Advice for Local Councils Facing Planning Applications in Conservation Areas

Stuart Tym, Head of Planning, The WIlkes Partnership Solicitors, Birmingham, Council Planning Disputes

The Wilkes Partnership, on behalf of a local authority client, this month helped save several buildings, forming part of a former Victorian hospital, from demolition.

Proposals for the demolition of buildings – within a former Lincolnshire asylum designated as a conservation area and Registered Park and Garden – to make way for a 106-unit housing scheme plus community hall and shop, failed when a government inspector decided other ways to save the buildings hadn’t been fully considered by the developer.

The case pitted home builder against local authority and needed to strike a balance between the commercial reality of property development and the potential loss of culturally significant landmarks, without pursuing all options to rescue, restore and reuse.

Below, The Wilkes Partnership’s Head of Planning Stuart Tym, who led the appeal on behalf of the local authority, shares some insight to those council planning teams who may face similar planning appeals.

1. Impact of early decisions can be felt for decades later.

Within larger developments, construction can take place over a number of years and initial decisions taken early on can have serious repercussions at a later stage. The impact of decisions may restrict and limit any ability to appeal, challenge and change permissions further down the line. Taking high level strategic legal advice, particularly at initial meetings with developers, can often set out a framework for successful resolution of disputes.

2. Stand your ground – you can’t rebuild history

Currently we’re in a construction boom, and local authority planning teams are under pressure to grant permission to build homes at pace to address a housing stock shortfall. As we all know following the Forest of Dean decision (Forest of Dean District Council v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government & another [2016] EWHC 421 (Admin)) the tilted balance would not have applied had the LPA not had its 5 year housing land supply; however to save that distraction the LPA had a recently adopted Local Plan and a safe 5 year housing land supply.

This means any delays in applications can create a backlog and increased tension between developers and council planning teams. However, once historical buildings and areas in conservation zones are gone, they often can’t be replaced and returned to their former glory.

Standing firm with planning applications to ensure buildings in conservation areas are retained and integrated with any new developments is something planners shouldn’t lose sight of, often it’s been part of the attraction in developing the site in the first place.

3. Link the entire site, look beyond the individual application

There are often multiple planning applications lodged for larger sites, sometimes over a number of years, often amounting to hundreds of homes. Knowing the potential value of the entire development and linking those can mean profits can be allocated to preserving buildings in conservation zones, from the start, avoiding disputes years later.  In this particular case it may be argued that we are where we are because the redevelopment of the Central Core is being promoted independently to the greenfield development around it.

4. Pursue all avenues

Having the back up of conservation groups and charities can be integral in helping to protect historic buildings in conservation areas. On some occasions, mothballing a site until support via grant-funding or public ownership is found is the preferred option. On some occasions, mothballing a site until support via grant-funding or public ownership is found is the preferred option.

There is always going to be a tense back and forth between developers and local authority planners, particularly when there are disagreements over the future of buildings within a conservation area. However by taking decisions early, standing your ground, ensuring that sites are linked and looking at whether there is grant funding or support for charities, the back and forth may be less tense.

For more information about the case click here.

To find out how The Wilkes Partnership can help with a full range of planning issues contact Stuart Tym on stym@wilkes.co.uk or call 0121 710 5891.