Jeremy Corbyn – Unsustainable developments #NPPF

I Dont think we’ve covered the Morning Star before

As part of the Tory narrative that somehow or other Britain’s economic success is held back by health and safety legislation, planning controls and employment law, they have been systematically dismantling legislation that has been put in place to try to protect people at work as well as improve our natural environment.

Environment Minister Greg Clark (pictured) finally unveiled the government’s new planning guidelines for local areas on Tuesday – famously reduced to “50 pages” (actually 52).

The government has made some “concessions” to pressure from the National Trust, the Council for the Protection of Rural England, Greenpeace, the Woodland Trust and others.

Clark claims that the document will allow ease of development in rural areas with local planning authorities required to operate on the presumption to approve all applications as long as the development is “sustainable.”

The presumption to approve is dangerous and can result in the loss of valuable open space, habitats or historic buildings.

At the same time the minister claims to give power to local communities to decide local planning policy.

This alleged opportunity for independent planning policy in each local authority area is of course undermined by the national planning decisions that the last Labour government introduced, which mean that major infrastructure developments such as nuclear power stations, airports, motorways and major railways can all override local planning decisions.

But by reducing the power of appeal against local rulings Tory-controlled and right-wing authorities can effectively block social-housing developments and other valuable improvements to our communities.

It is time for those who want sustainable communities, more council housing and better, shared open spaces to get involved in developing these plans

Cameron’s half-baked planning reforms – Joey Gardiner New Statesman #NPPF

New Statesman

Amidst a miserable week of news headlines for David Cameron this week, one major political success story for the party has been rather less commented upon. Wednesday’s papers confirmed a widespread thumbs-up for the Coalition’s reform of the planning system, an issue that has been hugely controversial, particularly among the Tories’ core supporters.

The draft of the reforms, which when released last summer promised to force planners to adopt a default “yes” to planning applications, prompted a joint campaign by the UK’s biggest-selling daily broadsheet – the Telegraph – and one of its largest membership organisations, the National Trust.

The positive publicity was even more surprising since the reforms, contained in the Soviet-sounding National Planning Policy Framework, pushed ahead with introducing a presumption in favour of “sustainable” development into the planning system for the first time in a generation. House builders said it was sound basis for a more pro-growth planning system.

And yet the Daily Telegraph was still able to crow about how it had saved the English countryside.

Turning round this widespread outrage in the shires, is a vindication for Greg Clark, the highly intelligent and well thought of “minister for decentralisation” who has been the driving force behind the government’s localism agenda. The genial Clark had been destined for a cabinet post in 2010, until the Coalition agreement meant key posts were taken up with Liberal Democrats, and has been the intellectual driving force behind the planning changes.

All in all it was ultimately: as a masterclass in deployment of the tactical and appropriately telegraphed U-turn:as with the tinkering with the Coalition’s NHS reforms, the idea was to defuse opposition by appearing to concede ground, while still pushing ahead with the core intentions. Only this time with a lot more success.

However, the key issue for the developers, housebuilders, councils and homeowners the reforms affect, is not the presentation, but whether they will actually improve a planning system in crisis. Government cuts have reduced most councils’ planning departments to the bone, contributing to the delivery in 2010 of the second lowest number of homes built in peacetime since the 1920s.

So will the reforms work?

In many ways the document is a vast improvement on the draft version issued last summer to howls of protest from Simon Jenkins and the National Trust. It removes the more egregious attempts at tilting the system in favour of housebuilders by removing key phrases, and includes a more stringent definition of sustainable development that puts it in line with government policy elsewhere.

Other additional references, to brownfield land use, and more safeguards over the quality of design, are also welcome.

However, it’s by no means all good news. Lawyers have been particularly effusive in their praise for the reforms, knowing that in the ambiguities the slimmed down document creates a solicitors paradise of legal disputes.

And for developers it’s not just yesterday’s document but the whole raft of planning reforms undertaken by the Coalition which should be looked at. For the first thing that Communities secretary Eric Pickles did when getting in to office was abolish (illegally, as it turned out) New Labour’s regional planning system. Vitally, this system had contained a set of housing targets designed to help this country meet the huge demand for new homes for the first time in a generation.

