Koch Brothers and Exxon funded Foxes Secret Network – also funded pro #NPPF bodies


David Cameron has been accused of allowing a secret rightwing agenda to flourish at the heart of the Conservative party, as fallout from the resignation of Liam Fox exposed its close links with a US network of lobbyists, climate change deniers and defence hawks…

For months we have been running pieces on how shady funding networks from hard right American anti-planning and anti sustainability think  tanks have been influencing bodies such as the Policy Exchange, which originated many of the dodgy ideas behind the NPPF and how alumni of the the Policy Exchange have entered into high levels of government to drive this agenda through.  The Observer reports:

Fox’s organisation, which was wound up last year following a critical Charity Commission report into its activities, formed a partnership with an organisation called the American Legislative Exchange Council. The powerful lobbying organisation, which receives funding from pharmaceutical, weapons and oil interests among others, is heavily funded by the Koch Charitable Foundation whose founder, Charles G Koch, is one of the most generous donors to the Tea Party movement in the US. In recent years, the Tea Party has become a potent populist force in American politics, associated with controversial stances on global warming.

Via a series of foundations, Koch and his brother, David, have also given millions of dollars to global warming sceptics, according to Greenpeace.

Labour said it wanted to know how, in 2006, when David Cameron travelled to Norway for his famous photo opportunity with huskies to promote his new-look party’s “green” policies, his senior colleagues were cosying up to US groups that were profoundly sceptical about global warming.

Indeed the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), funding Foxes government within a government has proposed a model bill which :

would repeal ALL land use planning and zoning for rural counties by both county and state governments. Under this bill, property could be used for any purpose, without regard for single-family, agricultural, or industrial zoning, or environmental land use restrictions.

This would prevent a local government from controlling development, from choosing to support small businesses rather than big-box retailers, from limiting certain businesses — like nude bars — near residences or schools, and would prevent local governments from keeping polluting industries out of their community.

Without zoning laws, neighbors who were concerned about a particular property would have to bring individual lawsuits to protect their rights against nuisances like smells or pollution from factory farms. They would not be able to act democratically to set rules for zoning in their towns. Land use could only be restricted by contracts — but not restricted in perpetuity — which would require individuals to spend their own money to protect community interests, thereby putting community growth in the hands of the wealthy few.

Indeed High Wycombe MP Steve Baker advocated precisely such a contracts based system at this years conservative party conference.

The Koch brother who fund the ALEC, together with fellow climate change deniers Exxon,  also provide large scale funding through the Cato institute, who through funding of the Europe wide conduit known as the Stockholm Network also fund the Policy Exchange, as well as one of the few other ‘think tanks’ backing the NPPF the Adam Smith Institute.

Ryan Avent on the Economics of Density

Ryan Avent of the Economist has been getting a lot of attention recently with his book the Gated City arguing the economic advantages of compact cities over sprawl, but controversially he goes further arguing that controls on height and building preservation in cities should be relaxed precisely because of those controversies,  He is an interview betweeb him and Speter Suderman of the free market Reason website. Ryan Avents ideas are interesting – but dont always take account of basic geography, for example Manhatten is an Island and San Francisco a peninsula setting limits on basic geography.  These limits helping cause high densities.  There is some confusion on the direction of causality here.  He also assumes zero friction in labour mobility – for example people would not have moved to Texas were their not jobs their.   Avent does show insight on the ‘homevoter hypothesis’ of how attractive and expensive areas stay attractive and expensive though.

Reason: Your book talks lot about the benefits of population density. What makes density so great? 

Ryan Avent: Density is one of the most effective solutions to the problem of how to realize the benefits of interaction. Larger markets facilitate trade and specialization; they provide easier access to many people and many different kinds of people, which facilitates good matches between employer and employee, as well as between friends and mates; and they serve as rich soil for the intellectual conversations that produce new ideas and innovations. Changing technology has reduced the need for density in some of these interactions in recent decades, but it has strengthened the need for density in others. All in all, dense cities remain a critical part of the world’s economy and its societies.

Reason: A lot of people seem to think that a dense city is by definition an expensive city. But you argue that housing prices are artificially high in some of the densest urban areas. What’s keeping prices so high?

Avent: It comes down to supply and demand. Demand for the advantages of dense cities is high, and supply is unable to adequately adjust. Dense cities are often older cities, which have accumulated piles of restrictive zoning rules over the years. And residents constantly press for new limits on supply growth: through zoning changes, opportunistic abuse of historical preservation rules, and by applying political pressure on would-be developers. Dense cities are especially vulnerable to these problems because they’re older—which means more rules on the books and more old buildings subject to preservation rules—but also because there are more people around to object to new development.

