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Authority to question

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PPG3's emphasis on design and density gives authoritiesmore scope to examine parking provision and permission renewals

The Urban Task Force has been vociferous about the need to return to the densities and housing types favoured by Georgians and Victorians, and the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions has placed greater emphasis on design issues in its new planning policy guidance on housing, PPG3. It is questionable whether any new national policy guidance is required in this respect as paragraphs 13-20 and Annex A of the existing PPG1 already give planning authorities and the secretary of state enormous scope to seek improved designs and refuse schemes thought to be unsuitable.

PPG3 has been some 12 months in gestation. The published final version includes some significant points to be noted by developers and planning authorities and their respective architects and planners.

Unsurprisingly, the general encouragement of good design and attractive layouts remains broadly unaltered in the final draft. However, the final form of the guidance makes specific reference to the need for policies which address additional related issues such as: public health; crime prevention and community safety; and energy efficiency.

The draft guidance indicated a wish to instruct local planning authorities to increase density in locations with good public transport accessibility or in public transport corridors, to set minimum densities on both greenfield and brownfield sites, with recommendations for densities of more than 50 dwellings per ha (20 per acre). Higher densities were also suggested for the inner areas of major cities.

The equivalent guidance in the final version encourages even greater densities.

It decrees that authorities should:

resist development at less than 30 dwellings per ha (12 per acre);

encourage development between 30 and 50 dwellings per ha (12-20 per acre);

and allow greater density at places with good public transport accessibility or along good quality public transport corridors.

Parking and transport

The more rigid aspects of the draft policy relating to car parking have been ironed out in consultation.The consultation draft included references to encouraging 'carfree' housing. This has been watered down. While the traditional approach of specifying minimum standards is now disapproved of, there is scope for flexibility.Again, the importance of good design is stressed, as is the need to take into account the impact of income, age, household type, and location upon car ownership. Local authorities are encouraged to revise their parking standards downwards in town centre locations which are readily accessible. In the case of developments for the elderly, students and single persons where demand for parking space is likely to be lower, and in the case of conversion schemes where the design of off-street parking may be problematic, parking standards will inevitably be relaxed. As a rule, average parking standards of more than 1.5 off-street spaces per dwelling are discouraged.

With regard to more general transport issues, reference is made to the government's integrated transport policy and PPG13, which is also currently undergoing review. In terms of design issues, the importance of layout in terms of public transport accessibility is stressed. This ties in with further advice upon the importance of 'greening' layouts to assist energy efficiency.

Renewal of permissions

The renewal of unimplemented permissions can be less than straightforward where authorities wish to revisit the basis upon which the original permission was granted. The new guidance encourages this general approach.Authorities are instructed not only to take account of available alternative sites, particularly brownfield sites, in deciding on renewals, but also to impose more stringent conditions if it is felt that a higher-quality development would be appropriate. Clearly changes in car parking policy may give rise to a less generous approach to car parking provisions. The days of automatic renewals are behind us. But early architectural and engineering input should help to expedite the process.

The new PPG is helpful in providing a bibliography of other government guidance to which regard should be had in terms of design and density (Appendix D).

However, the bargaining position of local authorities has been greatly enhanced. They have been reminded of long-standing government advice regarding their ability to refuse what they deem to be examples of poor architecture.

Developers are warned that simply submitting an application to develop land allocated for development in a local plan will not necessarily result in planning permission. Applicants are advised only to expect expeditious and sympathetic handling of their applications on allocated sites which are either on recycled land in urban areas and well designed and well planned, or applications which are considered to enhance the local community.

The bad news for clients is that this is likely to be interpreted as requiring far greater input and front-loading of costs at a relatively early stage in the development process.

The good news, ifthere can be, is that there should be scope for more guidance from individual local authorities on the degree of detail they require in applications and what package of measures will be sought from developers on designrelated issues such as parking, transport, energy efficiency. Theoretically, any constraints will be made clear much earlier in the planning process.

Gordon Campbell is the head of planning at Mishcon de Reya Solicitors, tel 020 7440 7000

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