By Lucy Howes, Planning Director, Maddox Planning
This project was unusual because we needed to react decisively to changing information and conditions after we submitted the initial application.
On the one hand, there was a clear, positive drive to support mixed-use schemes under the co-location banner.
But on the other, caution surrounding fire regulations threatened to put the brakes on this drive.
We needed to be sensitive to these different impulses and gauge what we'd need to do to gain planning approval by amending the scheme, post-submission.
Our client was developing a mixed-use regeneration project of around 250 units and commercial floorspace.
This came under a co-location development drive from both the Mayor of London and Barking Local Authority. This made the scheme relatively high-profile.
Our task was to prepare and submit a successful planning application on our client’s behalf.
The Mayor of London has adopted the term co-location for property projects that combine residential and industrial uses.
The challenge in the capital has been to reconcile the ever-growing demand for housing with massive increases in the value of industrial land. Post-pandemic, the popularity of last-mile logistics, and the industrial premises to support it, continues to rise.
Essentially, co-location aims to enable these competing demands for residential and industrial space to meet in the middle and overlap. This is why The Mayor of London supports it in principle.
Therefore, you might assume a planning application for a mixed-use scheme in this context would be plain sailing.
But we also knew that we might need to react to external factors throughout the process. A key one of these factors was fire safety.
But planners in the London area are, naturally, acutely sensitive about this critical aspect of building development.
When we first took on the project, industry talk was that the government would be launching a new fire regulations consultation soon. But at this time, no official changes to existing regulations had been announced.
However, shortly after we submitted the application, the consultation recommended new statutory guidance requiring the installation of secondary staircases in any developments over 30 metres tall.
The proposal was for this change to happen later in the year, but following the consultation's launch, the Mayor of London issued a formal statement that the new guidance would be enforced immediately.
The message we were getting from the Greater London Authority (GLA) was that anything over 30 metres tall going through the application process would come to a grinding halt – unless it addressed this secondary staircase issue immediately.
We talked to a fire consultant about the existing plans, examined all the potential issues and discussed them with the LPA.
On the back of this research, after more discussions, we opted to recommend our client make further changes to the plans we’d submitted originally.
It made sense to do this rather than risk a knock-back and then be forced to make changes further down the line. The feedback we’d already got from HSE during the pre-application consultation confirmed for us that this was the right decision.
One of the fundamentals of our planning consultancy work is having an ear to the ground. We’re sensitive to what’s going on, both in the industry and in government.
We were aware that there was a certain air of uncertainty surrounding the fire regulations consultation and its potential legislative impact.
Consequently, we made sure our clients were aware of this too. Ultimately, this meant that when the plans required changes, it didn’t come as a shock, and it didn't represent a serious setback.
The process was also successful because we’d developed close, collaborative relationships with the LPA and the appointed fire consultant as well as the architects and, of course, our client.
Awareness is everything. It allows us to make sound, successful judgements based on forensic and intuitive detective work.
Zenith Land is currently developing the Thames Road mixed-use scheme.