Since that decision – now cemented by last year’s Localism Act – councils up and down the country have rowed back on their plans for new homes, cutting over 200,000 homes out of local plans. So far, there is very little evidence that the introduction of this week’s reforms will change that fundamental direction of travel.

Coalition ministers will tell you that the failure to build more homes now is down to the economy, and that councils weren’t likely to meet their targets in a recession anyway. This may be true, but the reduction in councils’ aspirations for new housing will become a serious matter as soon as the economy turns.

With data out just today from Homeless Link being the latest to show the rise in demand for services for the homeless, the lack of new housing is an acute issue.

Nevertheless the fact on the ground is that councillors don’t get rewarded by local voters for building new homes. And there is precious little in Greg Clark’s new planning framework that is likely to over-ride this fundamental political block on new development, meaning those in housing need will continue to suffer.

Joey Gardiner is assistant editor at Building magazine

Simon Jenkins subject to legal complaint over article accusing Michael Slade (Helical Bar) of being ‘behind’ #NPPF

Good Humoured Property Spiv Michael Slade

The guardian Website has the following:

This article is the subject of a legal complaint made on behalf of Helical Bar plc and its Chief Executive Mike Slade.

The article contained the following:

As with the NHS, planning reform has been a lobbyists’ sledgehammer aimed at a nut. Two tycoons behind the first draft were prominent Tory donors, Lord Wolfson of Next and Michael Slade of Helical Bar. Slade’s Conservative Property Forum charged members £2,500 “to meet ministers”. They won the dropping of the clause in the Localism Act that allowed local communities to appeal against building on their doorstep. This reneging on a specific manifesto pledge appears to be the most glaring case of “bought legislation” to date. Developers even sat on the “practitioner advisory group” which wrote almost all of last year’s first draft.

Simon Jenkins and no-one has accused Lord Wolfson, Michael Slade etc. etc. of corruption or bribery.  Simply that they have lobbied strongly for the ripping up of planning controls and at the same time being very very large donors to the governing party.  The public will make their own mind up over whether this constitutes cash for policy, and indeed whether the UK libel laws are tools of the rich and powerful to repress matters of fact and free speech, whilst concealing the web of power, money and influence that corrupt democracy with plutocracy.

Why not also sue the Telegraph which on Sept 29th said

Mike Slade, the chief executive of Helical Bar and chairman of the Conservative Property Forum, described Grant Shapps, the housing minister, as a “kid” who did not understand how local authorities worked. Mr Slade, 56, added that he was “always horrified” by the naivety of ministers, who needed help from the property industry to understand “the rights and wrongs of what they are trying to do”.

Mr Slade, a colourful figure, found himself at the centre of a “cash-for-access” row earlier this month when The Daily Telegraph disclosed that his elite property forum charged “key players in the industry” £2,500 a year to set up breakfasts, dinners and drinks with senior Conservatives. The club raises about £150,000 a year for the party and Mr Slade has donated more than £300,000.

Money may buy you a lot of things but certainly not brains or integrity.

David Brock on ‘silent and out of date’ plans and the #NPPF

David Brock

When is a plan silent or out of date?  A plan which is a day old should not be followed if a new and relevant material consideration comes along.  But “out of date” is the wrong test. The oldest of old plans must be followed, unless material considerations indicate otherwise.  True, an old plan is likely to have been overtaken by many new material considerations and so be “out of date”. But using the colloquialism in one of the most significant policies on planning ever produced, may cause difficulties.  Silent may be difficult to interpret as well – few plans have nothing which can be applied to a development proposal.

Which leads naturally to the transitional provisions.  In brief they tell us that the policies apply from the date of publication; that local plan policies should not be considered “out-of-date simply because” they were adopted before the NPPF was published; and that for twelve months from publication, decision makers “may” give weight to policies adopted since 2004 even if there is limited conflict with the NPPF. …

The words which interest me here are “may” and “simply because”.  “May” suggests that decision makers are free to apply NPPF policies if they wish; they’d have to have good reasons.  But a plan is not to be considered out of date ”simply because” it was adopted before the NPPF was issued.  Does this mean that there might be other reasons why the plan should not be followed?  That would be right, other material considerations.  What might a good reason and material consideration be?  Might the actual policies of the NPPF constitute a good reason?  Paragraph 212 of the NPPF (coming between “simply because” and “may”) says that the NPPF policies are material considerations “to be taken into account from the day of its publication”.

