Boyes Smith Calls for a Return to ‘Victorian Planning’ No Bye Laws were regulations without Planning

Boyes Smith in BD

“We learned technically how to build enormous sheds very cheaply, and we possibly rejected some of the organic learnings from towns and cities over millennia in an understandable desire to reject the past immediately post-war.”

He said that post-war planning rules had entangled the planning and regulatory systems, and there was now a “shift back” to a more Victorian separation of the two systems in this government’s planning reforms.

He explained: “We’ve got confused about the role of planning and the role of regulation, and we’ve put into planning things which should just be regulatory, that certainly always used to be regulatory. 

“So if you look at the 18th- or 19th-century building acts, all of the public health acts of the late 19th century – lots of the things that we now put in the planning system were essentially in the regulatory system as it was then,” he said.

A few points

Prior to the industrial era planning was organic, however ll that survives from that time was the better housing of the middle and upper classes.

In the industrial era the attempts to cram as many houses as possible in back to back yards without santitation led to the Vicorian public health movement.

The results of this however were regimented, wasteful of land and ugly. Just look at the writings of pioneers of planning such as Unwin, and the need to pass a special act of parliment to build Hamstead Garden Suburb.

Certainly the post 1948 planning systems got confused, but that was because of the removal of zoning and design regulations from the effective, but not universal system set up in the interwar planning acts. The problem was removal of certainty and regulation not its inclusion.

A return to a Victorian by law style planning system in the white paper is a mistake. It removes creativity for the system. Local plans become dry lists of regulations without vision, policy, purpose or implementation tools. They become paper plans likely to be ignored in ever more ad hoc spot zoning decisions. The way forward for planning is to unify planning and regulation, flexibility and certainty, nd not let bad history lead us int a bad system.

Whitehall Still Runs on Access and Excel – No Wonder it is Failing

Yesterday I saw a consultancy job to migrate the governments major projects database from access to SQL server express (free) and to link it to another access based solution. You would think that if the government took project management and project controls seriously and employed qualified PMO staff it would run on P6 with an Oracle back end so that it had complete and live tracking of all project controls. Now going with a free solution if the database grew over 2GB it would simply fail to import new data. If you want a free solution go with Postgres with a Tableau dashboard.

The same thing seems to have happened with the governments Covid testing database. They were importing data from CSV to Excel and as Lachlan Anderson Frank on Twitter commented

Looks like someone was importing CSV files into Excel and didn’t realise that if they’re over 256k lines they’ll get clipped down to that in the import

Cummings is right that the Civil Service has weak project management skills. But his overall ideological dogmatism and unnecessary war on the civil service has blinded him to how to fix it. His unnecessary war on EU procurement riles doesn’t mean things getting done better and faster but sleasier and more costly and not done at all.

I found it very interesting that in the two places in the North of England with the lowest household formation and some of the highest unemployment were Barrow in Furness and West Cumbria, had many small business teaching P6 skills to locals. Acquiring PM certification was the best way out and much needed. All because of their association with Nuclear Submarines and Nuclear Power. If The government was serious about leveling up it would move the major project agency and civil service college to Whitehaven on the site proposed for a carbon spewing new coal mine and force all fast track civil servants (including local apprentices) to spend there first year retooling their skills blunted by useless PPE degrees to real world project management, agile, statistical quality and operational research skills. That would be leveling up.

Bridget Roswell Makes Two announcements on the CaMkOx Arc that Ministers Havn’t Yet – Woops

Speech to the Westminster Business Forum 22/9/2020

In its response to our study in October 2018, the government committed to working in collaboration with all of you, its local partners, to make the arc the world-leading place for high-value growth, innovation, sustainability and productivity.

And, of course, we welcome all the promising developments we have seen since then:

  • The Non-Statutory Spatial Framework for growth. I think that’s an absolutely crucial building block
  • The Development Corporations which the government support. That’s also important.

And, of course, there are the proposals coming through in the Planning White Paper for very large sites, to move development under a Development Consent Order, and to make those part of the NSIP regime. That could be game-changing for some of the possibilities and we’re still looking at how that might work in practice: as some of you will know, I was involved in the Task Force behind the Planning White Paper.

