More @grantshapps house-building porkies – Starts up 22%, no down 9% #NPPF

Grant Shapps was callenged today by John Snow on the ‘success’ of the New Homes Bonus. The minister falsely claimed that statistics showed the old system, no the New Homes Bonus has been in a year. When pressed for a figure he claimed that the ‘latest figures’ he has seen showed ‘starts up 22%’ clearly focussing on starts rather than completions knowing that starts are down 26%.

Lets look at the starts figures

Down 9% on the previous quarter, he was quoting a quarter out of date figures boosted by the billionaires boom in London, the one region maintaining housebuilding targets.

Grant is there a single number you can get right?

Housing Shortage in the Headlines – but a forecast increase in House Prices? #NPPF

The National Housing Federation Report has been dominating the news today, so little need to add to that. Especially as I concur with its main conclusion, we face a shortage of housing and a shortage of affordable housing finance which will be especially painful to those trying to get on the housing ladder.

Two things lead me comment. Firstly the kneejerk response of ministers that its all the fault of planners and so we need the NPPF. Stuck record despite the evidence.

Secondly way it has been reported. The Daily Express crows on its front page ‘House Prices to Soar by 21%’

For the elderly demographic of the Express, already likely to own their homes outright, this is ‘fantastic news’ they dont seem to recognise the irony that the NHF commissioned Oxford Economics report concludes that such a rise would lead to in England, to the proportion of people living in owner occupied homes will fall from a peak of 72.5% in 2001 to 63.8% in 2021, as they could not afford to buy but would be forced to rent. It seems only Diana headlines are more popular to the Express.

But what of this forecast? Until recently Oxford Economics were forecasting a decade of low house prices. Now they seem to believe the collapse in supply under the coalition will outweigh other factors.

Im not so sure. Looking at the report it is already out of date. For example it predicts a sharp rise in completions in Q2, it fell. A sharp drop in net migration, it rose. But both of those factors would if anything underestimate upward price pressures, but prices have been falling in the last quarter not rising.

Oxford Economics do not make the innards of their model known, but we do know that it is ‘global macro’ model. I would guess that this is a standard ‘DGSE’ model (google it) which I would have some doubts of the reliability of at times of financial crisis on which we are going through now. Such models do not properly take into account debt and the impacts of a balance sheet depression and deleveraging. If bank crisis force repossessions we could see house prices fall another 20-30% in the next 2-3 years despite the negative ‘supply shock’ causes to the housing market by the idiocy of abolishing regional plans.

Finally Grant Shapps has said today in comment that they do not want house prices to fall further. But if they dont fall to the historic pre-bubble price to earnings trend how will they ever be affordable? The purpose of building more houses is to lower house prices. If you wanted to ensure house prices went up ‘a bit’ you would build below but not way below housing need. Is this the governments policy to make housing less affordable. By contrast the last government had a policy to return house prices to 1987 levels which through the NHPAU meant building more housing in some regions.

@grantshapps ‘Two Leicesters’ being Released for housing – Fact Check

Grant Shapps has several times today, in his tour of television studios, that government is releasing ‘two Leicesters’ of housing land.

Fact Check

In June the government announced plans to release land for 100,000 houses, that just over 1/3rd of a Leicester. Exaggeration by a factor of six Grant.

However as we commented in June all of the sites were reannouncments of previous government’s releases and were already in development plans. So net=nill.

In any event the non-military estate of UK government owned land is only 9skm. So even if every last inch of it was released it would be only 13% of a Leicester.

Prime Minister ‘Between us we own somewhere in the order of £150bn’ So Approve the #NPPF @BritProp

Pretty blatant request in the letter from the British Property Federation and a number of its key members to the PM and all and sundry.

The letter itself is fairly unremarkable, simply claiming that

There has been considerable opposition to Mr Clark’s proposal from bodies …who claim that the ‘presumption’ will lead to Los Angeles style urban sprawl and the building over of valuable areas of countryside. We believe these claims to be seriously misleading and to be based on a misunderstanding of the system that has been proposed and the safeguards that it will contain that will ensure that development proposals are assessed against all sustainability criteria – economic, social and environmental.

No those opposed understand it only too well. These safeguards are weak and will often not apply on appeal, which will as the Ministers PPS says will lead to a permissive build ‘what you like, where you like, when you like’ regime.

As Grant Shapps has said on the news today ‘we are ripping up the planning system’ – people are right to be very afraid that the main cheerleaders for this destruction are the major property interests.

