2012: Review of the year

With the advent of the National Planning Policy Framework, the Localism Act, and a new planning minister, it's been an eventful year for the sector. Ben Cook and Colin Marrs look back at the key moments in 2012.

The 2012 Olympic Park
The 2012 Olympic Park

FIVE MAJOR POLICY CHANGES

February saw the extension of permitted development rights in Scotland. The changes enabled householders to carry out a larger range of works on their homes without planning permission. The Scottish government said it expected the move to cut applications on existing homes by a fifth, and that it would enable planning authorities to focus on processing applications for larger developments. The change did not attract the controversy generated later in the year by plans to extend permitted development in England.

In the same month, a presumption in favour of port developments was included in the finalised national policy statement on ports in England and Wales. It said there was a "compelling need" for extra port capacity over the next 20 to 30 years, effectively settling that question in advance for decision-makers.

Published in March, the National Planning Policy Framework included a presumption in favour of sustainable development. This puts the onus on English planning authorities to approve applications that comply with the framework's policies, unless they conflict with an adopted local plan that meets the area's development need, or their harm would "significantly and demonstrably" outweigh their benefit. The framework stipulated that councils with a poor record of allocating land for housing will not only have to earmark enough sites to meet five years' worth of housing need, but also identify an extra 20 per cent.

Powers outlined in the 2011 Localism Act, which came into force in April, included a "duty to co-operate", making it a legal requirement for authorities to work together on strategic issues such as housing numbers and employment land allocations. It also introduced a new right for residents or businesses in a neighbourhood to draw up a neighbourhood plan, stipulating where new building in their area should go, and what it should look like.

In November, the Welsh national planning policy document was updated. Among other provisions, edition five of Planning Policy Wales laid new emphasis on the importance of considering economic as well as social and environmental considerations when making decisions. Authorities "should recognise that there will be occasions when the economic benefits will outweigh social and environmental considerations," it said.

FIVE PLANNING TRIUMPHS

Four Scottish councils in Tayside and north Fife won the RTPI's Silver Jubilee Cup in February for TAYplan, a 20-year joint strategic development plan for the Dundee city-region. Judges said the model could be "applied to strategic planning across the UK and beyond".

In September, following a two-year investigation by London Borough of Brent's planning enforcement team, landlord Salah Ali was fined a record £1.4 million for turning a house in Wembley, London into 12 flats without planning permission.

In June, a local group in Birmingham became the first in England to be formally designated as a neighbourhood forum with responsibility for producing a statutory neighbourhood plan. Balsall Heath Forum successfully surmounted a variety of challenges to take the pioneering role.

The 2012 Wales Planning Award, organised by RTPI Cymru, was won by Caerphilly County Borough Council for Bargoed Library. judges said that the scheme had been "comprehensively planned" to bring a heritage building back to life. Work included a new cafe and other community facilities.

The Olympic Park was described as a "triumph of planning and development" by the Town and Country Planning Association vice president Graeme Bell. Work on securing planning permission for the park, which covers parts of four boroughs, began prior to London's bid to host the Games being submitted. The ODA said gaining planning permission in advance was "hugely instrumental" in winning the Games.

FIVE IMPORTANT PLANNING DECISIONS

In May, Tesco lost a Supreme Court fight to thwart plans by Asda to open an out-of-town store less than a kilometre from one of its branches in Dundee. The decision hinged on the definition of what is a "suitable" site for retail development, as out-of-town retail was only permissible where no suitable site was available more centrally. Tesco said it meant suitable for meeting deficiencies in the area's retail provision. But the court ruled that it meant suitable for the development proposed by the applicant.

In October, the High Court rejected developer Peel Holdings' claim that minor planning permissions it had gained on an out-of-town retail park in Lancashire amounted to new retail units, or a material change of use, meaning that planning conditions prohibiting A1 retail use no longer applied. Peel had challenged Hyndburn Borough Council's refusal to grant lawful development certificates confirming the change of use. Blackburn MP Jack Straw said that, had Peel won, the ruling would have undermined town centre first policy. Peel has since said that it will appeal.

In May, York City Council requested to withdraw its key core strategy planning document from the examination process in order to amend it, following its own decision to grant planning approval for developer Oakgate's out-of-town stadium and retail scheme at Huntington. Prior to the approval, council planning officers had told the committee that the scheme failed retail policy tests and would have a significant impact on the city centre.

