character of an area. 

In this policy context, it is essential that the design approach is properly explained and justified, especially given the subjective nature of design.  We have found that, when done right, Design and Access Statements can be an excellent means to communicate the merits of a development.  It is often the first, and sometimes only, document that people will look at, especially those less familiar with the planning system.  In this way, they can help to sell a scheme to local residents and councillors who will play a part in the application process.  This also applies to planning and design officers, who without the benefit of the narrative provided in a Design and Access Statement, may be less likely to support the particular design approach proposed.

In making this change, the Government has passed responsibility down to applicants, who will need to decide on a case-by-case basis whether design considerations are sufficiently material to warrant the submission of a Design and Access Statement, and to local authorities, who will need to ensure that design is properly assessed even in those cases where a statement has not been submitted.  We continue to believe that the submission of a well prepared Design and Access Statement enhances the prospects of planning permission.

*Major developments are 10 or more dwellings, buildings of more than 1,000 square metres; or a development on a site of more than 1 hectare.

(Simon Roberts for Alsop Verrill Ltd)

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

The Setting of Heritage Assets: High Court Ruling

A recent High Court ruling emphasises the importance of undertaking a proper assessment of the effects of a development on the setting of a listed building, conservation area, or other ‘heritage asset’.  This is no longer something that applicants can pay lip service to; the failure to follow the proper procedures can result in refusal of planning permission for what would otherwise be considered ‘sustainable development’.  Please get in touch if you would like to talk to us about Heritage Assessments and how they can benefit your project.

On Friday 8th March 2013 the High Court upheld a legal challenge against the decision of the Planning Inspectorate to grant planning permission for four wind turbines within a mile of Lyveden New Bield, a Grade I Listed Elizabethan Lodge, and its Grade I Registered Historic Park and Garden, said to be one of the most important Elizabethan landscapes in the country, amongst other heritage assets.

The challenge was made by East Northamptonshire Council with the support of English Heritage and the National Trust who were concerned that the allowance of the development would set a harmful precedent in relation to similar development across the country.

Mrs Justice Lang, in quashing the decision, stated that the Inspector had ‘‘erred in law’’, by failing to fulfil his duty under section 66(1) of the Town Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act (1990) and failed to give proper effect to it in the balancing exercise as a consequence of not applying ‘‘considerable weight’’ to the value of preserving the setting of heritage assets.  It was also concluded that the Inspector failed to properly follow the relevant policy procedure which therefore compromised the balancing exercise and failed to give adequate reasons for his decision.

This comes in the light of other recent post-NPPF appeal decisions which have reflected on the issue of the setting of heritage assets.  Two appeals come particularly to mind.  In May 2012 a large mixed-use residential-led redevelopment of a site at Bunhill Row, London, was dismissed by the Inspector who concluded:

‘‘The appeal site is previously developed land in a highly sustainable location, close to facilities and public transport. There is no doubt that the scheme would be deliverable and contribute to the local housing stock, provide affordable housing, including family homes, create jobs, provide community floor space, and improve biodiversity and promote sustainable construction, design and travel patterns. Allowing this appeal may also ensure that the timescale for the provision of 60% affordable housing with grant funding could be achieved.’’

However, the Inspector found that the proposal would also cause substantial harm to the setting of important heritage assets and on that basis refused an application which clearly in all other regards was very sustainable.  This demonstrates the importance of setting to planning decisions.

The setting of heritage assets was considered within the decision of the Planning Inspector, referred to and upheld by the Secretary of State, to grant planning permission for a large urban extension of up to 800 new homes on land west of Shottery, Stratford-upon-Avon.  The Council had refused the application, partially on the grounds that it would harm the setting of Anne Hathaway’s Cottage (Grade I Listed) and its Registered Park and Garden (Grade II Listed).  

In considering the impact upon setting the Inspector had found that English Heritage had erred in its assessment of the settings of the relevant heritage assets.  In doing so, English Heritage had analysed setting as if it was a heritage asset in its own right, rather than relating it back to the significance of the heritage asset itself.  In this light, the Inspector found that ‘‘the evidence and judgements of the appellant’s heritage expert should be preferred’’.  The appeal was allowed when the Inspector concluded that there would be minimal impact upon the relevant heritage assets.

