Government assesses Housing Zone bids

Potential areas include Stoke City Centre and Rural Suffolk

10 Housing Zones to be chosen from shortlist of 29

Feb 27th 2015

The government is currently assessing a shortlist of 29 bids from local authorities for selected areas to become one of 10 housing zones outside of London, complementing a further 20 housing zones inside the capital. The list of 29 areas was announced in a recent press release which said that most housing zones are expected to accommodate 750 to 2,000 homes. However, larger schemes will also be considered. The councils were invited to bid for a share of £200 million for infrastructure and land remediation to get their ideas off the ground. The 29 areas span the country from Gateshead to Hampshire and include Stoke City Centre Renaissance and the Suffolk Rural Growth Housing Zone.

The press release says that the purpose of the housing zones is to make it easier and quicker to build new homes on brownfield land. It also says the measure is one of a number of steps the government has taken to ensure that brownfield land is prioritised for housing development, including the abolition of top-down regional strategies which had earmarked greenbelt land for new development, and selling enough publicly-owned surplus brownfield sites for 100,000 homes. The government has calculated there is enough brownfield land across the country to provide up to 200,000 new homes, and it expects to see planning permissions in place for 90% of this land by the year 2020.

In a further announcement, Planning and Housing Minister Brandon Lewis said that 37 councils will each receive a share of a £5 million fund in this financial year to help bring large-scale sites forward for development: “This funding will provide capacity support for local authorities to enable them to undertake planning, project management and technical activities necessary to bring sites to the point of delivery. Each council has identified schemes capable of providing at least 1,500 homes, and will now use this funding to speed up the necessary work, enabling homes to be provided sooner than would otherwise be possible.” The government has published a list of the 37 local authorities that have received a share of this fund – the list is available as a PDF document from the GOV.UK website.

The government is also holding a consultation on further measures to assist brownfield development, including measures to ensure the sharing of information by local authorities on suitable brownfield sites – see our news item “UK Government makes further announcements on brownfield development” for more information.

Acknowledgement

Photograph: Affordable housing, Damson Way, Suckley, Worcestershire, 2008 © Copyright Peter Whatley and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

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Growth Deal will help River Thames Flood Risk Management Scheme

Phase 1 of River Thames Scheme will increase the flow capacity of three existing weirs

But residents still concerned over shortfall in funding

Feb 26th 2015

Residents living on the floodplain of the River Thames will benefit from a £30 million fund that has been agreed in a Growth Deal struck between the government’s Local Growth Fund and the Enterprise M3 Local Enterprise Partnership. The deal includes projects to develop flood defences along the Lower Thames as part of the Environment Agency’s River Thames Flood Alleviation Scheme.

The Environment Agency published a policy paper on managing flood risk from the River Thames in November 2010. The Agency said that the length of the River Thames between Datchet in Berkshire and Teddington in south-west London contains the largest area of developed floodplain in England without flood defences, with over 15,000 homes and businesses at a high risk of flooding. Major flooding, the Agency said, would cause severe disruption to the road network, the suspension of several major drinking water abstractions supplying the south-east, and threaten up to 20 electricity sub-stations.

According to the Environment Agency’s calculations, damages from a major flood of the River Thames could exceed £850 million. The Agency also predicts that the effects of climate change will double flood damages from the current level of £850 million to around £2 billion by 2055, with the number of properties at a high risk of flooding reaching 35,000. Responding to these concerns, the government published a flood risk management strategy for the Lower Thames in 2010. Its recommendations have been incorporated into the Environment Agency’s River Thames Flood Alleviation Scheme, which has been developed in partnership with Defra (Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Thames Water, and seven local authorities including Surrey County Council.

The River Thames Scheme consists of a new flood channel, improvements to three of the existing Thames weirs, and improved flood incident response plans. The flood channel will be 30 to 60 metres wide, 17 kilometres long, and built in three sections. Residents along the Datchet to Teddington stretch of the River Thames will also be offered property-level products (such as door barriers, non-return valves and air brick covers) to make them more resistant to floods. The Environment Agency says installation of the products will benefit up to 1,200 homes. It also says that all communities between Datchet and Teddington will benefit from the River Thames Scheme, including the communities downstream of the flood channel as modifications to the weirs will also reduce water levels between Walton Bridge and Teddington.

