Renewable energy projects are now part of the low-carbon drive to reduce, end, or even reverse climate change-related damage. But a rapid increase in residential and commercial developments is also helping to tackle another significant challenge – regenerating the decaying English regions.
In the north, this is especially true of urban areas like Manchester where the Government, which on paper at least is committed to levelling up, wants to use brownfield rather than greenfield land for redevelopment.
Brown or green, both need a common starting point. And that is to produce at the earliest design stage accurate, comprehensive, well-thought-out, and ultimately successful planning applications.
Why Enzygo? (www.enzygo.com)
Enzygo’s methodology here is to use director-led teams of multidisciplinary specialists with the skills needed to resolve all complex technical issues from the word go. We then create one-stop-shop solutions that take into account individual project environmental and planning challenges.
Typically, this approach brings together many years of experience in landscape management, geo-environmental services, hydrology, ecology, air quality, noise and traffic that can make or break an application which needs to be highly responsive to local needs and sensitivities.
It also means that we are usually extremely well-attuned to the priorities of local authority (unitary, district or borough council) planning officials and elected members – the ward councillors.
Making the most of the planning process
Given the stimulus renewable and waste-based energy projects, plus large regeneration, residential and commercial schemes, can bring to the national and regional economy, I thought it would help if as a planning specialist I explain how the planning process can work to everyone’s advantage.
I will start with the ‘planning balance’ concept whereby as a partner in the public planning process, Enzygo has a responsibility to support the core principle of reaching fair and reasonable outcomes.
Later, I have added some recent case study examples that illustrate the resulting benefits for local communities, new or returning residents, and property investors and developers.
However, before that I would like to look at the three essential stages of pre-application advice and/or planning performance agreements, submitting and registering planning applications and post submission.
Once these are in place, we are often closely involved in liaising with – and presenting detailed information to – key stakeholder organisations supported and funded by the Government to safeguard important aspects of our heritage, culture, and amenities.
The main bodies are currently Natural England (https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/natural-england), English Heritage (https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/), the Canals and Rivers Trust (https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/), and National Highways (https://nationalhighways.co.uk/), although others can be involved.
However, the other stakeholders we meet, talk to, work with, and respond to requests for information from, include individual residents and businesses, plus neighbourhood, community, and special interest groups.
Into the hands of professional planning officials
Once planning officials have received completed applications from us on behalf of our developer clients, individual case officers either make recommendations to their authority’s Planning Committee, or decision-making is delegated to the Planning Services department.
At this point, applications are either approved or rejected.
Where appropriate, we appeal on behalf of our clients against refusal decisions. Appeals are not simply a further attempt to drive through an application. Rather they are an opportunity to review refusal reasons, make changes, and provide more details to make, say, employment, business-creation, and environmental and amenity gains clearer.
I want to squeeze in here the early point that planning applications can be made in Outline or Detailed.
Outline applications can legitimately test whether a proposal is likely to be approved before high costs are incurred. Detailed applications submit all proposal details together at the same time.
– The law
The legislation, policy and guidance underpinning planning in England can be seen at the Government’s ‘National Planning Policy Guidance’ website (https://www.planningresource.co.uk/nppg)
All developments other than ‘permitted developments’ require planning permission as set out in the ‘Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995’ (https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1995/418/contents/made). Meanwhile, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) sets national planning policy for England in the ‘National Planning Policy Framework’ (NPPF – https://www.gov.uk/guidance/national-planning-policy-framework) together with Planning Practice Guidance which is updated on a regular basis to reflect changes and nuances in the NPPF.
– Current amendments
However, significant changes will be made following reforms instigated by Michael Gove as Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities These are being made under the title of ‘Prospectus of Proposed Changes to the NPPF’ (https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/levelling-up-and-regeneration-bill-reforms-to-national-planning-policy/levelling-up-and-regeneration-bill-reforms-to-national-planning-policy) which will have been open for consultation until 2nd March 2023.
Two significant outcomes are expected to be a greater emphasis on placing ‘… local communities at the heart of the planning system’, and a renewed focus on redeveloping unused brownfield urban sites to overcome housing shortages and most controversially the removal of housing targets for local authorities.
This is an essential stage where Enzygo is able to help both developers and local stakeholders identify and iron out potential hurdles and pitfalls.
It is a forum where issues can be discussed openly with professional local authority officers who have a detailed knowledge of local needs, political pressures, unique environmental circumstances and local development priorities.
So, for example, Enzygo specialist team members can help applicants to recognise and highlight the merits of proposed developments in a local context at an early stage.
At the same time, we can help applicants respond to local planning policies relevant to their case, plus other material considerations.
