Plans for Road Tunnel under Pennines Shelved


Fixing the transport system in the north of England will cost at least £60bn over 30 years, according to Transport for the North. The strategic transport body has been backed with £260m of central government funding to try to transform transport networks across the North East, North West and Yorkshire. John Cridland, the former boss of the CBI business group who now chairs TfN, said he would unveil a 30-year plan in January. He added that, for it to succeed, the government would have to increase transport spending in the region by about a third to £150 a head. A northern citizen is £7,500 a year poorer than the English average.

The opportunity exists to close that gap over the next 30 years. This is about the north punching its weight John Cridland, Transport for the North The plan includes a new high-speed line from Liverpool to Hull and Newcastle, dubbed Northern Powerhouse rail, which would include new track and station enlargements along with upgrades to existing lines at an estimated cost of about £25bn. Mr Cridland described it as the “lintel” on top of the Y-shaped HS2 line from London to Manchester and Leeds. Road investment will link ports, airports, the east and west coasts, and big population centres with seven transport corridors linking key complimentary business clusters, such as the energy businesses in Cumbria and the North East.

But plans for one of the world’s longest road tunnels — 20 miles under the Pennines, to link Manchester and Sheffield — have been shelved. There could be a short tunnel and improvements to the existing single carriageway A road between the two cities.

By next year season ticket holders will be able to use smart Oyster-style technology while by 2021 there will be full contactless payment across the bus, tram and rail network, with a £150m investment. The full plan will cost between £2bn and £2.3bn a year to implement. The government is expected to spend about £1.4bn a year in the north on current projections. TfN represents 19 regional transport authorities (RTAs), such as Merseyside and Tyne & Wear, and Mr Cridland said it was the first time they had agreed on pan-Northern priorities. The RTAs are responsible for buses, trams and other public transport in their cities or counties. But Mr Cridland said that between the RTAs and TfN, which will soon be on a statutory footing, there are sufficient powers to deliver the improvements with government money. They were “broadly comparable” with Transport for London, which runs the capital’s networks. “We provide the evidence to make the case and ministers accountable to parliament make the funding decisions,” he said. R He said the plan would boost northern productivity. “A northern citizen is £7,500 a year poorer than the English average. The opportunity exists to close that gap over the next 30 years. This is about the north punching its weight,” he said. East-west journey speeds between northern cities are around half those in the South East. “From the Romans to the Victorians roads and railways have been built north-south. But the economy of the north is more about east-west,” he said.

Andy Burnham, the Labour mayor of Greater Manchester, said in a speech this week that he needed greater control of transport. “Our trains are packed-out and clapped-out. Our buses are confusing and over-priced. And northern cities don’t have the power to make sense of the chaos and integrate it all,” he said. Mr Burnham is seeking powers to regulate buses, as in London. Greater Manchester has more than 40 different bus operators, with 160 different types of ticket available.


Next Steps and Some Hard Choices for the Oxford-MK-Cambridge Corridor – Avoiding failing like the Thames Gateway

Part One of a Two Part Post

The Autumn Budget 2017 saw the return of big planning in the shape of the Oxford-MK-Cambridge Study published by the National Infrastructure Commissioned after two years work.   Their remit was never to publish a strategic plan, their remit was infrastructure, however the universal call from consultation was the primary need was to boost new housing, lack of which was the primary restraint on economic growth in the area.  So the recommendation was to integrate new housing with transport investment and significantly increase housing in the area.  With the strategy being taken forward by government supply an overall vision for the corridor with a tier of subregional planning based on city regions such as Oxford – below it.  The timing was ideal – publishing at the time of a Budget flagged as as a budget to boost housing and when the tired treasury tropes – relax green Belt, deregulate planning etc. had either run up against immovable objects or were seen as tired and disappointing.

Reading the reports and final phase background documents on the NIC website it is not hard to cheer openly at many of the comments made, the reports pragmatism, and rare in England its ability to combine thinking about economics, planning and transport in the same document but in a spatial rather than abstract way.

Nonetheless thus is where the hard part begins.

The primary aim must be to avoid problems with previous similar corridor strategies before.  The Arc previously had a stillborn birth over a decade ago.  The Thames Gateway project gradually lost momentum.  The Budget 2017 was not only the deadline for the Ox-MK-Cam but the Thames Gateway Growth Commission launched in June 2016 under Lord Heseltine.   If Gideon’s plan had gone to order we would have had big announcements for both corridors.  Of course Lord Heseltine was sacked  in March.   

