When Default Costs Nothing

I’ve come across a great anecdote which illustrates the creditors=debtors myth

Jesse James and his gang had taken refuge for a few days in ramshackle farmhouse after one of their raids. The old widow who lived there fed the men, and apologised for her modest offerings and the poor state of the accommodation. While the gang laid low, they learned from the widow that she faced eviction from her landlord and was expecting a visit from his debt collector any day. Taking pity on the old lady, as they left, the gang gave her some of the spoils of their robbery to settle her debt – several hundred dollars, which was a small fortune in those days. The gang moved on, but only to a nearby copse, where for a couple more days they watched and waited for the arrival – and departure – of the debt collector, whom they promptly held up and robbed.

Now imagine if the gang had then been arrested and the bank had got its money back, and never found out that they had given it to the old lady? Who has lost out? Only the creditor. Not the bank as the old lady was broke and so the creditor could not have deposited the rent without the money from the bank. If the creditor had used it to pay off his own debts then more debts than advanced credit from the bank would have been paid off.

China to Clone Entire World Heritage Site

Entire city of Hallstatt, Austria, a UNESCO World Heritage site

The Chinese will replicate absolutely everything, not only the buildings. Every detail, statue and doorknob will be replicated…

While this is not the first time the Chinese are cloning architecture—they have mini-me versions of Barcelona or Venice—it’s the first time they are going to actually reproduce an entire town.


This isn’t the first time a Chinese firm has used a European place as inspiration. The Chinese city of Anting, some 30 kilometers from Shanghai, created a district designed to accommodate 20,000 residents called “German Town Anting.” Modelled after a typical mid-size German city by architecture firm Albert Speer & Partner, it includes Bauhaus style architecture and a fountain with statues of Goethe and Schiller.

In 2005 Chengdu British Town was modelled on the English town of Dorchester. One year later Thames Town was finished near Shanghai, complete with a 66-meter tall church that bears a striking resemblance to a cathedral in Bristol,

Victory for the small man

Congratulations to Ian Puddick, whose case we reported on here.  The charges were dismissed by the judge.






“It is absolutely a victory for free speech and the small man. I’m a plumber and drive around in a Transit.”

The case has been almost unreported on by the legacy media until now, and still they dont look at the real issues including the misuse of the City of London Police as a firm of enforcers for a top insurance firm.

National Planning Policy Framework Forensics #16 ‘Larger than Local Planning’

The practitioners draft has a short section on pages 12-13 on the system which will replace regional planning.

Public bodies have a duty to co-operate on planning issues that cross administrative boundaries, particularly those which relate to the strategic priorities identified above. The Government expects joint working around areas of common interest to be diligently undertaken for the mutual benefit of neighbouring authorities. Local planning authorities should work collaboratively with other bodies to ensure that strategic priorities across local boundaries are properly planned and co-ordinated.
Local planning authorities will be expected to demonstrate evidence of cooperation when their Local Plans are submitted for examination. This could be by way of plans or policies prepared as part of a joint committee, a memorandum of understanding or a jointly prepared strategy which is presented as evidence of an agreed position.
Joint working should enable local planning authorities to work together to meet development requirements which cannot wholly be met within their own areas – for instance, because of a lack of physical capacity or because to do so would cause significant harm to the objectives, principles and policies of this National Planning Policy Framework.

The ‘duty to cooperate‘ is covered in section 95 of the localism bill, and this section was heavily modified in committee stage in the Lords.  It would insert a new section 33A  into the 2004 act

the duty imposed on a person requires the person… to engage constructively, actively and on an ongoing basis in any process …[i.e.] (a) the preparation of development plan documents, (b) the preparation of other local development documents, [etc.]…so far as relating to a strategic matter.

each of the following is a “strategic matter”…sustainable development or use of land that has or would have a significant impact on at least two planning areas, including (in particular) sustainable development or use of land for or in connection with infrastructure that is strategic and has or would have a significant impact on at least two planning areas, and  …sustainable development or use of land in a two-tier area if the development or use.. is a county matter, or… has or would have a significant impact on a county matter.