Martin Goodall – ‘The strange and totally inexplicable euphoria’ on the #NPPF

Martin Goodall’s Planning Law Blog

The strange and totally inexplicable euphoria expressed by the Daily Torygraph, the National Trust and others is certainly not a reliable guide to the actual effect which the NPPF may have in policy terms. Their apparent joy at the publication of the final version of the document appears to me to be just as bizarre as their excoriation of the original draft. One is driven to the conclusion that they simply don’t understand the planning system!

Government Fails to Answer Straight Questions on does #NPPF Protect Countryside?

So the new National Planning Policy Framework has fallen on its very first hurdle on the question everyone, developers, communities, campaigners want to know – when can you build housing in the countryside, when can you refuse it?

It is the simplest and single most important question of any planning system, and if it is not answered clearly in national policy we are in for years of argument, confusion, appeals, legal challenges and delay as well as bankruptcy by campaigners and developers along the way.  Fudge on this point is a key cause of cost and confusion in planning.

Today we had a planning sounding board meeting, where figures from key organisations question senior DCLG officials on planning developments.

Of course questions on key issues to do with the NPPF were at the top of everyone lips.

One of the attendees tweeted if there were any questions – the tweetstream, shored of tweety abbreviations was:

Does the new brownfield first policy allow you to refuse schemes on Greenfield sites if alternative [suitable brownfield sites] & in advance of local plan adoption?

It was worded and mentioned only as an ‘option’ for local plans and as ‘encourage’ not ‘prioritise’

What does protection of [intrinsic] value of countryside ‘mean in practice’ (para 6) – as it is just an objective (para 17) not policy (18-219)

 And the answers

Good Qs – No As. General view was “let’s see what happens” or ring the helpline

Breathtaking.  They don’t know, or don’t want to tell us and if they don’t how will any applicant or local authority?  As we said yesterday the helpline, because of a recent Supreme court decision the muddline as we christened it will not be able to substitute its professional judgement of policy is unclear or has a plain English meaning which has a logical meaning different to that presented.  It is for the government to correct unclear policy and later policy that doesn’t mean what it wants to mean NOT the job of the Planning Inspectorate etc.

So DCLG the helpline will kick these questions upstairs to you.  What is the answer?

Start an FAQ on the NPPF now, absolutely essential to making any helpline system work (so the same questions dont get asked again and again) and open the helpline up to more than just local authorities, to all practitioners, applicants and those preparing neighbourhood plans.

Of course if it is found that these clauses dont have a clear meaning then they cannot be used. It is the same as not having policy at all applications simply have to be decided on the totality of other material planning considerations.

On this question, the question that created a years storm, what is the protection of the countryside? the end result is in effect the same as not having any policy on the countryside at all one way or the other.  Some result.

So for FAQs sake – answer the question.  This week has had enough policy fiascos to risk creating another by not acting swiftly and decisively.

So who won the #NPPF Accumulator – the score is – of Eurovision Proportions

ON the 19th for a bit of fun we published an accumulator – though also with the serious purpose of being able to mark how truly sustinable the end result is.  remember anything above zero is positive.

I omitted points for protection of open space so it is not 100% comprehensive.

Sustainable Development

Just 1 point, does not include economic, social and environmental wellbeing or the ‘three pillars’ approach of balanced development of all three based on protection and enhancement of eco-system services.

In addition as the SDS and Brundtland principles are in the past tense and referenced as decisions in the past and by others it is unclear how they can be applied day to day and if the government is committed to applying them as current principles. It looks like the Treasury was looking for a way of ‘ringfencing‘ sustinability issues of avoiding each and every cases being assessed on impact on environment limits or social wellbeing.  This plan may have failed however as the legal advice to the NT is that paras. 1-17 of the NPPF are of equal weight to the rest of the document, as it does not say that some paras are to be given priority or extra weight in decision making.  Para 6 is saying – this is how we implement paras 1-17, but of course it cant ever be comprehensive, as the decisions maker has to take into account all material considerations of which sustainability is one.

