Telegraph – Natural England, English Heritage to be forced to promote more building #NPPF

A story we first broke yesterday


Natural England, English Heritage to be forced to promote more building

Government agencies which are meant to protect the countryside are to be forced to encourage more building in rural areas, under new plans.

The Government is also planning to cut the length of time it takes for planning applications to be decided, and remove a raft of protections for listed buildings.

Last night campaigners said the change “could enable developers to ride roughshod over the countryside and the views of local people”.

Under the plans, the Environment agency, Natural England and English Heritage will have a new “remit” to promote “sustainable development”. The Government said this would mean that the agencies would have to “contribute to a competitive business environment”.

They would have to consider “the impact of their decisions upon sustainable economic growth, and the viability of what may be economically significant projects” and assist with “swiftly approving planning consents when it is appropriate to do so”.

Ministers are already under fire for plans to reduce 1,300 pages of planning guidance into just 52, and include a new requirement on local planning officers to make sure any planning decisions promote “sustainable development”.

Campaigners fear this requirement, which is not clearly defined, will give builders a licence to develop rural areas of England, against the wishes of local people. The Daily Telegraph has also launched a campaign calling for a re-think.

The plans were set out by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which is implementing recommendations from a review by Adrian Penfold, an executive at property developer British Land.

Other measures include a new 13 week time limit on planning permissions to ensure they do not get bogged down in local opposition, and a lifting of some restrictions on the development of the 375,000 listed buildings.

The Government said that in future “only those parts of a building that contribute to its special interest are protected by regulation, removing the requirement to apply for a consent for works that impact other parts of the building”.

The changes were flagged up by Chancellor George Osborne during his Autumn statement on Tuesday, but only published in detail yesterday.

Mr Osborne said: “Our planning reforms strike the right balance between protecting our countryside while permitting economic development that creates jobs. But we need to go further to remove the lengthy delays and high costs of the current system, with new time limits on applications.”

Property developers were pleased with the changes. Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said: “We’re delighted to see the recommendations in the Penfold Review put into place, particularly the encouragement on key consenting and advisory agencies to promote sustainable development. We welcome the introduction of a timescale and the clarity and certainty that it should bring.”

However, environment campaigners accused the Department for Business of “playing [a role] in undermining environmental and countryside protections.

Neil Sinden, director of policy at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “Time and again we hear that the economic departments are really calling the shots over the Government’s planning reforms. The Government appears determined to make every organisation a tool for promoting its ill-defined notion of ‘sustainable development’.

“Unless there are explicit environmental safeguards, it could enable developers to ride roughshod over the countryside and the views of local people. By making these agencies a tool for promoting development, their critical role as champions of our landscape, wildlife and heritage is undermined.

“They do not exist to promote development; they are there to make sure any proposed development does not destroy our national treasures and environmental support structures.”

Mary Creagh, Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary, added: “ The Autumn Statement shows the Tory-led Government is out of touch with everyone who cares about our countryside.

“Natural England and the Environment Agency were established to protect our environment, yet now the Chancellor is exposing them to costly legal appeals from developers.

““The Government has already tried to sell off our forests, and is now unpicking the laws that protect Britain’s habitats, wildlife, air and water quality. Good environmental regulations have created thousands of green jobs over the last ten years.

“Tuesday’s statement showed the Chancellor has no idea how the green economy works.”

Last night a spokesman for the Department for Business said: “It is important that other government agencies and bodies formalise a consistent approach to sustainable development, taking into account economic, social and environmental factors.

“Planning reforms will set out clear protections to ensure inappropriate development is not approved.”



Guardian – Cameron on #NPPF ‘his hands were tied. …on this, he couldn’t control the chancellor’


When David Cameron invited Dame Fiona Reynolds, the head of the National Trust, into Downing Street recently to talk about planning reform, little was resolved. When the meeting broke up, the prime minister is supposed to have said to her by way of an explanation for any bad blood, that his hands were tied. That, on this, he couldn’t really control the chancellor.

