Ten high streets named a “Rising Star” in Great British High Street competition

Ten high streets from across the country that narrowly missed out on the final of the Great British High Street Competition, impressed judges so much that they have been awarded a special Rising Star award, together with £1,000 in cash.

The judging panel agreed that despite not reaching the final list of 21 high streets, 10 towns and villages had impressed with the great strides that they had made in improving their local high street.

Included within the 10 were Alcester, Beeston, Dartmouth, Faversham, Folkestone, Lowestoft, Bake Street – Middlesbrough, Newquay, Thame and Tottenham.

Nominations for this year’s competition – which reached a record level of 230 applicants – were assessed by a panel of government high street experts and covered categories from ‘coastal community’ to ‘market town’.

Marcus Jones, the High Streets Minister says:

“We had a record amount of high-quality entries to this year’s competition – testament to the pride local people have and brilliant work being done to boost Britain’s high streets…The local high street is the life and soul of many towns, villages and cities across the country and these awards are a great opportunity to not only celebrate those that are the best of the best, but also to help others learn their valuable tips for success”

The Great British High Streets Competition 2015, which is sponsored by big high street names such as Costa, Marks & Spencer, Boots and Tesco, is only in its second year and only one of a number of incentives to help revitalise high streets across the country.

Other incentives include a billion pound package of investment ranging from targeted business rate discounts and sensible planning changes, to action that reins in over-zealous parking practices.

The 21 towns lucky enough to reach the final consist of a top 3 for 7 different categories, with the eventual winner of each sharing a prize pot worth £80,000, which includes expert training and tailor-made tips from Google’s training taskforce for 100 of their shops, bars and restaurants.

For the first time in the competitions very brief history, the public are able to vote directly for their favourite high street online, with the deadline being November this year. The public votes will be cast alongside inspections by the Future High Streets Forum judging panel.

Altrincham, Colne, Twyford, Raynes Park and Amble are just a few of the 21 finalists hoping for victory, for the full list and to register your vote visit The Great British High Street website.

Seeing so many high streets recognised for their significant improvements is certainly a very positive sign, especially after Mary Portas’ review in 2011 which highlighted that the country’s high streets were suffering drastically.

There is, however, a long way to go. It must not be forgotten that it is likely to take a lot of hard work to maintain the improvements made by these towns. Also, despite the encouraging numbers of applicants, there are a number of towns still suffering from high street decline and it could be argued that enough is still not being done.

BT www.propertysurveying.co.uk 13.10.15

New Housing and Planning Bill to enforce councils to produce local plans for new homes by 2017

A new Housing and Planning bill has highlighted the government’s ambition to build 1 million new homes by 2020, as well as set a deadline for local councils to provide a local plan.

At present 82% of local councils have published local plans setting out how many homes they plan to deliver, however, only 65% have fully adopted them. Furthermore, almost 20% of councils do not have an up to date local plan at all.

The new bill will aim to improve these figures by setting a deadline of 2017 to produce a local plan. Failure to do so will result in the government consulting with local people to produce one for them, with David Cameron saying:

“If they fail to act, we’ll work with local people to produce a plan for them”

Other proposals set out by the bill in order to boost home building and ownership include a legal duty on councils to guarantee the delivery of Starter Homes and to promote the scheme to first time buyers.

David Cameron explains:

‘The government will do everything it can to help people buy a place of their own and at the heart of this is our ambition to build one million new homes by 2020. Many areas are doing this already but we need a national crusade to get homes built and everyone must play their part”

The new legislation will also incorporate automatic planning permission in principle on brownfield sites, enabling as many homes as possible to be built whilst protecting green belt land.

Cameron has also announced that a temporary rule that was introduced in May 2013 that allowed disused offices to be converted into residential properties without planning permission, will be made permanent after more than 4,000 conversions were given the go ahead between April 2014 and June 2015.

One supporter of the new bill is Jeremy Blackburn, head of policy at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors who explains:

“It is good to see these now coming forward in the Bill. Some sites have been locked up for too long and these measures, coupled with a brownfield register and fund, will get them moving. While these new measures build on the National Planning Policy Framework and are welcome, the system needs to really pick up speed in order to deliver the vibrant property sector on which the success of our economy depends.”

