Luton, Central Beds and the Farce of #NPPF Non-Cooperation

One of the most disheartening and depressing developments since the decision to abandon regional planning has been the falling apart of mechanisms for joint planning in some areas whioch might have at least presented a partial replacement towards resolving key issues concerning where and how the expansion of large towns should occur.

Consider Luton and Central Beds. For years they had argued about the direction of expansion of Luton.  They eventually formed a joint committee.  Unusually there was no county member on it, because the county council had been abolished  following a shift to unitaries in 2009.

The key issue at the examination in 2011 was the representations made by JB Planning that the joint unit had is calculated housing supply and requirements and that indicated the need for a west of Stevenage Urban Extension.  They were represented by the formidable Peter Village QC who raised a number of legal submissions about whether or not the plan could continue and whether or not it would require submission.

The inspector conclude in June.

My major concern at this time is that of cumulative change – that is, that the Core Strategy might in total end up being substantially different from its submitted version (which is the one I am examining). In that case it may not be possible for me to recommend the necessary changes to make it sound…it may be best to withdraw the Core Strategy if it becomes apparent that it is heading towards a very clear outcome of unsoundness.

In July they considered a recommendation to include a west of Stevenage urban extension.  Luton members were in favour, South Beds against.  Deadlock.  They therefore voted to withdraw the core strategy and subsequently agreed to abolish the joint committee as there was little point in carrying on.  The SoS agreed to the withdrawal.

This shows two things.  Even with a joint committee there is a flaw in teh 2004 act that enables two unitaries to reach deadlock.  There needs to be a clause in the localism bill to either introduce an outside (+1) member, or, preferably, weight membership by population.  Or even just giving the SoS power to issue regulations under the joint committees clause.

Secondly duty to cooperate is not duty to agree.  Majority voting can help resolve this providing, unlike here, you can avoid a 50:50 deadlock.  The transitional arrangements and the sections of the NPPF dealing with the duty to cooperate need firm sanctions to prevent, deadlock, gaming, withdrawl or other tactics to prevent unpopular but but necessary resolutions to larger than local planning issues.

North Herts #NPPF Response

The main points covered in the draft response are as follows:

  • concern at the unresolved tension between the presumption in favour of development contained in the NPPF and the Government’s localism agenda;
  • Concern also that the new definition of sustainable development is heavily skewed towards economic considerations with only limited consideration to environmental factors;
  • A cautious welcome of the principle that objectively assessed development needs should be met, qualified by unease as to the likelihood of being able to objectively assess such needs, especially as no guidance on the matter is included;
  • A suggestion that the ‘duty to co-operate’ as it currently stands only has negative sanctions to enforce it (that the disagreeing parties will have their plans found unsound) and that there is a need for a positive method of resolving differences and agreeing a way forward when agreement has not be reached;
  • Disquiet that the proposal to allow employment land to be redeveloped for other uses may undermine economic activity, especially in areas where there is a high cost differential between employment land values and other uses (notably residential);
  • An observation that the policy for meeting retail needs fails to take account of existing retail hierarchies, which generally operate at a much larger than district level;
  • A major concern that the proposal to require a 20% surplus on five year housing land supply calculations (effectively making for a six year land supply) appears to have been introduced arbitrarily without any evidence to explain or justify the proposal;
  • A further concern that the NPPF no longer requires the “efficient” use of land in housing developments, which may both jeopardise the delivery of affordable housing and increase the amount of greenfield land which needs to be released for housing;
  • A need for further clarity on how the free schools policy relates to the planning system, notably in the situation where a free school is proposed in an area which currently has an adequate number of places and the consequences for the existing schools in that area;
  • Support the fact that green belt policy largely remains intact, but extreme concern that protection for other rural areas (beyond the Green Belt) is essentially absent from the document;
  • An observation that the NPPF appears to weaken the onus on developers to protect the environment and minimise pollution and other impacts on people;
  • A concern that the NPPF weakens the recently published policies of PPS5 on the historic environment, and that the policies of the NPPF are not consistent with the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990; and
  • A concern that the NPPF will be even more pro-development in a situation where a local plan is absent, silent or indeterminate in relation to the proposed development.