However there is one negative bonus point for each mention of growth which misses out sustainable.  The switch between use of sustainable economic growth and growth in the document – I count minus 7 points.  Twice it even uses the different terms in the same sentence, exercising sustainable economic growth as the objective and decisions ehancing just growth in decisions – very telling.  Para 19 is a classic of confusion.  Sustainable economic growth is not defined.

So score of Minus 6.

The Presumption

Just 1 point – and that is generous.  The mention of the primacy of the development plan gets it, as does the deletion of the notorious Yes para. get it that but it does not set clear tests to apply when plans are out of date, even for example delting the tests from PPS3 for housing.  It still uses vague terms, does not dewfine of clarify thenm and implies that harmful schemes should be approved.

By splitting the plan making presumption from the decision making one it dodges a negative bonus point.

1 Point

Transition

1 point – and that is generous.  There is an implementation period, but that is for existing plans not emerging plans.  Beefing up the prematurity test is not the same as transition as plans not yet with preferred option will carry no weight at all.  Back to appeal led planning.

1 Point

Larger than Local Planning

Null Points

No text at all to properly implement and clarify the duty to cooperate  – very surprising.

Zero

Plan Making

Ok so how far does it take us away from narrow 80s style plan making – mentioning

land management 0

Implementation 0

Settlement/Spatial Strategy  0

Place Shaping/Spatial Planning 0

Integrating Transport Planning 0

Infrastructure Planning 0

Monitoring 0

Grand Total:  o points

Perhaps the NPPF should enter the euro-vision song contest.

Brownfield First

1 point

The accumulator awards 3 points for a ‘clear ‘brownfield first’ approach’

It is not clear, it does not prioritise as past policy, it only encourages, it is described only as an option – so will it apply on appeal where no up to date plan, it semes to be worded as approving brwonfield sites, not clearly refusing greenfield ones.

1 point.

The Countryside

Just 1 point – and that is generous.

It does include reference to the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside but only as an objective not as a policy.  Incredibly there is no countryside section still.  We know civil servents drafted one, so why was it not included?

1 point

Smart Growth

1 point.

No mention of smart growth no mention of the general desirability of controlling sprawl, but thought i fair to give it a point for adding reference in the design section to efficient use of land.

Of course the Treasury would not ever accept the use of the term as it implies they were dumb in the past.  Only a major shift in the political landscape would see it adopted.

1 point

Housing

o points as no explnation of how to claculate 5 years supply, and no mention of the methodology to clacuklate need,

It also score minus two bonus points for discriminating against travellers on two grounds.  Firstly a reference to CPO to bricks and morter but not travellers, and secondly a policy for ‘strictly controlling; travllers sites in the countryside (as in PPS3) but no such policy for bricks and morter,

Minus 2 point as well on affordability issues.

If we thought for a moment it would have deleted the policy tests for what happens when you have no 5 years supply it would have got minus 10 for that.

Minus 4 points

Design 

Maximum Points 3

Well done

Economy

3 points, strengthens town centre first, allows local zoing choice on planning for employment and mentions in a roundabout way coordination and balance of planning for jobs and housing.

3 points

Biodiversity

4 points near maximum, puts back the SSSI test, mentions NIAS, natural networks and natural environment white paper.  Just falls short of maximum by still failing to correctly transpose the Habitats directive.

Transport

1 point – Nothing on integrating transport and land use planning  – which is utterly breathtaking – or any of the other matters which would have gained points, other than a mention of carbon emissions in the section on setting parking standards.

1 point

Energy

1 point Mentions ‘cumulative landscape and visual impacts’ but not national CO” reduction targets – (the reference to the 2008 act is on the wrong paragrpah

1 Point

Heritage

maximum

3 points

properly transposes PPS5.