Therefore, what is increasingly apparent is that the setting of heritage assets is very important to the consideration of planning applications.  Applications and appeals will be won and lost on this basis.  However, further to this, what is even more apparent is that you get the assessment of setting wrong at your peril.  Undertaking an analysis of the setting of heritage assets is more an exact science than ever before and a visual assessment carried out by landscape architects, urban designers or architects will often be insufficient.  It requires the proper thought and assessment of those concerned with historic environment conservation.       

(Ben Eley for Alsop Verrill Ltd)

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year
from all of us at Alsop Verrill

This year instead of sending Christmas cards,
Alsop Verrill will be supporting the following three charities:

The Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability, Putney

The St Martin-in-the-Fields BBC Radio 4 Christmas Appeal

Médecins sans Frontières

We wish you all a very Merry Christmas!

Please note that our office wil be closed from Friday 21st Dec (5pm) to Thurs 3rd January 2013 (830am)

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Dundee and the Sequential Test: A Question of Suitability

You have probably heard about an important judgment handed down by the Supreme Court that has significant implications for the sequential test for main town centre type development, like retail, offices, and leisure. It is so important to what you do, that we wanted to remind people about it and clarify its main points. 

In short, it means that a sequentially preferably site must be suitable to accommodate the development as proposed (with due regard to flexibility), rather than being suitable for the development for which there is an acknowledged ‘need’.  The result is that a local planning authority cannot refuse an application for an out-of-centre development on the basis that a smaller development is all that is needed, and which might be accommodated on a site in or on the edge of the town centre.

We have summarised the Judgment below - please get in touch with us if you would like to discuss how this could affect your development proposals.

The Decision

In Tesco Stores Ltd v Dundee City Council [2012] UKSC 13, on the 21st March 2012 the Supreme Court rejected Tesco’s challenge to Dundee City Council’s decision to grant planning permission to an Asda store.  The case hinged on whether, in making its decision, Dundee City Council had misunderstood one of its policies relating to the sequential test.  The judgment established two important principles relating to interpretation of planning policy generally, and the sequential test specifically.

Firstly, it established that, contrary to popular belief, decision makers cannot interpret planning policy in any way they choose, subject only to the limits of rationality.  Rather, the interpretation of planning policy is a matter of law. 

The second principle follows on from the first, in that it established the objective interpretation of the sequential test within planning policy.  The key question was, when assessing whether a ‘suitable’ town centre site was available, whether ‘suitable’ meant suitable for the proposed development, or suitable to meet identified deficiencies in retail provision in the area.  It was concluded that the natural reading of the policy is that the word ‘suitable’ refers to the suitability of sites for the development specifically proposed.

The Dundee Judgment reinforced the views expressed by Lord Glennie in Lidl UK GmbH v The Scottish Ministers [2006] CSOH 165.  Lord Glennie said a site would be suitable in terms of policy only if it was suitable for, or could accommodate, the development as proposed by the developer.  The question was whether the alternative town centre site was suitable for the proposed development, not whether the proposed development could be altered or reduced so that it could fit into it.

Whilst the Dundee Judgment related to the application of Scottish planning policy, the judgment and statements hold true for planning policy in England.  A natural reading of paragraph 24 of the National Planning Policy Framework is that ‘suitable’ refers to suitability for the proposed development.  To say that ‘suitable’ refers to suitability to meeting an identified need would be to attribute a meaning to the policy which is not contained within the policy wording.

Dundee in Action

In granting outline permission at appeal for an out-of-centre foodstore in Newport, Shropshire, the Appeal Inspector’s comments on the sequential test support the Dundee Judgment that the suitability of sites should be assessed against the proposed development rather than ‘need’.  The Inspector noted that, in a previous appeal case, two sites near the town centre were found by an Inspector to be suitable, but that this was in the context of a proposal for a smaller retail unit.  The Inspector stated “even allowing for some flexibility it is difficult to see how either site would be suitable in terms of its configuration and size for the type of foodstore being proposed in the present appeal”.

Demonstrating Flexibility

The Dundee Judgment also made important statements upon the need for applicants to demonstrate flexibility.  The emphasis is on both flexibility and realism.  Lord Reed referred to R v Teesside Development Corporation, ex parte William Morrison Supermarkets plc and Redcar and Cleveland BC [1998] JPL 23, 43, and stated that

“to refuse an out-of-centre planning consent on the ground that an admittedly smaller site is available within the town centre may be to take an entirely inappropriate business decision on behalf of the developer”.

