My FOI request on Tripartate War-gaming prior to 2007 Crash Turned Down would ‘damage economic interests and stability of the UK’


What an extrordinary reponse. The names of firms could be redacted. In most wargaming exercises fictional names are used for good reason, when did the MOD ever conduct a wargame proposing to invade China? Clearly they have something to hide.

The question was not about the management response of the Treasury but about the economic competency and ideas of the Tripartate. The real risk to the ‘economic interests and stability of the UK’ is this incompetency in failing to understand the systemic risk in the process, which the Tripartite failed to do. If the public could see the reasons for this failure the chances of this happening again would be reduced. This is a smokescreen designed to conceal the embarrassment of the tripartite, putting their own interest above the public interest.

This was a wargame into an operational response buy the tripartite not formulation of government policy. There was no request for individual views of civil servants expressed and indeed as in such wargames participants would be ‘role playing’ it would be most unusual for that even to be recorded. There is a very clear public interest and the exemptions quoted are entirely spurious and inapplicable.

I would appreciate any legal experts on the FOI act concerning an appeal.

Letter here on dropbox.

RenewableUk Dismisses CPRE ‘Wrong Figures’ on Windfarms

Business Green

The renewable energy industry has hit back at a report claiming a “dramatic proliferation” of wind turbines is blighting the English countryside, warning “an unrepresentative minority using exaggerated statistics” should not be allowed to derail public support for the technology.

Polls published during the past two weeks have highlighted the popularity of wind and other renewable energy sources as a means of cutting long-term energy bills and reducing the UK’s reliance on insecure energy imports.

As many as nine in 10 people want more green power sources according to one YouGov survey, while a separate Ipsos Mori questionnaire found 68 per cent of respondents in rural areas were in favour of more wind power, compared to 66 per cent in cities.

But while a major new report published today by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) acknowledges renewables must be part of a balanced energy mix, it says both landscapes and communities are threatened by up to 4,100 wind turbines of 30 metres or taller either operational, under construction, or in planning.

The wind industry says this figure is more than double the numbers actually proposed and accuses the CPRE of “scaremongering” by including offshore turbines in its list.

The CPRE is calling on the government to provide more clarity on the total number of onshore wind turbines it expects will be installed and wants the capacity of the landscape to accommodate wind turbines “without unacceptable damage” to be formally taken into account in planning decisions.

The report also recommends that the wind industry should be made responsible for decommissioning turbines and restoring the landscape once they stop working or when they reach the end of their useful life.

“CPRE accepts onshore wind in the right places as part of the mix required to meet the UK’s carbon reduction targets, but we are seeing more and more giant turbines sited in inappropriate locations,” said Shaun Spiers, CPRE chief executive.

“Communities feel increasingly powerless in the face of speculative applications from big, well-funded developers, and this risks undermining public support for the measures needed to tackle climate change.”

He reiterated that the group was not against all wind turbines, unlike the recently launched National Opposition to Windfarms body, arguing that “it is right that the countryside should play its part in supplying the renewable energy the country needs”.

But he stressed that businesses and policymakers, “must find a way of reconciling climate change mitigation and landscape protection”.

Trade body RenewableUK said the CPRE’s concerns were “misplaced”, arguing that only 1,826 turbines are planned for England at present, as part of a total of 8,581 for the entire UK. [Is this the number planned by theor members or include non-members]

Dr Gordon Edge, RenewableUK’s director of policy, agreed a balance between building renewable energy and maintaining visual aesthetics had to be struck, but argued the planning system’s environmental safeguards are already among the most stringent in the world.

“The biggest threat to our valued landscapes is climate change,” Edge added. “Onshore wind is the cheapest source of low-carbon power, and restricting its development would jeopardise our firm commitment to offer value for money to the consumer, as well as green energy.

“It’s clear that only some locations are suitable for wind – but the way to identify those is by assessing each wind farm on its own merits, not the top-down approach the CPRE is proposing.”

This view was echoed by Andrew Pendleton, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth, who pointed out the economic benefits arising from wind power.

“It’s time to stop tilting at windmills and get on with the urgent task of building a clean British energy industry that will boost our economy, create jobs and save us all money,” he said.

