Monthly Archives: April 2012

My FOI request on Tripartate War-gaming prior to 2007 Crash Turned Down would ‘damage economic interests and stability of the UK’


What an extrordinary reponse. The names of firms could be redacted. In most wargaming exercises fictional names are used for good reason, when did the MOD ever conduct a wargame proposing to invade China? Clearly they have something to hide.

The question was not about the management response of the Treasury but about the economic competency and ideas of the Tripartate. The real risk to the ‘economic interests and stability of the UK’ is this incompetency in failing to understand the systemic risk in the process, which the Tripartite failed to do. If the public could see the reasons for this failure the chances of this happening again would be reduced. This is a smokescreen designed to conceal the embarrassment of the tripartite, putting their own interest above the public interest.

This was a wargame into an operational response buy the tripartite not formulation of government policy. There was no request for individual views of civil servants expressed and indeed as in such wargames participants would be ‘role playing’ it would be most unusual for that even to be recorded. There is a very clear public interest and the exemptions quoted are entirely spurious and inapplicable.

I would appreciate any legal experts on the FOI act concerning an appeal.

Letter here on dropbox.

RenewableUk Dismisses CPRE ‘Wrong Figures’ on Windfarms

Business Green

The renewable energy industry has hit back at a report claiming a “dramatic proliferation” of wind turbines is blighting the English countryside, warning “an unrepresentative minority using exaggerated statistics” should not be allowed to derail public support for the technology.

Polls published during the past two weeks have highlighted the popularity of wind and other renewable energy sources as a means of cutting long-term energy bills and reducing the UK’s reliance on insecure energy imports.

As many as nine in 10 people want more green power sources according to one YouGov survey, while a separate Ipsos Mori questionnaire found 68 per cent of respondents in rural areas were in favour of more wind power, compared to 66 per cent in cities.

But while a major new report published today by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) acknowledges renewables must be part of a balanced energy mix, it says both landscapes and communities are threatened by up to 4,100 wind turbines of 30 metres or taller either operational, under construction, or in planning.

The wind industry says this figure is more than double the numbers actually proposed and accuses the CPRE of “scaremongering” by including offshore turbines in its list.

The CPRE is calling on the government to provide more clarity on the total number of onshore wind turbines it expects will be installed and wants the capacity of the landscape to accommodate wind turbines “without unacceptable damage” to be formally taken into account in planning decisions.

The report also recommends that the wind industry should be made responsible for decommissioning turbines and restoring the landscape once they stop working or when they reach the end of their useful life.

“CPRE accepts onshore wind in the right places as part of the mix required to meet the UK’s carbon reduction targets, but we are seeing more and more giant turbines sited in inappropriate locations,” said Shaun Spiers, CPRE chief executive.

“Communities feel increasingly powerless in the face of speculative applications from big, well-funded developers, and this risks undermining public support for the measures needed to tackle climate change.”

He reiterated that the group was not against all wind turbines, unlike the recently launched National Opposition to Windfarms body, arguing that “it is right that the countryside should play its part in supplying the renewable energy the country needs”.

But he stressed that businesses and policymakers, “must find a way of reconciling climate change mitigation and landscape protection”.

Trade body RenewableUK said the CPRE’s concerns were “misplaced”, arguing that only 1,826 turbines are planned for England at present, as part of a total of 8,581 for the entire UK. [Is this the number planned by theor members or include non-members]

Dr Gordon Edge, RenewableUK’s director of policy, agreed a balance between building renewable energy and maintaining visual aesthetics had to be struck, but argued the planning system’s environmental safeguards are already among the most stringent in the world.

“The biggest threat to our valued landscapes is climate change,” Edge added. “Onshore wind is the cheapest source of low-carbon power, and restricting its development would jeopardise our firm commitment to offer value for money to the consumer, as well as green energy.

“It’s clear that only some locations are suitable for wind – but the way to identify those is by assessing each wind farm on its own merits, not the top-down approach the CPRE is proposing.”

This view was echoed by Andrew Pendleton, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth, who pointed out the economic benefits arising from wind power.

“It’s time to stop tilting at windmills and get on with the urgent task of building a clean British energy industry that will boost our economy, create jobs and save us all money,” he said.

Tony Juniper, leading environmentalist and chair of Action for Renewables, a UK-wide campaign promoting renewable energy, added that the countryside had always been shaped by prevailing economic and social drivers and should not be “frozen” when it could help the UK deal with pressing environmental challenges.

“The vast majority of the people in this country, and especially those in rural areas, understand the need for sensibly-sited wind turbines to build the home-grown energy systems that will create jobs, attract investments, generate power and ultimately saves us money,” he said. “I don’t believe that an unrepresentative minority using exaggerated statistics should be allowed to stop the country reaping these benefits.”

This is an easy dispute to resolve, both sides should publish their databases online and they can then be compared.

Its Grant’s Beds in Sheds Gang – are England’s ‘shanty towns’ minister admits

BBC News sloppily releasing a pre-embargo brefing without editing

The government is setting up a task force to tackle “beds in sheds” by acting against criminal landlords and removing illegal immigrants.