Lord Hope emphasised the need for the sequential assessment to function in the real world, stating

developments of this kind are generated by the developer’s assessment of the market that he seeks to serve.  If they do not meet the sequential approach criteria, bearing in mind the need for flexibility and realism to which Lord Reed refers in paragraph 28, above, they will be rejected.  But these criteria are designed for use in the real world in which developers wish to operate, not some artificial world in which they have no interest doing so”.

The Dundee Judgment confirmed ,that a flexible approach must be  adopted towards development proposals.  Asda did not confine its assessment to sites which could accommodate the development in the precise form in which it had been designed, but examined sites which could accommodate a smaller development and a more restricted range of retailing.

Our Advice to You: Whilst you will need to demonstrate a degree of flexibility, this does not mean you have to compromise on the form and scale of development you consider to be necessary, based on your assessment of the market.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Planning and Heritage in Post-Conflict Kosovo

Ben Eley of Alsop Verrill is a heritage planner who was lucky enough to be offered the opportunity - courtesy of the EU and a combination of PEM Consult and Swedish NGO ‘Cultural Heritage without Borders’ - to take part in the first ever Beledije Regional Restoration Camp in Prizren, southern Kosovo.  This took place in the first Regional Cultural Heritage Centre in the Balkans.

Having declared independence on 17th February 2008, the new generation of the world’s youngest country, Kosovo, probably have bigger issues -  such as the small task of building the infrastructure of a peaceful society in the aftermath of ethnic conflict - than political wrangling over the merits of express permission for first-generation ‘super conservatories’. 

Closer to home, the Post-Big Society agenda has its own unique tensions as local communities are set to become divided along lines of outlook, privacy and right to light; yet this is somewhat put into context when compared with the enormous economic, social and environmental re-build faced by the newly crowned 'Kosovars'.

Beledije Regional Restoration Camp
Firstly, in the likelihood that you have never considered a trip to Kosovo before, Prizren is a beautiful city.  It is an ecclesiastical smorgasbord; a real melting-pot of east meets west where the minarets and church towers of the Ottoman and Orthodox townscape  compete with the wider renaissance architecture of pastel colours and terracotta roofs. All of this may be appreciated from the imposing medieval fortress which overlooks it.

The course introduced young architects, planners, craftspeople and historians to the holistic nature of heritage planning: from the theory and philosophy first espoused by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB), to contemporary theory in planning for the historic environment which has been developed, over time, by institutions such as English Heritage.  It combined seminars with work on site and left a new generation of young professionals ready to champion the cause of planning for better places.

Notwithstanding the much broader ‘place-making’ issues of building a new country; the provisional Kosovo Assembly took action soon after the 1999 war when they passed the ‘Law on Spatial Planning’ (Law number 2003/14) and adopted it for the purpose of:

‘‘ensuring rational spatial planning and development, achieving balance between development and preservation of open space and protection of the environment and bringing the spatial planning regime of Kosovo into consistency with European and International standards.’’

Under Article 14, all Municipalities are to prepare Urban Development Plans for all urban areas within their territories and these are to be strategic, multi-sectoral and determine long-term development projections and management of urban areas.

It all sounds very familiar.

The Prizren Conservation and Development Plan is a rather comprehensive document encompassing everything from strategic vision to socio-economic profiling including very detailed matters of land-use and urban design (such as the type of use acceptable and the length of fascias on individual buildings).  Despite multiple issues in actually implementing this plan, the intention is clear – that there is a desire for town planning and a realisation from above (rather than from below) of its importance to the future sustainable growth of Kosovo.   

Restoration in process

As one perambulated around the town one observed recent (largely UN, EU and US funded) initiatives of urban regeneration proudly indicated on signs erected by the Ministries of Culture and Urban Planning.  There was a very Mediterranean feel, with vital and seemingly viable shops spilling out onto the streets and squares and a general ambiance which, I for one, did not expect from a place emerging from deeply rooted ethnic conflict.

Despite this, at the time of writing, the unemployment rate in Kosovo is 45%, the highest in the Western Balkans; 37% of the population live in poverty and 17% in extreme poverty. Additionally, ethnic tension is again raising its head in Mitrovica, a region in the north with a significant Serbian minority. 