Tony Juniper, leading environmentalist and chair of Action for Renewables, a UK-wide campaign promoting renewable energy, added that the countryside had always been shaped by prevailing economic and social drivers and should not be “frozen” when it could help the UK deal with pressing environmental challenges.

“The vast majority of the people in this country, and especially those in rural areas, understand the need for sensibly-sited wind turbines to build the home-grown energy systems that will create jobs, attract investments, generate power and ultimately saves us money,” he said. “I don’t believe that an unrepresentative minority using exaggerated statistics should be allowed to stop the country reaping these benefits.”

This is an easy dispute to resolve, both sides should publish their databases online and they can then be compared.

Its Grant’s Beds in Sheds Gang – are England’s ‘shanty towns’ minister admits

BBC News sloppily releasing a pre-embargo brefing without editing

The government is setting up a task force to tackle “beds in sheds” by acting against criminal landlords and removing illegal immigrants.

Housing Minister Grant Shapps and Immigration Minister Damian Green will discuss the problem later with police, immigration and council officials.

Thousands of sheds and outbuildings are rented out illegally, say ministers.

Those who live in them are often migrants who put up with high rents and primitive conditions.

Mr Shapps and Mr Green will raise several proposals, including:

  • encouraging councils to make greater use of legal powers across planning, fire safety, housing and environmental health
  • measuring the extent and nature of the problem, drawing on information collected by Whitehall and Town Halls
  • ensuring councils and the police share available intelligence
  • closer working with foreign authorities to help those wanting to return home
  • steps to prevent more “beds in sheds” from being created

Mr Shapps will say: “It is a scandal that these back garden slums exist to exploit people, many of whom are prepared to return voluntarily to their home country but instead find themselves trapped into paying extortionate rents to live in these cramped conditions.

“I want to see a crackdown on these criminal landlords.”

Mr Green will say: “Those with no right to be in the UK must leave the country. If they volunteer to leave, we will help. If they refuse, we will enforce their removal.”

We covered how to stop this in the bud here last month.

The DCLG press release is here  

A new national taskforce will be set up to tackle the issue of “beds in sheds” by taking action against criminal landlords and removing illegal immigrants.

On Monday (30 April), Housing Minister Grant Shapps and Immigration Minister Damian Green will hold the first in a series of cross-Whitehall summits with representatives from the police, the UK Border Agency and local government.

The meetings will find ways to close down thousands of sheds and outbuildings being rented out illegally to migrants, including some with no right to be in the UK.

These ‘tenants’ are being exploited by ruthless landlords who charge them extortionate rents to live in cramped conditions.

These modern day shanty towns, often visible on websites such as Google Earth, can be plagued with rats and cockroaches – and are potential death traps with dodgy wiring and poor sanitation.

Some foreign ‘tenants’ wish to return home but, after destroying their passports to avoid removal, find it difficult to do so quickly.

However I fear even a raid on a single street in Slough, Southall or Bristol would fill up an entire immigration detention centre and keep half a dozen enforcement officers for a year – which LPAs have no funding for.

Developing a New Legal and Financial Model for New Garden Cities/Suburbs #NPPF Part 1

Later this year the DCLG will be consulting on how best ‘garden city principles’ can be implemented.  The hope is some of the beartraps and mistakes of the Ecotown’s fiasco.  We can predict that many many responses to that consultation will respond that an indispensable component of Garden Cities (including Garden Suburbs and Eco-Communities in urban areas) is that residents share in the uplift of land values and this is used to fund on-going community and social services. We can also safely predict that the Policy Exchange model of let it rip, disregard all local democracy and design and let landlowners take 100% of the uplift in land values will get a lead balloon reception if consulted on.

So rather than wasting six moths it is important that any consultation deals with real practical issues on how they could be set up quickly, successfully, not subject to legal challenge and be fit for purpose.  Below i’ve set down a number of key issues.

1) Is Current Legislation fit for Purpose?

The New Town Act 1981 is still on the statute book.  As even this government has recognised development corporations, such as the Mayoral Development Corporations planned for London, can have a role, especially where LPA boundaries are crossed and to unite the ‘deal making’ and ‘Planning’ function – a key lesson both of Urban Development Corporations and New Town Development Corporations.  The power to acquire and hold land is critical.

