Even Funnier in French – Plonger le Royaume-Uni dans le chaos en trois leçons

Liberation – ‘notamment les pâtés en croûte – l’un des plats favoris de la classe ouvrière’ ROTFL

Il y a des semaines comme ça où la moindre déclaration politique se transforme en gaffe majeure. Depuis trois jours, le Royaume-Uni ressemble à un pays assiégé. Les embouteillages se multiplient aux abords des stations-service, prises d’assaut par des automobilistes affolés. Ce qui les fait paniquer, ce sont justement les appels du gouvernement de David Cameron à ne pas paniquer face à la grève des conducteurs de camions ravitailleurs en carburant. Le principe de la grève a certes été voté au sein du syndicat Unite, qui représente la majorité de ces conducteurs. Mais aucune date n’a été fixée et les négociations pour arriver à un accord se poursuivent.

La coalition conservateurs – libéraux-démocrates a voulu faire pression sur le syndicat en suggérant aux automobilistes de remplir leurs réservoirs, histoire de ne pas répéter les scènes chaotiques de la dernière grande grève des fournisseurs de carburant, en 2000. Pendant deux jours, les ministres se sont donc succédé, expliquant qu’il fallait«agir de manière raisonnable en remplissant complètement son réservoir, et pas seulement la moitié». Le ministre sans portefeuille Francis Maude a même appelé les Britanniques «à être prévoyants et à garder dans leur garage un ou deux jerrycans d’essence», histoire d’être prêt à toute éventualité. Les Britanniques se sont bien évidemment rués sur les pompes à essence. Au point que des embouteillages monstres se sont formés dans tout le pays, que la police du Dorset (Sud-Ouest) a été forcée d’ordonner la fermeture de six stations-service pour désengorger les routes et que la demande d’essence a fait un bon de 172%, quand celle du diesel augmentait de 77%. Quant aux ventes de jerrycans, elles ont explosé, à 500% de plus que la normale. Pour ajouter au chaos, les pompiers sont intervenus pour rappeler que garder du carburant dans son garage est contraire à toutes les règles élémentaires de sécurité.

Le gouvernement fait depuis le dos rond, mais les critiques fusent de toutes parts, y compris au sein des partis conservateurs et libéraux-démocrates. D’autant plus que les gaffes se sont multipliées ces derniers jours. Le ministre des Finances, George Osborne, a ainsi répondu aux critiques sur la hausse de la TVA sur la nourriture à emporter, et notamment les pâtés en croûte – l’un des plats favoris de la classe ouvrière -, en suggérant aux mécontents de manger leur pâté froid pour éviter la taxe. Le Premier ministre est arrivé à la rescousse pour expliquer que lui adorait ces pâtés et qu’il en avait d’ailleurs acheté un la semaine dernière dans une boutique de la gare de Leeds. Pas de chance : la boutique en question a fermé il y a cinq ans. Il y a des semaines comme ça…

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April 1st Press Release – PR Strike leads to News Drought

Paul Maher and Positive Marketing.

Embargoed until Sunday 1 April 2012, UK (NATIONWIDE) – The UK’s two largest Public Relations unions, the Federation of Online Lobbyists and the Association of Public Relations and Information Lobbyists today announced a week of industrial action designed to highlight their grievance over working conditions for their members and their treatment by the press.

From Sunday, the PR industry’s 50,000 UK professional practitioners including lobbyists and spin merchants will down tools. Analysts predict newsrooms throughout the land will grind to a halt as striking PRs fail to email press releases, research story angles or insert interview slots into spokespeople’s diaries. No news at all is expected from Downing Street, headed by former Carlton PR executive, David Cameron, until midday 8 th April.

The dispute centres on a ‘complete lack of respect’ for the vital role PRs have in delivering factual news to ever-growing readerships, broadcast audiences and Social Media followers. The week-long protest comes in the light of weeks of nationwide ridicule by journalists and bloggers which included a ‘Wall of Shame’ and a derisory Twitter meme (#prsongs) which saw the microblog misused for open mocking of the PR profession which contributes to the UK economy.

