Pickles said rebranding was a waste of money – So what does DCLG do?

Pickles via his Spad was always keen to highlight wastes of spending by the DCLG such as the 30 odd thousand pounds on designing its horrible turquoise logo.  So it will be with some embarrassment for him to learn that DCLG now has a new logo and branding via the cabinet office?  One wonders how much it costs.  Actually it is rather good, and certainly Adobe Creative Suite inspired.  Out with Pantone 3282, and in with Pantone 287, a colour very similar to Imperial Purple, as it was the colour of the incredibly expensive sashes word by roman emperors reproduced at great expense from the gastropod Bolinus brandaris the process hto make it having been recently rediscovered as it was lost after the second crusades sack of Byzantium.

 “twelve thousand snails of yield no more than 1.4 g of pure dye, enough to colour only the trim of a single garment.”

Cleopatra was so ostentatious she even dyed her sails imperial purple, at a probable cost of a whole fleet.   Rather disappointingly it has been discovered you can obtain the same colour through cockles bought at Tescos.

So now uncle Eric can done his departmentally branded costume ahead of this weekends reshuffle (sadly the budgets on the carry on films did not run to getting the colour quite right).

A Readers Guide to Unwin’s Town Planning in Practice – Part 5 – Boundaries and Approaches

Today we’ll cover chapter 5 of Raymond Unwin’s ‘ Town planning in practice; an introduction to the art of designing cities and suburbs‘  of 1909.

It is this chapter that sets out Unwin’s ideas on Gateways most firmly, arguably where he has had most influence on urban design practice.

Historic towns are girdled by walls, with careful use of every part of space within, avoiding

that irregular fringe of half-developed suburb and half-spoiled country which forms such a hideous and depressing girdle around modern growing towns.

It is undesirable to fortify modern towns but

is most necessary in some way to define our town areas, and in the case of large towns to define and separate new areas and suburbs. It would seem desirable to limit in some way the size of towns, but how far this may be possible we have yet to learn.

Unwin was speaking well before any Green Belt was defined beyond the scale of that he himself proposed for Letchworth and he himself proposed for London a few years later.

Unwin then uses the example of Faubergs built outside of city gates, built in peace but abandoned in war to lend doubt the possibility for highly restrictive containment.

we may well doubt whether it will prove possible for us to limit the population of a modern town to a given number, should the town become so prosperous and popular that natural tendency would cause that number to be greatly increased. The attempt would bear some resemblance to King Canute and the flowing tide. There can, however, be little doubt that it is possible to set a limit to the size to which a town shall extend continuously without some break, some intervening belt of park or agricultural land ; and this at least it is most desirable to secure.

So here we see the origins of the concepts of regional planning, seeds already sown in Howard’s idea of the Social City, with urban containment not seen in isolation but one component of a policy to manage not twart urban growth.

the line of limitation may take many forms. Where woods exist and cannot be entirely preserved, a narrow belt of woodland, just enough to serve as a screen, may be secured, and through it may be taken a path or drive. An avenue of trees requires some years to mature, but a wide grass glade with such an avenue would be in time a most successful feature ; and while the latter trees were growing it might be  rendered delightful if planted with fruit-trees or other blossoming trees or shrubs. In large towns or areas it would be desirable to secure wide belts of park land, playing fields, or even agricultural land. In any case, we should secure some orderly line up to which the country and town may each extend and stop definitely, so avoiding the irregular margin of rubbish-heaps and derelict building land which spoils the approach to almost all our towns to-day. These belts might well define our parishes or our wards, and by so doing might help to foster a feeling of local unity in the area. As breathing spaces, they would be invaluable ; as haunts for birds and flowers, and as affording pleasant walks about the towns, free from the noise and worry of modern street traffic, they would give endless pleasure and would in a very true and right way bring into the town some of the charms of the country.

But this is hard as ‘the attempt has often led rather to the destruction of the beauty of both.’

