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Is Britain’s countryside at risk? Anger over ‘developers’ charter’ planning reforms

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A bid to deliver 300,000 homes a year in England by 2025 under proposed planning reforms has raised the ire of at least 90 Tory MPs, including Theresa May.

Under the blueprint for change, which has been dubbed a ‘developers’ charter’, planning permission for ‘substantial development’ would automatically be given in certain areas.

The discontent cost the Government the Chesham and Amersham by-election last month. The Lib Dems, who took the seat, exploited the proposals to raise concerns over construction in the Chilterns. 

Reforms: Under the blueprint for change, dubbed a 'developers' charter', planning permission for 'substantial development' would automatically be given in certain areas

Reforms: Under the blueprint for change, dubbed a ‘developers’ charter’, planning permission for ‘substantial development’ would automatically be given in certain areas

Meanwhile, environmental groups fear the relaxation of the system risks the loss of natural habitats, and archaeologists say the new regime would not allow sufficient time to excavate on building sites, meaning fewer historical treasures would be unearthed.

How could the new system change things?

The new system would require local authorities to draw up ten-year plans, in which land in their district would be classified as ‘protected, for ‘renewal’ or ‘growth’.

Protected zones, such as areas of Green Belt, natural beauty or at risk of flooding would be restricted.

Councils would be required to look favourably on development in ‘renewal areas’. These are places in towns and cities that have already been built on, or strips of land in or at the edge of villages.

Automatic initial planning consent would be given on ‘growth areas’; the most contentious aspect of the proposed relaxation.

Despite the bill being extended to the whole of the UK, the majority of changes will only apply to England.

Why does the Government want these reforms?

Under the current rules which date back to 1947, permission for development is made on a case-by-case basis.

These arrangements are considered cumbersome and a significant bar to home ownership among the members of Generation Rent who Boris Johnson wants to turn into Generation Buy.

The Prime Minister takes issue with aspects of the existing system, including the attention paid to protected species such as the great crested newt, whose discovery on a site can delay construction.

He said: ‘The newt-counting delays in our system are a massive drag on the productivity and prosperity of this country.’

Going for growth: Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, aims to increase the number of new homes that are built every year from about 240,000 to 300,000

Going for growth: Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, aims to increase the number of new homes that are built every year from about 240,000 to 300,000

Does this mean we have no say in our neighbourhood?

The Government says that making the planning system digital (at present, it’s document-based) will make it easier for locals to get engaged in development in their area and they should be able to become involved in the compilation of the ten-year plans.

At present, only about 3 per cent of the population participates in planning —which rather gives the lie to the assertion that we are a nation of Nimbys.

But people would have far less freedom than before, if any, to make known their views on individual planning applications — which some say makes the new system significantly less democratic.

Will there be any quality or design standards?

The basis of the objection to many new developments is the look of the scheme. 

Some housebuilders will reflect local ‘vernacular’ architectural styles and materials in the design of their homes; others rely on standard models not adapted to their setting.

A National Model Design Code is to be published in the autumn, setting out guidelines on such things as ‘the arrangement and proportions of streets and urban blocks, successful parking arrangements and the placement of street trees’.

The Code will lay down design principles that councils must observe when giving consent to developments.

But it’s not clear how these criteria will achieve the top quality homes that we need, or avoid a repeat of the cladding scandal that’s blighting the lives of the owners of some new-build properties.

How soon will the system be put in place?

The changes are not yet law. David Bainbridge, a director of planning at Savills, says that the Planning Bill which will contain the proposals has not yet appeared and that it will face a stormy time in its passage through Parliament.

This week, Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, promised that the Bill would be published later this year.

He will not wish to be swayed in his aim to increase the number of new homes that are built every year from about 240,000 to 300,000. 

But Mr Bainbridge makes the point this could start to be achieved if, for example, schemes that now have planning permission are obliged to go ahead.

Will the Government listen to the protesters?

The proposals are regarded by some as ‘electorally toxic’ despite the early abandonment of the plan to use a computer algorithm to determine how many homes ought to be absorbed in an area. This risked ‘concreting over’ wide swathes of southern England.

There may be more emphasis now on development on already built-on brownfield sites in urban locations.

Yet the dismay caused by this threat to the countryside has coloured the perception of all of the reforms.

