Geoffrey Lean – Telegraph, Planning: shake it up, don’t break it #NPPF


Green issues – or so the conventional wisdom goes – fall off the public and political agenda when the economy turns down. In fact that is no longer true: environmental concerns have become so entrenched in Britons’ values that they remain remarkably robust in bad times as well as good. Even so, it is rare for one actually to come under an ever brighter spotlight as the economic outlook darkens – as is now happening with the Government’s planning reforms.

Certainly, prospects could hardly be more perilous. This week, as youth unemployment passed the million mark, the Bank of England slashed its growth forecasts for both this year and next. The chance of a double-dip recession sharply increased, while the eurozone crisis grew ever more critical. And yet the great planning controversy – which had seemed to be going quiet over the past weeks as ministers got down to working painstakingly through the suggested amendments to the much-criticised draft National Planning Policy Framework – broke out again as intensely as ever.

In a remarkable article in The Daily Telegraph on Tuesday – the very day she went to No 10 to talk the plans over with the Prime Minister – Dame Fiona Reynolds, the director-general of the National Trust, announced that its campaign against “mistakes that will lock us into inefficient, ugly and expensive development patterns for ever” was “far from over”. And it emerged that Tory ministers had broken ranks with the party leadership by urging their colleagues to scrap the proposals and start again. “Downing Street is completely out of touch on this subject,” one was reported as saying. “It is causing widespread anger out the country.”

By contrast, many of the most senior figures in the Government have become ever more determined radically to shake up the planning system as the economic news has got worse, since they see it as a precondition of restoring growth. The proposal is expected to feature prominently in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement in 10 days, along with plans for Britain to build its way out of trouble by constructing roads, other infrastructure and homes. Unsurprisingly, Dame Fiona warned that the Government could end up publishing its draft proposals “more or less unaltered, using the current crisis as a smokescreen”.

Both positions, let it be said, are honourable, far removed from their opponents’ caricatures of ministers repaying fatcat developer funders or of preservationists out to defend every blade of grass. Both want to see growth restored and many more houses built: they differ fundamentally on how to go about it.

Who would not sympathise with the Coalition leadership as the economy not only fails to respond to its tough medicine, but becomes ever more critically ill? But seizing on the reforms as a cure is akin to a desperately sick patient resorting to quackery. There is simply no evidence that the planning system inhibits growth. Inquiry after inquiry has failed to find any, and the Chancellor’s endlessly repeated claim that it costs the country £3 billion a year turns out to be based on an estimate three decades old.

Building houses can certainly be a good way to revive sick economies. Constructing hundreds of thousands helped Britain survive the depression of the 1930s, and formed the foundation of Brazil’s economic miracle 40 years ago. The Centre for Economic and Business Research estimated that trebling the number of new homes by 2015 would create over 200,000 new jobs and increase GDP by £75 billion. And they are desperately needed: fewer are now being built than at any time since the 1920s, and Shelter has estimated that 2.5 million young people are postponing starting families because they don’t have a place of their own.

But, as even ministers now acknowledge, it is too little finance, not too much planning, that is preventing housebuilding. Developers are already sitting on enough land, with planning permission, to build a terrace of homes from John O’Groats to Land’s End, and – as a Campaign to Protect Rural England report showed last week – an ever-growing supply of brownfield land provides space enough for nearly 1.5 million new dwellings. Indeed, planning can ensure that the new homes, when they are built, go where people actually want to live – overwhelmingly in the cities and towns where they work and which have good transport – rather than reproducing the empty, unsellable “ghost estates” that litter the largely unplanned Irish countryside. And since most growth will be driven by urban areas (look at the revival of Manchester) this will be of particular benefit to the economy.

No one denies the planning system needs some reform, but crippling it will do nothing for growth, while improving it could genuinely boost the economy. As the financial crisis deepens, it becomes ever more critical that the Government understands the difference.

Mortgage Indemnity Scheme to replace FirstBuy in Housing Green Paper

Rumors have been going around for the last few days that the key announcement in the housing Green Paper on Monday will be a scheme to aid deposits for first time buyers.  The current FirstBuy scheme is poor value for money £210 million to fund only only 10,000 dwellings, and at premium rates.  An insurence based scheme should be able to fund many more

(Reuters) – Britain is set to announce a mortgage guarantee scheme for first-time home buyers, aiming to support the property market where activity is languishing at near-record low levels due to fears over the economy.