Avril Lefou, founder of the Association of Public Relations and Information Lobbyists, reasoned: “Recent events have forced this unprecedented move by our members. For too long, our members have pitched some of the most unique fodder to ungrateful newsgatherers. Some of these so-called professionals frequently ignore perfectly newsworthy yarns. While perfectly happy to accept press trips and samples, our comrades in news are not putting pen to paper, finger to tablet or phone to ear as we believe they should. We have no option, but to retaliate and withdraw our labour.”

Local protests have been planned up and down the country which will see the printing presses of Manchester grind to a halt, the IPad screens of Hoxton blank and even the world famous BBC flagship Today programme without its trademark shouting matches – a move some predict will see the early retirement of Splott-born John Humphrys .

There is however some good news, rival unions, the Foundation Openly and Objective Lobbying [FOaOL] estimates a saving of electricity from reduced latte consumption, as well as much faster download times for Facebook, Pinterest and other vital PR-related websites.

[ENDS]

Yes ‘Scenic beauty’ is better than ‘Natural beauty’ #NPPF

High Weald

R.I.P Natural Beauty: that wonderful term enshrined in the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act when a romantic idea of scenery still prevailed. Natural beauty was always about more than just the view or appearance of the landscape.  It spoke to its intrinsic character, the interaction of landform and geology, plants and animals with people and the rich history of human settlement over centuries. We might recognise now that what we see as ‘natural’ landscapes in England are almost all cultural, with the hand of people evident everywhere we look but still the term ‘natural beauty’ evokes those characteristics that most people value about these wonderful places: the contrast  between their relative wildness and tranquillity and our everyday experience of modern urban living.

It’s a shame then that the government has seen fit to cut this term from planning guidance. Now in the NPPF we have paragraph 115 ‘Great weight should be given to conserving landscape and scenic beauty in National Parks, the Broads and AONBs  ’ rather than the statement in PPS7 reflecting the statutory purpose of National Parks and AONBs ‘The conservation of the natural beauty of the landscape and countryside should therefore be given great weight in planning policies and development control decisions in these areas’. Does it matter? We’ll have to wait and see.

I beg to differ.  Yes it is slightly different from the legal duty but it is more in keeping with its modern intepretation than the victorian/romantic view of the act.

Natural moors and fells may be nature made, but dry stone walls, hedgerows and all settlement is man made.  In the High Weald for example most of its most famous features such as hammer ponds, heaths and drove-ways are created by manics interaction with nature.  We experience scenic beauty much more broadly today than the romantic poets,  and this is reflected in protected areas, with the entirely man made Norfolk Broads now protected, a royal forest created from centuries of forestry management and herding in the New Forest, and the protection of non-wild areas such as the Western Weald in the new  South Downs National Park.  One imagines if ever the 49 act were to be updated (and the ATC and CROW acts with it) then Scenic Beauty would be a more appropriate term.  It will be an issue now if the duty to SD becomes part of the duties of National Parks – how can these landscape management traditions of interaction between people and the landscape and biodiversity be maintained into the future?

 

Dame Fiona Reynolds has given the Prime Minister a bloody nose – ‘not the end of the story’ #NPPF Telegraph

Telegraph

Middle England goes to war as the National Trust fights planning reforms

The Government thought it could push through its planning reforms and ignore Dame Fiona Reynolds at the National Trust. It was wrong…

Dame Fiona Reynolds has given the Prime Minister a bloody nose. She wouldn’t put it like that, being a woman who likes to win her battles with cream teas and a smile, but the fact is that the director general of the National Trust and her allies have just forced the Government to rewrite the rules on planning development, preserving swathes of the countryside.

“They listened and we thank them for it,” says Dame Fiona, sitting in the ultra-modern, environmentally friendly offices of the National Trust in Swindon. The fight is not over yet. “We won’t leave it alone now. We will be watching what happens next, and playing our part.”

Dame Fiona speaks from a position of remarkable strength, as head of an organisation with four million members spread across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. That is 10 times more than all the political parties put together.

Last summer, she took the unprecedented step of writing to every member asking them to join a highly political campaign against the Government’s proposed changes to planning regulations, which were meant to encourage growth – but which she thought read “like a property developer’s charter”.

Didn’t she have enough to do, running the Trust’s 350 historic houses, gardens and ancient monuments? “This was a very unusual moment,” she says, with a patient smile and the quiet, clear authority of a woman who is used to winning her arguments in meetings. “We’re not going to become Rentaquote and jump on every bandwagon. We do campaign, but we save it for the things that really matter. This was one of those.”

