Senior Conservative cabinet minister Francis Maude today describes opposition to the Government’s controversial planning reforms – from the National Trust and Tory grassroots – as “bollocks”, and says he has no sympathy for their position.
He also claims it is “insane” that, in the interests of economic growth, that there is not already a high-speed rail line running the length of the country.
The remarks, which will raise eyebrows in Westminster and beyond, appear to be backed by David Cameron, who last night described claims made about the planning reforms as “misleading” and insisted the planning regime has become an “enormous regulatory quagmire”…
Mr Maude’s comments, in an interview with The IoS, will fuel suspicions among the wider party, which is meeting for its autumn conference in Manchester today, that the Prime Minister is deserting the Tory grassroots in a desperate drive to kick-start the British economy and keep the coalition together.
In an interview with The Sunday Times, Mr Cameron insisted he was an “absolute lover” of the countryside. Mr Cameron also apologised for comments which were interpreted as sexist. “It’s my fault. I’ve got to do better,” he said, after twice appearing to insult women MPs in the Commons. Tory support among women has slumped.
In an attempt to diffuse the row over planning reform, the PM is to announce the release of thousands of hectares of disused public sector, mainly brownfield, land to build 100,000 new homes, creating 200,000 new jobs by 2015. Developers would be allowed to use a “build now, pay later” scheme, by paying for the land only once the homes were sold. Mr Cameron pledged “the most ambitious growth plan that we could possibly have”.
In his interview Mr Maude says it is “absurd that virtually every other country has high-speed rail”. He adds: “We are a long, thin country – it’s insane that this hasn’t been done before. The national government has to take a view on the route, consult and do all the right things, but actually you have just got to take a view that this is in the national interest and see it through.”
Asked whether he had sympathy for the National Trust and other opponents of planning reform, Mr Maude says: “No. I mean our position is right. I think this idea that creating a presumption in favour of sustainable development is somehow a massive erosion of the ability to conserve, is bollocks, frankly.
“Actually the presumption that we are putting in place is arguably more constrictive, because it’s a presumption in favour of sustainable development instead of just development. So I think there’s a lot of misapprehension about this.”
SIR – Greg Clark, the planning minister, in his introduction to the draft National Planning Policy Framework, says that planning is a creative exercise to improve the places in which we live. This statement is welcome, but the NPPF fails to promote and protect facilities, spaces and initiatives which enable culture and the arts to take place.
As senior representatives of national arts bodies, with networks and members whose activities and audiences are directly affected by the planning system, we are concerned about the omission of policies that would explicitly promote and protect cultural activities.
Our theatres, concert halls, art galleries, museums, libraries, public art initiatives, craft venues and artists’ studios matter. They help promote economic growth, enhance the built environment and develop sustainable communities. They are also hubs around which our world-leading creative industries have sprung up and flourished.
But the NPPF is currently silent on culture and, as a result, we are at risk of losing important cultural facilities and activities that can and do make a significant contribution to our civic pride, wellbeing and quality of life. We need a planning framework that promotes culture, not one that ignores it.
Chairman, The Theatres Trust
Director, The Theatres Trust
Chief Executive, ixia
Chairman, National Federation of Artists’ Studio Providers
Chairman, Arts Development UK
Assistant Director, National Federation of Artists’ Studio Providers
Chief Executive, Voluntary Arts
Director, Visual Arts and Galleries Association
Chairman, National Campaign for the Arts
Executive Director, Crafts Council
Chairman, Little Theatre Guild
Director, Dance UK
Chief Executive Officer, Independent Theatre Council
Chief Executive, Axis
Director, Contemporary Art Society
Chief Executive of the Society of London Theatre & Theatrical Management Association
Chief Executive, Audiences UK
Head of Programmes, a-n
Director, Association of British Orchestras
Director, Museums Association
Today our sister site the Campaign Against Sprawl has published a pamphlet setting out the 10 key reasons why the NPPF is flawed and the 10 key ways our alternative draft is intended to do a better job.
Please circulate, in particular let your mp and councillor know about it. It is likely that as soon as a reasonable alternative in some form to the NPPF is acknowledged support for the current document will collapse as it will not be seen as all or nothing.
Bill Bryson, the US born writer, has warned that England is at risk of making the same mistakes as his homeland by allowing unchecked urban sprawl under the Government’s proposed planning reforms.
