London View Management Policies Proposed to be Amended by Boris

Out today

At first sight appear to be a return to the kind of policies and terminology that used to exist in RPG3b, as long sought by Westminster.

The new view from Parliament Square to the Palace of Westminster (all in a World Heritage Site) will formalise long-standing existing local policy, which I had a hand in, restricting the height of buildings in the Waterloo & Vauxhall area to not rise above the roofline of the Palace as viewed from the Sq.

How English is the NPPF?

Apart from page 1 and the glossary ‘England’ or ‘English’ is not used at all in the NPPF. Even then all it says in terms of the policy being ‘national’ is that it ‘sets out the Government’s economic, environmental and social planning policies for England.’ But were it not for devolution it could equally have said ‘Britain’ or indeed any north European beer drinking protestant country. There really is no concept of ‘national’ in the NPPF.

This already has troubled Simon Jenkins of the National Trust, last week he said that the starting point should be a spirit of place, not pecuniary gain for its own sake, especially as protecting the environment helped secure the economic future of the countryside.

Similarly the Scottish NPF in its opening section talks of:

the importance of place to a modern knowledge economy. Businesses choose to locate where they can recruit well-educated, talented people and capital flows to places which have the sort of physical and social infrastructure which supports innovation. Well-qualified, creative people are attracted to places which offer a variety of economic opportunities, a stimulating environment, amenities for a wide range of lifestyles and good connections to other high quality places. Successful places have strong, positive identities. They are cosmopolitan, well-connected and diverse, offering opportunities for a wide range of creative interaction.

Whilst the rather radical Wales Spatial Plan even has a national vision.

We will grow in ways which will increase Wales’ competitiveness while assisting less well-off areas to catch up on general prosperity levels and reducing negative  environmental impacts. We will enhance the natural and built environment and we will sustain our distinctive identity.

Of course these are truly spatial plans, in a way the NPPF (which is not a planning document at all but a means of confining and ordering ‘localism’ to operate to further the strict and exclusive  economic interests of large landowners, as opposed to all others) is not.

The NPPF is a culturally bereft document.  It does not mention towns & villages – apart from with technical reference to green belt policy, similarly the countryside is not mentioned as something of which as nation we should be proud but solely as somewhere to locate business.  England as a giant business park. As Wordsworth said in his poem ‘Young England’

what is then become of Old

Of dear Old England? Think they she is dead,

Dead to the very name? Presumption fed

This is not to try to recapture the backwards looking sense of place and nationalism of John Major, or as Justice Carnworth said in his famous judgement in the Trap Grounds Case

‘village green-the very words are evocative of great age and tranquillity, of rich as hue as it is trim in a setting untouched by time…with its memories of maypole dancing, cricket and warm beer [where] the children run around and ‘arctypically, the village cricket team holds its matches’

National planning interests are more than just a national version of the Village Green Preservation Society, important as this sense of the ‘Imagined Village’ is to defining our national identity.  It is just as much about having the self-confience in our national identity to accept multi-culturalism and change.  In Billy Bragg’s words

What we lack is a confidence, not so much about who we are, more about whether it’s okay to celebrate being English. We need to stop being embarrassed about our home and find a way to celebrate the things about it that we love – both to respect the locals and to build bridges with newcomers.  Multiculturalism isn’t about celebrating everybody’s culture but our own. We have to be present, not least because as hosts we provide the framework for our diversity to flourish. ..My hunch is that Englishness has more to do with space rather than race.

Or John Cruddas

Devolution is creating new kinds of plural, alliance-making politics in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The great absence from this development is England. But Englishness is not silent among the people, only among a political elite frightened by the threats of ethnic intolerance and bigotry.

The NPPF itself is a policy for nowhere and everywhere.  Certainly not England.

Tetchy, Tetchy, Tetchy – DCLG hits back at National Trust

It seems like the DCLG is rather upset at the National Trust’s trenchant criticisms

The Department for Communities and Local Government responds to incorrect claims by the National Trust that reforms of the planning system will lead to unchecked and damaging development.

