Brick Lane not Tarmac Lane


A council has been accused of ruining the character of Brick Lane by laying tarmac over its famous cobbles.

Tower Hamlets is spending £300,000 resurfacing the street best known for its rows of Bangladeshi restaurants.

Residents were told without prior consultation that they should expect six weeks of disruption while the tarmacking is carried out.

The work, which will also install lighting, started last month. On completion, a small patch of cobbles will remain by the Truman Brewery.

Local resident Georgia Warren, 25, said she was so outraged she has started an online petition called “Brick Lane, Not Tarmac Lane.”

She said: “I really want it to be stopped. It’s a historical, characterful street and the idea that it needs smartening up seems really perverse to me.”

Transport for London, which provided half the funding for the work, granted the money for “public realm improvements” intended to “support the local economy, café/club culture, restaurants, shops and street markets.

Ben Plowden, TfL’s director of planning for surface transport, said: “At no time did Tower Hamlets indicate that they would use our funding for this type of work and we are taking this up with them as a matter of urgency.”

But senior councillors want the cobbles covered in time for the Olympics.

Shahed Ali, Tower Hamlets’ cabinet member for environment, said: “The new asphalt surface will be smarter, easier and cheaper to maintain and will help to distinguish space for pedestrians from traffic. It is just part of the work we are doing to ensure the area is as welcoming as possible to visitors this summer.”

Although Brick Lane gets its name from kilns established there in the 15th century, the current cobbles were laid in the Nineties to enhance the historic character of the street and the council has argued this means that they do not merit conservation status.

JR of Barton Farm refusal succeeds – New on the hoof prematurity policy unlawful #NPPF

Planning Resource today has an exclusive  that Eric Pickles will have to reconsider his decision to block housebuilder CALA Homes’ plans to build 2,000 homes at Barton Farm on the outskirts of Winchester.

The notorious CALA site was due to be heard at the high court on Weds

But the parties have signed a consent order at the court quashing the decision, accepting that the secretary of state “erred in law”.

This means that the hearing will now no longer take place and the decision will go back to Pickles for redetermination.

This is important as we reported last year, the approach, first used in an appeal at Sandbach Cheshire,  it was used as the basis for decisions on a number of other sites each of which may now be challenged.

In effect though the results may be academic because the SoS can introduce a new policy on prematurity in the final NPPF, and secondly this site is now proposed for allocation in the local plan.

Ed Milliband – #NPPF ‘the government has totally messed it up’ but ‘I dont have a solution’ to building more housing

Andy Teather at Property Week Collared Ed Millband at a charity event

In response to the accusation that Labour’s housing policy was a wholesale failure, he admitted: “We didn’t do enough. Fundamentally we tried, towards the end of our time in government, to say to local authorities: ‘You can say we don’t want housing here or there, but in the end you have to play your card and have housing somewhere.’

I asked him then if he supported the coalition’s moves to speed up development with planning reform. Milliband replied: “I think the government has totally messed it up I’m afraid. What they did is get rid of targets, get rid of obligations and then they’ve panicked, brought it a bloody stupid thing, an assumption in favor of sustainable development.”

Surely a massive contradiction? A question he chose to avoid, saying: “The point we got to by the end of our time in government was that local authorities have to put their housing somewhere. The other issue is private developers sitting on land and watching it accumulate in value and not using it.”…

Miliband continued: “I don’t have a solution for this, but in the end government has to invest in housing, and there’s not much money around so it’s a massive challenge. At the very least we’ve got to say ‘you can’t have a no housing anywhere policy’, what we have now is the worst of all worlds, basically.”

FT Planning reform row to reignite #NPPF


The bitter row between ministers and green groups over planning reforms will reignite on Monday with the publication of a report commissioned by charities questioning the short-term economic benefits of the coalition’s changes.

The revised National Planning Policy Framework is due within weeks, with the coalition set to claim that it has considered objections from critics who believe the document is a carte blanche for developers.

George Osborne, the chancellor, has pushed the policy on the basis that it will help kick-start the economy from its current malaise.

Yet there will be little or no economic boost for two years or more as a result of the new guidelines, according to the report commissioned by the National Trust, the RSPB and the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

The report, written by Vivid Economics, will fan the flames of the argument over planning which blazed for months last summer.