His affectionate portrait of our country, Notes From A Small Island, was once voted by British readers the book which best represents modern England.
Now Bill Bryson, US-born, British resident, incurably Anglophile, is warning that the country he loves is at risk of turning into the country he is from thanks to the Government’s proposed reforms to the planning laws.
Mr Bryson, is – in the politest way possible – as near to the warpath as such an affable man would ever wish to get over the National Planning Policy Framework, with its new “presumption in favour of sustainable development”.
The Government claims the changes will simplify an overcomplex planning system, allowing greater economic growth and more homes for those struggling to get on the property ladder.
But critics fear the changes pose the greatest threat to the countryside since the Second World War. The “presumption for development” will mean developers no longer have to justify any new building. Objectors will have to prove projects would be too damaging.
Now Mr Bryson, the UK’s biggest selling non-fiction author, is preparing to write to the Prime Minister in his capacity as president of theCampaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), once the consultation ends.
As Mr Bryson tells The Sunday Telegraph about the potential pitfalls of the proposals, his genial manner does not stand in the way of using words such as “crazy” “madness” and “double madness”.
“One of this country’s great, great unappreciated achievements is that through everything – industrial revolutions, millions of people living here – still, today, in 2011, you can go 15 minutes outside any British town or city and be in glorious landscape,” he says.
“Britain still has the most reliably beautiful countryside of anywhere in the world. I would hate to be part of the generation that allowed that to be lost.”
He adds: “The changes will almost certainly have really serious effects on the future of the British landscape, long beyond our lifetimes. That’s not something you want to get wrong.”
Mr Bryson is urging others to act too, and voice their objections before the consultation on the planning framework closes on October 17.
The CPRE’s website now has a draft letter for objectors to email to the Government.
“Don’t just sit there passively,” he says.
“If enough people are writing angrily, that has an effect.”
Mr Bryson understands there may be need for some planning reform.
“I am fully prepared to accept that anything as cumbersome as 1,000 pages of planning policy needs simplifying,” he said.
“I just wish that at the heart of it was a recognition that Britain has a very special landscape requiring thoughtful development. I don’t see that at the heart of these proposals at all.”
He does not see his opposition as a personal attack on the Prime Minister – rather, that he will help Mr Cameron get his priorities right.
“I interviewed him before the last election. He sincerely wants a more beautiful Britain,” he says.
“His heart is in the right place, but I also think he feels the super-high priority for him and his government is economic recovery.
“That has probably allowed him to be blinded somewhat to the dangers that may be in these proposals.
“It would be really good thing if they would reconsider.”
Mr Bryson’s criticisms, though, can be biting.
“The really alarming idea is the presumption in favour of development, which is crazy.
“This is an intensely beautiful country that has been extremely well looked after for centuries.
“If people want to do something to the built environment, I don’t see how you could possibly object to them having to justify what they are doing. It seems that the Government is proposing the exact opposite: justification is assumed.”
Mr Bryson feels sadly well-placed to comment on such potential folly.
“I come from a country where there is always a presumption in favour of development, and you can see that all over the landscape.
“I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s were when the US really became a suburban nation.
“Of course you don’t want to preserve the countryside in aspic. It needs all kinds of things, including houses.
“But what you don’t want to do is to take Britain, which has worked well as a predominantly urban nation, and try to create some new 21st century suburbia. That’s madness.
“Especially if your justification is some kind of temporary boost to the economy. That’s double madness – madness compounded by imbecility.
“Come to the US: have a look. It just doesn’t work.
Ruefully, he recounts a tale of towns suffering as much as the countryside.
As they move to the suburbs, the middle class take their wealth and economic activity with them. So the financial boost is temporary, confined to the construction work involved in building the suburbs.
“You haven’t created economic activity, just moved it elsewhere. Look at Detroit: the middle classes moved out of town and left behind a smoking hole of deprivation.
“Where I grew up, in Des Moines, Iowa, there is hardly any downtown economic activity now. Everybody shops in malls – you don’t find a sense of community in malls.” The solution, he suggests, lies in building on brownfield sites, or in Britain’s “very appealing, liveable towns” – with their existing infrastructure and unoccupied properties.
He has little truck with those who claim that the current planning rules are a “chronic obstacle to growth”, the persistent warning from George Osborne, the Chancellor.
