Planning applications validated by EDDC for week beginning 10 May

Turning shut-down shops into homes? It’ll be the developers who enjoy the bargains

Landowners of Britain, rejoice! Your government has not forgotten you. Magnanimous and generous as it is, it has dedicated the vast public resources at its disposal to a noble cause, that of increasing the value of the property you own. Planning is relaxed, taxation reduced and subsidies introduced, all with the effect of increasing the already high prices of land and buildings in this country.

Rowan Moore  www.theguardian.com 

The government doesn’t put it like this. Its departments and ministers say that “we can help the high street to adapt and thrive for the future” or that its policies “will help support the creation of much-needed homes” or that first-time buyers will have a better chance to get on the property ladder. But the most certain effect is that often substantial windfalls arrive in the balance sheets of those who already own.

Take, for example, the policy that shops can be made into homes without planning permission, which came into effect in April. As has been widely pointed out, this is likely to have the effect of accelerating rather than reversing the decline in high streets, as owners push out viable businesses for no other reason than that they can make more money by turning their premises into homes.

What was once an active shopfront, with people going in and out all day long, becomes a domestic front door, which contributes less to the liveliness of the neighbourhood. Past downturns have enabled new businesses to flourish, taking advantage of low rents to revive high streets – market cycles, to put it another way, periodically reduce owners’ wealth to the benefit of tenants and the liveliness of the high street. Conversion from retail excludes that possibility for ever.

There are, of course, redundant retail buildings that can beneficially be turned into homes, but it requires some planning to work out where this is best done and planning is what the new policy excludes. It also removes the possibility of what is called planning gain, realised through instruments such as section 106 agreements or the community infrastructure levy (CIL), which is the ability of local authorities to require contributions to such things as affordable housing as a condition of planning permission.

We have been here before, with the eight-year-old policy of enabling offices to be made into homes without planning consent. The effects, in terms of the quality of the homes created, have been largely disastrous. As with the new policy on retail, the opportunity for planning gain was removed, so that the owners of office blocks that benefited from the policy sometimes saw their values double. “Retail,” say the property consultants Lambert Smith Hampton in relation to the new policy, “may offer far greater potential for change of use to residential over the years ahead than offices.” They also say that “the scale of opportunity is, potentially, huge”, that the absence of section 106 requirements is “a specific pull factor” and that “seeking change of use via this route can support developer profit margins and boost scheme viability”.

This is, in effect, a vast giveaway of public assets. Ever since the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947, development rights to land – as opposed to the land itself – are, in effect, public property. When planning permission is granted, a defined part of those rights and whatever value goes with it are transferred to the landowner. This principle gives local authorities leverage to require public benefits and to plan development. If those rights are simply given away, as is happening with retail-to-residential conversions, value and leverage go with them.

Meanwhile, the government has used public finances on a number of schemes intended to help first-time buyers and others desperate for a home that suits their needs. The help-to-buy programme, which started in 2013, enables buyers to borrow money from the government on favourable terms. Last summer, as part of its response to the pandemic, the Treasury reduced the stamp duty that you have to pay when you buy a house. This reduction is temporary and is due to be phased out later this year.

Both measures might have their uses in reviving stagnant property markets, but where demand is high they have the effect of pushing up the prices of homes, thus cancelling out the benefit they might have brought to buyers. One of the side effects of help to buy was to enlarge the profits of housebuilding giants such as Persimmon, which contributed to the £75m bonus that its chief executive, Jeff Fairburn, took in 2017, having first been offered more than £100m. Purchasers report developers using help to buy to push up the value of their flat. Meanwhile, the price of an average home rose by £24,000 in the 12 months from March 2020, despite the economic contraction of lockdown, substantially boosted by the stamp duty holiday.