For many involved, the government’s new planning proposals are an indicator of a wider attack by George Osborne on the green agenda. In this row, they don’t know whether the prime minister is hiding behind Osborne’s skirt as the pair go for growth. In this theory, the chancellor has made a tactical decision – that riding roughshod over green policies is the best way to prove they are pursuing growth, just because it’s a vivid display of action. That’s one theory. Another pushed by those inside government is that Cameron and Osborne are engaged in a well-meaning, cool-headed, but pretty dramatic refashioning of what it means to be a Tory environmentalist.

Whatever the reason, Tuesday’s autumn statement confirmed that the green agenda is certainly something Osborne is thinking about a lot. Environmentalists quaked, sceptics were assuaged as a consultation on airport expansion and an intent to axe countryside protection laws were announced.

The chancellor used quite personal language: “I have not shied away from supporting sensible steps to reduce this country’s dependency on volatile oil prices and reduce our carbon emissions. I am the chancellor who funded the first ever green investment bank and introduced the carbon price floor.”

But he added: “I am worried about the combined impact of the green policies adopted not just in Britain but by the European Union on some of our heavy, energy-intensive industries.”

It is a formula he has used before at the Tory party conference, when he said: “We are not going to save the planet by shutting down our steel mills, aluminium smelters and paper manufacturers.”

These industries will get £250m-worth of tax breaks. “If we burden them with endless social and environmental goals, however worthy in their own right, not only will we not achieve those goals, but the businesses will fail, jobs will be lost, and our country will be poorer,” Osborne said. It was one of the more forceful passages in the speech.

Environmentalists faced with this kind of language from Osborne over the past few months have turned to Cameron. Recently, the government has had to agree targets under the Climate Change Act, setting out by how much it would reduce carbon emissions in the far-away period of 2023-2027, and because of the stringent effect of the plans on businesses, Osborne and the business secretary, Vince Cable, put up resistance.

At the time, Cameron brokered a compromise: the carbon budgets would go ahead, but the chancellor won an assurance that there would be a review in 2014 – which means that along with the prospect of two more years of cuts, the next election will be set against the backdrop of a row about how many resources should go into dealing with climate change.

The difference between the pair may be narrower than Cameron’s words to Reynolds might suggest. In official-dom, Cameron himself has allowed for a new mood on the environment. At the regular meeting of the 200 top civil servants a few weeks ago the prime minister was asked by a mandarin whether the government still intended to be the “greenest government ever”.

Cameron’s answer was that where there were “win/win” environmental policies the government would go for them, but other than that, the government would not be going out of its way to go green.

This is another way of stating the new Downing Street riff – that Osborne likes the “politics of ‘and'” not the “politics of ‘or'”. The “politics of ‘and'” allows only for an environmental policy to be adopted if it doesn’t cost the voter or consumer. So the Green Deal to insulate people’s homes and bring down their energy bill (in the autumn statement, the chancellor gave this programme an extra £200m), or fuel-efficient cars – people can still drive, but in a low-carbon way. The “politics of ‘or'” is not OK – it’s energy policies leading to rising bills, as critics argue we are witnessing right now. They are not so much ditching the huskies as catching a ride with the huskies only if they are going in their direction anyway.

There is something else turning heads. The Oxford professor Dieter Helm has written in these pages about the folly of investing so much in nuclear and renewables and not also investing in a non-renewable fossil fuel – gas – readily available globally and potentially cheap. Helm taught the prime minister’s adviser Steve Hilton at university and is close to another government green, the Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin.

