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)

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Centre for Cities 1901

Research and Policy institute Centre for Cities launched ‘Outlook 1901’ on the 12th July 2012, which aimed to analyse whether we could or indeed should look to the past to help rebalance regional economies.

This article highlights some of the main areas of discussion; speakers included Peter Hall (UCL), Tristram Hunt MP (Stoke Central) and Tony Travers (LSE).

1901 marked a turning point for many of England’s once great regional cities. In the early 19th C the likes of Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool were challenging London for supremacy, yet by the turn of the century London had once more begun to reassert its power.  Today, the gap between the capital and once powerful regional centres is at an all time high

History has demonstrated that there are 3 key components to a successful city, they are: a skilled workforce; improved connectivity and a diverse economy. To help re-balance the picture and ensure that regional centres become more attractive places for business and for residents, we will consider each of these components in turn.

A Skilled Workforce

The ability of a city to attract a skilled workforce is dependent upon its ability to attract high paid and stable jobs.

Swindon (Wiltshire) grew in the mid 19th C as a result of the expansion of the railways. The town developed a strong and highly skilled engineering based economy following the establishment of the Great Western Railway locomotive works in 1841. Although the works eventually closed in 1986, the town’s strong engineering heritage and the skills base this entitled ultimately attracted the car industry to Swindon, with Honda and BMW currently having significant manufacturing operations in the town.

The presence of high paid jobs therefore leads to increased aspirations, more opportunities and higher levels of disposable incomes.

Improving Connectivity

The lack of comprehensive public transport networks within UK cities has long highlighted not just the divide between themselves and the capital, but also the increasing gap between equivalent regional centres on the European mainland.
Source: Urban rail.Net

According to Sir Peter Hall, France currently have approximately 100 new tram lines under construction. By comparison, the UK has just 1 and ½. In France such schemes are seen not just as long term investments but also as marketing solutions to attract new businesses and highly skilled residents. This building boom of public transport networks is a result of cities having greater fiscal autonomy. 

In the UK all major decisions have to go via Whitehall in London which, as Tony Travers explained, contributes to the lack of investment in the regions.  London meanwhile, continues to benefit with continued investments to an already superior network.

"In the past those in the regions will have seen the need for extra capacity on the railways, need for a tramlines etc and acted on it, now they have to go to Whitehall where the civil servants making the decisions to allocate funds do not ‘see’ the need. They do however ‘see’ the need for extra capacity in London because they will be using such networks every day, leading to funds focused upon one place, where the civil servants live and work"

The investment London has received in transport infrastructure projects over a sustained period of time has made the city a more attractive place for a diverse range of businesses and workers. As more workers descend on the capital the demand for more infrastructure therefore increases. The opposite could perhaps be said of many of our regional equivalents.

Preston (Lancashire) is a good example of a city outside of London that has benefitted from transport infrastructure investment.  The city has grown to become one of the stronger centres in the north west of England largely due to the construction of the town’s by-pass, Britain’s first motorway in 1958. This was an astute and pioneering move by the town’s forebears in the 1950’s  and  was the initial stage of a wider Lancashire motorway network initiative in which the final stages (M60 Manchester By-pass) were completed only as recently as 2000

As the hub of this motorway network. Preston has indeed prospered, enjoying access routes from all across the country .

Additionally, Peter Hall emphasized the importance of developing high speed rail sooner rather than later, noting that cities within 2 hours of London were traditionally more successful. 

A Diverse Economy

It is important that a city does not become overly reliant on a particular sector and is able to adapt quickly and attract new industry.

Swindon was particularly successful at doing this, despite its reputation as a railway town. Through strong leadership in the 1970's and 1980's and with railway jobs under threat, the council devised a pro-active marketing strategy aimed at
American electronic and pharmaceutical companies.

Source (ONS Census 2011, IPPRNORTH)
As a result, during the 1979 – 83 recession, and despite the phased closure of the railway works manufacturing, employment in the town grew by 3% compared with a 11% drop nationally. Additionally, service sector employment grew by nearly 9% as a result of the spin off industries. The town today has a diverse and highly skilled economy Additionally, Peter Hall emphasized the importance of developing high speed rail sooner rather than later, noting that cities within 2 hours of London were traditionally more successful.


The capacity for local business and local political elites to make decisions has significantly reduced since the 19th C as power has transferred to Whitehall. This has dis-empowered our regional cities in the decision making process.

Centre for Cities conclude that the government should sustain investment in skills and in infrastructure. They should work with local authorities to identify targeted investment opportunities and devolve major transport scheme funding to functional economic areas.

Short term cuts in expenditure on the key drives of economic success are ultimately to result in a larger long term bills.

All in all the debate was lively and interesting and could be a springboard for future dialogue in revitalizing regional economies. 

(John Ainsworth for Alsop Verrill Ltd)