Category Archives: Development

Consultation seeks views on long-term strategy for managing the UK’s mineral resources

Surveys show the demand for sand and gravel is outstripping new capacity

Maintaining a steady and adequate supply of minerals will become increasingly difficult in the long-term, says MPA

February 21st 2017

The Mineral Products Association (MPA) and the CBI Minerals Group have launched a consultation on proposals for a UK Minerals Strategy, designed to meet the objectives of the Government’s Industrial Strategy and the National Infrastructure Delivery Plan. The MPA says that over 5 billion tonnes of minerals will be required over the next 25 years to meet these objectives, and supplying such a demand will need careful planning and management. The consultation is seeking the views of key stakeholders such as local planning authorities, regulatory bodies and environmental organisations, as well as those involved in the extraction industry. The key priorities for the strategy include: ensuring an adequate and steady supply of UK minerals to meet demand; encouraging trade and the export of UK minerals; reducing supply risks from global insecurity; safeguarding both mineral resources and crucial transport infrastructure; and mitigating the impacts of extraction, processing and transportation.

Sand and gravel: The long-term problem of supply and demand

In recent years the MPA has published an Annual Mineral Planning Survey, based on data for the whole of the UK and provided in confidence by MPA members. Its fourth survey, published twelve months ago, covers the period to the end of 2014. The survey shows an increase in the demand for aggregates, but highlights a recurring problem of declining reserves. The MPA said: “Unless action is taken on updating and extending the coverage of mineral plans and speeding up the planning process, the construction industry will face increasing supply challenges, particularly local sand and gravel.” The data shows that sales of sand, gravel and crushed rock increased in 2014 in comparison with previous years, “reflecting growth in overall construction and economic activity.” However, the data also shows that “sand and gravel is being severely under-replenished as reserves are used twice as fast as new capacity is being permitted.”

The fifth survey, published in December 2016, covers the period to the end of 2015. The survey also highlights the problem of long-term supply. On the one hand, the data shows that the consents for sand and gravel reserves in 2015 exceeded annual sales for the first time in ten years. But the ten-year average shows that the demand for sand and gravel “continues to consistently outstrip new reserves being permitted” with a replenishment rate of 61%. In the case of crushed rock, “while the 10-year average replenishment rate remains above 100%, the new reserves permitted in 2015 were less than the annual sales for the third consecutive year.”

BDS report shows quarry closures outnumber new outlets in 2015

BDS Marketing Research publishes an annual report on the estimated outputs of all the 800 pits, quarries and marine wharves currently operating in the UK. Its latest report, published last November, also highlights the problem of supply. The report says that 38 pits and quarries opened in 2015 as aggregates companies responded to higher volumes. Markets increased by 4% in 2015 and the report forecasts stronger growth over the next few years, though this is dependent on major infrastructure projects and EU uncertainty. The report’s author Andy Sales said: “The industry has been successful in opening new quarries or re-opening existing sites that shut during the recession. However, aggregates companies have also closed 47 quarries over the same period. Most of these were the result of reserves being exhausted. This is an increasing issue for the industry.” [1]

Planning: From site identification to production can take 10 to 15 years

The MPA locates the source of the replenishment problem in the planning process. Reporting on the fourth survey, the MPA says it takes three years on average to secure permission for both sand and gravel and crushed rock reserves, whilst the entire process from site identification to production can take up to 15 years. Commenting on the fifth survey, Mark Russell, the MPA’s Director of Planning and Mineral Resources, said 10–15 years are typically required to bring a new aggregate extraction site into operation – “from identifying and securing a site, through to getting it into a local plan, securing a planning permission through the development plan system, and finally getting the permission implemented.” Whilst the 2015 data shows an increase in the number of planning applications for sand and gravel extraction, the data also shows that sand and gravel determinations in 2015 took 14 months longer than applications determined in 2014. The data also shows that “the time to issue consents post-committee determination has increased, which may reflect decreasing local planning authority resources and/or increasing information requirements and complexity.”

Nigel Jackson, the MPA’s CEO, expressed the hope that both government and planning authorities will take note of the messages coming from these surveys “and give more commitment to speeding up both the plan-making system and the processing of planning applications, otherwise maintaining a steady and adequate supply will become increasingly difficult over the longer term.” He said that investing in the skills required by planning authorities to handle aggregates and quarrying issues is vital. “We think that better use could be made of the talent that is already in place by sharing specialist officers between authorities to create centres of mineral planning excellence,” he said. He also expressed the belief that urgent attention should be given to “improving the interface between planning and the key permitting functions of the Environment Agency and Natural England, which should be far more integrated.”