In the longer term there is a very strong case for the law commission to look at consolidating Planning, Regeneration, CPO/Compensation , SEA and New Towns law into a single simpler bill.   Planning law has become creaky and complex like an overextended wooden house and it is now 22 years since the last consolidation which set up a system which lasted exactly one year.   As im sure all parties will be looking at that after the next election the law commission perhaps needs to start this this year.  But that reforms will take years, so what can be done now with current legislation.

From a modern eye there are aspects of the 1981 which act as a positive hinderance to achieving sustainable development.

Section 5(5) of the act however prevents development corporations from carrying on ‘any undertaking for the supply of water, electricity or gas or for the provision of sewerage services, or any railway, light railway, tramway or trolley vehicle undertaking’

Sustainable design may well propose reed bed sewerage, local renewable energy etc.  Corporations are allowed to build these but prevented from running an undertaking, a ridiculous restriction.

Fortunately there is a general power to remove outdated legislation, as this is, under the Henry VIII clauses of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006  orders to remove such clauses can be laid before parliament.

There are other aspects of the 1981 Act which are outdated but can be worked around.  For example section 7 on planning control separates out powers for masterplanning – Section 1 – from granting consent – section 2.  Doing this within the context of current EU law – such as the SEA directive, is critical.

A key lesson from the second round of New Towns – the likes of Skelmersdale and Cumbernauld – is that designating a new town (or Garden City in modern context) before a masterplan is a disaster.  Lets hope that LPAs and the government learn that lesson now.  LPAs should not just be content with landowner led designs.  A key lesson from the Ecotowns process is that these designs can be very poor indeed.  Also if these are to be translated into statutory plans (in whatever form) requires an SEA which considers ‘reasonable alternatives’ at an ‘early stage’  It was the failure to consider alternative locations for example in the centralised Ecotowns project which ultimately killed it off as locations were not chosen through a proper ‘larger than local’ strategic planning process with consideration of alternative masterplan designs.  Legal challenges were lined up even if the election had not intervened.

So a possible model is to run a proper design competition – similar of course to Letchworth.  A LPA or LPA consortium might say – to give an example the consortium of local authorities in the Gatwick / Brighton corridor considering a new country town – ok we are looking at the option of a ‘Garden City’ in this broad area we invite masterplans for a settlement with a design size of up to x population.  Then these alternatives could be SEAd and this contribute to the final decision, this decision (which may require masterplan modification to mitigate adverse impacts) then becoming part of the submitted local plan or plans.  The Design Council – CABE  in their new role could help coordinate and advise on these – though some seed-corn national funding would be helpful.

This would ensure that section 7(1) Masterplans could not be legally challenged.

The split between masterplanning in section 7(1) and allocation under section 7(2) of the NTA is critical in ensuring that land can be CPO or acquired at existing land use value +compensation – critical to making the Garden City model work. Though the government again could look at revised models where landowners share in a % of uplift which would encourage them to get on board rather than challenge the process in courts or at the lands tribunal. Of course landowners could voluntarily offer the large part of any uplift through an unilateral undertaking which would be a swift and pragmatic solution.  Failure to capture any uplift whatsoever however would not be a Garden City at all – Ebenezor Howard would turn in his grave.

The key aspect of CPO law, as it has been for 40 years, is the concept of ‘relevant date’  the date the CPOing body acquires land, broadly, is the date compensation is assessed.  However if land is zoned, or a special development order is issued under the 1981 act, before then then the landowner will get full market value making the whole process pointless.

But there was a process used by the old Development Corporation that could be used now.  The SoS approves a masterplan (and in the future why not make it so LPAs too can approve materplans) showing land needed as some in determinate date, but not released allocated.  After CPO the DC then gets the SoS (and in future LPA) to issue a special development order which jointly allocates the land and grants outline planning consent – a very powerful way of attracting employment development for example.  Then land can be acquired at close to existing use value.  This was critical to the economic model of New Town where Treasury funding was paid off over years by land value uplifts.  That model wont be practical now but the issue today is how to make schemes cover their own face from private up-front infrastructure funding (see next section).