Further winning owners are likely to be created by the government’s makeover of the planning system, set out in a white paper last year, which figured prominently in the recent Queen’s speech. Areas of the country will be zoned for “growth”, benefiting from automatic outline planning permission, which, again, is likely to increase values. Here, at least, there are plans to capture some of this value for public benefits, replacing section 106 and CIL with a new levy. There’s too little detail yet to know how this will work. We can only hope that the government will buck its own trends and make sure that it benefits the property have-nots over the already-have-plenties.

Exclusive: Property tycoons gave Tories more than £11m in less than a year

Published last June but still relevant – Owl

Peter Geoghegan www.opendemocracy.net 

The Conservatives have received more than £11 million from some of the UK’s richest property developers and construction businesses since Boris Johnson became prime minister last July, an openDemocracy investigation has found.

Donations to the Tories from the property business increased significantly over the past year, with more than 120 individuals and companies connected to the sector giving money.

Just six leading Tory donors linked to the property sector gave more than £4.5 million since July – a four-fold increase in their donations from the final year of Theresa May’s premiership.

Other recent Conservative donors include controversial luxury property developer Nick Candy and West Ham United owner David Sullivan, who donated £75,000 ahead of December’s general election through a small property company he controls, according to figures from the Electoral Commission.

Commenting on openDemocracy’s findings, Transparency International’s Steve Goodrich said: “The corrupting influence of big money from UK politics must be removed before it irreparably damages trust in our democracy.”

“Once again, we see the Conservatives in hock to their wealthy donors”

Details of the Conservatives’ reliance on property tycoons comes as housing secretary Robert Jenrick is under fire after admitting unlawful “apparent bias” in over-ruling local officials who rejected Tory donor Richard Desmond’s £1billion Tower Hamlets housing development and fast-tracking the planning process saving the property developer £45 million.

Desmond – who had sat beside Jenrick at a £900-a-head Conservative fundraiser at the Savoy Hotel in London late last year – subsequently donated £12,000 to the Conservatives.

In a BBC interview defending Jenrick earlier this week, business minister Nadhim Zahawi said that voters who wanted to raise planning issues with their MPs could likewise go to a Conservative fundraiser.

“They will be sitting next to MPs and other people in their local authorities and can interact with different parts of the authority,” Zahawi told the Today programme.

Jenrick is not the only senior Tory facing questions about his links to property developers. Former planning minister Bob Neill is under investigation by the parliamentary watchdog for failing to mention that he was a paid consultant for a luxury hotel development that he lobbied for in his Kent constituency. Neill denies any wrong-doing.

Sue Hawley of Spotlight on Corruption said: “It’s time for a serious review of conflicts of interest in UK planning.

“It is entirely wrong that those with money can gain access to politicians that puts their interests above the rest of us,” she told openDemocracy.

Many of the property tycoons who have donated to the Conservatives in the past year would qualify to become part of the Leader’s Group of top donors where, for a minimum of £50,000 a year, they can attend quarterly meetings with the prime minister and senior cabinet ministers. Conversations are off the record.

A previous openDemocracy investigation found that Leader’s Group donors had given more than £130 million to the Conservatives since 2010. Previous commitments to publish lists of attendees have not been kept. Earlier this year, the Tories scrubbed details of previous Leader’s Group meetings off the party website.

Big money

Property has long been a major issue in British politics, and many of the biggest players in property and construction have been significant Conservative funders, especially since Boris Johnson became prime minister.

Malcolm and Eddie Healey – dubbed “East Yorkshire’s richest men” in the local press -have donated £1.1 million to the Conservatives between them since July.

Billionaire property developer Tony Gallagher gave the Conservatives almost three-quarters of a million pounds through his company Countywide Developments Ltd. A long-time Tory donor, Gallagher hosted David Cameron’s fiftieth birthday party at his Oxfordshire mansion in 2016.

Bridgemere UK, a property company chaired by one Steve Morgan, donated £1 million less than two weeks before Johnson won what he called a “stonking” majority in December’s general election. Morgan, who sold Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2016, retains a £245.6 million holding in house builder Redrow, according to The Sunday Times Rich List 2020.