The House of Commons Select Committee Report on the Abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies is corruscating on its wording (on a prior version but only amended in small ways since then)

The language of this proposed provision combines the vocabulary of aspiration and encouragement, which would seem to have little place in law, with vague and imprecise references to future central Government guidance. The courts could be asked to decide whether people are engaging “constructively” and whether their responses are “substantive”; meanwhile, people will have to “have regard to” the Secretary of State’s guidance about how the duty is to be complied with. This strikes us as bad law, poorly conceived, shoddily drafted, and opening the door to judges, rather than democratically-elected representatives, deciding on how the planning system operates. “Constructive, active and ongoing engagement” between authorities on planning issues would be welcome, certainly: but there remains doubt as to whether the duty as defined in the Bill will have the effect of encouraging local authorities to work together to help deliver priorities that cannot be delivered within a single authority’s area. The Bill does not define a failure to co-operate, does not refer to the resolving of conflicts when local authorities cannot resolve them by themselves and does not specify any sanctions for failure to co-operate.

It would have been much simpler if the bill had defined it in the negative.  i.e. A plan shall be unsound if there is not agreement from a county or neighbouring authority of a strategic matter.  If this resulted in deadlock then the power could be grated to the SoS to impose joint arrangements under section 28 of the 2004 Act.  That would have real teeth.

But even this would not be enough.  It defines it as development which impacts on two or more LPAs.  What if an LPA simply fails to provide that development?  Let us take for example the expansion of Brentwood, Pickles constituency, or Billericy next door.  The current RSS has targets to meet needs in these towns which mean inevitably that Green Belt would be released.  The RSS did not require strategic reviews, but it was an inevitable consequence.  They now both are planning on not releasing Green Belt. They are not going to object to the others failure are they.

So is this absence a ‘strategic matter’?  The lack of such housing will inevitably push housing demand out to the likes of Suffolk, so is the absence of this displaced housing now a ‘strategic matter’.  The definition is a nonsence seeming to imply that strategic matters are simply cross border housing sites left over from old RSS.  Strategic matters can only be defined by strategy.  Absence of a ‘larger than local’ strategy makes this section toothless and meaningless.

Notice too that the duty only applies to ‘sustainable development’.  All an opponent of a strategic site has to do is claim that the proposal is not sustainable – so there is not implied duty to cooperate.

Now lets look at the practitioners draft.

  • It tries to rewrite the localism bill referring to a cross reference to the NPPF which doesnt exist in the Bill
  • It fails to acknowledge that strategic matters can exist within LPA boundaries as in the example listed above
  • It fails to acknowledge that a failure to provide can impact LPAs beyond the neighbouring ones, as in the Essex, Sussex examples given above.

From my own research only those joint arrangements where there were statutory joint committees have had any degree of success.  Those areas where there were voluntary arrangements were on average 4 years behind.  Those areas that eventually agreed joint committees and strategies, such as Luton and West Northants, saw the plans fall apart after the RSS abolition announcement destroying years of hard work.  It similarly fell part in cases such as Harlow and Stevenage where there were non-statutory arrangements.

Indeed there was only one reason at all these authorities co-operated.  Because they had tough RSS targets and the chance of being found unsound.  For many authorities the ability yo set lower targets, to conspire to remove the controversial urban extensions, should mean authorities of similar political persuasions will find it no-difficulty at all to ‘co-operate’ and say to an inspector ‘look how good we have been’.  In reality this is not cooperation but conspiracy, a conspiracy against all of those who wished to move to new homes or to new jobs in the area.

In short the duty and policy on this matter unless there is a strategy to benchmark larger than local requirements against. The real duty should be to prepare such strategies.

The real problem that LPAs will face in joint working is at what level to pitch employment growth at, as it is employment that ultimately drives local housing demands.  There is no clue about that at all in the NPPF draft or Planning for Growth.  The implication is to increase employment growth, but should they absolutely max it out?   Places like Oxford,  Milton Keynes or Cambridge could easily double in size over 30-40 years  if their full employment potential were realised, as could many towns in the Green Belt such as St Albans, Hatfield etc.  Is this the intention?  If they are in the Green Belt if they could legimitately say they should not expand they are implying the housing and employment growth will go somewhere else – where?