Mark Russell commented: “The industry generally works well with local mineral planning authorities, but they need to be properly resourced so they have enough capacity and expertise to deliver their functions in a timely and effective manner.” As regards local plans, the MPA points out that, at the beginning of November 2016, only 78 out of 122 (63.9%) local planning authorities in England had adopted a Core Strategy and Local Plan, while 18 out of 25 (74%) local authorities in Wales had adopted a Local Development Plan.

Minerals and the UK economy: Raising awareness

The MPA published a report at its annual conference last June titled ‘The Mineral Products Industry at a Glance’. The report shows that, in terms of volume, “the mineral products industry is the largest industry in the UK, with 1 million tonnes of aggregates, asphalt, cement, concrete and other mineral products supplied every day.” The MPA says that most of these products are used in the UK construction industry and help to improve the country’s housing stock, transport networks, utilities, commercial and industrial buildings, schools and hospitals. Forecasts based on current construction projects suggest that the demand for mineral products is likely to rise by 11–16% by 2019, whilst recycled and secondary materials now account for 28% of the UK aggregates market, “putting the UK at the forefront of the circular economy.”

The MPA says that the mineral products industry is the largest element in the construction supply chain and a major supplier of key materials to many other industries. “A healthy domestic mineral products industry is essential for the UK economy,” it says. Commenting on the report, Nigel Jackson said: “Current government policy on infrastructure and housing is dependent on these products, and this report provides a wealth of detail about products that everyone in the UK uses but too few are aware of. Hopefully this annual update will help raise awareness of our sector’s contribution to the UK economy.”

The Institute of Quarrying organised a National Minerals Week last October, with the aim of raising awareness of the importance of minerals among the wider public. Sarah Fry, the Institute’s Business Development and Communications Manager, explained: “Minerals are all around us in our everyday lives. Without them life would be very different. They’re used in mobile phones, computers, cars, aircraft, bicycles, roads, buildings, bridges; in fact they touch people’s lives in ways that most people will be totally unaware of. We’ve launched National Minerals Week to help draw public attention to the contribution the industry makes to our built and natural environment.”

Meeting demand: A strategy for the future

Returning to the consultation, Nigel Jackson said the mineral extraction industry has been developing proposals for a UK Minerals Strategy for some years: “Thinking has evolved as a result of a series of industry-led ‘Living with Minerals’ conferences over many years, organised by the CBI Minerals Group… The primary focus of this work has been on ensuring that expected UK demand for minerals is met for the next generation. We are well aware that this is an ambitious task and the industry cannot ensure that objectives are achieved without engagement and understanding from all stakeholders. The industry is seeking feedback and responses to ensure that the future UK Minerals Strategy considers all relevant issues to make it credible and effective.”

The UK Minerals Strategy consultation is open until April 1st 2017. For further details, see the MPA press release.


[1] As summarised by Agg Net, the BDS report identifies Tarmac as the largest quarrying company. BDS estimates that Tarmac’s share is around 25% of the aggregates market. The top five companies are Tarmac, Aggregate Industries, CEMEX, Hanson, and Breedon. BDS estimate that these companies have nearly 70% of the total aggregates market.


Photograph: Pool at Middleton Lakes RSPB Nature Reserve, near Drayton Bassett, Staffordshire © Copyright Graham Taylor and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. Hanson UK won the prestigious Cooper-Heyman Cup at the 2015 MPA Awards for restoring the former gravel pits at Middleton Hall Quarry. Part of the land was bought by the RSPB in 2007 and is now an RSPB nature reserve.


Floating Villages and Amphibious Homes

Designing future resilience

Jan 13th 2016

We closed 2015 with an item on the deluge that swept across the UK in December and the statement by the Environment Agency’s Deputy CEO that a complete rethink of the UK’s flood defences is required. We also looked briefly at some of the innovations and improvements that have been adopted in the UK with regard to flood warning systems and flood defence technology. We concluded that amphibious homes seem an obvious topic to consider when designing future resilience and flood protection measures. In fact, according to its designers, the UK’s first amphibious home is nearing completion.

