More ‘Planning is a UN Conspiracy’ Cranks – Tea Party Activists invade planning meeting

It not just the UK that is seeing an assault on the very idea of planning, its happening everywhere where the hard right has a foothold.

Even in liberal San-Francisco the East Bay Tea Party has been organising a campaign to deliberately disrupt public consultation on a new regional transport strategy designed to reduce CO2 emissions.

We did not go in there without preparing. We met ahead of time and strategized on how we would handle ourselves down to the minute detail. We developed a plan and implemented it. We registered for the event, showed up and questioned them mercilously about the details of their plan. Here’s where their plan breaks down. Their plan for the future is to “stack and pack” housing near mass transit so we the people are not a burden on our environment by breathing and emitting CO2 from our cars. They want to limit building to existing urban growth boundaries, which are arbitrarily set by City Councils. They base their utopian model on high density housing with shops underneath, no parking, but lots of bicycles and walking (?????)

…we have great schools and freedoms not found in the city. The freedom to get in your car and take your kid to Karate, Soccer, Little League, Ballet or Spanish class and park right in front while you wait for an hour or two bored out of your skull, but loving it because that is what’s best for your child. The last thing these warrior moms are thinking about is CO2 emissions and carbon footprints.

One day (in 2035) you will wake up in subsidized government housing, eating government subsidized food, your kids will be whisked off by government buses to indoctrination training centers while you are working at your government assigned job on the bottom floor of your urban transit center village because you have no car and who knows where your aging parents will be but by then it will be too late! WAKE UP!!!!

Local Media outlet the Bay Citizen was covering the event and was shocked.   The 13 activists who attended shouted a lot but

Even with the group of vocal critics, when the audience voted on priorities for the Bay Area, the top five were: daily needs close to home, clean air, convenient access to jobs, water conservation and lower carbon emissions. “Large homes with big yards” was near the bottom.

The wonderfully badly named Post-Sustinability Institute has a video of their self appointed  leader here.

Capitalisms Last Frontier# 9 First Seeds

Archaeology is both a study of prehistory and of methods used in that quest which can apply to all periods.  Writing forces the break into history, but oral history provides the tales that lead us further back to the origins of social forms.

The ending of the last glacial age with the ebbing of ice only around 8-11,000 years ago provides the key break in pre-history, but what kind of break?  Before then most of Northern Europe was covered by ice and southern Europe was tundra.  For 100,000 years man lived on a frontier of ice.    Huge seasonal  melts and retreats would feed gaint rivers fed by lakes blocked against the ice.  One such river is believed to have carved the English Channel.

The awakening of areas such Yellowstone National Park in Spring, and the migration of Caribou in tundra in Spring gives us a clue to the patterns of migration that must have taken place along these rivers.  This Pleistocene environment was ideal for megafauna – then large mammals, which need very large areas to roam and feed, and it was ideal to for their following hunters man.  Humans had spread all over the ice free world in the late Pleistocene.

Early hunting, we now believe, was of the chase hunting form, as well see in Bushmen today, where animals were chased until they were exhausted.  This may explain the shift to bipedalism  and the loss of hair in warmer climates.  Hunting was combined with gathering as ancestral mans way of subsistence.  With the creation of tools came the first ways of production.

A tool is specialised to the creature being hunted and with the first tools came the first division of labour.  Indeed the first territorial division of labour as mankind specialised in hunting different animals, we believe in the Middle to Upper Paleolithic period, some 80,000 to 70,000 years ago.

We use the term behavioural modernity to describe the tool using, culture spreading, symbol using, man, a creative which developed language.  We know stone tools were first used, practically to skin hides.  But progress was slow for 10s of thousands of years.  We still argue whether there was a ‘great leap forward’ to use Jared Diamond’s phrase  in the late paleaolithic which led to language and the ability to shape more advanced tools and explain to fellow humans and the complex hunting tactics required of specialised tool use, other hold that it was one of continuity rather than a sudden break.

We are more sure today that it wasn’t a sudden evolutionary spark which triggered this.  Anatomically modern humans have been found to 160,000 years ago.  But even if it were population change and environmental pressures are most likely to have triggered evolution, whether biological or social.

