Planning After the Pandemic – Imaging the World Anew

ARUNDHATI ROY in Ft today.

And the FT Editorial board

The climax of the neo-liberal wave in planning was of course the NPPF and the ‘do what you like, where you like when you like’ philosophy, since watered down considerably in practice.

Certainly the planning system we inherited was forged in the post war welfare state. That was both a benefit and a curse.  Planning was seen as a national priority, but unlike other nations it was seen as primarily the activity of the state rather than a shared endaeover of place making.  Also generations of UK planners were taught that planning was a form of negative licensing and closed their minds to planning systems elsewhere and before the 1948 settlement.  It presented an easy attack surface to those who saw in any form of regulation state failure.

The Washington consensus is dead, neoliberalism is dead though will revive in new forms.  The promise of planning will revive.  By the promise of planning I mean the art and science of town planning applied to places, cities and regions.  The promise of making places better through coordination and applying principles of good design at all scales.

The worry of public investment in the neo-liberal age was future generations would pay the debt.  Helicopter money?  Bond vigilantes would trash your currency.  But if every country is printing money all you trash is the burden of debt.  It is the fallacy of composition in neoclassical finance texts.  Now every country can effectively wipe out and refinance their public debts at zero interest rates.  The losers in such a scenario are those that depend on bond maturities for future retirement income.  Here the state will have to substitute some basic income.  So with future debts no longer a concern the issue becomes one of resource reallocation in the real economy today, how the working population can produce enough resources to cope with an increasing aging population.  Clearly the worst thing to do in such a scenario is to burden your young working population with debt.  A new social contract is needed.  We wipe out your student debts but you have to work to support our aging population, though jobs guarantees if necessary.   Part of that social contract has to be a right to a home.  We need to redistribute assets in land (for example from a land tax) to fund housing for the working population.   Another key part has to be investment in a green new deal to reverse and adapt to climate change.

None of this suggests abolition of the private sector.  None of it suggests heavy handed and officious regulation.  Indeed the redistribution of resources necessary will place a strain on the real economy, far more will need to go into investment rather than consumption.  Tiger like growth measures will be needed to recover from a lost 5 months of production. There can be no more excuses for not building what we need to secure the new green social contract.


When We Plan Again Lets have Planning That Works

The title of this post is a deliberate nod to the book ‘When We Build Again, Lets Have Housing That Works’ by Colin Ward.

Planning goes on from staff homes, but lets be clear nothing will ever be the same again.  The biggest shock to the global system since the second world war should similarly see a rebuilding of basic structures and institutions – such as planning.

No one knows the long term impact on the economy and factors such as household formation.  There is plenty of evidence from history that there will be a dramatic boost to economic growth in the recovery period from a supply shock and that housing and planning must have the the flexibility to rapidly upscale.  The exact forecasts don’t matter – the same people are around requiring the same homes.  In the aftermath to the second world war the debate was not around whether we needed x or y million homes but how many homes we could build per month.

What kind of England do we want to plan for?  What is the Post-Corona planning settlement?  We have no Abercrombie plan but the parameters we need to follow should be clear.  The priorities should be clear, rebalencing England, realising the potential of northern cities, realizing the potential of high tech clusters, rethinking town centres, providing city region zero carbon transport networks, meeting international pollution obligations,  reclaiming the biodiversity desert our countryside has become with landscape scale initiatives, linking the infrastructure we need in the National Infrastructure strategy to housing growth, dealing with the overspill of housing need from major cities.  This is what the planning white paper should be about.  All the procedural stuff should be in a dull technical appendix. What matters is a planning for our time.  If the white paper doesn’t even consider these our responsive should simply be taking a photo of the waste paper basket it is consigned to and telling the department – sorry try again – don’t you know we live in different times.

On our streets streets that have not met pollution targets for 20 years are now clean.  The goats and boars come down from the mountains now its is safe.  Similar to the rethinking of priorities in the Netherlands in wake of the oil crisis of 1973 the shock to the system will cause us to look to post oil times.  These are clean, low carbon and healthy times.  Why should we ever go back to the old ways.  Just close roads to keep it that way until we can develop the vehicles to run on them that meet targets.  We have proven we can reduce emissions and pollution by people working from home.   It is not a given that we have to go back to the old car dependent planet destroying hard to breathe ways.  Lets just imagine what planning would be like to maintain an overnight transition, rather than inch our way to failure over 30 years.   Reality is a giant thought experiment, showing it can be done.

Farewell to Anchorman

Steve Quartermain has announced his intention to retire.  His post has been advertised and he has probably issued his last chief planners letter. I don’t ‘know his last day.

Steve Quartermain cropped

At a time of revolving doors for senior civil service members he has stayed a remarkably long and turbulent time, over a decade..  Like Jim McKinnon the retired former Scottish chief planner I hope its just the start of a new career.

Civil servants job is to implement what ministers want.  In this period Ministers have wanted some remarkably dumb and counterproductive things, many of which like the abolition of strategic planning have had to be undone.  No civil servant can be judged for that.  What his main achievement has been is keeping planning alive, and planning advice respected, at the very top of government.  He is universally respected, liked, nay loved, and I count him as a friend.