    Put yourself in the stead of an inspector examining a new ‘local plan’ in a place like Aylesbury.  A place where most of the growth will go a long way from any LPA border.  Lets say the LPA suggests employment growth, but only a bit more than that generated by meeting employment demands generated by local demographic growth. They claim to the inspector that this is ‘pro-growth’ .  The objectors claim, hold your horses this place has potential to grow a lot more (as it did under the RSS) not just to meet that of local jobs but new jobs in the locality.  The LPA applies for one of the new certificates of conformity and both sides lobby the SoS furiously as they know once the certificate is issued it becomes a done deal.  Of course their will be legal challenges from all sides when it is.  Drop the requirement for certificate of conformity you then have legal challenges to the inspectors report.  Rather than the JR being one of interpretation of clear rules in RSS it become one of totally opaque principles in the NPPF.

In short the duty doesnt work and cant work without a larger than local strategy to hang it on.

The PAS has produced guidance to help fill in this gap, effectively informal strategies, but ones that can be challenged by noone and which wont be tested at the level at which it applies. Its commendable making the best of a bad job, but it cant hide what a bad job it is. There are two key weakness with it, not a criticism just a recognition of what an impossible task it tries to undertake. Firstly it gives no guidance on how to estimate the level of employment growth, secondly on the 5 year supply it admits that the situation is deeply unsatisfctory.

It …appears that the basis for calculating the 5 year requirement will be the adopted core strategy or, where the core strategy has not yet been adopted, the local plan/UDP or structure plan, whichever was adopted most recently. Many local plans and UDPs were prepared to end dates which have now passed or are imminent, which has led to questions as to whether they still provide a proper basis for determining the requirement. Pending a statement from CLG or further appeal decisions which address the issue, the way forward may be to calculate the requirement by projecting forward the annualised local plan/UDP requirement.

Ill leave the last word in the hands of the PAS

There is an expectation among many elected members and local communities that the planned abolition of regional strategies means that unpopular targets will quickly be changed, without the realisation that any new targets have to be founded on evidence and be defensible. This creates a need to communicate the realties of the situation.

True, but defensible against what test? If the test is vague, as it is in the NPPF, it will only slow further plan making.

Note: There is a regulatory impact assessment on this section of the bill and the revocation of RSS.  It is a joke full of bad statistics, false assumptions and deliberate distortions, as well as elementary economic errors.  Ill look at that in a separate post and it deserves dissection of its claims – for example that it will only lead to loss of 3,900 homes over 10 years (there are some urban extensions lost in the last year bigger than that alone).

Irish Travellers will be the first victims of Rascism disguised as Localism

Who says that localism will need feed to the deepest prejudices of the public.

“Great Britain (for Gypsies and Travellers) is like the American Deep South was for black people in the 1950s.” Trevor Phillips 2004.

If a locality authority, or parish, had full control over its targets the first thing it would do, the very first thing it would do, would get the ‘pykies and gypos’ out. Gypsies and travellers have the worst healthcare and education of any group in the country, many living in third world conditions.

‘Localism’ is too often a cover for attitudes of social and spatial segregation no less blatant that diving the front and back of a bus by colour.

Today Planning reported the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain’s lauch of a report Planning for Gypsies and Travellers: The Impact of Localism.

This firmly shows that the RSS system was a success in raising provision for Gypsies and Travellers.

Lets look at the findings:

  • In the South West Region – the first to have pitch targets in its RSS 20 or 25 local planning authorities had set targets.
  • In the East of England, the second area, 32 out of 43 councils had local targets for residential
  • In the South East, where the process was least advanced only 11 of the 32 councils who responded had residential pitch targets
  • Regional Spatial Strategies (RSSs) have not led to a big increase in provision for
    Gypsies and Travellers, but were making a difference
  • Abolition of RSS has put things back, but not all the gains have been lost. Overall the residential pitch targets were 82% less than in the emerging RSS
  • Planning for Gypsies and Travellers should be carried out at a wider than local level
  • The focus should be on delivering sites.

Will the last person out….

I wrote this piece  in 2010 the week of the letter to LPA saying, prematurely as it turned out, the regional plans had been abolished.  Looking at it again it seems just as relevant and Id thought id share it with a wider audience.  (I said at the end I was so digusted I was leaving the country, I took that out because I did but where I moved to had a revolution).