The ability to use tools well in an early human tribe would have given them an advantage.  But a cursed one because the hunting of megafauna rapidly depopulates the hunted species.  We are aware of mass extinctions of large mammals throughout this period, continuing into the modern age with the extinction of Aurouc and the Irish Elk.

A highly successful group would have expanded in population but would have required a larger range, either a group would settle down into an equilibrium with its hunted prey, as in any predator prey model, or if pressures for food were strong it could use its knowledge of tools as a weapon of war to advance on its neighbours territory.  The social mixing would also have driven communication, as advances in  territory and distance encouraged the babel of language division.

Hunter-gathering was successful as long as a tribe could specialise its hunting to take advantage of a geographically specific form of protean whilst its long term success depended on not over-exploiting that resource.

Around 10,000 years ago, as the last glaciation was well in retreat, occurred a split from pre-history to proto-history – the age of agriculture, probably the greatest technological leap forward for mankind,  With hunting tools mankind was still just a more deadly ape, one that could kill better.  Agriculture was a technology of life.

In the next section Ill look at how this might have begun and what this tells us about the proto-history of political economy.

The Slumpometer Reading- Not Looking Good

I prepared this little graphic to illustrate the scale of the problem. The 2008 shock was enough to create a 80 – 100 year event. But with the crises that are now unfolding it will be worse.

In fact there is only one debt crisis in history of comparable scale – the so called Third Century Crisis that led to the fall of the Roman Empire. This is not a idle comparison – economic systems can overextend but it is not inevitable. I write about this in the series Capitalism’s last Frontier – see series top right.

Bombay Bicycle Club Collapses – Shilpa Shetty loses £6 Million

The famous Curry Chain Bombay Bicycle Club/Tiffinbites collapsed into administration today.

It was saved by V8 Group last year, with Bollywood and Big Brother Star Shilpa Shetty putting in £6million, for one third stake.  But Losing £2.6 million a year on £10 million of sales its financiers forced closure.

Shipla tried to introduce a range of ready meals, as if it were a supermarket, including, and yes this is true, Jane Goody memorial poppadoms.

The groups main asset was it brand and good locations.  Its curries were a cut above most takeaways and are apparently Gorden Ramseys weekly favorite.  I always found them too expensive and underspiced for regular consumption.  They gathered too a reputation for slow service for not expanding fast enough to meet demand at peak times.

As discretionary spending collapsed in the recession it embarked on selling its prime premises.  A number of which have already been snapped up, include the Tiffinbites restaurants in Canary Wharf and the City and the Kings Road branch of Bombay Bicycle Club, Jubilee Place and Chelsea.  Other sites in Greenwich (my local), St Paul’s and Hampstead are under offer.

As the sites are excellent ones there are no problems with finding takers for high end restaurants, but the margin in this business is takeaways.    Rather than retrenching they should have exploitied their good locations and cut prices on takeaways.  They also should have found ways of meeting demand at Friday/Saterday/Sunday peak times – perhaps by utilising spare kitchens in places like schools, by going for volume they could have cut their costs.

Eddie Stobart International Airport

Haulage giant Eddie Stobart died at the end of March aged 56.  He built up the Stobart Group to dominate our motorways and it has been run by his brother since 2004.

EasyJet at Southend Airport

The Stobart group own Southend airport.  Freddy Laker started here but it was eventually overshadowed by Stansted.  With Standsted expansion falling away airlines have looked further afield

Southend airport expansion was backed in the Airports White Paper and the Seras report, but it was though unlikely to expand because of the runways planned at Standstead.  It also had a too short runway with a road at the end of it.

In 2009 they applied to extend the runway and build a new railway station enabling larger short haul flights and move the road.  They got permission and JR by a campaign group was denied.

Now the cat has got the cream.  Easyjet are moving in.  Today they announced launching 70 flights a week on 10 scheduled routes in April 2011, this will make it as big in terms of passenger number as London City Airport.

Three new routes have already been confirmed – Barcelona, Faro and Ibiza – but other destinations expected to be served from Southend include Madrid, Milan,Amsterdam,Berlin, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Belfast.

