Monthly Archives: January 2012

Vancouver Chief Planner Fired

Globe and Mail

The Vision city council is terminating the contract of former mayor Sam Sullivan’s most high-profile hire, planning director Brent Toderian.

According to sources, Mr. Toderian was told last week that his contract is being ended “without cause.”

Council is supposed to vote formally on the decision at a private meeting on Tuesday, but the news leaked out of city hall late last week and has been making the rounds among developers and architects who do a lot of work in Vancouver.

 

 

The termination comes after an almost six-year tenure by Mr. Toderian, where he provoked a steady stream of complaints from key local developers and architects.

Mr. Toderian had always said, in response, that “good planning is not a popularity contest.”

Mr. Toderian was the youngest city planning director in Canada when Mr. Sullivan appointed him at the age of 36 to head up a planning department that is watched by urbanists around the world.

The move comes as something of a surprise because there was no recent project where he had noticeably butted heads with either council or a developer.

But for years, development-community members unhappy with him had been saying he didn’t give clear messages about the planning department’s direction, with the result that projects floundered and stalled as people tried to figure out what he and the department really wanted.

Others blamed his leadership for the steady rise of neighbourhood anti-development groups, while another group of critics was concerned about what they said was a lack of overall vision for the city.

But others in the city welcomed his style, saying Mr. Toderian treated developers equally, rather than favouring a few, that he demonstrated constantly that urban design was a priority, and that he delegated more authority to his staff instead of making all the decisions himself.

During his time, Mr. Toderian steered through the EcoDensity policy – Mr. Sullivan’s idea about increasing density as a way of making the city more environmentally sustainable – laneway housing, and a plan to transform the single-family housing along Cambie Street and the Canada Line into a row of apartments and office towers.

Former Vancouver councillor Gordon Price, who was surprised to hear the news, said this is a key turning point for the Vision council because it’s about to launch a push for affordable housing.

“That means significant change to the fabric of the city, which no one has been willing to take on before,” he said. Whoever is the city planning director will be in charge of that.

Mr. Price said it will be important for Vision politicians to make it clear that Mr. Toderian’s departure is not because of pressure from the development community.

“If Vision wants to start on the wrong foot on this, it could do it by getting it in the public mind that this is a developers’ council.”

Mr. Toderian, whose salary was $201,343 in 2010, will likely be eligible for at least a year’s severance.

Mr. Toderian, originally from Ontario and later a planner in Calgary, followed in the footsteps of three strong planning directors: Ray Spaxman, Larry Beasley and Ann McAfee, who established Vancouver’s reputation as an urban lab for successful experiments in downtown living and strong neighbourhoods.

But he faced a lot of new challenges in their wake. He replaced two people, Mr. Beasley and Ms. McAfee, who had been co-directors since 1994.

His effort to turn Mr. Sullivan’s concept of EcoDensity into reality prompted a wave of neighbourhood resistance.

Then the Vision council was elected with a plan to create affordable rental units in the city by giving developers density and parking bonuses. That plan sparked even more opposition around the city.

At the same time, senior planners left the city in droves under the last two political administrations, either because they were ready to retire or because they weren’t comfortable with new political regimes, leaving Mr. Toderian with a less-experienced department.

Vancouver has been a tough town for planning directors.

Gerald Sutton Brown, the city’s first planning director, was fired in 1973 after 20 years when a new political party under Art Phillips swept into power.

Mr. Phillips’s TEAM party hired Mr. Spaxman, who quit in 1988 when he got into conflict with then-mayor Gordon Campbell.

The next planning director, Tom Fletcher, quietly moved on after five years amid murmurs that the Delta resident wasn’t a good fit for the rapidly growing city.

Wales propose an ‘Ecosystem approach’ to assessing impact on natural resources #NPPF

Showing yet again how the Welsh Government is 5 years ahead of the English they today published a green paper Sustaining a Living Wales.

It proposes changes to the governance and delivery of the management and regulation of the environment in Wales, based on the ecosystem approach.

The consultation document defined the ecosystem approach as

A strategy for the integrated management of  land, water and living resources that promotes nature conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way recognising that humans with their cultural diversity are an integral part of ecosystems. The ecosystem approach provides a framework within which the relationship of protected areas to the wider landscape and seascape can be understood and the goods and services flowing from ecosystems can be valued.

The ecosystem approach requires managing our environment as an integrated system where decisions on one element impact on the performance of the whole and affect the benefits that the environment can provide to society. The ecosystem approach is especially vital in a complex and changing environment where climate change, as well as our direct physical demands on the environment, will result in increasing and changing pressures, risks and opportunities….