The Agency’s policy paper said that implementing the River Thames Scheme will be carried out in two phases, subject to funding. Phase 1 includes a number of measures including ecological surveys, hydrological studies, major incident planning, installing the property-level products, and developing a funding strategy for the scheme, the cost of which is estimated at around £300 million. Phase 1 also includes construction work to increase the flow capacity of the weirs at Sunbury, Molesey and Teddington, and obtaining the necessary planning consent. Phase 2 includes building all three sections of the flood channel and associated structures, and increasing the capacity of Desborough Cut. This Phase 2 work is expected to start in 2020 and take approximately five years to complete. However, the Agency expressed the hope that construction work could begin as early as summer 2016 on the modifications to the first Thames weir.

The £300 million River Thames Scheme was regarded as unrealistic by many local residents owing to a shortage of funding. Defra had initially pledged £165 million towards the scheme, with local authorities and other partners expected to find the rest. The ‘black hole’ in funding prompted local residents to form a pressure group and to ask government minsters for more.

Defra then pledged a further £60 million in last year’s run up to Christmas, but this still left a shortfall of 25% of the estimated costs and the new funding will not be available until 2021. The Surrey residents who were devastated by the floods of 2013-2014 must now be hoping that the latest announcement will bring about the much anticipated reduction in flood risk, including the planned capacity improvements to the three existing weirs. However, the Growth Deal, which covers Hampshire as well as Surrey, also includes projects intended to enhance town centres, reduce road congestion, and create new affordable housing, and Surrey residents in the north-west of the county have complained that the funding allocated for flood risk management is not enough when compared with the billions announced for new road schemes in the area.

Acknowledgement

Photograph: Eastern Bridge over Desborough Cut © Copyright Philip Halling and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. The Desborough Cut was constructed between 1930 and 1935 to avoid the meander of the River Thames at Lower Halliford. The cut is named after Lord Desborough who was the chairman of the Thames Conservancy at the time of its construction.

Barratt Developments and RSPB sign national agreement for wildlife-friendly housing development

Major development in Aylesbury Vale sees the start of three-year partnership

Feb 24th 2015

In a pioneering move, Barratt Developments and the RSPB have signed a national agreement which sets a new standard for wildlife-friendly housing developments, the first of its kind in the UK. The new approach will be adopted for a major development at Kingsbrook, to the east of Aylesbury in Aylesbury Vale. Subject to detailed planning, the development will include 2,540 new homes, new schools, community facilities and green infrastructure. The development is scheduled to begin later this year and is one of the biggest sites that Barratt is currently planning.

The RSPB says that the development will be designed with nature at the heart of the proposals. Green infrastructure will comprise about 50% of the Kingsbrook development and will include orchards; hedgehog highways; newt ponds; tree-lined avenues; fruit trees in gardens; bat, owl and swift nest boxes; and nectar-rich planting for bees. The development will also include 250 acres of wildlife-rich open space, the size of 100 football pitches, which will be accessible to all residents of Aylesbury Vale.

Aylesbury Vale District Council credits its biodiversity officers as being the source of the innovative concepts to be introduced at Kingsbrook. The biodiversity officers took the view that the new housing development could help improve wildlife and create an improved living environment for new residents. Councillor Howard Mordue, Cabinet Member for Leisure at Aylesbury Vale District Council, said: “The council has a major role to play in ensuring that the district’s web of biodiversity is maintained and enhanced. The Kingsbrook project will continue the good work we have already put in place, and will help us to protect the delicate and complex ecosystems on which all life depends. I see this benchmark project as the first step in developers working with nature agencies to deliver housing and also to protect the environment.”

