Little/big; producer/consumer; and the story of the Smarter City

Little/big; producer/consumer; and the story of the Smarter City.

Really interesting article from the urban technologist, partly relating to how information can inform travel choices within the city.

We have always known that the best way to influence people is give them the information to make their own decisions, but have insisted instead on building yet more and more roads that serve to pollute and congest our urban environments.

FUTURE CITIES NEED TO EMBRACE THE BICYCLE – this presentation from MIPIM further endorses the idea that the quality of cities of the future will be measured by the number of people cycling and the quality of public transport; not by the availability of cheap parking spaces.

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Neighbourhood Plans

John Howell, MP for Henley and author of Open Source Planning (the forerunner of the Localism Bill) pointed out this week that when a locally lead system was first proposed in Open Source it gained many supporters. Thame and Woodcote are two neighbourhoods that are now pioneering the Neighbourhood Plan in Oxfordshire.

Woodcote is yet to really get out of the blocks, but Thame Town Council has already published the report of its first community planning events (open sessions, workshops, online consultation, Facebook etc).

However, the Neighbourhood Plan must generally conform with the housing numbers that are imposed by South Oxfordshire District Council. In other words, this is not quite the bottom up approach that gained so much support in Open Source Planning (see page 8 of Open Source regarding local decision-making).

There has been considerable support and engagement with the Neighbourhood Plan process in Thame, and there are strong efforts being made to seek the views of all residents and business owners. Although the consultants have been at pains to explain that the Neighbourhood Plan cannot allocate housing numbers to Thame many of the responses still relate to the amount of growth that might be appropriate in this market town.

In order for the Neighbourhood Plan to be ‘adopted’ (for use in planning decisions) it currently needs to be supported by 50% of those that vote in a referendum regarding the Plan. This is a high hurdle given that those who turn out to comment on planning applications are represented very heavily by objectors. Many who have engaged in the process already understand that the Plan cannot dictate the overall levels of growth in Thame. Consensus for growth is very difficult to form when the benefits of development are seldom understood or accepted by existing residents, and the objections (increased traffic, burdens on infrastructure etc) are well rehearsed. This makes the pioneering Plans an interesting and exciting prospect.

It remains to be seen, then,  whether at referendum time, the ‘no vote’ turns out in force to reject the Plan; or whether true consensus can be built at a local level. Watch this space.

NPPF draft: presumption in favour of sustainable development

The draft National Planning Policy Framework contains (amongst many other things) a presumption in favour of sustainable development. The presumption works to ensure that Local Planning Authorities plan for necessary development. It’s a good thing, as this is what Local Authorities should be doing.

The presumption says that if a LPA has failed to plan for development, then development that comes forwards on its own (if sustainable) should be granted. In other words, plan for development, or whatever comes forwards could be granted. Rather than the current political incentive to refuse development on the basis that no-one likes new houses (and all the extra traffic it would create), the incentive is now to plan for appropriate development. This is exactly the problem the Conservatives identified with the Regional Spatial Strategies.

The CPRE, National Trust and associated Daily Mail / Torygraph lobby are getting very exercised on the basis that the presumption would see ‘concreting over our Green belts’ etc. This is scare mongering. But what the presumption does is force lobby groups like CPRE to stop saying “no” to those of us who would like to own our own home, and properly plan for the housing that the country desperately needs.

Only a small part of England has been built on, and there is plenty of room for new homes. In fact, Lord Rooker put it quite succinctly in response to the Torygraph ‘Hands of our Countryside Campaign’:

SIR – A couple of weeks ago, when the Lords was sitting, I was given written parliamentary answers by the minister at the Department for Communities and Local Government, saying that the land area in England designated as National Parks is 9 per cent; areas of outstanding natural beauty are 15 per cent; green belt is 13 per cent and urban is 9 per cent. This makes a grand total of 46 per cent.

To solve all the actual and perceived housing and other development issues, the area of land required, estimated from my time as a minister in the same department, is about 1 per cent.

So what is the problem?

Planning Policy Change in England, UK

I thought it might be interesting to keep track of changes in the planning system as they emerge through the new government from 2010, and identify some of their impacts.  I will update this page as new announcements / policy is made …

February 2010
Open Source Planning published, the Conservatives’ Green Paper on Planning.
Promises that planning decision-making will be moved back to local levels, neighbourhoods,

May 2010
The Coalition government is formed. Eric Pickles (Secretary of State for CLG, Conservative)  writes to local authorities (on 27th) to advise that he intends to abolish regional spatial strategies.

The Pickles letter causes general confusion, and results in many councils calling a halt to their Local Plans, which are based on housing figures that have been set through the regional strategies. This view is subsequently supported by David Morris, the Deputy Director in the Planning Directorate of the Department for Communities and Local Government with responsibility for development plans).

June 2010
Ministers debate the revocation of Regional Spatial Strategies, but warn of the uncertainties created. The British Property Federation warn that it is essential that guidance is provided to local authorities so that the country’s economic recovery is not hindered by a planning policy vacuum.

