Final Version of #NPPF will disappoint critics – Allegra Stratton BBC

Allegra Stratton Newsnight

Allegra Stratton Newsnight

Planning reform critics ‘to be disappointed by review’

Remember that battle the government had with the National Trust where it seemed to find itself very uncomfortably on the wrong side of the silent majority whose idea of Sunday afternoon fun is a stately home, afternoon tea and trip to the gift shop?

It was over the rather dry-sounding issue of how to reform the planning system but the National Trust believed the government intended to allow developers to pave paradise. And the government was forced by the fracas to go away and consult.

Well, the consultation is not over yet but I understand that the eventual document is not going to go down well with the National Trust, English Heritage, Daily Telegraph and so on (apologies, I know I’ve missed many).

Treasury officials met officials from the Department for Communities and Local Government on Monday after the Chancellor George Osborne grilled Communities Secretary Eric Pickles about the non-appearance of this plan in Cabinet one week ago. Because of the “tense” grilling Monday’s meeting was convened.

Now sources say it is “highly unlikely” the new document is going to please its critics. The phrase “a presumption in favour of sustainable development” is to stay, and indeed the Treasury is pushing for it to be implemented incredibly quickly.

There may be a more explicit “glossary” I understand to make it absolutely clear that drills do not start up in ancient woodlands – better explanations of areas of outstanding beauty and so on – but the plan is to be hardly altered from its first incarnation.

The process of debate is this – does it come out on the Monday after the document as a discreet entity where the government will try to emphasise it is about what is best for communities rather than for the macro-economy? Or does it come out in the Budget explicitly as a growth document?

(By the way, my hunch is that this Budget is going to be a bigger deal than we realised, that the Treasury has allowed debate to get up around peripheral issues like mansion taxes and the 50p tax rate to allow them space to crack on with supply side changes to the British economy, but I may well be over-thinking this).

The Treasury is very bullish about this timing issue right now. They actually think that in this area, they may not have been as radical as they would like.

For people less interested in process it means this – the government hopes building will start up soon – greater housing construction which means greater local employment, but also more homes for, among other people, first time buyers, so depressing price and so on.

So when will Pickles Deregulate Pirate Flags?

The hilarious story that East Lindsey council is backing down over prosecuting a seven year old boy over not applying for advert consent for a pirate flag in his back garden leads to the thought as to why the recent consultation did not proposing adding the Jolly Roger to the list of exempt flags.  after all if you can hoist a flag for Rutland why not for the freedom of the high seas and intellectural copyright.

Jules Birch – Government is giving Housebuilders everything they want without committment to build houses in return #NPPF

Jules Birch in an excellent column in Inside Housing puts his finger on the lack of delivery of the major housebuilders:

Deregulation and the housing strategy are giving the big housebuilders practically everything they want without being committed to anything in return: why are there no building targets to match the lending targets imposed on (and largely ignored by) the big banks?  If billions of pounds worth of subsidy is available, why not use it to encourage new players to enter the market? If red tape needs to be cut, take a look at the barriers to entry? If cheap public land is available, use it to attract new players rather than hand it over to the big firms, who will simply use it instead of their existing land?

The government is throwing billions of pounds worth of corporate subsidy at major firms that will not deliver the numbers needed for its growth strategy to work. If it has to subsidise anyone, it should be looking at smaller builders, housing associations and new entrants to the market.

And the cause of course, as argued on here and by the IPPR last year, the accounting practices of the housebuilders requires them to rebuild their margins and reduce output rather than build out land they paid too much for or sell at a loss.

Compare that to Ireland where the government has a deliberate policy of liquidiating overextended housebuilders and taking hold of the assets through their National Asset Management Agency.

In any market where business have paid too much for assets there is only one of three solutions.

Either liquidate the firm, write off the debts (and liquidate or prop up the banks in consequence) or the central bank can boost its own balance sheet and take on the assets.

The Irish solution is likely to cause years of very low output before a spectacular recovery by new entrants.  I would not recommend it.  I am no fan of the product produced by our major housebuilders but we are stuck with them for short term delivery.

Rather I would suggest a mechanism whereby grant funding by the HCA is replaced by soft loans secured by collateral – housebuilders landbank’s.  That way the HCA could fund many more dwellings.  The land would be placed in a land trust with a share going to the local planning authority rather than CIL payments.  The HCA would then contract out to new entrants to the housing markets the building of homes, but the majority of the equity of the land would remain with the housebuilders.  – the rest split between the HCA (to create a revolving investment fund from land value uplifts) and the local authority.  Homeowners would initially only have to fund the purchase of the house, not the land, but on resale the second owner would need to pay the full price,  The beauty of this mechanism is that housebuilders would not have to write off the value of the land, because they initially would not be selling the land, they would only do so later in the business cycle when housing and land prices have recovered. The price the state would exact for rescuing house-builders balance sheets would be to free up the landbanks.  We can build before land prices have again catapulted.  It would also enable new business to come into the market which only built homes, rather than whose main purpose, as is current vilume housebuilder, the uplift in land values.  This mechanism is in effect a combinition of land trust and credit easing through construction (as advocated on the brickenomics blog).