“Look around. Observe the zones of ugliness ringing almost every town. Do you have any sense that the supermarkets and developers have been stopped in their tracks by existing policy?
“The Government talks as if the planning system is an impediment to growth.
I would say it stops foolish or greedy people being rapacious to the built environment.”
Bryson, an American now living in a Norfolk rectory, still rejoices in the beauty of his adopted country.
Now, though, anxiety intrudes. Might the title of one of his most celebrated works return to haunt him? This really is a small island.
“The great danger is thinking that Britain is inexhaustible. It is not. It is decidedly small and finite.
“My great fear is that the outrage will come when people see all these things happening to the countryside and it is too late.”
*To sign the CPRE letter go to www.cpre.org.uk
Ministers are due to deliver a robust defence of their proposals at eight conference fringe events in Manchester, two of which have been sponsored by housing development firms including Taylor Wimpey and Barratt Developments.
However, campaigners claim the National Policy Planning Framework, which introduces a “presumption in favour of sustainable development” will lead to large parts of the countryside being concreted over in its current form as it places too much weight on promoting economic growth.
Steve Baker, MP for Wycombe, in Buckinghamshire, will call for the document to be revised to remove the emphasis on economic growth.
He said: “I think it is something of an own goal. The government should have led by restating the protection of the green belt and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty first and then talking about the need to develop other land to support economic growth.
“We should stop trying to economically plan 20 years in the future and allow local people to decide what is best for their community and allow spontaneous order to emerge.”
Bill Cash, MP for Stone, in Staffordshire, added many politicians were angry the planning reforms were not published before the Localism Bill, which will require local authorities to adhere to the NPPF, had passed through the House of Commons.
He said: “We were not told about the national planning framework until after the Localism Bill had gone through the Houses of Parliament.
“In the context of the Localism Bill how will anyone be able to win as a protest group against a housing development or a wind farm?
“In truth, the cards will be so heavily stacked against them, the entire strategic gearing of planning has been changed against the countryside as a whole.”
Conservative councillors from rural areas are also expected to raise concerns from their local communities about what the NPPF will mean for them.
Councillor Geoff Driver, Tory leader of Lancashire County Council, added: “We are concerned as most local authorities are.
“The danger is that it could take powers away from local planning authorities. It changes the emphasis on development so it is no longer just about what is best for the local area. We want the right development in the right place.”
Sir Merrick Cockell, chairman of the Local Government Association and Tory leader of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, is expected to demand a definition of “sustainable development” from ministers.
He will also asking for guarantees to ensure local authorities have time to get their local plans in place before the NPPF comes into force.
Sir Merrick said: “It remains important that councils are given enough time to fully consult with local communities to develop the local plans.
“It is key that any development brings with it the three pillars of sustainable development – a boost to the local economy, better quality of life for residents and an enhanced local environment.
“The LGA believes it is vital that the Government ensure these economic, social and environmental benefits in the NPPF are given true equal weighting.”
It comes as 20 leading figures from the arts have criticised the NPPF for ignoring the role that culture and the arts should play in local communities.
In a letter to The Sunday Telegraph they say they are “deeply concerned” at the omission of policies to promote and protect England’s cultural infrastructure and activities.
The signatories include the director of Dance UK Caroline Miller, Mark Pemberton the director of the Association of British Orchestras, Rob Dickins, the chairman of the Theatres Trust and Mark Taylor, the director of the Museums Association, which represents some of the country’s largest museums and galleries.
They said: “Our theatres, concert halls, art galleries, museums, libraries, public art initiatives, craft venues and artists’ studios matter. They help promote economic growth, enhance the built environment and develop sustainable communities.
“We believe that culture must be referred to in the NPPF and its role in achieving social benefit, economic impact and sustainable development must be recognised.”
This is Gloucestershire
PROPOSED changes to planning policies would be a “massive mistake” for Cheltenham.
That is the verdict of borough council chiefs, who have penned a scathing letter of protest to the Government.
Their verdict on the draft National Planning Policy Framework was signed off at Tuesday night’s cabinet meeting. Cabinet member for finance, Councillor John Webster, (LD, St Mark’s) said: “This is a massive mistake.
“If this goes through, we will have to stop calling our department development control and start calling it development allow.”