A certain concentration and grouping of buildings is necessary to produce the special beauties of the town, and this is inconsistent with the scattering of buildings which results from each one being isolated in its own patch of garden ; but it is not inconsistent with the grouping of buildings in certain places and the provision of large parks or gardens in other places. If we are to produce really satisfactory town effects combined with the degree of open space now thought advisable, we must work on the principle of grouping our buildings and combining our open spaces, having areas fairly closely built upon, surrounded by others of open space, rather than that of scattering and indefinitely mixing our building and our spaces. 

Unwin even wished to make allotments harmonious through arrangements of hedges, walls and sheds.

Having dealt with open space and edges Unwin turned to Gateways

we must not forget the gateway and the importance of marking in some way the entrances of our towns, our suburbs, and our districts. The character of treatment will be quite different from that of the ancient gateway… but in many ways it would be fitting to mark the points where main roads cross our boundaries and enter towns, or new districts within the towns. For example, some little forecourt of green surrounded by buildings and led up to by an avenue of trees would strike at once the necessary note ; and many other simple devices will occur to the designer for giving the required emphasis and dignity to these points of entrance.

But Unwin noted that in modern times far more people will arrive by rail (still true in the centres of most great cities) where Gateways can be created.

The great archway at King’s Cross Station has about it such suggestion ; and if an open space in front of it could have replaced the low mean buildings and the narrow entrance lane, where the cabs and omnibuses jostle one another and threaten destruction to the arriving and departing passenger, some little dignity could have been given to this one of London’s modern gateways. Too often, as at Paddington, the station is entirely obscured by the hotel building In front, and the actual entrance and exit is nothing but a mean gangway on each side of, or through, the hotel building ; but one can imagine other treatments of railway stations with ample space in front for traffic, and with the hotels flanking the entrance, leaving the opening of the station with some genuine suggestion of gateway as the central feature.

Unwin will have been pleased that the masterplan for in front of Kings Cross is doing precisely this.  Lets hope the lesson is learned as well at Euston, where Unwin complained that the design was compromised because the only way for the station to expand was through Euston Square.

Unwin also wrote about how to make bridges more gateway like and recommended placing buildings servicing useful purposes in the abutments.

England’s Windiest and Least Windy LPAs #NPPF

Because of the controversy last week about whether Northamptonshire is windy or not I have mapped and ranked all of England’s Local Planning Authorities (for Plan Making Purposes) below.  For each grid square of 1Ha for each LPA I took the wind measure for that area (which is at 1km resolution).  I made some technical adjustments so the two datasets didnt overlap which would have created distortions where LPAs have sea areas.  The LPA areas calculated are for land areas with modelled wind measurements only.  I then took the mean windspeed for each LPA.

Ranked as follows Isles of Scilly easily the windiest, followed by Northumberland NP, Barrow-In_Furness, Exmoor NP and Blackpool. Perhaps Blackpool should go for wind turbines rather than Casinos. The least windy, Chesterfield followed by Stockport.  So it wasn’t the wind that did for that spire then.

The ranking is graphed as follows showing that there is very limited variation at LPA scale, all of England is pretty windy.  Given that turbines cannot operate at very windy conditions this evens it out still further.

Finally a scatter graph of NPPF constraints (other than Green Belt) against mean windspeed.  This shows that the most LPAs have large areas without constraints, which means, together with the average wind data, that there is no reason to allow windfarms in the most sensitive areas such as AONBs etc, as there are plenty of areas outside them.  Of course the logic of this is that areas with high levels of constraint such should have less and the capacity shortfall should be made up to some extent for in less constrained LPAS/Regions.  Although this isnt necessarily what places like Northamptonshire would like to hear.  Under the Duty to Cooperate LPAs with high nationally protected area coverage like Cotswold District and Wiltshire could quite rightly argue under the Duty to Cooperate that the fair share for places with less coverage nearby but still windy should take more, such as Basingstoke and Deane, Cherwell etc.

And the outcome.  West Northamptonshire ranked at 120 is above national average, flatter North Northamptonshire is 179 just below the National average, so bog standard windiness in other words.