This model can be done both under the 1990 or 1981 acts as I set out in a previous post.  Subject to the CPO being ‘back to backed’ by a development partner there would be no cost to the LPA or DC.  Such CPOs of course are at existing land use value and the CPO inquiry can be concurrent with the EIP and by the same inspector. (see circular 06/2004).  Under the 1981 Aquisition of Land Act the ‘relevent date’ for CPO valuation is the date of the lands tribunal decision of the date value are agreed, or the date vested if that procedure is used.  (see para 23 of DCLG 2010 guidance).  So all a local plan need do is state in a phasing policy that the allocation of the land shall not take place until after the land has been acquired by the LPA.  National Guidance could confirm the legitimacy of this approach

I cant see that any other clauses of the 81 act are hindrances, it is a clear and well written act by modern standards, far more so than the Localism Act.  Though the designation procedures etc. may need to be added to at the SoSs discretion.  For example simply imposing a board to override local democracy would be unacceptable in current localist circumstances.  The procedures used to appoint National Park boards are more of a model, ensuring local democratically elected representatives are in the majority together with a rage of other local stakeholders.

Later today or tomorrow – time permitting – I will post the second part on what financial and legal structures might be used – fleshing out the recent TCPA/Land Securities report, and later a third part on the detailed masterplanning and consenting of specific phases.

London Forum Open Meeting on #NPPF and Neighbourhood Planning

Thanks to Micheal Bach for Sending these

DCLG powerpoint here

Michael’s Powerpoint of Town Centres and Neighbourhood Planning here

NOTES OF THE LONDON FORUM OPEN MEETING ON 24 April 2012:
NATIONAL PLANNING POLICY FRAMEWORK (NPPF) AND NEIGHBOURHOOD PLANNING

Over 50 people attended.

SECTION 1  NPPF
Stephen Hammond MP, PPS at the Department for Communities and Local Government, was unable to be present. Mr Bach gave the DCLG presentation on his behalf, emphasising particularly that:

  • the regime introduced by the NPPF (and coming into force immediately) was plan- led (ie planning for the growth we will need), and not merely  plan-compliant (ie ensuring that applications are determined in accord with the plan – which is in any case a legal requirement);
  • growth for its own sake was not sought, but development that delivered all three of the three elements of sustainable development;
  • local authorities had a year to get Local Plans (the new name) in place; and
  • that targets for the use of brownfield land were to be set locally, not nationally.

He said that the NPPF had been welcomed by those especially concerned with design matters.

Mr Bach then gave his own presentation. He said that a number of the Forum’s concerns with the original draft NPPF had been addressed in the final version:

  • the meaning of ‘sustainable development’ had been clarified (though would still provide work for lawyers);
  • local plans were given a stronger position; and
  • the ‘town centre first’ policy had been strengthened, but was concerned that it may not be sufficient.

Nevertheless, he said that the NPPF:

  • remained ‘placeless’;
  • said nothing about towns, cities let alone London;
  • should have been clearer about how best and where to develop; but
  • would not change the present regime in London very much.

The London Plan could be demonstrated to be in general conformity with the NPPF and would  remain in force, with a few changes on which the Mayor’s staff were now working. All the boroughs except for Hillingdon and Hounslow should have Local Plans in place by the deadline of a year. It was important for boroughs to realise that if they wanted for economic reasons to protect offices from conversion to residential (as Kensington & Chelsea did) they would have to have specific and robust policies in their local plan to justify retention of the offices they wanted to retain, such as identifying specific industry “clusters” or “preferred locations” where offices should be retained – town centres or close to public transport interchanges, as suggested in the NPPF.

The discussion that followed was a lively and well-informed one.

Edward Dawson (CPRE London) said that the campaign against the draft NPPF had had remarkably good media coverage, and the outcome was better than had been expected. The possible interpretatation of  ‘sustainable development’ was still a concern – the Brundtland report had looked for ‘growth’. The tone, rather than the actual content, of what the NPPF said about Green Belts worried CPRE. Moreover, paragraph 111 of the NPPF though encouraging the reuse of brownfield land left  targets – which had hitherto been effective – entirely to local authorities.