The Chief Executive of the British Property Foundation also supports the bill:

“Measures to ensure local plans be put in place by 2017 will bring much needed certainty for potential investors and provide a catalyst for growth. Our members focus on brownfield opportunities and so measures that bring more land forward will also be warmly supported”

BT www.propertysurveying.co.uk 10.10.15

In case you missed it: Landlord smashes up his own pub after being refused a drink

A businessman who caused an estimated £40,000 worth of damage to a pub after driving a JCB into it, has been let off criminal charges because he is the owner.

According to locals, 45 year old Mark Switsun was refused a drink after the 11pm closing time, he then left only to return at the controls of a 28 ton digger and ploughed it straight into the extension of the pub.

As a result, Switsun was arrested on suspicion of causing criminal damage but was released without charge, with police saying they were powerless to charge him. A police source explained:

“At the end of the day the building belongs to him so he can do what he likes with it…We would have needed someone to make an official complaint about the damage he caused”

Only the year previously had Mr Switsun – a wealthy shellfish factory owner – decided to invest £60,000 into the Royal Oak pub in Penclawdd with his business partner Colin McDonald.

A village local summed up:

“It was a classic case of cutting off your nose to spite your face…But I suppose the police couldn’t charge him because he owns the pub and he can do what he wants with it.”

Another local Rob Lowe, who lives opposite the pub explains

“My daughters had just finished watching a film and heard a loud noise…A JCB with long prongs at the end was being driven through the extension…The prongs went through the window and were lifted up through the roof…My daughters were horrified.”

Luckily, nobody was harmed during the partial demolition, though it’s more than likely that Mr Switsun’s pride and his bank balance both took a knock.

BT www.propertysurveying.co.uk 13.10.15

Higher earning tenants set to pay fairer rent under consultation proposals

Higher earning tenants that live in social housing, will find themselves paying a ‘fairer’ rent due to consultation proposals published by Housing Minister Brandon Lewis.

Currently, higher income social tenants benefit from tax payer-funded subsidies of up to £3,500 per year, but the new ‘pay to stay’ proposal will see households with a total annual income of over £40,000 in London, and £30,000 elsewhere, pay a rent at market or near market levels.

Under the proposal, social rents would increase as the tenant’s income increases above the threshold meaning that those in real need of the help continue to pay a subsidised rent, whilst those currently taking advantage of the subsidies are no longer able to.

Housing Minister, Brandon Lewis, explains:

“It’s not fair that other hard-working people are subsidising the lifestyles of higher-earners to the tune of £3,500 per year, when the money could be used to build more affordable homes.

’Pay to stay’ will ensure that those tenants on higher incomes who are living in social housing have a rent that reflects their ability to pay, while those who genuinely need support continue to receive it.”

The money saved from the removal of the subsidy will enable councils to contribute towards the government’s £12 billion of welfare savings. Housing associations will also be able to retain the additional income and use it to support their role in providing new housing.

The scheme, which is intended to come into effect as of April 2017, proposes that local authorities will be able to recover any reasonable administrative costs before they are required to return the additional income from increased rents to The Exchequer. Alternatively, as housing associations are expected to retain income they receive from higher rent payments, the policy sets out that they are expected to absorb the administrative costs.

At present more than 40,000 social rented tenants have a total annual income of over £50,000 and will therefore be affected by the new policy. A further 300,000 social tenants have incomes over £30,000.

BT 10.10.15


Right to Buy scheme set to be extended after the government secures historic agreement

On the 7th October, David Cameron announced an historic new agreement with housing associations and the National Housing Federation that is set to extend the Right to Buy Scheme to 1.3 million more families.

The Prime Minister explains:

“Some people said this would be impossible and that housing associations would never stand for it. Today we have secured a deal with housing associations to give their tenants the Right to Buy their home…That will mean the first tenants can start to buy their homes from next year.”

The Right to Buy is a scheme that allows families in social properties to become homeowners, and has already helped around 2 million families realise their dreams since its introduction under Thatcher.

By recycling the funds raised by selling off the properties towards replacement affordable properties, this agreement sets out to not only increase home ownership but also help those who need a new affordable house, thus increasing overall housing supply.