He was not replaced and the Thames Gateway Growth Commission has sunk into obscurity.  The Minister of State for Planning is still the Gateway Minister, but the new minister has made no visits or announcements in that capacity.  What was essentially a Thames Gateway reboot is aborted.

There are many lessons from Thames Gateway about what to avoid in Ox-MK-Cam.

It was never a fully developed vision, merely a collation of projects bundled together in an annex to regional strategy and never updated.  I think the lessons from the Gateway are clear.

1.Make the Transport/Planning Integration Decisions up front

The key transport project for the Gateway – Crossrail – wasn’t announced until years after the strategy was launched – by which time it was too late to shape development.  Key opportunities for concentrating development around major nodes – such as in Thamesmead were lost.  HS1 was diverted through the corridor but didn’t stop – except at Ebbsfleet, where with initially development left to the private sector large amounts of permissions were given but few completions.  The private sector being unable to bear the risk of very high density transport orientated development (which we find around the world – Powerpoint cities (existing only on Powerpoints) being the term.  The key decision about the Lower Thames Crossing route has yet to be taken, and four years large areas were blighted by uncertainties over an airport at Cliffe or not.

2.  Making Only the Easy Planning Decisions not the Hard Ones

The government saw it as a fount of easy brownfield decisions.  But large parts of the corridor have few brownfield sites.  Key decisions involving Green Belt – such as at Castlepoint and the expansion of Basildon are still not made.   Decisions about which areas to environmentally protect, such as at Rainham Marshes and Lodgehill were not made up front.

3.  Lack of an Early Environmental Vision and Planning Standards

For many years the DCLG were reluctant to impose any planning standards on the region to avoid reducing housing numbers.  This meant that the corridor quickly gained a reputation for shoddy cheap development that was hard to shake off.  The Green Grid and Green Infrastructure proposals lagged way behind and lacked clear delivery bodies.  The failure to integrate water and environmental issues early on led to an adversarial rather than a create dialogue between environmental and development interests (including government as landowner) on key sites.  It was always obvious from a design perspective that Lodge Hill was only ever going to succeed as a reduced ecologically driven scheme, for example, but here and on other key areas of potential such as Cliffe it became an all or nothing development in full or no development stand off.

4. Delivery Bodies and and Went – Mostly Went

The Gateway was the responsibility of three Development Agencies.  All now abolished, and English Partnerships, who had its regeneration role stripped away under the HCA and now restored as Homes England.  Two development Corporations were formed, then abolished (Thurrock and London Thames Gateway), and then two new ones created (Ebbsfleet and London Legacy).  It is a miracle anything was done.

5.  It Swiftly became a Portfolio of Projects for Ministerial Press Releases not Strategy to be Managed and Delivered.

Over the years, and with the failure to update and expand the original strategy, Gateway documents became increasingly promotional brochures – rather than tracking risks of projects that had fallen behind and wee failing.  It became a creature of fashion and without a champion (Pickles being an Essex Green Belt MP was not championing major development) the local authorities struggled to keep national attention on it. Without major exemplar schemes to point to it became difficult to justify the major investment the area badly needed.

6.  Don’t Neglect Freight

DP World/London Gateway – came along years after RPG9a.  The initial assumption was of a post-ports Gateway rather than one with Ports Resurgent on new modern sites.  As such key decisions on expanding rail capacity for freight and avoiding passenger/rail routing conflicts have not been made.

In the next post ill look at some of the key delivery and hard choices that need to be decided early on in the Ox-MK-CAM process.


Brownfield Registers Cant Supply 5 Years of Housing in Most Areas – Research

Yorkshire Post

1/3rd attrition? Its normally 10-20%.

Brownfield land cannot be the only solution to the housing crisis simply because there is not enough of it to meet the huge projected demand for new places to live, the sponsors of a new report have concluded. According to The Gracechurch Group, so-called brownfield “super sites” should be targeted urgently to deliver the most homes and if that strategy proves inadequate then greenfield sites will offer the best way of meeting the country’s growing housing needs. The idea that councils do not need to release greenfield land for new homes is dispelled by the ‘Brownfield: The housing crisis solved?’ report, the group claimed. It compares the amount of brownfield land shown on new pilot brownfield registers created by local councils with the Government’s recently published estimate of housing need.

