The Planning Awards: Experts' choice

The winners of the Planning Awards 2015, run by Planning magazine and Planning Resource, were announced on 17 November during a celebration evening at the Royal Society of Medicine in London.

Spanning 18 categories, they represent a huge range of outstanding planning work by councils, consultants, developers, lawyers, voluntary groups and other key players in the planning system. The winning entries were selected by a judging panel of 22 experts. The judges were looking for evidence that entries had improved or were likely to improve the physical or environmental quality of a place or the economic or social wellbeing of a community or other, category-specific, criteria.


WINNER: The Thames Tideway Tunnel, submitted by Thames Water

The Editor’s Award is given to the entry that is judged to be the most outstanding of all the category winners. Stretching more than 15 miles from Acton in west London to Abbey Mills in the east, the Thames Tideway Tunnel is the largest scheme yet to be examined under the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project regime. Given consent in September 2014, it is a colossal new sewer that will provide badly needed support to the celebrated but now overstretched London tunnels built by Victorian engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette. 

According to the developers, it will reduce the annual average volume of combined sewage overflow discharges to the Thames from 18 million cubic metres a year to 2.4 million cubic metres. Discharge of untreated sewage that currently occurs more than 50 times a year will be reduced in frequency by 90 per cent by the tunnel, say the developers. It is also due to deliver improved public realm, socio-economic benefits in terms of job creation and new recreational opportunities on the river.

As well as major physical and environmental benefit to Londoners, the tunnel also exemplifies the originality that is one of the key qualities sought by the judges. It was the first waste water project to be submitted under the Planning Act 2008 regime for consenting NSIPs. Inevitably, a scheme of this scale required high levels of consultation and a detailed examination process. It involved the developer and its advisers liaising with 14 local planning and highway authorities, numerous major statutory stakeholders, more than 20,000 land interests; 50 public hearings; and answering more than 600 written questions from the examining authority. he judges concluded that the scheme represented "a welcome return to public interest, big horizon planning, unafraid of taking on huge challenges to deliver huge benefits".

Award for Strategic Planning


WINNER: The Plymouth Plan, submitted by Plymouth City Council

The Plymouth Plan is the strategic framework for the transformation and development of the city, agreed by its communities, three universities, the Dockyard, Derriford Hospital, Devon and Cornwall Police, and the Chamber of Commerce and the council. It has a two-part structure — the entry related to part one, the overarching strategy, published in draft in January. Drawing this up involved three consultation stages, over 60 public events and more than 30 different partners. Judges were impressed by the plan’s "innovative and effective approach to the challenge of development planning through a combination of deep community engagement and joined-up thinking".

HIGHLY COMMENDED: Aberdeen City Centre Masterplan and Delivery Strategy, submitted by BDP; Planning for the Future Core Strategy and Urban Core Plan Team, submitted by Newcastle City Council and Gateshead Council

Award for Neighbourhood Planning

WINNER: CMK Business Neighbourhood Plan, submitted by CMK Town Council

Prepared by the council, advised by a business steering group, the plan invites investment in up to 5,000 homes, major new retail and office spaces, a univers-ity campus and community facilities. It seeks more varied and competitive shopping, a public transp-ort shuttle and protection for central Milton Keynes’ boulevards and wide, sunlit underpasses. It was adopted in June, after nearly 90,000 residents and 356 businesses voted in favour of it in a referendum. Judges praised "a complex business-led city centre plan without precedent, which included innovative methods of public engagement and attracted a high level of endorsement".