Officials confirm that as Britain is closing all its coal-fired power stations, there is a debate inside Whitehall on how much importance gas should assume within a future energy portfolio.What it also means, they say, is that it props up another ailing clean carbon policy – carbon capture and storage – as the prospect of opting for another carbon-emitting project would require a device that cleans it up. When the first demonstration project for carbon capture and storage collapsed in the past few months, the Treasury attempted to claw that £1bn back and use it elsewhere in Whitehall. But it was the permanent secretary at No 10, Jeremy Heywood, who resisted this. Now the £1bn will stay in the Department for Energy and Climate Change’s budget for use later on, doubly important if there is a new “dash for gas”.

“There will be a huge increased focus on gas,” said one minister. “The only problem is those people who think, let’s just stop renewables completely and go for gas.”

Sources say that in the recent round of negotiations on how much support the Treasury should funnel to offshore and renewables, it was Cameron who sought a healthy amount for renewables and there was remarkably little resistance from the Treasury.

Their proposal for the larger end of subsidy was supported. Downing Street still care enough about the memory of the prime minister when he was leader of the green opposition to point out that these policies aren’t strictly “win win”. These types of energy need a Treasury subsidy, but they say that Cameron decided they were win win in other areas.

The prime minister has, in his time, made a lot of phone calls to renewables industries saying “come to Britain” and has been persuaded that the renewables industry, with a competitive advantage in the UK, is critical to UK PLC.

Today the government publishes its carbon plan – how it will reach the fourth carbon budget that Osborne and Cable dislike so much. It will show which sectors of the economy have to rein in carbon emissions, in what way, by when. It’s why, in the autumn statement, Osborne announced the £250m to protect big business from the full effects of the carbon plan.

The disparate group of environmentalists scattered across Whitehall are hoping this is all the chancellor’s rhetoric costs. Sceptics will know that, as things stand, he and the PM are not yet in their gang.

The Defra Protected sites review


Defra will conduct an in-depth analysis of how well the EU Habitats and Birds Directives are being applied in England, working with stakeholders and other Government departments. It was one of a number of measures unveiled in today’s Autumn Statement by the Chancellor.

Commenting after the Autumn Statement, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said:

“The Habitats and Birds Directives protect our rarest, most threatened habitats and species and ensure conservation interests are fully taken into account when development proposals are being considered. We strongly support the aims of these Directives. We want them to continue to be effective in protecting these very important wildlife sites and species. It’s important that we maintain the integrity of these Directives.The vast majority of development cases do successfully meet the Directives’ requirements but a small number raise particularly complex issues which give rise to unnecessary costs and delays. There’s also the possibility that the Directives are being used in ways for which they were not intended. These issues risk undermining the reputation of the Directives, and the valuable protection they provide. I don’t want to see that happen. That is why I am looking forward to seeing recommendations on dealing with any overly-bureaucratic or long, drawn out examples of implementation, without compromising the current levels of environmental protection.”

The analysis will focus on the obligations in the legislation which affect the authorisation process for proposed development, with a view to reducing the burdens on businesses while maintaining and where possible enhancing environmental benefits. It will also look at what is working well in terms of meeting the objectives of the legislation, and what scope there is to learn from good practice by all those involved and to share it more widely.  The review will report by March next year.  Defra will also:

•       establish a problem-solving unit to address blockages for developments where compliance with the directives is particularly complex or has large impacts;
•       make it easier for businesses to understand what they must do to comply with the directives by improving Natural England’s support and assistance offer to developers and consulting on updated guidance before the Budget; and
•       give industry representation on a group chaired by Ministers so it can raise concerns deriving from the Directives at the top of Government

Protected sites are Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) under the Habitats Directive and Special Protection Areas (SPAs) under the Birds Directive.  There are currently 251 SACs and 84 SPAs in England, covering about 6% of land and 24% of inshore waters


1. The Terms of Reference for the Review can be found

Britain’s worst developer gets massive subsidies from Osbourne despite proposals to wreck world heritage site #NPPF

Few with any aesthetic sensibilities can doubt that Peel Holdings are Britain’s worst developer.

