‘Minister for Murdoch’ Affair Reveals Gaping Hole in Civil Service and Ministerial Codes

It is clear what Jeremy Hunts defence will be.

Quite amazingly their is no requirement for any SPAD to act with impartiality on any quasi judicial decision before a minister.  There are also no clear rules on ministerial behaviour on quasi judicial decisions in the Ministerial Code,

From the SPADS code of conduct 

Special advisers are temporary civil servants appointed under Article 3 of the Civil Service Order in Council 1995. They are exempt from the general requirement that civil servants should be appointed on merit and behave with impartiality and objectivity so that they may retain the confidence of future governments of a different political complexion. They are otherwise required to conduct themselves in accordance with the Civil Service Code

They are exempt from all of the following clauses of the civil service code

9. You must:
provide information and advice, including advice to Ministers, on the basis of the evidence, and accurately present the options and facts;
take decisions on the merits of the case; and take due account of expert and professional advice.
10. You must not:
ignore inconvenient facts or relevant considerations when providing advice or making decisions; or
frustrate the implementation of policies once decisions are taken by declining to take, or abstaining from, action which flows from those decisions.
11. You must:
carry out your responsibilities in a way that is fair, just and equitable and reflects the  Civil Service commitment to equality and diversity.
12. You must not:
act in a way that unjustifiably favours or discriminates against particular individuals  or interests.
Political Impartiality
13. You must:
serve the Government, whatever its political persuasion, to the best of your ability in  a way which maintains political impartiality and is in line with the requirements of this Code, no matter what your own political beliefs are;
act in a way which deserves and retains the confidence of Ministers, while at the same time ensuring that you will be able to establish the same relationship with those whom you may be required to serve in some future Government; and
comply with any restrictions that have been laid down on your political activities.

The only part of relevance is the section on honesty SPADS must not be influenced by improper pressures from others  but there is no indication that a horses head was left in the SPADS bed.

Similarly the Ministerial Code says nothing about conduct of ministers and their aides regarding acting impartially on quasi judicial decisions before them.   This is a convention but is not clearly set down in rules, indeed as lonng ago as 1949 an article referred to it as a term treated with distate by judges.  The rules need to be urgently tightened.

The Ministerial Code says para 3.3

All special advisers must uphold their responsibility to the Government as a whole, not just their appointing Minister. The responsibility for the management and conduct of special  advisers, including discipline, rests with the Minister who made the appointment. Individual Ministers will be accountable to the Prime Minister, Parliament and the public for their actions and decisions in respect of their special advisers. It is, of course, also  open to the Prime Minister to terminate employment by withdrawing his consent to an individual appointment.

And in the principle of public life section

In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit

PAS – was the #NPPF helpline a success?

I thought this blog from Alice Lester was rather curious given the announcement that the DCLG say the helpline is no longer taking questions on NPPF policy interpretation.  It rather misses the point about the difference between the meaning of a section and how it should be implemented, the first being a national issue, the second a local one.

A golden rule of customer service helplines is don’t slag off your customers.   Perhaps some telephone helpline CPD is needed?

Yes planners have inherited a culture of being spoonfed – which is regrettable – but if you run a helpline don’t complain about silly questions, they come with the territory, & don’t give confusing and incorrect information on to whom the helpline is open to, and worse don’t stop offering advice or refuse to answer key questions giving the impression the answer wasn’t known or even thought about during NPPF final cut and pasting with the Treasury holding the glue drafting .  This didn’t cause ‘suspicion,’ no it invited ridicule and open mouthed headshaking of the entire planning profession, typical reactions from planners i’ve heard is ‘now i’ve heard it all’, ;’what are those bozos playing at’ ‘worse than in the thick of it’ ‘omnishambles’ etc. .  A very odd position for an advisory service which is supposed to be a paragon to place itself in.  This has not shown PAS & the DCLG at their best , and of all the approaches that need to be taken to restore their standing surliness is surely not amongst them.

The current sink or swim your on your own approach is not localism but balkanism, as we live in an appeal mediated planning system where the meaning of national policy is king.  The statements here and by DCLG give the impression the helpline wasn’t thought through at all at the outset.  What PAS should be asking is what support services and kind of helpline do you are our customers want and how can we best provide it?  Otherwise working in a call centre and slagging off the people at the other end of the line might beckon.