The pilot registers show that brownfield has the potential for 200,000 homes, net of normal planning attrition, yet the Government forecasts that 275,000 homes are needed in those areas over a five-year period, and 550,000 over ten years. Neil Lawson-May, joint chief executive at Palatium Investment Management, part of The Gracechurch Group, said: “The housing shortfall from brownfield is even greater than these numbers suggest. Brownfield is unevenly spread across the country and most brownfield is not in areas where there is high housing need. “In the pilot, only two regions have sufficient brownfield capacity to accommodate their five-year housing requirement once planning attrition has been factored in. Brownfield land can make a significant impact on the housing crisis, but it can’t solve it.” He said the registers offer hard evidence about brownfield availability which can help politicians and planning authorities explain to communities why greenfield land is needed for new homes. According to the report, four of the seven pilot authorities have a potential five-year brownfield land supply, before planning attrition is taken into account, including four in Yorkshire. Former industrial or commercial sites in Hull could meet local housing demand for 13.73 years, in Leeds for 11.57 years, in Sheffield for 9.56 years and in Selby for 7.54 years. But there is too little brownfield land in East Yorkshire, North East Lincolnshire and Rotherham to meet five-year demands as they have sites that can only meet demand over 2.46, 3.85 and 3.48 years respectively. Some 67 of the 73 pilot local authorities have published their registers. In total, they identify 4,894 brownfield sites covering 12,960 hectares which could provide around 300,000 new homes, falling to 200,000 when a normal one-third attrition rate for the planning process is absorbed. Most brownfield sites are very small, the report states, suitable for 15 homes or less. This is a problem, Mr Lawson-May said. “The collapse of many small housebuilders during the credit crunch is a problem for developing small brownfield sites.” Just 25 sites on the registers could provide 22 percent of all brownfield homes and Mr Lawson-May said: “Supersites such as these should be targeted urgently and centrally to see if they are sustainable and if they are not, then it would be better to return them to nature and build on greenfield than spend many years debating their future.” The group said local people and interest groups should be invited to put forward sites for inclusion on brownfield registers, and be given an explanation as to why sites are not on the registers.


The Risk of ‘Powerpoint Cities’ in the Oxford-MK-Cambridge Corridor

The Geographer Sarah Mosler has a great phrase ‘Powerpoint Cities’ for Planned new cities that never proper;y get off the drawing board.


In the past two decades, some two dozen new city projects were announced in the Middle East. About half remain ‘power point cities’ existing only on websites, said Sarah Moser, an urban geography professor at McGill University in Montreal. Others are well behind schedule.

She said builders of new cities often underestimate challenges, including raising huge sums of capital and finding the necessary expertise. In such for-profit enterprises, plans for less lucrative public transport systems often remain on paper

The failure have been twofold.  Publicly led cities failing to attract private investment and capital – as in the Saudi economic Cities, and privately led new cities failing to attract capital, failing to get masterplans past pre concept stage and failing to invest in public transport.

The same risks lie with the 5 new Garden towns (city scale ) announced in the budge for the Oxford-MK-Cambridge Corridor.  It has now become apparent that the masterplanning will be locally led with no land value capture other than from strategic transport investment (i.e. only around 1/5th of uplift).  Land value capture helps however the middle east shows that even where land is free new cities can fail when there is a lack of up front planning and investment.  Internationally New Cities have only worked where the initial planning investment has been publicly led and this has provided the momentum for longer term  private capital investment. Is this a lesson the Government has learned? If locally led and undercapitalised we may simply get large garden villages, risk minimising, rather than Garden Cities of sufficient scale to justify their own dedicated transit systems.

Pay for the Master Plan, No Treasury Funding, No Land Value Capture – Why Locally Led ‘New Towns’ will Flop

Why should a local authority, county or district be attracted to setting up a New Town Development Corporation under the governments proposed new system – consultation started yesterday, implementing Lord Taylors amendments to the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017.

The post-war New Towns were delivered by New Town Development Corporations created under the New Towns Acts. We need to learn the lessons from that programme as we support a new generation of garden towns and cities for the 21st century. We consider though that the designation of areas for new towns and the
creation of New Town Development Corporations to drive forward their delivery remains a potentially effective route to securing the creation of high-quality newcommunities.

The earlier generation of New Town Development Corporations were answerable to central government. The powers to create New Town Development Corporations accountable to the Secretary of State remain on the statute book. We consider though that, alongside this, we need to create an oversight mechanism which reflects the locally-led approach to new garden towns and villages in our current programme.

Well what were the lessons?  One key one was that the first generation New Towns were a great success, being commenced before the 1961 Land Compensation Act weakened the potential for land value capture and borrowing at low rates.  Later ones were a financial failure, hampered by high 1970s interest rates.

The New Towns Act is a flexible piece of legislation, which can easily be updated in several ras (not solely concerning governance).  But they were designed to be publicly funded and capture land value. As the AECOM study for the Oxford-MK-Cambridge corridor implementation states the ‘Taylor’ route is more applicable to Garden Village scale communities as Garden Towns and Cities require large scale land acquisition which requires Treasury support.

