What if Octavia Hill had succeeded in getting a Green Belt declared in 1875?

Ben Cowell at the NT blog reminds us that the term ‘Green Belt’ was first coined by Octavia Hill in 1875 as part of her unsuccessful campaign to purchase Swiss Cottage Fields to save it from development (though only having £25 pounds certainly didn’t help).

It certainly is not inconceivable that London could have had a Green Belt in 1875 and it is useful to speculate what would have been the effect if one had then been declared.

After all laws controlled urban expansion were nothing new dating back to Queen Elizebth the first.

1875 was also something of a propitious year.  It was the year that the first modern town planning legislation in the World was passed, the Prussian Planning Law of 1875, it was also the second year of Disrealis reforming term and 1875 saw some pioneering social reforms including the banning of child chimney streets and the Artisans Dwellings Act, the first proper slum clearance and social housing act.  This though in line with Disreali’s philosophy was entirely permissive local boards could exercise it but did not have to.  So it is possible to envisage legislation along the lines of the 1938 Green Belt Act empowering local bodies.

In other ways though it was unlikley.  The agricultural depression of the 1870s had begun and the long slow decline of the great estates, which you certainly dont see on Downton Abbey, had begun, with cheap wheat from abroad agricultural land no longer paid and many estate owners around London were eager to sell.  As the party representing the landed interests, and with the franchise still so narrow,  it would have been unlikely that the Tories would have been eager at the time.

In 1875 we also saw a detailed parish map of London by Stanfords (published in 1877).

This shows Hampstead still a village, London not extending South East beyond Clapham Common, to the West not beyond Hammersmith, Greenwich still surrounded by fields, and to the East only having reached the River Lea in parts.   It certainly then was conceivable to have a Green Belt retaining the separate identity of towns such as Richmond, Greenwich and Barnet.

What then if there was a Green Belt ‘several miles wide’ as the famous circular of 1875 said.

London would have been contained about the size of Vienna, or the Paris Arrondissimonds, so certainly it still could have maintained the character of a great city.

Where we now see Willesden, or Clapton, Nunhead, Eltham or West Ham would just be fields and Stratford would be a small freestanding town, as would Crystal Palace and Sydenham.   The Southern Part of Fulham was still rural.  You would be able to walk east from Hampstead Heath through continuous contryside and swing south along the rural river Lea to Leamouth.  You would also be able to circle London to the South from Clapham Common to Deptford.

Housing conatining population approaching 2 million or so would not exist, but would Greater London be any smaller in population?  Probably not as within London there would have been much more pressure to develop at continental style apartment densities inside the ‘Green Belt’ and cities such as Berlin have far higher densities.  It would not necessarily be the London of villa housing so beloved of writers such as Rassmussen.

There would also be much more pressure to develop at higher densities in the Railway suburbs beyond the ‘inner’ Green Belt’ around town like Hounslow, Wembley, Barnet, and Bromley.  They would be far less likely to be leafy metrolands, and also may well have extended much further before the ‘outer’ Green Belt, though it is likely they would be less car dependent.  The structure may well have been similar to that of Moscow beyond the Garden Ring, dependent on a vast network of buses, trains and trollybuses to get commuters into the small dense central area.

Im some ways this drawing of the Green Belt would have been too tight removing some dense, sustainable late Victorian communities, such as Hampstead, Swiss Cottage, Battersea, Putney and Kensal Rise, Pooter’s London.  In the 1930s London found its natural limits to expansion when London Transport found it operationally difficult and uneconomic to extend the Northern Line to Elstree.

What this exercise shows is that there is absolutely nothing inevitable about urban forms.  London in this scenario would have been a much greener city with a beautiful ring of countryside within walking distance of Westminster.  If you go to the Fryent Way Country Park in Wembley where a section of ‘encapsulated countryside’ was save from the expansion of London you can get an idea of what it might have been like.

Chelsea Tries to Block Earls Court Regeneration – ‘We Want a Stadium’


Chelsea Football Club is attempting to block consent for Capital & Counties’ first phase plans for the Earls Court development tonight as it lobbies for the overall regeneration to include a new stadium, CoStar News can reveal.
In December CapCo confirmed it was to create a £130m 50:50 joint venture with the Far East’s Kwok family to develop the first phase of homes at the 77-acre project.