Improving the quality of planning applications in this way increases the likelihood of success.
– Emphasising positive aspects
This is similarly an opportunity to resolve problematic issues associated with a development proposal. It also helps to make decision-taking more efficient, effective, and swift.
The other key point at this stage we are keen to promote is the importance of encouraging a collaborative relationship with the authority and local stakeholders. This can defuse tensions.
Pre-planning advice is also an opportunity to clarify issues that need consultation, plus any anticipated planning conditions and obligations that might be attached, and additional information that should accompany an application. An example is environmental impact assessments (EIA).
Done well, this can reduce delays.
Planning performance agreement
This stage generally follows the pre-application discussions and involves commitments in which local planning authorities and applicants jointly agree timetables, actions, and the resources needed to take a planning application forward through the full process.
This can be legally framed or on a more voluntary basis through Memorandums of Understanding.
Asking local people
It is also important to mention local community and neighbourhood information and consultation activities. These can help an application to go through smoothly. More important still, they must always be in the best interests of local residents and businesses.
Enzygo has extensive experience in organising public consultation programmes that generate trust through genuinely targeted engagement.
Our work here routinely involves designing tailored consultation strategies; preparing and managing engagement activities; and creating collateral materials in the form of exhibition stands; brochures; letters to residents, MPs and council members; media releases; and online information content.
Similarly, we share consultation reports, issue resolution details, and speak to objectors and local political figures directly. We also prepare statements of community involvement.
How long does gaining planning permission take?
By law, authorities must make planning application decisions as quickly as possible.
For straightforward applications, this should take no longer than eight weeks. Unusually complex applications can take 13 weeks. Where EIAs are involved, the maximum allowed period is 16 weeks.
The two caveats are that determination periods can be extended in written agreements with applicants. If no decision is reached, or the period is particularly long, applicants can appeal to the Secretary of State, with the cautionary note that this itself can take some time.
The Government’s ‘planning guidance’ states that all applications – including any appeals – must be finalised in no more than a year.
Case study examples
As mention above, urban residential and commercial developments have become a major factor in local authority regeneration strategies, and the following examples should help to illustrate what this can achieve in practice.
– Former Albert Jones Warehouse Richmond Street
A recent high-profile example has been the redevelopment of 51-53 Richmond Street’ in Manchester’s Gay Village as a stunning residential regeneration project.
As planning consultant, Enzygo has worked closely on behalf of Eminence Development with Stephenson Hamilton Risley STUDIO (architect), Buttress (heritage consultant), Booth King Partnership (structural engineer), and Compass Energy (service engineer).
The mid-19th century warehouse site had been vacant and disused for a considerable period and its redevelopment will bring back into use and safeguard an imposing heritage asset.
The regeneration of the warehouse will also provide high quality apartments and a new townhouse in the heart of Manchester, helping to continue to turn round the fortunes of the area.
The fringes of the Gay Village have been declining over the last few decades leaving many properties derelict and creating a focus for increasing anti-social behaviour. The aim has been to reverse that trend.
– Long Lane, Darcy Lever, Bolton
A more complex example is the hybrid application for Muller Properties at Long Lane Darcy Lever, Bolton.
This involves two linked applications. The first is a full application for the infill of a disused railway cutting with inert dry material to form a development platform. The second is an outline planning application for the development of 150 new homes on the development platform.
Half of the site is allocated in the Bolton Local Plan for housing and the remainder has no designation.
As planning consultant, Enzygo has worked closely on behalf of Muller Properties and the landowner with (architect), Buttress (heritage consultant), E3P (structural engineer, ecology and drainage), and (service engineer).
The scheme is complicated, involving permits form the Environment Agency, plus Biodiversity Net Gain requirements.
The resulting homes will, however, make use of a brownfield site and contribute to providing a range and type of house that will go towards the unmet need for housing in Bolton District.
– Millfields Phase 3, Albrighton, Shropshire
Again in terms of new build residential, we have also been involved in the submission of a full planning application for 43 houses – including six affordable homes – as part of a larger greenfield allocation in the Local Plan to provide new mixed tenure houses to meet growing local needs in Shropshire.
As the planning consultant, Enzygo worked closely on behalf of our client Boningale Homes and the landowner with other key disciplines to co-ordinate and submit the application.
Importantly, we also organised and led a comprehensive public engagement exercise. This included producing a project leaflet and holding an exhibition to understand the views of local residents and businesses.
If you would like to discuss any of the issues above, or similar projects, please contact me directly.
Murray Graham, Associate Director of Planning, Enzygo Ltd