The latest source of dissent is the lack of assurance of about how many affordable homes will be produced by the system.

How can the upheaval be justified if it does not help a significant number of first-time buyers onto the ladder?

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New-build flats with communal work-from-home space are just the job 

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Whether it’s perching computers on ironing boards or struggling to find a peaceful corner in the chaos of a noisy family house, most of us have had to adapt our homes over the past 18 months.

But as the trend for flexible working looks set to continue, a new concept in housing is gaining traction.

Work from home (WFH) developments with a ‘hub’ shared by other residents are popping up across the country.

Modern living: Work from home developments with a 'hub' shared by other residents, which aim to retain the social aspect of office life, are popping up across the country

Modern living: Work from home developments with a ‘hub’ shared by other residents, which aim to retain the social aspect of office life, are popping up across the country

‘The hub is a way of retaining the social aspect of office life,’ says Karly Williams, director of Barratt North Thames. ‘Being close to home enables residents to manage domestic issues, while mixing with others staves off any sense of loneliness and alienation.’

At Barratt’s Linmere development in Houghton Regis, Bedfordshire, which is due to launch in December, the office hub will be surrounded by cafes, shops and green outdoor space.

WFH residents won’t feel they are missing out on the coffee breaks and sandwich lunches they used to enjoy as part of conventional office life. Barratt’s co-working offices and homes are priced from £101,000 to £439,500.

WFH developments can also be effective in regenerating rural areas where unemployment is a problem.

In the village of Lawrenny in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, planning permission has just been granted to a local farmer, David Lort-Phillips, to build a WFH development of 39 homes with shared offices. 

Lawrenny has been in steady decline since the 1980s and until recently looked like becoming little more than a cluster of holiday homes.

‘A village should be more than that; it should be a place to earn a living and to have a busy family life,’ says Lort-Phillips. ‘Many of the new WFH houses will be bought by people returning to Lawrenny, having been brought up here.

‘They will put back into the community, using local businesses and training up local young people.’

Prices of the new homes will range from £300,000 to £500,000 for two to four bedrooms, with management fees of £400 per annum.

One danger of building this kind of development in the countryside is that the new homes will jar architecturally with older, nearby properties. But this doesn’t have to be the case.

Galion Homes builds its developments in Somerset with home-workers in mind, so all the homes have offices with superfast broadband as well as nearby hubs and cafes.

‘We won’t be ugly “tack-ons” to villages,’ says Victoria Creber, sales director at Galion. ‘We build developments of no more than 50 homes, at low density, using local stone with a big nod to the local vernacular.’

Disturbing research, based on figures from the Office for National Statistics, was published recently showing 25 per cent of WFH Londoners said they had suffered reduced well-being.

Fizzy Living, which targets its rental apartments at young professionals with an average age of 32 and earning £44,000 a year, tries to make life as stress-free as possible in its East 16 block in Canning Town. 

The scheme comprises 292 apartments, each with its own balcony. Amenities include a meeting room, residents’ lounge, games area and yoga studio.

It claims to be the most pet-friendly building in London, having a specially designed dog washroom (known as the Pawder Room) and it offers a pet-friendly furniture pack for the more delinquent cats and dogs.

‘This block works for me because I can use different spaces for different activities and this combats stress,’ says designer Asher Peruscini, 37, from San Francisco.

‘I use my desk when I’m in design mode, the balcony for more creative stuff and the meeting rooms downstairs for socialising.’ Rentals are from £1,430 pcm.

For those who appreciate the zany side of life, Quintain Living has built The Robinson, a collection of three apartment blocks at Wembley Park in North-West London, in what its describes as ‘retro kitsch’ style.

Each building has a roof terrace where there are surreal delights such as a giant orange-shaped juice bar, a 50-yard row of sun loungers — reputedly the longest in Britain — and a slide that runs down to a courtyard in the floor below.

The WFH component isn’t forgotten — high-speed wifi is found in converted campervans on the terrace.

To de-stress, there is even a rentable spa caravan with a hot tub. From £1,755 furnished; £1,670 unfurnished.

Are WFH developments here to stay?

‘I don’t think working from home will ever replace the buzz of a team of people working towards one goal in the same office,’ says Harry Downes, managing director of Fizzy Living.

‘But I do foresee people being given the freedom to work at home when they need to, reporting into the office only to be kept updated on the bigger picture. It’s a new lifestyle and this type of development caters for it.’ 