Detailed plans for the 7.5-acre Seagrave Road site, which is principally home to a car park, were lodged in June alongside two other outline applications for a Sir Terry Farrell-designed 11.4m sq ft scheme that in total proposes demolishing the Earls Court One and Two exhibition centres and building up to 7,500 homes and 2m sq ft of offices, retail and leisure including two hotels.

The plans for Seagrave Road go in front of Hammersmith & Fulham this evening…

In a written submission ahead of the meeting Chelsea FC calls for any decision to be deferred until a Supplementary Planning Document for the area is adopted taking into account its preference for the overall development to include a new stadium with conference and exhibition spaces.

It writes with regards to the application relating to the Seagrave Road site and the application relating to the main site: “The current applications fail to take advantage of the potential for a new strategic leisure, cultural and visitor attraction, such as might be provided by a new stadium with conference and exhibition spaces. (We) therefore consider the applications premature in advance of the EC&WKOA SPD and have requested that any decisions on the applications are deferred until the SPD has been adopted.”

Chelsea, owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, has been linked on several occasions to the site alongside other nearby major development sites including the BBC’s White City site and Battersea Power Station.

At the end of last year it appointed  Mike Hussey’s Almacantar to look at options for a development of Battersera Power Station that would include a major new football stadium.

However, the club, advised by CBRE, is understood to favour a site at the north of the Earls Court project as it is closest to its current home and is well served by transport.

It is known to want to build a stadium that can accommodate closer to 60,000 fans than the 41,000 that it can fit into its current home at Stamford Bridge.

In November 2010 Chelsea denied reports in The Guardian that it had entered talks with CapCo to leave Stamford Bridge for a new purpose-built stadium at Earls Court and CapCo has also played down the idea that a major football stadium could form part of a principally high-value residential project.

Hammersmith & Fulham planners have recommended the “high quality” Seagrave Road development for approval tonight.

The 200 affordable housing units at the scheme would be provided on the basis of two alternative scenarios given that discussions over whether redevelopment of the council-owned West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates are included are ongoing.

If the residential accommodation is required for estate redevelopment purposes then the Seagrave Road scheme would provide the first phase of new affordable housing units in the Opportunity Area as part of a re-housing strategy for the existing residents of these estates. The 200 units would be provided for the council as social rented units, although the final “mix” would reflect the requirements of the families being re-housed, and the development has been designed to accommodate this flexibility.

In the event that the 200 residential units are not required as part of a re-housing strategy for existing residents, the “fallback position” is that the affordable housing could be provided as intermediate tenure, as part of a standalone scheme. CapCo has stated that this “fallback position safeguards its position in the event that estate redevelopment does not happen”.

Could Cala row prompt further planning guidance? – CALAS Planning Advisor #NPPF

As we have argued on a number of occasions the SoS can simply issue revised guidance on prematurity as part of the transitional provisions of the NPPF.

Ian Ginby in Building

The secretary of state has belatedly acknowledged that his approach in refusing consent for Cala Homes’ 2,000 home development at Barton Farm in Winchester (against the recommendation of his inspector) in September 2011 was unlawful, days before the matter was due to be heard by the High Court. As such, Cala’s appeal will now remit to him for redetermination.

Cala’s promotion of Barton Farm was the motivation for its well-reported, successful legal challenge to the secretary of state’s preemptory revocation of Regional Strategies in November 2010.

Developers maintained that the secretary of state’s approach was in direct conflict with guidance regarding prematurity, as well as the emerging National Planning Policy Framework

The secretary of state’s decision to refuse consent centered on his finding that do so would undermine the authority’s ‘Blueprint’ process, to which he attached decisive weight because it was considered to accord with the government’s ‘localism’ agenda. He did so even though this process only formed a preliminary stage in the council’s emerging core strategy. Notably, around the same time as the Barton Farm decision, he cited similar reasons for rejecting a 1,300-home extension to St Austell and a scheme for 280-homes in Sandbach, Cheshire, promoted by Fox Land and Property.