Caborn’s Killer Letter – ‘we need a more strategic and proactive approach using all of the government’s policy levers’

Today a highly critical letter has been leaked from Vince Cable to the PM and DPM.  Or rather leaked again, on the same day Milliband made a speech, as it was only covered in the FT when it was first leaked a month ago.

Apart from the call for industrial policy – and remember even the World Bank now is calling for new style industrial policies, the key phrase is as follows:

“we need a more strategic and proactive approach using all of the government’s policy levers – rather than simply responding to crises after they have developed or waiting to see what the market dictates”.

This is the same point we made yesterday on how the government, even with existing budget constraints, could hit a housing target of 270,000 or so per annum if it took a more strategic approach across government departments.

National priorities, such as industrial recovery & housing development require a cross department approach where projects and not departmental silos hold budgets and progress is coordinated and performance assessed by project.

Cabinet Secretary Floats Idea of Outsourcing Policy Advice Functions to Private and Third Sector #NPPF

He floated this idea at an Institute for Government Seminar yesterday.

Of course the NPPF with the Practitioners Advisory Group is the first major such example of ‘Open Sourcing Policy’ to Quad & Co.

Although the fact that John Rhodes had advised  the Conservatives in opposition on the Open Source Planning White Paper should have excluded him because of a conflict of interest as he was representing a party interest rather than a coalition or ruthlessly impartial civil service function one (even if outsourced).

The lack of such ground rules – will consultants be bound by the Civil Service Code for example – , the lack of a brief and the lack of even basic project management of the process shows how purely equipped the Civil Service is to outsource policy.

There is no ideological objections, after all PPGs have in the past had their first drafts prepared by consultants, but without strict controls, ultimately supervised by Parliament, their is a danger of policy capture by ideologically driven and privately funded organisations posing as research firms and think tanks but actually thinly disguised lobbyists for corporate interests.  Groups such as the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation have already undertaken policy and regulatory capture in large parts of the US and fund their UK equivalents.

It is not the function of the State to subsidise the SW1 dumb tanks, or to try to fill the barmy gap left by Steve Hilton’s departure by their equally barmy ideas.

One Ex Civil Service blogger A Dragons Best Friend,  raises the following practical issues


How do you ensure policy-makers from outsourced firms are not developing policy that is for the benefit of their corporate paymasters? It’s one thing having a consultant brought in to help a team, but quite another to have that entire team made up of consultants. As a civil servant, you don’t have that conflict of interest.

Corporate memory

I can see it now: A team of highly paid consultants at the top supported by a team of temps from the household names. Corporate memory goes out of the window. Temping has a high degree of staff turnover by its very nature. When the policy contract comes to an end, the entire team disappears, leaving the department concerned with zero corporate memory for the future. One of the benefits of having a permanent civil service is that people are able to bring in their learning of what went wrong in the past to bear in their present policy-making….

How do you measure success?

To what extent can you attribute that success to the policy-making team? Did the policy succeed because of the team or inspite of it? Policy making is not like making widgets – it’s a damn sight more complex than that because there are so many other factors that can affect the outcome you want to achieve. You are not in control of nearly as many of the variables as perhaps you would like to be. How do you draw up a contract that can get the best out of a commercial firm as far as policy goes?

Political uncertainty.

Remember the regular reshuffles that Blair and Brown had? This for me was one of the biggest factors in why Labour did not achieve what it set out to achieve in the late 1990s. There was too much churn and uncertainty coming from the top. Too many turf wars. …But if you’ve outsourced your policy function on the basis of a former secretary of states priorities to find they are no longer priorities of the latter…yes…expensive contract cancellation charges.

The Civil Service Code

Just before the 2010 general election the Labour Government passed the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. How do you make more longer term policy functions compatible contractually with the requirements of the Civil Service Code and the requirements of that Act? If outsourced staff are doing the same jobs as civil servants, shouldn’t they be afforded the same terms, conditions and protections as civil servants? Or do we risk a two-tier civil service?…

To my mind the NPPF shows all of these risks.  How could anyone with institutional memory of appeal-led planning in the 1980s have recommended its content?  How could you be sure that John Rhodes was not developing policy for his clients and not a balanced approach based on the needs of all stakeholders?   Indeed the poor quality and wooly language of the draft speaks volumes for the risks of this approach.

Liverpool Planning Committee Meeting now to Discuss Liverpool Waters Scheme

Starts at 12 im told though the Agenda says 9.45.