A spokesperson said:

“This is plain wrong. The draft policy framework fulfils the commitment in the coalition agreement to protect the Green Belt and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. There are similarly strong protections for the historic environment, which have been welcomed by heritage bodies. These protections are crystal clear in the document.

“In fact the policy framework gives communities a brand new opportunity to protect those green spaces outside of the Green Belt that are of particular special value to the community.

“There is a strict test that all new growth must be sustainable. Where it is consistent with environmental objectives – including maintaining the Green Belt – proposals should proceed without delay.

“These reforms allow local people to participate in planning. Having 1000 pages of planning policy made policy less clear and excluded communities.”

This is total nonsense as what the National Trust was criticising was the opening up of the floodgates of the wider open countryside to development, not the highly protected parts just mentioned. The NT were 100% correct as I am sure the fact check teams at C4 news and elsewhere will find straight away.

There is an old saying that you shouldn’t pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrelload, and Simon Jenkins – NT Chairman – has it delivered by a supertanker.

Man Shortage in Russia Increases Polygamy

One of the themes of this blog has been the relationship between demographics and economic development.

So I feel justified in reporting on the man shortage in Russia. A combination of higher male death rates, from vodka, heart disease and dangerous driving, means there are 10 million more women in Russia than men, especially in cities where educated women have flocked with a booming service sector. Russia Today reports that online dating sites have many women registered for every man and even that there has been an upsurge in Polygamy, informal rather than multiple marriages.

Based on preliminary census results published in March, men account for just 46.3 percent of Russia’s population, while women make up 53.7 percent. Of an able-bodied male population of about 20 million, nearly 1 million are in prison; about 4 million are serving in the military; some 4 million are alcoholics, and about 1 million are drug addicts. Mortality among men is about four times the rate it is for women. Many men also leave the country looking for work.

“Finding a Russian man over 40 who has money and isn’t an alcoholic is extremely hard,” … “Such a man will probably have a car, a weekend cottage, but often also a wife or at least a mistress or two. Yet, to many Russian women this is still a better option than settling for an indebted drunk.” Globalpost

Globalpost also reports it has led to classes teaches women to be better lovers

“Just like they taught us, I started complimenting men after the first time we had sex. And what a miracle! It worked,” she said.

“They started coming back for seconds.”

Psychologists reckon the transition to capitalism has something to do with it with men without the newly needed skills falling into depression, alcohol and suicide.

In some regions such as Siberia there are lobbies to legalise Polygamy and extreme nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, claims that introducing polygamy will provide husbands for “10 million lonely women” and fill Mother Russia’s cradles.

Caroline Humphrey professor of Anthropology at Cambridge states

“A lot of women live on what were collective farms, which are often deep in the forest and miles away from the nearest town, you live very close to nature, and life can be very hard – your heating is entirely through log stoves, there’s no running water and inside sanitation is rare. If you are lucky enough to keep animals, you must care for and butcher them yourself. So if you are looking after children as well, life can be near impossible for a woman on her own.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, Humphrey’s investigations have uncovered women who believe that “half a good man is better than none at all”. “There are still some men around – they might be running things, with a job as an official, for example, or they might be doing an ordinary labouring job, but either way, there aren’t very many of them,” she says. “Women say that the legalisation of polygamy would be a godsend: it would give them rights to a man’s financial and physical support, legitimacy for their children, and rights to state benefits.”
“An insufficiency of men, educated women who want to realise themselves, rural women who want to protect themselves, all these things are going to give rise to arrangements like polygyny,” says Humphrey, “whether it’s called that or not.”

Why developers need to put in applications now and not after Regional Strategies are revoked (if they ever are)

When the proposal by the government of revoking RSS was announced I recommended that developers promoting strategic allocations should simply appeal, this wasn’t accepted by most consultants as they considered there simply wasn’t time to conclude an appeal before revocation. Well now over a year later has a single RSS been revoked? As I argued in Planning just before the May 2010 election complications with the EU SEA directive would mean that revocation would be eminently challengable, and now with in CALA II the government not contesting this point and agreeing to SEA the revocation the government will not be able to enact directions implementing the localism bill clause, which will have to wait now till the autumn for Royal Assent, until after the consultation and consideration of that SEA has taken place.