It claims there is unlikely to be any new construction as a direct result of the NPPF until late 2013. There could be even more delay if local authorities are given a transitional period to update their local plans, as recommended by the communities and local government committee.

“In either case it is difficult to see a large increase in the volume of development in the first two years and so unlikely that the change will contribute to the nation’s economic recovery in the near term,” it says.

More broadly, the report concludes that while there are some economic costs from an unwieldy planning system there is no evidence that planning has a large national impact on productivity or employment.

“Planning imposes costs but it also produces significant benefits,” said Ben Cowell of the National Trust. “Without a strong planning system our landscape would look very different and the government needs to understand both sides of the equation.”

The NPPF, drawn up a year ago to condense unwieldy planning regulations, also gives a green light to almost all “sustainable” development.

Sources in the communities department suggest that the revised document will address concerns that it had not defined sufficiently the word “sustainable”.

The new version will more clearly say that the government uses the “Brundtland” definition, under which sustainable development “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

The revised NPPF will also be clearer in suggesting that brownfield land should be the priority for developers rather than greenfield; in the previous version it used the more vague phrase of “land of least environmental value”.

Yet groups including the National Trust and CPRE are still likely to oppose the overall thrust of the document with its explicit intention to make development more likely.

The DCLG committee issued a report before Christmas urging ministers to rewrite the document to remove the default answer of “yes” to almost all development.

It should be rephrased so that planning applications would be approved, unless the adverse effects outweigh the benefits, the MPs said, not just if they “significantly and demonstrably outweigh” the benefits – as the current wording puts it.

The National Trust has warned Britain would soon see Los Angeles-style sprawl as a result of the planning reforms, a charge which ministers have rebutted as “ludicrous”.

Monday’s report is welcomed by Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation, who said developers would back the idea of producing a new “evidence base” against which to make planning decisions.

Responding to the report, Hilary Benn, the shadow communities and local government secretary, criticised Conservative claims that the planning reforms would promote growth and protect the countryside. “Now we know that’s not true. We could do both. But these out-of-touch planning reforms will do neither. And they will create chaos in the system just at the time when people are desperate for more homes to be built,” Mr Benn said.

A spokesman for Communities and Local Government said: “This report misses a fundamental point. Our reforms will put power into the hands of local communities to deliver the sustainable development they need for the future while safeguarding the countryside and other places that matter most to them.

“The current planning system is over-complex, unresponsive, bureaucratic and slow, costing the economy up to £3bn a year and no one disagrees with the need to make it easier to understand.”

Summary of the ‘Inexpensive Progress’ report on the Costs and Benefits of Planning Reform #NPPF

I must say that I pressed for this report to be commissioned as the Chancellor was seeing the planning reform issue as a soley economic one, it needed an economic response.

I also have to say that I would have preferred a fuller assessment of the infrastructure, transport and ecosystem impacts of different spatial forms resulting from the implemntation of planning policy – whicgh is the Smart Growth Economics research agenda so completely neglected by the very behind UK spatial economics crowd clustered around the LSE.

To the nub of the report page 18

One of the primary roles of the planning system is to set the quantity of land available for each use. Either alone, or in combination with further constraints on building height and plot ratios, these regulations can act as a constraint on the supply of land. Where planning regulations constrain land supply, they raise the price of land relative to the situation without regulation, other things being equal.
This in turn can raise the prices of goods which use land as an input (housing, offices, and so on) relative to the level without regulation. Of course, this is not the same as saying
that planning regulations are the dominant determinant of the prices of housing or office space. It simply states that where regulations act as a supply constraint they have an effect on the price of that land.

The opportunities for planning to improve on market outcomes come from two sources: first, market failures, or departures from ideal market conditions, mean that
government policy can improve overall wellbeing….

The second point is that planning can change the distribution of wellbeing both within and across time relative to the situation without intervention. In theory this means
that, planning does not just provide goods such as public open space, which would probably not have been created otherwise, but can also influence the location of that open
space, for example with a view to ensuring people on lower incomes have access to it (pages 19 and 20)

Planning provides a range of public goods including urban open spaces and distinctive landscapes, and helps to protect important ecosystems.(page 21) and economic techniques can reveal the values which people place on these public goods.

