Mind the Gap between the Ears – Ferdinand Mount’s Influence on Tory Planning Policy

I’ve covered some of the influences on conservative thinking on planning over the last couple of months – whether the Simon Jenkins little platoons view of localism, or the influence of some quite extreme right wing american groups with a voraciously anti planning and anti-environmental agenda, as well as there influence within number 10 itself.

One key player and text I have omitted previously is Ferdinand Mount.  He was the former head of the number 10 policy unit and writer of the 1983 election manifesto.  According to Conservative Home his 2004 book ‘Mind the Gap’ was considerably influential in the formation of conservative policy.

The basic thrust of the book is simple, the greatest failure of Thatcherism was the widening gap between the haves and the have nots.

The book clearly shows the influence of the great anarchist sociologist Richard Sennett in his book ‘Respect: The Formation of Character in an Age of Inequality‘, though seem rather off conclusions were taken from it.  Sennett had argued how the powerless  in a non-egalitarian yet meritocratic society, could win back a modicum of self-respect. His book stressed self-sufficiency, not being a burden to others, and, most importantly, mutuality, helping others and contributing to society, without which the self-sufficient person would inspire only limited respect.  It is a key text in the literature of what I have termed ‘actually existing anarchism’ those writings about existing power relations and how to manage them, rather than an overt desire to abolish the state through force.  Mount though has a very nostalgic view of this.

Like the Red Tories & Blue Labour Mount is highly nostalgic for working class institutions, rituals, and group loyalties.  He seeks to overcome the segregation of rich and poor in housing ghettos by creating a property owning democracy, but one where the poor would have access to the countryside.

As Victor Bogdanor commented in his review of the book

Mount’s remedies have something in common with the feudal socialism preached by Disraeli in his “Young England” phase, and excoriated by Marx in the Communist Manifesto as “half lamentation, half lampoon, half echo of the past, half menace of the future”

Or Poly Toynbee

Now three-quarters of the population own their own homes, the whole culture revolves around that self-defining possession of a plot of land and four walls. Those without are more dispossessed than ever. It is time to make ownership possible for all….

The shortage of affordable housing, especially in the south, is due to the astronomic price of land. Forty per cent of the cost of a new house in the south-east is the price of the land. The value of land is due directly to strict planning laws. Fewer houses are being built now than for decades, while agricultural land – no longer of dig-for-Britain economic use – is senselessly protected by middle-class lobbies. But it’s time to let land go, send the price of housing tumbling and make everyone a property owner.

Mount accepts that setting people free to build will mean more eyesores and landscape blots, as people are allowed to build in ramshackle ways. But if it would transform the lives of all the dispossessed, giving them a real stake, responsibility and a share in wealth, isn’t it worth it? The Campaign to Protect Rural England would say no – but here’s a conservative willing to argue against a landscape frozen in time by the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act.

Mount is right to argue that ownership outright is a cause of class divides.  Ironically now, as David ‘two brains’  Willets has rightly realised it means a net transfer of income from debtors to creditors between generations – or of older people who rode the property owning baby boom exploiting younger people trying to get on the housing ladder now – unless they transfer some of that wealth.  (19th century radicals I think would have been shocked by the thought of a generational source of landowning class divide – of children having a net transfer of wealth through land rent to their parents generation).  But in arguing for a laissez-faire approach the only people enriched would be country landowners, and housebuilders, as very little of the uplift in land value would be transferred to buyers, and even then those buying are those able to afford low or no mortgages, those with existing capital.  A typical Tory approach pretending to help the poor but actually enhancing rentier unearned income.  Only truly radical policies, of giving a basic income funded by the unearned increment of land value uplifts, aimed at breaking up large concentrations of landed property, can overcome this.

It is also incredible to think that local areas whose politics revolve around p[reserving and enhancing house prices will vote for extra housing whose purpose is to lower it.  The whole idea, like all of the conservative planning reforms, are founded on an impossible contradiction.