Reason: Why are local residents and governments so often resistant to increasing density?

Avent: Governments are resistant because residents are resistant, and residents are resistant because they fear change and because resistance is effective. People worry about the impact of new development. They worry about the value of their homes, the quality of local schools, the possibility of new crime, less parking, and more nuisance. They worry that their neighborhood will become less aesthestically appealing. And they have little incentive to consider the benefits of density for others—for residents of the city outside their immediate neighborhood and for those who are driven out of the city by high housing costs.

Reason: You argue that density has a lot of benefits for residents. But if greater density lowers housing prices, then don’t local homeowners have a pretty strong economic incentive to keep density low?

Avent: Yes—up to a point. Limits on development are somewhat like cartels or unions in this way: They allow insiders to capture rents, but only to the extent that they don’t put themselves out of a job in the process. In the short run, productive agglomerations are fixed, but in the long-run they’re mobile. If development rules in Silicon Valley drive enough people to other, more affordable agglomerations, then other innovators may eventually find it advantageous to follow, and the region may lose the unique factor that created the opportunity for rent-seeking in the first place. And in general, this dynamic is one reason why it’s a bad idea to subsidize homeownership. Renters are happy for housing costs to stay low.

Reason: What can local governments do to help increase the housing supply and keep housing prices from skyrocketing?

Avent: One option is to create institutions to help solve the collective action problem—the city as a whole benefits from density, but it’s in the interest of individual neighborhoods to fight development. Local governments can set zoning budgets, for instance, such that any new restriction on development is offset by a loosening of rules elsewhere. The government can also get local neighborhoods to internalize the broader benefits of density by using a share of the revenue gains from new development to offset neighborhood property taxes or to pay for local amenities. The city can give neighborhoods a bigger stake in new growth, in other words.

Reason: Seems like there’s a political problem here. On the one hand, local politicians always say they want to foster affordable housing. On the other hand, no one really wants property values to fall. How do you balance the two? What’s the message you want to send to local officials?

Avent: The politician’s incentive is to hide costs—to cave to the neighborhood’s demands for less development and then try to mandate affordable housing through still more new rules. I’d argue to politicians that this is all making their city less efficient and their lives more difficult. New growth will ultimately make other problems easier to solve, by supporting the local economy and increasing the tax base. That creates less demand for interventions to “focus on jobs” or dig up tax revenues through new gimmicks. And it creates more room to satisfy local demands for amenities like well-cared for parks and infrastructure. A city that can find ways to accommodate new residents with new development will have an easier time addressing other typical civic problems.

Reason: Are there ways to make local residents and politicians more aware of the explicit costs of zoning rules that artificially reduce supply? And what sort of cost increases are we actually talking about—any estimates?

 Avent: Well, the book was the best idea I could come up with to draw attention to the problem. I do think that with economic problems like this, part of the solution is simply trying to educate people about what the data are telling us. The median value of an owner-occupied home in San Francisco is roughly five times higher than in Houston. Construction costs account for some of that difference, but most of the gap is attributable to the shadow tax embodied in San Francisco’s more restrictive zoning rules. San Franciscans who bought homes two decades ago probably love hearing that data point, but Bay Area politicians ought to understand how manifestly they’re failing their citizens by unnecessarily contributing to high housing costs. It’s frankly unjust.

I think that the recession and recovery may increase awareness of the issue, thanks to the success of the Texas economy. Texas’ success in creating jobs is largely attributable to its willingness to build, and the resulting attraction its affordable cities have to struggling households from other parts of the country.

Reason: You also talk a lot about how Sun Belt cities have expanded thanks in part to their willingness to allow new housing development. They’ve taken advantage of high prices and restrictive regulations elsewhere. Doesn’t this create a sort of marketplace for zoning rules? And won’t that inter-city competition serve as a check on excessive rules and regulation in more desirable cities?

Avent: That’s certainly a possibility. I think it’s more likely that struggling cities will attempt to duplicate the Sunbelt’s success, and will fail. Growth is about supply and demand; if you lack demand in the first place, more elastic supply won’t help. There’s also a good chance that high housing costs will have an unpleasant filtering effect on society. High home prices in desirable cities may force out many middle-class homes and leave concentrations of very wealthy households that are more determined and better politically prepared to protect their neighborhoods against additional development. The more exclusive the productive-city club, the more tempting it is for the rich to pull up the ladder behind them.