PAS Blog

When the NPPF was launched way back in March 2012, I was asked if I would play the role of ‘Rosemary the telephone operator’ and don a headset to answer some queries  (for anyone unfamiliar with the Hanna-Barbera cartoon canon,  Rosemary  is from the 70′s classic  ’Hong Kong Phooey’). Naturally, I accepted.

As far as I am aware there’s not previously been a help-line set up to deal with queries on a new Government policy document. The intention was clear. Anticipate the cries of  ‘what does this all mean’ and provide instant access to information through dialogue – not through a sheet of answers to questions no-one was asking anyway.

What were the issues?

There was no expectation on likely numbers. As the week progressed, it became clear that there were one or two headline issues people were interested in receiving clarity on. Namely, ‘Where does my plan sit in terms of the transitional arrangements?’, and ‘What has happened to the guidance note that accompanied PPSX?’

We attempted to reduce the volume of calls on these issues by posting information on our discussion forum on the PAS website.  However, there remained a deal of confusion (mistrust?) about the message being received. Or perhaps people didn’t like the answer they were given and wanted a different one!

As the days pass, there are more detailed questions coming through. This is unsurprising as there has now been a chance for people to focus on parts of the NPPF that are ‘live issues’ for them. There certainly seems to be a call for more clarity on ‘process’. Questions such as “Can we still do X when the NPPF doesn’t say we can’t?” seem quite common.

I understand where these questions are coming from, but I feel it’s a sad reflection of the times. Not on the individuals who are asking, but on the legacy of a spoon-fed world where everyone wanted guidance on everything lest they were found unsound for ‘getting it wrong’.

Was it a success?

Whether the help-line is deemed a success or not will no doubt receive a different answer from different people. Did you call it? Did you get an answer you were prepared to believe?

As time goes by, call volumes are falling, but the detail of discussion is growing. It will be worthwhile sharing these conversations more widely, and I know PAS and DCLG are going to look at the best way of doing this.

Whether the help-line is ‘the future’ in terms of moving away from specific guidance to trying to figure things out and having someone to discuss ideas with is another question.

Lyveden New Bield Winfarm Decision in Unprecedent Heritage Body Joint Challenge

We set out why we thought this disgraceful decision was eminently challengable  here.

Now a JR is happening







English Heritage and the National Trust have launched a rare legal challenge to a scheme to install four large wind turbines near a “treasured” Elizabethan garden.

The two heritage bodies have joined East Northamptonshire Council, which originally refused planning permission for the 127-metre high turbines close to Lyveden New Bield, to oppose the planned wind farm.

They fear the turbines will be visible from virtually everywhere on the property, affecting the appreciation of one of England’s oldest garden landscapes, and the go-ahead for development could set a precedent for other heritage sites.

Last month the planning inspector backed an appeal by an energy company to let it install the turbines near the Grade I-listed heritage site, which is made up of an unfinished 17th century lodge and gardens, despite acknowledging it was “probably the finest surviving example of an Elizabethan garden”.

But while he said the turbines would be a “distraction” which would harm the heritage site, he ruled the damage would not be substantial and was outweighed by the benefits of the scheme in meeting wider renewable energy targets.

The National Trust argued that the turbines would be prominent, modern and intrusive structures in a landscape which still evoked the site’s historic Rockingham Forest surroundings. The decision also undermined protection for heritage around the country, the trust warned.

The trust, English Heritage and the local authority said they had started legal proceedings under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, in a bid to get the courts to examine the way in which the planning inspector made his decision.

The three organisations believe the inspector failed to properly assess the contribution the setting makes to the heritage value of the building and gardens.

Simon Thurley, chief executive of government body English Heritage, said: “We were extremely disappointed by the inspector’s decision to allow the wind farm. Our challenge to his decision is not simply about the balance of professional judgment between heritage and renewable energy.”

East Northamptonshire Council leader Steven North said the council was committed to the use of renewable energy wherever it was practicable but “not to the detriment of the historic landscape”.

The Revised Law on Independent Examination

A freind has sent me their consolidation of section 70 of the 2005 act with the changes introduced by s110 and s112 Localism Act .  It saved me a tedious and error prone task so i’m sharing it here as its not yet on the official legislation.gov site.  If any mistakes please point them out.

20        Independent examination


(1)        The local planning authority must submit every development plan document to the Secretary of State for independent examination.

