"Tearing up" planning rules

The coalition government is intending to "tear up" thousand pages of planning rules. A review by Lord Taylor has concluded that up to 80% of the 7,000 rules governing where development can take place should go. Lord Taylor said that the process to cut the regulations would be similar to the changes made to the NPPF, which involved 1,200 pages being reduced to just 52. His report recommended that the guidance should be "whittled down to an essential, coherent, accessible and well–managed suite of guidance that aids the delivery of good planning". The report recommended that work starts immediately so that the guidance is updated by March 28, the first anniversary of the NPPF. Reviews are generally a good thing and can lead to improvements, but some of the pronouncements from ministers suggest there could be a 'free for all' for developers and less protection for residents and neighbours, with, for example, houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) allowed without planning approval and extensions taking over more garden space than currently allowed. The latter could possibly add to "beds in sheds" and poor quality accommodation.

Local government settlements

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government,, Eric Pickles MP, has given details of the Local Government Finance Settlement 2013-14.  He described the settlement as “changes to spending power” – a handy euphemism for severe cuts. As far as Brent is concerned, we can expect 0.5% cut in 2013/14 and even more cuts in 2014/15 – 5.1%. This is a particularly worrying above average cut, with a reduction in revenue support grant of nearly £21 million being indicated for that year.

Flouting of planning rules

Some of my most time consuming case work is linked to breaches in planning and development. It can take months to bring rogue developers and owners to a position where they have to restore properties to their original condition or situation. More serious punishments are now available through the Proceeds of Crime Act and I hope eventually to encourage officers to use the Act to deal with a rogue developer currently very busy in Willesden. The Act was used successfully in a recent case in Willesden Lane:

A judge ordered a Brent landlord to pay the record sum of £1.438 million for turning a house into 12 flats without planning consent following a two year intensive investigation by the Council. The landlord must pay the sum within six months or face a 10-year prison sentence. The order to pay the money follows a prosecution brought by planning enforcement officers against a landlord who had continuously flouted planning regulations in the borough for the last ten years. Brent's Planning Enforcement Team used powers that enable councils to seek to recover the 'proceeds of crime'. The case related to the failure to comply with the requirements of a planning enforcement notice for a property on Willesden Lane which had been converted from one house into 12 flats. The £1.438 million order is believed to be the highest confiscation order granted for a planning offence in the country and is based on the assumed benefit received from breaching planning regulations. He was also ordered to pay a fine of £4000 for the breach of the planning regulations and legal costs of almost £35,000. He ignored the council's notices and as a result, profited hugely from the sub-standard accommodation he tenanted.

WIllesden pop up project award

“New Windows on Willesden Green”, was announced winner of the 2012 Regeneration and Renewal award for boosting high street vitality last month.  The scheme includes 13 flourishing pop up shops on Queen's Parade. Local entrepreneurs have been given empty shops for low rent and turned them into viable businesses which have received praise from retail royalty Mary Portas and featured in Time Out as one of the best places to shop. Shop owners have been joining in with the other businesses recently creating beautiful window displays to encourage shoppers back into the area. The Library Lab in Willesden Green Library is also still providing residents with a creative space to work from and get business advice and support. And the schemes have now been joined by Electric House which is being used to showcase the work of local artists as well as providing businesses with advice on dressing their shop windows.

Jessica Courtney Bennett Project manager said: "From working in the area for over a year we have been fortunate to meet local people who have incredible dedication in making Willesden Green a great place to live and work."

The recently formed Willesden Green Team, made up of local residents and business owners, will continue to build on the project by bringing vitality to the area for years to come. 
They have a new website launching soon at http://willesdengreenteam.co.uk/