Housing Minister Grant Shapps and Immigration Minister Damian Green will discuss the problem later with police, immigration and council officials.

Thousands of sheds and outbuildings are rented out illegally, say ministers.

Those who live in them are often migrants who put up with high rents and primitive conditions.

Mr Shapps and Mr Green will raise several proposals, including:

  • encouraging councils to make greater use of legal powers across planning, fire safety, housing and environmental health
  • measuring the extent and nature of the problem, drawing on information collected by Whitehall and Town Halls
  • ensuring councils and the police share available intelligence
  • closer working with foreign authorities to help those wanting to return home
  • steps to prevent more “beds in sheds” from being created

Mr Shapps will say: “It is a scandal that these back garden slums exist to exploit people, many of whom are prepared to return voluntarily to their home country but instead find themselves trapped into paying extortionate rents to live in these cramped conditions.

“I want to see a crackdown on these criminal landlords.”

Mr Green will say: “Those with no right to be in the UK must leave the country. If they volunteer to leave, we will help. If they refuse, we will enforce their removal.”

We covered how to stop this in the bud here last month.

The DCLG press release is here  

A new national taskforce will be set up to tackle the issue of “beds in sheds” by taking action against criminal landlords and removing illegal immigrants.

On Monday (30 April), Housing Minister Grant Shapps and Immigration Minister Damian Green will hold the first in a series of cross-Whitehall summits with representatives from the police, the UK Border Agency and local government.

The meetings will find ways to close down thousands of sheds and outbuildings being rented out illegally to migrants, including some with no right to be in the UK.

These ‘tenants’ are being exploited by ruthless landlords who charge them extortionate rents to live in cramped conditions.

These modern day shanty towns, often visible on websites such as Google Earth, can be plagued with rats and cockroaches – and are potential death traps with dodgy wiring and poor sanitation.

Some foreign ‘tenants’ wish to return home but, after destroying their passports to avoid removal, find it difficult to do so quickly.

However I fear even a raid on a single street in Slough, Southall or Bristol would fill up an entire immigration detention centre and keep half a dozen enforcement officers for a year – which LPAs have no funding for.

Developing a New Legal and Financial Model for New Garden Cities/Suburbs #NPPF Part 1

Later this year the DCLG will be consulting on how best ‘garden city principles’ can be implemented.  The hope is some of the beartraps and mistakes of the Ecotown’s fiasco.  We can predict that many many responses to that consultation will respond that an indispensable component of Garden Cities (including Garden Suburbs and Eco-Communities in urban areas) is that residents share in the uplift of land values and this is used to fund on-going community and social services. We can also safely predict that the Policy Exchange model of let it rip, disregard all local democracy and design and let landlowners take 100% of the uplift in land values will get a lead balloon reception if consulted on.

So rather than wasting six moths it is important that any consultation deals with real practical issues on how they could be set up quickly, successfully, not subject to legal challenge and be fit for purpose.  Below i’ve set down a number of key issues.

1) Is Current Legislation fit for Purpose?

The New Town Act 1981 is still on the statute book.  As even this government has recognised development corporations, such as the Mayoral Development Corporations planned for London, can have a role, especially where LPA boundaries are crossed and to unite the ‘deal making’ and ‘Planning’ function – a key lesson both of Urban Development Corporations and New Town Development Corporations.  The power to acquire and hold land is critical.

In the longer term there is a very strong case for the law commission to look at consolidating Planning, Regeneration, CPO/Compensation , SEA and New Towns law into a single simpler bill.   Planning law has become creaky and complex like an overextended wooden house and it is now 22 years since the last consolidation which set up a system which lasted exactly one year.   As im sure all parties will be looking at that after the next election the law commission perhaps needs to start this this year.  But that reforms will take years, so what can be done now with current legislation.

From a modern eye there are aspects of the 1981 which act as a positive hinderance to achieving sustainable development.

Section 5(5) of the act however prevents development corporations from carrying on ‘any undertaking for the supply of water, electricity or gas or for the provision of sewerage services, or any railway, light railway, tramway or trolley vehicle undertaking’

Sustainable design may well propose reed bed sewerage, local renewable energy etc.  Corporations are allowed to build these but prevented from running an undertaking, a ridiculous restriction.

Fortunately there is a general power to remove outdated legislation, as this is, under the Henry VIII clauses of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006  orders to remove such clauses can be laid before parliament.

There are other aspects of the 1981 Act which are outdated but can be worked around.  For example section 7 on planning control separates out powers for masterplanning – Section 1 – from granting consent – section 2.  Doing this within the context of current EU law – such as the SEA directive, is critical.