(2)        But the authority must not submit such a document unless—

(a)        they have complied with any relevant requirements contained in regulations under this Part, and

(b)        they think the document is ready for independent examination.

(3)        The authority must also send to the Secretary of State (in addition to the development plan document) such other documents (or copies of documents) and such information as is prescribed.

(4)        The examination must be carried out by a person appointed by the Secretary of State.

(5)        The purpose of an independent examination is to determine in respect of the development plan document—

(a)        whether it satisfies the requirements of sections 19 and 24(1), regulations under section 17(7) and any regulations under section 36 relating to the preparation of development plan documents;

(b)        whether it is sound; and

(c)        whether the local planning authority complied with any duty imposed on the authority by section 33A in relation to its preparation.

(6)        Any person who makes representations seeking to change a development plan document must (if he so requests) be given the opportunity to appear before and be heard by the person carrying out the examination.

(7)        Where the person appointed to carry out the examination—

(a)        has carried it out, and

(b)        considers that, in all the circumstances, it would be reasonable to conclude—

(i)         that the document satisfies the requirements mentioned in subsection (5)(a) and is sound, and

(ii)        that the local planning authority complied with any duty imposed on the authority by section 33A in relation to the document’s preparation,

the person must recommend that the document is adopted and give reasons for the recommendation.

(7A)     Where the person appointed to carry out the examination—

(a)        has carried it out, and

(b)        is not required by subsection (7) to recommend that the document is adopted,

the person must recommend non-adoption of the document and give reasons for the recommendation.

(7B)     Subsection (7C) applies where the person appointed to carry out the examination—

(a)        does not consider that, in all the circumstances, it would be reasonable to conclude that the document satisfies the requirements mentioned in subsection (5)(a) and is sound, but

(b)        does consider that, in all the circumstances, it would be reasonable to conclude that the local planning authority complied with any duty imposed on the authority by section 33A in relation to the document’s preparation.

(7C)     If asked to do so by the local planning authority, the person appointed to carry out the examination must recommend modifications of the document that would make it one that—

(a)        satisfies the requirements mentioned in subsection (5)(a), and

(b)        is sound.

(8)        The local planning authority must publish the recommendations and the reasons.

Best Planning Pamphlet in History Re-issued by TCPA – Unwin’s ‘Nothing Gained by Overcrowding’

If ever there was a ‘Town Planning Idol’ contest or ‘Greatest  Planner’ there would be an easy winner, edging past even Geddes, Howard, May, Abercrombie, Adams, Duany, Sitte, Karsten, Rassmussen, Calthorpe, Kohr and Nolen.

Why – because it was Unwin who properly integrated the conceptual ideas of the early Garden Cities and Town Planning movement with theories of urban design and actually getting places designed and built.  Through his freind John Nolen his ideas influenced North American designers and formed the basis of the new urbanism which has become the foundation of modern thinking on urban design and planning.

Not only did Unwin (with partner Barry Parker) design the first Garden Suburbs he masterplanned the first Garden City at Letchworth, did the first regional plan, wrote the most import pamphlet ‘Northing Gained by Overcrowding’ and most important book Town Planning in Practice (1909) in the history of planning (here is an online version  of the book for your IPAD), a book that should still be read by every planning student because as we have to relay less and the less on the motor car past peak oil his ideas become more relevant not less.

At the launch at parliament today  Kate Henderson, TCPA Chief Executive said:

“This publication is part of a resurgence of interest in one of the most successful stories in Britain’s social and architectural history, the Garden City movement. Although Unwin was writing one hundred years ago to address questions of housing layout, his ideas are more relevant than ever in our current social and economic conditions. Housing starts are at an all time low and new research has shown that the number of UK households with three or more generations living under the same roof has increased by 7% in the past five years, reaching levels last seen in Victorian times.

“Delivering more and better homes more quickly and more affordably is the defining challenge for our generation.”