I do regret the abolition of the post of Chief Planning Adviser – in the past held by the likes of David Lock and Peter Hall.  The duel role of civil servants, advising on best practice and implementing change, often run counter.  Having strong independent voices reporting directly to ministers, as scientific and medical advisers have shown, is an essential check and balance.

Who will replace him?  Who knows? The post is open to international applicants, though when we will see our first Rob Lowe of the planning world I have no idea.  It would be great if we did have a candidate who understood how zoning and subdivision systems worked, or even how to do strategic planning now a whole generation of English Planners think strategic planning consists of sitting in a room of your peers from other authorities, whom you hate, and producing nothing for years


Decarbonising Transport The Difference Between A Goal and a Strategy to Get There

The DoTs document ‘Decarbonising Transport”  Setting the Challenge’ has been getting a lot of attention for sounding all the right noises.   Nothling like it has come out yet from the MCHLG for Planning or Housing.   E,g,

Public transport and active travel will be the natural first choice for our daily activities. We will use our cars less and be able to rely on a convenient, cost-effective and coherent public transport network.

However is there is there a plan to get to net zero in this sector.  No the minister says ‘ In the coming months we will work with you to develop the plan’ by which he means developing a Transport Decarbonisation plan by the end of 2020.

Most of the document is taken up by listing existing government initiatives.  Which are nowhere near enough.   Transport became the largest emitting sector of GHG emissions in 2016.








The document doesn’t given any options to get from A to B.  It is just like a local plan issue report that says we have a terrible trajectory, we arn’t telling you where the sites might be, but we are going through with the prentence of an open consultation process.  A quick reminder of English common law, major policy decisions made without consultation on alternatives pro and cons wont pass the definition of consultation.

Water Shortages Arise from a Failure to Do Strategic Planning – They Are Not an Excuse Not to Do It

NAO 25th March

Tackling water resource issues is one of the five priority risks the Committee on climate Change identified in its 2017 climate change risk assessment. If more concerted action is not taken now, parts of the south and south-east of England will run out of water within the next 20 years. 

This will of course lead to ever more Coronanimby moaning that we don’t have the resources to build the houses we need.  Or as bad that we should force people to move to places where they will be rained on more and be greatful for it.

We have absolutely no shortage of water in the UK.  Rather we let most of it flow into the sea without being used.  Most countries have long ago solved the technical problem of getting water from where it is to where it is needed.  Some solutions date back to the origins of civilisation.

In the era of privitisation there was a reaction against large scale interegional water transfer solutions as ‘white elephants’ such as Kielder or expanding transfers from Wales to the Midlands.  With no separation of wholesale and retail markets there was no incentive for bold long term cross basin improvements.  The government has intermittently called for a National Water Strategy, rather like CaMKox expecting everyone but the National Government to write it.

We don’t need a fully singing and dancing national water grid to make progress.  Small scale interegional and new reservoir programmes are going  ahead.  Already in Essex in hot summers Essex gets around 1/3rd of its water from the Great Ouse Catchment.

A single pipeline from Derwent Mouth/Long Horse Bridge on the Derwent/Leicestershire Border to the Farmoor Reservoir, and the proposed reservoir at Abingdon, a distance a little over 120km, and mostly on the 150m contour line, would link the catchments of most of the rivers in middle England and completely solev the water supply situation for Camkox. Existing rivers like the Great Ouse, and gravity, allow water to flow where growth needs it.   Lets call it the Long Horse Waterway.   Boris previously stated support for the idea without stating where or how.  I would expose the Southern section south of the Nene as a Canal and use it as a major flood relief and recreational resource linking pleasure boats from the Great Ouse, Avon Thames and Nene systems.  Why doesnt England’s Economic Heartland fund a feasibility study?

So why are we not getting such proposals from the  wholesale water companies?

I remember reading a couple of years ago Anglian Waters strategic plan.  It was a brilliant piece of work with sophisticated GIS modelling of supply and demand.  But it was completely wrong.  Wrong because it only included growth in local plans, and not most of the growth in the capital planning period which wasn’t yet in local plans .   There’s the rub of it.  Non existent strategic planners not telling actually existing water planners where to put the pipes and reservoirs.

Historically England has been bad at Water Cycle planning.  It rains so much we take it for granted.  In arid countries all planning begins and ends with where it rains and gravity.  In my recent mini ‘lecture’ tour i threw in the deliberately provocative point that all 5 New Towns in Hertfordshire./est Essex were in the wrong place, and the Ministry of Works had advised Lewis Silkin that feeding 5 new towns into the always limited capacity Rye Meads treatment centre was impractical.  If we had listed we would have now 5 new Towns feeding into the Ouse Catchment in south Cambridgeshire (and we might again).

The Long Horse Superpipe



The Coronimbys – Lets Quarantine them Forever

A new breed has come forth on twitter in recent days.  The coronimbys.  They never really liked human beings anyway, seeing them as a resource consuming, pollution creating blight (except for them of course), with this misanthropy used to resist housing, HS2, new airports, new anything all in a pseudo environmental anti development brand of eco-fascism why denies all hope of human ingenuity to fix, mend and restore the environment.