In September, a planning inspector ruled that a 15-year waste strategy drawn up by seven London local authorities did not comply with the Localism Act's duty to cooperate. He said the North London Waste Plan had not been developed via "ongoing engagement" between the councils involved. It meant the boroughs had to go back to the drawing board.

A European Court of Justice ruling in March, relating to a planning policy change in the city of Brussels, led to the government announcing it would have to produce updated environmental reports on the impact of revoking regional strategies. The requirement further postponed the government's planned abolition of the strategies.

FIVE PEOPLE WHO CAME TO PROMINENCE

Within weeks of replacing Greg Clark as planning minister, Nick Boles caused a stir by saying the green belt was safe "for now". He later announced he wanted the amount of developed land across England to be increased from nine to 12 per cent to tackle the housing crisis.

In February, Northern Ireland environment minister Alex Attwood pledged to clear up to two-thirds of the 50 outstanding article 31 applications by the end of June. He later revised this target to clearing the majority of the backlog by the end of the year.

Vivienne Ramsey, director of planning decisions at the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), was in charge of dealing with all applications on the Olympic Park, totalling around 2,400. In February, Ramsey's ODA team won an RTPI award.

In July, Ernest Amoako, planning policy manager at Woking Borough Council, was inundated with calls from planners after the authority's core strategy bcame the first to be shown to be compliant with the duty to cooperate since it came into force under the Localism Act.

Nikola Miller, an Edinburgh-based consultant planner, was named Young Planner of the Year at the Royal Town Institute Awards in February. She was commended by the RTPI for her "enthusiasm, communication skills and commitment to planning values". She sits on the Scottish Young Planners Network steering group, providing assessment of professional competence advice to young planners.

FIVE SLIP-UPS AND SETBACKS

After being accused of ignoring planning officers advice and making "unsustainable decisions" by granting permission for two adjacent supermarkets, all 14 members of the planning committee at Fenland District Council in Cambridgeshire were forced to stand down by council leader Alan Melton in October. Legal counsel advised that the decisions would not survive legal challenge.

The Dawlish parish neighbourhood plan, the first in the country to go to examination, was rejected by an examiner so it did not proceed to a referendum. The examiner criticised the document because figures for housing in the plan conflicted with the emerging core strategy being prepared by Teignbridge District Council. Dawlish was among 17 neighbourhood planning frontrunners designated by government.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles was forced into a climbdown after he named the London Borough of Hackney as the worst-performing planning authority in England during a Commons debate on the Growth and Infrastructure Bill. A red-faced Pickles was forced to bow to the demand for a retraction from Hackney mayor Jules Pipe. Pickles corrected the record by saying that he had meant to refer to the neighbouring borough of Haringey.

Prime Minister David Cameron blundered in February during a trip to the West Country when he told reporters that the coalition was helping the private sector to recover, adding: "That's what the enterprise zone in Plymouth is all about." But Plymouth City Council's bid for enterprise zone status was turned down last summer. A Downing Street spokeswoman said the remarks were a "slip of the tongue".

Hambleton District Council in North Yorkshire was found in April to have allowed an airfield to operate for more than two decades without proper permission. Bagby Airfield's planning permission, granted in 1980, was limited to a named person and to 40 take-offs and 40 landings a week, but flights continued after the person left the airfield in 1997. The local ombudsman said the council had committed an "extreme and most serious" failure of planning control.

FIVE QUOTES

"I have been unprepared for this government's barrage of animosity towards the planning profession." An anonymous local authority planner's open letter to communities secretary Eric Pickles in September.

"Small rural communities are becoming rich people's ghettoes," according to Professor Martin Shucksmith, director of Newcastle University's Institute for Social Renewal.

"Either Greg Clark is the most incredible man on the planet or the original NPPF wasn't quite as bad as a lot of people made it out to be." So said Andrew Whitaker, planning director of trade body the Home Builders Federation, on the relatively mild reception afforded to the final version of the NPPF after the furore created by the draft.

"Not to put too fine a point of it, many of them are pig-ugly." Speaking at the Town and Country Planning Association annual conference in November, planning minister Nick Boles dismissed new housing estates that have been "bolted onto" towns and villages in recent years.

"We've got to beat off this suffocating bureaucracy once and for all". David Cameron tells the Conservative Party conference in October that the planning system needs to be reformed to allow businesses to expand more easily.


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