Now at this point the report could quite usefully have raised the direct and hedonic benefits that people place on living within walkable neighbourhoods and shorter travel times.

While Government describes its planning reforms as part of the ‘institutional framework to achieve the recovery of nature’(HM Government 2011), changes in the draft NPPF
require planning to consider only some of the necessary information about land values, which could lead to land being allocated to the wrong use. The draft NPPF includes
a requirement that planning policies should take account of market signals such as land prices, commercial rents and housing affordability (DCLG 2011h). However, these values omit the social value of a given piece of land, and are not sufficient for making planning decisions which balance environmental and social as well as economic factors.
Information on market prices could play a valuable role in plan-making, but only if there is a feasible way of complementing this with information on the ‘non-market values’ of land (which include the value of the environmental services provided). (page 23)

It is difficult to isolate the effect of land use planning on house prices for two reasons: firstly, because geographical as well as policy factors can reduce land supply and the two are often present in the same place, and secondly, ’reverse causality’ means that the causation between planning restrictions and house prices can run both ways. For
example, in a local area experiencing high demand for housing (and therefore high prices), planning authorities may be more selective with planning applications and the
refusal rate could be higher, so while the stringency of planning would affect house prices, house prices were also affecting the stringency of planning. Hilber and Vermeulen
(2010) examine the effects of land restrictions on UK house prices, controlling for both of these factors using a data set covering 353 local planning authorities from 1974-2008. They conclude that the effects of regulation are significant and large. To illustrate the magnitude of these effects, the authors show (pp.53-5) that if the average English local planning authority restricted development as much as one of the least restrictive authorities, real house prices in the average authority in 2008 would be 10 to 19 per cent lower.

They also examine the effects of planning on house price volatility, finding that, while macroeconomic effects are important, planning restrictiveness has a significant effect.
These estimates of the effects of planning on house prices are generally estimates of gross costs, at least some of which will be offset by the benefits of planning.

The report questions the methodology used by Cheshire et al. on the supposed additional costs of offices in the UK from planning and any productivity decline due to the operation of the town centres first approach.

The report also addresses, briefly, the positive agglomeration effects of cities.

Empirically, there are
robust positive relationships between density and wages, and density and per person gross metropolitan product (Glaeser 2010). While this seems to provide evidence for the
existence and significance of agglomeration economies, causality is not straightforward: for example, in the productivity-density relationship, it may be the case that:
• dense places are more productive because more skilled people move there; or
• that there are benefits from agglomeration itself (that is, regardless of who moves there, their being close together makes them more productive); or
• both forces may be at work

Recent research has suggested it is city size rather than density which creates agglomeration benefits. To date, the economic literature has found productivity benefits for both larger and denser cities, with only some research (see for example Ciccone and Hall (1996) and Cheshire and Magrini (2008) investigating both effects…

Earlier summaries of estimates from US, Europe and UK suggested productivity increases in the range of three to eight per cent for a doubling in the ‘agglomeration variable’ of interest (city size, density, or proximate working age population; see for example Barker 2006:120). Combes et al (2010) write that estimates from the past decade typically fall in the range of two to five per cent.

The report states this as small but to my mind this is very significant when the effects of compound growth are considered, over a lifetime someone will be earning three times more.  Also the report does not consider the positive agglomeration benefits from reduction in time commuting compared to sprawl or reduction in pollution, infrastructure and energy costs, a critical ommission, it solely looks at productivity issues of people and firms.

This is the crucial section

Land use and transport planning policies can reduce the negative externalities of agglomeration, helping to raise the overall benefits people and businesses receive from locating near one another. The implementation of high quality planning and other public policies can reduce negative externalities of agglomeration, increasing the city sizes for which the benefits of agglomeration exceed the costs. A host of policy responses such as providing walking and cycling infrastructure, implementing congestion pricing, concentrating retail and office space at public transport nodes, and so on, can reduce the external costs of congestion, local air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions while providing co-benefits such as making it easier for people to undertake physical activity.

While there is often a perception that dense urban forms are a necessary condition for achieving high share of public transport use, Mees (2010) uses international comparisons to show that the proportion of residents using public transport is not a straightforward function of concentration, and that medium-density cities which focus on connected,
integrated public transport networks can achieve high shares of public transport use.