Martin Simmons (Town and Country Planning Association and a Vice-President of the Forum) doubted whether any definition of sustainable development would work everywhere; it was for local authorities to have their own definition in their local plans. He emphasised the importance of the duty to co-operate; although of less significance  within Greater London than elsewhere because of the London Plan, it was still important for boroughs with neighbours outside, in respect both of housing and, especially, of waste. Greater London had to be set in the context of the whole South-East.

Del Brenner (Regents Network) drew attention to the absence of roads from the NPPF. Mr Bach observed that PPG13, although titled “Transport” had had more in them about the location of development generally, but the NPPF had very little.

Ken Hobday was concerned about the implications for wildlife – especially what power would remain to prevent the desecration of the Chilterns by HS2. Mr Bach pointed out that the authorisation of major infrastructure projects like HS2, as national infrastructure, would be for a mechanism quite outside the NPPF, though the principles would be the same.

Andrew Bosi complained that the NPPF showed no understanding of the concept of reducing the need to travel. Mr Bach said that more generally the NPPF had not adopted the key principles in para 20 of PPG13 and therefore did not properly emphasise the need to ensure that development is in the right place; under localism local authorities would have to work out their own policies; reducing the need to travel would have to be in borough plans. The London Plan would need to be revised accordingly to become the lead policies for London.

Tanya Szendeffy (Peckham Society) wondered how best, as time went by, to reassert the priorities of civic societies. Mr Eversden wondered if the Government would make this more difficult by changing the Use Classes Order allowing commercial buildings to be converted to housing without consent; Mr Bach thought this unlikely as the NPPF had changed the policy whilst allowing boroughs to make the case for retaining these uses where it was justified.

Anna Townend (Greenwich Environmental Forum) said that ‘sustainable development’ still did not take account of the natural environment; population growth must be tackled. Mr Bach emphasised that the issue for the NPPF was how, not whether, to accommodate population growth.

Helen Marcus (Heath and Hampstead Society) said that in Brent a development was being prepared by the council without anything in the local plan; was there anything that could be done about it? Mr Dawson said that such a departure from the Plan would have to go to the full Council. Mr Bach said that local plans could not cover every possibility, but proposals outside the Plan should have to have met the same tests as those coming through the plan. In the case of major developments, if the Council did not follow their own plan, the Mayor could intervene, or there could be a call-in; but Ministers did not favour call-in except where there was a real national issue involved or evidence of potential conflict of interest.

Despite the Conservative manifesto the Government had refused to allow third parties to appeal against the granting of planning permission, and Judicial Review was difficult,   expensive and unlikely to succeed in all but the most egregious of faulty decisions. So persuading the Mayor to intervene was the most hopeful line.

Tom Ball (Thorney Island Society) complained at the absence of vision in the NPPF. Mr Bach agreed – the Government’s response was that this was a matter for local plans and that they were not going to prescribe (or give a clue) as to how towns and cities should develop in the most sustainable way.

SECTION 2  NEIGHBOURHOOD PLANNING

Neighbourhood planning as still in its infancy; Mr Eversden and Mr Bach attempted to draw together what had happened so far. The prime need was for there to be a robust Local Plan in place that would prevent decisions from falling solely to the NPPF. Three areas in London were seriously wanting parish councils. Some borough councils had defined ‘neighbourhoods’ with boundaries that local people could not accept as correct.

Neighbourhood Plans could have particular value when they covered contiguous areas of more than one borough and could  ensure consistency. It might be better for a neighbourhood, at least in the first place, to seek to amend provisions in the Council’s Local Plan that embodied their wishes through a neighbourhood planning approach, rather than embark on the statutory neighbourhood planning procedures of a full-blown neighbourhood plan.

It might be worth establishing a Neighbourhood Forum without, at least immediately, proposing to produce a Neighbourhood  Plan; civic groups could help establishing a forum bringing together a wide range of organisations in, determining what local people really wanted, and pre-empting other interests from trying to establish one, and could make responding to local authority proposals speedier and more authoritative.