This route being consulted on would be distinctly unappealing.  The bodies would commission masterplans but not have direct Treasury funding and would not be able to appoint chairs or vice chairs.   It is difficult to see what is in it for local authorities.  Given constrained local authority finances it is likely they would be driven by local landowners, and have rather modest scale plans to ,minimise political controversy and financial liability.  There would be no clear funding led deal with national government to deliver overspill and national priorities.

They would be planning authorities but not delivery authorities -leveraging the power of land ownership. A key a lesson of New Towns.  They are likely to be as successful as the early years of the Ebbsfleet DC or the Turrock of West Northants Dc’s Half Hearted and Weak DCs.


Tibbalds announced as Winners of Oxford-MK-Cambridge Ideas Competition

Congratulations.  Though As I blogged on here it wasnt my favorite.  A key finding of the technical work for the competition (reference the 5Th Studio study) was that village expansion would not meet the needs of the area., you would need 100s of them most of which by definition be outside walking or cycling distance.  Therefore Tibbalds solution though nice urban design does not represent a replicable solution of the strategy for the corridor.  How does this then take us forward in developing a startegy?


Malcolm reading

The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) and Malcolm Reading Consultants (MRC) today announced the ‘VeloCity’ team led by Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design as winners of The Cambridge to Oxford Connection: Ideas Competition.

Their vision was chosen for its low-impact blueprint for delivering much-needed new homes while maintaining a person-centred scale and retaining the existing character of the area.

The all-women ‘VeloCity’ team included Jennifer Ross from Tibbalds, along with Sarah Featherstone (Featherstone Young), Kay Hughes (Khaa), Petra Marko (Marko and Placemakers), Annalie Riches (Mikhail Riches) and Judith Sykes (Expedition Engineering).

The competition sought inspirational visions for the future of development within the arc encompassing Cambridge, Milton Keynes, Northampton and Oxford, one of the UK’s fastest-growing and most productive regions. It informed the NIC’s report Partnering for Prosperity: A new deal for the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford Arc, published last month.

In the Budget, the Government backed the Commission’s vision to build up to one million new homes across the arc by 2050, and announced plans to complete both a new East-West Rail link and an Oxford-Cambridge Expressway by 2030.

The Commission will showcase the winner’s and finalists’ work along with all earlier submissions at a conference and related public exhibition in early 2018.

Bridget Rosewell, Commissioner and competition jury Chair, said:

“The jury was drawn to VeloCity’s human scale approach to sensitively and incrementally accommodating new homes, alongside the team’s commitment to ensuring new settlements would be communities from the get-go. Creating effective new settlements can be challenging: the team’s flair and imagination in addressing this shows how good design can translate into liveable communities.”Lord Andrew Adonis, National Infrastructure Commission Chair and competition jury member, said:

“The competition focused on essential challenges facing the UK, including how to accelerate the supply of affordable homes without sacrificing the quality of the environment, how to engage and enthuse the public in making the choices ahead, and to showcase how new infrastructure can creatively enable new communities to flourish over the coming decades.

“The visions and imagery generated by the competition are tools that will inspire a new approach to achieving sensitive, infrastructure-enabled development over the next half century.”Jennifer Ross, VeloCity team leader, said:

“We’re absolutely thrilled to win. The six of us met taking part in women’s cycling events and became friends through a shared interest in designing places that put the pedestrian and cyclist first. We wanted to work together and the competition was the perfect opportunity. We spent a lot of time discussing density and place-making and how the implementation of new public transport infrastructure can change the way we plan for and think about building successful communities.”Malcolm Reading, Competition Organiser, said:

“We would like to thank everyone who followed and entered the competition and, in particular, the four finalists who all worked extremely hard. This was the first ideas competition we’ve run and it was hugely exciting to see the contribution made by the design profession to national issues that have profound implications for future generations.”Key features of the winning vision include:

  • generously-sized common land at the heart of each development providing a focus for encouraging communities to interact and shared amenities
  • integrated public transport connections with expanded pedestrian and cycle routes, limiting the need for car use
  • small-scale construction and local utility networks designed to reduce the environmental impact of new housing

Clustered around six villages south-east of a new station on the Oxford to Cambridge rail link, VeloCity’s vision could be replicated across the arc to support a substantial number of new homes.

The Commission launched the two-stage competition in June, and received 58 first-stage submissions from multidisciplinary teams including urban designers; architects; planners; landscape designers and economists.

The jury invited four teams led by Barton Willmore, Fletcher Priest Architects, Mae, and Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design to produce detailed strategies for integrating infrastructure with placemaking in the Cambridge – Milton Keynes – Oxford arc.

