By Legal Futures Associate Redbrick Solutions
We are in a state of constant change – both through our lives and the environment around which we live in. And the pace of change in our neighbourhoods grows ever faster as new developments are needed to cater for the explosion in household demand over the last decade. We look at some of the key moves by government, their impact on planning and neighbourhood change, as consequently residents and homebuyers wanting to keep things as they are.
Last year, the Government published “Planning for the Future” – a consultation paper designed to radically reform England’s planning regime. The aim was to streamline and modernise the planning process, improve outcomes on design and sustainability, reform developer contributions and ensure more land is available for development where it is needed.
This was in response to the rapid rise in household numbers – driven by more single occupancy and general population growth: 16.6 million families in the UK in 1996, to 19 million in 2017, a 15% increase in this timeframe. At the same time, house building has not kept pace and while last year 240,000 homes were built (a marked increase on previous years) it has not reached the Government’s 300,000 per annum target.
Development needed – but where?
It was clear that the 2011 Localism Act had done little to move the needle on meeting housing demand. The current government’s view is that councils had not been quick enough to respond and so control has needed to be brought back in centrally.
Noble intentions, but the proposals were based on a “mutant” algorithm that placed swathes of available land in the south east up for development, much to the dismay of backbench MPs who dug in against the looming threat to housing development in leafier shires.
It also ran counter to the narrative of levelling up the North and spreading development and economic growth more equitably. There had been criticism that more rural and suburban development could accelerate the flight from cities, already underway from wealthier buyers leaving for space and fresh air due to the impacts of the pandemic.
This has forced a policy change where now more focus is being applied to reinvigorate our town and city centres through re-purposing our plentifully available brownfield land and vacant commercial sites. High streets were already declining through the switch to online by shoppers, and now plenty of commercial to residential conversions are underway across the country, helped in part by the planning use class changes in the summer.
But this welcome incentivisation for brownfield development isn’t the full picture. There are many developments on green belt land in highly sensitive locations that councils have had to concede to in order to meet government housing requirements as part of their 5 year local plans.
The village of Hursley in Hampshire is strewn along a main road with all the classic ingredients: community shop, butchers, pub and nursery. But this could all change with the proposed “Royaldown” development of 5000 homes, together with new access roads, a primary school , park and ride facility and a health centre, all powered by three solar farms that would surround the site.
The proposals come at the same time as a Council. which when combined, make for a large urban extension in a highly sensitive green belt location adjacent to the South Downs, yet not covered by any landscape designations.
The site was submitted as part of Winchester City Council’s Strategic Housing and Economic Land Availability Assessment (SHEELA) – a process that Councils are required to undertake by the Government. A submission to the SHEELA does not mean that the site will or should be developed and the proposal on this site is one of many that are being assessed.
The development would extend the fabric of the Winchester urban area to the south west to engulf Hursley. While local businesses may welcome the extra trade from the new households, residents along the main A road will be less pleased to see them driving to and fro with the inevitable rise in noise and air pollution.
It is a classic example of a dormitory village close by a large, successful and rapidly expanding urban area. Without the protection of any designation and with a landowner ready to sell, there is a great temptation for a Council to meet government demand, especially when, on a map at least, the urban extension appears to offer logical in-fill.
Ring of Concrete
Another example is just outside of Newbury with the Sandleford Park Scheme. The area just to the south of the town and bordering ancient woodlands has been subject to a series of failed planning applications over the past 9 years. Today, a combined scheme from two developers for 1000 homes is on the table. Recognising the sensitivity to the existing community, the 114 hectare scheme comes with an 80-unit care facility; creation of a new country park, a local community centre and more land for expansion of the Park House Academy School.
Despite this, local protestors claimed that the development would form a “ring of concrete” around the woodland. While the developer claimed there would be a buffer between housing and trees, there would inevitably be a loss of habitat. The local Council weren’t convinced and cited 14 reasons for refusal, one of the most significant of which was the impact of the road scheme on existing residents.
Having initially withdrawn a road layout proposal, the developers resubmitted in February 2021 which explicitly stated that Warren Road, a peaceful tree and hedge lined residential street, was to be widened to “provide access to the strategic allocation at Sandleford Park”.