And it’s important to remember that one city isn’t just as good as another. Generally speaking, the economies of the high-cost cities I write about are more productive, export-oriented, and greener than their Sunbelt counterparts. New York’s per capita carbon emissions are less than half the national average. The average Houstonian, by contrast, leads a very energy-intensive lifestyle. The national economy therefore looks qualitatively different when people move from high-cost cities to low-cost cities. That’s not a sufficient reason to try to encourage people to move from the Sunbelt to the coasts. But it is a good reason to be aware of onerous government regulations that create an obstacle to population and employment growth in dense, productive places.

Reason: Let’s say local residents and governments in wealthy, high density areas do allow housing supply to match demand. If you’re right that doing so will make a city wealthier and more desirable, won’t that also raise prices?

Avent: Well, it will certainly raise wages. Ultimately, the market will clear. New development will make the city a more desirable place and a richer place, which will attract new residents and bid up new costs. Residents will keep coming until rising costs offset the benefits of relocation. At some point, construction or congestion costs will deter new entrants, and the market will reach a new equilibrium. In that case, cities with better local economies and better local amenities will be more expensive than other places; there’s no getting around that. My goal is make sure, first, that more of the gains to city growth are realized—that we’re not keeping ourselves from picking up big bills on the sidewalk; and second, that the current gains that flow to rent-seeking homeowners are distributed more evenly—in the form of more employment, greater returns to entrepreneurship, and greater real wage gains. In short, we’ve placed a choke-hold around productive cities. Easing that choke-hold won’t fundamentally change the way urban economies function; it will just allow them to play their roles more effectively.

Griff Rhys Jones, Civic Voice President launches ‘Campiagn for Fair Planning’ at Sheffield AGM

At the Civic Voice AGM yesterday its president warned of the ‘rubbishy, short term & wrong-headed proposals being put forward’

Civic Voice has launched its

Campaign for fair planning to influence the final version of the NPPF

Help stop our planning policies being biased. If you care about the future of your local neighbourhood then write now to your MP”

The national planning policies we all rely on to protect our local neighbourhood are being overhauled. Important safeguards are being swept away. We need your help to put people and local places at the heart of fair planning. Please write to your MP asking for their support.

Planning will never be easy. There is too much at stake. Planning policy has trodden carefully for decades. It is about to step massively out of line.

A new National Planning Policy Framework is being prepared. It will bias planning decisions in favour of development.

The review has been headline news for months. This isn’t surprising. Its impact could be devastating. The everyday places where most of us live will bear the brunt. The tragedy of it all is that planning is no obstacle to the country’s economic health and over 80% of planning applications already get permission.

If you share our concerns then please let your MP know. It will only take a few minutes. We have drafted a letter for you to use or amend and it will be sent automatically to your MP by email. Your views count. The Government is rattled and every voice will make a difference.

For more information about Civic Voice’s views on the planning policy reforms click here

Food Security – Issue Yes, Reason to Veto all Land use change no #NPPF

One of the reasons that is increasingly being used to oppose planning applications in rural areas is that of food security.  It sometimes sadly, like the issues of pluvial flooding or soil sealing, is used casually as a ‘lets throw everything possible we can at it’ issue sometimes confusing or providing cover to councillors, and often sadly with little or no real knowledge of the sustainability issue in question by objectors.

It is a good example of how localism will struggle without a firm and scientifically globalist policy basis – at whatever level policy is set at .  Every parish cannot expect to be an expert at such complex issues as global and national food security.

In the post war period we saw something of a battle between geographers.  Some argued that the loss of prime land was alarming and could threaten our food security.  Memories of wartime hunger were fresh.  Others argued that the additional food grown in people gardens more than offset this.  Although prior to 1975 loss of agricultural land was running about three times the rate it was today and gardens for new houses were much larger.  The policy debate lead to strict controls on agricultural land.  So strict that many local councils complained they acted as a straight jacket on much needed housing.  With the common agricultural policy creating food mountains it seemed like the food ‘problem’ had been solved and policy was relaxed so only the best and most versatile land was protected.  That is the policy now in PPS7 and essentially carried over into  the draft NPPF.  Indeed from the late 1980s onward there has been a huge expansion in non-food land uses in marginal areas such as wildlife areas and woodland.