We havn’t yet heard even a squeak from the government about how the scoping and arrangements for the SEA. We have been waiting now four months – more than enough time for the government to tender the task, what is going on? Perhaps they have decided only to tender after Royal Assent to avoid complaints about premature spending. In any event it will cost them will take at least six months, and then another 6-8 months to read through the mountains of responses afterwards if the experience of the RSS alterations SEAs are any experience. And then there could be challenges to the European courts. Good chance here as Ministers Statements seemed to pre-determinate the response and because the EU Wastes directive is currently partially fulfilled by RSS and the government hasn’t even begun the process of preparing a new national waste strategy.

It could therefore be another three-four years before RSS’s are revoked – which will probably put it the other side of the general election.

So for the time being planning, especially plan making, will have to settle into the medium term certainty of RSS being around. Indeed the SoS now seems quite settled with this hasn’t taken a number of decisions in recent weeks where he has allowed recovered appeals on the basis of not having a 5 year supply on the basis of the RSS target. Indeed in the next few days the SoS may face the prospect of allowing an appeal in Bude he refused a few months ago, but where his argument to do so on the grounds that he could ignore the RSS was successfully challenged. Even Eric Pickles can’t enjoy eating humble pie.

Indeed if the RSS’s were revoked and after the NPPF is published you would face dealing with 5 year supplies in some cases worked out in local plans anything up to 15 years ago. For a government where growth has now trumped localism it is rather convenient having RSS still around as an argument for increasing housing. For all the empty localist rhetoric ministers will be allowing appeals, and overseeing inspectors allowing appeals on the basis of regional targets. It is difficult to keep up this kind of cognitive dissonance for several years.

Indeed with all three senior ministers at the DCLG either to be promoted or booted upstairs a new ministerial team, faced with the public relations disaster the NPPF will bring over the next six months, will wonder just what kind of god-awful mess they have been left with.

Given this window of opportunity – higher RSS targets now – lower local plan/UDP targets rolled forward when RSS revoked – developers should appeal now.

Indeed if one or two but not all housing options around a settlement are necessary to restore a 5 year supply you need to get in first or get left behind for several years. Previously developers were hesitant in case the inspector took a distaste to their site, as inspector’s have under several appeals under para 69 of PPS3. However if your site is demonstrably superior to rivals you should be confident in your case, if it is demonstrably inferior you are likely to lose at the local plan EiP anyway. So in most cases for good sites the benefits all weigh in favour of putting in a quick outline application now and appealing after 12 weeks, hearing an appeal within 6 months. Indeed from what I am hearing the inspectorate are likely to be overwhelmed; places like Aylesbury have seen a huge upsurge in opportunistic planning applications all seeking to be first to fill the the 5 year RSS supply gap.

So simply through ideological dogmatism and incompetence, and without yet any policy or legislative change ministers have managed to replace a plan led system with an appeal led one, clog up the entire planning system slowing processing of applications for providing jobs, and slow down plan making by shifting resources to fight appeals only a small proportion of which will be successful. Job well done.

Word Clouds show just what the priorities are in NPPF

These word clouds show just what is important in the consultation draft – size of word=frequency used. The above is Greg Clarke’s forward.

The above by contrast is the full NPPF text.

And this is the current PPS1. Note less, proportionately, emphasis on development, but more on sustainability, and emphasis on community and quality – words which hardly register at all in the NPPF.

National Trust – All Guns Blazing at the NPPF

The National Trust has gone all guns blazing at the NPPF, by far the most anti-press release so far, they have even mounted a petition and campaign.

Planning is for people, not for profit

For decades our planning system has protected much loved places from harmful development. The Government’s reforms turn this on its head, using it as a tool primarily to promote economic growth instead.

We believe in growth – but not at all costs. Planning for people combines long-term growth with other important things like local character and space to breathe, tranquillity and beauty. We need a system that serves all our interests, from commerce to communities.

