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  6. News round-up 3 November 2011

News round-up 3 November 2011

Cuadrilla admits ‘fracking’ might have caused mini quakes

Cuadrilla Resources, the British company exploring for natural shale gas in the Bowland Basin in Lancashire, has admitted that its ‘fracking’ activities were probably responsible for a series of small earthquakes near Blackpool.

The company has published the findings of its independently commissioned research into the seismic activity last April and May. The findings show that its exploration work appeared to trigger a number of minor seismic events.

The report noted that none of the events recorded, including one in April of 2.3 and one in May of 1.5 on the Richter scale, had any structural impact on the surface above.

Mark Miller, chief executive of Cuadrilla Resources, said: “We unequivocally accept the findings of this independent report and are pleased that the report concludes that there is no threat to people or property in the local area from our operations.”

The report has been submitted to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and the British Geological Survey (BGS), the latter acting in their capacity as advisers to DECC.


City regions for Wales?

Welsh Business Minister Edwina Hart has announced a study into the potential role of city regions for economic development.

A group of experts with detailed knowledge of the issues is being formed to identify areas that might be appropriate to support as city regions within Wales and to consider the key economic development opportunities and benefits.

The new group, which will be chaired by Dr Elizabeth Haywood, director of the South East Wales Economic Forum and former director of CBI Wales, has been asked to:

  • consider the evidence for supporting city regions, identifying specific areas that might be appropriate to support in Wales
  • establish the likely key economic development opportunities and benefits offered by each of the identified city regions and any potential from working together
  • suggest how the proposed city regions might best benefit from opportunities in the short, medium and long term, such as future EU funding, rail electrification and local development plans.

The group is due to report back to the Business Minister in early 2012.

Read the Welsh Government press release.


Flood risk planning risks voiced by watchdog

The National Audit Office has voiced concern that giving greater responsibility and discretion to local authorities to identify flood risk and target investment raises significant challenges, especially during a time of budget cuts and other newly devolved responsibilities.

Local knowledge of surface water flood risk is far less advanced than national information on risk of flooding from rivers and the sea, noted the independent expenditure watchdog

It noted that local authorities were experiencing difficulty in recruiting and retaining appropriately qualified staff. Only 30 per cent of the local authorities the NAO spoke to thought they had the required technical expertise.

Local decision-making was hampered by the need to cross-refer between nearly 20 different plans that affect local flood risk management, said the NAO.

Read the National Audit Office press release.


Government plays down Royal influence over planning legislation

The Government has played down media concern over the involvement of the Prince of Wales and the Queen in planning legislation.

Lord Berkeley, a Labour peer, has asked the administration if any legislation was changed as a result of intervention by any member of the Royal Family.

The administration has pointed out that “Queen's consent and Prince of Wales’ consent are requirements of Parliamentary procedure”.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government highlighted that as set out in Erskine May, "the Prince’s consent is required for a bill which affects the rights of the principality of Wales and earldom of Chester, or which makes specific reference to, or special provision for, the Duchy of Cornwall; and the Prince’s consent may (depending on the circumstances) be required for a bill which amends an Act which does any of these things.

“The need for consent arises from the Sovereign’s reversionary interest in the Duchy of Cornwall." (Erskine May, 24ed. 2011, p663).

The spokesman added: “Any correspondence between the Prince of Wales and the Government is confidential, in accordance with s. 37 (1) (b) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000."


Nature partnerships funding

Twenty two areas across England have been given funding by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to help them become a Local Nature Partnership (LNP).

LNPs are a key commitment in the Natural Environment White Paper, aimed at bringing together local people and organisations to get the most from the natural environment. This is the first round of a £1m fund and is aimed at helping people kick start their plans.

Applications to become a Local Nature Partnership will open throughout the winter to all potential partnerships. Participation in the capacity-building fund is not a necessary requirement for applying for a LNP status. The first LNPs will be announced by ministers next summer.

Find out more about Local Nature Partnerships.


London consults on guidance for World Heritage sites

London Mayor Boris Johnson has published for consultation new guidance designed to conserve the setting of the capital’s four World Heritage Sites.

The guidance, which begins a 12-week consultation process today, will cover plans for any new development around the Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, Kew Gardens and Maritime Greenwich.

“The challenge we face today is to maintain their integrity while allowing London to grow and prosper around them,” he said.

Access the consultation.


Chatham Docks makeover

Peel Land & Property have submitted an outline planning application to Medway Council to transform 26 acres of brownfield land on part of Chatham Docks into an £650m mixed-use development.

The proposed Chatham Waters scheme will provide an employment-led mixed-use redevelopment of the site of approximately 1.9 million sq ft including office space, education facilities, an ‘EventCity’, and a hotel alongside apartments and townhouses, plus landscaped public areas and a food store. The development has the potential to create approximately 3,500 jobs.

Read the Peel Land & Property news story.