On the market… with office space 

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South Africa 17 Lions 22

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15 Stuart Hogg

Something of a flip-flop in terms of his strengths as a player as one or two misplaced passes in attack but resolute and solid in defence. A couple of glimpses of his footwork and pace but he’ll be hoping for more ball next Saturday. Rating: 6

14 Anthony Watson

He was excellent in the first half, the Lions most potent force in attack in being able to escape multiple tacklers, albeit most of the time in lifting pressure in his own 22/half. The ball didn’t run his way after the interval. Rating: 7

13 Elliot Daly

It was his first game at outside centre in Test rugby in five years and it showed. He gave away a couple of penalties, missed his trademark long-range penalty, was bested physically in the collisions and will be under pressure to retain his place. Rating: 5

Robbie Henshaw is tackled by Elton Jantjies. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Robbie Henshaw is tackled by Elton Jantjies. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

12 Robbie Henshaw

Shaded his physical duel with Damian de Allende, carried aggressively, was accurate in the tackle and scrambled well, highlighted by forcing a crucial knock-on from Lukhanyo Am. He made one fine break albeit losing possession and a couple of finger-tip knocks-on but generally good. Rating: 7

11 Duhan van der Merwe

A couple of snapshots of his power in the tackle but like Watson was never given the type of ball where he could impose his strength. He didn’t have many questions to answer in defence because Cheslin Kolbe got very little ball. Rating: 6

10 Dan Biggar

The Welsh outhalf kicked 14 points from the tee and in a general sense, one pulled place-kick aside, his kicking game was reasonably well directed. He didn’t really bring his backline into play at any stage, suffocated by the Boks’ defensive press but overall the ledger was appreciably positive. Rating: 7


The British & Irish Lions

Full coverage of all the action in South Africa READ MORE

9 Ali Price

He looked a little overwhelmed by the pace and physicality in the first 20 minutes but he gradually settled to the task. It was his excellent box-kicking after the restart that yielded opportunities for the Lions to regain possession and wrest control. Rating: 7

1 Rory Sutherland

A late call-up to the starting team due to Wyn Jones’s unavailability he was pinged twice at the scrum and the fact that his replacement Mako Vunipola made an appreciable difference when introduced could see him struggle to be in the matchday 23 next Saturday. Rating: 5

2 Luke Cowan-Dickie

Two errant lineouts, one overthrown the other crooked, were the only real blemishes on his try-scoring performance that was accompanied by a high work-rate on both sides of the ball. Rating: 6

Tadhg Furlong appeals to referee Nic Berry during the first Test. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images
Tadhg Furlong appeals to referee Nic Berry during the first Test. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

3 Tadhg Furlong

Loves a good celebration from the lineout maul tries, he won an important scrum penalty and was an important buffer in that set-piece when the Boks chased dominance there. He carried and tackled with typical application in a robust performance over the 67 minutes. Rating: 7

4 Maro Itoje

Deserved man-of-the-match, three turnovers in the first half alone including one within a few metres of the Lions’ line that saved a try. Immense in every facet of the game, he led by example especially in defence; intelligent and unrelenting. Rating: 9

5 Alun Wyn Jones (capt)

He was very quiet in the first half but considering the injury from which he has recovered that was to be expected. He was a key figure in the Lions’ second-half revival that included work-rate and decision-making. Rating: 7

6 Courtney Lawes

A huge performance in all aspects of the game, out of touch, carrying, making an eye-catching break that took him through three attempted tackles as a pre-cursor to one of his side’s better attacking moments. Tackled with authority. Rating: 8

7 Tom Curry

There could be no faulting his desire and work ethic but in conceding three penalties he demonstrated an impetuous streak that proved a bit of a handicap to his team in that opening half. His place will be under threat. Rating: 5

8 Jack Conan

He provided illustrations of the many qualities that he brings to a team, making one of two line breaks, defending and tackling with intelligence and carried the ball more than any other Lions player. Rating: 7

Replacements

In a collective sense they, to a man, added energy and momentum at a crucial stage. Mako Vunipola and Kyle Sinckler gave their team a rock solid scrum, forcing a penalty there to boot. Hamish Watson was lucky to avoid a card for a dangerous tackle. Conor Murray and Owen Farrell brought control and maturity for the most part. Rating: 8

