Lobbyest Registration wont prevent repeat of #NPPF fiasco – cronyisation of policy runs deeper

A few months ago exposing the deep influence of corporate lobbying on policy formulation was a fringe blog interest.  Now a sequence of events places it as front page news.  A regular stream of journalists are now calling me about the influences behind the NPPF.  George Monbiot is running a worthy campaign of expose the funding of various groups.  The charge of ‘crony capitalism’ is everywhere in the air.

The response of government is a so called ‘register’ of paid lobbyists.    But you only use paid lobby firms if you are an outsider and need a way in.  Seasoned political operators know that to get your tentacles onto the levers of policy formulation there are other much more direct methods.

Chief amongst these is to disguise corporate lobbying through funding of think tanks – such as the Policy Exchange and the IEA.  No need to register meetings if ministers and SPADS attend launches in a private capacity or a SPAD is simply at the end of a blackberry.

The second means is to bypass the civil service altogether and invite a businessman to write a report on regulation.

The third and most blatant is to ask party members and donors and those employed by the party (whatever party) in a private capacity to directly write the policy completely excluding the civil service.  The sheer inappropriateness and impropriety of this is breathtaking.  Yet it is exactly this cronyism which was the so called ‘practitioners (read party) advisory group’.  A term the very mention of which sends shudders down the back of old fashioned dead honest straight civil servants and will surely will be taught as a case study in the civil service college of how not to do things for decades to come.

Lets hope the government now realises that this not only produces bad, impractical policy that doesn’t even meet its own aims but that it causes such outrage that the practical implementation of the resulting policy becomes impossible.  What is more the more ridiculously fawning and obsequious the defence of the policy by property interests becomes the more the general public becomes suspicious of influence and motives.  It is entirely counter-productive.

Also it is not just the promotion of certain voices but the silencing of others.  Qualngos such as Natural England have now been prevented from commenting on policy. even though fro some it is part of their statutory purpose, and fear losing their funding.  Whilst even many Ngos fear speaking out, or have their comments blunted,  because of new ‘big society’ funding streams they fear losing

Telegraph – The ‘huge’ lobbying war chest behind the #NPPF

Telegraph

Property developers have mounted a “huge” lobbying campaign backed by the rich and powerful to alter radically planning laws in favour of development, the head of the National Trust has said.

Sir Simon Jenkins, the organisation’s chairman, said the “fingerprints” of rich builders were all over the reforms, which campaigners say will give developers carte blanche to build on large parts of rural England.

“We are up against some very rich and powerful people,” he told MPs on a Commons committee investigating the planning reforms. His comments come amid growing concerns about the influence of lobbyists and business figures on ministers and government policy.

Plans to force lobbyists to sign up to a register in an attempt to increase transparency were delayed by a year yesterday, despite previous pledges from the Government.

David Cameron described lobbying in a speech last year as “the next big scandal waiting to happen” following the furore over MPs’ expenses.

The Daily Telegraph disclosed last month that an elite forum of property developers charged “key players in the industry” £2,500 a year to set up breakfasts, dinners and drinks with senior Conservatives. The club raises about £150,000 a year for the party.

Official records show that ministers in charge of the new planning regulations have met 28 times with figures from the property industry since coming to power and have only seen environmental groups 11 times.

The National Trust and other groups are campaigning to persuade the Government to rethink the changes to planning rules because of fears that they favour development.

The Daily Telegraph is also running a Hands Off Our Land campaign urging ministers to rethink the reforms. The draft National Planning Policy Framework includes a new “presumption in favour of sustainable development”.

Sir Simon was pressed by the committee about revelations in this newspaper that developers who stood to benefit from the changes had donated millions of pounds to the Conservatives and whether this had any bearing on the planning reforms.

He replied: “This process has seen the most intensive lobbying I’ve seen in a long time in this game. The sums of money involved are huge.

“One only has to go through this document with a mildly sceptical eye and you will see one fingerprint after another. We are up against some very rich and powerful people.”

He suggested that it was not a coincidence that a requirement forcing councils to allow new homes only to be built on previously developed brownfield sites was dropped from the draft planning documents.

This decision was “incomprehensible” because there was so much brownfield land from England’s industrial past which could be used for building.

He said: “De-industrialisation has yielded so much unused land — fly over it, take a train. You have got sewerage, utilities in towns. This discussion is a distraction because the fact is there are quite a few companies who want to build on the countryside and make money.”

Sir Simon suggested that the requirement to build on previously developed land was dropped because “there are smaller interests involved in brownfield development”.

He added that the draft planning reforms used language that was “so vague that it is easily actionable” in courts, further tying the planning system in knots.

However, John Slaughter, director of external affairs at the Home Builders Federation who was giving evidence alongside Sir Simon, said: “The merit of having less rather than more on paper is you avoid an overly tick-box, prescriptive approach to the planning system.” He said this had contributed to the current, unwieldy situation.

A 10-week consultation into the draft planning reforms closed last night, and MPs are due to be given their first opportunity to debate the proposed regulations on Thursday.