Defining Sustainability in Planning – the approach in the alternative #NPPF draft

Defining Sustainability in Planning – the approach in the alternative #NPPF draft

Our approach in the alternative draft was to reflect the most robust contemporary ideas on how issues of sustainable development can be embedded in planning.

This short note is designed to summarise the literature that influenced our approach.

After Brundtland

Much of the concern about the approach to defining sustainable development in the NPPF was the impression given that it had not absorbed or reflected the considerable thinking since 1987 – indeed that it was ‘stuck’ in the 1980s.  A criticism also levied about its approach towards property development more generally.

One development since Brundtland, which indeed was in the NPPF and has shaped many subsequent discussions, was the perception that sustainable development comprised three ‘pillars’ namely environmental, economic and social dimensions (Communities 2001)[i].

This approach has not been without its critics.

For example Passet 1996[ii] argues that the three-pillar model perpetuates the ‘economism’ characteristic of modern societies. By distinguishing the ‘social’ from the ‘economic’, the three-pillar model represents as a false consensus, which reflects fundamental flaws in the relations between human societies and their environment.  This leads to risks that ‘trade offs’ are presented between the three pillars through use of the language of ‘balance’.  The concern is that if presented in this way the environment will always be traded off against the economy, particularly in periods of economic crisis.  Indeed much of the language in the political disputes over the NPPF referred to the need to ‘restore balance’.

However the more thoroughgoing radical critique is that the language of balance is itself the language of a false trade off, that an economic ‘realm can be separated from ecosystems and have its own rules, dynamics and causations.  This criticism argues that no such separation can be made and that it reverses the biophysical causation.  That economies rest on ecosystems rather than the ecosystems being ‘preserved’ after an apsatial, aphysical, and asystemic economy has done its work in a mythical nether realm that only exists in neoclassical economic textbooks.

Indeed many would argue that this false, though very prevalent; world view is part of the problem.  Prominent urban planning thinkers such as Richard Florida[iii] and James Howard Kunstler[iv] have argued that much of our current economic crisis is due to the ending of an economic paradigm that depends on cheap oil consumption and urban sprawl, no longer tenable in a peak oil scenario.  The Campaign Against Sprawl and others were concerned that the NPPF was an attempt to temporarily and counterproductively boost ‘growth’ through another bout of the ’spatial fix’[v]  of urban sprawl which ultimately would be counterproductive and would further exacerbate an economic crisis induced by the ending of peak oil and the swallowing up of consumer demand in rentier income.

Bioeconomic Views of Sustainable Development

In the bioeconomy model pioneered by Passet (op cit) and  Marechal (2000)[vi] the three pillars are replaced by three concentric circles, the environment circumscribing the social and economic dimensions

This reflects the idea that economic activities should be in the service of all human beings while at the same time safeguarding the biophysical systems necessary for human existence. The social would thus be in the command of the economic, but at the same time submitted to the ultimate environmental constraints[vii]

A biophysical bottom line; without life there is no economy.

Ecosystem Services

A second complementary strand of thinking that has been influential to our approach is the concept of Ecosystems Services[viii].  Humankind benefits from resources and processes arising from natural ecosystems.  These benefits are termed ecosystem services and include thinks like food, drinking water and natural processes such as the decomposition of waste products.

These ideas were popularized and their definitions formalized by the United Nations 2004 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA)[ix] and have strongly influenced the UK National Ecosystem Assessment[x].

The Borrow-Use-Return Paradigm

Another influence is this economic paradigm from Hawken, Lovins and Lovins (2008)[xi]

This presents an laternative model of economic growth with a number of key concepts.  The first is  “radical resource productivity,” which includes stretching natural resource productivity to reduce over-harvesting and resource depletion. The second concept is “ecological redesign,” which recognizes that you can’t throw anything away, because there really is no “away.” The third strategy is a “service and flow economy,” which entails replacing goods with services by leasing products and solutions instead of selling them. When one of these products becomes obsolete, the will then take it back so it can be recycled or remanufactured. The fourth strategy of the “borrow-use-return” model is an “investment in natural capital.” This means companies restore, maintain and expand ecosystems to sustain society’s needs and avoid social upheaval and costly regulations.

Central to these principles is the concept of the ‘closed loop’ in a well known Harvard Business Review Article in 2009 Lovins, Lovins and Hawken[xii] applied the principle that ‘waste equals food’.  Every output should be either composted into natural nutrients or remanufactured into technical nutrients.