Award for Infrastructure Planning


WINNER: Thames Tideway Tunnel, submitted by Thames Water
One of the largest construction projects of its type in Europe, the Thames Tideway Tunnel will tackle the 10,000 tonnes of sewage-related litter that overflows into the river each year. Consent was granted for the tunnel in September 2014. It is the largest nationally significant infrastructure project yet to be examined, resulting in the designation of a new category: wastewater transfer and storage projects. Consultation involved liaising with 14 local authorities, numerous major statutory stakeholders and more than 20,000 land interests, as well as over 50 public hearings and in excess of 600 written questions from the examining authority. Judges said the scheme went "to the heart of the origins of town planning and its links to public health benefits". [See Editor’s Award above]

Award for Planning for Housing Growth (1,750 homes or fewer)


WINNER: Blackwall Reach Regeneration Project, submitted by Swan Housing Association

The Blackwall Reach Regeneration Project is planned to increase households living in eight hectares of Tower Hamlets from 250 now to around 1,575 – 51 per cent of them in affordable homes. It also entails new local shops, commercial premises, community facilities, a mosque and improvements to and enlargement of the existing primary school. The five-phase scheme will include the demolition of derelict blocks on the existing Robin Hood Gardens estate and the rehousing of its residents. Over 600 homes will be in tall buildings overlooking the river. Judges said the scheme represented "regeneration on a large scale that has demonstrated a sensitive approach to achieving social benefits for existing and future communities".

HIGHLY COMMENDED: Saltash project, submitted by Commercial Estates Group

Award for Planning for Housing Growth (Schemes of more than 1,750 homes)


WINNER: North West Cambridge Development, submitted by the University of Cambridge

The first phase of the North West Cambridge Development is due to create an urban extension centred around a mixed academic and urban community. Outline consent was granted in 2013 for 3,000 homes, 2,000 postgraduate rooms, 100,000 square metres of resear-ch space, community facilities including a university-sponsored primary school and 50 hect-ares of open space. From January 2014 to June 2015, 20 reserved matters consents were granted for the first phase. Judges praised the scheme, saying "the university’s commitment to high levels of affordable housing, exemplary sustainability credentials and investment in community infrastructure make this a worthy winner".

Award for Planning for Economic Growth

WINNER: Milton Park Local Development Order, submitted by Terence O’Rourke

The Milton Park local development order (LDO) covers a 100-hectare site that is home to over 250 businesses and organisations. Between January 2014 and July 2015, the park has had considerable investment through schemes coming forward under the LDO. It has enabled approvals for major office and industrial projects, a hotel and shops. Designed to last 15 years, the LDO removes the need for applications for specified categories of development and allows "complementary uses", such as small-scale retail and leisure initiatives, to support, diversify and sustain the established
business community. Judges saw the Milton Park LDO as "a great example of public and private
sector partnership delivering investment, jobs and growth".

HIGHLY COMMENDED: Junction 21 Enterprise Area, submitted by North Somerset Council

Site Allocation of the Year

WINNER: Southall Gateway SPD, submitted by the London Borough of Ealing

The Southall Gateway supplementary planning document (SPD), adopted in June 2015, establishes clear design objectives for the site around Southall’s new Crossrail station that is planned to deliver 6,000 homes and 3,000 jobs. The judges said that the document "promises to unlock a persistently difficult site", which includes an important Gurdwara, a Sikh place of worship. In a phased development approach, a new and upgraded Gurdwara is to be built, after which the existing temple is due to be vacated and the site released. The plan creates potential for new public spaces and transport facilities as well as homes and jobs. The judges praised the extensive public consultation undertaken with the local community. They said the SPD would "harness the Crossrail opportunity through the improvement of important local amenities and the creation of a vibrant
new place"

Award for Waste and Minerals Planning

WINNER: The Ecological Enhancement of RSPB Cliffe Pools, submitted by WYG

A wetland habitat, conservation area and visitor attraction, the RSPB Cliffe Pools Nature Reserve secured permission in May for a ten-year scheme to enhance the site’s ecology, using up to a million cubic metres of natural waste from major infrastructure projects in London. The design creates shallow saline lagoons and nesting islands to benefit wading birds, waterfowl and other species. As well as using dredgings from the River Thames, RSPB Cliffe Pools is intended to act as a sustainable site for use of clays, sands and soils generated by major projects in London, such as the Thames Tideway Tunnel. Praising its partnership approach and reuse of waste, judges said the scheme was "a clear winner for innovation and demonstrating delivery of benefits in a sustainable way".