A key lesson from the second round of New Towns – the likes of Skelmersdale and Cumbernauld – is that designating a new town (or Garden City in modern context) before a masterplan is a disaster.  Lets hope that LPAs and the government learn that lesson now.  LPAs should not just be content with landowner led designs.  A key lesson from the Ecotowns process is that these designs can be very poor indeed.  Also if these are to be translated into statutory plans (in whatever form) requires an SEA which considers ‘reasonable alternatives’ at an ‘early stage’  It was the failure to consider alternative locations for example in the centralised Ecotowns project which ultimately killed it off as locations were not chosen through a proper ‘larger than local’ strategic planning process with consideration of alternative masterplan designs.  Legal challenges were lined up even if the election had not intervened.

So a possible model is to run a proper design competition – similar of course to Letchworth.  A LPA or LPA consortium might say – to give an example the consortium of local authorities in the Gatwick / Brighton corridor considering a new country town – ok we are looking at the option of a ‘Garden City’ in this broad area we invite masterplans for a settlement with a design size of up to x population.  Then these alternatives could be SEAd and this contribute to the final decision, this decision (which may require masterplan modification to mitigate adverse impacts) then becoming part of the submitted local plan or plans.  The Design Council – CABE  in their new role could help coordinate and advise on these – though some seed-corn national funding would be helpful.

This would ensure that section 7(1) Masterplans could not be legally challenged.

The split between masterplanning in section 7(1) and allocation under section 7(2) of the NTA is critical in ensuring that land can be CPO or acquired at existing land use value +compensation – critical to making the Garden City model work. Though the government again could look at revised models where landowners share in a % of uplift which would encourage them to get on board rather than challenge the process in courts or at the lands tribunal. Of course landowners could voluntarily offer the large part of any uplift through an unilateral undertaking which would be a swift and pragmatic solution.  Failure to capture any uplift whatsoever however would not be a Garden City at all – Ebenezor Howard would turn in his grave.

The key aspect of CPO law, as it has been for 40 years, is the concept of ‘relevant date’  the date the CPOing body acquires land, broadly, is the date compensation is assessed.  However if land is zoned, or a special development order is issued under the 1981 act, before then then the landowner will get full market value making the whole process pointless.

But there was a process used by the old Development Corporation that could be used now.  The SoS approves a masterplan (and in the future why not make it so LPAs too can approve materplans) showing land needed as some in determinate date, but not released allocated.  After CPO the DC then gets the SoS (and in future LPA) to issue a special development order which jointly allocates the land and grants outline planning consent – a very powerful way of attracting employment development for example.  Then land can be acquired at close to existing use value.  This was critical to the economic model of New Town where Treasury funding was paid off over years by land value uplifts.  That model wont be practical now but the issue today is how to make schemes cover their own face from private up-front infrastructure funding (see next section).

This model can be done both under the 1990 or 1981 acts as I set out in a previous post.  Subject to the CPO being ‘back to backed’ by a development partner there would be no cost to the LPA or DC.  Such CPOs of course are at existing land use value and the CPO inquiry can be concurrent with the EIP and by the same inspector. (see circular 06/2004).  Under the 1981 Aquisition of Land Act the ‘relevent date’ for CPO valuation is the date of the lands tribunal decision of the date value are agreed, or the date vested if that procedure is used.  (see para 23 of DCLG 2010 guidance).  So all a local plan need do is state in a phasing policy that the allocation of the land shall not take place until after the land has been acquired by the LPA.  National Guidance could confirm the legitimacy of this approach

I cant see that any other clauses of the 81 act are hindrances, it is a clear and well written act by modern standards, far more so than the Localism Act.  Though the designation procedures etc. may need to be added to at the SoSs discretion.  For example simply imposing a board to override local democracy would be unacceptable in current localist circumstances.  The procedures used to appoint National Park boards are more of a model, ensuring local democratically elected representatives are in the majority together with a rage of other local stakeholders.

Later today or tomorrow – time permitting – I will post the second part on what financial and legal structures might be used – fleshing out the recent TCPA/Land Securities report, and later a third part on the detailed masterplanning and consenting of specific phases.

London Forum Open Meeting on #NPPF and Neighbourhood Planning

Thanks to Micheal Bach for Sending these

DCLG powerpoint here

Michael’s Powerpoint of Town Centres and Neighbourhood Planning here

NOTES OF THE LONDON FORUM OPEN MEETING ON 24 April 2012:
NATIONAL PLANNING POLICY FRAMEWORK (NPPF) AND NEIGHBOURHOOD PLANNING

Over 50 people attended.

SECTION 1  NPPF
Stephen Hammond MP, PPS at the Department for Communities and Local Government, was unable to be present. Mr Bach gave the DCLG presentation on his behalf, emphasising particularly that:

  • the regime introduced by the NPPF (and coming into force immediately) was plan- led (ie planning for the growth we will need), and not merely  plan-compliant (ie ensuring that applications are determined in accord with the plan – which is in any case a legal requirement);
  • growth for its own sake was not sought, but development that delivered all three of the three elements of sustainable development;
  • local authorities had a year to get Local Plans (the new name) in place; and
  • that targets for the use of brownfield land were to be set locally, not nationally.

He said that the NPPF had been welcomed by those especially concerned with design matters.