It does lead to an interesting though experiment though. Think of the 260,000 extra houses needed over the next 20 years.  Imagine that all of the 80,000 off English villages were sent names of the 60 houses each of newly forming households they had to allocate land for.  They could either buy them off or buy extra land elsewhere to transfer the plots to.   This would of course lead to a massive transfer of wealth.  Behind all of the rhetoric of ‘imposed’ targets lies true interest – the interests of Daily Express readers who used to check daily how much the value of their homes had risen.

Capitalism’s Last Frontier #22 Land Ownership and the Leviathen

Fevered speculation and philosophical fantasy are the features that mark out theories of the origins of property.  It has led to a whole branch of judicial, philosophical and political theories posited against an abstract otherworld that never existed beyond the pages of enlightenment philosophers.  Such works are of value to the history of ideas, so long as they are nothing to do with history itself.

The briefest review is needed of theories of the origins of property, dealing only with the key influences.

For Thomas Hobbes in the mid 17th Century originates in territoriality and the need to defend it, with the ‘strongest power in the land’ necessary to defend the status of ownership.  The assumption is of a war of ‘all against all’ – which he calls a ‘State of Nature’  and sovereignty arising from a ‘social contract’ for protection.

In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; … no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.  Leviathan Chapter XIII

We tend to see Hobbes ideas through the prism of those who later attacked him.  Those for example who disagreed that man was naturally aggressive and violent, such as Rousseau.  Or in more contemporary times, those who argued, correctly, that this was never an accurate portrayal of early societies.

Life in early agricultural societies, before strict division of individual landownership, may have been short, and poor, but it was not solitary, nasty or brutish.  Early communities suffered from lack of technology, not lack of a state which would simply have extracted agricultural surplus, forced labour, or forcibly removed labour for armies of construction of public works. The creation of a State for such groups would have been seen as a clear historical regression.

We shall look at this ideas when we come on to theories of the origin of the state in more detail, but suffice it to state that it cannot be seen anywhere as anything other that than either imposed, from outside or forced by defending from external groups – it is not a ‘rational’ act – the ‘social contract’ is a protection racket.

Seeing sovereignty this way, we can gain a different understanding of Hobbes.  Not as a justifier of total absolutism, but describing the origins of power at times of war, for him seen through the lens of the English Civil War, and the rational conditions under which this was to be understood.

Rousseau’s theory of the social contract advanced from Hobbes by correctly placing the origins of property in historical time and by acts of accumulation by dispossession.

The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said “This is mine,” and found people naïve enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.

Rousseau has often been misrepresented as seeing in primitive man a goodness, a ‘noble savage’, a term he never used.  Rather for him civil society creates goodness or badness.

Despite the diametrically opposite conclusions on the legitimacy of political power of Hobbes and Rousseau there is a strong common theme, of property ownership seized or enforced by power.  The ‘State of Nature’ was also both a hypothesis of the historical origins of property and a philosophical; abstract to justify either current power arrangements or to challenge their legitimately.

Proudhon famously stated that ‘property is theft, property is freedom’  – indeed all property arrangements have this dual form.  We have looked at the first part, but the second part was emphasised by writers who held to what is known as the ‘Homesteading principle’ also known as the ‘labour theory of property’  – Jefferson was a noted exponent but the original and most famous exigis comes from John Locke in his Second treatise of government

Though the earth and all inferior creatures be common to all men, yet every man has a “property” in his own “person.” This nobody has any right to but himself. The “labour” of his body and the “work” of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever, then, he removes out of the state that Nature hath provided and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with it, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property

This was subject to what, after Nozick, we know as the Lockean Proviso – that though individuals have a right to acquire private property from nature, that they must leave “enough and as good in common…to others.”

Nor was this appropriation of any parcel of land, by improving it, any prejudice to any other man, since there was still enough and as good left, and more than the yet unprovided could use. So that, in effect, there was never the less left for others because of his enclosure for himself. For he that leaves as much as another can make use of does as good as take nothing at all. Nobody could think himself injured by the drinking of another man, though he took a good draught, who had a whole river of the same water left him to quench his thirst. And the case of land and water, where there is enough of both, is perfectly the same.
—Second Treatise of Government, Chapter V, paragraph 33

In this highly influential view economic value comes from mixing labour with nature, and in the extended form of the Homestead Principle, ‘free land’ never before claimed can be appropriated and title claimed.  Indeed in several 19th century frontier nations, holding principles of English Common Law different versions of Homestead Acts law required three steps: file an application, improve the land, and file for deed of title, then land comes under the homesteader’s ownership.

