Monthly Archives: October 2012

Davey Squashes Hayes on Windfarms

Politics Home

Ed Davey will underline his commitment to wind power today despite warnings from Energy Minister John Hayes that ‘enough is enough’ for onshore turbines, PoliticsHome has learned.

The Energy Secretary will tell the renewables industry today that Coalition policy has not changed.

It emerged that Mr Davey vetoed a speech by Mr Hayes at a conference in Glasgow.

“This may be the speech that John Hayes and the Tory Tea Party wanted but it was even delivered because he was told not to,” a Lib Dem source said.

Davey vetoed key lines from Hayes’ speech having seen its first draft and in the end he only delivered a few sentences to the Renewables conference in Glasgow.

Hesiltine Finds George Osborne Under a Rock

“I reject the premise that regulation in itself hinders growth. Good, well-designed regulation can stop the abuse of market power and improve the way markets work to the benefit of business, employees and consumers.”

Telegraph

Energy Minister Says ‘Enough is Enough’ Planning Consents on Windfarms

So who will be the first barrister to stand up at an LPI and say these are just the opinions of a conservative minister, the brief for renewables having been stripped from him at the reshufle, and do not represent coalition government policy.

Telegraph

“If you look at what has been built, what has consent and what is in the planning system, much of it will not get through and will be rejected. Even if a minority of what’s in the system is built we are going to reach our 2020 target,” Mr Hayes said. “I’m saying enough is enough.”…

We have issued a call for evidence on wind. That is about cost but also about community buy-in. We need to understand communities’ genuine desires. We will form our policy in the future on the basis of that, not on a bourgeois Left article of faith based on some academic perspective.”

Yet again the philosophy of the American Right invades UK conservatism, forget science, itr is raw guttural prejudice and emotion, what we know is right, that matters.

Mr Hayes said the impact of onshore wind farms on environments had been “neglected” as he warned that renewable energy must be in the “right places” with “genuine community support”. “The salience of aesthetics to discussions about renewables has often been neglected,” he added. “All that we do must be sensitive to local environments.”

Now Mobile Phone Companies want a Free Ride in Conservation Areas: Telegraph

Telegraph

Bosses at Vodafone, O₂, EE and Three met Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary, to push for a shake-up of rules in the protected areas, including many parks, town squares and village greens. The companies want the rules relaxed so they can meet government targets for the introduction of super-fast 4G coverage.

The companies want urban conservation areas put on an equal footing with ordinary parts of towns or cities, so that the public only has 56 days to raise objections to masts up to 15 metres tall. The 56 days would start from the point at which a council announced the plans, for example by putting up notices.

Mobile operators are already allowed to erect masts in conservation areas, but there is no fixed time-frame for public consultation, and planning applications often take around a year. Often, they are only allowed to proceed if the mobile operators agree to conceal the masts, for example in flagpoles, lampposts or chimneys. The angel statue on top of Guildford cathedral in Surrey has mobile antenna hidden under its skirt.

The “Big Four” operators say the bureaucracy makes it hard for them to improve their networks fast enough to cope with the surging popularity of smartphones and the demand for internet access on the move. They told Miss Miller that they would not be able to meet the target of super-fast 4G mobile services reaching 98 per cent of the population unless planning laws are changed.

“They are basically holding the Government to ransom,” a senior source told The Daily Telegraph.

Even so, Miss Miller is considering relaxing the planning laws. A spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said: “Government has been clear that we will work with mobile operators, local government and other interested parties to consider ways that the planning process might be streamlined to speed up the deployment of mobile infrastructure. We are currently considering a number of proposals.”

The changes “would give both communities and networks greater certainty about improving coverage and bringing in new services,” said a spokesman for the Mobile Operators Association, a trade body. “The network operators have a long track record of constructive engagement with local councils and communities and will continue to develop their networks responsibly within the planning system.”

Olaf Swantee, the chief executive of the biggest mobile operator, EE — formerly T-Mobile and Orange — which is due to launch Britain’s first 4G services next week, said planning laws needed to be relaxed to allow companies to make changes to their existing masts.

The mobile operators are not calling for changes to the rules on conservation areas that are protected because of their historic status or outstanding natural beauty.