Firstly the non statutory spatial framework hasn’t been announced yet. There is a ‘more coming soon’ on it on the Cambridgeshire combined Authority page. There has been much talk, and it is hinted at in a recent Ministry JD, but not announced. Woops Bridget that’s Richi’s job. However It is to be welcomed. I have blogged recommending it and Catriona Riddle has supported it. It raises complex issues. If it indicates where growth should go to the extent of being material to Development Consent decisions it will require SEA and consideration of reasonable alternatives. If not then what is the strategy for location of strategic scale growth.

The DCO issue is funny as Downing Street took it out of the white paper following Jenrycks indiscretions and presumably held back for later. Bridget doesn’t seem to have read the white paper. The problem with the DCO route is it requires a change in the law  Housing and Planning Bill 2015Clause 107 and locations either have to be determined through a national policy statement or you get chaos as with DCO for Rails RFIs and Ports. The infrastructure and local plans systems are mutually exclusive, leading to chaotic conflicts at places like RAF Manston and Shefield Aerodrome.

There is a solution. The Non Statutory Spatial Framework is prepared by a locally led consortium with recommendations as to locations that should be included a National Policy Statement. This then goes to an EIP before going to the SoS. Then there would be a general conformity rule for local plans. New Settlement Scale developments would then either be given consent through the New Towns Act (the much simpler route, it doesnt require primary legislation) or the DCO regime (the far more complex route). In an ideal world you would combine the two in a single national consent and compulsory purchase regime, but that would take forever.

Of course the first thing the government must do is revise the ridiculous 1 million homes figure. Its far too low, based on old date and a dodgy method by Savills, and doesn’t properly consider the level of overspill set for London in the London Plan EIP. The true figure, if you want to hit 327k nationally per annum, is more like 1.4 million.

No Runway, No Port, No Water – How does Priti Patel – Stupidest Cabinet Minister in History – expect to build a Town for 35,000 Asylum Seekers a Year on Ascension Island


Dear Minister, You have asked me to look into the possiblyilty of an offshore Asylum Concentration Camp Processing Centre at St Helena.

Ascention Island is within the governance of Saint Helena which has a in a framework of limited self-government as a dependent territory of the United Kingdom, whereby the Governor is the head of government and planning decisions are made by an independent Land Control Authority. As such any decision to construct such a facility would need the Crown to instruct the governor, and could be challenged in the Supreme Courtt is the UK government breached its various international obligations on nature protection etc. . 

Ascension Island has a population of only around 800 people most of which are either military personnel at the airbase or civilian personnel servicing them

The island has a number of protected areas.  On 30 August 2019 the Ascension Island Marine Protected Area (MPA) was designated following a recommendation from the Island Council. The MPA covers 100% of Ascension’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), an area of over 440,000 square km, making it one of the largest MPAs in the world. It is a critical nesting ground of green sea turtles and seabirds.

The island has 10 species unique to it. Its central volcanic peak is Green Mountain a national park.

The island is steeply sloping which makes building difficult however there are a number of potential developable areas around the airbase and military area. However supplying the logistics and workforce to build a settlement capable of holding 105,000 population within three years would be highly challenging. Giuven the limited size of the isalnd and developable areas it would have to have one of the highest population densities oin earth. Comparable to central Shanghai.

The Island has no port capable of handing large shipments of construction material. It has only a small jetty and its seas are notoriously rough given the lack of a shallow foreshore and its exposed mid Atlantic location. Most goods and people would need to be transported by air. However the since

Poor runway conditions at RAF Ascension Island led in April 2017 to the cancellation of twice-weekly flights from there to the UK (RAF Brize Norton). An Airbus A330 aircraft operated by AirTanker Services on behalf of the Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom) carried out those flights, called the South Atlantic Air Bridge, although a limited number of commercial passenger tickets were available.

While A330s are for now unable to land at the airport, the United States military uses Air Transport International flying 757 “combi” jets to maintain a twice monthly flight between the island and Patrick Air Force Base in Florida for the use of its personnel only, while the (MV Ascension) supply ship regularly services US facilities.

Thereofe the first task would be to rebuild the runway or build a new one – likely taking two to three years or arrnage for all transport of Asylum seekers to be via Florida which would be politically difficult.

A major problem would be lack or fresh and waste water on the island. Thye islands first inhabitant he diary records Leendert Hasenbosch died after a desperate search for water and supplies, as he resorted to drinking the blood of turtles and seabirds and, eventually, his own urine. A new reservoir would need to be constructed and fresh water imported which would require a new port. Water treatment works would be needed to treat sewage because of the protected nature of the waters around the island.