Construction tycoon John Bloor – whose Bloor Homes did well from the Conservatives’ Help to Buy scheme – gave the Tory party £962,000 since July, through his company J.S. Bloor (Services) Ltd. The Solihull-based IM Group, founded by retired Tory peer Lord Edmiston, donated £388,000, much of it going to Tory candidates who took seats in Labour’s so-called ‘red wall’.

“It is entirely wrong that those with money can gain access to politicians that puts their interests above the rest of us”

Elsewhere, 33-year-old Mayfair property tycoon Jamie Reuben has donated £586,250.00 to the Tories since Boris Johnson became party leader. The Queen’s Park Rangers director, who is also heir to a huge family fortune, made donations only to Johnson himself in the previous year, amounting to £50,000.

The Conservatives’ top ten property donors gave more than £5.7million to the party since last July – compared to just £1.5million in the final twelve months of Theresa May’s premiership.

Other major Tory donors with major interests in property include John Beckwith, who gave a quarter of a million pounds to the Conservatives last year, Richard Caring, who gave over £217,000, and developer Jeremy Knight-Adams, who donated £100,000, as did hotelier Lord Rocco Forte.

New money

openDemocracy’s analysis found a number of figures linked to the property sector have emerged as Conservative donors for the first time over the past year.

Adeyheath Limited has given £260,000 since August. The property firm is controlled by Berish Berger, who is the director of more than 130 companies including the London-based Greaterheaven and Makepeace Investments.

In November, a company called Conegate Limited donated £75,000 to the Conservatives. It is ultimately controlled by West Ham United owner David Sullivan. As mayor of London, Boris Johnson was heavily criticised for his role in the deal that saw West Ham take over the Olympic stadium. The deal is estimated to have cost taxpayers in excess of £300 million.

In March, the Conservatives received £100,000 from luxury property developer Nick Candy. In 2016 a former business partner accused Nick Candy and his brother Christian of tax evasion. The brothers won the case in the high court but the judge remarked that “none of the protagonists emerge from this trial with great credit”.

The Conservatives have also received almost £25,000 from Bruce Ritchie. The founder of Residential Land was the co-chair of the controversial President’s Club, which was heavily criticised in 2018 after it emerged that young women at the men-only event were allegedly propositioned for sex and asked to wear skimpy clothes and sign non-disclosure agreements.

Property tycoon Christopher Moran gave the Conservatives £8,500 in January, his first donation since 2017. Moran – who flew Boris Johnson back from a DUP fundraiser on his private jet in 2018 – has been accused of turning a blind eye to sex workers in a Chelsea building he owns. (Moran denied any knowledge of the situation.)

Among other donors linked to the property sector are a number involved in care homes. Hampshire’s Churchill Retirement Living – a leading provider of homes to the over-sixties – gave £150,000.

The median value – the mid-point in the ranking – of a donation from the property sector to the Conservatives was £95,744.

But the party also received dozens of often smaller donations from companies with little obvious footprint that are registered at Companies House as being involved in property or real estate. The cumulative value of these donations runs into hundreds of thousands of pounds.

‘Beholden’

Steve Goodrich, senior research manager at Transparency International, said: “When political parties become heavily reliant on a small number of big donors it creates the perception, and quite possibly the reality, they are beholden to narrow sectional interests.

“Our research has found there’s a deep public suspicion that those with the deepest pockets wield outsized and undue influence over decision-making in Westminster.”

Reacting to openDemocracy’s findings, the Scottish National Party MP Martin Docherty-Hughes accused the Conservatives of being “in hock” to wealthy donors.

“This is yet more evidence of the dependence of the Conservatives on rich backers that will only increase concerns about ‘cash-for-access’ in British politics. What do these donors get for their money? Surely the public has a right to know?”

