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Interim or meanwhile use in development control and planning

Planning policy and the planning system, however necessary is in serious need of an overhaul. It is long winded, bureaucratic, time consuming and expensive never mind just how infuriating and frustrating the experience can be for built environment professionals let alone the general public.

The requirement for overhaul is none more so apparent than when dealing with interim or meanwhile uses.

An interim or meanwhile use refers to the short term use of empty or under-utilised buildings or land before they are brought back into more permanent use. It is widely recognised as best practice to facilitate transformation through the process of change within major regeneration projects. It allows ideas to be explored and tested, a prototype for the future. provide long term benefits for the quality of life and success of the new regeneration.

Current planning policy dictates that any use over 28 days (consecutive or in a single year), requires planning permission. Anything under 28 days is temporary and does not usually require planning permission. So whether you are building a stately home or a state of the art office building (design lives 60 + years), in planning terms these are treated the same as a pop up hotel designed to be in situ for 6 weeks (during a World Cup for example), or temporary social housing (in place for 5 years). Doesn’t make much sense does it?

Furthermore, this is in conflict with the building regulations that considers a temporary structure to be one in situ for two years or less. Conflict is not often a great starting place least of all when it comes to our built environment!

However, to bring in Maria Alyokhina of pussy riot randomly “everything interesting begins with conflict” [taken from Breaking The Rules article in Wired Magazine March 2015 UK Edition]

Interim use, while there is currently a focus is on pop up activities (which may well be covered under the 28 day rule), can have functions of five or even ten years. Change is a process, regeneration or transformation of areas does not simply occur over night. It happens over time and is subject to interaction of a number of dynamic factors.

Potential interim uses include; small business space (encouraging businesses out of home offices and bedrooms into commercial premises encouraging growth and development), art, performance and exhibition spaces, food growing, housing solutions, cafe’s and food offerings as well as educational and vocational projects and activities.

The benefits include engagement with people and society generally; particularly young people (our small business units in Brighton include two college students starting up their own business in the music industry and a mother and son fashion brand), attracting people to an area who may stay and encouraging those already there to have an inward community focus. Interim use in addition to galvanising community, can often facilitate long term sustainable transformation of areas. It allows testing and prototyping of new uses and partnerships.

Government as ever is strong on rhetoric (Clegg, Cameron, Clark et al), but other than providing guidance and legal advice for pop up projects (start up britain and pop up britain) is doing little to encourage the conditions required for fullfilment. While there are some great tools out there such as the Croydon Meanwhile Use Toolkit, there is little to support stand alone commercial projects with durations of 29 days to 10 years. These projects, providing housing, recreational or business space provide an essential stepping stone to encourage young people in today’s ultra competitive world; can often enable site or area activation. For me there is no doubt that Interim Use deserves a recognised seat at the regeneration table. It has earned its role to be identified within the inevitable shake up of our long winded, bureaucratic, time consuming, expensive, infuriating and frustrating (i think that about covers it) planning system.

Interim or Meanwhile use to quote the Meanwhile Project is “a viable and intelligent option” it is about time our planning system recognised this in terms of policy guidance to support and enable wasted resources being brought into productive use for the benefit of local communities, private owners and the wider public.

Having now been through the planning process on a number of temporary use projects I though I would start by proposing some bones on what might form the introduction of guidance then policy to support interim development.

An interim or meanwhile use is one of between 29 days and 10 years.

Case for reform
The existing system which applies to everything over 28 days. There is no recognition of a temporary planning consent – temporary planning is currently obtained through conditionality on a full planning consent. This results in a system that is
⁃ too slow
⁃ inflexible
⁃ too expensive & complicated

Proposed reform
In order to support innovative interim uses we demand a system that is
⁃ fast
⁃ flexible
⁃ low cost
⁃ accessible and simple to use

What could this look like

1. Pre-Application – Outline / establish principles
red line around site. details around length of use, type of use, building mass and how this relates to its long term use/desired use. Is this acceptable in principle? If so provide details of any documentation over and above the basic that will be required to support an application, any time over and above the 4 weeks needed for a decision

28 days to get an answer.

2. if ok in principle – Consultation Process beings
– Local community & community groups
– Local councillors
– Local stakeholders
– The general public

3. Planning Application
step ; if supported in principle then prepare a planning application consisting of

Basic Information
site location plan
block plan
design and access statement

Plus any documents addressing concerns that have been identified at the in principle stage such as land contamination, background noise and transport.

A minor application would be determined in 4 weeks

A major application 8 weeks

Planning Fees

permanent building use is say 60 years to which the existing fee structure would relate

a new interim fee pro rata fee structure is proposed based on the existing planning fees

29 days to 1 year – 25%
1-5 years – 50%
6-10 years – 75%

a fee is counted in the traditional way and then discounted to reflect the longevity of the proposed scheme.

The benefits of introducing such a scheme would be
– quickly increase supply dynamics
– respond to change in line with today’s rate of social and economic change
– sustainability is increased through flexible buildings
– allows and encourages prototypes, new partnerships and pioneers
– increased land use by unlocking otherwise sterile sites provided by flexibility around short term land use without the risk of “forever” in term of planning policy.

Interim Use, is widely recognised as best practice to facilitate transformation through a process of gradual change within major regeneration projects and goals. It allows ideas to be explored and tested. It allows a prototype of the future. providing long term benefits for the quality of life and success of the new regeneration.
Legislation is required to underpin this exciting and influential movement. Any policy must enable flexible land use and bring planning policy more into line with the rate of social, economic and environmental change.

Some further questions

What can we learn from the Dutch in rethinking our approach to the Principles of Spatial Planning?

Should we return to the outline planning process of the 60s & 70s?

How can the pre-application process be refined to support the principles of interim development?

I’d be particularly interested to hear from planning professionals on what would be the best way to create policies to support Interim Use in development cycles?

Resources read / found during this research

Business case for PV
Shipping container accommodation questions