Similarly, those decisions were all subsequently the subject of legal challenge. Judgement is expected shortly in respect of the challenge in Sandbach whereas the challenge against his decision in St Austell is due to be heard shortly.

In each case, the developers maintained that the secretary of state’s approach was (among other things) in direct conflict with current guidance regarding prematurity, as well as the emerging National Planning Policy Framework, which (as drafted) states that applications should be approved when local plans are “absent, silent, indeterminate or when relevant policies are out of date”. We await with interest the outcome of those challenges he continues to defend.

More generally, it remains to be seen whether the secretary of state continues to invoke ‘prematurity’ in the context of major housing schemes, with ‘prematurity’ recently being cited by an inspector in refusing a 59 unit scheme in Romsey, for example.

In light of the Secretary of State’s capitulation in respect of Cala’s challenge, it remains to be seen whether he continues to invoke ‘prematurity’ in the context of major housing schemes. Should he abandon this approach, the above spate of decisions will merely stand as a short-lived experiment on his part in seeking to (unsuccessfully) find an appropriate balance as between the government’s ‘localism’ and pro-growth agendas. Alternatively, the government would be wise to ‘plug the hole’ in this guidance, as a matter of urgency, if ministers are intent on maintaining this line.

While such a tack would go some way towards countering criticisms aired by certain stakeholders and members of the public in the context of the recent furore surrounding the draft NPPF, it would also run the risk of stymieing house-building at a time when the government is purporting to reinvigorate the sector.

In any event, there remains considerable uncertainty, principally of the government’s making, at a time when it is elsewhere insisting on the paramount importance of getting the sector back on its feet.

Ian Ginbey is head of planning at Clyde & Co, which acts for Cala Homes

Three Major Appeal Decisions at Risk over Latest Pickles Cala Defeat #NPPF

As we predicted on this blog several months ago.


 A series of major planning decisions made by communities secretary Eric Pickles could be open to question after the government was forced to concede defeat in its latest court spat with housebuilder Cala Homes.

The government this week signed a “consent order”, confirming it had dropped its defence of a judicial review brought by Cala over Pickles’ decision to turn down planning permission for the firm’s 2,000-home Barton Farm scheme near Winchester.

At least two other judicial reviews of major planning applications are currently to be decided over related issues, including a 1,300-home Wainhomes scheme in St Austell, Cornwall, and a 280-home scheme by Fox Strategic Land and Property in Sandbach, Cheshire.

Pickles turned down Cala’s planning appeal for the scheme in September on the basis that it would undermine the local council’s attempts to develop a new core strategy. This was despite the fact that the planning inspector had recommended the development be approved.

Pickles’ decision to now throw in the towel, taken two days before the review was due to be heard on Wednesday, means the government is no longer contesting the fact that his decision was unlawful. Pickles will now have to consider Cala’s appeal again.

Developers claim that the rejection of the schemes in Winchester, St Austell and Sandbach are examples of “prematurity” – where the government refuses to approve
a development because emerging planning policy may be affected by it going ahead. This is not allowed under current planning guidance.

Mike Gallimore, planning partner at Hogan Lovells, said: “This could certainly be taken as an indication the government has made a reassessment of the robustness of refusals made on the basis of prematurity.”

A government spokesperson said: “Rather than spending public money on ongoing legal challenges, this planning appeal will simply be returned to the department for decision and will be decided in the light of all relevant information.”

A decision is due on the Sandbach scheme over the next two weeks

Housing Starts Fall 4.4% in 2011 to less than 100,000

Inside Housing

Figures from the Communities and Local Government department show there were 98,240 starts in the 12 months to December 2011, compared to 102,770 in the 12 months to December 2010.

Social housing starts fell from 23,590 in the 12 months to December 2010 to 21,120 last year, while private starts dropped slightly from 79,180 to 77,140.

The National Housing Federation described the figures as ‘disappointing’ and said 240,000 households are forming a year in the UK.

David Orr, chief executive of the NHF, said: ‘These disappointing figures show we’re missing a real opportunity. Building new homes would tackle the housing crisis and, with rising unemployment and living costs, spur economic growth by creating jobs and supporting small businesses.’