The services we receive from the environment include supporting services such as ecological processes, soil formation, photosynthesis and nutrient cycling, which underpin the operation of the system as a whole; provisioning services such as food, water and wood; regulating services which help us to control climate, floods, waste disposal, air and water quality; and cultural services which include recreational, educational, aesthetic and spiritual benefits we receive from the environment.

From Spring 2012 they propose to pilot

ecosystem based local resource management planning by exploring how we might bring together the range of existing plans and designations into more unified plans or processes and identifying potential barriers or opportunities

And

We propose to explore the scope for a single spatial framework for natural resource planning in Wales, bringing together this existing work, resolving conflicting aims and identifying opportunities for improved outcomes by linking common aims more clearly…

Countries such as The Netherlands have a long track record of this form of national
resource planning and we will draw on international experience in considering how
best to take forward our approach.

It describes the current arrangements for the planning of natural resources as:

a complex one which can be difficult to navigate and administer coherently. This complexity makes it difficult to link different issues to reflect the essential connectedness of the environment and so the present system is unlikely to be fully effective in delivering resilience of the environment as whole

A priority for integration will be the water sector.

A new Welsh Single Body will bring together the functions of the Countryside Council for Wales and the Wales functions of the Environment Agency and Forestry Commission.

On the relationship to land-use planning

Difficulties can arise when both land use and environmental consents are required or where no planning permission is required but there are impacts on the natural environment. We propose to look at the boundaries of environmental systems and land use planning to make sure that decisions are taken coherently and by the most appropriate part of the system. The aim would be to simplify and to make sure necessary controls are effective.

In the longer term we will consider the relationship between environmental regulation and planning decisions and how these could either work better together or where a decision might better be taken primarily by one or other system.

Local Campaigners – Get your Finger Out on Local Plan Nuneaton #NPPF

Nuneaton News

CAMPAIGNERS battling to protect and preserve tracts of Nuneaton and Bedworth countryside have called on the borough council to draw up its blueprint for the future.

They fear the floodgates will open for developers to build on green spaces unless the powers-that-be at the Town Hall start work on a new Local Plan.

Their concerns follow the four-day Public Inquiry into plans to create a major new housing estate on Weddington Fields.

Developers Hallams have appealed against a decision not to allow them to build 326 homes on some of the borough’s last remaining countryside.

But protesters say they were left ‘stunned’ and ‘horrified’ that the borough council was forced to withdraw its opposition because it could not prove that it had sufficient land to fulfil its future housing needs.

Major protesters SWORD (Save Weddington: Oppose Residential Development), are convinced that would not have happened had there been a Local Plan in place and have joined forces with local MPs Marcus Jones and Dan Byles, other campaigners and Conservative Councillors.

They are urging the borough council to begin consultation on a new Local Plan within the next few weeks and Alan Sebljanin, chairman of SWORD said: “Every day the council delays the consultation this puts developers further in control of what gets built in the borough.”

He said: “At the planning appeal, SWORD argued that the residents of Nuneaton and Bedworth are best placed to understand local housing needs and to identify which land should be built on in the borough.

“It is likely the outcome of the appeal will hinge of an old and out-of-date plan and untested policies. But where is our new plan?

“The council have been working on it since 2009 and we hear that the consultation might now begin in the summer with a new plan possibly adopted in 2014.”

He added: “The council should today publish – at a minimum – all the background evidence, not only because it is good for local democracy, but it would make for a better, more informed public debate.”

In a joint statement, MPs Marcus Jones and Dan Byles and Councillor Des O’Brien, leader of the opposition on the borough council, said: “For twenty months, Labour have prevaricated and delayed the Local Plan, despite being told by government that they should get on with the process of setting their own housing target and the Local Plan in 2010.

“By delaying the consultation until after the election to avoid debate and discussion is just not good enough. Action must be put before political expedience.

“The stable door for unplanned development and poor infrastructure is open and must be closed before we see another Weddington debacle.”

A borough council spokesman said: “We are awaiting the Planning Inspector’s report which will be sent to the council within eight weeks.”

Is Anywhere worse than Lancashire for Plan Coverage? – Yes Several Places #NPPF

Kirkwalls asks:

Is anywhere as backward at coming forward when it comes to local planning as Lancashire?

We ask this question, because a piece of research we have undertaken shows only 4 out of 13 Lancashire local authorities (31%) have adopted a core strategy. Admittedly, only two have not consulted on at least options, but this is a very worrying state of affairs.