The jury interviewed the shortlisted teams and selected the VeloCity team as winners. The four finalists each receive an honorarium of £10,000.

The Cambridge – Milton Keynes – Oxford arc is home to 3.3 million people. The region hosts some of the country’s most successful universities and high-tech manufacturing hubs and has a highly-skilled workforce. Its future success is threatened by significant housing constraints and transport pressures. The Commission’s report identified how well-designed and planned infrastructure could enable authorities across the region to overcome them and ensure the region’s long-term prosperity.

Notes to Editors

National Infrastructure Commission

The National Infrastructure Commission aims to become the UK’s most forward-thinking and influential voice on infrastructure policy and strategy.

Set up in October 2015, the Commission produces a National Infrastructure Assessment once in every Parliament, setting out its assessment of long-term infrastructure needs with recommendations to the government. It also produces in-depth studies into the UK’s most pressing infrastructure challenges and monitors the government’s progress in delivering infrastructure projects and programmes recommended by the NIC.

More information on the Commission’s work is available on its website.

The shortlisted teams

  • Barton Willmore with Momentum
  • Fletcher Priest Architects with Bradley Murphy Design and Peter Brett Associates
  • Mae with Oneworks, Planit, AKT II, Tyrens and Max Fordham
  • Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design with Mikhail Riches, Featherstone Young, Marko and Placemakers, Expedition Engineering & Khaa

The shortlisted entries are available to view in the competition’s online gallery.

The competition jury

The full jury for The Cambridge to Oxford Connection: Ideas Competition comprised:

  • Bridget Rosewell OBE FICE (Jury Chair), Co-Founder, Volterra Partners and Commissioner, National Infrastructure Commission

  • David Lock CBE MRTPI, Strategic Planning Adviser, David Lock Associates

  • Georgia Butina Watson BA MA PhD FRSA, Professor and Research Director of Urban Design, Oxford Brookes University

  • Hilary Chipping, Deputy Chief Executive and Head of Strategy and Operations, South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership

  • Lord Andrew Adonis, Chairman, National Infrastructure Commission

  • Sadie Morgan D.Des (LSBU) FRSA, Founding Director, dRMM Architects and Commissioner, National Infrastructure Commission

  • Tim Broyd FREng CEng FICE FRSA, Professor of Built Environment Foresight and Honorary Professor of Civil Engineering, University College London

  • Tom Holbrook, Director, 5th Studio and Professor of Architecture and Industry Fellow, RMIT University

Time for Think Tanks to Work on The Details of Implementing A Land Value Tax

This blog has not always been a fan of SW1 think tanks.  Indeed the superficial fashion and headline chasing of some – notably the Policy Exchange ‘Dumb Tank’ with half baked proposals quickly debunked as soon as the are tried and failed has somewhat devalued there worth and led to a trend towards evidence free policy making.  Where thinks tanks are at there best is investigating long terms trends and international best practice, lifting eyes above the day to day crisis management of civil servants.

One such area is Land Value Taxation.  In our age of rentier capitalism, poor productivity and a housing crisis our latest policy hero seems to be Henry George, with think tanks across the political spectrum championing it.

Of course it is far easier to propose a policy reform than to get down to the nitty gritty details of implementing it.  The great mistake for example of of the Centre for Social Justice was to treat the wicked problem of welfare reform to introduce Universal Credit as a simple one.

Replacing SDLT, council tax and business rates with a new land value tax, even in increments, is a wicked problem.  Beyond perhaps the institutional capacity of the DCLG and treasury to get right.  They need the think tanks help and they need to cooperate to look individually and selectively at many of the issues.

The Letwin review on ‘landbanking’ provides a great opportunity to influence the debate.  It may be utopian but why don’t a group of think tanks, and bodies such as the IFS with modelling expertise, cooperate on tackling the issue with different think tanks tackling one small piece of the jigsaw puzzle, and cooperating on inputs to modelling.  Such modelling has for example provided a great help in acting as a reality check on some other areas of policy development – such as basic income.

There are many aspects to unpick, such as how to identify land holdings without yet a full Torrens based cadastral system.  How to value land in the absence of universal and clear zoning.  How to identify liable and exemptions.  The impact on asset rich but income poor households and the fiscal impact on deferral till death.  What would the macroeconomic impact be of the increased flow of development land?  What are the options for phased implementation?  What are the differential impacts across the country and what changes would be needed to the current rate/council tax redistribution mechanisms?   There is equal potential for simplification here – rather than a complex ‘needs’ formula just take an average land value nationally – those raising above this level throw into the pot pro-rata – those below it drawing from it pro-rata.