Communities Secretary, Greg Clarke says:

“We’re determined to ensure that home ownership is seen as a reasonable aspiration for working people…Today’s historic agreement with housing associations and the National Housing Federation will extend that offer even more widely, while at the same time delivering thousands of new affordable homes across the country”

Under the new agreement, every housing association tenant would have the right to purchase a home at Right to Buy level discounts (subject to the Right to Buy eligibility requirements). It is assumed that housing associations would sell the tenant the property in which they currently live.

Compensation would then be paid to the Housing Association by the government to reflect the discount that was offered to the tenant. The sales receipt would be kept by the housing association so that they can reinvest towards the delivery of new homes.

Housing associations would use sales proceeds to deliver new supply and would have flexibility to replace rented homes with other tenures such as shared ownership.

Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation, David Orr said of the agreement:

“This is a great offer for housing association tenants. It is also a great offer for the country, as our proposal means homes sold will be replaced, delivering an overall increase in housing supply.

“This is an ambitious sector that last year built more than one in three of the country’s homes, matching each pound of taxpayers’ money with £6 of its own. We will build more.”

The Right to Buy is just one part of the Government’s wider programme to increase overall home ownership, with other schemes including the Help to Buy, Starter Homes, Right to Build and planning reforms to get more homes built on brownfield land.

It certainly seems as if there are enough schemes in place to address the mounting problems of home ownership and housing supply, but the question remains – how effective are they? Are they papering over the cracks, or providing a viable solution?

BT www.propertysurveying.co.uk 09.10.15

George Osborne announces plans to hand local councils the power to control business rates

Speaking at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester earlier this month, the Chancellor George Osborne has announced plans that will enable local councils to take full control of business rates.

At present, local councils keep up to 50% of the rates with the rest being sent to Westminster, who then redistributes them so that areas with fewer businesses do not miss out. Currently around £11.5 billion in business rates goes to Westminster, with around £9.4bn being redistributed in grants.

Described by the Chancellor as “the biggest transfer of power to our local government in living memory”, the plans will allow local councils to keep the rates that they collect from businesses as well as to set the level. It aims to provide local councils with the freedom to cut the tax, therefore encouraging companies to invest locally.

The plans, which will also allow areas with directly elected mayors to increase business rates if they invest the extra money into infrastructure schemes, has come under scrutiny from a number of critics.

Frances O’Grady, the Trade Union Congress General Secretary says:

“By devolving business rates without any national safeguards, regional inequalities will get wider. The communities that most need investment are often those with the weakest business revenue base”

Another critic, Shadow Home Secretary, Andy Burnham took to twitter:

“Big contradiction at heart of Osborne speech. Says wants to close North-South divide. But then announces taxation reform that will widen it.”

However, the Chancellor backs his plan by saying to councils:

“Attract a business, and you attract more money; regenerate a high street, and you’ll reap the benefits; grow your area, and you’ll grow your revenue too”,

He goes on to explain that the changes, which are due to be in place by 2020 would mean cities and communities will no longer have to go to the government with what he described as a “begging bowl”.

– – –

Following on from our article about Britain’s ‘Rising Star’ high streets, business rates are often cited as one of the greatest obstacles to high street vitality – particularly as online competitors have no such burden. It is interesting therefore, to see Mr Osborne finally putting the power to control rates in the hands of local government, though it remains to be seen whether councils will use it to bolster their beleaguered coffers or to incentivise business on their ailing high street.

BT www.propertysurveying.co.uk 10.10.15

Housing Group Becomes the First to Use Drones in the Housing Sector

Walsall Housing Group has become the first housing association in the country to secure permission from the Civil Aviation Authority to fly drones over their housing stock. Though other authorities have ruled out using the equipment for cost reasons, Walsall have stated that they estimate the cost savings to be around £20,000 a year.

drone closeupThe move has led to a debate over the legal ramifications, with particular regard to the Data Protection Act 1998. Whilst the legal obligations on domestic drone users are fairly light and essentially extend to a requirement to use them in a responsible way which protects the privacy of others, the requirements on commercial use are more stringent.

