Watchout Planners Even Chimps can Plan


“Three years ago, a stone-throwing chimpanzee named Santino jolted the research community by providing some of the strongest evidence yet that non-humans could plan ahead. Santino, a resident of the Furuvik Zoo in Gävle, Sweden, calmly gathered stones in the mornings and put them into neat piles, apparently saving them to hurl at visitors when the zoo opened as part of angry and aggressive ‘dominance displays.’ But some researchers were skeptical that Santino really was planning for a future emotional outburst. Now Santino is back in the scientific literature, the subject of new claims that he has begun to conceal the stones so he can get a closer aim at his targets—further evidence that he is thinking ahead like humans do.”

A Readers Guide to Unwin’s Town Planning in Practice – Part 6 – Centres and Enclosed Spaces

Today we’ll cover chapter 6 of Raymond Unwin’s ‘ Town planning in practice; an introduction to the art of designing cities and suburbs‘  of 1909.

In this chapter Unwin begins to get into the nitty gritty detail of how to lay out towns.  Much of the chapter is an extended discussion on the influence on town planning of Camillo Sitte’s ideas.  This was of great importance because Sitte’s 1889 book, City Planning According to Artistic Principles (1889) was not actually translated into English until 1945.

Unwin begins this chapter by stressing the importance of the forum and the agora to Roman and Greek towns respectively, and how in Medieval towns the great church or cathedral was the centre.

We need to establish a relation and proportion between the different parts of our design. We need to emphasise some parts and subordinate others, and the best way to do this in town design is to have definite centres. The effect of our public buildings is lost if they are scattered indiscriminately about the town ; they are imperfectly seen in ordinary streets, and no totality of effect is produced such as may be obtained by grouping them in central places^ or squares, or along river banks. If grouped in this way the buildings help one another, the violent contrast of size and scale between them and the surrounding buildings is to some extent avoided, and if the buildings are well arranged the total result obtained may be of a character to impress the imagination and of an extent to form a genuine central feature in the design of the town….But even in districts, suburbs, parishes, and wards it is desirable that there should be some centre….not only as sites for the public buildings, but also to focus the common life of the community, both these points of view must influence our selection. To secure that they shall be genuine centres where people will be likely to congregate, they must either be themselves the focal points of the main traffic lines, or must lie very near to these points, the latter in many ways being preferable.

Note this was before the idea of the neighbourhood unit of Clarence Stein.  Unwins starting point was aesthetic, creating centrality, and from this community buildings and services would cluster.  It produces the same effect as that of a city of neighbourhoods but from a different starting point.

Again Unwin emphasises places near stations

We have seen that one focal point of traffics likely to be at or near the railway station, and that in the modern town the railway station at which the majority of people will arrive and from which they will depart seems to demand much the same emphasis that was given to the ancient town gateways. . Considerations of fitness and convenience, then, alike suggest that in front of the station there should be an open space or place to give dignity to this main entrance to the town and to afford space for the bustling traffic which must congregate there, and in the planning of this place the pedestrian should receive consideration. He should not, the moment he emerges from the station, be in danger, whichever way he turns, of being run over by road traffic.

But Unwin does not favour the central square of the town also being where the station is located.

The noise of the railway and the necessary bustle of traffic would render the station place itself unsuitable to be the main square or assembly-ground of the town ; and quieter surroundings would also be better for the public buildings and Government offices.


probably the central square should not be very far removed from the station, and may be connected with it by broad and important thoroughfares or Fold Map avenues.

Being able to visualise the plan and layout to a visitor was of great importance

In choosing, then, a suitable site for the main centre of our town or district, in addition to its relation to the main entrance and traffic lines we must consider that it is desirable that its buildings should be well placed and as widely seen as possible. This would suggest the choice of some hill-top, and undoubtedly it is often desirable to choose the summit of some rising ground; but neither the height nor the steepness of the access must be too great, as in either case the line of traffic will tend to be too much diverted from the central position.

But centrality to Unwin ws a universal planning principle

But the idea of the centre should not be confined even to centres of districts, parishes, or wards. Each area should have its special central feature or point of interest round which its plan should be grouped, and up to which it should lead. At the point where several roads converge there should always be something of an open space arranged, to give freedom for circulation of traffic, and architectural effect to the various road-junctions.

Unwin then goes on to discuss in some detail the ideas of Camillo Sitte

 It must not be thought that any open space is a true place or that because successful places are found of all kinds of irregular shapes that therefore any shape will do. This is very far from being the case.

Under the influence of Baron Haussmann and the engineer town planners, although the word place was retained to designate the spaces formed at the junctions of the many diagonal or radiating roads used by them, the true idea of a place was quite lost in Paris. It was not until Camillo Sitte drew attention to the artistic side of town planning in his book ” Der Stadtebau ” that the true meaning and importance of the place was realised. If we examine German plans made before the spread of his influence, we shall find them carrying on mainly the Haussmann tradition, and shall usually look in vain for the true place.