Equally important are links to ‘Death tax’ and payment for end of life care, and whether a LVT could fully replace S106 and CIL, or more practically whether area based infrastructure charges would be an exemption to LVT.  Here is an excellent area for potential modelling, especially in terms of expenditure of social housing.

So think tanks get down to it.  The objections to LVT amongst the chattering classes are no longer ideological, now that the majority of the voting population are no longer land owners, kit is practical.

Khan’s Dramatic London Upzoning – Will it Work?

In your first plan you propose housing targets based on a SHLAA (housing supply), only them to find your completion levels are well below that level.

In your revised London Plan you increase the target to exactly what the SHMA (housing need) says, leaving a mysterious gap between the SHLAA level.  You argue at the EIP that the gap will be filled somehow by operation of the plan policies.

It doesn’t happen, so in the next revised plan you increase your target by 50% and increase your SHLAA level so it exactly matches the SHMA level.

In most cases like this you would say the planning authority has lost all credibility.   That either it has to release more land and dramatically up and rezone, but if it is land rather than policy constrained it has to agree major overspill to other authorities under the Duty to Cooperate.

But this is London, which uniquely doesn’t have to have a sound plan, rather it can produce one the SOS lets it get away with irrespective of the panel findings – which it can reject providing it meets the normal requirements of not being ‘wednesbury’ unreasonable.

Prior to the production of the new London Plan you would say that the new Mayor has so far ducked the hard choices and tough trade off necessary in any plan making exercise.  He has taken the a position on the Green Belt even more absolutist than authorities like Castlepoint and South Oxfordshire.  He suggests that we need less tower blocks post Grenfell but higher densities !

The revised London Plan suggests that the Mayor is at last making tough choices.  If you are saying Green Belt is an absolute no (except of course for the 20,000 units in the Green Belt Khan accepts will go in the business case for Crossrail 2 submitted to the Treasury) then you have to upzone.  So the revised London plan contains three major policy changes, an end to the density matrix for large sites, and end to the Garden Grabbing policy, and a dramatic new policy presuming in favour of development of small sites.  Though with the Housing Delivery Test of the horizon, seemingly designed to hammer London, you will get a similar presumption anyway.

The density matrix was somewhat out of date anyway.  Most large sites were way in excess of it and the last London Plan had a retained policy for managing impact of very high densities.   What seem to have been done in the revised SHLAA is simply evaluating sites on trend densities or masterplan assessed densities.  This leaves a large gap for small sites – a gap the new policy is designed to fill.

If you are going to upzone, especially in Suburban areas, then an absolute no no on Garden Grabbing had to go.  If you are knocking down semi and detached houses for flats you need to increase footprint to get efficient building typologies.  The risk is a return to the worst kind of 1980s ‘backland’ developments that some boroughs put in place to regulate.  Surely there is middle ground for a criteria based design led backland policy rather than simply presuming in favour or against loss of gardens?

The background to this of course is that we should be positively YIMBY rather than NIMBY in permitting the planned upzoning of existing urban areas to meet our housing crisis.

Looking at it from an international perspective the London story is familiar.  The pressure to upzone exists in all major western cities with growing populations.  Some cities like Vancouver, Seattle etc. produce plans with sensitive plans for sensitive upzoning around transport nodes, profusely illustrated etc.  What has struck me is that chuief planners promoting these have very limited life spans as the forces of outrage from suburbs rack up.  These forces are so strong in some cities – such as San Francisco – that serious reforms are not promoted at a city level and have to be promoted by the State.  In New York – which has never had a full city plan – city wide reform has been replaced with rolling wide area by area rezoning – to reduce the political fallout.

What Khan is proposing is in effect a widespread upzoning but without a rezoning study, without illustrations of acceptable and unacceptable typologies under the new zoning rules.  Rather these are left to individual boroughs through design codes.  If these are not produced the laissez faire rules of the London Plan apply – for small sites up to 25 units.   So it will be the Boroughs that get all the political stick in proposing rules to make this actually work.

Clearly the housing shortfall in London is so great that major policy change is necessary.  It is unrealistic though to expect London to meet every last drop of its own needs.  In the Budget the government acknowledged that the Oxford-Cambridge Corridor would have to take some London Overspill (though the background studies made major errors and underestimated how much – as I have blogged on ehere before).  London will not manage to triple its historical completions rates in the 20,000s per year, to a figure in the 60,000s.  Also the loss of employment land is reaching critical levels and threatening the capital’s Long term growth.  Green Belt release may play a small part, but my own research suggests it can only ever play a relatively minor role in London.

