We have had a few planning consents emerging from the system in the last few weeks – all of which have been months in the making – covering a wide range of projects and geographies, and all are schemes that will help our pipeline of work as we navigate through these strange times.
Many planning committees are convening through video calls at the moment and we are beginning to see subtle changes, within the confines of established policy, which we believe are a result of the current crisis.
An example is our proposed scheme in Ledbury which will feature a community medical centre, locally-run children’s day nursery and a Lidl food store.
We are currently going through consultation and as part of that process we appeared at a Town Council meeting on Zoom. We felt there was far greater consideration than there would have been pre Covid-19 around the provision of local facilities alongside housing, and how developments and decisions could help limit travel times and help foster the community.
That has always been high up on the agenda of any Town or Parish Council, but we have noticed across different areas that there is a stronger emphasis than ever on providing for local people to ensure that they can get what they want and need within their own communities.
I think the current crisis has made authorities realise that you can’t just make one place busier and people can travel to, for example, the nearest retail development. The way we shop and way we live into the future is going to be considerably different.
We have found that people have taken on board that life has changed and that is not going to be for weeks, it is not going to be for months, we could be talking for the next few years.
It has been recognised that just because we have something now, which has worked up until this point, it is not necessarily going to be suitable or sustainable going into the future.
I think this will make Town and Parish Councils not only more relevant but also more powerful. There is a view – rightly or wrongly – that some councils do not want development whatever it is, or wherever it is but that approach will not work in the future.
Local councils know their communities better than anyone else and that level of knowledge is vital. We had a very good example last year in our dealings with Pillerton Priors Parish Council, where the members were very specific about the sort and variety of housing they felt would suit the community, and we adjusted our plans for The Meadows accordingly.
Obviously, there are agreed village plans which take precedence, but I think there is an acceptance that there is not enough affordable housing and it is not of the age or quality that is needed.
The current crisis has emphasised the importance of local family networks which can lend support when it is needed. It has as highlighted how having family close is a really great benefit for all and for a variety of reasons, and that living in the area you grew up in and having connections in your community can be very useful for everyone as it reduces the pressure on local service provision.
On a practical level, the session in Ledbury went very well and worked effectively. We have also had planning committees on Zoom, which are then broadcast through YouTube, and again that has worked without any issues.
There are, in fact, benefits in that I think it stops people talking too much and therefore makes the meetings more efficient!
Everyone is talking about the “new normal” and certainly in planning terms, we are seeing it develop with impacts in our industry, which, I believe, will only grow and hopefully bring increased benefits to the local communities in which we live and work.