Bonus Points

No Index – Minus 1

Ministerial Forward – that lawyers favorite – Minus 20

So total (excluding bonus points for style- are 17 just as we predicted high teens – but disappointing as the maximum was 63, but with bonus points MINUS 19

The ‘fill a jerry can’ gaffe proves Keynes & Minsky were right

Francis Maude, despite not even being a Cabinet Minister has sparked two political crises in a week, the latest becoming a national crisis.

By saying to everyone ‘fill a jerry can in your garage’ with a petrol hauliers strike coming he has caused massive queues at petrol stations, prompting the very shortages he feared several days before the strike was due to begin.  As well as dire warnings from the fire brigade that by filling metal jerry cans you could blow yourself up – which one poor dear lady did.  What is even more galling is that being in charge of the COBRA emergency planning arrangements he must have known that petrol stations only have a few days supply and all it takes is a panic for them to run dry.  Worst of all Maude is in charge of the Nudge unit in cabinet – the Behavioural insights team.  Nudge Nudge Panic Panic.

There are several economic lessons this teaches us.  All on how the ‘tighten your belt’ of neo-con economics is flawed.  Why?

The term often used is ‘housewife economics’  – a term with sexist overtones but good provenance.  After all Thatcher used her analogy of the housewife keeping within her budget and even more tellingly Andrea Merkel

One should simply have asked a Swabian housewife,” “She would have told us her worldly wisdom: in the long run, you can’t live beyond your means.”

Swabia is a region where its highland residents are so ‘careful’ with money they don’t even buy potatoes.

The idea being that a government must run its budget like a housewife (or house-husband).

But a country and a national budget and debt arnt like that.  If we were Robinson Crusoe on a desert island it would, a favourite subject for neo-con economists, but of course we buy and sell with other people.  The economy is a social activity comprising the interactions of billions of people.  If you reduce it to the actions of one household you make big mistakes, it is a fallacy of composition.

If it was just me filling a jerry can it would be fine, it would be available for me to use as I see fit at any time.  But if everyone fills it on the same day the stations run dry.  Now consider as if the petrol was money and the jerry can was a personal savings account.  If we save alone its fine, individually we dont make much difference.  But what if we all saved large parts of our income all at once? The amount of money in circulation falls, and if money isn’t spent then goods are not produced to supply them and we get unemployment.  This is known as the ‘paradox of thrift’ and its consequences was one of Keynes great insights.  It is a paradox because what is good for one person is not good if lots of people do the same.  Its a counterintuitive and very powerful idea.

Now imagine the petrol station was a bank, of the more modern kind that extends credit at will as long as it knows in the future it will get it back.  This works so long as you dont have every one arriving on the same day to draw out their balance, just as the petrol station runs dry the bank runs out of money.  Now imagine again that the bank has a run of bad debts.  There is a risk it could be taking in less money than it loans out, so of course it lessens loans.  But a rumour gets out and people withdraw their cash.  Other banks to which the bank loans money to also withdraw their credit to protect their own position if the bank goes belly up, so banks around the world have less and less to loan out.  Hence we get a credit crunch or as Keynes described it a liquidity trap.

Of course it is more complicated than that.  Our savings don’t just sit in idle balances these days they are put to work by banks.  But if everyone saves where do they go?  The answer of course is abroad.  We get international financial services.  Rather as you might at first expect this this money lost to UK PLC it is money gained, as the paying off of the loan is a profit source an income stream for the bank in the future.  It all works fine so long as debts dont go bad.  Then we get a shortfall in income and the profits on that income dont flow back into the economy through wages, dividends and spending.  In other words we have an economic downturn.  As Keynes follower Minsky showed it is this cycle of credit that drives the economic cycle.

The prime minister said (or his draft speech did before it was ridiculed) in his conference speech last year that like the government was doing everyone should ‘pay off their credit card’ .  But as the above shows if everyone did the credit card companies and the banks that own them would go bust.

The economy is not like a household.  It is more like a game of monopoly, competition for resources and the money flowing back to the bank.

The way to get it moving again is to add some fuel, not austerity which is just like petrol rationing.

Corrected:  Thanks to Neil W for correcting me on rules of Monopoly 🙂