The new policy is likely to have a disproportionate effect in tory outer London because it will be very difficult to assemble sites small sites in terraced streets as opposed to streets of semi or detached housing.

The policy applies to areas within the higher PTAL areas and to areas otherwise within 800m of a town centre or tube station/rail station.  Separate maps are shown of these (oddly the map only showing 800m of a tube station but not a trains station. but no combined map.  Different boroughs would have very different impacts.  Lack of a map and no open source version of the GLAs town centre definition makes it difficult to define where these areas are?  It is also unclear if the 800m distance is ‘as the crow flies’ or actual walking distance.  As a matter of urgency the GLA should release an open source gis dataset, ideally with definitions based on actual walking distances.

Policy H2 needs to be read alongside policy D1.  Here the onus is clear  on borough’s to identify the areas for intensification and the capacity for intensification in each.        The GLA appears to have used a GIS based method to appropriation the SHMA shortfall between boroughs depending on the proportion of areas within each borough covered and weighted somehow by conservation constraints (para 4.2.4).

The plan is clear that the character of some neighbourhoods will need to change to fulfill the policy.

Incremental intensification of existing residential areas…is expected to play an important role in meeting the housing targets for small sites, particularly in outer London. … existing buildings, where this results in net additional housing provision. Within these areas, there is a need for the character of some neighbourhoods to evolve to accommodate additional housing. Therefore, the emphasis of decision-making should change from preserving what is there at the moment towards encouraging  and facilitating the delivery of well-designed additional housing to meet London’s needs. (para 4.2.5 page 155 )

If you are going for upzoning you need to bite the bullet.  Some areas will need to change in character, some areas will need to have change managed so it protects existing character.  Some areas will need to see restrictions so that character remains protected.Good examples being estates (for example the Tudor Estate in Kingston) where there is a unity of character of buildings.  In other areas the character may be less unified but the open arcadian character is strong. and where design code rules can ensure setbacks and set ins to retain that character.   Where Outer London boroughs may have a point is that the infamous ‘Inner London Bias’ of the London Plan plays little effort in understanding the character of Outer London.  What is important to be protected outside conservation areas, the metroland estates, the cottage estates etc. and what is not.

Rasmussen in the 1930s in ‘London the Unique City’ was perhaps overly romantic in seeing London as the par excellence of democratic scattered planning with domestic virtues of the cottage replacing the royal despotism of planned flats and avenues.  However slums we still have in London, increasingly packed into vericcupation of existing houses in places like Wembley and Wealdstone as enforce sharing packs in ever more into an overloaded and out of date dwelling stock.  Rasmussen had a point about the uniqueness of London.  However the low density aspect of this looks increasingly anachronistic and burdensome.  Go to Southall and you find a population packed into overcrowded two storey houses, of no real merit, in an area that would have been much better planned from the outset at 6-10 storeys around a road with a tram down the middle. The trick to planning in Outer London will be to find those aspects of its scattered and cottaging character worth preserving and those areas that need to be replaced by development forms much better suited to the household types and energy standards of today.

The universal experience from cities around the world is that political pressure eventually builds so that areas zoned for upzoning are increasingly restricted with the counterweight of strategic and national authorities introducing rules to countermeasure this with increasing provision for ‘as of right’ developments.

Take a typical street that might be impacted by this policy – Hook Lane just off Welling High Street in Bexley.  Just off a main street and near a station no parking would be required under the new London Plan.  Pretty much forcing introduction of permitted parking.  These two houses could be replaced by flats four per floor 6 storeys under the policy.  Though six storeys requiring lifts might be a squeeze in viability terms.  Under current DM driven approach this might well be refused for being out of scale and character (though pretty ugly character if you asked me).   The borough would have to introduce a design code if it wanted to control heights to say two or four storeys or introduce minimum plot areas where 5 or 6 storeys would be acceptable (common rules in zoning codes internationally).  Cannily contributions in lieu are needed for affordable housing for schemes of less than 10 units.

Indeed this approach represents a further shift towards zoning and subdivision based planning as we are seeing in so many ways. This is clear is policy D1 with its emphasis on classif zoning parameters such as Floor Area Ration etc. This isn’t yet of course fully embedded within the law. So even if you met the code in full you run the risk of a committee throwing a scheme out leading a wasteful appeal. What is needed is the principal being embedded in a full zoning code with design review of schemes in terms of elevational details and landscaping.