Docherty-Hughes criticised Boris Johnson for refusing to release a report into Russian interference in British politics that is widely expected to name a number of Tory party donors with links to the Kremlin who have stepped up their donations in recent years.

“I thought when the Tories delayed publication of the Russia report it was because they wanted to avoid the embarrassment of showing the extent to which Russian oligarchs had infiltrated the Conservative Party.

“Now I’m beginning to wonder if it is because they don’t want comparisons drawn with their own increasingly oligarchic way of governing, where normal planning laws are for the little people and the rich get to the front of the queue,” Docherty-Hughes said.

When asked by openDemocracy about previous donations, a Conservative Party spokesperson said: “All reportable donations are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission, published by them, and comply fully with the law.”

This piece was edited on June 29 to include updated figures from the Electoral Commission.

Village wants to become down-sizing haven for elderly residents

A plan that aims to preserve one of East Devon’s most rural parishes as a special place to live, work and visit has been unveiled.

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com.

The parish of Dalwood, which lies entirely within the southern boundary of the Blackdown Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, is approximately midway between the market towns of Axminster and Honiton.

Home to around 380 residents in 196 households, the parish is very rural, with predominant activities being arable and livestock farming, while the character of the village is a mixture of old and new with several modern residences either side of the road that runs through the village, with a historic core formed by a church, adjacent cottages and a public house on the opposite side of the road.

The Corry Brook runs to the east of these buildings providing an attractive green corridor through the heart of the village and greatly enhancing the settlement’s rural character.

Residents of the parish have come together to put forward a Neighbourhood Plan which aims to protect, preserve and enhance the qualities of the community and this part of the Blackdown Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The plan sets out 17 aims as to how it aims to achieve the vision statement which is that Dalwood is a vibrant, active and friendly community that is a special place to live, work and visit.

The aims are:

  • Protect and enhance the natural environment, including the distinctive landscape and ecology.
  • Protect the tranquillity of the environment and maintain the dark skies.
  • Ensure that all new development is sympathetic to the traditional character, materials and style to retain the distinctive character of the village.
  • Protect the area’s heritage sites and locations. Housing and Population Aim
  • Support new local housing development which respects the characteristics and constraints of Dalwood’s built and natural environment, yet allows continual evolution of the Parish.
  • Preserve the overall character of the Parish’s settlements within the AONB.
  • Encourage retail and/or hospitality development that meets local and visitors’ needs.
  • Resist the loss of local facilities and amenities (including St Peter’s Church, Methodist Chapel, Community Shop and Post Office, Village Hall, Pavilion, Jubilee Field, Pub and protect Assets of Community Value (ACV’s).
  • Seek ways to minimise parking problems in the village when development is proposed. Improve parking provision.
  • Maintain and enhance a network of public rights of way and bridleways.
  • Help create, support and sustain local businesses
  • Improve broadband connectivity. Any future developments aim to improve connectivity.
  • Ensure new builds provide sustainable broadband connectivity.
  • Help to sustain arable and livestock farming life-styles
  • Support small scale, unobtrusive renewable or low carbon energy schemes providing they are sensitively sited and screened, i.e. appropriately landscaped.
  • Support a provider or village initiative to come forward with card access electric vehicle charging points.
  • Increase recycling levels via a generic supporting policy.
Dalwood community shop and post office

Dalwood community shop and post office (Image: Roger Cornfoot/Geograph)

The plan says: “Dalwood is a rural parish nestled in the Blackdown Hills AONB. The parish itself has little through traffic. It is an example of a tranquil, beautiful and special rural Devon landscape rich with wildlife. The distinctive quality of the parish is a characteristic highly valued by the residents and it is one of the reasons people chose to live here.

“This applies to those who have moved into the village and those who have grown up here and stayed or moved away and returned, and the aims and objectives reflect the desire to protect the valuable and high-quality natural environment of the parish.