The road – currently single lane – would be widened to six metres, with two-metre wide footpaths on both sides. At the east end of the road, it would extend into the new estate, with a single property being demolished to provide the access. The road is already close to primary and secondary schools, a busy petrol station and a local Sainsbury’s store. Local councillors have described the proposal as “outrageous” and that it would only accelerate the level of traffic, noise and pollution for residents, who have already had to put up with the uncertainty over the development that has affected the ability to sell their homes and clouded their day-to-day lives.
But housing pressures for West Berkshire Council are constant and if not here then it would need to fit somewhere to meet rising householder demand. Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has called in the application for a final decision by his department, which is expected to close over the summer.
Human Impacts of Development
Homebuyers could walk into these issues blind without accessing the right information ahead of purchase. Do they want to buy into a semi-rural piece of paradise, yet live in fear of it being paved over in future years as the number of households in the area grows inexorably around your once-sleepy village or suburb?
Brownfield site regeneration can have positive and negative effects. Urban landscapes can be attractive and sought after, as well as the current proximity to favourite shops, cafes, work or amenities. Gentrification brings new money, a new buzz and suits many younger workers attracted to the lifestyle – as we have seen in successful regenerations like Hackney and Peckham in London.
But it can also mean large blocks of flats springing up blocking out light and reducing privacy or views that were at least were uninterrupted before if not that attractive. Brownfield sites are often complex, not just in terms of ownership and usage restrictions, but from a design or cost perspective in relation to contamination issues and ground preparation. Remediation schemes and the impact of clean up can last for many months.
Some sites that are just too expensive or difficult to redevelop and become unviable for developers are being repurposed for other uses. In Manchester, the former Ancoats Park Shopping Centre site has been turned into a temporary car park by the City Council, flying in the face of its self-declared climate emergency. The Council is between a rock and a hard place. It needs to service the debt from its investment in the absence of a developer. Open, flat, brownfield land close to the city centre is attractive for car parking but not to the local community.
The decision has sparked massive protests from the local New Islington Free School and residents in the surrounding neighbourhoods. Around 10,000 people signed an online petition calling for the car plans to be scrapped in favour of a community green space instead. The school says the proposed car park would; increase traffic flow presenting ‘significant dangers’ to parents and pupils, increase pollution levels and impact pupils with respiratory problems.
Keeping Tabs on Local Planning changes
Homebuyers looking at property adjacent to vacant brownfield or commercial/retail units will need to stay vigilant for changes to land use designations or scheme approvals for regeneration. On the one hand, it improves derelict sites and could raise market values through gentrification and renewal, but it could equally increase housing density, loss of views and privacy, increased traffic movement and air pollution.
Planning data can also reveal positive opportunities for capital gain as well as enhancement of the enjoyment of a home. Searches that reveal plenty of approvals for dormer windows, side extensions and garden offices show how a neighbourhood could be improving or that homebuyers will be able to maximise the benefit of living in that area.
Although well known locally, purchasers moving in from outside the area could be forgiven for not necessarily being aware of the development proposals at Hursley or Sandleford Park, and the impact they might have if appeals are won. Additionally, across the country thousands of developments are approved each year on less controversial landscapes which escape such scrutiny and can be a surprise to those who have recently purchased nearby property.
By considering local Planning information ahead of exchange, solicitors and conveyancers can help raise their clients’ awareness of the potential for nearby developments which might impact the value or desirability of their prospective new home.
At Redbrick, we are pleased to offer the Future Climate Info (FCI) Premium Plus Planning Report (https://futureclimateinfo.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/FCI-Premium-Plus-Planning-Product-Card.pdf) which pulls “live” planning data from the supplier at the request of each report, ensuring that the very latest available information is used to compile the search. It also looks at developments that lie outside of the search boundary, which could impact on your client’s quiet enjoyment of their home.
Join our Webinar
We are hosting a FREE webinar in conjunction with FCI on 21 October at 11am. Hosted by Neil Wood, Senior Business Development Manager, FCI, the webinar will cover neighbourhood changes and the impact of planning decisions on property transactions.
To help safeguard your client and your practice risk management in these matters, we highly recommend you join us.
Find out more and register here: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_RDWhEch4TOmi5ZIxrApVyw