The republication is available here 

Unwin’s argument was about the inefficiency of crude ladder lines of by law type housing, as you find for example in Noel Park next to Wood Green.  He showed how by a more rational layout you could use the saved land instead for gardens and children’s play areas.  Though a vast improvement on bye law layouts his scheme was designed to prove a point about use of space and he exaggerated his point.  The play and garden areas were huge and the densities too low.  He showed through diagrams that even with low densities land take from expansion of a town would become exponentially less with distance.  True but what we have seen in the C20th is densities falling exponentially too leading to vast sprawl in areas without land conserving planning rules.  Unwin also failed to properly understand that this only works in very small towns and suburbs where you can walk to a station.  If you require a whole city to be connected by buses and transit you need minimum densities to make that viable around public transport stops.  You can though still apply Unwin’s design principles and swap around the elements.  I would not discount for example, as Greg Clarke did in his talk at the launch, rear garden parking, this works well at Poundbury, and if parking is placed to the rear or the side as in many European compact city designs you can narrow down streets, make them pedestrian only, and have the sense of enclosure you get in historic towns.  There is nothing wrong with short permittee blocks, as long as the number of street with car access is limited as they turning, visibility areas and parking use so much space.  You can also move the open spaces to the front where children can be visually supervised playing, a problem with Unwins pamphlets layouts.  You can also increase the story height of Unwin’s layouts and have both the advantages of efficient layout and density.  What is really needed is a modern reworking of these principles showing a variety of layout options.  Of course what we got in the Garden Cities movement was some considerable experimentation at Letchworth , Welwyn Garden City and Hampstead Garden Suburb – with the greatest development in the  street blocks of Welwyn  (Samuels et. al. is the classic study) indeed scholars of Unwin (which sadly I would have to put myself in that category) would probably say that in practice Unwin used interior courtyards and irregular blocks more as it was a more practical way of laying out sites, indeed rear amenity areas tended to be used only on irregularly angled blocks where rear gardens would have been excessively long and that this pamphlet was more of a desk study designed to alter restrictive by laws than a design guide in the modern sense, and in that sense it was a huge success as those by laws swiftly changed.


Dr Patrick Clarke of URS does attempt to update the design layouts of the pamphlets, at more realistic densities, with far less wasteful use of land for vehicular manoeuvring and visibility splays, but it sticks a little too strictly to the original pamphlet layout with rear communal open space.  Indeed if doubled up his layout and replaced the centre block with an interior courtyard square you get the form that Unwin typically used as above.

 “The underlying argument of Unwin’s work was that with the correct housing layout you could build high quality, beautiful places that were also efficient and cost effective for both the developer and the resident. Re-imagining the Garden City planning principles for today can help us to unlock the delivery of attractive and sustainable neighbourhoods for the 21st century.”

Camerons ‘cancels’ his Big GreenSpeech – now denies he was ever going to give it.

For weeks the lobby has been briefed on a major set piece speech on energy and carbon reduction at a meeting of 23 Energy Ministers in London this Thursday.

Such meetings are what set piece speeches are made for and the briefings had been that the PM would take the opportunity to clarify government policy on energy, carbon reduction and particularly renewable energy given that investors have become completely spooked since Chris Huhne left and Osbourne announced a dash for gas.

But yesterday we learn from the FT there will be no speech.

 the prime minister is no longer making a pro-environmental oration on Thursday…The steer from the centre is that while Cameron may have mulled a setpiece speech it was only ever considered. And ultimately he decided it was more useful to do a roundtable with executives and politicians – and issue a press release on the side – rather than a grandstanding speech. This wouldn’t require the work of five speechwriters, was how one aide put it. (Although you might argue, that’s what speechwriters are for).

But clearly 5 speechwriters have been working on a draft, but because there is no policy and departments and coalition partners can’t agree what the policy is – especially for the carbon budget and carbon price in the long term.  The speech has suffered death by milkrun.  It is a total farce of non decision making and non government.

If the prime minister cannot give an energy speech in front of 23 energy ministers then his space at the podium is rather wasted.

York CS Suspended 6 Months – Green Belt in Limbo #NPPF

Yesterday was the Exploratory Meeting.

From reports the Inspector (David Vickery) gave a clear indication that he was prepared to suspend the Exam until October if the Council agreed that such action was appropriate. The Council stated clearly that it would respond positively to such a suspension.  A letter will go out from the inspector next week.

Key problems was the inability to show duty to cooperate solutions to meeting the housing requirements of the City and the fact that the inner edge of the York Green Belt has failed to be defined in a development plan which has allowed large tracts of ‘draft’ Green Belt to be developed.

The only statutory Policy relating to a Green Belt encircling the City is contained in the RSS (Yorkshire & Humberside), which is likely to be abolished during the summer. When that happens, York will have not even have a draft Green Belt, so the CS will therefore have to justify a Green Belt as well as defining its boundaries.   A key policy test in the NPPF from PPS2 is that new Green Belt boundaries should be defined to be defensible in perpetuity, including where necessary setting out areas of strategic reserve.