The principles adopted for the development have now been incorporated into an agreement between the RSPB and Barratt which will see a three-year partnership aimed at extending the design ideas across future developments. The agreement will include reviewing Barratt’s landscaping and planting guidance to enhance wildlife habitats. Other features of the partnership include the secondment of a biodiversity expert from the RSPB to advise the company.

In a recent announcement, the RSPB said: “The partnership between the UK’s best known home builder and Europe’s largest nature conservation charity comes at a time when much of the UK’s urban wildlife is in trouble – with around 60% of bees, birds, bugs and mammals in decline… The three-year partnership will significantly enhance Barratt’s approach to sustainability and contribute to the RSPB’s goal of inspiring everyone to ‘give nature a home.’”

Welcoming the partnership, Mike Clarke, RSPB Chief Executive, said: “With hundreds of thousands of homes needed in the next few years, now is the time for conservationists and home builders to pull together to ensure that wildlife is boosted rather than ousted in the process. We are confident that many positive steps can be taken to build wildlife into new housing developments, giving nature and people a home and increasing the quality of life, and all relatively simply and cheaply.”

Mark Clare, Barratt Developments Group Chief Executive, said: “Working with the RSPB we can make the built environment and shared areas of our developments as nature friendly as possible and, at the same time, the developments will become more attractive places to live. Our aim is that by 2020 we can demonstrate that we will have a net positive impact on ecology and biodiversity across our development portfolio. For too long, nature conservation has often been seen to be in conflict with economic development and job creation. Our partnership with the RSPB will demonstrate how we protect and enhance the biodiversity of the local area, benefitting the economy, creating employment and improving health and wellbeing for our customers and the communities we create.”

Acknowledgement

Photograph: House Sparrow by gardenbirdwatching.com. Licensed under Creative Commons. The House Sparrow has an RSPB red status, meaning it has the highest conservation priority and needs urgent action. The RSPB says that monitoring suggests a severe decline in the UK house sparrow population, recently estimated as dropping by 71% between 1977 and 2008 with substantial declines in both rural and urban populations.

River basin management plans for Wales – Consultation still open

Natural Resources Wales says consultation will close on April 10th, 2015

Feb 23rd 2015

Natural Resources Wales has reminded interested parties that they still have time to respond to a consultation on the draft updates to its river basin management plans for the Dee and Western Wales River Basin Districts. The consultation period began on October 10th 2014 and finishes on April 10th 2015. The Environment Agency is holding a similar consultation on its river basin management plan for the Severn River Basin District.

Natural Resources Wales published its first river basin management plans in 2009, following the EU’s Water Framework Directive. The Water Framework Directive requires measures to be taken to encourage the sustainable use of water and to protect and improve inland surface waters, groundwaters and coastal waters, with the aim of achieving good status. The 2009 plans outlined the actions that would need to be taken so that more waters were at good status by 2015. They also outlined what needed to be investigated to test whether all waters could justifiably achieve this by 2027.

Under the Water Framework Directive, the plans must be reviewed and updated every six years. Updated plans for each river basin district in Wales are due to be published in December 2015. The draft updates set out the objectives for rivers, lakes, estuaries, coastal waters and groundwaters from 2015 to 2021. Each plan outlines the actions needed to improve the water environment, the benefits that could be achieved, and who is best placed to deliver them.

Natural Resources Wales says: “This consultation is an important step in shaping the management of the water environment throughout Wales and gives you the chance to influence the approach. The best way to protect and improve the water environment is by everyone becoming actively involved.”

A consultation on flood risk management plans ran until the end of January and Natural Resources Wales says that coordinating flood risk management and river basin management planning will make it easier for stakeholders with interests in both to share their views, and for everyone to take a wider view of opportunities for managing the water environment more effectively. “Together, these two plans will shape important decisions, direct considerable investment and action, and deliver significant benefits to society and the environment.”