Mr Bach then gave his own presentation. He said that a number of the Forum’s concerns with the original draft NPPF had been addressed in the final version:

  • the meaning of ‘sustainable development’ had been clarified (though would still provide work for lawyers);
  • local plans were given a stronger position; and
  • the ‘town centre first’ policy had been strengthened, but was concerned that it may not be sufficient.

Nevertheless, he said that the NPPF:

  • remained ‘placeless';
  • said nothing about towns, cities let alone London;
  • should have been clearer about how best and where to develop; but
  • would not change the present regime in London very much.

The London Plan could be demonstrated to be in general conformity with the NPPF and would  remain in force, with a few changes on which the Mayor’s staff were now working. All the boroughs except for Hillingdon and Hounslow should have Local Plans in place by the deadline of a year. It was important for boroughs to realise that if they wanted for economic reasons to protect offices from conversion to residential (as Kensington & Chelsea did) they would have to have specific and robust policies in their local plan to justify retention of the offices they wanted to retain, such as identifying specific industry “clusters” or “preferred locations” where offices should be retained – town centres or close to public transport interchanges, as suggested in the NPPF.

The discussion that followed was a lively and well-informed one.

Edward Dawson (CPRE London) said that the campaign against the draft NPPF had had remarkably good media coverage, and the outcome was better than had been expected. The possible interpretatation of  ‘sustainable development’ was still a concern – the Brundtland report had looked for ‘growth’. The tone, rather than the actual content, of what the NPPF said about Green Belts worried CPRE. Moreover, paragraph 111 of the NPPF though encouraging the reuse of brownfield land left  targets – which had hitherto been effective – entirely to local authorities.

Martin Simmons (Town and Country Planning Association and a Vice-President of the Forum) doubted whether any definition of sustainable development would work everywhere; it was for local authorities to have their own definition in their local plans. He emphasised the importance of the duty to co-operate; although of less significance  within Greater London than elsewhere because of the London Plan, it was still important for boroughs with neighbours outside, in respect both of housing and, especially, of waste. Greater London had to be set in the context of the whole South-East.

Del Brenner (Regents Network) drew attention to the absence of roads from the NPPF. Mr Bach observed that PPG13, although titled “Transport” had had more in them about the location of development generally, but the NPPF had very little.

Ken Hobday was concerned about the implications for wildlife – especially what power would remain to prevent the desecration of the Chilterns by HS2. Mr Bach pointed out that the authorisation of major infrastructure projects like HS2, as national infrastructure, would be for a mechanism quite outside the NPPF, though the principles would be the same.

Andrew Bosi complained that the NPPF showed no understanding of the concept of reducing the need to travel. Mr Bach said that more generally the NPPF had not adopted the key principles in para 20 of PPG13 and therefore did not properly emphasise the need to ensure that development is in the right place; under localism local authorities would have to work out their own policies; reducing the need to travel would have to be in borough plans. The London Plan would need to be revised accordingly to become the lead policies for London.

Tanya Szendeffy (Peckham Society) wondered how best, as time went by, to reassert the priorities of civic societies. Mr Eversden wondered if the Government would make this more difficult by changing the Use Classes Order allowing commercial buildings to be converted to housing without consent; Mr Bach thought this unlikely as the NPPF had changed the policy whilst allowing boroughs to make the case for retaining these uses where it was justified.

Anna Townend (Greenwich Environmental Forum) said that ‘sustainable development’ still did not take account of the natural environment; population growth must be tackled. Mr Bach emphasised that the issue for the NPPF was how, not whether, to accommodate population growth.

Helen Marcus (Heath and Hampstead Society) said that in Brent a development was being prepared by the council without anything in the local plan; was there anything that could be done about it? Mr Dawson said that such a departure from the Plan would have to go to the full Council. Mr Bach said that local plans could not cover every possibility, but proposals outside the Plan should have to have met the same tests as those coming through the plan. In the case of major developments, if the Council did not follow their own plan, the Mayor could intervene, or there could be a call-in; but Ministers did not favour call-in except where there was a real national issue involved or evidence of potential conflict of interest.

Despite the Conservative manifesto the Government had refused to allow third parties to appeal against the granting of planning permission, and Judicial Review was difficult,   expensive and unlikely to succeed in all but the most egregious of faulty decisions. So persuading the Mayor to intervene was the most hopeful line.

Tom Ball (Thorney Island Society) complained at the absence of vision in the NPPF. Mr Bach agreed – the Government’s response was that this was a matter for local plans and that they were not going to prescribe (or give a clue) as to how towns and cities should develop in the most sustainable way.

SECTION 2  NEIGHBOURHOOD PLANNING

Neighbourhood planning as still in its infancy; Mr Eversden and Mr Bach attempted to draw together what had happened so far. The prime need was for there to be a robust Local Plan in place that would prevent decisions from falling solely to the NPPF. Three areas in London were seriously wanting parish councils. Some borough councils had defined ‘neighbourhoods’ with boundaries that local people could not accept as correct.