Award for Planning for the Environment

WINNER: Lincolnshire Lakes, submitted by the Lucent Group

Lincolnshire Lakes near Scunthorpe is a 20-year project with outline permission, subject to conditions and obligations, that is planned to provide 120 hectares of green infrastructure, lakes and wetlands as well as 3,000 homes and a commercial park. Designed to provide ecological, recreational and water management functions, it is intended to include allotments, formal parks and a network of green corridors, while retaining features such as woodlands and species-rich grasslands. Judges were impressed by the way environmental enhancement has been a key objective for the scheme. They praised it for "integrating the natural assets of the Lincolnshire environment, bringing it into the design of the housing development".

HIGHLY COMMENDED: Gloucester Services, submitted by Pegasus Group

Award for Making Development Viable

WINNER: Northamptonshire Revolving Infrastructure Fund: A45 Daventry Development Link, submitted by Northamptonshire County Council

The Northamptonshire Revolving Infrastructure Fund (NRIF), pioneered by the county council, relies on innovative funding to support otherwise unaffordable infrastructure projects. The system involves a partnership between developer, contractor and highway and planning authority. The 5.7-kilometre A45 DDL road constituted a pilot project for the NRIF system. The county council and Daventry District Council developed a "funding bridge" as well as other initiatives to ensure that the £35.7-million scheme is viable. This involved the county "front-funding" design, planning and delivery, recouping the investment from development-related income. The judges described it as "an innovative and pioneering approach to funding and viability".

HIGHLY COMMENDED: Draft Development Viability SPD, submitted by Islington Council

Award for Stakeholder Engagement in Planning

WINNER: CMK Business Neighbourhood Plan – ‘The Alliance Plan’, submitted by CMK Town Council

The town council spent several months meeting business leaders, Milton Keynes Council and other community stakeholders to ensure broad stakeholder engagement with the plan in and beyond the town centre. On 7 May, the CMK neighbourhood plan became the first neighbourhood plan in the UK to go to a borough-wide referendum. Well over 80 per cent of residential and business voters said yes, with a 60 per cent turnout in each case. Judges praised the town council for putting "effective stakeholder consultation at the heart of plan-making" and noted the success of its innovative eng-agement with all stakeholders.

HIGHLY COMMENDED: Bringing Sainsbury’s to Ambleside, submitted by Local Dialogue; Drayton: Working with the Community, submitted by WYG

Planning Law Firm of the Year


WINNER: Trowers & Hamlins LLP

Ground-breaking work by Trowers & Hamlins for Cherwell District Council to secure approval for the UK’s first large-scale self-build housing project in Bicester, Oxfordshire, prompted this award. The scheme seeks to develop 1,900 self-build homes and associated infrastructure. The nature of the project made this a challenging assignment: a self-build development, which would also include major transport facilities, wide-ranging community infrastructure and a school, on land that remained restricted and operational as a Defence Infrastructure Organisation area during the planning process. Key to success was the agreement of a complex planning obligation giving the flexibility for the scheme to be entirely self-build. Judges described it as "a genuinely innovative scheme pushing legal and planning boundaries in an area of immense public benefit".

HIGHLY COMMENDED: Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co

Award for Planning Consultancy of the Year



LUC’s submission illustrated the range of its work to improve the physical and environmental quality of places. Among many achievements, it showed how, in the last year the consultancy has secured permission for ground-breaking watercourse and wetland restoration schemes, undertaken research on how councils are planning for climate change, and led green belt reviews that have unlocked sites for sustainable development. Judges described LUC as a "clear winner". They pointed to its "tremendous track record" and were impressed by the team’s "clear, thoughtful and well-written application that addressed all of the criteria".

Local Authority Team of the Year


JOINT WINNER: Plymouth City Council Strategic Planning and Infrastructure Department

Planners at the council have taken a radical approach to plan-making – combining more than
130 strategies into one integrated plan. They ensured that innovative approaches to community engagement were integral to the city’s development plan, published in draft form in January. The development management team reports 96 per cent of major applications decided on time in 2015/16, and an average application validation time of two days.