Item 7 here
From Forest Quest
Why should a government set up and pay for an independent organisation that is likely to criticise it? In terms of realpolitik, of course, there is no reason whatsoever, which is why in tyrannies such bodies do not exist.
Yet we have prided ourselves in Britain on being more than a tyranny, and so the arm’s-length quango which can tell the truth to power has been a valued feature of our society, considering that governments of whatever complexion do not always know best and can act out of base motives; and that sometimes public advice to them, official yet independent, is very necessary.
We have been particularly fortunate in this country that for more than 60 years nature conservation had such a quango on its side. When it began in 1949 it was called the Nature Conservancy; and then in the 1970s it had its research arm amputated and became the Nature Conservancy Council; in a ferocious row in the 1990s the Scottish and Welsh bits were stripped off and it became English Nature; and then in the 2000s it was reshuffled once more, and was rechristened Natural England.
Through all its different incarnations, this body maintained a single animating purpose: to speak up for wildlife. It was a miracle that with its independent advisory role it ever came into existence, and we owe it to the 20th century’s most influential nature conservation figure, Max Nicholson.
Nicholson, the man who thought up the World Wide Fund for Nature in 1961 (helped by two other great naturalists, Peter Scott and Julian Huxley), had thought up Britain’s Nature Conservancy 12 years earlier while a senior official in the post-war Attlee Government. Being in a powerful position as the right-hand man of Herbert Morrison, the deputy prime minister, he basically designed the beast himself from scratch, and slipped it through the government machine, independence and all; and for the six decades that followed, to a greater or lesser extent, it championed the cause of the natural world.
Now it is silenced, probably for good, as part of a stifling by the Coalition of all its independent environmental advice. Prompted by the cold-eyed zealot who is the Cabinet Office Minister, Francis Maude – the man really responsible for the forestry sell-off fiasco earlier this year – the Environment Department has abolished its two advisory bodies, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and the Sustainable Development Commission, and laid down that on all matters of policy its green agencies, the Forestry Commission, the Environment Agency and Natural England, will henceforth Shut It.
This ruthless piece of despotism, barely noticed by the general public at the time of a teetering economy, has caused real resentment among many of those involved with nature conservation, which came to a head in the angry polemic by the naturalist and writer Peter Marren, published in The Independent on September 14. (“Our wildlife needs a voice”.)
Marren’s charge was that while Natural England has been silenced, the green groups and wildlife charities have lamentably failed, for a variety of reasons, to step in and hold the Government to proper account. This has ignited an impassioned debate in the conservation community, with many of its senior figures taking part, and you can find the debate in the comments appended to Marren’s original article (tinyurl.com/5ukmqt7), on The Independent letters page (tinyurl.com/3eysll3) and also on the blog written by Dr Mark Avery, the former conservation director of the RSPB and now an independent writer and conservation advisor (markavery.info/2011/09/19/tangled-bank/).
A wide range of opinions is presented, particularly in the Avery blog; most agree on the ailment, but have differing views on the cure. My view is that Marren’s own prescription is entirely right. Britain needs a new champion for its wildlife.
When libertarians (andliberals) argue that increasing the supply of urban housing will lower the price of urban housing, they’re drawing on some pretty basic and well-established economic concepts. And yet, the coexistence of gentrification and housing supply growth seem to put a lie to that theory – in cities across America, we see neighborhoods adding housing while still seeing rapid increases in the price of housing. From the point of view of the poor and often non-white residents who are being pushed out, the market remedy of increasing supply just doesn’t seem to be working.
Any developer can tell you why: amenities. Poor urban neighborhoods, once home to American cities’ expanding middle- and upper-classes, have beautiful homes, but they lack the goods and services that non-impoverished residents demand. New housing comes with higher-end supermarkets, restaurants, and stores, which increase the value of the neighborhood faster than the new housing units can absorb.
There are, however, decreasing amenity returns to scale. The first 100-unit rental building with the neighborhood’s first high-quality grocery story is a huge boon, but the hundredth glass tower with the neighborhood’s fifth bank won’t even be noticed. It’s at this point that the price-lowering effect of dumping new units on the market will outweigh the price-raising effect of the new amenities – in other words, prices will start to fall.