The Government published a rewritten National Planning Policy Framework on Tuesday to great cheers. Out went the presumption that the answer to development should be a “default yes”. In came assurances that town-centre and brownfield sites should be considered for development before green spaces and that the intrinsic value of the countryside would be recognised and protected. [errr a lot of reading in there in that sentence]

However, Dame Fiona will now be urging her four million members to get involved with planning decisions where they are, to make sure the words become action.

“No national document is the end of the story. It’s all about how that gets put into practice. That’s our focus now. People should have the chance to shape the places they live in. We’ll communicate with all our members, to say what has happened and what happens now. Some of them will say, ‘Right, I’ve got to get involved in this.’”

Cutting more than a thousand pages of regulations down to just 50, the Government has created plenty of ambiguity. “I’m sure the lawyers will want to argue over what it all means,” says Dame Fiona. So how can she be sure it’s a victory? “We had a checklist of all the points we had made to them. In every single case, the wording was better.”

The Trust did fight alongside the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England and other charities, and our sister paper The Daily Telegraph, with its Hands Off Our Land campaign. But it turned in perception from a charity that runs pretty houses and gardens into a campaign group with a network and political muscle any prime minister could only envy, or perhaps even fear.

Formed in 1894, it is sworn to “preserve and protect the coastline, countryside and buildings” throughout Britain except Scotland. “Our founders set up an organisation that could own property, as a last resort, but it was much more than that,” she says. “The National Trust was to be a voice for beauty. They talked about the people of this country needing access to beauty, quiet and fresh air. One of them, Octavia Hill, said ‘the sight of the sky and of all things growing’ were human needs.”

Fiona Reynolds was born in Cumbria, one of five sisters who got out in the open air so much that three of them became geographers. She read the subject at Cambridge, before becoming Secretary to the Council for National Parks. Then she joined the CPRE, rising to director.

During the early years of Tony Blair’s government she ran the Women’s Unit in the Cabinet Office, before becoming the director general of the National Trust in 2001. None of which reflects her eloquence, grasp of detail and determination – a tilt of the head and an unwavering gaze – to get her message across. She’d make a good ambassador to somewhere hostile, and it must have felt like that in the early days at the Trust. It had a reputation for being high-handed and elitist.

“We needed to make a cultural shift. I described it as learning to love people as much as we loved places. I have encouraged us to become a much more open, much more welcoming and warm organisation.” Less rude? “Less formal. Less sure we’re right.”

Some opposed her as a political appointment, one of the so-called “Blair babes”. She was 42 at the time. More recently, some have objected to the “Disneyfication” of the Trust – which has employed actors to dress up in costume and perform in character at some of its properties, and also drafted in advisers from Disney itself to help staff appear more welcoming.

“There’s a fundamental difference between the National Trust and Disney,” she says firmly. “They make up the stories. We use real stories, real people and real places. The second thing I would say is that Disney get a lot right, in terms of their welcome, their service and the way they look after their visitors. We have been able to learn from them.”

The Trust has acquired new properties which have taken it away from its traditional chocolate box image. Doesn’t it still peddle a nostalgic version of who we are, or want to be? “It takes a while for people to catch up with what we’re doing,” she counters.” For example, Penrhyn Castle in Snowdonia is a place that was hated by the local community because the owners ran the slate quarries with dreadful working conditions. We tell stories like that now, which the families would rather were airbrushed out.”

Whatever the opposition, her success is obvious. When she took over, the Trust had 2.7 million members; that figure has nearly doubled now and is rising. Aren’t they all white, middle class and from what might loosely be termed (with apologies to the Welsh and Irish) Middle England? “The membership is certainly largely white,” she concedes. It is one of the things we’re looking at. There is a challenge for the Trust in reaching other kinds of people, but don’t forget that hundreds of millions visit our coast and countryside land completely for free. That is a more diverse audience.”

What attracts people to sign up? “Firstly, it’s fantastic value. But once they renew membership, it is clear they’re starting to be a part of a cause they believe in.”

The latest campaign is an almost evangelical attempt to get children into the open air, offering Trust properties as a safe place to climb trees, build dens, fish for tadpoles and roam free. The Trust seems to benefit more than any other organisation from the desire people have to express their values, now that the Church has shrunk away.