However, it is becoming evident, and it was my experience, that there is a genuine belief that planning and heritage will be fundamental to driving future growth and investment into the new State.  There are those within the built environment profession and in Government who, rather than seeing their inherited legacy as a hindrance to the need for economic growth, in fact, see it as part of the answer.

There has been much good come about through planning in Britain; we have been at the forefront in both the consideration  and the conservation of the historic environment.  Countries, such as Kosovo, look in our direction for guidance.  However, should they look today, they may be excused in thinking that sustainable growth owes more to the unimpeded proliferation of over-sized U-PVC conservatories and attic extensions.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Sustainability and Viability: Lessons from Scandinavia

I recently attended the Town and Country Planning Association’s Scandinavian Study Tour.  From Copenhagen to Malmo to Stockholm, we saw examples of pioneering environmental technologies and sustainable city planning. 

Integrated energy, waste and water systems
 in Hammarby Sjostad, Stockholm
  • Automated vacuum waste collections in Malmo’s Western Harbour mean that streets do not need to be designed to accommodate refuse vehicles.  The result is a tighter-knit pattern of development, with pedestrian friendly streets and reduced collection costs for the local authority.
  • In Hammarby Sjostad in Stockholm, the co-ordinated management of energy, waste and water systems on a community scale has led to greater levels of efficiency.
  • Copenhagen is fulfilling its desire to be the world’s best city for cyclists by design the city around the bike, with priority traffic signals, customised street furniture, and even bridges just for cyclists.
  • The run down 1950s housing estate in Augustenborg, Malmo has been transformed with the addition of energy efficient cladding, green roofs, solar panels and a new storm water drainage system.  The involvement of the local community in this project has helped to reduce some of the social problems previously experienced.

These are examples of the kind of sustainable development that the National Planning Policy Framework aspires to deliver.  So how are they able to do this and why isn’t it happening more often in the UK?

Much is made of the so-called ‘win-win’ relationship between the environment and the economy, with greater efficiency leading to lower costs.  However, this ignores the important element of timing.   Creating developments with a high environmental performance tends to require greater costs in the design and construction phases.  In the UK, these costs are borne by the developer, who needs a relatively quick payback period in order to pay off loans and incentivise development.  In contrast, the financial benefits tend to be long-term in nature, and shared between the occupants of the development, the local authority and the developer. 

In isolation, strong policy requirements for high environmental performance only place greater financial burdens on the developer in the design and construction phases.  The requirement in the National Planning Policy Framework for local authorities to ensure that policy burdens do not threaten viability means that, in the current economic climate, environmental performance will inevitably be compromised to ensure the delivery of development.

In Denmark and Sweden, the role of government, at city and national levels, goes way beyond the setting of policies.  They are the driving force behind these developments: setting targets, subsidising technologies, financing infrastructure and, in some cases, acting as the landowner and client.  Private developers build on the foundations set by government.

  • Major transport infrastructure projects in Copenhagen are being financed through the selling of publicly owned land and through taxes.  This means that the fares do not have to re-coup the costs of construction; they only have to cover the running costs, making them low enough to be an attractive alternative to the car.
  • In Hammarby Sjostad in Stockholm, workshops were held to discuss how private companies could deliver the targets set by the city government.  As the landowner, the city created the demand and the market was left to respond to it.
  • Solar City Malmo is developing cheaper and more efficient solar energy technologies, but the national government still subsidises 60% of the investment cost.
  • By and Havn is a privately run, but publicly owned, company which makes use of architectural competitions to raise standards in the redevelopment of the publicly owned Inner and Southern Harbours in Copenhagen.

Pedestrian and cycle friendly streets in Western Harbour,
The UK is a long way off the Scandinavian model.  Even in cases where the government is the landowner, the overriding objective tends to be to achieve best value (just like a developer) rather than to achieve higher standards.

As long as there is sufficient public support, governments have a degree of freedom from short-term economic constraints that private developers do not.  However, it is unclear whether there is the will, within government or the public, to incur the short-term costs necessary to deliver the kind of sustainable development on show in Copenhagen, Malmo and Stockholm.

(Simon Roberts for Alsop Verrill Ltd)