The effort would be equivalent to constructing a large new town requiring many billions of pounds of investment. It would require extensive community facilities, health facilities and schools to avoid any accusation of being a ‘camp’. Construction would likely take 10 years or more following several years constructing infrastructure.

The proposal is likely to be extremely controversial given the sensitive ecosystem of the Island and the strong protections that apply.

Former Minister – Planning Reforms will make Suburbs like East Berlin


PLANNING reforms would lead to a “disastrous urbanisation of the suburbs”, a former Conservative Cabinet minister has warned, with some areas forced to take the equivalent of several new towns each.

Analysis shows that Tory seats around London, Nottingham and Worcester will be forced to take tens of thousands of additional new homes due to reforms dubbed a “mutant planning algorithm”.

Many Tory MPS are up in arms over plans to use an algorithm which is being proposed to overhaul housing forecasts. A consultation on the plans closes on Thursday.

The plans, reportedly the invention of Boris Johnson’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings, will deliver an additional five million homes across England over the next 15 years, with nearly a third in rural counties.

Analysis of the changes by the House of Commons library show that many of the new homes are being forced on town suburbs while town centres escape the targets.

In Nottingham, the reforms will result in new homes falling by 11 per cent – or 1,686 new homes – in the town centre, while in neighbouring Rushcliffe numbers rise by 4,200 or by 36 per cent over 15 years.

Similarly while Worcester will get just a 2 per cent rise in extra homes over 15 years, nearby Wychavon will make room for 13,000 new homes, an increase of 191 per cent.

In Leicester the reforms will cut new homes by 2,400 (13 per cent), yet increase the need for homes in neighbouring Harborough by 93 per cent (8,972 new homes).

Around London, Tory controlled boroughs are significantly hit with numbers of additional new homes required in Barnet (up 145 per cent or 50,925 over 15 years), Bexley (up 303 per cent to 20,260) and Bromley (up 288 per cent or 27,695).

Theresa Villiers, who held Tory Cabinet positions between 2012 and 2020, told The Daily Telegraph: “The targets generated by this algorithm could lead to a disastrous urbanisation of the suburbs, forcing high-rise blocks into quiet, low-rise neighbourhoods.

“Unless big changes are made to these numbers, there is a real threat that monolithic East Berlin-style development will change life in the suburbs forever.”

Wokingham Leader on Planning Reforms “You won’t have a Tory left in the south or south-east of England.”


At least he didnt get his tidger out this time

Plans for a new town in rural Sussex backed by one of the Conservative party’s biggest donors and close allies of Prince Charles, are exposing a split in the Tory party over how to rapidly accelerate housebuilding.

Kingswood, a scheme for 2,850 homes, is being proposed on open fields at Adversane near Horsham which have been assembled by hedge fund billionaire Sir Michael Hintze who has given £4.6m to the Conservatives. Its design is partly inspired by Poundbury, the ersatz Georgian town in Dorset created by Prince Charles, and Sir Michael Peat, the Prince of Wales’s former private secretary is a director of the development company.

But it is being opposed by local Conservative MP Andrew Griffith, who said it is “the wrong type of development in the wrong place” and local Tory councillors who have warned: “No community wants this on their doorstep.” It looks set to be a test case for the government’s controversial new planning strategy announced last month which is set to relax national planning rules and set significantly higher local housebuilding targets in areas including Horsham.Advertisement

John Halsall, the Tory leader of Wokingham borough council in Berkshire, which is also facing central government demands to build significantly more homes warned of a high political cost telling the Guardian: “You won’t have a Tory left in the south or south-east of England.”

Some of the land is owned by Eton College, the alma mater of the prime minister, Boris Johnson. The largest parcel which would be built over is a farm purchased by Hintze for £10m from Mike Stock, the songwriter behind a string of 1980s hits by Kylie Minogue, Rick Astley and Bananarama.

Local opponents say the project – which could ultimately create a town of around 10,000 people – threatens rare wildlife, an increase in car congestion and risks becoming a dormitory for London commuters.

“There is an enormous amount of antipathy to this scheme,” said Julian Trumper, a local resident organising opposition. “Horsham has already taken enough of Sussex’s requirement to build housing and this potential growth is unsustainable. Infrastructure and road and rail links are insufficient. The displacement to wildlife and established ecosystems by building a new town in open countryside is incalculable.”