Neighbourhood Plans could have particular value when they covered contiguous areas of more than one borough and could  ensure consistency. It might be better for a neighbourhood, at least in the first place, to seek to amend provisions in the Council’s Local Plan that embodied their wishes through a neighbourhood planning approach, rather than embark on the statutory neighbourhood planning procedures of a full-blown neighbourhood plan.

It might be worth establishing a Neighbourhood Forum without, at least immediately, proposing to produce a Neighbourhood  Plan; civic groups could help establishing a forum bringing together a wide range of organisations in, determining what local people really wanted, and pre-empting other interests from trying to establish one, and could make responding to local authority proposals speedier and more authoritative.

Seven of those present at the meeting said that Neighbourhood Forums had been or were being formed in their area. Gaby Higgs (St Marylebone Society) said that they had been acting very like a Neighbourhood Forum, but without the resources to take it over. Michael Hammerson (Highgate Society) said that they would not wish to become a
Neighbourhood Forum themselves alone, lest it provoke opposition, but had identified interest from many other organisations in a joint venture.

Ian Bruce (Richmond Society) had previously believed that a Neighbourhood Plan was an essential feature of a Neighbourhood Forum, but now realised that they could be more informal, and sought  advice. Mr Bach said that if a council was happy with a proposal for a Neighbourhood Forum (e.g. was clear that the proposal had broad backing) it was required to support it. The Neighbourhood Forum could then decide what they wanted to produce, which could be a proposal that Council could adopt without the Forum having to take it through the examination and referendum themselves. Mr Eversden drew attention to the very useful briefing available from the Urban Design Group.

Dick Allard (Westcombe Society) asked about the size of neighbourhood areas. Mr Bach and Mr Eversden said that there was no guidance as to size nor was it up to the Council to impose one; a dialogue with the local authority was needed.

Del Brenner (Regents Network) was concerned at the work involved in setting up a Neighbourhood Forum, probably with opposition from the Council. Mr Bach said that if local people really wanted a Forum, they could achieve one.

 Tom Ball (Thorney Island Society) asked if a local referendum would be necessary. Mr Bach said ‘No, unless the Council was not prepared to adopt the proposal – if the Council supported the proposals they could be taken into Local Plan without a referendum.

Mark Poulter (Putney Society) identified as problems that the 21 people required for a Neighbourhood Forum were not just local residents but could include many other bodies, and that the local authority could have a lot of influence on what a local neighbourhood was. Mr Bach said that the 21 certainly need not be all amenity
society members, but must be people from within the area and representative of the people in that area; the local authority would need to know this. Ultimately, if there were a referendum, it would be essential that the proposals had wide local support.

CPRE Calls for Strategic Plan For Windfarms

CPRE have today launched a new campaign on windfarms.  They have launched a report ‘Generating Light on Landscape Impacts

Unlike the pure pro or anti windfarm lobbies their focus is on how many where.  The question all local authorities have to answer in their local plans.

Telegraph 

At the moment there are 3,162 wind turbines onshore in the UK, up from a few hundred when the industry first set out 20 years ago.

Despite protests around the country, the number being built is set to speed up even further over the next few years with 657 currently under construction and 1,788 approved but not yet built.

There are another 2,974 in the planning process that have yet to be approved, meaning the total number will be 8,581 if they are all built.

To reach Government targets to generate 15 per cent of energy from renewables by 2020, it is expected around 10,000 turbines will need to be built onshore in the UK.

The problem of course is that upland areas are the windiest places which also have the highest level of landscape protection.

CPRE claim some wind farm ‘clusters’ are where councils have allowed consent, rather than because they are the best spots for wind. For example Northamptonshire, a county not known for its wind, currently has 13 operational turbines over 30 metres high, and an additional 46 consented and 32 in planning.  There is a mistake here though as data for some semi-upland counties, such as such as parts of Northants show high wind levels at 45m so it can be very commerical to build larger windfarms there.

The report calls for a new ‘strategic’ approach to building wind farms in the new local plans and at the Planning Inspectorate.  This would force planners to consider the impact on the landscape and the ‘cumulative’ effect of wind farms. Of course para. 97 of the final NPPF also requires ‘ensuring that adverse impacts are addressed satisfactorily, including cumulative landscape and visual impacts;’  the issue is what does that mean in terms of setting targets and deciding which of the 2,974 in the planning process need consent and how many more are needed to hit the 15% target by 2020, or even if this target will survice at all when the national carbon budget is revised at the chancellors insitence in 2014.

“The Campaign to Protect Rural England is increasingly concerned that the wave of planning applications for wind turbines across the country risks unacceptable damage to the landscape; to localism and people’s confidence in the planning system; and, ultimately, to the battle against climate change,”

Friends of the Earth calls the report ’tiliting at windmills’ but this utterly fails to grasp the level of hostility to windfarms on Conservative back benchs and how decisions made which allow poorly located windfarms in the absence of strategic plans will inevitably result in a backlash which will see fewer windfarms being built not more.

