David Cameron has told the cabinet that a series of blockages, ranging from restrictive planning laws to the “gold-plating” of EU directives, are holding back economic growth.
In a sign of the government’s nerves about Britain’s slow rate of economic growth, the prime minister devoted almost the entire cabinet meeting on Tuesday to discussing the implemention of last year’s growth plan. This was published alongside the budget last March.
The prime minister’s spokesman said: “It was an unusual cabinet today in that it essentially had one item on the agenda which was economic growth. Rather than being a policy discussion this was a discussion about implementation and removing blockages to delivery.”
George Osborne, who will deliver his third budget on 21 March, led the discussion which identified three key areas which are slowing growth:
• Regulation, including the gold-plating of EU directives.
• Over-restrictive planning laws.
• Finance for business as the world copes with what No 10 described as an “impaired banking system”.
As banks rebuild their capital positions, the amount of credit feeding into the economy has slowed. Osborne will give an update on his plans to address this through credit easing.
The prime minister’s spokesman said: “It is very easy for governments to unveil and announce new policy initiatives. What is much more difficult is implementation. Some of the issues that are being addressed through the plan for growth and were discussed at cabinet today – the weight of regulation on businesses, the problems with the planning system, the tendency for EU directives to be gold plated in the way they are implemented in this country – are issues that have been long debated and looked at by successive governments. But they require real political will and pressure to make a difference.”
The spokesman said ministers would be urging officials to challenge a tendency to “err on the side of caution” and to take a more pragmatic approach to EU directives. Ministers believe officials have a tendency to over-interpret the measures and to place overly restrictive burdens on business when they introduce them in the UK.
“We are certainly concerned about the level of regulation and the impact of regulation on businesses,” the spokesman said. “By having a one in, one out policy on regulation we are seeking to bear down on the level of regulation whether it comes from Brussels or Westminster.”
The special cabinet session shows ministers are nervous about the slow recovery. While ministers believe the government has won reasonable support for cutting the deficit, there are concerns that Labour is winning a hearing for its charge that the coalition has an inadequate plan for growth.
The spokesman said: “[We are] sticking firmly to our plans to reduce the deficit but it also means a relentless focus on growth and measures to support growth. There has been good progress on implementing the measures set out in the plan for growth a year ago. But today was an opportunity to see where we can move faster on implementation and see where we can push forward even faster.
Monthly Archives: February 2012
Story in EDP.
The effect of today’s order by Mr Justice Ouseley is that the GNDP will have to go back to the draft plan stage of the document.
Theywill have to carry out a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) that will involve looking at possible alternatives to the existing housing plan, under which Broadland is earmarked for 9,000 homes, 7,000 within the so-called north east growth triangle (NEGT), including the controversial 4,000 home Rackheath eco-town.
The councils will have to carry out fresh consultation, and examine whether the amount of housing should be reduced, before resubmitting the draft for approval by government planning inspectors.
Head of Civil Service confirms ‘Presumption in favour of sustainable development’ will be in final #NPPF
Sir Bob Kerslake, head of the civil service and permanent secretary to the Communities department, last night confirmed that the presumption in favour of sustainable development will remain in the National Planning Policy Framework when it is published next month.
Kerslake said: “Economic growth is paramount across every aspect of this government’s policies. And in the national planning policy framework, the presumption will help to ensure that this happens.”
The commitment has been welcomed by the British Property Federation.
Open Letter to Eric Pickles from The Campaign Against Sprawl
Dear Secretary of State,
10 Real Planning Priorities for Improving Growth
Following yesterdays cabinet meeting we understand you are some pressure to improve your departments performance on the Growth Agenda. Im sure Sir Bob Kerslake has informed you you are not the minister for flags, bins or the Church of England but for Planning, Communities and Housing. Yet the only major statement you have made on planning matters in the last few months has been on bowling! Rather than the ruthless focus on ways the planning system can be improved your department has pursued the equivalent of a royal hunt of the sun pursuing actions which, despite warnings of your own civil servants, have been successfully challenged in the courts and/or will have actually and actively harmed growth. To be helpful we have suggested 10 changes which the department can make to its business plan which would have an immediate positive impact on jobs and growth.