The website says the project “focuses on building a community for people of all ages and providing a platform for economic opportunity and sustainable growth” and will champion the principle of “beauty” in town planning identified by Sir Roger Scruton in his report to the government on planning and architecture.

Kingswood sketch
 Kingswood promises to be a ‘socially inclusive, mixed-income development’ with ‘community at the heart’. Photograph:

It promises a “socially inclusive, mixed-income development” with “community at the heart of our plans”.

But the row over whether it should go ahead exposes a growing schism in Conservative ranks over two proposed reforms to accelerate housebuilding.

The first is a new planning system that will make it easier and quicker for developers to build on greenfield sites, which Conservative councillors have complained undermines local democratic involvement by proposing zones where detailed planning consents would not be required.

The second is new inflated house building targets which backbench Conservative MPs and council leaders have criticised as too high and ignoring local needs. The new target for Horsham would see the area required to deliver 1,715 new homes a year, more than double the current target of 800.

The high status of Kingswood’s backers – with close links to the top of government and the monarchy – has also sparked fears that local influence could be further undermined, with opponents citing the planning scandal earlier this year in which it emerged that the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, backed a project by party donor Richard Desmond against the advice of officials.

“After what we saw with Jenrick and Desmond, we have the impression that the property developers are doing all this with barely any local democracy at all,” said Trumper.

The developers and landowners declined to comment to the Guardian, but a spokesperson for Horsham district council said: “Any site that is allocated in the next step of the local plan process will be subject to full public scrutiny at a public examination conducted by an independent planning inspector. Each site will be assessed to determine whether it is suitable, achievable and available, in a public arena.”

The local Conservative MP, Andrew Griffith, said: “We are building on greenfield, we’re not using brownfield land. This is the wrong type of development in the wrong place. The identity of the landowner is not important. I am giving voice to constituent concerns.”

He told a Commons debate earlier this month: “So many of my constituents from Adversane to West Grinstead, Barnham to Wineham, and in villages of every letter of the alphabet in between, are having their lives blighted by the prospect of inappropriate and unsustainable development”.

Philip Circus, a Conservative member of Horsham council in whose ward the development is proposed, added: “I am not interested that people are connected with royalty or people that donate to the Conservative party. It cuts no ice with me. We don’t feel any compulsion to doff our caps to anyone other than the residents. This is a rural community which in infrastructure terms does not look like an area for a major housing development.”

The Kingswood masterplan has been submitted for inclusion in Horsham district council’s local plan, which is currently out to public consultation. It features traditional terraces of houses which seek to avoid the identikit housing of many modern housing estates and promises schools, a town centre, woodlands and allotments. The director of the development company, Dominic Richards, was formerly a director at the Prince’s Foundation for Building Community – the heir to the throne’s architecture and planning charity which promotes traditional urbanism.

Buckeye Shows Why Zoning Not the Same as Planning – 600 Sq Miles Zoned for Development and Nothing Happening

Here is another excellent example as to why the white paper is wrong in not seeing Zoning as a tool of good planning but a substituet for it.

40 Miles West of Phoenix Arizona the town of Buckeye has a general plan zoning 600 square miles an area bigger than Phoenix for a city of nearly half a million – incredibly low density sprawl. Yet nothing is being built – why?

Phenix and Las Vegas are the two largest American cities not connected by an interstate. Incredibly between the California Central Valley and East of the Rockys there is no North South transport corridor, even though it has the fastest growing cities. For years an I11 interstate has been studied between Las Vegas and Pheonix. and possibly Reno and Tuscon, even Canada and Mexico, a NAFTA corridor. But it lacks funding. In anticipation many have bought land in speculation, including Bill Gates prompting the silver foil hatters to speculate about vaxs and smart city conspiracies.

Of course without infrastructure you get no development. That is why the plan must come first and zoning after. If the only infrastructure is an interstate all you get is sprawl. The Buckeye General plan is not driven by a masterplan, a design a vision. Is is sprawl by numbers.

However the idea of a pan continental corridor is a good idea. In a world where trade is no longer squeezed East West only it could become Americas version of Belt and Road, together with the sadly abortive concept of a pan Texas corridor, that would have focused infrastructure and rail routes for great efficiency saving but sadly was thwarted by grasping ranchers.