‘Octopus’ approved for west London

An eye-catching building dubbed the 'Octopus' is set to rise alongside the M4 at Chiswick in west London now Hounslow Council’s sustainable development committee has given the green light to the 50-metre tall, 5,000 sq m office block by Chiswick roundabout

The building will be cloaked in an LED 'shroud', on which the owners plan to display adverts and artwork. It will also include a rooftop garden and public viewing gallery.

The proposals were originally rejected by the council in April last year after officers raised concerns that giant advertising screens on the building could distract drivers on the M4 and the Great West Road.


Hinkley C application lodged with commission

The Infrastructure Planning Commission has received an application from EDF Energy for development consent for a proposed new nuclear power plant to be built next to the two existing stations at Hinkley Point on the Somerset coast.

If built, the planned Hinkley C power station would be the first to be developed in the UK since Sizewell B, approved over 20 years ago.

If it is accepted, the application will be examined by IPC Commissioners and only at that time will the application documents will be made available on the IPC website and at other locations and any member of the public will be able to register as an interested party. This provides the opportunity to make a written representation and to participate in relevant hearings.

Following the examination, if the Localism Bill currently before Parliament is enacted, the IPC will make a recommendation to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change who will make the final decision whether or not to grant development consent.

Read the IPC news release.


Mayoral powers initiative

Cities Minister Greg Clark is asking the residents of 12 English cities to contribute their views on what powers – which could involve planning - they would like an elected mayor to be able to exercise on their behalf.

In May 2010, the Coalition Agreement set out the Government's commitment to create directly elected mayors in the 12 largest English cities outside London, subject to confirmatory referendums and full scrutiny by elected councillors.

Leicester has recently elected a Mayor. The Government is now planning for referendums to take place in 11 other cities - Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Coventry, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle upon Tyne, Nottingham, Sheffield and Wakefield - in May 2012. Where people vote in favour, the city will move to an elected mayor.

The Government is seeking to ensure that these elected mayors have powers that are properly suited to local circumstances


Housing supply down in 2010/11

The net supply of new homes in England has dropped by six per cent in a year, according to official figures revealed by the Department for Communities and Local Government. DCLG said that annual housing supply amounted to 121,200 net additional dwellings from April 2010 to March 2011.

This represented a six per cent decrease on the 128,680 net additional homes supplied the previous year, and compares with a steeper 23 per cent fall the year before that, the department said.

The latest new homes figure includes 117,700 new-build homes, 5,050 additional homes resulting from conversions, 11,540 extra homes resulting from a change of use, as well as 1,810 other gains and a loss of 14,890 homes through demolitions.

London saw the biggest decrease of new homes, with a 27 per cent fall on the previous year to reach 17,830 in the latest figures. The North East saw the biggest supply increase at 26 per cent, reaching a figure of 4,710 more homes in 2010/11.


Planning consultations ‘skewed towards the vocal’

Some 82 percent of councillors believe that planning consultations only capture the opinions of the 'most vocal people' and 75 percent believe the 'silent majority' is overlooked in planning decisions, according to a survey for planning consultancy Nathaniel Lichfield Partners and communications consultancy Forty Shillings, carried out by pollsters Com Res.

The research concluded that the silent majority are those who are "likely to benefit from new homes or use the facilities provided by development, but are less likely to participate in the planning process than the more vocal minority, who can object vigorously to proposals".

NLP director Matthew Spry said: “Approaches to engagement must be structured to capture the views of a broader and more representative sample of local residents than those who typically participate in planning.”

The polling involved an online survey of 416 local government councillors.

Read the Nathaniel Lichfield Partners news release and access the report.


All-party consensus surfaces on Heathrow development

The Labour Party has formally dropped its support for expansion and a third runway at Heathrow. Shadow Transport Secretary Maria Eagle announced this policy change, in line with the Coalition’s stance, at an aviation industry conference.


Levy guidance from planning officers

The Planning Officers Society has just published updated practical advice on the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) and infrastructure planning for its members.

This advice note provides guidance to authorities on what is needed in terms of infrastructure planning to underpin the local planning process and to implement CIL. 

It outlines the measures that are needed to take CIL forward, recognising that this is a new initiative with little in the way of good practice or successful examples to fall back on.

Download the Advice Note.


More offshore wind leases granted

Agreements for lease have been awarded by the Crown Estate for five offshore renewable energy sites in Scottish territorial waters.

The projects, which could together deliver 5 gigawatts of electricity, are located at Argyll Array and Islay on the west coast, Beatrice in the Moray Firth and at Inch Cape and Neart na Gaoithe in the Outer Forth and Tay.

Together with Round 3 zones off the Scottish coast (zone 1, Moray Firth, and zone 2, Firth of Forth) the total awarded capacity in Scottish waters is now nearly 10 GW, in line with the Scottish Government's targets.

Read the Crown Estate news release.