The issue 0f prime agricultural land varies considerably nationally.  In some counties fields are used more for amenity and vanity ‘farming’ and horsiculture rather than actually growing food, much of Sussex for example.  In other areas such as the Fens are almost totally prime agricultural land and there is little alternative but to build on some of it.  With towns naturally lying at bridging points in valleys they often have better agricultural land near them.   Ironically those who have wanted to start up smallholdings and permaculture projects have been forced to parts of England with smaller landholdings, which can be a sign of lower quality land with less incentive to achieve economies of scale in massive farm enterprises.  As every allotment holder knows with enough effort and compost even poor soils can produce good yields.  Soil is made through ecological processes and can be protected and remade by reproducing those same processes.

The actions of these pioneers seeing a dramatic improvement in social quality from the use of their organic methods.    Of course soil quality by itself is not the be all of agricultural productivity, Dutch style intensive horticulture doesn’t use soil at all in the main, whilst some products, such as Jersey Royal Potatoes, thrive in poorer soils on steeply sloping sites.

The rise in farmers markets has made us much more aware and supportive of local farmers.  But ‘food miles’ is a crude metric.  I remember working in a desert country and one uk ‘sustainability consultant’ told me the national objective should be to reduce food miles.  I asked him where the oil would be diverted from to desalinate the water to grow the food.  For that reason Saudi Arabia, facing declining oil production, is ending desert wheat growing and importing it from water rich countries from the south.    With food, as with everything else, you need to take a process orientated total systems approach to sustainability.

The current jolt to thinking was the massive spike to food prices beginning in 2007-8.  This had many causes, rising demand in asia, biofuels demand, speculation of rising prices,  oil price hikes, rising population.  The end result was to shock the world out of thinking that food prices could continue falling forever.

There is little doubt that England could be much more productive in food.  We import about 40% of our food, and we are about 70% self sufficient in the food we can grow in England.  Undoubtedly a growth in smaller more intensive organic farms and allotments will increase production, but there will be pressure from other directions, for example were we to end all battery chicken production (a good thing) this would require  an extra area the size of Dorset to be devoted to free range chicken farming, similarly with pig farming.  Also global warming will place at significant risk from sea level rise much of our prime agricultural land in the East of England.  Defra’s Land use futures report in 2010 looked in detail at many of these issues.

What is remarkable is that since the food price shock of 2007-8 we have not had a national review of policy on food security and land use.  With the debates over the NPPF now is time for one.

Planning Gain is a global phenomena

David Simons well known fixer for planning consents in Russia

One reason for the misconception about corruption is linked to the fact that local authorities are trying to get things done on tight budgets. They need something done, and we always have to help in the local region where we’re working. We have done several — what I would term socially responsible — projects on behalf of local administrations. When we were building Phase One at South Gate, for example, we contributed to the repair of a pedestrian bridge across the M4, which borders one side of our site, to make it safe for people to get to work. You know, you don’t want to run across a six-lane highway. And we’re actually now helping repair the local medical center. These projects are fully compliant with all rules and regulations. We understand that we have to contribute to the area where we’re working.

It’s possible to work this way. IKEA is well known as being on record for doing the same. But we will not, under any circumstances, entertain corruption, either direct or indirect.


FA and Sport England Criticise #NPPF – Telegraph


Football’s governing body point out that 84 per cent of football in England is played on publicly-owned pitches.

Therefore, England’s future success as a football team relies on the Wayne Rooneys or David Beckhams of the future having a pitch to play on.

However, planning law reforms would mean thousands of playing fields could be ploughed up to make way for housing or offices, the FA has warned MPs.

As Britain prepares for the 2012 Olympics, Sport England also warned that weakening protection of sports facilities could limit the Olympic legacy by failing to safeguard facilities for future athletes – and make the obesity problem worse.

At the moment, any planning application to build on a playing field has to be assessed by Sport England to ensure it does not hit grassroots facilities. Land can only be built on only if playing fields are proved to be “surplus to requirements” or new, better facilities are provided.

In a submission to the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), the FA complains: “The Football Association considers that the proposals put forward as part of the NPPF place playing fields and facilities at great risk, in favour of broader development aspirations, and in so doing reduce opportunities for future generations to participate in their national game and, more generally, for the public to participate in healthy sport.

“Football growth, as seen over the past decade, will simply not be possible without a protected and sustained national network of playing fields, free from threat of development.”

Sport England said future talent in sports such as athletics and tennis are also threatened, as are facilities to ensure people are fit and healthy.

Its submission to the EAC reads: “Sport England believes that the current draft NPPF would create a planning system that would not protect sports facilities from being lost to development and also provide no guarantee that sports facilities that are needed to meet the sport and recreational needs generated by future generations would be secured.”

The Department for Communities and Local Government insists sports facilities will be protected under the new rules.