Blow to High Street and Essex as Clinton’s looks set for Administration

Clinton’s will file for administration later today after its biggest supplier, American Greetings, which holds £35 million of loans called them in.  It will be a sad day for its founder and chairman Don Lewin OBE who named the company after his son, now managing director, as well as their over 8,300 staff.  Although the Lewins taking £3million salary between them in the last two years as the company tanked cannot have helped, losing £15 million last year alone, down from a £7.3 million profit in 2010.   The Lewin family will have lost £139 in equity from its 2008 value when he was listed as being one of the Essex Rich list top 20.       A real killer to their balance sheet has been getting out of long onerous leases negotiated before the recession.

American Greeting must clearly feel the company has assets worth liquidating.

It had 641 trading locations in 2011.  But never had the funding to modernise its stores, only trialling ‘low cost’ refits of 7 stores in the last financial year.  Clintons has around £150 million in assets of which £49 million are property.  Net assets after liabilities are around £23 million.

Looking at their last annual report it was clearly a company heading inevitably towards disaster.  It failed to find a buyer and now asset stripping looks inevitable, good look though trying to dispose of that many leases at theoretical book value all at once in the current climate, compare it for example to the book value of Woolworth’s assets before its collapse and how much it has gained from sales as it has so far managed to sell 40% of its freeholds/long leases, many at knock down prices and those stores leased by the administrators have been at knock down rents mainly to the like of Poundland.  Clintons stores are even too small for most pound shops.

Lets hope some shop workers take inspiration from Claire Robonson at Dorchester and Justina Pay in Chelmsford and negotiable good deals on former stores and reopen selling whatever.

Smart Growth and Economic Recovery – Simon Jenkins

Simon Jenkins has an interesting article linking smart growth to government spending.

I  witnessed government growth policy at work last week on the road north out of Manchester towards Rochdale. The scene is one of utter devastation. Not just individual shops but entire parades have gone out of business and are boarded up. Mile upon mile of factories, garages, supermarkets and warehouses lie empty and for sale. Recession has delivered the coup de grace to a quarter century of manufacturing decline. Manchester is by no means the worst hit of English cities, but its northern suburbs are Detroit UK.

The British economy needs three things: demand, demand, demand. It needs cash in pockets and cash in tills. It does not need richer banks or easier credit lines or looser regulation. It needs that old Keynesian salve, money in circulation. If money can be showered short term on banks, it can be showered short term on consumers, whether through benefit handouts, vouchers, tax holidays or scrappage schemes. Osborne declares quantitative easing to be off his debit sheet. He can do the same for temporary boosts to the money supply.

The cabinet’s current response to the cry for growth is to dip into the old goody bag. Osborne is already spending or planning billions of pounds for new railways, tunnels under London, wind turbines and aircraft carriers. There are murmurs of power stations, toll roads and ecotowns. The portfolio of ideas flowing through Whitehall reflects the interests of those whom Whitehall meets – government contractors, land-owners, estate developers and the bankers who finance them. It comes from government departments lobbying for airports, colleges, roads and hospitals.

The reason why the Treasury likes such projects is that they make headlines for ministers and can be controlled from the centre. Also, few involve big spending now. They are slow growth, lobbyists’ growth, dumb growth. They can be farmed out to private finance and are more likely to fuel the next boom than ease the present slump.

It would be better by far to import the US concept of “smart growth”. This does not channel counter-recessionary spending through grand projects. It directs it to the renewal of existing communities and infrastructure, to where there are already roads, transport, schools and hospitals. It restores, infills and stimulates activity where the social and physical framework is in place. It is productive and “sustainable”.

Smart growth revives the private sector through blood transfusion to the high street, rather than through the colossal public contracts favoured by Osborne and the industry secretary, Vince Cable. It makes cities denser, rather than depopulating them. It lets the market rather than the state allocate the extra cash. All this may lack ministerial glamour and earn little for consultants, but if politicians are serious about growth, smart sure beats dumb.

I have been working with NT and others over Smart Growth principles so there is a limited amount I can say, though I would stress three new points.