July 2010
Eric Pickles, Secretary of State, revokes regional spatial strategies on 6th July, removing the housing targets imposed by them. Steve Quartermain, chief planning officer provides advice to local authorities.

August 2010
CALA Homes make a legal challenge to the revocation of regional spatial strategies. CALA Homes say that the decision needed primary legislation, and leaves a policy vacuum in its place.

October 2010
The High Court hears the CALA Homes challenge against the revocation of regional spatial strategies.

Research by Tetlow King for the National Housing Federation shows that plans for 85,000 homes have been dropped, likely to rise to 300,000 by October 2011. Huw Morris, Editor of Planning Magazine comments ‘With just 123,000 homes built last year, the folly of abolishing one planning system without putting another in place is obvious … Ministers point to the much-vaunted new homes bonus as the policy that will rescue the country. Yet surely the fact that around 70 councils have halted development plans, slashed housing numbers or postponed local plan inquiries tells another story.’

November 2010
The legal decision on CALA Homes challenge against the abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies is upheld. Regional Strategies remain part of the statutory development plan until formally abolished once the Localism Bill comes into force i.e. the previous housing ‘handed down’ from the regions are re-confirmed. Eric Pickles states that ‘this changes very little’. CALA challenge this statement.

At a Commons CLG investigation into the abolition of RSSs Eric Pickles states that the National Housing Federation figures that 182,000 homes have been pulled from the pipeline are based on ‘iffy evidence and very unconvincing’.

Figures released by the CLG predict the growth of 232,000 households per year from 2008 to 2033.

When questioned about the need for strategic planning at a greater than local level, and how this might be carried out following the abolition of the RSS, John Howell (author of Open Source Planning) states that Regional Spatial Strategies will be replaced by the National Planning Policy Framework, similar to the system in the Netherlands.

December 2010
Draft ‘Localism Bill’ published.

February 2011
The High Court rules that the CALA challenge against the November statement of Eric Pickles fails.

CLG Parliament publications / evidence

Grant Shapps promises to retain the committment to zero carbon housing by 2016. He also finalises the New Homes Bonus, stating that commencing in April 2011, the Bonus will match fund the additional council tax potential from increases in effective housing stock, with an additional amount for affordable homes, for the following 6 years.

March 2011
The Chancellor takes control of planning through the budget, announcing that “local communities should have a greater say in planning “, accompanied by Greg Clark’s statement (‘Planning for Growth‘, 23 March) that there will be a presumption in favour of sustainable development: The Government’s clear expectation is that the answer to development should be “yes”, except where this would compromise the key sustainable development principles (to be set out in national policy).

In other words, local authorities / neighbourhoods need to plan for development. If they fail to plan, development may be forced on them. This is a major shift in policy, indicating that the treasury priorities for development to lead us out of a recession (together with the pressing planning requirements for new housing) now outweigh the political agenda to put control of development fully back to the local level.

The second report on the abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies(‘a planning vacuum’) is published. It identifies a concern at the speed of abolition of the RSSs without any replacement, and a lack of understanding of what the RSSs were for. It identifies a lack of any transitional arrangements between the abolition and planning following the new Localism Bill, and the resulting hiatus in planning. It concludes that there is a ‘lack of clarity in how the new planning system will be co-ordinated and how it will work in practice‘ which needs to rectified quick.

May 2011
The Court of Appeal rules that development plans would be unlawful if they were based on the CLG’s proposal to abolish Regional Spatial Strategies.

June 2011
Greg Clark in a speech to the RTPI states that planning has become too defensive and pessimistic, and needs to be about growth, sustainable development, ecological, social, economic and environmental improvements.

The Government’s response to the CLG Committee Report on the abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies is published. Eric Pickles announces that ‘The Government’s top priority in reforming the planning system is to promote sustainable economic growth and jobs. We made clear in the Growth Review that our top priority in introducing the National Planning Policy Framework will be to support long term sustainable growth, through both development plans and decisions on planning applications.

July 2011
Draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is published, with the intention of reducing the current 1000+ pages of National Planning Policy Guidance and Statements to 52 pages to make it more accessible to the public. The draft NPPF: –

  • has a presumption in favour of sustainable development. The default decision to development should be ‘yes’ where Local Plans are silent, or out of date (nearly half English councils have yet to publish a Local Plan, called a Core Strategy).
  •  plan making should be simplified with the intention of delivering development, and any supplementary documents to the Local Plan should meet this objective.
  • the current requirement for councils to identify a supply of 5 year’s housing land will increase by 20% to provide choice and competition in the market.

August 2011
The National Trust and Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) are in the news headlines over fears over the NPPF causing damage in the countryside of a scale not seen since the 1930s.