The UK’s first amphibious home

The UK’s first amphibious home was granted planning permission in 2012. The house is designed by the London-based Baca Architects, specialists in waterfront architecture and flood-resilient developments. It is situated on an island in a stretch of the River Thames as it passes through Marlow, Buckinghamshire, on a site designated as Flood Zone 3b and a Conservation Area, and located just 10 metres from the edge of the river. The architects explain the concept as follows: “An amphibious house is a building that rests on the ground but, whenever a flood occurs, the entire building rises up in its dock where it floats, buoyed by the flood water. The house itself sits in the ground and the floating base is almost invisible from the outside. The ground floor of the house is raised above the ground by less than a metre rather than by almost two metres as would be required were it not amphibious.”

In terms of design, Baca says that the house will replace a dilapidated bungalow with a contemporary family home, “designed to respond to the uncertainties of future climate change. The upper part of the house will be a highly insulated lightweight timber construction. This will rest on the concrete hull creating a ‘free-floating pontoon.’ The whole house will be set between four ‘dolphins,’ which are permanent vertical guideposts. These are expressed on the outside of the building, rising to the height of the eaves.”

In terms of how the system works, the architects explain that there’s a hydrological link between the groundwater on the island and the River Thames; essentially, as the river rises, so will the groundwater. The dock fills gradually from the ground, gently raising the building as the river level rises. When the water is just below ground level, the house becomes buoyant. The house is designed to withstand a 1 in 100 year flood event by rising up to 2.7 metres. However, the guide posts extend almost 4 metres above ground level so that in the event of an even bigger flood the house would still be retained between the posts. The pipes in the house are flexible and are designed to extend up to 3 metres, “allowing all of the services to remain clean and operational during any flood event and crucially to allow the occupants to return to the property immediately after a flood, maximising the continuity of their daily lives.”

The architects also explain how the system will be maintained via a flotation test, should there be a period when no flooding occurs to activate it: “Every five years the dock will be pumped full of water to repeat the flotation test when the house will rise up to 50 cm to test the integrity and free movement, before the water is slowly released and the building allowed to touch down again.

In summary, the architects describe the advantages of amphibious construction: “Amphibious construction brings together standard components from the construction and marine industries to create an intelligent solution to flooding. It is slightly more expensive than other solutions due to the two foundation systems (dock and hull), but comparable to typical basement construction. However, it is ideally suited to areas of high flood-risk or where there is uncertainty in future flood levels and in historical or sensitive landscape settings where other solutions would be unacceptable.”

Living on water: The Netherlands

Amphibious construction has been pioneered in the Netherlands, where much of the land lies below sea level. In 2005, the construction company Dura Vermeer built a number of amphibious homes as well as several floating homes on a stretch of the River Maas as it flows through the village of Maasbommel, about 60 miles from Amsterdam. Writing for Inhabitat, Evelyn Lee says each of the 26 brightly colored homes is built on a hollow concrete cube base that’s anchored to the land by a single vertical pile. All utilities, including electricity and water, are brought into the house through flexible pipes that allow each house to adapt to a 13ft rise in the surrounding groundwater.

A major pioneer of water-based architecture is the designer Koen Olthuis, whose company Waterstudio (based in the Netherlands) have designed amphibious villas; a floating quarter in Utrecht; Citadel, “the first floating apartment complex;” New Water, Westland, “the first living area on an open water storage;” a floating mosque for the UAE; and “China’s first floating, low carbon, eco-friendly healthy living center.” Koen Olthuis promotes the concept of ‘floating dynamic cities‘ as the way forward in adapting to climate change and rising sea levels.

Living on water: The UK

In some parts of the world, people have been living on water for hundreds of years. Homes on stilts for instance are a common feature in countries such as India, Thailand and Burma, where flooding has been a regular and seasonal occurrence. In the UK, there are a number of homes alongside Taggs Island that are attached to piles driven into the bed of the River Thames. However, the amphibious home represent a new concept for the UK, and one that’s been driven by the recognition that we need to adapt to climate change, with the likelihood of more frequent and more extreme weather patterns. ‘Floating dynamic cities’ may be a long way off, but plans for floating villages are currently in place for both Glasgow and London.