The runway isn’t quite long enough to reach further than Madrid.

Lets hope they now rechristen it Eddie Stobart International Airport Essex – in tribute.  Perhaps one day they will have planes in green and white with pilots who honk and wave at other planes and they fly by.

The Stobart Group has already brought Carlise airport and with ambitions to get into air freight have formed a subsidiary Stobart Air

Decision Theory for Planners #109 Why doing it tomorrow is quicker than doing it today

This section is on prioritisation.

This is particularly important as the techniques set in in previous sections, such as no bad-multitasking, will only work if there is a clear prioritisation of workflow.

An excellent way of looking at things is called the Urgency/Importance Matrix (from Stephen Covey, A. Roger Merrill, Rebecca R. Merrill, First Things First: To Live, to Love, to Learn, to Leave a Legacy. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994).   My own version of it, including nuances added by various contributors over the years,  is below.


Not Urgent



Urgent Commitments

  • Firefighting
  • emergencies, complaints and crisis issues
  • demands from superiors or customers
  • planned tasks or project work now due
  • meetings and appointments
  • reports and other submissions
  • staff issues or needs
  • problem resolution, fixes



  • planning, preparation, scheduling
  • research, investigation, designing, testing
  • networking relationship building
  • thinking, creating, modelling, designing
  • systems and process development
  • anticipation and prevention
  • developing change, direction, strategy

Not Important


Reject and Explain

  • trivial requests from others
  • ad-hoc interruptions and distractions
  • routine but time consuming administrative tasks
  • misunderstandings appearing as complaints
  • pointless routines or activities
  • accumulated unresolved trivia
  • boss’s whims or tantrums


Cease and Desist

  • ‘comfort’ activities, computer games, Facebook, excessive cigarette breaks, celebrity gossip
  • daydreaming, doodling, over-long breaks
  • reading nonsense or irrelevant material
  • unnecessary adjusting equipment etc.
  • embellishment and over-production

Covey and the Merrills see traditional time management thinking as dominated by the clock of scheduling.  To this needs adding the ‘compass’ to find true north of what is really important.  Imagine filling in a timesheet with these categories!!

The key is to get as much work as possible in the top right, which also requires us to set aside time, and ridgidly ringfence that time, to plan to plan, to project plan.

The interruptions are one of the main causes of ‘bad multi tasking’ .  You will note that I have added ‘routine’ administrative tasks to the list.  Whether administration is an interruption or not depends on how important the time as is a resource of the individual, i.e. whether or not the time of that individual acts as a resource constraint which could become a bottleneck.

If administrative work costs an organisation costs £10 an hour there is no point in getting an £20 an hour person to do it, especially if it means the project taking longer and costing more in staff time.

This issue is at the heart of the often repeated in the deeply fallacious ‘doing your own admin’ concept.  Nothing is more disruptive of productivity than having to stop what you are doing to spend half an hour checking attendee availability and checking meeting room availability for a meeting, especially if that organisation does not have automatic online tools for this.

What it means is professional staff spending most of their time doing process work and not planning work.  If you find this in an organisation dont be surprised if the productivity of the planning work has fallen to the floor.  Far from being a cost saving it has actually raised the cost of the project and reduced the productivity of the business process.

But what about the top left?  Do we drop everything?

Not everything that is a priority is an emergency.  Only emergencies need to be done today.  Do emergencies today and priorities tommorrow.

This concept is at the heart of the ‘Do it tomorrow‘ doctrine.  That paradoxically you can get work done quicker by doing it tomorrow instead of today.

The idea come from Marks Forster’s Book ‘Do it Tomorrow-  Get Everything Done’

 Forsters ideas starts from a simple obervation, time management problems come from having more on your to do list everyday than you can get done. You have an overflow from one day to the next. The simple answer is to bring these two into balance.

Forster say never prioritize tasks, since you should aim to accomplish all of them. Instead, prioritize commitments.The goal is to do everything that you’ve committed to, at which point it doesn’t matter too much what order you do it in (particularly if you use a short committment horizon of a day).