Yes from research we have undertaken which will be published next week (and covering a much wider brief on the NPPF impact) by April only one LPA in Warwickshire will have an adopted plan (18% by land area), on In Worcs (115), In in Oxfordshire (2%, two in Herts (9%), and one in Lincs (15%), and none in East Sussex.  The former counties of East Riding, Cornwall and Herfordshire also have no core strategy coverage.

Norfolk for some reason has 98% coverage.

The Concertina Principle – Building Adaptable Cities

One of the key land use planning challenges many UK Towns and Cities face is a shortage of school places/  So what was the cause of this – not buildings enough?  Only a few years ago we had a surplus of school places, now as often in a recession the birth rate and immigration rates are falling - suggesting that in a few years time the shiny new schools we are building may be part empty.

The financing of school places takes place over 15+ years but the needs they accommodate are only 2-4 years ahead.  The underlying cause of the problem is fundamental uncertainty and the lack of adaptability of our built environment to that uncertainty.  Whatever number of school places we built for would be ‘wrong’ at some point in time of the building financing.

The solution is to build buildings which can adapt between offices, schools and places of work over their lifetime and which can add or take away a module here or their to adopt to fluctuations in demand.  To an extent we already do this, old primary schools adapted to adult learning centres are adapted back to primary schools.

This is a particular problem in growth areas.  This produces a baby boom in early years and many New Town such as Northampton have redeveloped a lot of school sites.  This needs to be planned in with temporary primary schools to accommodate the bulge in the early growth years.

 

Report – Welfare Reforms will halt building of family homes

Inside Housing

The coalition government’s welfare reforms will prevent landlords from building family-sized homes, a report claims.

The impact of welfare reform on housing, published by the Consortium of Associations in the South East, says the combined impact of the government’s changes will be a ‘mismatch’ between housing demand and stock.

The government’s plans included capping the maximum benefits that can be claimed at £26,000 a year, and cutting housing benefit for tenants that are deemed to be under occupying their homes.

The report says unless the £26,000 cap is indexed for inflation the affordable rent model – where social landlords can set rents at up to 80 per cent of market rate – will not work for larger homes.

It also notes plans to pay housing benefit to tenants rather than landlords will lead to an increase in arrears and larger borrowing costs.

It says: ‘The combined impact of under-occupation rules, direct payments and the benefits cap is… likely to cause a substantial stock mismatch, while at the same time limiting the sector’s ability to address it.’

It says housing associations in the south east of England would have to re-build the equivalent of 7.5 per cent of their stock as one-bedroom properties to meet demand for smaller properties caused by the under-occupation rules.

CASE calls for two-bedroom properties to be exempt from the under-occupation rules, for a relaxing of the proposed £26,000 benefits cap for larger properties and for the scrapping of proposals for payment of benefit direct to tenants.

Guardian  Brain Johnson

Moat and our fellow members of the Consortium of Associations in the South East (CASE) have launched a paper on the impact of welfare reform. Some might argue that the paper needn’t contain more than one word: unmanageable. And I’d agree.

We’re certainly not against welfare reform. The system should exist to help people back to work and stability. Right now, it is in need of serious enhancement to do this as effectively as it should. We also support some tightening of the public purse strings – times are tough and every organisation, whether public or private, should be striving to achieve value for money in all endeavours. The challenge for the housing sector is ensuring that these savings provide resolutions for the long term, and not simply short-term fixes.

According to proposed reforms, we would need to rebuild 7.5% of our existing stock as one-bedroom properties to correctly house everyone deemed to be under-occupying. If we take this deficit and apply it across England, we are facing a shortage of around 112,500 one-bedroom homes by April 2013.

This means that housing associations would have to build nothing but one-bedroom homes for the next two years just to make up the shortfall.

The fact that projected savings are worked out on the assumption that people won’t move is a bad sign. We would have no problem with an initiative that genuinely sought to get the greatest efficiency out of our housing stock – think there are ways of doing that. What we don’t want is a situation where short-term savings are used as the primary determinant for measuring the merit of a policy.

As an example, I doubt very much that anyone behind these reforms intended to encourage the development of more one-bedroom properties. Aside from the impact on build programmes, one-bedroom homes aren’t practical; younger couples soon outgrow them once they start their own families and older people often require live-in support.

Nationwide, these proposals on under-occupation will lead to a severe shortage of the “right size” homes for people, which will mean that many will begin going into debt on 1 April 2013. Surely, punishing people when they want to do the right thing but are unable to cannot be regarded as good public policy.

Equally, I don’t think the real impact of direct payments is yet fully understood. We know from previous experience that the removal of direct payments will lead to higher levels of arrears. The associated bad debt will increase the cost of borrowing for housing associations, as lenders move to manage the increased risk. These additional costs will need to be balanced by increased subsidy for each new home if current development levels are to be maintained. However, logically assuming that only a fixed amount of subsidy is available for housing, the consequence is that fewer homes will be built.