The Benchmarks Formally Known as Housing Targets #NPPF

John Rentoul in the Independent looks at the working of the Cabinet Office Implmentation Unit – the successor to Sir Micheal Barber famous Delivery Unit (‘Deliverology’), after the Prime Minister said ‘all he did all day’ was attend meetings

where I just go through the programmes we’ve set out … making sure that the Government is delivering on things we said we would do.

Rentoul says

Those “top-down targets” that the Conservative derided in opposition: many of them, and many new ones, are now called benchmarks. You cannot sensibly run modern government without them.

The DCLG itself does not publish any ‘benchmarks’ at all just ‘indicators’  The indicators are just just 7 in number and are attached to the DCLG Business Plan.  

It includes net additions to the housing stock (annual) by ‘local housing authority and regional levels‘  So no regional targets just eeerrrr regional indicators.  But the fact that a target is going up or down does not indicate things are getting better.  You need to have a target or benchmark, call it what you, will for that.  That could be whether household formation based levels are met, performance against the annual level of the last government (a very bad benchmark as household formation levels have changed) whatever but you need some kind of ‘benchmark’ to make sense of it.

Now the Implementation Unit does not publish any list of ‘benchmarks’ just a structural reform plan indicating what policies should be delivered by which department.  These are then set down in departmental business plans.

So does David Cameron get to see any list of ‘benchmarks’  which measure if policies are working, take for example housing.  There are three possibilities.

1) There is a secret list of benchmarks designed to avoid the accusation that the government is target driven (FOI requests at the ready);

2) Grant Shapps is such a golden boy that he is exempt from having benchmarks measuring housing completions

3) The Government is so incompetent that the Prime Minister doesn’t actually access DCLG and Ministerial delivery on home-building by having no benchmark whatsoever.

So what do you think it is?

Know if you were a government based on evidence and not ideology you would in the arena of deficit reduction set down benchmarks based on your economic theory that  the act of reducing government borrowing will lead to increased business formation – that for example if business investment had increased (because it is supposed to be no longer ‘crowded out’) or new business formed (genuine new start ups not the unemployed doing the same job as contractors – they are not entrepreneurs) – so are there any such benchmarks?  Can any civil servant take a volume of benchmarks and go to a minister and say – sorry minister but on the evidence of the last two years we can clearly tell this ‘plan a’  programme is not working or is proving counterproductive?  Of course not.  Indeed in the housing field you might for example measure how many new housing sites cam about through neighbour planning as opposed to local plans.  That isnt measured at all.  Indeed the two sites mentioned in the commons as examples of this – Dawlish and Thame – were already proposed in core strategies.  So the theory that abolish regional plans and replacing delivery of allocations bottom up has no evidence gathering or research programme to test if it is working at all.  Indeed the government wont even be able to tell if the NPPF results in any more up to date plans but it no longer keeps a local plans database.  Indeed from the many requests I receive it seems I am seen as the person now fulfilling this function!

Sadly this shows that if a politician claimed this was the most incompetent government of modern times neither ministers or civil servants would have the evidence to hand to show otherwise.  It is a bit like John Redwoods time as Welsh Secretary.  We cannot tell if he improved housebuilding or not as he stopped measuring it as an anti-‘red tape’ measure.

Why George Osborne Wont be Able to Repeat Geoffrey Howe’s Post 82 Recovery

Tory support heading down towards 25%.  Economists writing to newspapers describing how cuts will drive down aggregate demand and feed a spiral of decline.  Grumbles and splits in cabinet about the need for a plan B.

Not just today but the situation Geoffrey Howe experienced in 1981.

George Osborne’s prescription and ideology has always been to repeat the ‘supply side revolution’ of 1982-1987, where growth at one point hit 3.5%.

Although critics will immediately note that this recovery was largely job free as unemployment continued to increase until the late 1980s.

Note that the big bang didn’t occur until 1986 it was irrelevant to this period of growth.  What was important though was a rise in north sea oil revenues and a fall in the value of the £ to more competitive levels against the dollar.

North Sea Oil Revenue

There was a major difference though between then and now.  The deregulation of buildings societies led to a private sector credit boom which offset to a large extent the falls in public sector borrowing.  This led to a a house price boom and house building boom – egged along by Nicholas Ridley imposing national housing building targets at the regional level.  82-86 saw house prices increase at bubble like nominal  levels of over 10%/annum.

This nominal rise – fuelled by a high capacity to increase lending by the equity value of building societies – was increase by finally getting inflation under control during this period.  So housing became an increasing store of value.  In 1982 Q2 the real average house price was £65,217 having fallen for four straight years.  By 1987 Q2 it has risen to £90,858 a rise of 39%.  Housebuilding rose from around 190,000/annum in 1982 (which incredibly by today’s low numbers was a the lowest number of completion’s since the 1920s) to around 240,000 annum by 1986.  Indeed the growth in private bank/building society credit during this growth was such that by 1985 the Treasury had given up the ghost on monetarism and attempting to control the money supply by controlling state money.