Forster suggests getting a short pocket book – I find a black and red flipbook is ideal. At the end of everyday make a list of all of the things you have committed to do, even to yourself, that day that would ideally be completed tomorrow. That list is your list of priority actions for the day, and draw a line under it. It works, if you try and get those commitments done as soon as possible in the day you have the rest of it left over for ‘plan for work’ activities.

As the day goes on cross off the commitments as they are delivered. if new commitments arise put them under the line. At the end of the day that is your new list for tomorrow. If a commitment is still hanging around after two or three days you need to ask if it should still be there, is it still a priority, can it be broken down, should part or all of it go to normal ‘plan for work’.

Rather than an ‘open’ to do list which grows and grows this is a closed list – a will-do list. As items get crossed off it gives you a real sense of accomplishment. Also because you arnt forever being thrown off course by doing panic measures ‘now’ you get a lot more done. People like me who have adopted it swear by it, it really does double your productivity and sense that the day was worthwhile.

As Forster admits it really is a clever application of the theory of constraints to levelling workflow

what I am suggesting is that..we impose a buffer on all the bits of work which arrive in a random way over the course of a day. That means we can deal with them in an orderly fashion instead of rushing from one thing to another.

Forster recommends we do the task on the list we least want to do first

Our natural way of working is to follow the path of least resistance. If we are given a list of tasks, we will tend to do the easy ones first. The problem with this is that when we get to a certain level of difficulty, there is a tendency to invent more easy tasks to avoid having to do the more difficult tasks. That is one of the reasons people get submerged in a sea of trivia. If we reverse this and do the tasks we least want to first, then our day will get progressively easier and there will be no need to invent any more “busy work”.

Forster also cautions against prioritising a task as important if it doesnt effect the end result.

For example, if you are building a car, which is more important – the engine or the rear windscreen wiper? Obviously the engine is, but customers are not going to be very pleased if you deliver cars without the rear windscreen wiper if that’s what they ordered. So it really doesn’t matter which is more important – you have to do the lot!

So the level at which you decide what you are going to do and what you are not going to do must be at the level of commitments. It’s no good identifying which tasks are important – that’s too late. You have to keep your commitments well audited.

Balls Tax Cutting Speech – Need to be Bold and Specific

Ed Balls will today give a speech effectively melding his ‘plan b’ with the IMFs ‘plan c’ of adding tax cuts to the mix.

The prospect of a double dip, and the warning from Greece that excessive debt- reduction contraction is counterproductive, will certainly make all parties look at alternative options.

However Ball’s is speech is short on specifics, which tax cuts, how targetted?

It reinforces my view that economists who might know a little too much about macroeconomics and think too much in terms of aggregates should not be politicians.

The greatest social and political problem is unemployment.  Especially youth unemployment.  Although job growth is good this month claimants are on the rise and with the rate of public sector layoffs likely to greatly increase over the next two years there are great risks the temporary rise in jobs will fall, especially if there is double dip.  Also many of the jobs created are ‘churn’ companies confident enough to replace jobs lost in the recession, rather than expansion creating entry positions.  As such it is likely to be a temporary pulse and likley to create jobs for the most skilled rather than youth and graduate employment.

Balls needs to be canny and suggest headline grabbing and highly targeted tax cuts aimed at reducing youth unemployment.  A mea culpa for the Future Jobs Fund, expensive and poorly targeted.

This could include a major extension to the Regional Employer NIC jobs holiday   a limited holiday from employer national insurance contributions for some regions only Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the North East, Yorkshire and the Humber, the North, the Midlands, and the South West.

Balls could propose to expand this dramatcially, even the East Midlands, the fastest growing region, has rising youth unemployment in Norfolk and Suffolk. The highest increase since 2008 in youth unemployment is in the Medway Towns (158%).

The true extent of Youth unemployment has been concealed by an enlarged cohort of those entering higher and further education last year trying to beat the tuition fees rise. In London youth unemployment rates have increased even in leafy suburbs such as Bromley.