Public Inquiry as pub turning over £27k a week proposed as £20 million home

Standard

The Phene was built in 1850 by Victorian philanthropist Samuel Phene, who wanted a place for servants and local tenants to drink. In 2002, Bourne and his wife Sally Greene, owner of the Old Vic theatre, swooped in and bought it for just over £2 million through their pension trust. They then spent a further £1.1 million refurbishing the interior, turning it from a run-down drinker’s den frequented by George Best into a shiny new gastropub featured in Tatler — you can’t move for the cast of Made in Chelsea in the beer garden — creating  the £27,000-a-week turnover an independent consultant estimates it generates.

But last year the Bournes applied to Kensington and Chelsea council to turn the pub into a luxury private home — which once completed would be worth £20 million, say local estate agents — and in September ownership was transferred into a Jersey-based offshore company called Blue Lagoon Holdings for an undisclosed sum.

More than 1,000 people signed a petition against his plans and the council turned down his application, but this week Bourne began a landmark appeal against that decision.

Campaigners, councillors and developers are watching the appeal closely as they believe the outcome will either draw a line in the sand for “pub-to-home” transformations — or open the floodgates, especially as a succession of further hearings in the borough are scheduled for the coming weeks.

It’s not Robert Bourne’s first foray into the courts. Last month, Kensington and Chelsea council dismissed his appeal against its original refusal to let him turn another Chelsea pub he owns — the 300-year-old Cross Keys in Lawrence Street — into a residence. More than 4,000 people signed a petition against its closure but their victory is not complete. The pub remains closed, with Bourne claiming it is economically unviable.

This time, Bourne has upped the ante. Instead of merely appealing against the council’s decision, he asked for a public inquiry, a move considered highly unusual and incredibly expensive. He has spent a fortune on retaining a barrister for four days — the hearing ends tonight — with a decision expected within six to eight weeks.

In an opening statement to the inquiry, Timothy Comyn, the barrister representing Bourne, dismissed the protesters’ claims that the pub still had strong ties to the community. He argued that the interior had changed beyond all recognition from the Victorian local it once was.  Comyn said the Phene is now a “gastropub-cum-restaurant that serves no recognisable local community function” and that “the nature of the Phene Arms has changed irrevocably … [it is] an establishment frequented by the Hooray Henrys of today”.

I hope mr Bourne, given the NPPF, gets totally screwed for costs.

So Which Local Authorities are Vulnerable to Special Measures?

Looking at the latstest live table for April to May I claculated those LPAs

With 18 Week Majors less than 50%

With minors at less than 50% and

With others less than 60%.

I guess the DCLG is likely to adopt a threshold for all three to stop LPAs swtiching all resources to minor cases as they did with they old 8 week target.

This leaves a surprising list

North Norfolk (which has an adopted CS)

Barnet (adopted CS)

Chichester (no adopted CS)

Southampton (adopted core strategy)

Vale of White Horse (no adopted core strategy)

Mendip (no adopted core strategy)

I dont have the appeal refusal rates per authority, but this is a poor measure as on a quarterly basis for small rural authorities the variation from tiny sample sizes is huge, and it would be statistically meaningless to adopt a longer and different timescale from the decision taking stats. This would create an obvious avenue for legal challenge.   The fact that they even mentioned this as a factor leads me again to doubt the quality of civil servants now left at the DCLG if they make such a basic statistical mistake.

So if this quarter were the operative numbers who might be top of the list for muscular localism?

This left a surprising list Chichester, Vale of White Horse, Mendip.  Lots of AONB, lots and lots of AONB.  I wonder if the Telegraph journalists are listening.

 

LPA Performance Figures Fall as Special Measures Looms

Ominous the cuts in staff must be having an impact

[In the last quarter LPAs] decided 57 per cent of major applications in 13 weeks, 70 per cent of minors and 82 per cent of others in 8 weeks. This compares to 65 per cent for majors, 74 per cent for minors and 85 per cent for others in the year ending June 2011.

Total Horseshit in The Telegraph on the Stratford Shottery Appeal

Please read the decision and then criticize it line by line Nadhim Zahawi MP on grounds of national policy and the development plan, otherwise your just spouting total horseshit repeating arguments utterly rejected by the independent inspector, an independent plan advisory inspector and indeed by local officers, their own environmental assessment, their independent advisers (including me) and indeed local cllrs before they falsely thought they could get away with building far fewer houses in a misunderstanding of the name of ‘localism’.and indeed English heritage (until unprofessionally local political pressure changed their opinion).

Of course as well the dispersed strategy would not have protected small villages, many would have to double in size to make up the shortfall from not building at Stratford and with the independent finding that Stratford has miscalculated housing need by a thord, it would have destroyed those villages.