The largest ever planning application in Liverpool, 9,000 units plus, and one of the largest in history.

The Agenda pack is here.

Almost certain to be approved, however the key issue is whether or not it will be called it, it has to be referred.

Given the DCMS treaty obligations under the World Heritage Convention they will certainly ask the DCLG to call it in.

A lot of nonsense is talked about Liverpool ‘giving back’ World Heritage Status.  They have no power to the signatory is the UK government.

Dame Fiona Reynolds Steps Down from National Trust to be First Ever Female master of Emmanuel College Cambridge #NPPF


Fiona Reynolds today announced her decision to leave the Trust after more than 11 years as Director-General.

Fiona is to take up her duties as Master of Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge, in the autumn of 2013 – the first woman to be elected Master in the College’s history.

She said:

‘As a graduate of Cambridge I am thrilled to be going back to head one of its finest colleges.

‘I have loved every minute leading the National Trust and working with our passionate and dedicated staff, volunteers and supporters.

‘I am incredibly proud of all that we have achieved in the last 11 years.

‘There is no organisation like it and I will miss it terribly.  But it is time to allow someone else an opportunity to make their mark.’

Fiona has overseen a period of transformational change, reconnecting the organisation with its original founding purpose, and infusing it with warmth and liveliness.

Membership hit four million last year from 2.7 million in 2001, and visitor numbers to our 300 places reached 19 million from 10 million a decade ago. Volunteer numbers have also doubled, with 62,000 people involved last year.  

From her earliest days here, Fiona pioneered an ‘arms open’ approach to conservation, bringing expert work out from behind closed doors to take place in front of visitors, now an integral part of our programme to bring places to life.

Property acquisitions have included the vast Victorian Gothic Tyntesfield and its estate near Bristol, Vanbrugh’s Seaton Delaval Hall in Northumberland, the ‘back-to-back’ terraced houses in Birmingham, John Lennon’s boyhood home in Liverpool and the quirky home of Kenyan-born poet Khadambi Asalache in Wandsworth.

These acquisitions have been part of a concerted focus on social and community relevance for the Trust, recently underlined by the long-term lease taken out on Tredegar House in South East Wales.

Focus on the outdoors
As a geographer and walker with a passionate interest in landscape, she has systematically added to the 617,000 acres of countryside under our care.

During this time she has championed the importance of access to the outdoors and nature for people’s wellbeing and promoted local and seasonal food with a drive to create 1,000 new allotments on our land.

Most recently, this included the acquisition of the 617-acre Llyndy Isaf estate near Snowdon after a public appeal raised £1 million in seven months from 20,000 donors.

She has overseen a restructure of the governance of the charity, from a 52-member Council to a 12-member Board of Trustees, as well as two major internal restructures which have strengthened and localised the organisation.

She also led a series of financial reforms that took us from a vulnerable financial position to one of security to meet the recession in 2008. We now spend over £100 million a year on conservation work.

While maintaining the Trust’s strict party-political neutrality, Fiona has championed our conservation principles, most recently leading the charge against proposed changes to the planning framework which, she warned, would bias planning towards excessive building in the countryside.

Fiona, 53, will continue in her post here until her successor is in place. She plans to use the interval between leaving and moving to Cambridge in September 2013 to write a book about her years with us.

Simon Jenkins, National Trust Chairman, said:

‘Fiona has presided over a triumphant era in the history of the National Trust. Her strategic vision and personal leadership have made it one of Britain’s most popular institutions.

‘She guided us with panache, first to financial solvency and then to four million members. We shall miss her, and wish her every success in the future.’

Lord Wilson of Dinton, present Master of Emmanuel College, said:

‘It is marvellous news that Fiona Reynolds is to be the next Master.

‘She has an outstanding record and will, I know, be a very good colleague and friend to everyone involved in the College.

‘She will be excellent in her new role, and Emmanuel is lucky to have secured her services.  Everyone is looking forward to welcoming her’.

Another Prematurity SoS Refusal – Grantham

This case relating to 1,000 homes North of Grantham was much more clear cut than previous appeals as the Grantham Area Action Plan and Site Allocations DPD are very advanced – having been submitted for examination.

The Secretary of State agrees that there are matters relating to the scale, location and phasing of housing development at Grantham that remain to be determined through the Grantham Area Action Plan. This is at an advanced stage, and allowing the proposal would predetermine the addition of a currently unallocated large greenfield development for immediate release. This prejudice to the GAAP warrants a genuine concern about prematurity.

Of course prematurity cannot be the sole reason for refusal – there were also concerns about impact on the setting of a historic park (‘less than substantial’) and highways (‘moderate adverse effect’).

The site is not considered a strategic priority in the growth of Grantham which instead proposes growth to the south and North West.