This must come as something of a culture shock to Outer London Boroughs. It will require a revolution in the way they do things. Requiring a proper evidence based approach to what areas are suitable for upzoning and by how much, needing skills on zoning rules that are very undeveloped in british practice.  The Mayor of London might have done this more tactfully. introducing s study based pilot with a borough, or with TFL doing corridor based intensification studies (as in Toronto for example). But clearly the Mayor is in a hurry and had no time, but now will need to be more pragmatic.  Unless outer boroughs in particular engage with the upzoning agenda they will be hammered by the housing delivery test.  A swarm of development firms will already be knocking on doors around plum potential sites and signing up options and development agreements.

What is striking though about the London Plan (which gets a couple of hundred pages longer every time) despite the forests of words there is not a single picture or diagram illustrating principles of intensification.  Applying the principles of best practice internationally the way to go internationally is clearly down the road of form based zoning.  Where ultimately you can put a plan of two sides of A0 simply explaining the rules that apply to development typologies acceptable to different zoning districts.

Here is an example from Cinncinati


Such an approach would have an obvious applicability in London. Take a borough like Barnet where you have a clear transition across from its rural edge and Green Belt edge villages to its more urban railway suburb town centres. Indeed Barnet might be an ideal pilot for a joint study between the GLA/TfL and the Borough having has it does the highest small sites target.   Another might be Kingston with its extensive work on Character areas much of the technical work having already been done.

Havering Leader K han ‘Waging War’ on Outer London with New London Pla

Romford Recorder 

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has released his first London Plan with proposals to allow a greater number of houses being built on small spaces.

He says he wants to “make the most of the precious land in the capital” to help tackle the housing crisis, as London’s population is predicted to reach 10.8 million in 2041.

A target to build 65,000 homes every year, with those of those built to be affordable, has been set.

In the 500-page document, the 10-year housing target for Havering is 18,750 with 1,875 homes expected to be built annually.

Currently, the London Plan requires the borough to build 1,170 houses a year.

But Havering Council leader Councillor Roger Ramsey has released a statement saying that it appears the Mayor of London is “waging a war” on outer London boroughs.

He said: “I have started to review the Mayor’s London Plan and will be studying it very carefully in the coming weeks because we want to make sure it will help us deliver our Vision for Havering.

“However, it’s clear already that his suggested housing targets are simply undeliverable and unachievable.

“Even though the mayor says he is committed to protecting the Green Belt, it will put large parts of it at risk.

“Not to mention having a profound effect on the established character of many parts of the borough by cramming buildings into small and unsuitable sites.

“With this plan the Mayor appears to be waging war on suburban outer London boroughs like Havering.

“It overlooks the need for major investment in infrastructure, especially transport, which the mayor himself recognises must be in place for good growth.

“As council leader, I will always lobby to protect the interests of Havering and its residents.”

The consultation on the new draft London Plan begins today and all comments must be made by 5pm on March 2 2018.

British Chambers of Commerce – Governments Obsession with Housing Squeezing out Business

Government Business


The planning system in England is more complex, costly and difficult for business than it was five years ago, according to a major report published by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC).

The report says that five years after the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which was designed to make the system less complicated and more accessible, businesses are experiencing too many delays and barriers to investment.

It finds that the government’s focus on new homes is leading to increased pressure on the availability of employment land and premises. A BCC survey of over 900 businesses across the country revealed that one in five firms are struggling to find the land and premises they need.

The report says the government’s pre-occupation with housing at the expense of other land uses is also leading to localised tensions. New homes are being built adjacent to long-established businesses in towns and cities and causing serious problems, both for new residents and businesses.

The report urges the government to review the NPPF to ensure that the needs of business are on an equal footing with other stakeholders.

Key recommendations include: employment land and uses should be given equal priority to housing; where shops and offices have been converted to homes, councils should ensure there is an alternative supply of quality commercial office space available elsewhere; and where there is a high demand for new housing and jobs, there should be intelligent use of the green belt to ensure local communities benefit from the delivery of new homes and infrastructure.

Jane Gratton, head of business environment at the BCC, said: “Access to affordable employment land and premises is essential for business innovation, expansion, and long-term competitiveness. Too many firms are now unable to find the land and premises they need. We risk creating big problems for the future if we don’t get the right balance of jobs and homes.

“Firms still face too many barriers, costs and delays as they negotiate the planning system. We need to find a way to make it work better, to provide the strategic certainty for businesses to make their own investment decisions and the freedom and flexibility they need to innovate, grow and compete globally.

“Planning for jobs and homes, together with up-front government investment in modern infrastructure, will give people better access to employment opportunities. It will help businesses access a skilled workforce and provide the platform to compete globally. The planning system must be looked into as part of plans to make the UK Brexit-ready.”