The draft plans and background information are all available from the Natural Resources Wales website and include summaries for twelve catchment areas:

  • Usk Management Catchment
  • Teifi and North Ceredigion Management Catchment
  • Tawe to Cadoxton Management Catchment
  • South-East Valleys Management Catchment
  • Cleddau and Pembrokeshire Coastal Rivers Management Catchment
  • Carmarthen Bay and Gower Management Catchment
  • Meirionnydd Management Catchment
  • Lleyn and Eryri Management Catchment
  • Dee Management Catchment
  • Conwy Management Catchment
  • Clwyd Management Catchment
  • Ynys Môn Management Catchment

For further information see Natural Resources Wales.

Photograph:

Mawddach Estuary, Meirionnydd Catchment. © Copyright Anthony Bloor and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License.

Small businesses advised to prepare flood plans

3,000 small businesses affected by flooding in 2014, says FSB

Survey finds three out of five businesses have no flood plan

Feb 20th 2015

In the aftermath of the floods that devastated large parts of the UK in the winter of 2013-2014, a number of organisations issued warnings to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to be better prepared for similar disasters in future. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) reported that over 3,000 small businesses were affected by flooding in 2014 whilst a survey of their 200,000 members found that three out of five (59%) of those questioned did not have a resilience plan in place to deal with extreme weather conditions. They also reported that two thirds (66%) of small businesses have been negatively impacted by flooding, drought or snow over the last three years.

Mike Cherry, the FSB’s National Policy Chairman, also expressed concern over the Government’s decision to exclude SMEs from its Flood Re insurance scheme. Three out of ten businesses (29%) do not have the right insurance in place, he said, and need reassurance that affordable flood insurance will be available in future. He advised small businesses to be guided by the Environment Agency on how to make a flood plan.

The FSB reported that damage caused by last year’s floods cost firms in affected areas an average of £1,531. Of those businesses affected by extreme weather, the biggest problems reported were disruption to staff and customers (46%) and disruption to suppliers, utilities and transport arrangements (32%).

In a recent article for the Guardian Small Business Network, Eleanor Ross recounts two stories from firms who were affected by the flooding in 2014. Suzanne O’Leary ran a store called Little Beach Boutique on Brighton seafront which was under water for two weeks. She tells how the event led to a decision to move her store to a larger space on higher ground, having been considering a relocation anyway because of the seasonality of the seafront location. However, the basement of her new premises has also flooded since the move.

Jane Beecham, a lab manager with the firm Intertek, tells the story of how flooding devastated the company’s premises in Immingham, Lincolnshire, which is situated on the estuary of the River Humber. Intertek provides inspection and analytical services. The petroleum testing and inspection laboratory uses hi-tech equipment for its analytical work. Much of this was damaged and the company was forced to find temporary accommodation. “This involved moving the gases we use for analytical assessment and generating a power supply,” she said. “It has cost £500K to rebuild the site over a one-year period. Before rebuilding, we carried out a thorough risk assessment and the new site was built slightly higher than before.”

In her article, Eleanor Ross writes: “For small businesses, a flood or natural disaster could easily spell the end of trading. Equipment is expensive to replace, and some insurance doesn’t cover floods.” She quotes Simon McVicker, Director of Policy and External Affairs at The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE), who warns of the risks for self-employed people working from home. Losing expensive office equipment through flood damage immediately puts these businesses in jeopardy, he says, and he advises homeworkers to check their insurance policy.

Dr Benjamin Mayfield from Lancaster University Law School is also quoted. He too recommends a flood plan and believes it’s crucial that businesses are prepared. “Businesses should consider the terms of contracts with their customers and what contingencies are in place to deal with delays and human resources issues.” he says. “It is particularly important that business owners be aware of any dangerous material on the property that could be released into flood water.”

The data company AMEE has also advised businesses to take action on flood risk, following research into business risk and business failure – see our news item “SMEs warned to take action on flood risk”.

Plans to build a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ include £300m for flood risk management

£73m for the Boston Barrier flood alleviation scheme

£14.6m for flood alleviation schemes in Horncastle and Louth, Lincolnshire

Feb 19th 2015

The Prime Minister and Chancellor set out their long-term investment plans for the Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire region this month. They included a £300 million spend on flood risk management for the region, spread over seven years.

