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)