The figures show an 11 per cent increase in completions year-on-year from 26,150 in October to December 2010 to 29,240 in the same period last year.

However completions have fallen from 179,900 in the 18 months to March 2010, under the previous Labour government, to 160,280 in the 18 months to December 2011.

Jack Dromey, shadow housing minister, cited the figures as proof that the coalition government’s policies are making the housing crisis worse.

Mr Dromey said: ‘Their housing policies are failing and those in need of a decent, affordable home are paying the price.

‘Those in desperate need of a home can’t wait any longer, the government must act and they should start by levying a tax on bankers bonuses to build 25,000 more affordable homes, putting unemployed building workers back to work and creating a 100,000 jobs for young people.’

The figures are not all bad suggesting a slight pick up in Q4 over Q3 suggesting 2012 will be a much better year, macro-economic shocks aside.  However the figures are heavily influenced by housebuilding rates in London where over a third of new homes are built for overseas investors rather than occupation.  In most of England outside London and the Eastern region housebuilding is still falling.

Damien Hirst wants to Build 500 Eco-Homes in Ilfracombe

Not from the Project Brocure

Yes this is in the Core Strategy

Huffpost UK

Damien Hirst’s reputation for being money-driven and ostentatious may be further from the mark than we thought: the artist is planning to plough some of his fortune into building 500 new eco-homes in North Devon.

The plans aim to regenerate the area Hirst lives in and set a blueprint for environmental housing across the UK.

If his bid is successful, building work could begin as early as next year at Winsham Farm, an area of land in Ilfracombe the mega rich artist already owns roughly 40% of.

The plans were announced at a local meeting last week by Hirst’s representatives.

According to thisisnorthdevon.co.uk, Mike Rundell, Hirst’s architect, told the gathered councillors and interested parties that Hirst “is a local developer. He lives locally, shops locally, owns local businesses and his children go to local schools.”

He added that Hirst is “horrified” by “anonymous, lifeless buildings” and wants the new development to be “the kind of homes he would want to live in.”…

Residents of Ilfracombe would be forgiven for greeting the news of Hirst’s plan to transform their town with a certain amount of trepidation.

After all, what would a ‘home Hirst wants to live in’ look like? Multi-coloured spot exteriors and diamond-encrusted front doors anyone?

North Devon Journal

The announcement was made by one of Damien Hirst’s representatives, architect Mike Rundell of MRJ Rundell Associates, at a meeting to discuss Ilfracombe’s southern extension last week.

The meeting followed two similar meetings in July and October last year where plans were announced for up to 1,000 new homes, a primary school, sports facilities, small business units and a medical centre on 32 hectares of land near Killacleave.

The plans involve utilising land at Winsham Farm, which has been owned by Hirst for the past ten years, as well as nearby Channel Farm and Bowden Farm.

Although plans to extend the town to the south are well documented, Hirst’s involvement has never been publicly announced until now.

Councillors, officers, agency workers and other interested parties at the meeting heard of the artist’s excitement and vision for the development.

Addressing the meeting, architect Mike Rundell said: “I’m a representative of Damien Hirst. He owns 40 per cent of the land we are talking about.

“As you know, he is a very successful artist and has very high ambitions for this project. He has a horror of building anonymous, lifeless buildings. He wants these houses to be the kind of homes he would want to live in.”

Mr Rundell said Damien Hirst wants the development to act as a catalyst for the regeneration of Ilfracombe and create a new gateway to the town.

He said: “Damien is a local developer. He lives locally, shops locally, owns local businesses and his children go to local schools.

“He cares about Ilfracombe and wants this project to have a positive effect on the town.

“He wants these buildings to be landmarks that will stand the test of time and create a blueprint for quality, environmentally sustainable developments across the country.

“Ilfracombe will be a pioneer and Damien is incredibly excited about it.”

Mr Rundell said the houses would be modern in design and could incorporate state of the art environmental features such as photovoltaic panels, concealed wind turbines in the roofs and increased insulation.

However, he also stressed the importance of complementing existing buildings in the town.