Interestingly these ideas have had the greatest leverage in China where they have become official government policy, in the form of the concept of the ‘Circular Economy’[xiii]  a major proponent has been the Chinese urban planning institute.

This approach has been highly influenced by the work of the Wuppertal Institute.  Central to this is the idea of ecological ‘leapfrogging’ The term “leapfrogging” describes the rapid change made by a society or a company to a higher level of development without going through intermediate stage. The idea is that that economic resources for unsustainable fossil technologies can be saved and thus the country can invest these resources directly in a sustainable future, instead of in infrastructure that will soon become obsolete. Ecological leapfrogging can be an alternative to development-as-catching up. It provides strategies to directly enter the phase of sustainability without going through the resource-intensive production and consumption models of industrial societies.

We have attempted to pull these ideas together in the following diagram.


[i] Communities, C. o. t. E. (2001). A Sustainable Europe for a better world: a European Union Strategy for Sustainable Development. Communication from the Commission

(Commission’s proposal to the Gothenburg European Council).

COM(2001)264 final.

[ii] Passet, R. (1996). L’Economique et le vivant. Paris, Payot.

[iii] Florida, R. (2010). The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity Harper.

[iv] Kunstler, J. H. (2006). The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century, Grove Press.

[v] Harvey, D. (1981). “THE SPATIAL FIX – HEGEL, VON THUNEN, AND MARX.” Antipode 13(3): 1-12.

[vi] Marechal, J.-P. (2000). Humaniser l’e´conomie. Paris, Descle´e de Brouwer.

[vii] Lehtonen, M. (2004). “The environmental–social interface of sustainable

development: capabilities, social capital, institutions.” Ecological Economics 49: 199– 214.

[viii] Daily, G. C. (1997). Nature’s Services: Societal Dependence on Natural Ecosystems. Washington, Island Press.

[xi] Paul Hawken, A. L. L. H. L. (2008). Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution, Back Bay Books.

[xii] Amory B. Lovins, L. H. L., and Paul Hawken (1999). “A Road Map for Natural Capitalism.” Harvard Business Review(May-June).


Reform of Moscow Heritage Protection seeks to Regain Credibility

Moscow News

City Hall’s infamous “commission for demolition” aims to clean up its reputation and put an end to a slew of heritage scandals in Moscow’s historical areas.

Representatives of public organisations are to join the commission, headed by Moscow construction chief Marat Khusnullin, according to a statement from City Hall, published on its official website.

The panel’s powers are to be broadened, according to Nikolai Pereslegin, adviser at the Moscow Cultural Heritage Department. “It will deal with the possibility (or impossibility) of new building work in the city center and not only with demolition,” he told Gazeta.ru

In the past 15 years, the Commission for Urban Planning in historical areas and preserved zones of cultural heritage made its name chiefly for approving knock-downs of numerous buildings in central Moscow.

“Over 3,000 buildings have been demolished according to the commission’s decisions,” City Hall’s press-service cited Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin as saying. Altogether the commission considered 4,000 cases, he added.

“In fact, a special organization for buildings’ demolition was created,” Sobyanin said.

Activists, who regularly protested against the commission’s decisions, have now been invited to join the new panel.

Archanadzor coordinator Konstantin Mikhailov and Galina Malanicheva from the All-Russia Society for Historical and Cultural Monuments’ Protection have been listed among the new commission’s members, Pereslegin told Kommersant earlier.

Rector of the Moscow Architectural Institute, Dmitry Shvidkovsky, and deputy director of the Moscow Kremlin’s Museums, Andrei Batalov, have also joined the panel of “honest people who haven’t discredited themselves”, Pereslegin said, Gazeta.ru reported.

However, activists are taking these changes with a pinch of salt and a dollop of scepticism.

Mikhailov’s fellow-activist at Arkhnadzor, Rustam Rakhmatullin, told Gazeta.ru, that City Hall had failed to keep to some of the promises it made after Moscow’s previous mayor, Yury Luzhkov was sacked.

Vladimir Resin, then acting mayor, promised heritage activists to invite them to two other commissions dealing with capital’s heritage, but later said it was unnecessary, Rakhmatullin said.