Ownership of such land, especially in the writings of Jefferson and Blackstone, is seen as a bastion against absolutism, land as freedom from external bondage.  An aspiration of all free people escaping slavery and oppressive states.

This principle has two key relations to our study.  Firstly the economic product of labour – food, the relationships between land size, location, fertility, labour applied and cost of food. Secondly the margin of cultivation as the geographical extent of capitalist land holding arrangements expand.

The last, and most sophisticated, views of property in this brief survey, come from Comte, Bastiat and Proudhon, who deserve their own section.

The Truthiness of Sustainable Development

Robin Shepherd of Barton Willmore has issued a delightfully dumb anti-intellectual rant of a press release in response to the draft NPPF

despite the Minister’s intentions as expressed in his Foreword, opponents of development could still use technical and academic interpretations of sustainability to block projects

So you are against an academic and technical appreciation or definition of sustainability? Or rather against any kind of definition which points out that saying yes to everything eventually exhausts the resources and natural processes on which life depends. Is this ‘technical and academic’ approach inconvenient.

This is just the kind of dumb anti-science approach to the environment that is beloved of the American far-right, which really loves to knock sustainable development and which Stephen Colbert starises in his famous skit on ‘truthiness’.

a “truth” that a person claims to know intuitively “from the gut” without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts

TCPA, RTPI, CPRE first NPPF responses


Kate Henderson, Chief Executive of planning think-tank the Town and Country Planning Association said:

“The Association supports the practical improvement of the planning process, so long as change is based on clear evidence and the outcomes promote sustainable development, and in particular social justice. The Government’s framework published today, seeks to simplify and streamline planning policy, however in doing so there is a vagueness around some of the key concepts, such as the presumption in favour of sustainable development, which may be subject to clarification through the courts.”

“While we share the Government’s ambition of making planning more accessible to communities, making something shorter does not automatically make it clearer. Planning has to deal with complex problems and sometimes needs detailed policy responses.”

“It is also important to recognise that the NPPF will require more than just rhetorical force to ensure effective outcomes which work at both the local and national level. For example, sustainable transport measures are only encouraged ‘where practical’. In reality this may mean the lowest standard of transport infrastructure will be delivered, and does not give local authorities the means to demand high standards.”


RTPI President Richard Summers said: “The draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is a missed opportunity.

“We are concerned that the draft NPPF will not secure balanced economic and housing growth across England. It fails to set out a vision for the development that is needed to support a growing population and to promote economic growth across the country and that is effectively linked with infrastructure to redress existing and potential geographical and social disparities.

“Economic growth is generally set to trump the aspirations of local communities expressed in local and neighbourhood plans. The relationship between the presumption in favour of sustainable development and the primacy of locally-led development plans is not clear. It appears that the NPPF could direct local policies to be set aside to deliver the government’s growth agenda in response to market-led demands rather than to promote truly sustainable development for neighbourhoods and for local and wider than local areas.”

“However, it does begin to go in the right direction towards a National Spatial Planning Framework for England that the RTPI has campaigned for more than ten years. The Institute looks forward to continuing its dialogue with the government during the NPPF consultation period and beyond to help secure truly sustainable development policies and a workable planning system for the future.”


Radical Planning Shake up Threatens Green Fields

An earlier leaked copy of the NPPF received a hostile reception from conservation and environmental groups. The Government has made some welcome improvements, for example proposals to curb light pollution. But many elements of the new draft are deeply worrying. In particular, Ministers have failed to commit to the principle that the countryside should be protected for its own intrinsic character, beauty and heritage.

Shaun Spiers, CPRE Chief Executive, says: “The draft planning framework is an improvement on the version we saw earlier this month, but major problems remain. The new framework will make the countryside and local character much less safe from damaging and unnecessary development. If it is not amended, there will be battles against development across the country that will make the public revolt against the sale of the forests look like a tea party.”