1. Retain Growth Areas
If growth needs planning permission its needs a place to grow. There are plenty of places which would welcome growth but where growth prospects are poor. The problem is finding areas in the South East, South West West and East of England where this growth will be acceptable. Yet all of such growth areas defined by the previous government have been abolished. With the exception of Cambridge none of the former growth areas are continuing with their high employment and housing targets and are now pursuing ‘local’ targets which imply in many cases much lower in migration of those seeking work from elsewhere in the UK which much less growth prospects and in some cases an actual decline in the working population! Is the Prime Minister aware that the towns in the most prosperous parts of the UK with the least planning constraints and the highest prospects for growth have been encouraged by government actions to pursue an agenda the opposite of the government’s growth agenda? Revocation of regional strategies does not imply abolition of growth areas. They can and should be retained as national policy to give a guide to investors on where growth is welcomed and will be supported.
2. Allow Local Planning Authorities to set their own Fees
Without this change, a decision on which is urgently needed to enable fees to be set from the 1st of April 2012, local authorities will not be able to plan to meet demands and provide a good service to applicants. Indeed many may be forced to lay off staff and lead to declining planning performance. The private sector in high growth areas such as Westminster have indicated their willingness to pay.
3. Shift spending priorities from Weekly Bin Collections to Building Affordable Homes
This shows a very poor prioritization by the Dept. Rather than spending hundreds of million of pounds trying to undo the work of another Dept why not try to claw back some of the two thirds cut in affordable housebuilding, which will have a major multiplier effect on the wider economy.
4. Stop Causing Confusion on Investment in Renewable Energy
The Prime Minister has been sending very mixed messages on this issue. Publicly setting out a hard line but privately reassuring backbenchers that policy will be changed to make it easier to refuse schemes. We now have the worst of all possible worlds. Lack of clarity on the local discretion for decision and lack of confidence of the wind industry over whether national policy will back well conceived cases on appeal sufficient to undertake billions of investment. The obvious solution to such national/local conflicts is to allow local discretion providing a local energy target can be met. The Government should drop its obsessing against planning targets when they can usefully facilitate growth and sustainable development.
5. Simplify Making Planning Applications
It is very surprising that if planning is seen as a ‘drag anchor’ that the government has not simplified and speeded up planning processes, focussing instead on planning policy issues which have little to do with application processing times which forms the sole economic case, in the impact assessment on the NPPF, for the governments reform agenda. This is a spectacular misdirection of effort. The government should be focussing like a laser beam on how to simplify and speed up application processes. We have made a radical proposal in this regard in our NPPF submission for a ‘Single Statement’ which would remove the need for documents on major planning applications which can fill a skip whilst meeting all legal requirements. Whilst on simple applications information which is not germane to the application type is often requested, such as flood risk assessments for first floor extensions. Local validation lists are a frequent issue as they try to cover every eventuality rather than breaking applications down into complexity types (as the Dobry review recommended 40 years ago and now implemented in Scotland in their 2008 Planning Act – 40 years to implement a policy of a conservative government must be some record) and structuring forms and processes around the needs of the . There are lots of simple things that can be done, especially with the ONEAPP system. Ministers need to roll up their sleeves and get involved in the nitty gritty of process issues, as ministers involved with welfare reform have. Little progress will be achieved through standing on high and accusing planners of being enemies of enterprise if the problem is a poor process compulsory by ministerial dictat.
6. Declare Special Economic Zones
Those countries seeking international inward investment will typically set up special economic zones where a investor friendly regulatory regime applies and where goods can be imported, entrepot, and re-exported tax free. There is now considerable research on what makes a successful SEZ. We have previously published an area around Filton and North Bristol which has ideal characteristics including for example the densist motorway network in the UK. Other candidates would include at Felixstowe, Hull and Tyneside.