Seven of those present at the meeting said that Neighbourhood Forums had been or were being formed in their area. Gaby Higgs (St Marylebone Society) said that they had been acting very like a Neighbourhood Forum, but without the resources to take it over. Michael Hammerson (Highgate Society) said that they would not wish to become a
Neighbourhood Forum themselves alone, lest it provoke opposition, but had identified interest from many other organisations in a joint venture.

Ian Bruce (Richmond Society) had previously believed that a Neighbourhood Plan was an essential feature of a Neighbourhood Forum, but now realised that they could be more informal, and sought  advice. Mr Bach said that if a council was happy with a proposal for a Neighbourhood Forum (e.g. was clear that the proposal had broad backing) it was required to support it. The Neighbourhood Forum could then decide what they wanted to produce, which could be a proposal that Council could adopt without the Forum having to take it through the examination and referendum themselves. Mr Eversden drew attention to the very useful briefing available from the Urban Design Group.

Dick Allard (Westcombe Society) asked about the size of neighbourhood areas. Mr Bach and Mr Eversden said that there was no guidance as to size nor was it up to the Council to impose one; a dialogue with the local authority was needed.

Del Brenner (Regents Network) was concerned at the work involved in setting up a Neighbourhood Forum, probably with opposition from the Council. Mr Bach said that if local people really wanted a Forum, they could achieve one.

 Tom Ball (Thorney Island Society) asked if a local referendum would be necessary. Mr Bach said ‘No, unless the Council was not prepared to adopt the proposal – if the Council supported the proposals they could be taken into Local Plan without a referendum.

Mark Poulter (Putney Society) identified as problems that the 21 people required for a Neighbourhood Forum were not just local residents but could include many other bodies, and that the local authority could have a lot of influence on what a local neighbourhood was. Mr Bach said that the 21 certainly need not be all amenity
society members, but must be people from within the area and representative of the people in that area; the local authority would need to know this. Ultimately, if there were a referendum, it would be essential that the proposals had wide local support.

CPRE Calls for Strategic Plan For Windfarms

CPRE have today launched a new campaign on windfarms.  They have launched a report ‘Generating Light on Landscape Impacts

Unlike the pure pro or anti windfarm lobbies their focus is on how many where.  The question all local authorities have to answer in their local plans.

Telegraph 

At the moment there are 3,162 wind turbines onshore in the UK, up from a few hundred when the industry first set out 20 years ago.

Despite protests around the country, the number being built is set to speed up even further over the next few years with 657 currently under construction and 1,788 approved but not yet built.

There are another 2,974 in the planning process that have yet to be approved, meaning the total number will be 8,581 if they are all built.

To reach Government targets to generate 15 per cent of energy from renewables by 2020, it is expected around 10,000 turbines will need to be built onshore in the UK.

The problem of course is that upland areas are the windiest places which also have the highest level of landscape protection.

CPRE claim some wind farm ‘clusters’ are where councils have allowed consent, rather than because they are the best spots for wind. For example Northamptonshire, a county not known for its wind, currently has 13 operational turbines over 30 metres high, and an additional 46 consented and 32 in planning.  There is a mistake here though as data for some semi-upland counties, such as such as parts of Northants show high wind levels at 45m so it can be very commerical to build larger windfarms there.

The report calls for a new ‘strategic’ approach to building wind farms in the new local plans and at the Planning Inspectorate.  This would force planners to consider the impact on the landscape and the ‘cumulative’ effect of wind farms. Of course para. 97 of the final NPPF also requires ‘ensuring that adverse impacts are addressed satisfactorily, including cumulative landscape and visual impacts;’  the issue is what does that mean in terms of setting targets and deciding which of the 2,974 in the planning process need consent and how many more are needed to hit the 15% target by 2020, or even if this target will survice at all when the national carbon budget is revised at the chancellors insitence in 2014.

“The Campaign to Protect Rural England is increasingly concerned that the wave of planning applications for wind turbines across the country risks unacceptable damage to the landscape; to localism and people’s confidence in the planning system; and, ultimately, to the battle against climate change,”

Friends of the Earth calls the report ’tiliting at windmills’ but this utterly fails to grasp the level of hostility to windfarms on Conservative back benchs and how decisions made which allow poorly located windfarms in the absence of strategic plans will inevitably result in a backlash which will see fewer windfarms being built not more.