Oh how they now welcome Covid, it gives them the perfect excuse to say aha we now no longer need the housing.  It has all gone away because of recession.  Hang on I havnt noticed a mortality rate, like the Black Death, of 30% (which byu the way led to the biggest wave of new settlement building in history in the 14th Century as the economy recovered.)   Of course if we can create trillions at teh stroke of a bankers pen to keep the economy going we can do so for housing.  And if every major currency does it there is no risk of inflation if we keep workers occupied and producing.  That was the lesson of the major ‘homes fit for heroes’ wave of house building immediately after the last global pandemic in 198-19.

Don’t Postpone Local Plan EiPs – Do them Via Microsoft Teams

Link Here

So this is PINs resilience plan – the world stops until the panic is over.  Pathetic.

Should a significant number of examination participants not be able to attend the hearings the Inspector(s) will need to consider (in consultation with the Council) whether specific hearing sessions or all the planned sessions in their entirety need to be postponed to a later date.

Why not just purchase a corporate licence for teams and send out links to join each session.  On Thursday I organised a Team conference between 6 parties in three time zones on a slow fibreless location and it worked like a dream.

Whos is Really to Blame for Car Giant Problem at Old Oak Common?

The  SoS letter on the London Plan States

Critical strategic sites have stalled, epitomised by your Development Corporation in Old Oak and Park Royal being forced to turn away £250 million of Government funding because of your inability to work successfully with the main landowner.

This is more than a little disingenuous as the money was earmarked for a CPO and the Planning Inspector stated that the scheme was unviable given the rising of industrial land values in London given that Car Giant wanted both to develop housing on their site AND be relocated in NW London – an impossible circle to square.

Given the HS2 decision Car Giant are simply the wrong use on the wrong piece of land.  At the time of the Olympics central and local government worked together and moved the awkward squad, notably one very loud salmon processor.  Similar joint working is notable by its absence here as for political reasons cooperation with the Mayor of London had ceased.  The SoS is to blame.

Where to go – well there is a whole grid square in Basildon marked for urban intensification, but where land of similar size could be economically developed at 5-6 times the density in London.  A deal is to be done if Homes England a. thought strategically and b. were directed strategically by the SoS.



When and Where to Build Roads in A Zero Carbon Strategic Plan

The above I think is the most difficult technical issue in planning right now.  It deserves a conference.  It deserves its own joint research programme by the professional institutes working together, it deserves a joint NIC/CCC report, it deserves a targeted ERSC research programme.

Its a hard nut technically to crack

The Chinese have a saying ‘ if you want to get rich build a road’  They have a point

Going back to the origins of classical economics with Cantillon and Turgot, roads got your agricultural surplus out to cities and your industrial surplus out to markets.   It is impossible to build new or expanded cities without new roads.  Roads make cities; what matters is how the roads are used.

However a century of planning experience shows that if you just build roads for car borne commuters they clog up reducing their ability to get you rich through supply trade (and killing cities in the process).  Hence the classic planning concept from Benton MacKaye of the ‘Townless Highway and Highwayless Town’ .

We also have the complex business of induced traffic.  Building roads can induce traffic from elsewhere on the network and from public transport (the Down’s Thomspon Paradox).  In some cases closing roads can reduce traffic (Breasses Paradox)  Each of these are network effects of transport choice and land use.  They don’t apply to every road link everywhere and they all depend on the network (or otherwise) of public transport in an area.

What we don’t have a clear picture of is what changed road patterns would look like in a zero carbon strategic plan.  Which is just part of the wider question of what changed public transport and land use patterns would look like.

What we do have is a series of strategic way markers.

We know for example that with the right patterns (regional scale BRT and cycle networks etc.) you can get car modal share down to 40% or less, which with growth of population and households in a strategic growth region means that ‘in theory’ the modal shift would absorb all of the ‘residual’ growth of car traffic.  If strategic car use is then fixed the issue then is the direction of growth.

Some localised road improvements would be necessary, you cant expand Crawley for example and still rely on its 18th C Farm roads which count as West Sussex’s B Road network.  A large new town within the orbit of Cambridge for example would clearly require new roads to get its logistics in and out.  The problem is ensuring those new roads don’t clog up with car commuters, which may require new forms of traffic management (such as ramp control – with compulsory engine cut off-   out of major housing areas accessing on roads to strategic roads, well before the strategic road ramps), public transport prioritisation (zooming past the deliberately created car blockages) and targeted  road-pricing.  This means rethinking concepts like prioritising reducing congestion, and planning for car ‘levels of service’  from strategic housing sites, and towards  planning on how to creatively create it to disincentive car use on strategic roads at peak periods.   The overiding target should be level of low carbon service and travel times not the metric of congestion.   Low travel times should be a negative in any benefit cost calculation if it is at the expense of busting a carbon budget.

Where to study?  Well Homes England have lots of strategic sites and no sustainability plan (no plan at all really) so lets start there, forcing Highways England to be a strategic partner on the study (junior of course) would also be a nice discipline and learning exercise for them.