Monday, 16 May 2011
“We apologise for the late arrival of.......”
I am acutely aware that there has been a significant delay in postings here since late April. I cannot plead ‘leaves on the line’ or ‘the wrong sort of snow’ as an excuse; the explanation is much more straightforward - I have been on holiday. Unfortunately, I have probably reinforced Eric Pickles’ jaundiced view of planning lawyers, as we did go to Italy - but not to Tuscany this time.
While I have been away, there have been quite a few developments in planning law and practice, as was to be expected. I see that barn conversions are now back in fashion again. Residential conversion of agricultural buildings was once quite a popular form of development, but this then fell out of favour and further conversions were discouraged unless they were for rural industries or other commercial uses. Now, the government seems to be prepared to countenance residential conversions once again, although this relaxation may be confined to ‘affordable homes’ where farm buildings “are considered inappropriate for employment use”.
The vehicle for this policy change will be a proposed countryside policy statement setting out the government’s rural policy priorities, including economic priorities , which they have promised to publish before parliament’s summer recess. Beyond this, it is not clear yet what steps the government proposes to take to persuade Councils to relax their planning policies to allow such residential conversions, or how they would seek to prevent their resistance to such conversions in the future. The proposed change clearly does not presage a free-for-all for residential barn conversions, but a blanket refusal of applications for such developments would no longer seem to be an option for local councils.
Another news story which caught my eye was Bristol City Council’s plea for restrictions to be imposed on retail uses in Class A1 of the Use Classes Order, following the anti-Tesco riots in Stoke’s Croft recently. This seems a fairly forlorn hope in view of the current policy trend, which is precisely in the opposite direction, with the likelihood that changes of use within shopping centres may be made even easier in the foreseeable future. In any event, it seems pretty daft to complain of the establishment of what is effectively a grocery store in a retail shopping frontage! There may or may not be an argument for excluding uses such hairdressers, travel agencies or funeral directors from Class A1 (although I would not support a proposal for any such change), but I cannot immediately think of any re-definition of this use class which could realistically prevent Tesco or any other grocery chain from opening a store in such a location.
Those who wish to stop the onward march of Tesco should be concentrating on competition law, rather than planning law. The minister whose ear they need to bend is Vince Cable, not Eric Pickles.
Meanwhile, as expected, the government has tabled a large number of amendments to the Localism Bill, which are due to be debated on the floor of the Commons this week, on 17 and 18 May, when the Bill goes through its Report Stage and Third Reading. I have not yet had the chance to go through the proposed amendments in any detail, or those tabled by the opposition and back-benchers, but (unless I missed something in my haste) a quick trawl through the government amendments did not reveal any suggestion that the very unsatisfactory provisions on ‘concealed’ development are to be changed.
I am still in the process of playing ‘catch-up’ with my work following my return to the office, so it may be a day or two before I can pick up these various points and examine them in more detail. I must also take a look at any judgments that have been delivered while I have been away. Cala Homes have had their hearing in the Court of Appeal and judgment has been reserved in that case, so it may be a week or two before we know the result of this ongoing saga.
Frankly, I would rather be back in Italy right now, but I can’t afford it unless I get some more work done.
© MARTIN H GOODALL