£190.9 million has been promised for the Yorkshire and Humber Construction Programme and £137.4 million for the Yorkshire and Humber Development Programme. Of the £190.9 million Construction Programme, a total of £161 million will be allocated to flood risk spending whilst almost all of the £137.4 million Development Programme will be allocated to flood risk management (£134.7 million). The Government has also said that by the end of 2021, £13.3 million will be invested in flood defence measures at Lincolnshire Lakes to bring forward 6,000 new homes.

In the current financial year, £26.1 million has been allocated to flood risk management under the Yorkshire and Humber Construction Programme, reducing flood risk to an estimated 26,000 homes. A further £5.6 million has been allocated to flood risk management under the Yorkshire and Humber Development Programme, which will reduce flood risk to an estimated 46,00 homes.

A £73 million flood defence scheme for Boston, Lincolnshire, was announced last December. Thousands of homes in Boston were damaged by a tidal surge in the 2013/14 floods when the River Haven burst its banks. The ‘Boston Barrier’ will be built near a pumping station and protect up to 20,000 properties. Supported by £11 million from Lincolnshire County Council, the barrier will also encourage tourism by keeping inland water levels stable during the boating season. Flooding Minister Dan Rogerson said: “As we saw last year, Lincolnshire has been in the front line for some of the more extreme weather events. It’s important we support schemes that will better help protect people in the county.” Work on the Boston barrier is expected to start in 2017.

Meanwhile, the Environment Agency will be submitting plans next month for two flood alleviation schemes for Horncastle and Louth in Lincolnshire, an £8.1 million scheme to reduce flood risk in Horncastle and a £6.5 million scheme to reduce flood risk in Louth. The Horncastle scheme will involve the construction of a flood storage reservoir to reduce flood risk from the River Bain, whilst the Louth scheme will create two flood storage reservoirs outside the town to reduce flood risk from the River Lud.

The proposed reservoirs for Horncastle and Louth will include new earth embankments and automatic control structures. The control structures would manage water levels through the towns by gradually closing as river flows increase. This would maintain a constant flow through the towns until water levels begin to fall, allowing the control sluice to gradually open and the reservoir to empty. The plans have been developed in partnership with Lincolnshire County Council, town and district councils and internal drainage boards.

“Northern Powerhouse”

The figures for flood spending under the Yorkshire and Humber programmes were announced earlier this month by the Prime Minister and Chancellor during a day-long tour of the area, where they also announced a six-point plan for the Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire region.

The plan aims to deliver at least £6.4 billion of investment in transport infrastructure; to raise the employment rate by backing business growth and investment; to devolve greater powers to the region through devolution deals; and to back the core strengths of the economy “with major new investments in scientific excellence, and a particular focus on renewable energy on the Humber, food production in North Yorkshire, advanced manufacturing in South Yorkshire, and finance and technology in West Yorkshire.” The plan also aims to raise the quality of life in the region by supporting its unique cultural, creative and sporting strengths, including amongst other measures “cementing its position as the UK home of road cycling.”

The Prime Minister said the plan is “a key part of our work to build a Northern Powerhouse that can take on the world” whilst the Chancellor said the plan aims to boost the region’s growth by up to £13 billion by 2020.

The graphic below shows the figures announced by the Chancellor.

Flood Risk Spending - Yorkshire and Humber

Acknowledgement

Photo: River Haven and waterfront, Boston, Lincolnshire © Copyright Rodney Burton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Storm over Government decision to archive Green Infrastructure planning guidance

Landscape Institute, the Town and Country Planning Association, the Land Trust and Groundwork UK voice concern over a missing link

Feb 18th 2015

The UK Government has decided to exclude online planning resources regarding ‘Green Infrastructure’ from its main Planning Practice Guidance portal. Until recently the Green Infrastructure planning guidance was found as a link on the Natural England website. However, in line with the Government’s aim of simplifying the planning process, planning resources have migrated to the GOV.UK website with planning guidance gathered together and accessible under one roof – but the Green Infrastructure guidance is notable for its absence.