Media reported that Chancellor George Osborne would include a form of mortgage indemnity guarantees in his autumn statement on November 29, when he is due to present new measures to support the struggling economy.

A Treasury spokesman declined to discuss “speculation” ahead of the autumn statement.

The Home Builders Federation said it had been talking to the government for months on behalf of the industry to find ways to get lenders to lend at realistic rates.

A source close to the discussions said an agreement could be announced as soon as next Monday.

“Housebuilders and government put a percentage of the sale price into a pot, such that if a person defaults, the lender is insured and this will insure that lenders lend at 95 percent loan-to-value,” the source said.

A mortgage indemnity guarantee would reduce the risk on mortgages where borrowers put down a small deposit and would protect lenders if homeowners fell into negative equity.

If a home had to be sold for less than its mortgage value, the lender could claim on the guarantee.

The aim is to allow potential buyers to access mortgages with just a 5 percent deposit and still get a good rate, rather than the current average deposit for first-time buyers, which is running at 20 percent.

Earlier this month, the Council for Mortgage Lenders said mortgage repossessions had risen slightly in the three months to September compared with the previous quarter.

Mortgages at up to 95 per cent loan-to-value are still available but are much harder to obtain than before the credit crunch hit. Loans that are available also command much higher borrowing rates due to the higher risk of borrowers falling into negative equity but also because banks are required to hold more capital against low deposit mortgages.

Officers Recommend that Barton Farm – The Cala Test Case – is allocated #NPPF

Barton Farm Winchester, the site of the CALA I, II and now III judicial reviews has been recommended for allocation for housing by City of Winchester Planning Officers and will be decided by its Cabinet LDF Committee on the 28th of November.

It was the potential deletion of the site due to lowering of housing numbers from that proposed in the regional spatial strategy that led to the CALA I and II JRS.

A recovered appeal was refused by the SoS essentially on ‘prematurity’ grounds to enable the council to complete its revised core strategy process.

The broad principle that this site be taken forward was accepted in a 10th Novmber committee meeting where the report stated.

[The consultation] dealt with the issue of whether [a 4,000 dwelling requirement] requirement should be met at Barton Farm, or by an alternative strategy of more intensive development within the existing urban areas with smaller-scale
greenfield releases. Following the Barton Farm appeal decision, it is now possible to reach a recommendation on this issue.
The Secretary of State dismissed the Cala Homes appeal at Barton Farm, but only on the basis that the City Council should be given the opportunity to complete the process it started with Blueprint and reach a conclusion on how to meet development needs through the Core Strategy. There were no fundamental planning objections raised to the Cala scheme by the Secretary of State, indeed the Planning Inspector recommended that the scheme should be approved and both she and the Secretary of State praised its high quality.

The likely capacity of the town to accommodate the level of development needed has been further examined and an approach promoting high density development in certain parts of the town has been considered. It is concluded that these options would not achieve the level of housing needed and would be either undeliverable or particularly harmful to the environment and economy of the town and should not therefore be pursued. It is, therefore, recommended that the planning strategy for Winchester should include a strategic allocation at Barton Farm.

It should be noted that Winchester is actively selling off town centre car parks to maximise urban brownfield cpacity but these will not be enough.  Local architects had proposed high density housing for around 2,000 dwellings on three sites but officers recommended that the loss of commercial floorspace would be unacceptable and that there still would be need for land for new schools etc.  Officers also recommended that

The type of development that would be needed to achieve the housing numbers proposed would require high density, medium-rise development (6-7 storeys), with a high proportion of flats. Development of this form at this scale is not characteristic of Winchester and does not appear to meet the need identified through Blueprint for smaller family units, accommodation for the elderly and affordable housing…

Barton Farm is a relatively unconstrained area of land which is some distance from the key constraints of
the National Park, Itchen SAC, Conservation Area or listed buildings. It includes sufficient land to provide recreational, social and educational facilities on-site and will secure further ‘mitigation land’ to the east of the railway line. The recent appeal decision has confirmed that there are no overriding constraints to the development of Barton Farm and that it would form a
sustainable community.
The high density option on the other hand would adjoin the National Park (and even intrude into it at Winnall) and potentially impact on the Conservation Area, flood risk areas and SSSIs. It would displace uses which may need to be relocated and is unlikely to accommodate all of the uses needed to serve it. These would need to be provided/relocated elsewhere, possibly on less suitable land outside the settlement boundary.
In conclusion, therefore, the high density development option cannot be viewed as a ‘reasonable alternative’ at this stage as it is not sufficiently developed to be deliverable or to show that it is preferable to Barton Farm. It does not achieve the aim of retaining the existing settlement boundary, which some respondents promote, and raises the prospect of a form of development which may be very harmful to the character and setting of the town, which would be a matter of concern to many respondents.