September 2011
Pickles and Osborne respond in the Financial Times that ‘planning delays cost the economy £3bn a year. It is twice as expensive to get planning permission in London’s West End as in Paris, and 10 times more than in Brussels‘. How do they know that, someone must have been hard at the research? They add: ‘Through neighbourhood planning, a key new right in the Localism Bill, communities will soon have the chance to say where they want new shops, homes and businesses to go, and what they should look like’. Well, good then?

Revocation of Regional Plans – revoked

What a farce! The right foolish Pickles revokes Regional Strategies on entering power, without properly considering the effects (a lack of any framework for waste, infrastructure, sustainable development etc, etc…). Yes, the Cons ‘Open Source’ planning paper said they would remove imposed housing targets, but not that they would chuck the whole strategy in the bin.

Now the courts say this was illegal. And Pickles response? ‘this ruling changes very little‘. Yes, it just thankfully reinstates the missing part of the country’s forward planning  strategy. It changes little in relation to the confusion created so far by Pickles.

He now says that the Government’s desire to remove regional strategies is a ‘material consideration’ in planning decisions. But it’s an illegal one! The government’s chief planning officer, Steve Quartermain, assists in confirming the confusion by telling local authorities that the court’s decision means that Regional Strategies remain part of their Development Plan. The English planning system is based on the ‘certainty’ provided by the Development Plan. But then Steve also says that they should have regard to the government’s intention to abolish them (despite the previous attempt being illegal).

I hope the development and construction industry will do as much as it can in accordance with the Regional Strategies whilst it still seems possible. The Regioanl Strategies took years to put in place and were widely debated. They are based on strategic decisions on the best ways to mitigate climate change and limit the negative impacts of the country’s needs (for housing, energy, transportation …). The government seems set to rid us of these strategies without any properly considered replacement. All because they imposed housing in Conservative areas, where residents objected – despite a proper consultation and extensive independent examination.

John Howell, MP for Henley, who represents people with some of the most expensive housing in the country and is author of the Open Source planning paper, advises us that the new National Plan that the Con-Dems propose will ensure that development is directed to the most sustainable areas. John also says that agreeing a National Plan will put us in line with the excellent planning system in the Netherlands. Yes, correct, except of course that the Dutch system also has 12 Provincial Plans – a regional tier of planning that John is very keen to remove!

The construction industry is historically the driving force in our economy, and recovery from recession. The Con-Dems do have some great ideas, and changes to the planning system were needed, but the current confusion is not helping us to economic recovery.

Localism in Reading, Berkshire?

Rob Wilson, MP for Reading East, spoke at a conference run by Savills and Osborne Clark in Reading on 30 September. The theme of the conference was the delivery of homes under the Localism agenda.

The message from John Stewart of the HBF and the chief exec of Crest Nicholson homes was that the coalition has made a mess of the planing system by revoking the Regional Spatial Strategies for the location of new homes, and failing to replace it with anything.

Rob Wilson then delivered the standard lines from Tory HQ that the top-down system did not work (see his speech here), but offered no insights into how the localism agenda would work, or how homes that require a strategic framework (such as cross-border in Reading / West Berkshire) would be delivered.

At the end of the presentations, the audience was asked who in the room thought that Localism would deliver more homes than previously delivered (as the Tories claim). Not one hand was raised in the room. And the room was about one third full of local Councillors and local authority officers.

Planning for homes under the coalition

Back in February the Tories unveiled their planning green paper. It stated that they wanted to give environmental / physical planning powers back to the local areas.

The previous planning system (since 1990) was based on the preparation of Local Plans, but the most contentious issue of how many houses should be built in a local area were decided by the Region.

The Regional decisions on housing numbers were previously ‘forced’ on the local councils, which the Tories wanted to end.

One of the first things Eric Pickles (the new Secretary of State) did was to revoke the Regional Spatial Strategies, thus freeing local authorities of the vast housing numbers being forced on them. However, without these numbers, very few local authorities want to build more houses, because it generally upsets their electorate with the fear of increased traffic, loss of countryside and so on.

Pickles announced that in order to encourage local councils to permit new building, they would be offered a payment of 6 years council tax back to the council for every new house they build. But the housebuilders federation say that this is not working at all.

We are told that houseprices are so high, and increase so rapidly simply because the supply falls so far behind demand, and the gap is steadily increasing. Whilst it’s easy in the short term to reject housing in our local areas, I fear for the vast increases in house prices that our younger generation are likely to have, because we fail to build.

Interestingly, I noticed that Grant Shapps twittered on AUg 19th that ‘New house building is up 13% as communities start to appreciate ‘New Homes Bonus’ means sustainable building makes sense’. What nonsense! It takes the creaking planning system months to deliver new permissions, and they take months to implement. No-one even knows exactly how the proposed ‘new homes bonus’ will actually work yet.

I don’t disagree with the problems associated with the ‘top-down’ housing numbers approach, but what does rile me is the Tories line that Labour has failed to deliver homes, and they will do better. It’s taken years to get the regional strategies in place, planning for growth in the most sustainable way. Then the Tories simply ditch the whole strategy, and replace it with … incentives that interest no-one.