“Dalwood village is characterised by an historic core. Roads to the village are narrow, often single track and flanked by traditional Devon banks or hedges. While there is no public transport available, anyone without a car is reliant on community transport such as ‘Ring and Ride’, Trips Community Transport Association, or lifts from others to access facilities not available in the village.

“The village benefits from a Village Hall, children’s nursery, two churches, a community shop and the Jubilee Pavilion and Field with children’s playing area. Much of the local employment in the parish is naturally based on farming activity, and it is important to understand the characteristics of the village as they inform the suitability or not of locating new development there, and to what scale and type. The Local Plan does not consider Dalwood as suitable to sustain further development due to its limited range of services and facilities.”

The community questionnaire identified a preference for housing developments to take place only if local need is established and for them to come forward within a ‘settlement boundary’, but it also highlighted a need for smaller homes for existing residents to downsize and remain in the village.

The plan looks favourably upon new housing developments which meet parish needs and/or support the ageing population as well as young families, as well as supporting the provision of housing through the demonstration of small-scale local needs on exception sites in Dalwood

It says: “There is a preference for appropriate development to fit within the landscape, without having adverse impacts on its surrounding landscape and the natural and built character of the area within which the proposal is located.

“However, in some cases, it may be acceptable for appropriate landscaping to play a role as part of the solution to ensure that there is no adverse impact on the setting of the proposal. Where the use of planting is an appropriate part of that solution, native local species of plants should be used, such as hawthorn, blackthorn, ash, oak or beech

“Development proposals will only be supported where the development does not result in adverse impacts on the natural environment (landscape and biodiversity), and they enhance the natural environment, where there is the opportunity to do so.

“To ensure that new housing development is of high-quality design and sympathetic to the traditional built character of the parish, proposals will be supported where they take fully into account the Blackdown Hills AONB Design Guide for Houses, and ensure that the size, scale and location of the development is appropriate to the form, scale and setting of the existing built environment.

“Housing development will be supported within the settlement boundary where development is of a scale and appearance in keeping with surrounding properties and the character of the village, local amenity is not impacted and there is provision for sufficient off-street parking, meeting current adopted parking standards and exceeding them where feasible.”

The plan also adds that the aim for the village is to maintain and increase, not decrease, the range of facilities that serve the local community, and that the community will oppose any proposal that results in a loss of such facilities.

The plan aims to support applications for retail or hospitality businesses that are in keeping with the character of the area, although any development would need to demonstrate that it would not have any significant adverse impact on the existing state of the natural environment and support the sensitive and necessary maintenance and improvement of local facilities and amenities.

Fields at Dalwood lane - View south across the steep pasture fields towards the village of Dalwood whose houses are just visible in the early morning sun

Fields at Dalwood lane – View south across the steep pasture fields towards the village of Dalwood whose houses are just visible in the early morning sun (Image: Nigel Mykura/Geograph)

And as Dalwood Parish is served by a network of narrow lanes typical of rural East Devon and the Blackdown Hills, and that residents are very car-dependent with there being no bus service – the nearest public bus service a 35-minute walk from the village – the improvement and enhancement of public rights of way will be supported.

Schemes will be supported where they promote, protect, maintain and enhance the existing local footpath and bridleway network for use on foot, bicycle or horseback, they improve and enhance the existing network through the provision of new or extended routes, and they prevent motorised vehicles illegally using designated footpaths, bridleways and cycleways.

The parish council also aims to work with the local community in the development of a recycling collection area, which is properly screened and managed providing there is no significant adverse impact on the area.

Dalwood Parish Council has now submitted their Neighbourhood Plan to East Devon District Council, and residents can now have their say in a consultation on the plan, which runs until Wednesday, June 30, 2021.

The plan sets out policies for the future of Dalwood parish, which will be used to help inform future decisions about development and planning applications in the area for the next ten years and beyond.

The Dalwood Neighbourhood Plan has been in production since 2016 and covers a variety of topics including the natural, built and historic environment, housing, economy and employment, transport and access, community facilities and services, and energy/low carbon, waste and plastic.