On Balls notorious £3billion figure for the development management of housing applications, which assumes as a baseline that all decisions not made on day one is a ‘cost’ even if illeagal the report states:

While the figures for the total transactions costs associated with the planning system can appear large, the benefits of development management can also be large, so that large gross transactions costs do not necessarily imply small net benefits

The conclusion is

Although there have been significant contributions to the evidence base on economic output and productivity over the past decade, they are limited in that:
• they cover only some of the effects identified in the framework;
• they are often for a specific geographical area, firm, or industry, so are not necessarily representative or readily scaleable to the national level;
• in some areas for which there is quantitative research, it is difficult to be confident in the magnitude of the estimated impacts of planning itself; and
• the best evidence available so far is arguably for the effects of the town centre first policy on retail productivity, which is not central to the policy change now being considered.
Nevertheless, there is no evidence available that planning has large, economy-wide effects on productivity or employment.

Overall, there is less research quantifying and valuing the benefits of the planning system than there is quantifying the costs, and even less on the distributional
effects of planning…

it is difficult to see a large increase in the volume of development in the first two years, and so unlikely that the change will contribute to the nation’s economic recovery in the near term.

So to sum it all up, the only area where the report found unequivocal evidence was on house prices, and that the benefits of agglomeration could be maximised whilst minimising environmental costs by persuing policies of compact smart growth – has not this been the position of the campaign Against Sprawl – and this blog – since day one of the NPPF debate.

New Research – Planning reforms Unlikley to Boost Growth in Short Term #NPPF

The report ‘Inexpensive Progress?’, by Vivid Economics, is shortly to be be published by the CPRE, RSPB and the NT


The study into the costs and benefits of the planning system suggests the reforms will have “little or no effect on growth and could even undermine public wellbeing”.

The new report ‘Inexpensive Progress?’ claims to debunk claims from Chancellor George Osborne that the reforms are needed to boost the sluggish economy.

It was commissioned jointly by the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the National Trust and the RSPB, which have criticised the reforms.

Mr Osborne and Prime Minister David Cameron want to stimulate growth and cut red tape by cutting 1,300 pages of planning guidance to just 52 in the new National Planning Policy Framework.

However, the reforms have been heavily criticised for including a new presumption in favour of sustainable development, which campaigners say will give developers a licence to build in rural England…

It concludes that while “there is no evidence that planning has large, economy-wide effects on productivity or employment”. It adds that the draft NPPF “is unlikely therefore to have much effect on growth”.

The Government has already been under fire for using out of date figures to justify its planning reforms. Mr Osborne has justified controversial new changes to planning rules on forecasts by saying that planning delays cost the UK £3billion every year.

Professor Tom Burke, from the Imperial and University Colleges, London, said the report was “a timely antidote to the Government’s planning policy which is a toxic conjunction of incompetence and ideology.

“Turning 1,000 pages of detailed planning guidance into 50 pages of ambiguous text is licence for planning lawyers to print money.

“Instead of the current speedy and predictable passage through the planning system developers will be faced with the uncertainty and cost of the courts.

“This will slow rather than accelerate growth. Since there is no evidence to support it, it is clear that the real driver for this foolish policy is simply de-regulatory mania of the nastier parts of the Conservative party.”

Ben Cowell, assistant External Affairs director at the National Trust, said: “Planning imposes costs but it also produces significant benefits. Without a strong planning system, our landscape would look very different today.

“Government needs properly to understand both sides of the equation before it reaches conclusions about the impact that planning has on the economy.”

Neil Sinden, the CPRE’s director of policy, said: “The aim of planning should be to secure long term wellbeing.

“It should give pause to all those who care deeply about the countryside and the role the planning system plays in improving our quality of life through shaping the places we live. We urge ministers to heed its finding before finalising their planning reforms.”

A Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “This report misses a fundamental point. Our reforms will put power into the hands of local communities to deliver the sustainable development they need for the future while safeguarding the countryside and other places that matter most to them. The current planning system is complex, unresponsive, and bureaucratic costing the economy up to £3 billion a year, and no-one disagrees with the need to make it easier to understand.”


Radical plans to shake up Britain’s planning system will do little or nothing to boost growth and may even damage public well-being, a study has found.