Living on water: A floating village for Glasgow

The plans for a floating village for Glasgow were unveiled in January 2011 as part of a regeneration plan for the waterfront of Glasgow’s River Clyde. BBC News reported that the proposals would see a £30m floating leisure village at Canting Basin on the south bank of the Clyde, with a mix of office buildings, studio flats and town houses with their own private moorings. Under the proposals, Canting Basin would be transformed into a “spectacular floating community with shops, offices, houses, restaurants, a marina and a roof-top concert arena.” The economic development agency Scottish Enterprise selected the company Floating Concepts as the preferred bidder to take the project forward. Baca Architects – who also designed the UK’s first amphibious home – is one of the companies who designed the proposal, the other being ZM Architecture, based in Glasgow. For the latest news of the development, see “Clyde Waterfront Regeneration”.

Living on water: A floating village for London

Two years after the Glasgow plans were unveiled, London Mayor Boris Johnson announced plans to transform the Royal Victoria Dock on the River Thames. The plans include floating homes, hotels, restaurants and leisure facilities covering a 15-acre area of the river. The Mayor said the floating village would be the largest floating development in the UK, the Glasgow development covering 12 acres. BBC News quoted the Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales, who said: “London is moving eastwards and the Royal Docks offer an investment opportunity in scale unmatched anywhere in Europe. This exciting development is a pivotal part of their reanimation.” [1]

In July 2014, the Greater London Authority issued a press release to announce that the plans for a floating village on the River Thames had moved a step closer with the appointment of the development company who would take the proposal forward. A consortium of three organisations won the competition for the role, comprising the construction firm Carillion, the regeneration funding body Igloo, and Genesis Housing Association. The architects who designed the proposal are dRMM, led by Professor Alex de Rijke.

On the design, the press release said: “The winning consortium’s scheme includes a custom-build approach for each of the 50 residential homes, enabling prospective occupiers to be part of the design process of their homes, and a blue water square, framed by a market square and a floating corniche. There will also be a large multi-purpose events space and a mix of non-residential uses including restaurants, cafes, shops and leisure and office space. Plans for additional facilities, such as a floating Lido and an ice rink, were also proposed as part of the bid. The scheme takes inspiration from the tried and tested floating homes at Ijberg and have been assisted by Dutch floating structures experts Mark van Ommen of Floatbase and Ton van Namen of Monteflore who have already delivered exemplar schemes of over 300 floating structures.”

In terms of construction, the press release said that the proposal is “100% floating with the walkways, residential and non-residential units anchored in place using a series of piles located within the dock and connected to the dock by bridges. The construction of the homes including the bases will be carried out off-site and then transported by water to the site.”

John Carleton from Genesis Housing Association said that, because of their involvement in the bidding process, they had been able to secure a higher allocation of affordable housing within the scheme, “which chimes closely with our mission to deliver diverse, mixed tenure developments in London and the South-East.”

The Mayor’s plans were said to be “part of his ongoing drive to transform London’s Royal Docks bringing jobs, commercial space and homes back to the capital’s waterways.”


[1] “London is moving eastwards”: In November last year, the Mayor launched his plans for a ‘City in the East,’ which included plans to build 200,000 homes on brownfield sites in East London. See our news item “London Mayor launches ‘City in the East’ master plan” for more information.


Photograph: Houseboat moored by Tagg’s Island © Copyright Stefan Czapski and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. “The houseboats along this stretch of the River Thames range from the makeshift and basic through to the really stylish – like this one, moored just across the river from the boathouse of Molesey Boat Club.” The island itself is uninhabited.

FMB warns of “skills time bomb” in the construction industry

‘State of Building Trade Survey’ shows 60% of small building firms are struggling to hire bricklayers

Nov 10th 2015

The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) has warned that a “skills time bomb” in the construction industry is threatening the Government’s ambition to increase home ownership and will undermine wider economic growth. Its State of Trade Survey for the third quarter of 2015 paints a picture of a growing skills shortage in the building trade.

In a press release, Brian Berry, Chief Executive Officer of the FMB, referred to the Prime Minister’s ambition of a legacy defined by increasing home ownership. “This won’t be possible without an ample supply of skilled construction workers,” said the FMB’s CEO. “Our latest research shows that a skills time bomb is in danger of exploding with a staggering 60% of small construction firms struggling to hire bricklayers. This has leapt up from 49% just three months ago. Looking at other vital trades, 54% of firms are struggling to hire carpenters and joiners, up from 47% in the previous quarter. If the skilled labour isn’t available, the Government’s ambitions for home ownership won’t be realised.”

