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Date
27 February 2014

Mishcon Thinks: Planning: A Spur for Growth

In this film Daniel Farrand, Associate and Head of Mishcon's Planning group, is in conversation with broadcaster Katie Derham on the growth of planning in real estate.

Transcript

Mishcon Thinks: A Spur for Growth

Mishcon Thinks: Daniel Farrand

Katie Derham

Daniel Farrand you are an associate in the planning group at Mishcon de Reya.  It seems to me at the moment whenever I open a paper there is a planning story.  Has something changed or was I just reading the wrong papers before?

Daniel Farrand
Associate, Real Estate

No and I think you are absolutely right planning has caught the public imagination much more in recent years.  It was very stable for quite a long time and there was the odd story obviously but no there is a, there is a range of reasons I think for that.  I think the, the increasing pressure on housing which is tied up with the immigration debate obviously has made it front page news and also the economic circumstances, that’s put pressure on development, it’s put pressure on office buildings that aren’t let, it’s also put pressure on our high streets so for all those reasons it has become a bit of a story as well as a bit of a political football.

Katie Derham

It’s making us realise perhaps how all pervasive planning is in our everyday lives?

Daniel Farrand
Associate, Real Estate

Absolutely planning covers everything from your next door neighbours extension right the way through up to new settlements and everything in between.  It helps shape the way we live and where we work and where our children go to school.

Katie Derham

I think traditionally people often saw planning as a restrictive thing, as a block to growth it you like.  Is that changing?

Daniel Farrand
Associate, Real Estate

Yes I think it is.  We’ve seen some interesting things recently where as you say previously planning had been seen as a barrier to growth and if you wanted growth maybe you relaxed those barriers a bit but actually in the current Government there have been a couple of measures which are actively promoting growth rather than just simply removing restrictions on it.  A good example of that would be the recent changes to house extensions.  There is a temporary limit where you can extend for further than you might otherwise have previously been able to do without getting planning permission.  The aim there is to keep the construction sector working so it is encouraging people to actually engage builders not necessarily just to extend their houses.

Katie Derham

It is interesting the political elements to this debate because of course when the coalition Government got in there was this whole discussion about localism wasn’t there and the fact that planning should be brought back into the hands of your neighbours if you like.  How is that working out?

Daniel Farrand
Associate, Real Estate

Well the Government as you say came in with a very strong localism agenda and was very quick off the mark to bring the Localism Act into force.  There was a lot of fear I think amongst the development industry as to what actual form localism would take.  The reality has not been as bad as feared for developers.  It has slightly of course been overtaken by the economic agenda.  Planning has moved, not out of the localism sphere but has also moved into the economic tools that the Government is using to keep Britain going and there has always been a tension between localism and public engagement and delivering building and growth and development faster and more efficiently and that’s a tension the planning system has always tried to strike and I think this Government is struggling with it in the same way that every Government before them have.

Katie Derham

I mean is it possible do you think in theory for there to be an efficient and effective local planning policy?

Daniel Farrand
Associate, Real Estate

There are difficulties with pushing planning down to an extremely local level.  There is a level of expertise that’s needed that only comes after long involvement with the planning system.  If you are writing a policy you have to really understand not only how the policy works but how unintended consequences come from those policies and that kind of expertise for local groups doesn’t come cheaply.

Katie Derham

You mentioned some restrictions to planning being lifted currently in a short-term way to boost growth.  Is there more that could be done do you think?

Daniel Farrand
Associate, Real Estate

I think there is but they have made some good starts.  For instance, one of the recent changes has been to allow more pop-up shops.  Historically it’s been difficult for pop-up shops to move into a space that perhaps isn’t exactly, got the right planning for what they need to do.   Now their choice was either not take that space or to take it and take a flyer and hope that the Local Authority would prefer to have something in the unit rather than nothing at all to try and keep the high streets alive.  But they have introduced a power now to have a two year period where you can have different flexible uses in a building to try and keep it going with the hope that will then carry you then through to a time when you can redevelop or you can let it properly.

Katie Derham

So do you think that slackening of the regulations if you like will continue if economic growth picks up again and tenants are more easily found?

Daniel Farrand
Associate, Real Estate

Well that one interestingly isn’t time limited.  Some of the other, it’s time limited in the sense that you have two years of flexibility but the rights carry on without an end date so you might be able to use that in a couple of years’ time and I think it is a condition to the tools although there are some concerns about it.  They may have missed a trick, there may be other things they can do in terms of that for instance, community uses are not included so putting a youth centre in an empty shop unit isn’t covered by that particular permitted development right and that’s maybe something they may want to look at.

Katie Derham

How do the rules and regulations vary from region to region?  I mean are they different outside of London to what happens here?

Daniel Farrand
Associate, Real Estate

Well I mean London has always been a bit of special case in terms of planning but a lot of the legislation is very similar but the rights for instance can be varied locally. One very good example of that is the recent office to residential conversion permitting development rights so again a right to do that without getting planning permission so avoiding the planning system completely.  That Local Authorities had the opportunity to ask for an exemption from.  Most of the exemptions were from London Authorities and a big chunk of central London is exempt, very little of the country outside of London is exempt from that.  But Local Authorities and different parts of the country have different challenges both sort of generally in their area and specific sites so planning could be involved in heritage, it can be involved in green belt which we hear a lot about that outside London but also it can be involved in the problems of mass unemployment in a particular area right the way through to the existence of Great Crested Newts on a particular site.  So there is a whole range of things we have to deal with in planning and that’s frankly one of the things that I enjoy dealing with, I enjoy learning about, I enjoy tackling those challenges and it gets me out of bed in the morning.

Katie Derham

Well it’s very interesting hearing you talk about it   Daniel Farrand thank you very much.

Daniel Farrand
Associate, Real Estate

Thank you.

Mishcon de Reya