City of Winchester Trust
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Planning Appraisal Group - TrustNews Mar 17

There has been the usual slowdown in activity for the Planning Group over the Christmas period, although the number of applications for review seems now to be picking up again.

We continue to see, and to object to, cases where a developer is seeking to redevelop a site and trying to cram too much onto it. Just recently there has been a case on Park Road. In this case there was an existing permitted application to build 4 four-bed houses. The new application was for a total of 7 dwellings (5 four-bed and 2 three-bed). The Trust has strongly objected to this intensification of the development.

Another thing we are beginning to see more frequently are cases of transformation-by-accretion-of-extensions. These are cases where a single massive extension or roof conversion would probably not be allowed, but where successive applications are made so that it is pretty much impossible to see what the original dwelling was like. This has frequently happened to (now) large country houses in the past, but has been less frequent in urban settings, where the starting point may have been a modest bungalow. Sometimes these developments could constitute improvements, and it may be a matter of opinion as to whether one incongruous building in a row of bungalows is an eyesore or a building setting a trend to be emulated. Change is inevitable as society changes but one would hope that only the designs that in the long term make for good neighbourhoods will make it through the planning process. Unfortunately, given what is now allowed by central government under permitted development, one cannot be sure that this will be the case.

That same central government recently published its White Paper called “Fixing our Broken Housing Market", which can be found at www.gov.uk/government/publications/fixing-our-broken-housing-market. It is open for consultation from 7 February to 2 May 2017 and anyone can comment on it either electronically or in writing - instructions are at the end of the document. It is a complex document in which it is not easy to see what the net impact will be. This is in part because what it says on the one hand seems elsewhere to be, either explicitly or implicitly, contradicted.

This government, like the last, keeps trying to tinker with the housing market using financial measures while blaming the planning system for the problems. But part of problem lies in the very title of the document. It is presumed that housing is solely a matter for the market and that as such universal access to affordable housing could be delivered if supply could be increased sufficiently. But who has any interest in increasing supply in order to drive prices down? Certainly not developers. Those who might want lower prices (house purchasers) create the demand, which tends to put prices up, but are powerless to increase supply. Hence interventions by successive governments which only prove that this is anything but a free market. As others have previously noted, the only way in the past that housing supply has been increased is by large scale provision of public housing for rent (as after WW2). The white paper acknowledges this to the extent that it says it wants to encourage councils to build more homes for rent. But at the same time it wants to extend the very right to buy schemes that have reduced the supply of public housing.

The other part of the problem lies in the tension, throughout the document, between central control and local autonomy. The Government wants a policy that achieves their objectives and it wants to ensure it does that, but at the same time there is lots of lip service to local control and local decision making. Local people should decide how much housing and of what kind should be in their locality, through participation in a neighbourhood planning process. But central government will now control how the housing needs for each area are determined. There should be local control over design standards, but the rules on permitted development may be even further relaxed.

Winchester does at least have its Local Plan Part 2 almost finalised; it has been through all the critical processes. Effectiveness was evidenced in the recent dismissal of an Appeal against refusal of planning permission to convert Gentian House, on Moorside Road, from warehouse to residential use. The grounds for dismissal include reference to the content of the emerging LPP2, even though this is not quite in effect yet. On the other hand there is no ground for complacency as the review process has to start almost immediately (in 2018).

So, if you have time, please read and comment on this government document – it is one way you might try to take back some local control. There is no saying you will be listened to - but if sufficient responses are received it might happen. Sending a copy of your thoughts to your local MP might also help.

Mary Tiles