Expect housebuilders to slap in applications now.  If they were put in now they would fail the prematurity test, but if York is slow (longer than 6-8 months) to come up with realistic proposals to meet housing need and a realistic inner boundary then expect the appeals to go to inquiry and give the SoS a difficult case as his own policy would then indicate approval.  After all there would be no Green Belt if the SoS chooses to abolish the RSS.  The SoS can of course choose to selectively revoke the RSS leaving the Green Belt intact but its inner boundary undefined.  Expect JRs whatever happens.

York is really up against the clock.  It needs to put forward and SEA and consult on urban extension options and get it back to Full Council within this period – a very hard task.

There is an action that York can undertake that is tractable within a short period of time – but that advice is on the clock.

Commons Debate on #NPPF today – some indeterminate time after 2.30pm

Interesting that a debate has been agreed now unlike the previous statement and questions after members had had a chance to see the document.

Session begins at 2.30 but given prior motions cant see it beginning until well into the afternoon.  Hopefully twitter will tell us when.

You can watch it here

Time Business
2:30pm Oral QuestionsHM Treasury, including Topical Questions
Ten Minute Rule Motion – Philip DaviesFood Labelling (Halal and Kosher Meat)
Consideration of any Lords amendments
MotionRelating to Section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993
MotionEU directive on data protection in the areas of police and criminal justice
DebateGeneral debate on the National Planning Policy framework
Adjournment – Mr Richard BaconJobs at Group Lotus

Its not just Real Business Cycle Models that live in an Unreal World without Businesses

Noah Opinion has a good piece on RBC models , but his target is way too narrow:

 RBC is a glaring example of what I call “Label-the-Residual Economics”, in which the economist assumes that the part of the world that we can’t measure is the Mysterious Force that drives everything, but that we can accurately predict the future behavior of this Mysterious Force.

Now, some work has been done on improving RBC models since their inception – instead of technology, for example, some modelers try to tie business cycles to news about technology. But most of the macro profession has moved on to other types of DSGE models, especially new Keynesian models.

However many of the criticisms apply to the whole class of Arrow-Debreu models and some criticisms to the RBC class of its children – including DGSe and NK. The more fundamental criticism should be to the whole wider class otherwise the ‘we are New Keynesian and we are different’ defence of Mark Thoma can be made.

For example the core assumptions of all A-D models is that ‘firms’ make no profits under constant returns- and that core mathematical assumption is shared by New Keynsian & DGSE models despite attempts to massage it through ex-poste adjustments. David Ellermen demonstrates that this ‘ is a basic modelling flaw (as perhaps Penrose did half a century ago)   Again the core mathematical assumption of all A-D derived models is money neutrality – indeed money, debt and assets which are security against debt are not part of the A-D core.

I and many others argue its the all A-D models that must go

From feedback on that paper two issues have emerged – firstly some of the assumptions that all of neoclassical economics makes about the necessary conditions for equilibrium have been proven wrong.

A good example is the assumption of homogeneity – The spatial impossibility theory shows that in such a world there is no trade – you have to abandon the assumption of spatial homegenity to get trade.

From this modification follows that the neoclassical assumptions of constant returns to scale is flawed, in the real world we see increasing returns without state subsidy. Berliant and Ten Raa have proven that increasing returns is compatible with positive profits if you modify the Alonso land rent model to include production.

The second issue is that living in such a such a real spatial world only gives you fragile islands of partial and temporary equilibrium. I have found no convincing mathematical proof of proof of General Equilibrium in such a realistically modelled world where because of radical homeganiety and constant shifting of people non convexities will be occurring all the time everwhere . All temporary equilibrium does is send information signals to entrepreneurs that there is money to be made and equilibrium points to shift – from their  inevitably often  poor entrepreneurial decisions under uncertainty;  (which is the Hotelling argument generalised) and that shatters the convexity assumption of A-D. You can only get GE in such a world with the deux ex dachina Lucas assumption of ‘rational expectations’ which requires requires perfect foresight and psychic ability of every human being of every other human being till the end of time (and I would argue not even then as who would psycic agents modify their behaviour if they knew everyone elses thoughts). As Buiter writes this Auctioneer at the End of Time assumption is a model of a centrally (god) planned economy not a market one.

We need economics not religion.