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Why we need a coalition on the #NPPF – with a positive, sustainable alternative

As John Vidal pithily stated in the Guardian today those campaigning on the NPPF ‘are working individually and not as a coalition’.

It was just such a coalition ‘Save our Forests’ that was so instrumental in producing a government U-Turn.

There have been and are such discussions, but they have yet to fully gel.

Unless there is a joint campaign, setting out a clear positive alternative it will be very easy for the government to caricature opponents as a BANANA* Berbour Brigade.

The problem is that the misconceived planning reforms has resulted in a double crisis, a crisis of a shortage of housing, especially affordable housing, and a drift towards an appeal-led lassez-faire solution – planning by appeal, which whilst paying lip-service to sustainability will simply mean the opposite.

It is not that most opponents are against development, no they are against sprawl. They want to see properly designed and planned solutions, led by the community and not forced by appeal.

Ministers say claims of sprawl are ‘alarmist’ they are wrong. With 95% of local authorities not having up-to-date plans in place there is already a scramble to put forward appeals, on schemes which are often poorly designed, lacking in sustainability credentials, and causing congestion. All problems which the NPPF will make it harder to resist by watering down policies.

Ministers & the HBF, seem to think that if we had lots of little schemes of 2 or three houses all nicely designed in each village there wouldn’t be a problem. Well given the 250,000 dwellings a year we need, thats 25 dwellings for each of Englands 10,000 dwellings a year for the next 15 years, or 375 dwellings for each village in each local plans, doubling the size of most villages. Such scattered solutions will be destructive and a poor use of resources creating a car dependent society. To meet our requirements we need bold planned solutions not a scattergun approach.

We need a Camapaign Against Sprawl proposing such an alternative to the anti-planning NPPF. It would give the lie to those arguments by showing that opponents of the NPPF are not opponents of housing and growth but opponents of sprawl and unsustainable development. Its core principle would be that only good planning, not the downgrading of planning, can achieve this.

It is not proposed that the Campaign Against Sprawl is a separate organisation but is instead:

a) An umbrella grouping of different bodies, with seed core funding and temporary staff secondments.The model would be Wildlife and Countryside Link.

b) A ‘task and finish’ campaign initially. If the campaign is successful the decision could be made at a future date to continue as a ‘do tank’ – see below.

c) Rather that individual members it would have supporters signing on through new media. The group would aim to spread through new media to the extent that traditional media would sit up and take notice – as with the recent Save Our Forests Campaign. There would also be local supporters groups at a town and village level. These would form the Campaign Against Sprawl Network. Existing groups could sign on to the network by supporting the national groups aims.

d) It would initially be registered as a company limited by guarantee with seed core funding provided by one or more of the founder groups.

e) The approach would take inspiration from American groups promoting ‘Smart Growth’ -such as the Smart Growth Network and the Congress for New Urbanism, the aim would be to promote a Smart Growth agenda rather than just a growth agenda.

f) It would publish research but would be more than a ‘think tank’ it would be a ‘do tank’ acting as a counterweight to the Policy Exchange’s anti-planning agenda

Core Principles to Gather Groups Around

A lot of groups might disagree with the thrust of the NPPF, but they might disagree on the alternative policy measures to be promoted.

Not all potential associated groups will agree on everything, but if they can agree on a common core of principles they will gain strength through presenting a common face and a clear alternative. Individual member groups will still be free to campaign on a stronger line on a specific point that other groups could not.

These core principles should be such that it would be difficult for sensible environmental groups, responsible developers and politicians with any sense to disagree with. They should not be motherhood and apple pie vague principles but principles of how things should be planned. The positive alternative to sprawl.

Politicians might easily retort – well of course im against sprawl – against which the response would be – if you are then it means this kind of planning system and this kind of national planning policy – why not put this into practice.

The following sets out a potential draft manifesto, designed to gather maximum support. Comments and suggested amendments are invited.


A Suggested Manifesto – 10 Principles

Smart Growth Not Sprawl

The most popular places are where you can shop, work and send children to school close to where you live. This requires compact well planned , mixed use communities not ever increasing low-density sprawl.

It makes good economic and environmental sense to use existing infrastructure and plan in ways that save land and transport costs and costs of new infrastructure.