He said: “We don’t want to make anything pastiche but we need to take into account the themes of existing local buildings. We hope to incorporate features such as pitched roofs, bay windows, smart gable ends, short terraces and robust materials used in a decorative manner. The development should provide a fusion between the town to the north and the countryside to the south.

“Damien also wants each house to be practical, make the most of natural light, be big enough to live in well and boast spectacular views.”

Combe Martin district councillor Yvette Gubb asked if the houses would be affordable for young local people.

Mr Rundell said: “We are not expecting to make retirement homes for rich people coming down from London. We want these houses to attract young, creative families as well as people who already live here.

“It’s our ambition to make them affordable but houses like these are more expensive than ordinary houses. I couldn’t tell you specifically how much we are talking about.”

Ilfracombe district councillor Paul Yabsley said there were a lot of community aspirations for this project such as the provision of health and education facilities as well as affordable housing.

But Mr Yabsley said: “We are never going to get all of this from one development and if we try to do so, we will compromise the entire project.”

Mr Rundell said the success of the development would depend on the level of cooperation from North Devon Council in terms of a section 106 agreement.

He said: “If the council insists on a very high level of affordable housing within the development, the overall quality of the homes will drop.

“We believe that if you bring wealth, energy and business to a town like Ilfracombe, it will have far wider social benefits than simply, say, introducing a youth club.

“You have to ask yourself the question do you want cheap housing or do you want to attract business and money to allow the town to grow?”

Those who attended the meeting were given a chance to discuss elements of the development including green spaces and the gateway to the town.

Closing the meeting Mr Rundell said: “This is a very ambitious project only made possible because Damien is a local developer who truly cares and wants to create an exemplary development.

“If we are committed to doing this as Damien wants it, it will happen. Damien is a man who gets things done.”

Gary Porter Threatens to ‘Go Nuclear’ over Welfare Reforms


Local government leaders have promised to “go nuclear” if ministers fail to listen to concerns over welfare reform.

 LGA chairman Sir Merrick Cockell (Con), and Conservative group leader Gary Porter made the promise to the LGA executive as they responded to concerns the association was failing to take a strong enough stance.

The LGA believes councils should have total freedom to decide who should receive council tax benefit and also wants councils to deliver the universal benefit. It also wants the changes to be delayed for a year.

Cllr Porter said: “If we don’t get what we want out of this we will end up going nuclear on it, but [not until] we’re sure there’s no hope left.”

Lobbying government on other areas, such as the benefit caps, required evidence from councils, Cllr Porter said. “For us politically – it’s got to be on an evidence base and quietly dealt with”, he said.

Sir Merrick added: “I hope we can make our case effectively without going nuclear, but if we’re not heard we’ll have to respond.”

Labour group leader David Sparks, right said the body should push for a more far-reaching review of the social effects policies such as the housing benefit cap will have on the demographic make-up of parts of the country such as London.

However, others have called for moderation.

LGA deputy chairman Robert Light (Con) said if the sector was seen to think welfare reform was “too difficult” it would “fuel those who believe local government shouldn’t be given anything else”.

More Huge Statistical Porkies from @grantshapps – 1.7% Constriction Activity Fall in Q4 20011 Disguised

No one is worse at hiding, disguising and misrepresenting the biggest fall in housing constriction in modern History than Grant Shapps.

In the commons he always presents figures six months out of date to misprespresent the issue.  His Spads thinks of ever more cunning ways of adjusting comparison horizons etc. to massage the dat.

Today he tweeted that ‘Latest ONS stats show housing construction 33% up in 2011 from 2009 & new public housing is at highest level since 1980 ‘

First of all this is construction activity not housebuilding numbers secondly the ONS changed the way GVA was calculated for con struction in 20101 preventing any accurate comparison before 2005 which the new numbers backdate to.  Also they are based on 2005 prices and do not adjust for inflation.  An accurate comparison would adjust for the construction costs index.

But when you look at the actual ONS figures you find that housebuilding activity actually fell from Q3 to Q4 by 1.7%.

The Q4 Housebuilding figures were also produced today and they are more encouraging, analysis in a later post.