We’ve modelled this across the CASE group and found that the impact will leave 200 homes unbuilt for each £100m borrowed. This is on a relatively conservative assumption of a 2% increase in the cost of borrowing.

Nationally, the total reported borrowing facility for the sector is £63.7bn. A total of £53.3bn is currently drawn, leaving £12.4bn undrawn. If we apply the numbers above, this leaves approximately 106,000 homes unbuilt (according to current figures on drawn funds), all as a result of the implementation of direct payments.

The question for the government must therefore be: is a point of philosophy worth such a loss of capacity? Given where we are at in economic terms, it is difficult to see how the answer could be yes.

This is only a summary of the effects of just two of the proposed reforms on housing, but I hope it’s sufficient evidence to make others take notice. I think it’s pretty telling that nine of the biggest housing associations in the southeast felt strongly enough to come together to share our thoughts. The paper we’ve written isn’t based purely on business concerns; these reforms could have negative social repercussions that will make it more difficult – not less – to encourage people back to work. The bottom line is that if the final welfare reform act reflects none of our sector’s concerns, we will soon be facing a much greater housing crisis than the one we’re dealing with today.

Guardian – Lord Rogers Campaign on the #NPPF

Guardain - from Interview with him and his partners

The idea of the city has preoccupied much of Rogers’ life as an architect and, in later years, a politician. He was chairman of the Urban Taskforce from 1998-2005, championing high-density cities; brownfield not greenfield for building. The taskforce was appointed by then deputy prime minister John Prescott, about whom Rogers has nothing but good to say. “Contrary to what everyone believed, I thought Prescott was a good minister, because he concentrated, and stuck around, and had a certain flair. It was a very important part of my life.” The question of “how one builds at the density required of a city centre, and still achieves the right feel at the street scale”, as Harbour puts it, is of urgent concern, they argue. “It’s about humane scale in intensified development,” adds Stirk. “It’s about concentrating, rather than spreading,” says Harbour. “You need good design to solve the problems of dense spaces.”

Which is why Rogers has been speaking in the Lords about the government’s draft National Planning Policy Framework. He agrees that the planning laws are due for rationalisation. But he fears the proposed reforms will loosen planning regulations too much: we could end up “like the south of France or the southern coast of Spain, with the whole south-east peppered with buildings”. He agrees with the National Trust’s campaign against the reforms, but from the other end of the argument – their potential effect on cities and towns, rather than just on the countryside. Cities that sprawl lose energy, he says. It’s not so long ago, he warns, that post-industrial city centres, such as Manchester’s, were bleak places, more or less uninhabited. Drawing residents back to the heart of cities has made them more attractive, safer, livelier. Intelligent density is the answer, with old and new buildings cohabiting gracefully, argue the architects. “Cities are about juxtaposition,” says Rogers. “In Florence, classical buildings sit against medieval buildings. It’s that contrast we like.” Harbour adds: “In Bordeaux we built law courts right next door to what is effectively a listed historic building, and that makes it exciting. Can you imagine that in London?” There is some hope that the government will change its position – the MPs of the communities and local government committee have urged ministers, in a report published before Christmas, to drop the notion of the default “yes” to development. But the battle is not yet won, and Rogers will continue to campaign from the Lords.

DEFRA has no way of knowing if local flood defences are adequate – MPs

Independent

MPs raised concerns today over whether there will be enough money to maintain and improve flood defences to protect millions of at-risk homes in the future.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) also warned it was unclear “where the buck stops” for managing the risk of flooding, as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has said it is not ultimately responsible for the issue.

Defra told the committee it shares responsibility for flooding with the Environment Agency and local bodies, but the MPs warned the department had no way of knowing if local flood management was adequate and when it should step in.

A report by the parliamentary committee said the costs of flood damage currently stand at around £1.1 billion a year, and are likely to rise with climate change.

Last week, a climate change assessment for the Government warned that the annual costs of flooding could increase to between £1.5 billion and £3.5 billion by the 2020s, and £2.1 billion to £12 billion by the 2080s for England and Wales.

Despite the Environment Agency’s prediction in 2009 that its flooding budget needed to increase by 9% during the current spending period to maintain levels of flood protection, funding is being reduced by 10% over that time, the PAC said.

Defra told the MPs that efficiency savings and improved use of resources would mean capital expenditure on flood defences would not be reduced.

But the Environment Agency has not yet adjusted its longer-term investment strategy and could not tell the committee what the scale of the long-term funding gap would be.