7. Provide Certainly on Housing Land Availability and Accompanying Infrastructure
What housebuilders need is certainty about where they can build yet since the Election research by Roger Tym has shown that planned housing allocations for approaching 300,000 houses have been withdrawn. Ministers have never convincingly responded to this, as the DCLG select committee have noted. The planned revocation of regional strategies will do nothing to increase housebuilding but rather has created an uncertain investment climate. The new duty to cooperate will provide ineffective unless their is strong sanction against those authorities who refuse to play ball on the need for housing and infrastructure that meets a larger than local need. What is desperately needed is government support for the setting up of statutory city region/sub-region plans – as Wales and Scotland are introducing for similar reasons where local authorities come together and choose which areas to focus develop and which areas to protect. If the government is concerned about imposition or a democratic deficit why not make their chairs elected – as the new police commissioners.
8. Stop Undermining Zoning for and Investing in Employment Land
If there is demand for employment land then one easy way for planning to encourage growth is to zone land for employment purposes. Yet the last year has seen the government propose two measures which will have an entirely counterproductive effect. Firstly the proposed changes to the Use Classes Order has and would encourage land owners to scale back investment for employment purposes in industrial areas, whilst the proposal to weaken zoning for employment in the draft NPPF has made local authorities hesitant to zone extra land for employment purposes at all in case it then get used for housing, for which there would be a lack of local employment.
9. Set up a Communities Work Programme Run by Neighbourhoods
Neighbourhoods have shown they have many ideas for improving their areas, run down high streets etc. but what they lack is a means of delivery. Neighbourhood Plans could be a damp squib without it. What is needed is a programme run by neighbourhoods whereby young people and older workers can receive an enhanced benefit for local schemes designed and run by local people themselves. Priorities would be schemes which aid the competitiveness of local small business and which aid the retention of income in local economies. It could include schemes to help insulate older persons homes, to create open spaces, to renovate run down buildings as workshops and to let people help out at local farms.
10 . Ensure that Statutory Consultees are judged by their Performance as Solution Providers
The principal of finding solutions so that growth providing development can be approved rather than refused must also apply to statutory consultees such as the Highways Agency. It should also apply to privatised utilities through their regulators such as Water firms which are notorious for holding back investment which will enable growth until after planning permission is granted, yet it might be unlawful to grant permission for schemes until that investment is secured. The Rye Meads Water Work in Herts is a good example holding up major growth in four New Towns.
These are all straightforward actions which would have an immediate impact on growth. Yet the first two years of the government has been spend on pursuing the dead end of the ant-growth agenda set by Caroline Sperlman as Shadow Minister before the election. New Minister have yet to set their mark on the new growth agenda. So far in this area the dept is a failing one.
Ministers need to integrate growth with sustainable development in a sensible way they have not done hitherto. Rather than pursuing growth at all costs and at the cost of unnecessary countryside loss they need to pursue Smart Growth, growth of compact walk-able communities – the most efficient in terms of energy and infrastructure costs and spurring growth and innovation. Take a leaf from President Sarkosys nook as he has recently enacted a series of reforms designed to reverse the tendency towards unenconomic urban sprawl in France precisely because of the economic harm it causes.
We consider these proposed actions would be widely welcomed by housebuilders, property and business groups, as well as NGOs and environmental charities. We intend top help form a wide caucus on these reforms and directly lobby Downing Street, asking the question, when will Eric pull his finger out and start helping England grow.
Campaign Against Sprawl
CC Sir Bob Kerslake
David Cameron met conservative MPs on Monday to hear their concerns about the spread of wind farms.
Chris Heaton-Harris, MP for Daventry, who led the movement against on-shore wind, said he was hopeful that there would be changes to the planning reforms.
“We heard a little about what might be in the new National Planning Policy Framework and how this could help local communities resist onshore wind projects in the future,” he said.
“We also heard about how local councils might be able to designate areas for renewable energy projects in the future and indeed, choose what sort of renewable projects they would be happy with. Obviously there is work still ongoing on the [planning reforms] and I’m now more hopeful that it will reflect the spirit (if not the wording) of the amendments we suggested in our letter.”