CPRE fears pressure on the countryside from damaging development will grow due to:
-Loss of emphasis on brownfield regeneration – as a result of the removal of the national brownfield target and the failure to promote efficient use of land
-Over-allocation of land for new housing – the draft NPPF requires local councils to allocate at least 20% additional sites for housing over and above the existing five year supply
-Weakening of the ‘town centre first’ policy by removing office development from the sequential test
-Pressure for increased car use – by removing the requirement to set maximum parking standards for non-residential parking in major development
-Abolition of exceptions policy which allows small scale affordable housing to be built in rural settlements, which is likely to add to pressure for market housing and reduce the supply of affordable housing
-Weakening of controls over outdoor advertisements, including no mention of billboards being inappropriate in the countryside
-Changes to Green Belt policy which would allow local communities to support building which would previously have been restricted

Shaun Spiers continues: “The Government admits that policy changes, such as removing priority for brownfield development and allowing ‘Community Right to Build’ schemes could lead to greater development on greenfield land. Although they say protected landscapes, like Green Belts and AONBs, will still be protected, and that is to be welcomed, it seems it is open season for the rest of the countryside, including some of our finest agricultural land. We are fear that in reality what is proposed will weaken Green Belt protection, in spite of Ministers’ intentions.

Full press release here

Seems to me that only the CPRE understands the media. Sadly the reaction against the NPPF could see a tightening of policy on housing, as we have seen many times before when ministers have proposed crude reforms.

Nothing from RICS or RIBA yet.

NPPF Draft Key Textual Changes#1 Just what is a Local Plan?

I wont comment on the editorial shifting around.

Very few textual changes from the mid-june leaked draft.

One worth pointing out initially:-

The Consultation Draft

Each local planning authority should produce a Local Plan for its area. This can be reviewed in whole or in part to respond flexibly to changing circumstances. Any additional development plan documents should only be used where clearly justified.

The Leaked Draft

Each local planning authority should produce a Local Plan for its area.– This can consist of one or more development plan documents setting out the policies and proposals for development and use of land across its area, which can be reviewed in whole or in part to respond flexibly to changing circumstances.

The Practitioners Draft

Each local planning authority should produce one plan for its area – the Local Plan. Beyond this, additional development plan documents or supplementary planning documents should only be necessary exceptionally, for instance where their production can help to bring forward sustainable development at an accelerated rate.

So the consultation draft is a compromise between the two positions.  ‘One Plan’ but if justified – such as where you really do need an area action plan, you can.  This is sensible.  The portfolio plan idea never worked and simply delayed comprehensive plan coverage and encouraged overly wolly plans which just postponed making the hard allocation choices.

If I was asked then – ‘what is a local plan’ I would have to say a plan containing a development strategy and key allocations and development management policies delivering that strategy covering a local planning authority area for plan purposes (which may include part of or more than one local authority, depending upon the presence of national parks and statutory joint development plan authorities) – well at least with this weeks definition.  There is no glossary definition in the consultation draft.

A question though – just how local is a joint development plan covering three or more districts – like some of the joint working examples?  Why not use the phrase ‘comprehensive plan’, as in the States, which can be given a clear meaning.  For example in the States the courts have found it to mean based on a strategy and evidence concerning the whole area and all land uses. You can still be comprehsive and succinct.

The term local plan is just a nostalgic throwback.  

Cheshire Recovered Appeal – Poor Location would be Refused Before NPPF, Approved After

In commenting on the NPPF consultation draft it is important to look at examples where following it produces perverse results. In a recent recovered appeal at Sandbach the LPA did not have a 5 year supply of sites in a development plan – but argued that it did have a sufficient supply of other preferred sites (it should have argued that these were ‘other identified sites’ in PPS3 terms and therefore it did have a 5 year supply). But as you will see the appeal site is the least sustainable of all sites around this extended ribbon development settlement – furthest away from the town centre and public transport and least sustainable (unless you count sites next to the M6). In turning down the appeal the SoS rightly overtuned the decision of the inspector.