It casts doubt on claims by senior ministers, including Chancellor George Osborne, that the reforms are essential to kick-start the economy.

But the study by business consultancy Vivid Economics says there is no evidence that changes to the planning system would have any effect on productivity or employment and the measures may have a ‘significant’ adverse impact on individuals’ happiness.

Ministers have enraged countryside campaigners with proposals that local councils should approve all building projects unless there is a strong reason to refuse them.

The proposals represent the biggest change in planning law for more than 50 years and aim to ‘dramatically’ simplify the system by slashing 1,000 pages of policy to just 52.

The most significant change is that local authorities would adopt a default position of answering ‘yes’ to proposals for  developments.


But a coalition of campaigners, including the National Trust, English Heritage and the Campaign to Protect Rural England, says the plans will lead to developers declaring ‘open season’ on the countryside.

Mr Osborne has argued that the reforms are vital to boost the economy by stimulating growth and jobs and has dismissed critics as representing ‘vested interests’.

However, Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles indicated yesterday that the Government may be prepared to offer concessions.

In an interview, he said: ‘I’m pretty confident we will produce something at the end of the process which balances the need for economic growth and the need to protect our environment.’

The report said: ‘The Government expects its reforms to bring forward development and create employment.

‘It expects that changes to the planning system will increase the amount of land developed and thus “enable businesses to start and grow, creating jobs across all business sectors”.’

But it concludes: ‘There is no evidence available that planning has large, economy-wide effects on productivity or employment.

‘It seems unlikely that the draft NPPF [National Planning Policy Framework] will have much effect on growth or employment in the short run.’

The report, ‘Inexpensive Progress?’, was commissioned jointly by the CPRE, the National Trust and the RSPB.

Neil Sinden of the CPRE said: ‘To many of us the benefits of the planning system seem obvious. It allows us to take account of the needs of the whole community, while facilitating necessary development that protects and enhances the environment.

‘Sadly, these benefits are often ignored by those who can only see the red tape standing in the way of their bulldozers.’

Stephen Joseph of the Campaign for Better Transport added: ‘This report shows cutting back on the planning system won’t help the economy in the way the Government has been claiming.

‘Planning reforms should be based on evidence rather than assertions, promoting genuinely sustainable development rather than a vain dash for growth at any cost.’

The RSPB’s Martin Harper  said: ‘The Government has a big challenge in steering us out of economic difficulties, but this must be achieved without sacrificing the countryside and coast many of us hold so dear.’

Shadow communities secretary Hilary Benn said: ‘George Osborne says these Tory planning reforms promote growth and protect our countryside. Now we know that’s not true.’


Need for Transparency on Lobbying Techniques on Planning Application

There was more than a little fake indignation from the Telegraph on the use of professional lobbying firms and techniques on planning applications for windfarms, after all the same techniques have been used by Supermarkets for years and are increasingly used on almost all major applications.

Is their an issue with gathering signatures on a petition from the nearest town even if it is a few miles away, indeed most rural affordable housing developments will have sons and daughters of village residents living in the nearest town because they can no longer afford to lives in the village.  Similarly pro-form letters of support, even computer generated ones, are they any different from pro-forma letters of support?

And of course a number of astroturf organisations on all sides of disputes would not exist were it for the cash of their (sometimes few) wealthy supporters offering a platform for the publication of ‘objective’ research that needs to find the nearerst form of environmentally freindly disposal once received.

The real issue is not lobbying but the transparency of it.  If an applicant or objector has made use of legal, planning or lobbying advice should they not have to disclose that as part of the formal planning process? Should not the definition of lobbyists include as campaigners want all groups set up with the express purpose of changing policy – national or local?

Ultimately planning councillors know that planning applications cannot legally be determined by weighing the volume of objections on each side.  But they also act in knowing that it is politically suicidal to fail to vote against schemes with widespread and intense public opposition.  This local failure in planning means that controversial planning applications  will determined by planning inspectors, and rarely by ministers, and inspectors will see straight through such techniques.

Indeed in recent years there has been something of a shift away from such pure lobbying techniques towards consensus based mutual gains approaches seeking to bridge the gap between both sides.  Such approaches can bring genuine benefits as they often reveal ways of mitigating or compensating for any harm.