He also said that it’s not just house building and home ownership that are being hampered by the skills shortage. “The future economic growth of our country relies on major infrastructure projects, such as HS2 and Hinkley Point, being built, ” he said. “We urgently need to boost our workforce by convincing people – in their thousands – to return to our industry or join us for the first time.” The CEO wants to see an increase in the number of construction apprenticeships. He also said there was a need to raise the status of vocational training and to promote the value of learning a skilled trade as a rewarding career.

The impact of the construction skills shortage was seen in last month’s figures released by the Office for National Statistics, which showed a 2.2% drop in construction output. In a further press release, Brian Berry said: “The latest figures from the ONS will shake away any complacency that the recovery in the construction industry can be taken for granted. The inadequate number of skilled workers remains one of the greatest barriers to construction firms of all sizes being able to grow and prosper – this contraction in construction output could, in part, stem from the increased cost pressures that businesses face as a result of labour scarcity.” However, he also said that the ONS figures should be approached with an element of caution: “This is the first fall in output for more than two years and business sentiment remains positive,” he said.

In a blog post, Dr Michael Harris, Deputy Head of Policy and Research at the Royal Town Planning Institute, said the skills shortage in the construction industry helps to explain the disparity between planning permissions and completions. In 2014, he said, planning permissions for residential units in England exceeded the number of completed homes across the whole of the UK by more than 100,000.

The ‘State of Trade’ surveys published by the Federation of Master Builders are available as PDF downloads from the FMB website.


Photograph: Building site, Stirling Road, Kilsyth, North Lanarkshire © Copyright Richard Webb and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

London Mayor launches ‘City in the East’ master plan

Development plan aims to build 200,000 homes on brownfield sites in East London

Nov 3rd 2015

London Mayor Boris Johnson has launched a ‘City in the East’ master plan which explains how major development should take place in London with the aim of building 200,000 homes and creating 250,000 jobs. The ‘City in the East’ master plan would see East London transformed, with major developments taking place from London Bridge to the Isle of Dogs and the Greenwich Peninsula, through to Ilford in Essex and Dartford in Kent.

In a press release issued by the Mayor’s office, the Greater London Authority (GLA) says the Mayor’s office estimated in 2004 that East London had the capacity for 52,000 new homes. But detailed modelling carried out by City Hall now reveals that a minimum of 203,500 homes and 283,300 jobs could be delivered over the next 20 years.

The ‘City in the East’ master plan brings together a number of major developments that are already taking place in 13 designated areas in the capital, known as Opportunity Areas. The Opportunity Areas have been identified as London’s major source of brownfield land with significant capacity for new housing, commercial space and other development.

The plan also contains a series of maps which show how the city is moving eastwards and indicates how London could benefit from improvements to transport infrastructure such as Crossrail and HS1. A number of projects, such as plans for an overground extension to Barking Riverside, have been made possible by Transport for London’s Growth Fund, which is designed to target transport improvements in areas where there’s potential to unlock new homes and jobs.

Alex Williams, Transport for London’s Director of Borough Planning, said that East London is expected to be one of the largest growth areas in the capital, with the population set to increase by 600,000 in the next 15 years. The press release says London is home to more than 8.6 million people with the latest projections estimating the city will grow to 11 million people by 2050.

GLA says: “To ensure this record population growth is managed, the Mayor has set ambitious housing targets that aim to double the number of new homes built. He has also identified numerous sites across the capital that are each ripe for thousands of new homes and jobs. The Mayor is on track to build a record 100,000 low cost homes for Londoners over his two terms, with more than 94,000 already completed. In this financial year, almost 18,000 affordable homes have been built, more than in any other year since 1981 and the equivalent of one every 30 minutes.”

London’s Mayor Boris Johnson said: “East London is already enjoying incredible growth and the ‘City in the East’ plans reflect how we make the area an even better place to live and work over the next 20 years. This blueprint reflects identified areas of land in London to build on and it will allow us to coordinate not only housing and commercial developments, but significant transport infrastructure to ensure this part of the capital can continue to flourish with hundreds of thousands of new jobs that will help the capital to remain the best big city in the world.”

The press release details the numbers of homes and jobs that the ‘City in the East’ master plan aims to deliver in each of the 13 Opportunity Areas. The plan forecasts 30,000 homes and 110,000 jobs for the Isle of Dogs area, 32,000 homes and 50,000 jobs for the Lower Lea Valley area, and 26,500 homes and 16,000 jobs for London Riverside. The ‘City in the East’ master plan was formally launched on Thursday 22nd October at the headquarters of New London Architecture in Bloomsbury. For more information, see the Mayor’s press release.