But consider it against the NPPF. With a 5 year supply only from adopted plan sites (not ‘other identified sites’), and pretty much automatically granting appeals where there is no formal 5 year supply – the NPPF would mean giving consent for the least preferred location around this settlement.

Relevance of Draft NPPF as a Material Planning Consideration

Update: First appeal on this issue

Update: See the New PINS Guidance on this issue

Questions on this already so a short note:

Page 3 to The Planning System: General Principles (2004) still applies – until the NPPF is finalised – which states ‘emerging policies, in the form of draft policy statements or guidance, can be regarded as material considerations, depending on their context’.

The dept drew attention to this specifically in their letter to chief planning officers on the NPs’s on Energy etc. so we can expect them to do so again in the draft NPPF letter.

There is caselaw on this but my copy of Victor Moore is too old to include it – but from memory it concluded that it could be material as it was indicative of a possible change in policy.

Of course the weight to be given to a material planning consideration is a matter for the decision maker

In a recent appeal in Ascot (Land between Merrymead and Pine Acres, Birch Lane, Ascot, Berks APP/R0335/C/10/21316929-30, 2137021-22, decision 30 June 2011), the inspector concluded (in relations to a gypsy and traveller site).

‘the consultation document [the draft PPS on Planning for Traveller Sites] gives a clear indication of the government’s intended direction and is thus a significant material consideration. However, because the consultation process may prompt amendments … and C1/2006 remains in place, I have still had significant regard to the latter …’.

Of course all the normal rules apply. The only statutory requirement on the decision maker is to have regard to is the development plan. National policy are not statutes, they are not bound by them (Carpets of Worth Case).

The decision maker must properly understand national policy and give reasons for departing from it, but providing they do this the weight to be given to any material consideration is a matter for the decision maker (Gransden case).

NPPF – First Quick Impressions – Closed Source Planning is here

Having read through the draft the first impression is how similar the document is the to leaked draft of a month ago. Indeed very few textual changes, mostly editorial changes shifting things around.

The textual changes are relatively few – ill highlight these in a future post in more detail, mostly these are welcome but a few odd omissions. Ill list a few key amendments later today.

The structure no longer sticks to the silly 3Ps approach, and there is a new section on Sustainable Communities which makes a lot of sense.

Not of the key problematic dog whistle policy shifts have been amended or rectified in any meaningful way. It is these top 6-10 issues that the debates around the NPPF will coalesce around. In the week i’ll do a list of these set out as campaigning talking points and a template for letters and emails by campaign groups and interested individuals.

The document is eminently fixable is these changes are made. The issue is whether or not the government has an open mind on these issues or will it only be persuaded by outrage of the forests sell off variety.

The signs so far are not encouraging. If the government really believed in open source planning it would have launched now an open source process. It would have enabled para by para comments using an on-line comments system, where people can see others comments. It would have published the results of the scoping exercise from earlier this year. It would have engaged directly communities of interest in specialist sectors inviting them to submit sections – indeed the ‘consultation’ seems the very definition of a closed source process. No alternative drafts or versions are invited. Indeed the press release says nothing at all about the process of consultation.

If an LPA ‘consulted’ in this way – simply putting on a website and arranging a few meetings to ‘explain the changes it would be slaughtered on the alter of local public opinion. Where is the ‘genuine listening process’ we have seen on health reforms. As ‘enemies of enterprise’ are planners and non-developer stakeholders to be ignored?

Which is why the concept of open source planning is an utter sham, a cloak for shifting the planning system to the meet wholly and without qualification the needs of landowners, to maximise unearned rentier income and not production, and away from meeting the needs of communities and businesses (who will no longer be able to afford workplaces). Away from protecting the environment and towards removes restraints, by the libel that minimal restraints are ‘burdens’. It is the highjacking of the planning system by one sector, those who have major land interests, by redefining sustainable development as development that meets their interests.

Im sure over the coming weeks many groups will be getting together to prepare an alternative acceptable draft and to fiercely campaign for it.