Government Keeps Secret Terms of Reference of Panel to Tear Up Housing Standards

Guardian

What you get here in India without proper or enforced planning and building standards and a shortage of affordable housing. The government has discovered to its costs that without even proper plans/maps they cant even be taxed.

Regulations covering building standards, including fire safety and wheelchair access, could be torn up in a government plan to cut costs for the construction industry and boost the economy.

Ministers have ordered a wide-ranging review covering all aspects of building regulations, also including standards on energy efficiency. The review, which controversially includes the option of giving the building industry more scope for self-regulation, is the latest in a series of government initiatives intended to stimulate activity in the economy and drive job creation through investment in homebuilding.

Its aim is to prune regulations “significantly”. Last month, the government announced a year-long free-for-all in house extensions, allowing homeowners to build up to eight metres into their gardens without planning permission.

Despite encouraging figures this week showing that the UK economy came out of recession at the end of the summer, the construction sector is still in the doldrums, contracting by 2.5% in the third quarter of the year. The coalition knows it needs much stronger recovery to win voters’ support and housebuilding is seen as a key area for creating relatively quick investment and jobs.

Ministers have also been under intense pressure to deal with a housing crisis that has seen the building of new homes falling to the lowest level since the 1920s, causing rocketing rents and a generation potentially priced out of the market.

Among the specific themes under examination are energy, water, security, accessibility, and even the amount of space available in new homes.

The review has prompted fears of a bonfire of standards – including crucial structural issues, fire and security, and government pledges to cut carbon emissions and water use, improve local communities and help elderly and disabled people live independently.

“What they are saying is everything is up for debate,” said Paul King, chief executive of one of the review group members, the UK Green Building Council. “These things [regulations] stop people from building houses that fall down on people or burn down, so it’s pretty important.”

In the terms of reference, seen by the Guardian, the Department for Communities and Local Government says that the housing standards review should be “rationalising the entire framework of building regulations and national and local housing standards”, with the overall goal to “significantly” cut back on the number of regulations.

As part of the review, a special four-man “challenge panel” will have “free rein, unconstrained” to suggest ways of cutting regulations that would “deliver demonstrable deregulation to make homebuilding easier”.It adds that the panel “will not be constrained by previous or existing policy”. The review has been launched just weeks after the Department of Energy and Climate Change introduced its flagship “Green Deal” policy aimed at retrofitting 14m UK homes to make them more energy-efficient.

One organisation involved in the review said it had support from the top of the government, including David Cameron, George Osborne, and the Cabinet Office minister and general enforcer Oliver Letwin. The group, which held its first meeting on Tuesday, is expected to report to ministers by the spring.The DCLG told the Guardian the review would only apply to home building standards, though as the building code applies to all buildings this raises the possibility of two sets of standards replacing one.

“The government is determined to support developers and councils to get on with the job of building the high-quality new homes the country needs,” said a department spokesman. “The current system of overlapping different standards is complex and confusing to local residents and developers. This will make way for a simpler set of housing standards that ensure buildings are still made to exacting standards.”

The Home Builders Federation, a member of the review group, welcomed the initiative, citing a host of regulations, often voluntary ones that local authorities can choose to insist on (or not), which it believes are outdated or too expensive.

Among these are the code for sustainable homes, which suggests new homes should have a room to use as an office so more people can work from home and avoid commuting; and the lifetime homes regulations, which specify doors and bathrooms must be wide enough for wheelchairs and a piece of wall and floor can be easily removed to make space for a hoist or lift, all so that future owners who are elderly or disabled can adapt their homes more easily. Others include security regulations that specify the minimum width of a walkway next to a home and that every new home should have a burglar alarm fitted.

“Hopefully from the current process we will get a standardised set of sensible, viable standards so that everybody knows what they are working to,” said Steve Turner, the federation’s head of communications.

In a serious blow to the government’s approach, however, at least two large construction firms expressed doubts about the importance of regulation as a barrier to building, insisting that making it easier for small developers and homebuyers to borrow money, the reform of planning and freeing up more publicly owned land were more important, and even warned that a rush to lower standards could slow down new building.

Stephen Stone, chief executive of Crest Nicholson, one of the country’s biggest housebuilders, said building regulations were relatively unimportant as a barrier to new homebuilding, and a rush to lower standards would make it harder for companies to persuade local communities to release land that was desperately needed to build on. “If you are going to engage with local communities you want to be doing so when you know you can produce well-designed, well-built homes that are built within a regulatory framework,” he said.