See also our news item “London Mayor develops Sustainable Drainage Action Plan for London” for news of the London Mayor’s London Infrastructure Plan 2050, published last year.

Council’s Local Plan deprives residents of their gardens

Kirklees Council tells Huddersfield residents their gardens have been allocated for development

Oct 27th 2015

A Local Plan published by Kirklees Council would deprive a number of residents in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, of their gardens. The residents have been told that the land they rent from the Council could be sold off to developers and used to build 39 homes.

The proposed development would affect 45 privately-owned homes on Taylor Hill Road in the Newsome area of Huddersfield. Although the residents own their properties, the gardens are leased from Kirklees Council for a peppercorn rent of about £150 a year and many home owners have invested tens of thousands of pounds on cultivating the plots.

The gardens are situated on an area of land behind the homes on Taylor Hill Road and Kirklees Council has provisionally allocated the land for development under its Draft Local Plan. The Council is holding a six-week consultation on the Draft Local Plan which begins next month.

The Daily Mail reports that the gardens are both cherished play areas for children and fertile plots for those who simply want to grow flowers, fruit or vegetables. As well as the loss of the gardens, the proposed development would also see the loss of around 21 garages.

Peter Moore, a plumber who has lived on Taylor Hill Road for 35 years, is said by the Daily Mail to have spent more than £60,000 creating a magnificent garden: “Along with a summer house, greenhouse, vegetable patch, fruit trees and chicken run, he also faces losing his huge ornamental pond – which took four months to dig out and contains 13 species of fish. The 64-year-old said: ‘I am more interested in the nature being destroyed than the amount of money that I will lose. I have done this as a hobby. Some people like racing cars, my passion is gardening and looking after the wildlife.’”

Residents have said they will fight the proposals. An action group has been formed and residents are organising a protest petition. They have the support of a local Green Party councillor Andrew Cooper, who described the proposal as “bonkers.” Speaking to the Huddersfield Daily Examiner, he said: “On so many levels it is bizarre the idea was ever included in the draft plan. The proposal makes no sense at all. Local people have invested their own time and money creating well-cared for gardens and many have garages to keep their cars off the road. I’m calling on the Council to drop these proposals immediately. The area is also a wildlife haven in Taylor Hill with bats, newts and other animals.”

A year ago, the Huddersfield Daily Examiner reported that Kirklees Council was planning to sell 938 garages and 1,238 gardens in a bid to raise £12 million. Speaking on behalf of the Council, Councillor Graham Turner said: “The asset disposal programme is extremely important to the Council as the money raised will be used to help offset the savage budget cuts that have been imposed by central government.” The Examiner reported that Kirklees Council needs to find £69 million of savings by 2017 and asset disposal is likely to net the Council £27 million overall. Its assets also include 21 farms and 91 grazing tenancies.

Last November, Councillor Graham Turner said of the people affected by tenancies or leases: “We expect this programme to take several years to complete, so if it is agreed at next week’s meeting, there would be no immediate need to contact the Council. We would contact affected members of the public at the appropriate time over the coming years.”

On Kirklees Council’s latest proposals – the plans to sell off gardens for development as part of its Draft Local Plan – the Daily Mail commented: “With an ever-increasing population and an insatiable demand for new homes, such land grabs could be a sign of things to come across Britain.” The UK Government expects all local planning authorities to produce a Local Plan by 2017. It has also set a target for building 150,000 new houses on surplus public sector land – see our news item “Small sites and small builders could accelerate the delivery of new housing, says Planning Minister” for more planning news.

Small sites and small builders could accelerate the delivery of new housing, says Planning Minister

Planning Minister faces questions on Local Plans, brownfield development, and zero-carbon housing

Sept 23rd 2015

Planning Minister Brandon Lewis was quizzed by the House of Commons Communities and Local Government (CLG) Select Committee this month over the planning proposals set out in the Treasury’s “productivity plan” which was launched in July.

Titled Fixing the Foundations: Creating a more prosperous nation, the plan set out an agenda for the lifetime of the current government “to reverse the UK’s long-term productivity problem and secure rising living standards and a better quality of life for our citizens.” The fifteen-point plan set out plans for long-term investment (covering business, skills, infrastructure and science) and a dynamic economy (covering planning and employment, financial services, competitive markets and international trade, and regional devolution).