A targetted cut in employee NIC across the country would play to middle England and play to aspirational youth. Greater and longer cuts for new small businesses, which have a greater tendency to employ young people, would be a carefully targetted programme that might pay for itself. Young people are also more inclined to spend their income on businesses and services employing other younger people.

A total NIC holiday, for 10 years, for all small businesses started by young people under 30, however large they grow in that time, would be a big headline grabbing policy, and regain the lost ground that the opposition is no longer a party of aspiration and entrepreneurship. Link that to a flat tax of 15% for all incomes above £15,000 of those employed and entrepreneurs could calculate their tax on the back of an envelope.  That would tempt many a bright young person to take a risk.

(update Balls has just given a speech arguing for a VAT cut which would also cut the deficit.  The tories say this would ‘bankrupt the country’ – odd that that it is now labour that appear to believe in the Laffer Curve and no longer the Tories).

National Planning Policy Framework Forensics #15 Infrastructure Planning & CIL

The current main national policy on infrastructure planning is set out in sections 4.8-4.12 of PPS12

Gaps in funding, responsibilities for delivery, timescales and the infrastructure requirements of key sites are critical. In particular

The core strategy should draw on and in parallel influence any strategies and investment plans of the local authority and other organisations. (para 4.8)

The practitioners draft by contrast has numerous repetitive statements that local plans should plan for infrastructure (pages 3, 4, 5, 8, 10, 11 etc. sometimes 5 times a page), and the need to gather evidence on this, but these statements generally don’t say anything more than that – rhetoric.

What is lacking is any sense of partnership, of joint infrastructure planning. Given the centrality of infrastructure as a blockage on housing delivery (HM Treasury’s CSR07 Policy Review on Supporting Housing Growth) and the new duty of public bodies to cooperate this is surprising. Of course this duty does not apply to privitised utilities. Is the government giving the impression that we are to return to the days when infrastructure providers did there own thing and local plans passively responded. Perhaps joint infrastructure planning is considered suspiciously corporatist and quasi-socialist by ministers. If this is a false impression then ministers should at least set minds at rest by adding at least a sentence or two and a hyperlink to the infrastructure planning toolkit (steps approach).

Where the NPPF is specific about infrastructure is on deliverability and viability.

It is …important to ensure that there is a reasonable prospect that planned infrastructure is deliverable in a timely fashion. To facilitate this, it is important that local planning authorities understand district wide development costs at the time Local Plans are drawn up. For this reason, infrastructure and development policies should be planned at the same time, in the Local Plan. The Community Infrastructure Levy should be assessed at the plan making stage, where possible, as well as any affordable housing or local standards requirements that may be applied to development. Such policies should be kept under review.

This wisely keeps the well tested ‘reasonable prospects’ test from PPS12.  However it only appears to be referring to the development and infrastructure policies in the local plan being prepared at the same time.  There is no concept of the plan being a delivery plan, a project plan not just a piece of paper which is not implemented.  The omission in the NPPF as a whole of all concepts of delivery strategy and joint planning and infrastructure is a great step backwards to the kinds of planning we saw in the 1980s, where we had local plans that had that were very often not delivered at all unless there was some kind of dedicated delivery corporation to pull things together.

The only reference to CIL is to it being assessed at plan making stages alongside other costs of compliance, and that its level should not affect viability.  The NPPF though will be read by non-planners and here as in so many other places it introduces a technical concept without any explanation of its purpose and what it means.  Better narrative and a glossary please.  Please also add a hyperlink to the PAS collection of resources on CIL.

Of course CIL is a means and not an end and the reference to viability should refer to all planning contributions (including in-kind and planning obligations).

After agreeing to keep CIL, as their own alternative looked very similar to abolishing in and coming up with something very nearly identicial, it is unclear just how committed to CIL ministers are, or how much they understand its practical application in local authorities.  For example the ‘Granny flat tax grab’ incident where he attacked local authorities for regulations he had himself introduced.

A key flagged shift in policy is the end of the presumption of on-site provision of affordable housing and allowing for CIL payments for affordable housing.  Without a means of securing low cost land for affordable housing it impossible to see how this policy could be at all effective.  It would simply push down the provision of affordable housing, and consequently housing overall.