The Government’s reforms fail this test- they need to stop and think again.

Why do we care?

The Government’s planning reforms, could lead to unchecked and damaging development in the undesignated countryside on a scale not seen since the 1930s.

New plans published by the Government contains a core presumption that the default answer to development will be ‘yes’.

We are deeply concerned that the Government’s proposals allow financial considerations to dominate, which could result in a green-light for poor quality or development in the wrong place, threatening the local places valued by you, while failing to deliver wider benefits to your community.

The National Trust is an applicant in the planning system, and also speaks up, for and against, development proposals put forward by others. We know from our own experience that new development can combine economic benefit with great results for people and the environment.

We call on the Government to ensure that the economic, environmental and social benefits of development go hand in hand and that in the future it will not become possible to see damaging development pushed through on narrow economic ground alone.

Help us to send a message to Government that planning is for people not for profit.

Last week its chairman Simon Jenkins gave a speech on the issue, deeply ironic as he together with Ferninand Mount was one of the key influences on the ideology of localism in planning.

The government is now attempting to [the] nuances [of planning] with peculiar brutalism. … The Government wants to delegate power and yet to retain control, at least over big projects. It is persuaded, on the basis of nothing but assertions of the development lobby, that local planning is a bar to growth. It wants to liberate local decision, but not if that decision might be conservationist. It wants to steer the planning regime towards building and against countryside conservation.

The giveaway is clause 124 in the localism bill. This privileges ‘local financial considerations’, to promote ‘a presumption in favour of sustainable development’. The word sustainable is here vacuous. This is a direct reversal of the past presumption AGAINST the development of countryside land.

This is enhanced by the leaked draft of the national planning policy framework. Here paragraph 19 states that “the government’s clear expectation is that we move to a system where the default answer to development is yes” except where it would compromise “key sustainable principles”. These principles are vacuous and again left unstated.

The presumption in favour of development states that, where local authorities have failed to put a plan in place, permission will be assumed.  This is a pretty blunt attempt to force local authorities to make plans aiding development, at the same time as their experienced planning teams are being cut. …This is mad. It runs completely counter to authorities having a current duty to balance overall considerations if the plan is in any way unclear. It is an extremely worrying development.

All this is sloppy language and sloppy legislating. The planning framework document appears to be commendably short, but this leaves much more open to interpretation. Combine this with the presumption in favour of building,  and you have a document clearly written at the direction of building and development lobbies and the Treasury. It constitutes a clear presumption for any development, even if the green belts are protected. It is the sort of planning you get in a banana republic, where local corruption and pressure is all. There is ample scope for local neighbourhood plans to reflect the will of the landowner with the deepest pockets.

..the so-called freeing up of local planning is reckless and blatantly hostile to the protection of the rural landscape, vistas, views and coastline. … It is pernicious. It is not a planning bill but a money bill.

We just cannot let rural England suffer the same blizzard of uncontrolled building as it saw in the 1930s and 1950s. Do we really stand on the South Downs and gaze over Rottingdean, Saltdean and Peacehaven and congratulate our grandfathers on their wise planning? Do we really look out from the Cotwolds towards Gloucester and say, what the Severn valley really needs is for Gloucester to be joined to Cheltenham and Worcester in a Severn Vale metropolis? This is precisely what the localism bill implies.

…localism on its own is not enough. The trust is a national organisation, with a national purpose. We interpret localism therefore as providing ‘freedom within a framework’. You don’t ensure the protection of special places by tearing up the rulebook. Rather, you set out clear expectations, aiming to supply as much freedom as possible as to how those expectations might be met.

The National Planning Policy Framework, which we are now expecting to see next week, needs to be revised to set a new tone of voice. It should start from some sense of spirit of place, NOT spirit of pecuniary gain. We can’t plan for change unless we know what we’ve already got, defined by the people who know and care about each place.

The Government is right to want to reconnect people with local decisions and empower them to take control of what happens in their communities. It is right to subject that control so some overriding societal interest. But it has not yet formulated a credible framework for such override. And framework there must be if anarchy is not to occur.