Yesterday petitions urging a rethink had been signed by more than 400,000 people, including one by 210,000 National Trust supporters, and were handed to the Government. The Daily Telegraph also disclosed last month that Greg Clark, the planning minister, had privately urged property developers to lobby the Prime Minister amid concerns that the changes could be blocked.

Last night a spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “The suggestion that the draft framework was biased towards developers is factually wrong.

“Councils’ plans should allocate land with the least environmental or amenity value, thereby encouraging the use of disused land for regeneration. This means brownfield sites will be prioritised, but also recognises that some restored brownfield sites also have ecological value.

“We will now carefully consider all the suggestions made during the consultation period.” Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, said in a speech in November 2010 that a Bill on political and constitutional law, including a statutory register of lobbyists, would be introduced “next year”.

But it emerged yesterday that legislation to create a register of Westminster lobbyists is not likely to be tabled in Parliament before the middle of 2012.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “It has always been our policy to move to a statutory register. It was in the Coalition agreement.”

A consultation is due to be published in the next few weeks.

Independent – 200,000 sign #NPPF petition

Independent

More than 200,000 people have signed a National Trust petition calling on the Government to rethink its controversial planning reforms, the organisation said today.

Around 210,000 signatures, collected online, in local communities and at National Trust properties across England, have been handed in on the last day of the Government’s public consultation into the proposed reforms.

Ministers say changes to the planning system, which slim down more than 1,000 pages of policy to just 52, are needed to boost growth at the same time as giving communities more say in their local area and protecting the environment.

But concerns have been raised that the reforms, which focus on a “presumption in favour of sustainable development” without a clear definition of what that means, could lead to a return to damaging development and urban sprawl.

The National Trust, with a number of other groups, have been calling for changes to the draft national planning policy framework to ensure it protects the countryside and ensures development that is “genuinely” sustainable.

The ensuing row between ministers and conservation groups has seen the Prime Minister David Cameron step in to reassure opponents the Government is committed to protecting the countryside and to balancing environmental, economic and social needs.

Peter Nixon, director of conservation at the National Trust, said: “The Prime Minister has recognised the need for a planning system that balances the needs of society, the environment, as well as the economy.

“The people of this country truly care about their local community, their local environment, and their local economy, and that has clearly been demonstrated over the past few weeks.

“Talks with the Planning Minister have been positive but it is vital that this widespread public concern is recognised in the final document.

“The range of organisations speaking out on this issue reflects the scale of changes needed to make sure that planning works properly, and does not lead to chaos and planning by appeal.”

Another petition by campaign group 38 Degrees has collected more than 114,000 signatures, while the CPRE has helped supporters send 7,000 letters to their MPs, 5,000 responses to the public consultation and 2,000 letters to local newspapers.

 

 

 

A spokesman from the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “We are determined to deliver a simpler planning system which makes absolutely clear the Government’s intention to provide the homes and jobs that the next generation needs while protecting our priceless countryside.

 

“We will now carefully consider all the suggestions made during the consultation period.”

 

 

 

 

Giving evidence to MPs today, National Trust chairman Sir Simon Jenkins today called on planning minister Greg Clark to urgently make a statement explaining what “sustainable development” meant and that the favouring of brownfield land for development – taken out of the document – was still there.

 

He told the Communities and Local Government Committee that the trust had been “up against some very powerful and rich people” over the reforms, which had been subject to intensive lobbying from those with interests in building.

 

He warned the new document – which sets out provision for neighbourhood plans for local people to steer development and local plans from councils, as well as rules set down by the national framework – did not simplify the planning system.

 

“I’m entirely in favour of simplification, but this is not simplification, it’s making it more complicated.

 

“The language is so vague as to be actionable and the process itself has got new tiers layered into it.”

 

But John Slaughter, director of external affairs at the Home Builders Federation said: “The merit of having less rather than more on paper is you avoid an overly tick-box, prescriptive approach to the planning system,” which he said had contributed to the current, unwieldy situation.

BBC on the #NPPF select committee hearings

BBC

Overhauling planning rules is “no magic bullet” to boost economic growth, the head of the National Trust has said.

Sir Simon Jenkins said there was “no evidence” that relaxing rules on development would help the economy.

He told MPs examining controversial government planning changes there was a “massive” amount of brownfield land already available for building on.

Ministers say the rules must prioritise sustainable development to ensure more homes are built and jobs created.

The communities and local government committee are questioning developers, council representatives and the National Trust about thedraft national planning policy framework in England, which has pitted ministers against the trust and other conservation groups.

The National Trust says the plans threaten to put economic gain ahead of everything else, including green spaces and communities, and it has received 209,879 signatures from those opposed to the plans.

Not proven’

Sir Simon Jenkins, the body’s chairman, told MPs that the plan was “unbalanced” and effectively gave a “green light” to any kind of development, including in rural areas.

While planning needed to be simplified and decentralised, he said he remained unconvinced by the argument that radical change was justified by the need to secure stronger growth.

“The link between the availability of land with planning permission attached and either the state of the housing market or economic growth in general is simply not proven,” he said.

“I do not regard there is some magic bullet in the planning system that aids economic growth anywhere.”

Amid a row over the issue, Prime Minister David Cameron wrote to the National Trust last month saying that ministers “fully recognised” the need for a balance between economic, social and environmental factors.