Coach

Warren Gatland deserves great credit for the team selection initially as most of the big calls that he made work out superbly. His half-time recalibration of tactics and focus worked a treat as did the timing of the replacements. He’s never been afraid to change things up and that may be reflected in a couple of changes for the second Test one of which could see Bundee Aki drafted in at 12 with Henshaw moving to 13. Rating: 8

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Norfolk’s Hemsby tops the list of villages with the biggest house prices

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Seaside sun… rises! Norfolk’s Hemsby leads villages with the biggest property value boom as buyers search for coastal countryside views

  • Norfolk’s Hemsby tops the list of villages with the biggest house price increases
  • The average value of a home in Hemsby is up 22% during the past year
  • Three of the top five villages with the biggest price increases are in Norfolk

Britain’s village hotspots for homebuyers have been revealed and dominating the list are seaside locations.

The pandemic has seen a ‘race for space’ with people living in cities moving to rural and coastal areas due to more flexible working practices.

They are shunning busy city landscapes for open green spaces in the countryside and easy access to expansive sea views.

Britain's village hotspots for homebuyers have been revealed by property website Rightmove

Britain’s village hotspots for homebuyers have been revealed by property website Rightmove

This four-bedroom house in Hemsby is on the market for £300,000 via Bycroft estate agents

This four-bedroom house in Hemsby is on the market for £300,000 via Bycroft estate agents

Hemsby, just north of Great Yarmouth, tops the rankings produced by Rightmove, having seen the biggest rise in average house prices during the past year.

The typical value of a home in the Norfolk village has increased 22 per cent in the 12 months from June last year, from £221,533 to £270,144.

Three of the top five villages with the biggest house prices increases were in Norfolk, with Heacham and Caister-On-Sea also making the list.

Heacham saw asking prices increase by 20 per cent in June 2021 compared to the same period last year, while asking prices in Caister-On-Sea rose by 12 per cent.

Caister-On-Sea also saw one of the biggest rises in demand for villages, with buyer demand up 46 per cent in June 2021 compared to June 2020. Average asking prices in Caister-On-Sea are £240,909.

David Lowes, of estate agents Mr & Mrs Clark in Norfolk, said: ‘With a general “escape to the country” desire prevalent for many, the rural county of Norfolk is in high demand.

‘With its 90 odd miles of varied coastline, the added possibility of a “next-to-the-sea” lifestyle, and the simple pleasure of a stunning sunrise or sunset means the coastal villages are of particular attraction.’

Heacham saw asking prices increase by 20 per cent in the year to June 2021, says Rightmove

Heacham saw asking prices increase by 20 per cent in the year to June 2021, says Rightmove 

This four-bedroom house in Heacham is for sale for £475,000 via Sowerbys estate agents

This four-bedroom house in Heacham is for sale for £475,000 via Sowerbys estate agents

He added: ‘Hemsby and Caister in the east and Heacham in the west of the county offer some of the more affordable options thus driving strong percentage price growth. 

‘Each of these villages are close to larger towns too which helps with the transition to the countryside in terms of availability of amenities and activities.’

Rightmove defined demand as the number of enquiries it had via emails and calls to agents via its website. 

Average prices percentage increases in these villages appear to be around three times as much elsewhere. But this may be affected by villages having lower stock and fewer transactions. 

The average price of a home in Britain increased 6 per cent during the past year to June, from £317,058 to £336,073, according to Rightmove.

This four-bedroom house in Caister-on-sea is for sale for £400,000 via Bycroft estate agents

This four-bedroom house in Caister-on-sea is for sale for £400,000 via Bycroft estate agents

Rightmove revealed that six out of the top 10 villages with the biggest annual price growth in June are near the sea. House price growth in all of these villages rose at a higher rate than the national average.

Rightmove’s Tim Bannister said: ‘During the past year, we’ve spoken a lot about the changes we’re seeing in where people are choosing to live, and this data shows continued demand from buyers looking for villages and rural locations outside of traditional major cities.

‘While we have seen signs that cities are starting to make a steady comeback, particularly in the rental market, price growth across all areas of Britain continues to be strong.

‘With the summer weather finally here, we’re seeing an added drive from buyers looking for that perfect village location by the sea, which is supporting price growth in these areas.’

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