If this is accepted and taken forward to submission by full council the key issues at the examination is whether or not the hiogher housing numbers proposed by CALA homes and other objectors is necessary and whether or not the ‘alternative high density solution’ is a batter alternative site.  Both sets of objectors will need do do their own SEAs.

Rochford Core Strategy Found Sound – with East of England Plan housing numbers

Inspectors’ Report here

Post submission and post the SoSs announcement of the revocation of regional strategies the LPA tried to reduce housing numbers.  Following the CALA II case they asked to delay the examination until after the RSS had been revoked.  The inspector would not let them and instead decided to proceed on the basis of the originally submitted plan.

The original examination hearings were in May 2010, making this a record length examination, although South Wiltshire will soon pass it.

Because of the shenanigans the delay caused the plan to be two years short of a 15 year housing supply, the inspector said it would be draconian to find the plan in these circumstances.  Other inspectors would have requested them to add two years to the end of the plan period.

It goes to Council on 13th December for consideration and, subject to approval by the Council, formal adoption.  The plan includes removal of some sites from the Green Belt, so it would be a theoretical possibility of Rochford doing a Coventry and adopting and withdrawing on the same day, though this would make them vulnerable on appeals outside the Green Belt.

Darth Vader Claims Right to ‘Build What he Likes Where He Likes’ #NPPF

A Ukrainian Law has been passed giving its citizens rights to 1 HA of land.  However it has been immediately used for corrupt purposes with plum sites next to the Black Sea being granted to those best connected.

So local cmpaigners contected the Dark Lord of the Sith according to Dumsyka Net

“I am Darth Vader, the right hand of Emperor Palpatine,…Knowing that many [local legislature] deputies and the mayor have switched to the dark side … I have come for a land plot … for my space cruiser.”

According to Rueters 

Officials accepted the man’s application after he showed his passport and removed the black helmet equipped with a voice-distorting device.

“The application has been registered and will be considered,” a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office told Reuters.

“We are not on the dark side, we are light-side people,” she added.

A visit to England by the dark lord might be next in order.

‘not a stellar amount’ of new funding in new housing strategy to be announced Monday – Inside Housing

Inside Housing

Prime minister David Cameron is expected to announce new funding and plans to build up to 450,000 new homes in the government’s long-awaited housing strategy.

After a series of delays, Mr Cameron is expected to announce the strategy early next week. Sources close to the government said it was set to include a pledge to build up to 450,000 homes by the next election as part of the ‘house building revolution’ Mr Cameron promised in September.

It is understood that the strategy, which will mostly weave together existing policies, will allocate new cash which a government insider described as being worth ‘a few hundred million’.

Inside Housing understands there were ongoing inter-departmental discussions this week about the final contents of the strategy and how the money should be split across building new homes, a mortgage scheme and tackling empty homes.

Although the source warned the new cash was not a ‘stellar amount’, it is significant given many in the sector had expected none at all.

The Chartered Institute of Housing warned on Tuesday that the strategy could just be ‘a series of strong articulations of what’s [already] been announced’.

However, new announcements are thought to include: plans for ‘light touch’ regulation of the private rented sector; the release of more public sector land; moves to attract institutional investment into the affordable housing sector; and a call for new companies to enter the affordable housing sector.

One of the most eagerly awaited parts of the strategy for councils is likely to be an accompanying consultation on the government’s proposed revitalisation of the right to buy which will see it replace every sold home and build 100,000 new affordable homes at 80 per cent of market rates.

The consultation will reveal the level of discount available to tenants wishing to purchase their home and a broad outline of how sales receipts will be distributed.

It is understood the document will suggest that the Homes and Communities Agency administer the receipts. The council which sold the property will see the debt associated with that property paid off and have priority for the receipts, which will be used to build new homes.

This would represent a partial victory for councils. The Local Government Association has argued that the alternative, national pooling of receipts, would reduce the amount available for investment in housing and impact the new system of self-financing, which begins in April.

