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.
Being located in Wealden District, we have had a number of years’ first-hand experience of the manner in which the Local Authority has interpreted the Habitat Regulations. The significant restriction on development imposed by the Council during the last three to four years extends to the whole of the Local Authority area and has been based on a number of different policy stances that have been changed at various times, often with little notice, and which have unfortunately been interpreted in different ways by different council staff. The result has been that we at ASP have had to continually adapt advice to clients in order to keep abreast of the changing situation. The council’s so-called ‘flexible approach’, coupled with ‘nitrogen credits’, have produced some frankly bizarre decisions, where proposals for unsustainable rural development remote from any services or facilities have been actively promoted, while proposals for sustainable development within existing towns and settlements has been firmly resisted.
The Draft ‘Proposed Submission Wealden Local Plan’ was published for consultation between 13 August and 8 October 2018. It is essentially the council’s reaction to an increasing body of evidence that is beginning to isolate it from the policy and practice of all of its neighbours, and which has also drawn significant criticism from Natural England. The council’s insistence that its policies and proposals, in combination with others, will adversely affect the Forest, is translated into a plan that states, in its first two policies, that none of the development it proposes will be possible unless the council is able to prosecute a scheme of mitigation. It is presently struggling to prepare a workable mitigation policy prior to 24th January 2019. If it fails to do so then the plan cannot proceed, because it will be necessary to prepare it afresh to take account of the revised National Planning Policy Framework which comes into effect (for local plans) on that day.The council has not reacted as yet to significant criticism from neighbouring authorities that the plan is not legally compliant, nor has it made any suggestion that the plan may need to be subject to major modifications to make it ‘sound’.
We spend considerable amounts of time with clients’ proposals to achieve the best possible outcome in such difficult and inconsistent circumstances, and we will continue to monitor the situation and advise our clients accordingly.
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 Essex, 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 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. It is presently intended that the Examination should re-open in October 2019 once the additional work has been carried out. Specific sites and boundaries have not yet been determined but will be refined through the Local Plan decision-making process in due course.
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.