Sustainable Development is Ecological Development not Growth at Any Cost

Sustainable development has to be defined to take full account of ecological factors and limits. A circular economy will make us more competitive by reducing energy costs and treating waste as a resource. Growth defined any other way will just be short term property development not Sustainable Development.

Growth Choices should be Planned and not Imposed at Appeal 

We believe that the tough choices about where development should go should be plan-led and democratically determined and not providing for our housing and business needs is not and should not be an option. Appeals are expensive, time consuming and create conflict. They should be a last resource.

Yet the NPPF is creating a return to an appeal-led system rather than a plan-led one – all because a lot of authorities do not have up to date plans. We believe there should be a period during which local authorities can put their plans in place before the ‘presumption’ in favour of development comes into force.

We also believe that national government cannot just stand back and let local authorities argue about where growth should go if this creates risk of planning by appeal. There should instead be statutory joint working arrangements where a group of local authorities can decide by a vote, following widespread consultation and environmental assessment, where the major growth goes.

Value and Improve all Landscapes and Neighbourhoods

It is important to give the highest protection for nationally important areas such as Green Belts and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. But most of us don’t live in these areas, we value what is import to us locally and decry the gradual erosion of local places and local facilities.

We know our natural ecosystems can only be revived if we plan at a landscape scale not just isolated protected islands.

If there has to be development in the countryside it should where possible avoid the most beautiful areas, whether nationally protected or not. Where there is development it should make places better than they were before.

National policy needs to protect the whole of the countryside and undeveloped coast. Transfer of land from rural to urban should be set through democratically determined plans. Development in the countryside should be according to strict rules which allow for small rural businesses, and prioritise affordable housing and first-time buyer housing for local people not second homes.

Prioritise our Towns and Cities

 Greenfield sites should not be the first choice. National policy should prioritise brownfield sites and sites within existing towns and cities, whilst avoiding town cramming. Local communities would still have the choice of not developing some brownfield sites if that is the best local option.

Jobs Not Just Houses

Its not smart growth to force people to drive long distances to work, yet the governments proposals will see many many employment premises go over to housing, forcing places ofr work to many out of the way locations, if they can afford premises at all. Small businesses will not be able to afford premises and local authorities will avoid zoning land for economic growth.

The Land is Everyone’s Inheritance

When areas are zoned for development it is not right that people make large profits just because they inherited land. Nor is it right that young families cannot afford to pay inflated land prices and be burdened with debt while those who own land outright can live off the hard work of others. We need to find new ways of ensuring that the uplift in land values, created by the community through plans, is shared by the community, and used to pay for infrastructure, schools, and affordable housing.

The biggest shortfall in housing since the 1980s has been the fall in council house building. A new wave of social housing doesn’t have to be council housing, there are lots of models, but without a massive revival in affordable house building, funded by innovative means, we will only meet part of our nation’s needs.

We need Walkable Neighbourhoods and Transport Choices

We need developments where we can walk and cycle and not always have to use the car. We need to promote sustainable transport and not allow development even though it creates unacceptable levels of congestion, as the NPPF would allow.

We also recognise that much of the development we need will generate traffic so to avoid our rods clogging up we need to reduce existing traffic on the roads through pro-public transport investments and policies.

Good Design Matters

The NPPF would significantly downgrade the importance of good design by allowing allowing refusal of ‘obviously poor designs’ this is the same test and low bar of planning in the 1980s, when shoddy, monotonous and poor designs were forced through.

Its not Saying Yes to Everything

Sometimes to get a better scheme you have to say no. The NPPF would undermine the negotiating strength of local communities and allow developers to promote poor schemes without amendment.

We believe that the presumption of favour of sustainable development should only apply to development that incorporate reasonable and justified improvements and amendments. We also consider that the presumption is imbalanced and a license to poor developers. It should be balanced by other presumptions, such as a presumption in favour of quality urban and landscape design and a presumption in favour of increased biodiversity


Ive set up a placeholder website with nothing so far but these draft principles and the ability to sign up.

* Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anybody

follow us @CA_Sprawl

John Vidal Guardian ‘Planning reform will lead to development ‘free-for-all’ #NPPF

Writing in the Guardian

Planning free-for-all leading to blighted landscapes, urban sprawl, more congestion and an undermining of local democracy is inevitable if the government insists on pushing ahead with proposals for new rules, say the UK’s leading green groups.