Ministers join rebellion against more building in countryside – #NPPF – Independent


Tories representing rural constituencies fear public backlash over looser planning regime

Conservative ministers have joined the revolt against the Government’s controversial proposals to relax the planning rules to allow more building in the countryside.

The rebel ministers have written strongly worded private letters to Greg Clark, the Planning minister, urging him to think again about his move to streamline planning guidance to include “a presumption in favour of sustainable development”.

David Cameron regards the change as a crucial part of his “go-for-growth” strategy, because more housebuilding would give the economy a boost. A new housing strategy is expected to be unveiled next week, but critics claim the new planning rules would result in a free-for-all that could ruin large parts of the countryside.

Until now, criticism of the planning shake-up has been confined to Tory backbenchers echoing the concerns of environmental groups. Now the Prime Minister is facing a rebellion from ministers who represent rural constituencies and fear a public backlash unless the draft National Planning Policy Framework is rewritten.

One said yesterday: “Downing Street is completely out of touch on this subject – it is causing widespread anger out in the country. It could have been sorted out pretty easily if only some of the bright sparks around David Cameron spent more time talking to real people.”

Another minister said: “It is very worrying. It is likely to result in the destruction of some of our most beautiful rural areas. This document is more about quantity – and the need to build houses – than quality, the need to preserve our countryside.” The minister added: “We are losing the argument on this. It is very unpopular in the country and the media. We should go back to square one and rewrite what is a badly drafted document.”

Despite the Government’s commitment to “localism”, some ministers believe the new guidance would force planning inspectors to override the views of councils and their residents when they opposed building projects. They claim the document presents a “false choice” between growth and preserving the countryside instead of ensuring both, and warn that it would encourage farmers to earmark land for development.

The rebel ministers believe there is scope for more housebuilding on brownfield sites without invading the green belt. The Campaign to Protect Rural England argues that such previously developed land could provide 1.5 million homes – enough to meet the Government’s building targets for six years.

Despite the high-level protests, Mr Clark is expected to push ahead with his proposal to slim down 1,300 pages of planning rules to just 52. The formal consultation process has ended and his final statement, expected in January, is likely to include only minor changes.

Allies of Mr Clark played down the representations he has received from fellow ministers, insisting it was “standard practice” for them to write on behalf of their constituents because they were not allowed to speak in public on issues outside their own brief.

Yesterday Labour warned that developers could be given the go-ahead to build in England’s 10 national parks, which include Dartmoor, Exmoor, the Lake District, Peak District and New Forest. The Government plans to give park authorities a new duty to “facilitate sustainable development”. Mary Creagh, the shadow Environment Secretary, said the change could amount to a “licence to build on our national parks”.

A separate consultation exercise on the parks is being carried out by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which insists they will remain “England’s crown jewels”.

Mr Cameron defended the Government’s planning strategy on Tuesday when he met Dame Fiona Reynolds, director general of the National Trust, which has led the opposition to the shake-up. She urged the Prime Minister not to use the economic crisis as a “smokescreen” for a “quick fix” planning free-for-all which would be regretted in the long term.

A Number 10 spokesman 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 countryside

Ministers decide against Offices to Homes UCO plans – Planning Resource

Planning Resource

Rumours are continuing to circulate that the government will water down plans to relax rules on changing offices into flats by including the proposals in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) rather than introducing them via secondary legislation….

Newspaper reports last week claimed that the government is watering down the plans following the widespread opposition from council planners.

This week, a member of the expert panel advising the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) on planning issues told Planning that he had learned “through conversations with government officials” that the department has decided against introducing the proposals via secondary legislation, electing instead to put them into the NPPF.

Roger Hepher, head of planning and regeneration at consultancy Savills and a member of the DCLG’s planning sounding board, said: “My understanding is that ministers have listened to the concerns expressed by various groups in their consultation responses. They’ve realised that the proposals were a blunt instrument that would have had unintended negative consequences.”

These consequences could have included creating homes in commercial areas severely lacking in residential amenities and prompting new residents to object to noise from neighbouring industrial occupiers, he said.

Legislation would have been necessary to amend the General Permitted Development Order to allow office to residential conversions without planning permission. Hepher said: “All ministers can really do through the NPPF is to advise planning authorities not to object to applications of this kind. This is a substantial watering down because advice is only advice, and authorities could choose to follow it or not.”

A DCLG spokeswoman said: “The government has consulted on proposed changes to use class orders and is now considering responses before deciding on the way ahead.”