Talbot Heath Decision Poole here
The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that the central issue is whether it can be established confidently, beyond reasonable scientific doubt, that the proposal will not have a significant adverse effect on the integrity of the designated European sites, either in its own right or in combination with other plans or projects having regard to the mitigation measures proposed. The Secretary of State also takes the view that, despite the argument advanced…that an appropriate assessment is unnecessary since, with mitigation measures there would be no significant effect, the terms of the Habitats Regulations are such as to require him to undertake such an assessment before he could grant planning permission and that, in undertaking any such exercise, he should have regard to any representations made by Natural England.
The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that the two key elements in the mitigation package are the no-cat or dog covenant and the cat/people proof fence and…he agrees with
her conclusion that little weight can be placed on the long term effectiveness of the no-cat or dog covenant in preventing the keeping of these pets within the new development. He therefore considers that any mitigation scheme would need to be heavily reliant on the efficacy of the cat/people proof fence….
However, the Inspector then goes on to raise doubts as to the feasibility of implementing the fence for the whole of the proposed length …as a result of uncertainties surrounding the Right of Way application and the fact that Talbot Heath is an open access area under the Countryside and Rights of Way (CROW) Act 2000.
The Secretary of State recognises that the right of access to open access land is not absolute and that it is the points of access that will be restricted. He also recognises that access to open access land can be restricted for ecological purposes under the CROW Act. However, whilst the Secretary of State is not in a position to predict the outcome of the rights of way application, which has to follow its own process, and whether there may be further applications to divert or stop the
path, the fact that this application has been made creates uncertainty as to whether the fence can be erected in its entirety. This would have significant implications for the effectiveness of the cat proof fence in restricting access to the heath at the
Isaacs Close end. These factors weigh significantly against the proposal
Not only does the Secretary of State agree with the doubts raised by the Inspector relating to these two potential access points, but he also shares the concerns of NE and the RSPB regarding the more general efficacy of a linear fence. In particular, he agrees that cats would still be able to enter Talbot Heath round the end; that, in the absence of an effective enforcement of the anti-pet covenant, the number of visits generated by residents with dogs from the proposal would be greater both to Talbot Heath and to other heathland sites; and that there would be potential for deliberate breaching of the fence in view of the direct route to key destinations. Overall, therefore, having regard to the requirements of the Habitats Regulations, the Secretary of State gives significant weight to the advice from Natural England with regard to the proposed mitigation measures and agrees with their overall conclusion that the proposed development on its own is likely to have a significant adverse effect on the integrity of the international sites.
A key precedent.
Naturally RSPB are delighted.
What about George Osbourne? Did Pickles tell him at Cabinet today how he refused this scheme yesterday to implment a European directive.
One of the key problems with the UK residential offer is it offers no quality house solution for densities intermediate between terraces and the typical semi-d, detached plot. So you rarely see housing at around 50 DPH, an ideal density for walkable neighbourhoods and public transport, rather you get a big leap down to schemes of executive type homes at 20-25 DPH.
But some parts of America seem to offer more choice. In particular im thinking of narrow fronted town houses, one step up from the very cheap shotgun homes.
Here are some 1970s houses in Houston built in historic style.
Note late 20th Century houses in a US Suburb without on plot parking. At only around 4.5m wide there is only width for one room and a stairwell, two rooms per floor. But with the loft bedroom you can still get three bedrooms on a tint plot. The front and rear windows give you all the light you need so the side stairway windows dont cause privacy problems as they look out onto a wall.
Consider also these late Victorian examples in St Louis.
So lets set this out in black and white.
1. It is possible to double existing densities from those typical of greenfield sites in the UK
2. You can still have detached housing!
3. It means parking on the street, you can get one space with parallel parking and two with angled bay with 5m plotwidths
4. These densities will make public transport and walking to public transport practical
5. But of course you need enough of them to create the critical mass to ensure that the public transport is practical and economic – which implies concentrated strategies not dispersed ones (take note SNUB and Stratford on Avon).