Firstly smart growth is neutral regarding macro-economic policy, it is an argument about efficient spending by both public and private sectors on infrastructure – that if spent badly harms our wellbing, and if wisely spent can enhance it.  I might argue that it is more coherent to combine smart growth with a smart approach to macroeconomics and regional development but smart growth  can and should be adopted across the political spectrum by Keynesians and Austrians/Austerians alike, because it makes sense.

Secondly while of course the focus will be on existing cities their is a large mismatch between household growth and where there is brownfield capacity, most notably in the East of England and the South West, so towns in these areas need to growth both up and out and that will require new infrastructure or putting back long neglected or abandoned infrastructure – a good example being the Varsity Line linking Oxford to Cambridge which can promote smart growth, as opposed to car -orientated growth, at several point along its length, in particular at Milton Keynes.  Growth which avoids excessive growth of pretty villages with poor public transport, which would otherwise have to occur.

Finally Keynes argued that it didn’t really matter where fiscal expansion occurred as long as it circulated through people’s pockets.  But economists would today argued that this wasn’t consistent with another of his key arguments – the multiplier effect – that money spent goes on to be respent so the effect on aggregate demand of £1 of expenditure is more than one (though they will argue till the cows come home whether it is and a few arguing with little evidence it is less than one) – so it makes sense to invest, if you are investing, in the sectors which have the highest multiplier effects, such as new housing (multiplier of around 2.75) [interestingly the figures show the sector with the highest multiplier is nuclear power around 6, we dont yet have good data to assess the renewable s multiplier and opportunity costs – but of course you don’t set energy policy by multiplier effects alone].  So you can refocus a fixed sum (if it is fixed) of government expenditure if you spend it where it has the greater multiplier leverage, though net if you reducing government leverage then you may be undoing much of this good work as aggregate demand at any instant in time is equal to output +change in debt+net income from assets (after depreciation).  If the government deleverages it must suck in demand from the private sector from taxes and then not spend it.

From this it makes sense to spend on infrastructure most needed to facilitate new housing (including council housing as it reduces the pressure on the deficit from housing benefit which is just a subsidy to rentiers, it is a public subsidy on the extractive sector of the economy), and which reduce car use (as it reduces imports of oil is a huge drag on the economy through harming our balance of payments) and that may well need new railways, roads, schools etc. if the existing ones are at capacity or if residents would drive to get to existing infrastructure otherwise.  In the North of England projects such as the Northern Rail Hub, (huge benefits to costs in comparison with many other projects in the South of England)  and which regenerate cities with real growth potential and housing pressures, i.e. Leeds – Bradford, should be the priority.

Jenkin’s piece seems to assume that infrastructure spending as opposed to revenue spending is the problem. however the data shows that government revenue spending has increased (to pay for increased unemployment, a new baby boom and an ageing /sick population even while there are cuts of 20% or so in other sectors such as local government, the police etc.) whilst capital spending has collapsed by 20-40% depending on sector.  The problem is not too much infrastructure spending but too little and the overly centralised way in which infrastructure priorities are decided.  We wont get smart growth without infrastructure spending it is essential to every significant smart growth project.

Jenkins has a point but it needs to be put in a different way.  The greatest prior investment we have made as a society is in our cities, their existing infrastructure and our high streets.  If these die and growth shifts elsewhere we will have to do this all again, a huge opportunity cost.  But our poorer cities are dying, shedding population.  So if you are undertaking fiscal expansion it makes sense to spend it not just on new infrastructure but on spending which maxes out existing infrastructure, and get the balance right between the two.  It might make sense for example to reduce corporation tax to zero in these cities and allow 100% tax write offs to reclaim brownfield sites.  Because if it doing so it attracts entrepreneurs and new population, which prevent for example schools closing, or shops going bankrupt, then it can net save public spending through the combination of not having to spend on new infrastructure and loss of tax revenue. In the past we have had regional policy in one silo looking only at firms, and regeneration silo in another, housing in another etc.  A proper approach to city policy needs to tear down these silos and look at consumers, businesses and state expenditures and revenues in the round and by place comparing different investment scenarios by total costs and benefits.