Osborne benefits neither from oil exports or housebuilding booms.  There is no dramatic fall in cost push inflation, no major productivity increase in labour (though in the 80s the evidence was this was due to layoffs), no major growth in self employment (though again in the 1980s the evidence is that this was due to layed off people becoming self employed as demand recovered rather than a rise in self employment).  The evidence from the 80s was that other supply side measures such as Enterprise Zones had almost no net effect on output simply diverting employment growth and reducing tax receipts.   Privatised industries grew but because of higher monopoly prices and the prior recovery  in demand.

Osborne is trapped because far from an increase in private sector credit to offset public sector deleveraging we have simultaneously public and private sector deleveraging.   No economy can grow if both sectors are deleveraging at the same time – a double balance sheet recession.

Growth in the private sector requires investment.  As Schumpeter wrote investment can come from two sources – Robinson Crusoe type savings – money stashed away to one day spend on investment, or through bank credit extended on the basis of future profits.  Today we have the private sector piling up its balance sheets yes but with no signs of profitable investments to spend it on.  Lowering interest rates does not increase this type of investment as it does not come from borrowing but savings, indeed if interest rates are low these kind of savings become forced as alternative relatively risk free assets are hard to come by.

Indeed the Austrian story of growth through investment funded by savings, which Osbourne and his friends abide by,  has a fatal flaw.  As theory it only works if the investments and savings are overlapping as if everyone saves at once, as most private firms with positive balance sheets are doing, then aggregate demand falls.  If saving is done in an overalpping way the saving by one firm reducing demand is offset by the result of an investment of another leading to higher output (through higher productivity) and net growth to the economy.

As ever Osborne’s world view is that of the household or firm spending and borrowing not the effects of all households and firms collectively.

Net Gainers and Net Losers – Balance, Sustainability and the #NPPF

Just a short note on to what extent you can trade off social, environmental and economic in the NPPF.

Para. 152 of the NPPF

Local planning authorities should seek opportunities to achieve each of the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, and net gains across all three. Significant adverse impacts on any of these dimensions should be avoided and, wherever possible, alternative options which reduce or eliminate such impacts should be pursued.

But this only applies to plan making not decision taking.  However para.8 says

to achieve sustainable development, economic, social and environmental gains should be sought jointly and simultaneously through the planning system.

But what if a scheme seeks net gain across all three areas in a decision taking case and is not achieved.  The wording is ‘sought’ and not ‘required’.

Para.  9 and para. 109 of the NPPF say we should be moving from net losses to biodiversity to net gains, 109 adding the rider ‘net losses’.  As Simon Marsh of the RSPB points out this is new compared to previous pre NPPF policy and is highly welcome.

Whilst at numerous times in the NPPF it talks of the need to net gains for the economy – growth.  Such as in the core principles where ‘every effort’ should be applied to acheive it.

What about the social side of sustainable development then.  It is not until section 8 that social issues are considered again outside the introduction.  Providing a scheme doesn’t harm the social facilities needed and provides new ones needed – e.g. schools, open space etc.  There is no equivalent of the other two arms of  sustainable development that there has to be a net gain in decision taking matters when not required by a plan.  So we are still back in the old fashioned world of trade off where economic aspects are given greater priority these social aspects.  Biodiversity gains but society may lose.

This is perhaps nowhere clearer in the NPPF than on the issue of affordable housing and the trade off with viability.

The implication being that if local communities wish to avoid this economy –  society trade off they should find a way in their local plans to do so – providing they can supass the viability testing of course.

A thought but there is a quite straightforward way under the 1990 that LPAs can do that.  If a housebuilder with an option on land claims that affordable housing at say 35% would be unviable in a development plan then put a clause in the local plan that it will be acquired under section 226 of the act (note section 10 of the New Towns Act 1981 still on the Statute book also allows CPO. other development corporations under other acts also have CPO powers).  Section 226 says:

(1) A local authority to whom this section applies shall, on being authorised to do so by the Secretary of State, have power to acquire compulsorily any land in their area if the authority think that the acquisition will facilitate the carrying out of development, re-development or improvement on or in relation to the land, which] is required for a purpose which it is necessary to achieve in the interests of the proper planning of an area in which the land is situated.

(1A)But a local authority must not exercise the power under paragraph (a) of subsection (1) unless they think that the development, re-development or improvement is likely to contribute to the achievement of any one or more of the following objects

(a) the promotion or improvement of the economic well-being of their area;

(b) the promotion or improvement of the social well-being of their area;

(c) the promotion or improvement of the environmental well-being of their area.

Subject to the CPO being ‘back to backed’ by a development partner so there is no cost to the LPA.  Such CPOs of course are at existing land use value and the CPO inquiry can be concurrent with the EIP and by the same inspector. (see circular 06/2004).  Under the 1981 Aquisition of Land Act the ‘relevent date’ for CPO valuation is the date of the lands tribunal decision of the date value are agreed, or the date vested if that procedure is used.  (see para 23 of DCLG 2010 guidance).  So all a local plan need do is state in a phasing policy that the allocation of the land shall not take place until after the land has been acquired by the LPA.   This is pretty much the process used by former New Town Development Corporations to avoid penal compensation under the 1961 Land Compensation Act.  Acquire land for some future use and then once acquired modify the master-plan to allocate it for some specific date.