So with Smart Growth solutions it is possible to halve the potential landtake and loss of green field sites with this measure alone, whilst still building houses. Sarkosy realises this – when will Cameron?
Note one potential disadvantage with this form is that there are certain advatages with wider frontage small cottages which are breadth on to the street rather than end on. This was the historic form predominant before Georgian times. However with modern streets they use up far too much road, so I would only consider them practical in new communities in pedestrian only alleys.
Pullman Illinois is one of the most important North American sites in the history of urban planning, its most important company town – alongside Lowell.
But it has been neglected as the areas around it have declined.
Now according to USA today Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr is sponsoring a bill for a study that would see the US National park Service take over.
Lynn McClure of the non-profit National Parks Conservation Association says the study would determine the suitability and feasibility of making Pullman a national park site. Having such a site in Chicago would be “incredible,” she says. “It is the only big city in the country that just has zero national park presence.”
The Pullman District is an industrial and residential complex built in the 1880s by George Pullman to build the famous Pullman sleeping car and house workers in a company-owned community with homes, a church, hotel, market and recreational facilities.
A strike in 1894 by Pullman workers and the formation of the first all-African-American union in 1925 helped shape the black labor movement.
The African Americans hired to work in the factory and as porters allowed many to move into the middle class, and porters helped spark the historic migration of blacks from the South to northern cities by spreading the word about jobs in the North, says Lionel Kimble, who teaches history at Chicago State University. The porters’ “impact on history can’t be seen in a negative light,” he says.
Jeff Soule, outreach director for the American Planning Association, says Pullman was “the first industrial city designed with the inhabitants’ welfare in mind” and included nice, if modest, homes for workers and proximity to the goods and services they needed. Planners “are trying to re-create the community that Pullman already is,” he says.
A Pullman national park site could be modeled after Massachusetts’ Lowell National Historical Park, which highlights the early textile industry, says Patrick Brannon, president of the Pullman Civic Organization and a resident. “It could have a lot of tourist draw,” he says, although some residents worry about being inundated by visitors.
Michael Shymanski, a Pullman resident and president of the Historic Pullman Foundation, says the district was the birthplace of many “significant ideas in the experiment of America. It’s an international icon.”
The Prime Minister exhorted the Cabinet to step up efforts to increase house-building, speed up major infrastructure projects, and cut red tape for businesses…during a Cabinet meeting, Mr Cameron and the Chancellor, George Osborne, demanded that ministers hold “urgent” talks across government departments to ensure their plans “move faster”.
A “relentless focus” on implementing measures to help the economy must accompany cuts to public spending to reduce the deficit, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said.
With three weeks left before the Budget, the Cabinet met specifically to discuss growth. Unusually, implementing growth plans was the only item on the agenda.
Speaking at a regular Westminster briefing, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne had “exhorted” their colleagues to focus on injecting energy into the economy.
“The economic situation and the economic challenges facing the UK are the top priority,” the spokesman said.
“That means sticking firmly to our plans to reduce the deficit but it also means a relentless focus on growth and measures to support growth.
“It is very easy for government to unveil and announce new policy initiatives. What is much more difficult is implementation.”
He set out areas of particular concern, including regulations for business, problems with the planning system, the tendency for EU directives to be “gold plated” when they are implemented in this country.
Government and other parts of the public sector can be concerned about the possibility of policies being open to legal challenge, slowing down progress, the spokesman said.
“It is difficult to get big infrastructure projects off the ground, whether in the public or the private sector. That is very difficult to make happen,” he said.
“The point is that all government departments, all Cabinet ministers, need to be challenging that kind of culture. It is the job of Cabinet ministers, the job of government to show real political will and push these things through.”
Mr Osborne, Oliver Letwin, the Cabinet office minister and Mr Cameron’s policy adviser, and Nick Clegg all spoke at length during the discussion.
The spokesman also confirmed that details of the government’s planning law reforms would be published “soon”.
“Reform of the planning system is a key part of what we are doing to boost growth,” he said. “We set out the principle of a presumption in favour of sustainable development. I think we will be setting out our plans on that quite soon.”