Imagine if hospitals suddenly shut up shop.  Imagine if major areas such as cancer care ceased – and within a few days.  There would of course be a media frenzy – yet the same as happened with housebuilding and forward planning and there has been not a whisper beyond the pages of Planning.

The ‘shutdown’ in forward planning for housing has been dramatic.  100 regional planners are to lose their jobs within months.  Far more local forward planning jobs remain frozen, whole teams in some areas are empty.  RTPI, NHF, HBUK, TCPA and POS are in crisis lobbying mode.  What is worse this is an entirely self inflicted wound, not one driven by spending cuts.  Planning, unlike most public services, could, push comes to shove, just about survive from rises to fee income.

Withdrawl of the joint core strategy for the two South Oxfordshire districts is probably the first of many.  As emerging core strategies were a (weak) material planning consideration where there are locally unpopular schemes driven by housing targets (cue most local authorities) it is likely that many councillors will see this as less painful that not having a five year housing supply – not least if there is no longer a housing target to base a trajectory off.  A ripple effect is likely to run across the country in the following weeks unless ministers take urgent action, rather than taking such action they are egging it on.  Within six months if not less most new strategic schemes and core strategies will be in the bin, together with the potential for many millions of homes over a 15-20 year period.   Even if there was a dramatic turnaround, even if a new policy saw major new allocations in three or so years time we will have lost several years of supply of new allocations coming on board. It is a fact that new plans always produce a surge in completions. We should have learned this from the 2004 reforms – it is never a good idea to restart plan making even if reforms are needed – the consequences are the build up of a housing numbers backlog very painful to resolve and the storing up of conditions of scarcity to create another disastrous house price boom

Given that ministers seem to have been advised that the route of interim targets was wrought with problems (see my article in Planning xxx), they seem to have pulled the nuclear option.  As RSSs are part of the development plan by law only a change in the law (in the Queens speech) can get rid of them completely, and even then the numbers they contained would be in lower tier plans.  Withdrawing RSSs by ministerial direction would also be ill advised.  As the RSSs were mostly SEAd against a ‘do nothing’ baseline, withdrawal could easily be challenged in the courts as not complying with the EU SEA directive.  As indeed could any withdrawal of a draft core strategy – be warned.

There is caselaw from (a local plan) in Wealden, the LPA won (just) because of a promise to swiftly get on with a new core strategy providing housing supply (we are still waiting); my guess is that in some places a challenge this time would stand a much greater chance of success.

So, you can imagine the civil servants, advice was given that a letter should be written to not treat RSSs as material, ‘but this will have consequences Minister…’  I get angry at the implicit assumption of the British Civil Service – let ministers hang themselves and we will pick up the mess in a few years.  The consequences here are too grave.

The body politic is now like someone with cancer ignoring advice from a consultant in favour of a new age treatment.  What is the assumption? That local target setting will somehow be ok in the end and make up the numbers to satisfy the stated aim of the Prime Minister and Chancellor to raise housebuilding numbers?  Lets look at the facts.

If you are a local authority where your countryside is green belt or national park then you would normally be expected to provide for less housing than local demographic growth would imply.  In any event the resulting aging population will lead to younger first time buyers moving away.  Previously regional planning, or even the letters with targets from the Nicholas Ridley era, would have made the numbers up with extra housing in some areas. We had grown used to calling these ‘growth areas’.  Do these growth areas still exist?  It is staggering to think that the plans for MKSM and the Thames Gateway effectively no longer apply, ‘depreciated’ overnight.

We should not forget that concepts such as ‘Green Belt’ and ‘National Park’ were forged alongside that of regional planning, one without the other does not make sense.   Growth areas are there to take the pressure off constrained areas.  Without regional planning the pressures on Green Belts could become so great that it could weaken and possibly discredit the idea of them.  We should not forget that prior to the 2001 election there were serious arguments in Whitehall, emanating from number 10, about whether to abolish Green Belts altogether.

Now imagine you are local authority submitting an ‘open source’ core strategy, you will need to show in your SEA (Strategic Environmental Assessment) you will have looked at alternatives.  Previously you would not have needed to show the consequences in housing terms of a low target because it would have been made up elsewhere and the options SEAd regionally.  You will now need to SEA alternatives beyond the plan boundary, a nightmare of duplication.