The Treasury summarised the planning proposals as: “Planning freedoms; more houses to buy, including introducing a new zonal system to give automatic permission on suitable brownfield sites; taking tougher action to ensure that local authorities are making land available for housing; and working with the Mayor of London to bring forward proposals to remove the need for planning permission for upwards extensions for a limited number of storeys up to the height of the adjoining building.” (See the GOV.UK website for a full summary of Fixing the Foundations.)

The CLG Committee met with the Planning Minister Brandon Lewis as soon as the House returned to Parliament on the 7th September. The Minister was quizzed on a number of topics, including local plans, measures to promote brownfield development, the sale of council housing, the inclusion of housing elements in major infrastructure projects, the ending of the zero-carbon new housing commitment, and the sale of surplus public sector land. A full record of the meeting is available as a PDF from the Parliament website.

Local Plans

The Minister was asked what action the Government would take if local authorities did not have a local plan in place by the specified deadline of 2017. He said that 82% of local authorities had now published a local plan and 60% of local authorities had adopted their local plans, and he was optimistic that the remaining 18% would have a local plan by the deadline. He said the Government had no plans to make it a statutory duty for local authorities to have a local plan, but what measures it might take should the deadline be missed had yet to be decided.

Brownfield Development

Under new planning proposals, local authorities will be expected to keep a register of brownfield sites in their area. On granting automatic planning permission to build on such sites, the Minister was asked at what stage would issues such as flood risk assessments and environmental impact assessments be considered. The Minister said the detailed planning application would still look at those issues, as well as the question of design. He explained that granting planning consent in principle for brownfield sites was designed to give certainty to developers in relation to their finance, and would help small and medium-sized builders in particular. The Government’s aim, he said, “was to get the brownfield land that we already have and know about into the category of having 90% of it with planning permission before the end of this Parliament, and speeding up that process.”

The Minister was asked for more details of a £1 billion fund to help brownfield development, which had been mentioned on a previous meeting of the Committee. He was unable to give a date for further details but said “this is one of the things we are working through with the local authorities and partners at the moment and will form part of what we do with the brownfield land registry in the Housing Bill as well.” He offered the further clarification that the aim of the fund is to help make brownfield land more viable and available and therefore would help with contaminated land. The fund would be spread over several years and will be coming from the money the Government raises by selling off high-value council houses. Further details would emerge in the Housing Bill, which it expects to publish in October.

Small Builders

On measures that might bring about a faster delivery of new housing, the Minister said a focus on small sites and encouraging more small and medium-sized companies into building would accelerate the pace of development:

“I am personally particularly keen on making sure we do everything we can to encourage more small and medium-sized companies – not just sites – into building, because there has been something like a 75% drop-off in the number of small buildings. To put that in context, at its peak, something like 15,000 homes a year were built on small sites; it is now just under 3,000. Planning permissions themselves are going up; they hit just over 261,000, which is great. The system is delivering planning permissions. We want to make sure they are in as efficient and effective a time as possible, because one of the barriers to entry can be the cost and bureaucracy of the planning system, particularly for those small builders.”

He said that communities are much more accepting and positive about small-scale development. “This is one of the real challenges for large-scale development,” he said. He continued:

“I have a good example in my own constituency, where developers are developing out what will eventually be about 850 homes, but it is with one developer, which means that will take them the best part of 15 years. If that was broken up and had lots more smaller sites, it would be developed a lot more quickly, which would help our housing supply and help the local community, so I think those smaller sites are very, very important. Making sure the local authorities have that focus, are very clear about the importance of small sites and are giving good quality service to small developers is quite an important message to send out there as well.”

Zero-Carbon Housing

The Minister was asked about the ending of the zero-carbon new housing commitment. The new rules were due to be implemented in 2016. He was told that many businesses have invested heavily in the expectation that the new rules would be implemented and would now see their investment as a waste. The Minister’s response was that “going further now with zero-carbon homes would have added costs of something like £3,600 per unit to an average semi-detached house, and we just want to make sure that the industry has some breathing space.”

He also said that ending the zero-carbon commitment did not mean the Government was off-track for meeting the European Building Performance Directive by 2020. “We have to do a report every five years,” he said, “and our next report is due in 2017. We look for standards for buildings to be cost-optimal; that is why we keep them under review, and, if there is a change at that point, we will be expected, as a member state, to take appropriate action, but I am confident at the moment that the standards we have are strong.”