The Prime Minister Getting Chummy with Peel Holdings

It has developed Media City UK at Salford winner of this years Carbuncle Cup and other equally dreadful waterside schemes such as its Thamemead on Cylde scheme Glasgow Harbour, past winner of Scotlands own equivalent to the carbuncle cup.

What is most shocking is Peel Holdings utter indifference to making quality places, indeed their is only a single sell – jobs and regeneration never mind the quality, property development for property developments sake.

This would make them simply a cause for disappointment were it not for the massive power and influence that Peel Holdings, based in the tax haven of the Isle of Man, have based on their land holdings in the North West of England and the extent of regulatory capture they have over the political institutions both locally in the North West and now nationally.

Peel holdings have two massive projects in Merseyside at Birkenhead docks and at Liverpool Waters, directly north of the Pierhead World Heritage site.  These are projects on a Shanghai scale.  They also have major interests owning the  Manchester Ship Canal and land alongside it as well as the Manchester Ship Canal. All of these projects have been wrapped up under the ‘Atlantic Gateway’ rubric.

The only thing holding together the ‘Atlantic Gateway’ proposal is Peels landholdings, in large part it is a proposal to extend housing growth along a corridor between Liverpool and Manchester which risks diverting attention from the city centres.  For that reason Manchester authorities have circumspect.

Peel Holdings have had greatest leverage in Liverpool where Liverpool Council Leader Joe Anderson has been a firece promoter of the Liverpool waters scheme, even in the face of grave concerns expressed by English Heritage and Unesco.  Peel holdings have also funded a number of astroturf business and other groups to support the project hiring politically connected individuals to lead the effort.

This was conceived by Peel Holdings and pressed heavily on the former North West RDA.  They then adopted the concept and signed an agreement with Liverpool and Manchester in March 2010.  With the demise of the RDA peel submitted a proposal for a LEP covering the entire corridor, their ambition would be for this to take over planning powers.  Following opposition it dropped the idea in September 2010.

None the less it did not stop the lobbying.  The Hesiltine/Lehy report on Liverpool for BIS this October stated

Government should offer in-principle and practical support for the Atlantic Gateway proposition, including senior level engagement and co-investment

through strategic infrastructural investment, this corridor will become a major driver of national economic development and growth;

There are good ideas here, including expanding Liverpool at Sefton (also owned by Peel by the way), developing key logistics facilities along the ship canal and better road/rail connections to ports.

Heseltine has clearly caught the ear of the Chancellor as his speech said that the government would  help turn, “Atlantic Gateway into a reality”. Despite the verbal mention from Osborne, there is  no reference to the Atlantic Gateway in the Treasury’s full 98-page written report.

What is concerning about the proposal is not the infrastructure vision or the potential for private sector and international investment but how this tempting bait is being used to promote, and bypass normal planning controls, proposals for bog standard and very poor quality developments, of which Liverpool waters is prime example.  For example no less that six enterprise zones cover Peel Holdings sites.

The Liverpool Waters proposal is backed to the hilt by the leader of Liverpool City Council despite Unesco threatening to withdraw World Heritage status if it goes ahead.

Why would anyone refurbish a listed building at risk in Liverpool for offices if you have 100% capital relief and 5 year business rate relief for a new office at Liverpool Waters.  All the proposal will do is suck investment from the adjoining city centre leaving its heritage to rot.

Once Osbourne’s proposals go ahead then English Heritage will have a duty to promote ‘sustainable development’ defined in the NPPF to include demolition of listed buildings.  Even proposals harmful to the setting of World Heritage sites will need to be ‘weighed’ against economic benefits by English  Heritage, who now may be liable for costs on appeal.  This is effectively a way of silencing them.  Rather than bodies being able to offer rigorously independent advice specific to their domain they will have to carry out the kind of balancing exercise that should be the role of the final decision maker.