Defra also hopes to encourage more funding for flood defences from sources such as businesses and local authorities, boosting contributions from £13 million in the last spending period to £43 million – but it has not yet secured the increase.

Margaret Hodge, chairwoman of the PAC, said the committee was “sceptical” of the possibility of raising funds locally when councils and businesses were facing financial pressures.

She said: “Five million properties in England – one in six – are currently at risk of flooding.

“The annual cost of flood damage is at least £1.1 billion and ageing defences and climate change will increase that bill. So flood protection is a national priority.

“Yet it is unclear where the buck stops and who is ultimately responsible for managing the risk of flooding.

“There is also a great deal of uncertainty about whether there will be enough money to maintain and improve flood protection in the longer term and who will pay.”

She added: “It is not acceptable that local people should be left in doubt about where responsibility and accountability lie.”

The report said that with local people being asked to pay more towards flood protection and take on more of the risk, the Environment Agency needed to involve communities better in decisions on flood protection.

The PAC also warned that the potential funding gap and concerns over whether local authorities and businesses will increase their contributions were fuelling uncertainty over future insurance cover for buildings in at-risk areas.

The current agreement between the Government and insurance industry to provide cover to households at risk of flooding ends in 2013 and the committee urged Defra to secure a new agreement urgently.

Shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh accused the Government of playing “Russian roulette” with people’s homes and businesses, with what Labour says is a 27% cut, year-on-year between 2010 and 2011, to capital spending on flood defences.

She said: “The Government is passing the buck to local councils, asking them to choose between repairing roads and protecting homes from flooding.

“The irony is that this approach may cost more in the long run, as the Environment Agency is unable to predict what schemes will proceed which means procurement costs rise.”

Friends of the Earth’s director of policy and campaigns Craig Bennett said: “MPs are right to call for adequate flooding defences in Britain – climate change is threatening millions of homes next to our rivers and coastlines, pushing up insurance premiums and making some properties uninsurable.

“Ministers must urgently drop senseless planning reforms that could increase the risk of new houses being built on flood plains.

“The Government must reduce the risk of costly flooding in Britain by slashing climate-changing emissions, which will also boost our economy and create thousands of jobs.”

David Symons, director at environmental consultancy WSP Environment & Energy, said there needed to be more certainty around who was responsible for managing flood risks in the UK.

“Today’s report comes as Defra and the insurance industry are deep in negotiations on how to insure flood risk homes.

“The current arrangement, where the insurance industry offers cover provided the Government commits to funding flood defences, expires in June 2013.

“If no clear agreement between insurers and the Government is struck within the next year, insurance could become unaffordable for those at risk of flooding.”

He added: “The very least the Government should be doing to help is to retain its guidance on new development on flood plains, rather than withdrawing this as part of its pro-development planning reforms.”

A Defra spokeswoman insisted the country was better prepared than ever before to deal with a major flood.

She said: “Under the new Partnership Funding system, the most at-risk and deprived areas can receive more money for flood defence schemes, backed by funding from the private sector whenever possible.”

And she said local authorities were accountable for local flood risk management and should be the first port of call for affected communities.

An Environment Agency spokeswoman said: “The Environment Agency is always striving to improve the effectiveness and value for money of our services to the public.

“We are already addressing a number of points raised in this report including placing more and more importance on how we work together with communities to agree the best options for local flood and coastal risk schemes.”

Mummy is going to be Prime Minister

Just love the storey about the ‘lasagne plot’

At a Lasgne party organised by Mr and Mrs Balls when the couple’s children performed a party piece, one of the guests said: ‘Well done. You would clearly make a great leader of the Labour Party.’

One of the children replied: ‘No, my mummy is going to get that job.’

 

Final Milkrun before #NPPF publication

We know that Greg Clark has completed his redraft of the NPPF, and the fact that his has personally done so seems to be scaring civil servents to death.

So how long to final publication?

Well there will be a ‘milkrun’ around other depts, drafting of the select committee response and drafting of the final impact assessment – will take 4-6 weeks so on course for mid march plus a couple of weeks float – with the dept is indicating this is the realistic timetable.

Very great degree of secrecy on content.  Two possibilities.

Firstly it will change very little, and a media silence to manage (delay) this

Secondly much of it not yet cast in stone and real interdepartmental negotiations, especially with the treasury, could not really begin until ministers had completed drafting.

My theory is the latter, otherwise Ministers would not have raised expectations.

The next few weeks will be interesting, a major NT/CPRE report coming out, which I helped persuade them to commission and some CPRE research I have just completed – watch this space.

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