After the consultation, the plan will go before an independent examiner, who will inspect the plan against a series of ‘basic conditions’ that the plan must meet

If the examiner is happy the plan meets the requirements then it can proceed to a local community referendum. If more than half of the electors vote in favour of the plan it will be adopted and will become part of the statutory development plan for East Devon.

Once adopted, the plan will be used to help inform future decisions about development and planning applications in the Dalwood area.

The plan and all supporting documents are now on the EDDC website at https://eastdevon.gov.uk/media/3722605/dalwood-np-submission-version-05-03-21.pdf, along with a comments form for residents and interested parties to share their views.

Anyone wishing to comment should send their comments by email to planningpolicy@eastdevon.gov.uk, or by post to Angela King, Planning Policy Team, East Devon District Council, Blackdown House, Border Road, Honiton, EX14 1EJ.

East Devon swaps seasonal displays for permanent plants and flowers

Seasonal flower displays in East Devon parks and green spaces are being scrapped in favour of wildlife-attracting blooms and plants that will return year-on-year.

eastdevonnews.co.uk 

The district council is sowing seeds of change in the way it manages beauty spots in a bid to be more environmentally-friendly.

Plans involve a reduction in seasonal bedding displays to include more permanent planting designs.

East Devon District Council (EDDC) says it is on a mission to take ‘positive steps’ to reduce its carbon footprint, utilise resources more sustainably and increase biodiversity.

The authority added that a cold and dry spring has meant newly-planted beds are looking ‘less full’ – but will flourish as the weather warms.

An EDDC spokesperson added: “Our mission is to provide more sustainable planting that gives year-round interest and colour but lessens the impact on our planet.

“This action is a small but important part of our work to help meet our climate change action plan as part of signing up to the Devon Climate Emergency.

“We really hope everybody gets on board and supports a greener East Devon.

“We understand this won’t be to everyone’s taste, however, we have had a real buzz around this; on-site whilst we have been planting out the interest from the public has been really high.

“Many people now seem to understand the need to think about sustainability, the way we look after our planet and the importance of providing habitat as well as year round interest in our beds, many of which were often bare in the autumn/winter months.

“This is a new venture for us, and we would urge the public to hold their judgement until the beds are fully established. We will continuously review the success, adding colour and interest.”

EDDC says there are a number of reasons why it has changed its approach:

  • Permanent planting will help to create mini eco systems and habitat for bugs, bees and birds to flourish;
  • Plants will be selected to provide nectar, essential to our pollinators to thrive and survive;
  • Plants will be selected on their drought tolerance and suitability to the endemic environment but also their wonderful flowers, form, texture or scent;
  • Planting can be divided and recycled in future seasons – less plastic pots and trays;
  • Reduced cultivation of the beds allows earth worms and mycorrhizal fungi to flourish – big buddies of plant life.

The council says it is reducing its traditional bedding displays because:

  • Bedding plants are intensively produced and provide a monoculture environment which doesn’t allow wildlife to flourish;
  • They don’t attract enough pollinators essential to biodiversity;
  • They are single-use and are thrown away at the end of their short life. There is a seismic shift to move way from single use products for good reason;
  • They require intensive watering which is an unnecessary waste of natural resource;
  • The constant digging over of the beds disturbs the natural soil culture.

Councillor Denise Bickley, EDDC’s assistant portfolio holder climate action and emergencies, said:

“I am delighted to totally support this change in policy.

“We must do all we can to help the planet recover, by doing the most we can in our own area.

“This is a win on so many levels – helping biodiversity, reducing plastic waste and transport pollution, allowing soil quality to improve, reducing inadvertent damage to peatbogs just for starters – and we can all benefit from learning from the gardening skills it takes to enable a healthy native, perennial display, as oppose to easy wins earns from planting more ‘showy’ annuals.

“I look forward to seeing these displays mature and thrive.”