I hesitate to suggest that county structure plans did at least offer such a framework. But the presumption against development did…. 

..this process cannot be anarchic, or developer led. It must be plan-led, and the plan must embrace both present and future needs for open space and countryside. It must seek to identify explicitly what we mean by beauty in landscape.

Both I and the Trust are seriously worried at what is being proposed by the coalition government. It is a repeat of our experience with forests and the attempted dismantling of the heritage quangos. A commendable attempt to clear decks and get down to basics is hijacked by lobbyists for their own gain. As so often under the present government. ministers inexperienced in the ways of power, fail to see the consequences of what they propose. We intend to make them see.


Village Green Registration Clampdown

Defra slipped out yesterday, when everyone was thinking about the NPPF, a consultation, long overdue, on the need to restrict the ad-hoc designation of new village greens.

This consultation seeks views on proposals to reform the system for registering new town or village greens under section 15 of the Commons Act 2006.

Around 185 applications were made in 2009 to register new greens. The volume of applications to register new greens, the character of application sites, the controversy which such applications often attract, the cost of the determination process on the parties affected, and the impact of a successful registration on the landowner, are all giving rise to increasing concern. In this context, and the Government’s commitment, announced in the Natural Environment White Paper, to introduce a Local Green Spaces designation through the planning system, the consultation presents the Government’s case to reform the registration system so as to achieve an improved regulatory balance between protecting high quality green space valued by local communities and enabling the right development to occur in the right place at the right time. It also seeks to reduce the burden on local authorities which are responsible for implementing it, and on landowners who are affected by applications. There is no intention to review sites already registered.

The system has been abused for many years with it being used as a backstop to prevent development on almost any field with planning permission for new housing around a village that someone said that had walked a dog on in the past ‘as of right’. Ridiculously the case law turns on whether someone has a psychological belief that they have a right to use that land.  A survey in 2009 found that half of all applications related to planning applications or proposals to allocate land

The consultation document  highlights the costs of registration, particularly the average costs of hiring barristers.

One of its proposals is a ‘test of character’ to only protect under this legislation open areas meeting traditional ‘warm beers’ and ‘maypoles’ idea of village greens i.e that are open, unenclosed and uncultivated.  Land which is surrounded by roads, or buildings built to overlook the land would count, but land fenced off would not.

Another idea is to exclude land subject to a planning application, proposed development in a development plan, or proposed designation of Locally Significant Green Space.  This proposal though would simply lead to a speculative flood of applications on each side, with objectors to planning applications unable to object on the basis that the land should be locally significant green space.  This disadvantage would be removed if it only applied to sites in the process of allocation not live planning applications.

NPPF Draft, Key Text Changes#2 Off-Site Affordable Housing

The National Housing Federation yesterday welcomed one change in the consultation draft in particular

‘We are particularly pleased that there is greater emphasis on on-site delivery of affordable homes in private developments than in the practitioners’ draft. Successful and sustainable communities are not segregated by wealth or type of housing. In promoting sustainable development, the new planning system should therefore support the delivery of new affordable homes in mixed communities.’

What is the change?

Consultation Draft

where they have identified affordable housing is required, set policies for meeting this need on site, unless off-site provision or a financial contribution of broadly equivalent value can be robustly justified (for example to improve or make more effective use of the existing housing stock) and the agreed approach contributes to the objective of creating mixed and balanced communities.

Leaked Draft

where affordable housing is required, set policies for meeting this need on site, unless off-site provision or a financial contribution of broadly equivalent value can be robustly justified and the agreed approach contributes to the objective of creating mixed and balanced communities.

Practitioners Draft

where affordable housing is required, set policies for meeting this need on site or through commuted payments with the objective of creating mixed and balanced communities. These policies should recognise the advantages of using commuted payments to improve and make effective use of the existing housing stock.

So there is a clear shift from the earliest draft, but there is now a preference for on site provision, rather than a presumption as before.

See here for my earlier analysis.