We provide planning advice across a wide range of development types, over a considerable geographic area, for a range of clients in the public and private sectors. This includes residential and commercial developers, retailers, private landowners, local authorities, charities and smaller private clients.
The pressure on local authorities to produce more housing has increased in the past few years, and continues to do so, in pursuit of the government’s ambition to produce 300,000 new dwellings per annum. The Standard Method of identifying housing needs in individual local authority areas has caused much debate and not a few problems and is due to be revised during 2020 (expect a NPPF 2020 with further updates to the 2019 version). The Housing Delivery Test results for 2019 have just been published, naming and shaming those authorities that fail to deliver the quantum of housing the Standard Method deems necessary. The struggle to meet five-year housing targets means that some local authorities are overwhelmed and find themselves on the wrong site of appeal debates about the presumption in favour of development in the NPPF.
In other cases, local authorities seeking to deal with the supply situation through the local plan route struggle with the definition of ‘deliverable’ land, the definition of which has been tightened in the 2019 NPPF and find their local plans declared unsound or out of date. Wealden is the closest such authority too us, but Sevenoaks has been strongly criticised by the planning inspector over unsoundness, as has Uttlesford in Essex (which tried to meet its housing need with three ill-conceived Garden Settlements). Rother District Council has just adopted a Site Allocations Plan that was out of date before they did so, and in north Essex Braintree and Tendring are struggling, even as their local plan is being examined.
We have been advising a consortium of landowners for a number of years regarding large scale proposals for a new sustainable settlement in north Essex, as part of the North Essex Garden Communities project where the local authorities are seeking to identify an agreed strategic approach to the allocation and distribution of large-scale mixed-use development. This will include employment opportunities and infrastructure provision, in the form of Garden Communities. Areas of search for three new garden communities were contained with the Draft Local Plan consultations of all three Local Planning Authorities in 2016. An Examination into the NEGC proposals in 2018 found that further work of justification is required on certain aspects of the proposals, and of course there are third party objections to such bold and long-ranging proposals. The Examination re-opened for a three-week period in January 2020 and the inspector’s interim letter in presently awaited (February 2020)
Our present portfolio of work includes consultancy advice on residential schemes of varying sizes and in a wide range of locations. Our role in most cases is as lead consultant, reporting directly to the client, formulating and implementing a tactical approach and managing a larger development team of specialist consultants. Current instructions range from one or two units up to proposals for around 200, in a range of local authorities in Kent, Surrey, East and West Sussex and East Anglia, and further afield in locations such as Oxfordshire.
There are often quite stringent requirements from local authorities for background work, and even with smaller scale developments attention to detail and ensuring all the relevant information is provided can be a challenge. We are familiar with Environmental Impact Analysis in the larger cases.
We also have a significant range of other work in promoting longer term development proposals through the development plan process. The planning system is constantly evolving, and is the subject of a considerably greater level of judicial review than at any time before. High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court judgments can play a significant part in the nature of tactical advice we give to clients, and issues such a five-year housing land supply and the relevant of paragraph 14 of the NPPF are a constant source concern.
There is also a continuing portfolio of work in site development appraisals for a range of development including residential and commercial, and some of this early assessment leads to longer term promotion of appropriate opportunities.
Substantial changes have been made to the permitted development rules over the last two or three years, and that has led to the opening up of opportunities that did not previously exist. Of significant note has been the conversion of offices to residential and the reuse of agricultural buildings for residential purposes. We have been busy looking at existing clients' portfolios to see whether the changes can be used to advantage, as well as advising new clients in the same way. There is relevance in the use of permitted development rights in establishing ‘fall back’ positions, where it is sometimes possible, through a mix of PD and application proposals, to achieve development that it might otherwise not be possible to gain permission for.
We presently also have a heavy workload of planning appeal work, often derived from cases in which we have not been involved at application stage. This includes written representations, informal Hearings and Public Inquiries. We are able to directly instruct counsel and have good contact with the major planning Chambers.
We also have a range of work on a more diverse range of development types including applications for Lawful Development Certificates, and in a range of enforcement matters. LDCs can often be of significant importance to a client’s interests, both in terms of securing a ‘fall back’ position and in providing a tactical basis from which to launch other proposals.