JOINT WINNER: Southend-on-Sea Borough Council Planning Group

In 2014/15, the group’s net cost to the borough was £970,000. In the same period, it contributed £563,000 in application fee and pre-application income. Over the past year, the group has seen a series of key planning policy documents through from examination to adoption, including the Joint Area Action Plan and Community Infrastructure Levy charging schedule for London Southend Airport. They worked closely with the developer on the high-profile Marine Plaza seafront regeneration scheme, which comprises 282 homes, restaurants, cafes and commercial space.

In a close contest between these two teams, judges resolved their differences by deciding that they should be made joint winners. They were impressed by the value-for-money approach demonstrated by both teams, saying they were "exemplars of a plan-led system bringing about a long-lasting impact, by attracting large scale investment and environmental improvement".

HIGHLY COMMENDED: NewcastleGateshead Core Strategy and Urban Core Plan Team, submitted by Newcastle City Council and Gateshead Council

Planning Permission of the Year

WINNER: The Sill National Landscape Discovery Centre, submitted by Cundall

The Sill is a planned new visitor centre cum education and research facility dedicated to the landscapes of the Northumberland national park and the wider North-East. Planning approval was granted in October 2014, subject to various pre-commencement conditions. It involves the redevelopment of the existing National Park Visitor Centre and youth hostel at Once Brewed on Hadrian’s Wall. Securing permission required the applicants to satisfy the statutory authorities that a significant development in a statutory style could be accommodated on a highly sensitive site, which is in a national park, is a World Heritage Site, an area with Dark Sky status and next to a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

Best Workplace

WINNER: Turley

Turley is an employee-owned planning consultancy with ten offices across the UK. Co-owners of the company receive an equal dividend amount each year and also benefit from mentoring, graduate and leadership training programmes. The entry cited low absence rates, high rates of retention and promotion. It also set out how the co-owners are encouraged to contribute to decision-making and flexible working, practices enshrined in the firm’s business strategy. The judges said Turley was a great example of a company that believes in its staff. They were impressed by the provision for flexible working, which includes the option of a sabbatical. This, they said, was "a means of keeping staff and giving them scope to develop".

Enforcement Award

WINNER: Ealing Council Outhouse Project in partnership with Ivy Legal, submitted by London Borough of Ealing

This partnership works to tackle the problem of sub-standard outbuilding conversions being used as dwellings. It aims to consider the interests of residents of these "beds in sheds" as well as broader community interests and to encourage more responsible behaviour by landlords through a rigorous system of inspections, as well as contravention and enforcement notices. Between January 2014 and the submission, 101 enforcement notices were issued for outbuildings used as dwellings in the borough, typically requiring demolition or cessation of dwelling use. Forty-eight notices were appealed, with 22 decided. The borough’s overall success rate on the appeals was 86 per cent. Judges described the Outhouse Project as "an excellent example of a multi-agency approach to tackling a serious, environmentally and socially damaging misuse of property". They praised the council for ensuring that "the needs and future of displaced persons are taken into account and actioned".


Burges Salmon    

Burges Salmon are specialist infrastructure planning lawyers, working on some of the largest infrastructure projects in the UK, with market-leading expertise in DCO/NSIP applications under the Planning Act 2008.  



CgMs Consulting was  acquired by RPS Group plc in August 2014. RPS provides integrated planning, heritage and environmental consultancy services to UK property investors, developers, landowners   and occupiers.

H4 Group  


H4 provides CGIs and animations for the property industry. We are the only practice in London and China who offer the visual tools to win planning consents and placate local objectors.  

Pegasus Group    

Pegasus Group was established in 2003 and is a leading consultancy specialising in planning,   environmental and design services. With nine offices and over 230 staff in the UK, Pegasus prides itself on its first-rate service.  

The Planning Officers Society  


The Planning Officers Society is the voice for public sector planning practitioners, pursuing good and effective planning practice within local government.  


Thorncliffe is the UK’s leading political and consultation agency for the property industry. We specialise in delivering resolutions to grant permission for clients by consulting with communities and   their representatives.

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