The concept of a rail corridor is a good one. Rail is better than roads in wilderness areas because there is less risk of human impact along the corridor. There is already high speed rail planned from LA to Las Vegas. It could easily extend to Phoenix. And with California adopting Shinkansen technology you could have proper planned cities every 40km or so along it. Of course water is a challenge however only with masterplanning can you properly plan low water new communities.

New York – The Classic Example of Why Zoning Alone is Not Planning

Three things you can do with NYC's new zoning and land use map - Curbed NY

A comment on Twitter yesterday on a planning White Paper seminar – by ASI maybe – Zoning is not a panacea – 75 percent of New York developments being contrary to code.

I agree as a big, and early, advocate of zoning. But its important to understand why.

New York has a zoning code but never had a comprehensive plan – as we would understand it today. It has been updated piece by piece and has become so complicated and bound by involvement of the courts some say it will never be properly reformed and replaced. Just look at the crazy patchwork quilt of its zoning map where zoning varies not by zoning district but often by building. Though the successful replacement of outdated codes by places such as Miami and Minneapolis shows it can be done.

Development contrary to zoning is known as spot zoning – or an exemption. In New York you pay a 100k fee and go through a seven month review process. A process that as a result favours big developers. So New York has evolved into a UK like discretionary system by default. It is not planning by zoning, it is regulation by discretion.

A fair and modern zoning code would see the large majority of development allowed ‘by right’ with only a small majority of cases allowed as exemptions. A fair system would make spot zoning difficult but would be equally open to small developers, small businesses and householders.

If you have zoning without planning you get an inevitable reversion to a discretionary system. This is also why the time it takes for revision of zoning as planning codes is not a good test of the time it takes to prepare a proper zoning plan. It is not just creating elegant simplicity but disentangling a Gordian knot of complexity.

This is also where the Planning White Paper doesn’t get it. Zoning Plans are not just sets of standards. They are plans with a clear strategy of policies. This is the only way to ensure plans are fair and guided by principles (such as zero carbon). Without that strategy they are just wall to wall spot zones likely simply to reflect who lobbied hardest at call for sites stages and without a framework to test their soundness in whatever form. Without an explicate framework of strategy and policy zoning maps and standards simply include hidden assumptions and reflect the prejudices and power of those that drew them up. The classic example being how in the early 20th century zoning was used to subvert a supreme court ruling banning racially exclusionary zoning by setting zones and standards that achieved segregationist objectives through economic means,

An Innovative Strategy for The San Francisco Bay Area


An excellent and innovative study by AECOM for SPUR on future growth in the San Fran Bay area. I must declare an interest i’m an AECOM employee, however I am finishing off a book on new GIS based methods for allocating growth targets across regiona soi I do have some positive comments.

First the method. It divides the area into raster cells, called place types, on 1/2 mile width based on urban morphology/typology.

This reminds me of the Turley ‘typical urban areas’ approach used in the UK about 15 years ago. This was widely used and widely criticised and then dropped. It was based on historic built rates and projecting them forward rather than specific sites. The SPUR study is based on average estimates of future potential. For policy the key issue is the difference between build rates now and the impact of zoning on build rates in the future. Here I would like to see more evidence on how future build rates are estimated. The build rates for the dense urban mix implies a population density greater than the densest places on earth, such as parts of Shanghai and a 80 to 1+ FAR, which seems high to me.

Another point I would make is the use of square rasters, which makes modelling on travel times and accessibility hard. I would recommend the use of hex bins instead. As in the Planagon method I have been developing and used successfully on projects in several countries now.

The biggest criticism of the typology based approach was that it didn’t consider the potential of specific sites whether brownfield or greenfield and for that you need some means of measuring the sustainability of the individual cell.

What is striking looking at the above map is the lack of dense urban centres. They simply arnt where they should be such as Central San Jose or Fremont, or along the central valley to LA (which urban economics suggest would be the best place). We dont have dense corridors of urbanism or the kind of RT systems to serve them. Also large non protected areas which are potentially highly accessible (former railway lines) exist – such as the Rio Visat/Birds Landing area where you could fit a new Garden City twice the size of San Francisco. One problem with a pure upzoning scenairo is it happens, but slowly, and often too slowly to provide enough early and mid phase development. For that you will almost always need some greenfield sites and large ones at that. Its a stock/flow issue.

A thought provoking and excellently illustrated study which should lay the foundations for future thinking in the area.