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News in brief: Transport for the North to get more powers; Pilot scheme calls for measures to stop utilities delaying housebuilding

Words: Huw Morris

A round-up of planning news: Tuesday 21 November, 2017

Transport for the North to get more powers

Transport minister Jesse Norman has announced that new legislation aimed at transforming Transport for the North (TfN) into the first statutory sub-national transport has been laid before Parliament.

Backed with £260 million of government money, TfN will provide the infrastructure needed to drive economic growth, create jobs and boost skills.

The government said the move to put TfN on a statutory footing means it must formally consider any recommendations made.

At the same time, the Department for Transport (DfT) has awarded £18.5 million from a £150 government fund for TfN’s smart ticketing programme. This will be used to introduce paperless, smart card season tickets for Northern and TransPennine Express, and Merseyrail passengers.

Pilot scheme calls for measures to stop utilities delaying housebuilding

The government must introduce measures to stop utility companies delaying housebuilding, according to the conclusions of a major pilot scheme.

The Housing and Finance Institute, which led the scheme, is calling on the government to introduce special powers forcing utility companies to deliver connections to new homes on time. It is also lobbying for a new housing innovation fund to promote different ways of tackling the housing crisis with housebuilding included as a national infrastructure priority.

Currently a water company may take between six months and a year to connect a property and still meet their regulatory target. Under the Utility Direction Powers, the Planning Inspectorate, the Homes and Communities Agency or the secretary of state could serve a direction requiring utility companies to bring forward connections to a site within a specified time. These would include a ‘take or pay’ guarantee to the utility company in the event that the homes do not come forward as expected.   

RTPI sets out agenda for chancellor to tackle housing crisis

This week’s Budget must include measures to intervene in the land market and give local authorities more powers and freedom to build homes, the RTPI has urged.

In a letter to chancellor Philip Hammond, chief executive Trudi Elliott called for the Budget to create a more diverse housebuilding sector as more than half of new homes are built by just eight companies, while only 12 per cent come from small builders.

She said this represents a major loss of potential new homes because small builders delivered almost 40 per cent of new homes as recently as the 1980s. Small builders should be offered ready permitted sites to build on, with the small sites register and the Right to Build Taskforce supported to achieving this.


Call to reform local government to resolve devolution deadlock

New forms of local government are needed to resolve England’s current devolution deadlock, according to a leading think tank.

ResPublica says existing counties should form the building blocks for taking on devolved powers. The county scale was the right size for councils to take the lead on creating local industrial strategies for their area, it said, which would unlock both local and national growth.

Reform to the existing two-tier system is urgently needed, it says, to deliver the ambitious changes and avoid the risk of counties becoming “left-behind” the cities.

The think tank proposes two models for future devolution. In the first, single unitary authorities at the county scale, should be responsible for all plans and services for that area. In the second, reformed two-tier arrangements, with county councils acting as the strategic authority with responsibility for strategic planning in housing, infrastructure, and economic development. Existing district councils would have cabinet-style decision-making powers.

Adonis unveils plans to create ‘brain belt’ powerhouse

A major new ‘brain belt’ linking Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford could create an economic powerhouse adding up to £250 billion a year to the UK economy and paving the way to the first new towns in 50 years.

National Infrastructure Commission chairman Lord Adonis urged ministers and council leaders across the arc between Oxford, Milton Keynes, Bedford, Northampton and Cambridge to “seize the opportunity” and harness the area’s economic potential.

He encouraged them to work together to deliver new and improved infrastructure, helping to unlock opportunities to deliver one million new homes and jobs by 2050, tackling the area’s housing shortage, improving local transport connections and creating new jobs.

Welsh housing associations urge review of affordable policy

Welsh social landlords are calling for a review of affordable housing policy to pave the way for building 75,000 homes by 2036.

Community Housing Cymru (CHC), which represents housing associations, unveiled a 20-year vision including a commitment to double the sector’s delivery rate by building 75,000 homes and creating 150,000 jobs by 2036.

Although the Welsh Government has placed housing as a priority in its Prosperity for All strategy, CHC is calling for “even more ambition, improved partnership working and recognition that affordable housing is the key to prosperity so that housing associations can do even more to tackle Wales’s housing crisis”.

Celebrated landscapes under pressure from housing development

The number of homes build in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) has increased by 82 per cent in the past five years despite government commitments to maintain their protected status.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said 15,500 homes have been built in England’s 34 AONBs since 2012 while the number of planning applications for housing has more than doubled in that time. It warned there is clear evidence of housing developers applying increasing pressure on local authorities to build new homes on AONBs by “exploiting poorly defined and conflicting national planning policy”.

Housing developers urged to engage ‘silent majority’ via social media

Developers should step up their efforts on social media to communicate with the ‘silent majority’ of the public who support housebuilding, according to latest research.

An analysis by Shelter of a YouGov survey of 20,000 people found housebuilding supporters are more likely to be members of social networks, particularly Twitter. Opponents of housebuilding are relatively light users of social media with more than a quarter not members of any networks.

The research, commissioned by consultancy Meeting Place Communications, found that although traditional news channels have wide appeal, active supporters of housebuilding are very close followers of websites, with opponents relying on radio and print. It suggests that billboard and direct mail are good channels to reach people who support development but who are not necessarily active.


Government adviser urges new focus on modular housing

The government must focus on modular housing and put more energy into encouraging offsite manufacturing or risk making the construction skills crisis worse, says a government adviser.

Mark Farmer, author of the joint DCLG-BEIS Farmer Review, which warned the construction sector needed “to modernise or die”, said current measures for tackling the housing crisis are “shifting deckchairs on the Titanic”. Offering greater incentives to small builders will merely use the same construction professionals as major developers.

“Incentivising small and medium enterprises (SMEs) will have the benefit of opening up more smaller lot size housing development sites that volume housebuilders (VHBs) aren’t attracted by,” Farmer said. “But this fundamentally misses the point that the SMEs and VHBs tap the same finite labour force – the same brickies and sparkies have just moved from small sites to big sites over the past 10 years.

UPS set for major expansion at East Midlands Airport

Parcel delivery giant UPS is planning a major sorting complex at East Midlands Airport.

UPS’s hub at the airport covers nearly 8,000 square metres and employs more than 340 staff. The new proposal involves investing more than £100 million into an 11.5-hectare site to the east of the airport, which is currently used for parking.

Planning documents submitted to North West Leicestershire District Council reveal that the 24-hour operation could employ more than 930 people within two years with nearly 1,400 jobs scheduled within eight years. The new hub would comprise nearly 42,000 sq m of floor space.

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