“There is an almost spiritual need that bodies such as the Trust fulfil,” she says. “It is about access to beauty, access to nature, access to history. We live such busy lives, surrounded by pressures and material things, but the National Trust offers an escape from all that, an antidote. Access to the real thing. Something that is an experience beyond price.

“In the recession, we have seen people searching for the simple pleasures of life: a picnic with the family on a riverbank or a visit to a beautiful stately home.”

Is she aware how much she sounds like a priest? “It feels like a movement. It feels as if there is a level of passion that is almost spiritual.”

Whatever its radical roots, the modern Trust also seems able to connect with our innately conservative core values in a way the Conservative Party can only dream of. “I wouldn’t want to put it in even quasi-political terms,” says Dame Fiona, “because there are deeply differing views among our members. But I suppose you don’t join the National Trust unless there is something in you that is interested in the history of our country, in nature or in some kind of aesthetic sense.”

The campaign it launched last summer provoked a reaction in Cabinet ministers that can only be described as vicious. Dame Fiona and her fellow campaigners were dismissed as “semi-hysterical” Lefties consumed by “nihilistic selfishness”, and worse.

“They were really very rude about us at the beginning. We refrained from responding in kind, I hope you noticed.” Instead she toured the party conferences with a massive hamper of scones and invited politicians to take tea. The Prime Minister then invited her to Downing Street. “I think it was an arrogant set of statements. Their words lifted the campaign from an ordinary kind of dispute into something very big, because I think the country was pretty unimpressed. The language exposed some of the Government’s failure to connect with how people feel.”

Connecting with how people feel has been her genius at the Trust, but last month Dame Fiona announced she was leaving to become the Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge.

“The Trust is in great shape. If ever there is a time to leave it’s now. I have poured my heart and soul into this organisation, but no chief executive can go on forever.”

She will leave once her successor is in place, probably towards the end of the year, but not start at Emmanuel until the following September. “I want to write a book and my youngest is doing her A levels so I want to be around for that. I’m having a sort of gap year.”

She is married to Bob Merrill, a science teacher who became a full-time house husband when the youngest of their three daughters was born 16 years ago. “He is brilliant. I am travelling all the time, which I love.”

Dame Fiona gives no sense of becoming disengaged. “No. That’s why I don’t want to say too much about leaving yet,” she says, with a determined look. “Believe me, there is plenty still to do.”

The Duty to Cooperate is not a Tickbox Exercise #NPPF #Planoraks

The first in our new ‘planoraks’ series, a term suggested by Simon Ricketts (I hope it catches on).

I have been hearing about how different regional and sub-regional groupings are approaching the ‘duty to cooperate’.  For example around Birmingham they are looking at a ‘template and ladder’ approach – essentially a mapping exercise of what needs to be done and who needs to be involved.  Whilst useful this will not be enough.  Sound plans are about sound decisions on sound options, more is needed.  Without a framework for understanding what those sound decisions are and how they should be arrived a mapping exercise could simply become a tickbox exercise that wont produce the goods – sound decisions on sound options.

It should I hope by now well understood in planning that the legal test is about process, a hurdle to get you to the examination.  It is a duty to cooperate not a duty to agree.

Whilst the ‘Positively prepared’ soundness test, another with the ‘Effective’ and ‘Justified’  are about outcomes from that process, a much higher bar about getting a sound plan from the inspector’s report. And if you cannot agree on such an outcome – you wont have a sound plan, and neither will those who you have or have not cooperated with.

The section 33 duty itself ‘to engage constructively, actively and on an ongoing basis’ says nothing about outcomes, it is on all fours with the duty to consult and the SEA duty to consider reasonable alternatives, all of which are process legal tests. The key rider is over activities within subsection (3)’ and those ‘activities’ all refer to the ‘preparation’ of plans.

However of course the final NPPF soundness tests are all about outcomes, you can pass the legal test, on having cooperated, but fail the soundness tests because that cooperation has not been effective.

Note the change in what is now para. 181.  In the draft it was ‘evidence of successfully cooperated’ now ‘successfully cooperated’ is replaced by ‘effectively cooperated’, a more precise wording.  The significance of this is that it now ties more into the effective soundness test, the success per-se of cooperation was and is not one of the soundness tests – you don’t have to agree on absolutely everything, but the outcome of the cooperation must be effective, justified (including the requirement of this test to be deliverable ‘based on effective joint working on cross-boundary strategic priorities’)  where necessary including agreement on ‘meeting unmet requirements from neighbouring authorities where it is reasonable to do so and consistent with achieving sustainable development’.