The National Trust, Campaign to Protect Rural England, Friends of the Earth, RSPB, Greenpeace and other countryside and environment organisations with a combined membership of more than 6 million people, have told the Guardian that they fear communities will lose the ability to influence decision-making as planning is streamlined in favour of developers and as economic growth is prioritised over social and environmental concerns.

In addition, one prominent Conservative council has said the proposed changes contained in the contained in the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) will be “undemocratic” and “against the principle of localism”.

The fight against the proposed planning rules comes from groups at the heart of middle England and is shaping up to become a major political battleground for David Cameron. Many of the groups were part of the coalition who forced the government into a U-turn on selling off English forests this year.

According to the groups, who are working individually and not as a coalition, the most radical reforms of the planning system in 50 years will allow developers to build what they like where they like in the 66% of England that is not formally protected by national park, or other conservation status….

A crucial clause in the draft bill provides a presumption in favour of “sustainable development” over all other considerations. The way it is worded is said by the groups to be so weak to be legally meaningless.

Fiona Reynolds, director of the 3.5-million strong National Trust called for a fundamental rethink of the reforms. “We firmly believe that the government has got its proposals for planning reform wrong.

We are hearing the same from our supporters and local communities the length and breadth of the country. The government is disregarding the impact that these proposals will have on open space in and around our cities, towns and villages. There is a default ‘yes’ to development which means that local voices will not be heard”.

“The risk is that there will be a development free-for-all in all unprotected areas in the mistaken belief that it will generate economic growth. The message for local authorities is build, build, build,” said Shaun Spiers, director of the CPRE.

Martin Harper, RSPB conservation director, said: “The planning system is there to represent the interests of the public in the face of complex decisions, and it will fail us all if one factor – economic growth – is set higher than any other.”

Joan Walley MP, who chairs parliament’s environmental audit committee, which will question ministers over the changes next month, said: “Stripping the planning system of safeguards that protect the green spaces around our cities, towns and villages is not the answer. The government must be careful that in the rush for growth it doesn’t end up vandalising the countryside.”…

Greg Clark, planning minister, vigorously defended the proposed reforms, saying communities could draw up their own plans about where development should take place and would be strengthened rather than weakened by the changes.

“The reaction of these groups has been unfocused and misconceived. Decisions on development will be made by local communities. Their plans will be sovereign. This puts more power into the hands of local people, not less,” he said.

“I believe we will see a different type of development. Rather than huge, banal [ones] imposed from above, you will have more sensitive location of homes designed to higher standards. We will move from types of mediocre development that have been resisted by communities to developments that are more accountable.”

But in a signal that Tory councils may react in a hostile way to the removal of many of their planning powers, Hammersmith and Fulham council said the planning proposals would damage local democracy. “To change planning law so that important decisions are not made at local level is anti-democratic, against the principles of localism”, said deputy leader Nick Botterill. Fulham and other London councils say that they will have no power under the new laws to stop a major London sewer being built.

“These proposals risk riding roughshod over local democracy. It could take decision-making away from councils. There is a real risk of developers being able to manipulate the [planning] system in their favour. It opens a barn door for them,” said Kate Henderson, director of the Town and Country Planning Association.

John Howells – Now pretends ‘Presumption in favour’ ‘not for deciding each and every application! ‘ #NPPF

Letter in the Telegraph today from John Howell MP PPS to Greg Clark and author of open source planning.

The framework proposes a presumption in favour of sustainable development, not a free-for-all. The presumption is primarily a tool for putting plans together, not for deciding each and every application.

Amazing – is this not the same John Howell MP who said that where a local plan was out of date they

‘will be deemed to have an entirely permissive planning approach, so all planning applications will be accepted automatically if they conform with national planning guidance’ Open Source Planning Page 9

And who said to the British Property Federation in February that this would mean a developer could then build “what they like, where they like and when they like”.

He had pushed for a transition period before this came in. But lost to the Treasury, it came in July with the Draft National Planning Policy Framework, applying with immediate effect.

It is estimated that 95% of local planning authorities will not have up to date plans in line with the National Planning Policy Framework, which then makes it clear where plans are ‘out of date’ that the ‘presumption’ will apply (para 14). The framework is blunt about what happens when there is a housing shortfall ‘planning permission should be granted’ (para 110) whatever a local plan says, no if, no buts, no mitigating circumstances, even if there are far better sites.

Mr Howells is being disingenuous. Rather than being primarily a tool for putting plans together it will for the forseeable future be primarily a tool for deciding applications on appeal over and above local wishes and undermining the principles of good planning.