He said “sustainable development” would be defined to include a reference to the environmental and social impact of building.

Sir Simon said he would back this but he warned that the framework as it stood would result in a “let rip” approach to development in which “resources were sucked” into unsustainable housing projects.

‘Core principles’

The government wants to simplify Britain’s complex planning system, replacing more than 1,000 pages of regulations with 52 pages. It wants to boost economic growth and kick-start house building, which is at levels last seen in the 1920s.

Proposals contain a “presumption in favour of sustainable development” – which critics have interpreted as giving the green light to developers.

Among its “core principles”, the draft planning framework says that those making decisions about planning applications “should assume that the default answer to development proposals is ‘yes’ except where this would compromise the key sustainable development principles set out”.

Chancellor George Osborne and Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said last month that sticking with the “complicated” current system “puts at risk young people’s future prosperity and quality of life” and said they were determined “to win this battle”.

Housebuilders and housing associations have said urgent action is needed to address the “chronic under-supply of homes”.

John Slaughter, from the Home Builders Federation, told MPs that “the planning system has not delivered sufficient land for housing development because otherwise we would not have the housing crisis that we do”.

This afternoons #NPPF DCLG Select Committee – Practitioner agrees to need for transition

Their was no sound for the first 20 minutes of the first session involving the NT/BPF/HBF so you will have to wait for a journalist who was there.

In the second session Cllr Gary Porter  – one of the practitioners group 4 – was entertaining.  Not the sort of cllr you would want to cross at 11.00pm at the end of an exhausting meeting.  He sees everything in very black and white terms and gets angry at other views.

He conceded the need for a transition – not just for putting plans in place but for updating plans to include things like parking standards.  He also criticised the 20% rule saying the figure should be set locally.

The committee was rather slack jawed at his bizarre suggestion that local authorities should be able to choose from several competing sets of guidance on matters such as how to set housing targets – how could any plan be found sound by an inspector – or not have the decision challenged in the courts – in that set up.

Last Day of the Consultation Some True Stories #NPPF

Today being the last day of the consultation of the #NPPF reminds me of being at the receiving end of various consultations.

I remember one policy office in the day before emails who did not put a time for the end of the consultation, just the day.  So she spent a whole evening till near midnight stuffing a fax machine as people phoned up – is it through yet is it through yet?

Learning from that experience I put 5 o’clock on one major plan consultation, put no fax number on the letter, indeed made sure the fax machine was out of order that day.  I made sure that all representations were date stamped so that we could know which were ‘duly made’ and which not.  At 5 o’clock the one stop shop told me they had a queue of motorbike couriers arriving as they locked the doors.  Of course it would not have mattered if the hours had been extended to 6, 7, 8 or 9 their still would have been some left it too later.

Over time the sheer scale of responses increased, especially if there was any combination of houses, gypsies and travellers and pretty or posh rural areas.  In one case I had to outsource data entry of hand written responses to India just to cope.  The firm refused to scan in and OCR bound responses even though it was in the contract, nearly had to sue them.

Of course the more  you consult and the more of a media blitz you run on consultation the more people who will find out about it two months into a three months consultation and so who will claim they werent consultation and how bad the consultation was.  This is a sign of success and not failure.

Of course the greatest risk is consultation fatigue.  I know some authorities who have consulted 4 or 5 times at regulation 25 stage, finding any excuse at all not to take the plan to submission. The irony being that in a post regional plan world they now face dramatic increases in housebuilding because the previous diversion of some of their housing to other areas has now gone.

3 Retirement housing developers urge #NPPF changes – Planning Resource

Retirement housing developers urge NPPF changes

By Jamie Carpenter Monday, 17 October 2011

A group of retirement home developers have warned that the government’s proposed planning reforms will fail to deliver enough homes for older people to meet the needs of England’s ageing population.

Click here to find out more!

In a joint letter to decentralisation minister Greg Clark, the chief executives of Anchor, McCarthy & Stone, Audley Retirement and Housing 21, warn that the planning reforms do not “go far enough to address the housing and care needs of our ageing population”.

The letter said: “Few councils currently plan properly for the needs of older people. Less than half of councils have housing strategies for older people and around two-thirds of planning applications for new retirement housing schemes are refused first time round.”

The letter recommends that the government makes “planning for demographic change” a core principle of the National Planning Policy Framework. “The need to plan for demographic change should be included as one of the strategic planning principles of the whole NPPF,” it says.

The letter also calls for the requirement to undertake robust housing needs assessments to be strengthened and says that specialist housing for older people should be exempt from affordable housing contributions.

“The NPPF plans to introduce a step change in housing delivery,” the letter said. “But in its current form, it is unlikely to address the specific difficulties that we experience in delivering specialist housing for older people.”

Howard Phillips, chief executive of McCarthy & Stone, said: “We are pleased with the government’s overall approach to the framework, but it does not go far enough to deliver the sea change in policy that is required to build more specialist housing for older people.

“If we are serious about providing suitable housing for older people to live in while addressing their care and support needs, it’s vital the government looks at making these changes.”

The consultation on the draft NPPF closes today.