Green light for Yorkshire power plants

Ministers have given the go-ahead for two new power stations in Yorkshire which will create over 1,000 jobs and generate enough energy to power almost two million homes.

The consented plants are:

  • Ferrybridge - a 108 megawatt multifuel, (biomass and energy from waste) power plant in Wakefield, Yorkshire, representing an investment of £250m by SSE Generation
  • Thorpe Marsh - a 1,500 MW Combined Cycle Gas Turbine power plant in North Doncaster, Yorkshire, representing an investment of £984m by Acorn Power Developments.

Read the Department of Energy and Climate Change news release.


Planning ‘charter’ for Black Country businesses

The four councils involved in the Black Country Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) have produced a charter setting out a 'business-friendly' approach to handling planning applications.

The four councils involved are: Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council, Wolverhampton City Council, Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council and Walsall Council.

They worked with private sector LEP board members to produce the charter after a survey carried out by the LEP found that businesses in the area said they found the planning system complex and obstructive.


Scottish planning statistics

Updated statistics on planning performance in Scotland have been released by Scotland's Chief Statistician.

The main findings are:

  • the percentage of local applications decided within two months was 69.7 per cent in the period April - June 2011, an increase from 63.4 per cent for the previous quarter and the highest percentage for the last five quarters. In contrast the percentage of major applications decided in under four months decreased to 30.6 per cent in the period April - June 2011, down from 33.0 per cent in the previous quarter and the lowest percentage for the last five quarters;
  • the number of planning applications decided by Scotland's planning authorities in this three-month period was 10,177, an increase from 9,020 in the previous quarter. 12,404 applications were received during the period
  • the approval rate of all applications from April - June 2011 was 93.3 per cent, a small increase when compared to the previous quarter (92.5 per cent) and similar to the equivalent quarter in 2010 (93.1 per cent).


Super dairy project in Powys makes ground

Plans for a "super dairy" in Powys are set to go ahead after councillors said they were “minded to approve” farmer Fraser Jones’ proposals to build a facility for 1,000 cows at Leighton, near Welshpool.

Council officers had recommended that planning approval should be refused, arguing that the scale, location and impact of the development "fundamentally conflicted" with the development plan.

Their report to council added that the parlour would have a visual impact locally on listed buildings, would affect views from nearby Powis Castle, and would impinge on Offa's Dyke.

The scheme has also been opposed by the Countryside Council for Wales, the historic monuments agency Cadw, the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales, the National Trust and Powys Teaching Health Board, which was concerned about air quality.


West Midlands housing data

New research released by the Home Builders Federation reveals that house-building in the West Midlands has fallen by around 50 per cent over the past six years from 15,660 starts in 2005/6 to just 7,790 in 2010/11 while Government projections reveal that number of households in the area is expected to increase by 18,440 annually. 

Read the Home Builders Federation media release.


RIBA publishes neighbourhood planning guidance

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has called on architects to use their skills and expertise to help communities make the most of their new planning powers.

 RIBA has published two new guides for architects, outlining how the role of the architect can change under the new approach to planning. They highlight the crucial role architects have to play in helping communities understand the potential of their local built environment and prepare neighbourhood plans.

The first guide explains how the proposed changes to the planning system will affect architects and highlights the design skills architects can use to get involved in developing neighbourhood plans.

The second guide shows how architects can enable local communities to participate fully in shaping the way their local area looks and feels.

Access the RIBA guides.


New Heathrow rail link mooted

Plans for a new direct rail service from South London to Heathrow have been unveiled by Wandsworth Council. The proposal - which is based on the British Airport Authority's now aborted Airtrack scheme - would provide four trains an hour from Waterloo to Terminal 5 with stops in the borough at Clapham Junction and Putney.

The new plan - called Airtrack-Lite - would route two trains an hour from Waterloo via the Hounslow loop. Two existing services on the Waterloo-Windsor line would split at Staines to provide a further direct link to Terminal Five.

Two services an hour would also come up from Weybridge to Heathrow. The new scheme would require a new station at Staines and a new stretch of track from there to Terminal 5. The rest of the route would run along existing lines.

A map of the proposed service is available on the council's website here.


Garden city champion named

Britain's oldest housing and planning charity, the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA), has appointed Katy Lock to lead its work on garden cities and new towns.

She will work with developers, investors, designers, local authorities and community groups to raise the profile of the garden city principles and their evolution for the 21st century.

She has been working as an environmental planner with Land Use Consultants for the past six years. Her position is being funded the Lady Margaret Patterson Osborn Trust.

Read the TCPA media release.


Haigh leaves Design Council Cabe

Diane Haigh, the director of Design Council Cabe, has announced she is leaving the organisation. She was director of Design Review at the former Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment from 2007 and joined the Design Council when the two organisations merged in April 2011. 

Over the last six months, she has supported the organisation through a period of change, including re-establishing national design reviews.

Read the Design Council Cabe media release.


Roger Milne

3 November 2011