A click on Natural England’s previous link to Green Infrastructure tells visitors to the site: “This item has been archived. You can either view the item you were looking for in the UK Government Web Archive or visit the new Natural England site.” The archived version is a snapshot taken on 05/06/2014 and visitors are told it shows “web content acquired for preservation by The National Archives. External links, forms and search may not work in archived websites and contact details are likely to be out of date.” The alternative link takes visitors to the new Natural England website which has now been incorporated into the GOV.UK website, and Green Infrastructure is again notable for its absence.

The decision to archive the guidance has created a storm among a number of organisations, including the Landscape Institute, the Town and Country Planning Association, the Land Trust and Groundwork UK, who have collectively signed a letter to the Environment Secretary Liz Truss to complain about the decision. The letter can be downloaded as a PDF document from the Landscape Institute website.

Green Infrastructure includes parks, open spaces, playing fields, woodlands, wetlands, grasslands, river and canal corridors, allotments, and landscaping features such as Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS). Natural England says “Green Infrastructure is a network of high quality green and blue spaces and other environmental features. It needs to be planned and delivered at all spatial scales from national to neighbourhood levels. The greatest benefits will be gained when it is designed and managed as a multifunctional resource capable of delivering a wide range of environmental and quality of life benefits (ecosystem services) for local communities.”

The exclusion of the guidance from the main Planning Practice Guidance portal has led to the fear that the concept will carry little weight within the planning process. The President of the Landscape Institute, Noel Farrer, said: “Without proper guidance Green Infrastructure will effectively become ‘downgraded’ throughout the planning system. This is fundamentally at odds with the Government’s ambition, set out in its Natural Environment White Paper,’to be the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than it inherited.’ It comes at a time when the independent Natural Capital Committee has reiterated the importance of the natural environment in meeting sustainable economic targets and improving our wellbeing. We want Government to provide us with assurances that this situation with be resolved so that the real potential of Green Infrastructure can be realised.”

The letter has also been sent to Defra and the DCLG. It says that the exclusion of the guidance undermines the ability of all users of the portal to find up to date, relevant information on the key concepts behind Green Infrastructure and moreover is a particular concern when the value of Green Infrastructure in tackling pressing issues such as public health and climate change mitigation is becoming increasingly well recognised.

A Defra spokeswoman said the change did not affect the requirement to consider Green Infrastructure in the National Planning Policy Framework and planning guidance. Quoted in Horticulture Week, she said: “Natural England’s development-related guidance is currently under review as part of Defra’s smarter guidance project which seeks to simplify and reduce the amount of guidance offered to make it easier to use. A consultation on this topic took place before Christmas, seeking views on the relevance of existing guidance from the development sector. This is now being acted on. Natural England’s Green Infrastructure guidance is currently still available on its publications website and on the archived site. As a rule GOV.UK doesn’t publish best practice advice as organisations outside government can and are often better placed to do so. Defra will do user testing with developers and planners to check that appropriate guidance is available for those needing to take Green Infrastructure into account.”

However, a search for Green Infrastructure on the new Natural England website fails to reveal the missing item. Meanwhile, a news item in Building magazine reports that Housing and Planning Minister Brandon Lewis dismissed the groups’ allegations as “completely untrue.” He is quoted as saying: “We have actually increased green belt protection and have allowed councils to introduce a new local green space designation to give extra protection to valuable green areas.”

But the Town and Country Planning Association said that the Government’s response is puzzling as it raises issues about green belt which the organisations did not comment on. In a statement, it says that the organisations involved in the letter are right to highlight that the Government has removed key guidance on Green Infrastructure and are continuing to urge the Government to ensure that the relevant guidance is in place.

Acknowledgement

Photo from Wikimedia Commons shows the construction of a swale. Swales are designed to manage rainwater run-off by spreading it along an elevation contour line and facilitating its infiltration into the soil. The Landscape Institute says Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) such as attenuation ponds, swales and reed beds, can provide natural ways to reduce flood risk, provide temporary storage and improve water quality, and can also create wetland habitats for wildlife with additional potential for accessible leisure facilities.