The Information Commissioners Office’s (ICO) CCTV Code of Practice provides that as drones are privacy intrusive, justifications for their use are imperative. As such, a company or housing association will ideally need to undertake a ‘privacy impact assessment’ or similar to determine whether drones are appropriate, or whether another method would minimise the privacy impact. This would operate in much the same way as a risk assessment.

The same Code also offers several additional recommendations to ensure compliance with Data Protection:

  • Any data captured should be securely stored
  • Recording should be limited only to the defined purpose
  • Retained data should only be kept for its stated use
  • Consider ‘privacy by design’ – eg. Methods or technologies which allow restricted views or a specific focus.
  • Data access should be restricted to only those who need it
  • Consider ways to provide fair processing information to those likely to be affected.

drone flying inspectionThe guidance from the ICO indicates that Housing Associations, and all other companies looking to integrate drones into their processes, should be aware of the data implications. Whilst HAs like Walsall Housing Group evidently see a cost advantage, that net benefit may in some cases be eroded by the additional administration costs of satisfying their information obligations.


SRJ 19.10.15

High Court Quashes Planning Permission on Bias Grounds

Ref. Kelton v Wiltshire Council [2015] EWHC 2853 (Admin)

In this case, a judicial review was advanced by the claimant – a riparian owner 700 miles downstream – on the following grounds:

  1. Cllr Magnus Macdonald, who carried the deciding vote, should have been disqualified from voting on the Wiltshire Council Planning Committee. He was a director of Selwood Housing Association, an entity which had an interest in the affordable housing section of the 35 dwelling development in question. Cllr Macdonald received, as director, £3,000 per annum.
  1. Contamination was a risk arising from the specialist foundations required to make the development viable.
  1. The council’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) screening opinion for the development was flawed.
  1. Wiltshire’s conclusion that the development would not cause harm to heritage assets was flawed.

The Judge, Mr Justice Cranston, addressed each matter in turn, and his thoughts have been broken down below:

1 – Whilst Mr MacDonald had no direct pecuniary or proprietary interest in the planning application so as to be automatically disqualified from participating, the presence on the committee did raise the question of bias as defined by Lord Hope in Porter v Magill. Mr Justice Cranston summarised:

“Selwood, with Cllr Macdonald as a director, was not simply an affordable housing provider. Here it was the only provider which had been willing to give assistance on the scheme, had expressed a clear interest in delivering it, had been named by the applicants as their potential partner, and had written in support and attended the planning committee meeting when it was considered.

“In other words, its position was superior to that of any other interested providers of affordable housing because of its previous involvement and its prospects of winning the contract when the affordable housing part was tendered. Because of that, Cllr Macdonald’s private interests were engaged, as a director of Selwood, not just his interests in the cause of affordable housing. In all these circumstances it was wrong for Cllr Macdonald to have participated in the meeting.”

2 – The evidence demonstrated to Mr Justice Cranston’s satisfaction that the council’s decision on the matter of contamination was sufficiently well supported by the available information and that no significant effect was likely under the Habitats Regulations.

He stated:

“Insofar as a risk was identified in relation to the construction works, this was addressed with conditions which specifically address it.”

3 – On this point, he concluded that the screening could not be regarded as flawed.

4 – Mr Justice Cranston commented that “in my judgment there was ample evidence on which to base that conclusion and it was reasonable to reach it.” The officer’s report before the planning committee had concluded that developing the site would not harm the setting of the Bishopstrow Conservation Area or nearby heritage assets. This report was considered to be sound.

The result of these conclusions is that planning permission was quashed. Whilst points 2-4 were all disregarded, the presence of bias was sufficient to overturn the planning permission on the grounds of natural justice – nemo judex in causa sua (no one should be a judge in his own cause).



Policy Exchange want new ‘Garden Village’ powers for Councils

garden-villageIn a paper by think-tank ‘Policy Exchange’, a new policy of devolved power to local authorities has been put forward, which would enable them to create ‘garden villages’ of between 1,500 and 5,000 homes…
To read the whole article, click here.

Could the invasion of the Super Rat threaten your home?

ratHardly a week goes by without rats featuring in the news – restaurants being closed down, infested homes being evacuated etc. Recent weeks have been no exception and so called ‘Super Rats’ are now plaguing towns across the UK. Could your house be next?
To read the whole article, click here.