Guardian -Osbournes ‘most strident rhetoric yet against environmental regulation…a fillip to the right wing of his party’ #NPPF


George Osborne loosed his most strident rhetoric yet against environmental regulation in his autumn statement, slamming green policies as a “burden” and a “ridiculous cost” to British businesses, in a fillip to the right wing of his party.

In a clear attempt to redirect the coalition’s green policies, the chancellor told parliament: “I am worried about the combined impact of the green policies adopted not just in Britain, but also by the European Union … if we burden [British businesses] with endless social and environmental goals – however worthy in their own right – then not only will we not achieve those goals, but the businesses will fail, jobs will be lost, and our country will be poorer.”

Osborne gave £250m worth of assistance and rebates to the mostenergy-intensive companies, scrapped a planned rise in fuel duty, announced a massive road-building scheme and hinted at a watering down of regulations to protect British wildlife.

Environmentalists may have gained some cheer though from the promise of £1.4bn for new railways and rail improvements, including theelectrification of the transpennine express and new route linking Oxford, Milton Keynes and Bedford, as well as the re-announcement of last week’s £200m for the “green deal”, the flagship policy to give households access to insulation.

But his statement was notably light on references to the green economy or the job-creating potential of industries such as renewable power. Green businesses warned that the combination of strong anti-green rhetoric and a lack of commitments to low-carbon industries risked scaring off investment in key new business sectors.

Gaynor Hartnell, the chief executive of the Renewable Energy Association, said: “It makes strategic sense to invest in renewables, to help pull the UK out of the doldrums, yet the autumn statement lacks any specific new measures. There is certainly no evidence of the ‘ruthless’ focus on renewable energy called for by Nick Clegg when he spoke at the LSE earlier this year – quite the opposite – the policy uncertainty across almost every aspect of renewables is draining investor confidence.”

Paul King, the chief executive of the UK Green Building Council, said: “This was an opportunity missed to put green growth and green jobs at the heart of economic recovery.”

Conservation groups were alarmed by the chancellor’s threat to water down some of the regulations on protected habitats for wildlife and plants, by reviewing the implementation of the EU habitat and wild birds directive between now and next March. Osborne said: “We will make sure that gold-plating of EU rules on things like habitats aren’t placing ridiculous costs on British businesses.”

Martin Harper, conservation director at the RSPB, said: “The chancellor’s attack on vital environmental regulation is below the belt and shows how short-sighted his policy for growth is. These regulations [introduced under a Conservative government] have been in place for 17 years and they have not been a brake on development.”

Countryside campaigners also attacked the chancellor’s plans for a major expansion of the UK’s road network. Ralph Smyth, of theCampaign to Protect Rural England, said: “These new plans to build old road schemes have clearly been picked off a dusty shelf without time for much thinking. A return to building new roads in the name of job creation will lead to more traffic, move bottlenecks along rather than solving them, often at an irrevocable cost to the local environment. The idea is sadly all too characteristic of a chancellor who has shown little concern for protecting our countryside.”

But the chancellor’s new policy direction was applauded by other sectors of industry, including those representing the heaviest users of energy. Introducing measures to give £250m in rebates to energy-intensive industries, Osborne said: “I am worried about the combined impact of the green policies adopted not just in Britain, but also by the European Union, on some of our heavy, energy-intensive industries. We are not going to save the planet by shutting down our steel mills, aluminium smelters and paper manufacturers. All we will be doing is exporting valuable jobs out of Britain.”

Terry Scuoler, chief executive of the manufacturers’ trade body EEF, said: “This package is welcome recognition of the significant competitive pressures facing energy intensive companies and should go a long way to address them. Government must build on this by sending a signal to companies looking to invest here that it will maintain this package beyond the current spending review period.”

The campaigning organisation Sandbag said many of the companies that benefitted from the chancellor’s easing of carbon regulations were the same that had pocketed free carbon permits worth hundreds of millions of pounds in the last few years under the EU’s emissions trading scheme