“None of us want to go back to poor design, poor building standards and low energy efficiency. It might be good for reducing costs but this industry needs to be taking a view that a house needs to [last] 100 years – therefore why shouldn’t society demand very high standards?”

While some have warned that any review of regulations could create a hiatus while developers wait to see the new rules before committing to new projects, Stone said the government could not rely on any boost to homebuilding before the next general election, due in 2015. “Having an impact is probably three or four years away,” he said.

Hilary Benn, shadow communities and local government secretary, said: “No one is opposed to sensible rationalisation but building regulations exist for a reason. What we mustn’t lose is proper building standards and requirements to build much more sustainable homes in future that use less water and energy, given our climate is changing and we need to significantly reduce our use of carbon.”

Redefining Centralism as Localism will mean More Bad Quality Schemes

I was greatly amused by Steve Quartermain‘s (pictured below moonlighting in the Bridge) remarks reported in todays Planning Resource.  Under this government of course his acting skills have certainly improved, he can read out nonsense and still keep an almost straight face.

” if the local planning authority is delivering a service which is making prompt decisions and they have a local plan, why would there be a need for PINS to get involved? I don’t think we see this as a threat to localism where localism is being delivered.

“It’s a recognition that the government is not going to promote a localist agenda and then sit by and let some areas not embrace it.”

In his speech beforehand, Quartermain said: “It’s all very well having localism, but we can’t have localism if communities don’t do things.

Localism used to be explicitly about stopping development, in the the Prime Minister’s terms stopping housing estates being ‘plonked’ on villages.  This was quite explicit before the election.  Now parse the sentence above and replace localism with development and you find that over two years localism has become a synonym for development, and with muscular loyalism a synonym for centralism.  Orwell would have been amused by such an elastic use of English.

But the centralism/localism issue is not my main concern.  That particular dialectic of English planning will go on forever and never be resolved in a consensual way.  Rather it is a purely practical one.

Today in most cases (unless a developer is stupid and looking for a partial award of costs) cases before PINS have reached the end of the road.  Most developers are reluctant to appeal, its expensive and you dont always get what you want.  PINS unlike LPAs cannot be bought with unrelated planning gain.  Inspectors cannot be wined and dined.  The ‘end of the road’ factor means that fewer truly dreadful cases reach the inspectorate than in say the 1980s.  The plan led system means that developers now need a positive flag of local plan conformity and the experts are the local officers.  Supermarkets used to be very aggressive on appeal, but the town centre first policy largely moderated that.  This means that most wrinkles have been ironed out of schemes and the final recommendation is based on a ‘this is as good as we are going to get’ approach.  The scope for inspectors to moderate schemes through conditions (on full consents) is limited.  Inspectors cannot say, come back with a better schemes and ill approve it, its yes or no.

The NPPF has undoubtedly lowered the bar for approval but the system of locally mediated consents remained.  Whilst the dreadful could still be refused on appeal much of the mediocre and mildly ugly would be filtered out through the process of revisions before reaching appeal, when without that filtering Inspectors might feel compelled, by the permissiveness of the NPPF, to approve them with a heavy heart.

This proposal then is poorly thought through.  If the government must take over local decision making they could have considered more use of UDC/LDCs, but actually the 8/16 week performance of these is pretty dreadful, in large part because they have been overwhelmed with large applications, only some of which can practically be approved but have had no plan making powers, exactly the wrong way around.

So what is the government trying to achieve?  Like special measures in schools the hope that it will rise all boats?  Beware of the law of unintended consequences. No longer having to face the politically suicidal decision of approving a major urban extension, and the threat of costs if they refuse it with the NPPF and the +2-% rule many leaders of councils will be thinking , lets slow down our approvals next quarter, then we will get the decision called in and remove the threat of costs.

Indeed the whole costs system breaks down with this proposal.  Rather that costs acting as a disincentive to slow and poor decision making it now acts as an incentive to no decision making.

Furthermore the whole basis of PINS, as the ‘last call’, the last chance saloon, breaks down if it becomes a first port of call, what about pre-application negotiations?  They would have to come to a full stop.  Indeed muscular centralism undermines many good practice principles of decision taking, including that of course of decision taking itself as the SoS has taken the decision, and the incentive to make the decision, away.

I suspect the DCLG will think about it and quietly drop the proposal at report stage.  The idea only had several weeks of Whitehall discussion anyway and ideas that leap straight from the back of an envelope to the statute books with even the greenest of papers and consultation are exactly how to make a dangerous dogs breakfast of government,

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