A nod and a wink have been given already on the floor of the commons to MPs from constituencies such as Daventry that they can now choose whether or not to be growth areas.  The consequences area that such ‘overspill’ will need to be contained locally unless an LPA agrees voluntarily to be a ‘receiver’. We could be back to arrangements similar to when the LCC/GLC used to bribe towns such as Andover to receive their overspill.  We could also be back to the days of the 80s when authorities such as Hampshire and Hertfordshire either implied banning all housing in-migration or all employment generation creating housing demand.  Don’t expect London to pick up the tab this time, housebuilding in London is falling, big regeneration projects frozen and backland development likely to be banned.  The illusions of urban regeneration in the ‘core cities’ look also chimeras driven by unsustainable housing demand fuelled by growth in public sector employment, concealing real economic contraction in places like Birmingham.  Small towns are on their own.

Now if the Inspectors report were non-binding imagine if that inspector rejected a core strategy for not taking a fair share of ‘overspill’.  The local authority could just reject the report right?  Wrong, again caselaw from the past rears its head, Miller and others v Wycombe District Council [1997] JPL 951, minds need to be applied to the findings and fresh reasoning and evidence given where necessary, in the ‘frontloaded’ evidence based system post 2004 this might imply going back several stages rather than adopting. Dust off your old copies of Victor Moore, as all the old caselaw about the scope to make changes without second inquiries will come back into play.  It is likely that neighbouring authorities will interject and ultimately arbitrating decisions will fall to the Secretary of State, I hope he likes long nights in the Ministry.

It is useful to step back and understand the scale of the problem if ‘growth areas’ etc. ceased to exist.  From papers published by the last government the assumption was, since the last Housing Green Paper, that Growth areas and Ecotowns would accommodate about half of the ‘additional’ household growth implied by the lasted household growth forecasts – that is even before any ‘backlog’ of housing from the NHPAU figures is counted in.  The implication of this is that the ‘rest’ of non-metropolitan districts would now need to see their housing figures increased by around 50% to make up the difference.  Do ministers realise that their policy of ‘localism’ imply effectively increasing by such a massive scale housing around pretty market towns and villages, probably well away from main sources of employment, in conservative constituencies?  Local choice would simply imply that some smaller settlements could take less only if nearby smaller settlements took a lot lot more.  In rejecting one controversial policy they are adopting a suicidal alternative.

Eventually, one way or another, minds will need to be applied as to what system of ‘localism’ above that of the individual local authority will need to be applied.  Inevitable ministerial shuffles will provide the cover. Remember how Chris Patten reinvigorated planning.

My guess is that around a third of rural local authorities don’t really need regional plans as simply meeting local demographic growth will suffice, as they are well away from constrained areas and have few major opportunities.  Here RSSs were always a delaying distraction.  In other areas there will need to be some joint arrangements between giving and receiving authorities, particularly in those counties with areas wholly or partly in the Green Belt, counties may have a returned role to play here – where counties remain – but in some areas issues straddle county boundaries.

In other areas the problem simply is one of under-bounded local authorities created from 1974 gerrymandering.  Classic examples include Norwich, Northampton, Harlow, Cambridge, Oxford, Worcester, Nottingham and Leicester.  Simply redrawing LA boundaries sensibly one or two Parishes out would solve these problems as would continuing with or setting up joint planning committees on a city-region basis.  Here localism will only work if the SoS has big stick powers in default to require or set up such arrangements.  In the Thames Gateway we might see two giant elected development corporations, one for each side of the Thames.

I would guess to that as recovery kicks in that in a year or two we will see pressure to set up ‘city regional’ studies to look at the long term growth options for areas around places such as Milton Keynes and Cambridge, with the Secretary of State advising local authorities to ‘play close attention’ to their findings.  Much of this will be reinventing the wheel but when you have been in planning long enough that is the consequence of the politics of ‘not invented here’.

I would also guess that more collaborative arrangements between givers and receivers will be looked at, there are good models on the continent here, for example in Bavaria a small town might say, ok we will accept the extra housing, but give us the money for that sports centre we have always dreamed of.

Overall my best guess is that any rescued system will be built bottom up and pragmatically from sub-regional components – not top down regionally.