Week commencing 23 March 2020

In today's bulletin

• Planning wheels must continue to turn
• Planning Inspectorate responds to coronavirus

• Invitation to shape rail landscape in the Midlands and North
• Wind generation become UK’s second largest electricity source

Property, Planning and Regeneration

Planning wheels must continue to turn

The chief planner at the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government issued his final planning update newsletter on 24 March. In it, Steve Quartermain emphasised the importance of planning authorities continuing to work during this crisis, using digital technology and delegating decisions to senior officers until legislation is passed that allows planning committees and other council meetings to take place remotely.
Mr Quartermain announced in January that he would be leaving the role he first took up in 2008.

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Planning Inspectorate responds to coronavirus

The Planning Inspectorate has cancelled all previously arranged site visits, hearings and events in light of the Government’s updated guidance relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the 25 March announcement states that inspectors will continue, where possible, to progress to pre- and post-hearing stages given the relative lack of face-to-face contact needed during these stages.
The Inspectorate is also considering technical solutions to facilitate hearings as video conferences as an option in a limited number of cases.

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MHCLG: No evictions during lockdown

The courts have suspended all housing eviction cases currently in the system and those about to go into the system as part of the latest measures to prevent repossessions during the current crisis. The announcement from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on 26 March strengthened earlier measures to protect renters, which were widely criticised for not going far enough.
It also reasserted landlords’ obligations to keep up health and safety standards at properties over the same period, and confirmed that landlords with buy-to-let mortgages would be eligible for a three-month payment holiday.

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Can we still move home?

Thousands of home movers across the country will have to put their plans on hold as a result of the Government’s latest guidance on the housing market. Updated on 26 March, the guidance states that agents and conveyancers should continue to progress and support sales where this can be done following social distancing guidelines, but that a new date for the move itself should be agreed “for a time when it is likely that stay-at-home measures against coronavirus will no longer be in place”.
The guidance gives exemptions to critical home moves and where the property being moved in to is currently vacant.

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Use space in suburbs for new homes

The Government should reconnect housing supply with demand by reforming local housing plans and national policy to encourage more suburban housebuilding. This is the recommendation of the new Centre for Cities report ‘Sleepy Suburbs’, published on 24 March.
The report focuses on the breakdown of housebuilding between city centres and surrounding areas. Findings show that large parts of existing suburbs in England and Wales are providing almost no new homes – yet if every suburban neighbourhood had built four houses per year since 2011, there would be 446,000 more homes in cities today.

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Social housing key to affordability crisis

The Affordable Housing Commission has called on the Government to put the provision of affordable places to live in the UK at the centre of its national housing strategy. Chaired by Lord Best, the Commission was set up to examine the affordability crisis, find solutions and drive change.
The Commission’s 18-month review resulted in a final report, published on 23 March, which recommends rebalancing the housing system by 2045 with more investment in social housing, reforming Right to Buy, ending Affordable Rent and levelling up the mortgage market.

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Right to Buy sales in decline

Local authorities sold 2,356 Right to Buy properties between October and December 2019 – a 12 per cent decrease when compared to the same period in 2018.
The latest statistics from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government come amid growing concerns in the sector that properties sold under the Right to Buy scheme are causing a deficit in supply of social rent properties.

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Invitation to shape rail landscape in the Midlands and North

The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has put out a call for ideas to businesses, passengers, experts and leaders in the Midlands and North of England, inviting them to help create a new rail landscape in the area.
This exercise will be used to inform the NIC’s independent assessment, which will consider how Phase 2b of HS2, connecting the Midlands to the North, can be best integrated with wider transport plans in the regions.

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Government temporarily takes over rail services

Rail firms are to be temporarily renationalised, as the Government takes emergency measures to sustain rail services throughout the COVID-19 crisis.
The Department for Transport will suspend normal franchise agreements for six months, transferring all revenue and cost risk to the Government.

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Energy and Environment

Defra’s efforts to meet future challenge of water shortages

The Government is failing to support water companies in promoting the importance of efficient water use to end users, and not being clear enough on its expectations around investment in water infrastructure.
These headline criticisms were contained in a National Audit Office report published on 25 March, which also raised concerns at Defra’s efforts to ensure water efficiency is a priority within government. Recommendations in the report include setting a target for average personal water consumption and addressing barriers to improved efficiency within the business market.

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Wind generation becomes UK’s second largest electricity source

Nearly 20 per cent of the UK’s energy was produced from onshore and offshore wind in 2019, according to statistics published by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
The March 2020 Energy Trends report revealed a record leap in renewable electricity generation, with half the increase in energy capacity due to offshore wind.

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Other News

Coronavirus Bill becomes law within a week

The 329-page Coronavirus Bill was signed into law on 25 March – only three days after first being presented to MPs. The bill contained a variety of measures to ensure core public services could continue to function, including provisions for local authority council meetings to be held remotely and without councillors physically present in the same place.
Councils will have to wait for the power to meet remotely to be confirmed in secondary legislation, which is expected to be progressed in the next week or so.

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