Indy #NPPF The National Trust is to be allowed to “claim victory” while ministers plough ahead with reforms

Indy

Who’s telling the truth about planning?

‘Strict controls’ are to be announced. The reality is different. Matt Chorley, Jane Merrick and Andrew McCorkell explain 

The National Trust is to be allowed to “claim victory” in its battle with the Government to restrict planning, while behind the scenes ministers plough ahead with reforms to kickstart development across the country, The Independent on Sunday has learnt.

Ministers are already drawing up changes to their draft planning framework designed to appease the conservation group and other countryside campaigners. Details of the new framework – which slashed planning guidance from hundreds of pages to just 52 – will be fleshed out, after officials were forced to concede too much of it was open to interpretation. “The National Trust will have to claim victory,” a cabinet source said, arguing that critics of the policy had wilfully misrepresented it after “reading the planning guidance upside down”.

The most significant concession is expected to be the reinstatement of a “brownfield first” rule to ensure previously developed sites are built on before open countryside. There is also said to be “room for manoeuvre” on a number of other key areas.

“Peace is breaking out all over,” said Dame Fiona Reynolds, director general of the National Trust, which has published a mini manifesto of 10 key changes. These include dropping a demand for 20 per cent more land for building, allowing communities a limited right to appeal against development and giving councils power to refuse proposals that would cause harm. “We are not looking for victory,” said a trust spokesman. “We are looking for a planning system that works in the way it needs to.”

In a sign of the new harmony, Dame Fiona sent a hamper of scones to Eric Pickles, the minister in charge of planning, and his wife, Irene.

The stand-off with the Government had become increasingly fractious. Last week, Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, spoke to this newspaper about the reforms. The claim that creating a presumption in favour of sustainable development was “a massive erosion of the ability to conserve, is bollocks, frankly”, he said. However, ministers are privately nervous about being seen to take on the National Trust, which last week revealed its membership had soared to more than four million for the first time. Dorset was the county with the highest proportion of members: almost a fifth of the population is signed up. Ironically, it was a housing development in that county which is seen as the testbed for many of the reforms.

The development in the village of Buckland Newton is in the constituency of Oliver Letwin, Cabinet Office minister for policy. Residents might not realise it, but their attempts to secure affordable housing for local families have become the catalyst for the coalition’s planning shake-up.

With house prices up to 10 times local wages, and young people forced to leave the village where they grew up, a Community Property Trust of local people was formed, with the backing of West Dorset district council, the Homes and Communities Association and the Tudor Trust, who all put up money. A development of 10 eco-friendly homes at Lydden Meadow is modelled on a converted farmhouse. Building began in November. People began moving in on 1 August; the last house was occupied two weeks ago. From the Gaggle of Geese pub and post office to the village hall and school, campaigners say community services would have been lost without an injection of new blood.

Nicky Barker, a former parish councillor who spent seven years getting the project off the ground, said the community can become sustainable again: “Instead of becoming a retirement ghetto, it becomes a balanced community with a need for a school, shop and a village hall – all the things that a balanced community needs.”

Villagers developed a “Community Land Trust” model to buy and build two- to four-bedroom homes for people with long-standing family connections to the village. Kim Park, 27, a steel worker, has moved in to one with his girlfriend, Kirsty Sullivan, 19, a pre-school assistant. “Normally, Londoners buy around here, and there are a lot are second homes,” Mr Park said. “We can’t touch that with the wages we get down here.”

Five homes are rented and five have been sold under a shared-ownership arrangement, which allows residents to own up to 80 per cent of the property. Owners wishing to move out must sell their equity to people with connections to the village.

In August, days after the birth of their daughter, Ida, Matt Russell, 29, a pub kitchen manager in nearby Dorchester, and his partner, Lydia Russell, 26, began renting a three-bedroom house in Lydden Meadow, after a seven-year wait. From their combined salary of £22,000, they pay £540 a month in rent.

“Obviously, we wanted to live in the country,” said Mr Russell. “My parents are here, my grandparents are here, I went to the primary school just up the road and even the toddlers’ play group. All my friends from school and the village have moved out from Buckland Newton because they couldn’t afford to live here. I have come back to where I was born to give my daughter the same sort of life really.”

Clearly another Oliver Letwin inspired story, like yesterdays Guardian Story.