The strategic priorities are those listed in para. 156 and one thing that plan LPAs will need to do to show both legal compliance and soundness is map out the issues on those priorities.  This first phase of mapping is not as yet making the decisions on what goes where, it is deciding on what what decisions need to be undertaken, what evidence exists and needs to be collected to make those decisions and in order to meet the SEA directive/Forest Heath/Greater Norwich Test – what reasonable alternative options (including options on strategic sites) need to be consulted on.

So the drawing up of any initial DTC template should be the scoping phase of a project programme to achieve the soundness outcomes – resulting in the best possible plan [and plans] in the circumstances.  It is effectively a Gap Analysis, what do we know – what do we need to know, what have we consulted on, what do we need to consult on, what decisions have we taken, what do we need to take?  We dont need to reinvent the wheel and go back to square one, what matters is the ability to demonstrate these at the point of plan submission.  This is not for the soundness test is certainly not a a test of retrospection, it is a test of meeting strategic priorities going forward and showing evidence that the tough but necessary & justified decisions to meet these priorities have been made.  (There is a legal dispute as to whether the legal duty is retrospective going on at the moment  which I wont go into).

So give an example a regional grouping might set out a template under the headings of the para 156 priorities – lets just focus on one of these:

The homes…needed in the area.

How do we interpret ‘in the area‘  – do we interpret this lemma in isolation as meaning just LPA by LPA targets like an old fashioned structure plan?  I don’t think so for three reasons: firstly this would not be compatible with  the infrastructure requirement bullet, infrastructure exists in places not Local Planning Authority areas, secondly it would not be compatible with the effectiveness soundness test regarding cross-boundary deliverability, and finally the SEA & Habitats directives are blind to borders, what matters are the ‘significant environmental effects’ – and ‘appropriate assessment’, so you have to consider issues to do with those impacts, whether ‘significant environmental effects’   under the SEA directives – such as the location of strategic sites, or of  appropriate assessment of impact under the habitats directive, such as distance thresholds from SPAs, populations size increase limits within those radii and SANGs requirements.  Remember the SEA directive requires assessment of the ‘Plan or programme’ and any DTC template is a classic example of such a programme, so must be designed to show the necessary chain of decisions and evidence to achieve directive compliance.   So inclusion ‘strategic’ in this sense means what it meant for the more advanced regional strategies, allocations by area, strategic location and having regard to significant cumulative impact on natura 2000 sites.  This is no coincidence as regional bodies were feeling their way through these directives with the help and prodding of Natural England and the Courts.

So for these homes we need evidence under the related other strategic priorities such as infrastructure – for example new waste water treatment facilities, and of course the knock on and cumulative impact of upgrading/providing that infrastructure. An audit trail of a decision chain.  In this case consideration of impact on catchment as required under the EU Water Framework directive and natura 2000 sites within that catchment (the Rye Mead works which feeds three new towns and two Garden Cities in two counties, next to an SPA, is a classic example, clearly for plans to be deliverable they have to be lawful).

This will imply a mosiac of overlapping and variable geometries, as new para. 180 of the NPPF implies, but these overlapping issues will converge on the decisions needed in place, the reasonable alternative options, including options for strategic sites and their associated strategic infrastructure.

There are many ways such a programme template could be set out.  However as a suggestion it might be time to dust off some good old tools -to simplify and structure decisions rather than wading through a 50 page spreadsheet,- such as Analysis of Interconnected Decision Areas (AIDA)/Strategic Choice  and its more modern GIS based developments such as LUCIS and its use of AHP (Decision Making for Leaders: The Analytical Hierarchy Process for Decisions in a Complex World, Saaty 1982) – to simplify, manage and visualise this complexity.  If anyone needs any advice on approaches and techniques that can be used in very simple and visually compelling ways then please get in touch.

I would like to illustrate this in more detail with a live example – any volunteers?

Of course there is the possibility of deadlock in reaching these strategic decisions, as well as the related issue on how these strategic priorities cutting across LPA boundaries will be examined.  I will deal with that in a follow up post.