‘Say no to every question on the questionnaire, an unequivocal no’ Wilmslow shows how not to respond #NPPF

Often campaigners against development are their own worst enemies because they recommend actions to residents which actively weaken the weight that will be given to responses.

A classic case is campaigners against the Draft Wilmslow Vision Document to inform Cheshire East’s Local Plan – joint work with Wilmslow Town Council.  As often happens awareness and opposition only gathers towards the end of the process – locals networks and tell their friends and neighbours – so the consultation has been extended by a month.

In many ways the Wilmslow Vision document is best practice.  It attempts to derive a settlement specific vision for the place, a key aspect of the place shaping role of local plans for large settlements.  Rather than Cheshire East doing this it is working with the Town Council jointly.  And the work could set a firm foundation for any later neighbourhood planning.  There can be no arguments about conformity if this kind of consultation takes place.

The problem of course is how much development and where.  Cheshire East has not yet finalised its housing numbers and settlement split.  And cannot of course until it consults on key options around towns, required if submitted as SHLAA sites and failure to do so could lead to legal challenge.

Cheshire East has lots of Green Belt.  Under the NPPF Green Belt Districts now have to meet ‘objectively identified needs’  it wont be dispersed elsewhere in a regional plan.  So unless they are to have planning by appeal they are forced to consider Green Belt development options to get any kind of plan through.  Residents of Wilmslow might wish to ask their Mp George Osbourne why he so strongly pressed to changes to planning policy in the NPPF and through revocation of the North West RSS that will force far more development into the Green Belt in towns in his constituency, and why he has supported Policy Exchange Reports, including being the host of one meeting launching a report calling for weakening of Green Belt boundaries and expansion of cities and towns in the Green Belt.  Though like most MPs he will probably reply that this should happen in every other constituency other than his own.  As Tatton is being abolished at the next election I would not be surprised if he is seatless at the next election as local selection committees discover his true views on the Green Belt and planning.

Back to Wilmslow.  Of course any suggestion of even options to develop in the Green Belt will generate huge opposition.

Over 200 people, including both Cheshire East and Wilmslow Town councillors, gathered at the leisure centre on Thursday, 26th April, to demonstrate the strength of feeling over draft proposals for how the town should develop in the next 18 years.

Manuel Golding said “The numbers here have surpassed all we expected…“The advice we are giving is to say no to every question on the questionnaire, an unequivocal no.

“We need to be united under one banner so we have one voice for Wilmslow. It is important we have one voice, there is no place for nimbyism.”

Manuel sorry that is a very very stupid thing to say.  One of the questions concerns an aim which includes:

To encourage ever-increasing community involvement in the life of the town, fostering a sense of common purpose and civic pride

What is Cheshire East to make of a consultation response which had perhaps a 90% no response to that statement

Ok we can see that Wilmslow has no sense of common purpose and civic pride – sounds like a good place to put some some dreadful developments then

I jest of course but what message is that intended to communicate.  Saying no to every question is simply a message that all plans for the town should be kicked down the road, which makes the town much more vulnerable at planning appeal.  Without plans in place it wont be able to meet its five year supply so under the NPPF this becomes a six year supply, so developers will be able to get much more development at appeal.  It is entirely stupidly counterproductive.

Indeed to be statistically meaningful an authority receiving lots of no to every question responses might simply filter these out to find the true level of support on the less controversial issues.  So what this tactic does is lower peoples voices not raise them.   Indeed what councillors don’t understand is that plans are assessed by inspectors on evidence not numbers of placards or numbers of petition signatures.  Governments own guidance is that that the level of public opposition by itself is not material, what matters is the strength in planning terms of the argument put.  So one good argument can outweigh 10,000 bad ones.  Wilmslow needs good arguments.  So it it doesn’t want to build greenfield housing for its residents squeezed by verey high house prices it needs to say where else these houses should go.  Under the NPPF and the NPPF system this will have to be shown.

Cheshire East is 38% Green Belt.  So if you dont want development in the Green Belt looks for sites outside it, as the Prime Ministers recent speech suggested.  Sandbach — err if you want to find a place where planning issues are  even more controversial than Wilmslow it would be Sandbach.  Crewe, its already planning for Crewe to have most development but because of its size urban extensions here are likely to be car orientated peripheral estates rather than smart growth.  How about a Garden City perhaps on one of the two westwards running lines from Crewe.  North of Ashton Juxton Mondrum looks perfect, an old Station that could be reopened, no important wildlife sites or ancient woodlands for miles, massive sewerage infrastructure (Crewe’s main sewage works is here), canal, railway and the easy links can be made to Crewes Hospital and main industrial estates, and proximity to Crewe and Winsford make  potential bus links too to Crew and Nantwich nearby, and the Local B roads are hardly congested and can easily be improved if necessary, the landscape is flat as a pancake with large fields, so there would be no reason to lose trees, indeed well planned a Garden City could massively enhance tree and water cover and local wildlife.

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