Some local authorities had started looking at Code Level 5 and Code Level 6, he said, which would have added £25,000 to £30,000 to the cost of a home. “We simply take the view that, at a time when we are trying to get more homes built and make them as affordable as possible, when the standards are there and building regulations give us the standards we want to see – with a review coming, which we will do for 2017 – it is not logical for us to be increasing the cost of building in this country.”

Public Sector Land

The Government has set a target for building 150,000 new houses on surplus public sector land. The Minister was asked whether the target was realistic. He agreed that the target was ambitious, and went on to explain how the target could be met and how the different departments of the Government fitted in with the plans. He also clarified that the target is not to actually build the 150,000 homes, but to release land on which 150,000 homes can be built.

Further Issues

Planning Minister Brandon Lewis made a second appearance before the CLG Committee on the 15th September, together with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Greg Clark. They faced questions on long-term issues facing the Department, such as the refugee crisis and its impact on local government. A number of other topics were also discussed. The ministers were asked for a progress report on the plans to revitalise town centres, questioned about permitted development rights and the impact on office space in London, and asked whether the Government’s plans to build starter homes for first-time buyers signalled a change of policy from building affordable homes to rent. On the latter point, Secretary of State Greg Clark said that the country needed to build more homes and that both starter homes and homes to rent were necessary. For further information on the meeting, see this PDF from the Parliament website.


Photo: Big Ben by Carlesmari via Wikimedia Commons, licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License.

Government allocates £26 million for house builders to acquire brownfield land

An additional £10 million will help local authorities prepare brownfield sites

Sept 21st 2015

The UK Government has launched a £26 million fund for house builders “to demonstrate a range of high quality homes that will be available for first-time buyers.” In a press release, the DCLG (Department for Communities and Local Government) says “the fund will support architects, developers, councils, housing associations and small builders to build properties that will increase the quality of design as the Government delivers on its pledge to build 200,000 starter homes by 2020.”

The £26 million fund will be used to identify and purchase sites and prepare them in 2015 to 2016. The DCLG says “this will enable more of the properties to be started in 2016 to 2017 and 2017 to 2018. The majority of the sites will be underused brownfield land, currently not allocated for housing.” Revenue from the sales of the sites will go back to the Government.

In a further announcement, the DCLG says the Government has also made available up to £10 million for local authorities to prepare more brownfield land for the development of starter homes. “The £10 million grant funding will be open to councils to assist them in bringing forward brownfield sites that are currently underused or vacant. It will help them carry out preparation, clearance and infrastructure work to make them viable for starter homes.” Both funds are one-off funds “designed to accelerate the provision of starter homes.”

The starter homes will be offered exclusively to first-time buyers aged under 40 with a discount of 20% on market values. The Government has released a series of exemplar starter home designs “to encourage developers to push for excellence when building the properties.”

The DCLG says the Government’s new Housing Bill and proposed national planning policy changes “will introduce a series of planning reforms that will ensure hundreds of thousands of starter homes will be built for aspiring young home owners. This will build on the work that local authorities are already carrying out through the local planning system with figures showing that the number of homes in locally led plans up by a quarter.” The measures include:

  • maximising the release of underused brownfield land to be used for starter homes
  • enabling communities to allocate land for the properties through their neighbourhood plans
  • bringing forward proposals to ensure every reasonably sized housing site includes a proportion of starter homes
  • promoting starter homes by bringing forward regulations that would exempt developers from levies that are sought when building homes, such as the Community Infrastructure Levy

According to the DCLG, figures show that before March 2012 the average number of homes planned by local authorities stood at 573 per year. “But radical reforms in the last Parliament put Local Plans and housing delivery at the heart of the planning system. This has helped expand the housing pipeline with those Local Plans published after the reforms containing on average 717 homes per year – a 25% increase.”

The DCLG says that, to date, 82% of local authorities (274) have published Local Plans and 64% (214) have adopted them – “in contrast, 33% (112) of councils had published and 17% (59) adopted Local Plans in May 2010. Councils have until 2017 to get Local Plans in place or the Government will work with their communities to write one for them.” For more information, see the DCLG press release.

The coalition government launched a number of initiatives to promote brownfield development – see our news item “UK Government makes further announcements on brownfield development”.


Photograph: Hardstanding at Lowestoft, Suffolk © Copyright Ashley Dace and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.