The problem with American urban development patterns is that once a neighborhood has its amenities, new development grinds to a halt. Wealthier new residents have more political savvy than the old ones, and they use this to impose a protective NIMBY shield around the neighborhood. Maybe this is the same knee-jerk anti-market sentiment that we see in other sectors of the economy, but the fact that new residents are more likely to own property and have a stake in keeping the price of housing high can’t help. It’s at this point that the cutting edge of gentrification marches onward, with the cycle repeating itself in neighborhoods farther afield. You can sugarcoat this process by talking about “spreading the wealth around,” but at the end of the day most of the poor will be priced out, and those lucky enough to own their homes or have rent-regulated leases won’t value the upper-class amenities as much as they valued their old neighborhoods. As one political operative in D.C. recently put it, new white residents ”want doggie parks and bike lanes. The result is a lot of tension.”
Recognizing the shortfalls of allowing development only in poor neighborhoods, many conclude that increasing supply is just not the answer. But gentrification happens even without new development, eventually pricing out even vaster swathes of people. The solution, though perhaps not very political palatable, is to allow densification in already-wealthy neighborhoods, too. The gentrifying classes of New York may claim to prefer the roughness of Brooklyn over the opulence of Manhattan, but that’s easy to say when you can’t afford to live in Manhattan anyway. Given more laissez-faire urban land use regimes, builders would inevitably redevelop desirable city cores more intensely than the poorer urban belts surrounding them, softening the blow of gentrification.
But unfortunately for longtime residents who would like to stay in their neighborhoods, politicians prefer to channel growth towards poor neighborhoods rather than risk upsetting rich people’s views and property values. And unless poor people recognize that permitting more growth in the core is the only way to save their neighborhoods, this isn’t likely to change any time soon.
Geographers will recognise this as another confirmation of the ‘taxpaper’ hyphothesis. Ill be writing more on this in relationship to the NPPF shortly.
The Government’s draft National Planning Policy Framework “lessens the protection” for sites of special scientific interest, according to legal advice for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
The sites, which cover about 7 per cent of England, are the country’s most important wildlife habitats and include some of the most beautiful and celebrated spots.
The Prime Minister told MPs last week that the Coalition’s planning reforms will not affect SSSIs. “We are not changing the rules for green belt, for areas of outstanding natural beauty, for sites of special scientific interest,” he said.
But that claim was challenged by Nathalie Lieven QC, the environmental barrister who successfully opposed the building of a third runway at Heathrow.
“I have no doubt the draft NPPF lessens the policy protection for SSSIs,” she wrote in a legal opinion for the RSPB.
The framework’s controversial “presumption in favour of sustainable development” will affect most SSSIs, she wrote. Overall, the effect of the new rules will be to tilt planning decisions so that more weight is given to economic development than to environmental protection. That means development that would “adversely impact on a SSSI” could get permission under the new rules, concluded Ms Lieven.
Simon Marsh, the RSPB’s head of planning and a former government adviser, said the legal opinion showed ministers had not thought through their reforms. “The Prime Minister’s assurances are welcome but we don’t think the Government realises that the policy as it stands is not going to deliver on those words,” he said.
The RSPB has identified some SSSIs that could be at imminent risk from development, including Chattenden Woods in Kent, which is home to a significant proportion of the UK population of nightingales. Developers have proposed building 5,000 homes, shops, a hotel and other infrastructure on land adjacent to the SSSI.
Another example is the Taw-Torridge Estuary in Devon, listed because it hosts large numbers of wintering wading birds. The RSPB fears that proposals for housing nearby could put wildlife at risk.
The presumption in favour of development is the most controversial aspect of the proposals. Ministers say local communities will be able to override the presumption by writing their own planning rules in “local plans”.
But research by the Campaign to Protect Rural England suggests that half of English councils will not have plans in place by April, when the reforms are expected to take effect. Where an area lacks a local plan, the presumption in favour of development will apply.
Shaun Spiers, the chief executive of the CPRE, said: “This silence of the plans risks a real horror story for England’s unprotected green spaces. When the reforms hit, any area without a local plan in place will be more or less up for grabs as opportunistic developers make use of the ‘default yes to development’ which will apply when no plan exists.”
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government insisted that SSSIs would be protected.
“The proposals set out national planning policy more concisely, and in doing so make clearer the importance of planning to safeguarding our extraordinary environment and meeting the needs of communities,” he said.