Camillo Sitte devoted a large part of his volume to the examination of places^ and to elucidating the principles of their design. He holds, as does generally the modern school of town planners in Germany, that the irregular places of the Middle Ages were definitely designed on sound, artistic lines to produce the definite effects aimed at, and were by no means the result of accidental growth. It is likely that this theory is being pushed farther than the evidence will support. There is, however, no doubt that in the Middle Ages there was such a strong and widely prevalent tradition of the right and wrong in building at any period, that the builders seem at least to have been generally capable of seizing upon accidental irregularities, and making something definitely fitting and beautiful out of them ; so that unconscious growth and conscious design seem to have been working towards much the same end, and probably it is not possible to distinguish between them, nor is it necessary for our purpose. It is enough if we can discover to what is due the pleasing effect produced.

On the term place he preferred it to the English Square as it was not necessarily regular

We content with the simple French word place ; it has the advantage of being essentially the same word as the Italian piazza and the German platz ; and if at present it does not convey a sufficiently definite idea, perhaps it may be possible for us to pack more meaning into it.

A place then, in the sense in which we wish to use the word, should be an enclosed space. The sense of enclosure is essential to the idea ; not the complete enclosure of a continuous ring of buildings, like a quadrangle, for example; but a general sense of enclosure resulting from a fairly continuous frame of buildings, the breaks in which are small in relative extent and not too obvious.

A key principle of Sitte’s that important buildings should not be placed in the centre of a place.

Where it is desired that several sides of a building shall be visible from a distance, instead of placing it in the centre of a place^ places may be arranged on its different faces with other buildings approaching or connected at the corners, in such a way that they will form a sort of frame for each view, and from no point will the building be completely detached and isolated in the pictures obtained of it….It has become too much the custom to build our churches and other public buildings in isolated positions on comparatively large sites.

This is not the way to produce satisfactory pictures or to show the buildings to the best advantage. In a picture so very much depends on relation, surroundings, on the contrast of one part mth another, and it is the same with street views. For one thing, size is not in itself appreciated. It is only apprehended by its relation to some known standard.

Such effects were much easier to achieve in narrow gothic streets and Unwin railed against the

 the absurd restrictions which require all streets to be of a certain minimum width, whatever their purpose,…and that it will become possible again to make reasonable use of narrower streets and passages for pedestrians which may enable us to form our places with fewer large openings, while providing, by means of smaller openings and archways, for ample convenience to foot passengers.

On the dimensions of places

definite rules for the size and proportion of places cannot be laid down. They should bear some relation to the size of the buildings likely to surround them. An over-large place will tend to dwarf buildings. Sitte points out also that tall buildings, narrow in proportion to their height, such as the west ends of cathedrals, seem to require places deep in the dimension at right angles to their front; while wide buildings of lesser height, such as are many town halls, picture-galleries, and the north and south fronts of cathedrals, seem, on the other hand, to show best on places wide in the direction parallel to the building, and’ shallow in the direction at right angles to it. He also recommends that places should not usually be square but rather oblong, the length and the width bearing some definite proportion one to the other. Usually the length should not be greater than three times the width.

Unwin uses as a case study ‘the Beautiful little town of Buttstedt’.  Indeed a tiny little place until this day.

Here we have a little town consisting of the simplest and plainest buildings in the main, and yet, owing to the splendid placing of its two public buildings and to the arrangement of its streets and places, the whole presents a degree of beauty and impressiveness quite astonishing

This case study, of buildings viewed in sequence, of views opening up revealing surprise and delight was highly influential to the founders of the townscape movement such as Gorden Cullen, Pevsner and Gibbard.

Views out to sea and to the countryside beyond were emphasised by Unwin, as were road arrangements which entered places so that they avoided ‘breaking the frame’ of views of buildings which provided endpoints to vistas and which provided a sense of enclosure to places.  One such arrangement was to takes roads into places at angles or entering at corners.

On statues Unwin was with Sitte.  When statues are in the middle of busy roads they cannot be seen with comfort or safety and their effect is lost in the traffic.

Unwin gives examples of places from his own owrk in Letchworth, Hampsted Brentham Garden Suburb and the Anchor Tenants (Humberstone Garden Suburb – sadly not well preserved or built close to the masterplan) in  Leicester and at Earwicks (his first scheme) at York.

It is by no means easy to secure the proper development of centres ; where an estate or district develops slowly there will always be some tendency for those interested in the various semi-public buildings, such as places of worship, shops, & to take short-sighted views of the future development, and to insist on placing these buildings on sites adjacent to the first groups of houses built, so that it may easily happen that only to a limited extent can the centre be developed in the way originally intended. Nevertheless, it is well that the centre should be fixed and form the main feature of the plan. It is probable that in the full development of the scheme other public buildings whose requirement was not foreseen may help to fill up the centre, and as the public become somewhat accustomed to the use of foresight in the laying out of towns and suburbs, they will the more readily come to acquiesce in the placing of their public buildings on these pre-arranged central spaces.

Humberside Garden Village, the only Unwin designed masterplan not to be a conservation area, as the buildings were just plonker around its edge without regard to creating a picturesque space or enclosure.  It also shows too how the rear open space allotment areas, which later he used les and less, can prove problematic.

Humberstone Garden Suburb as planned

As built

Wales Miles Ahead of England Again – This Time on Transport Planning #NPPF

They are consulting on the  Active Travel Bill (Wales)

We want to make walking and cycling the most natural and normal way of getting about. We want to do this so that more people can experience the health benefits; we can reduce our greenhouse gas emissions; and we can help address poverty and disadvantage. At the same time, we want to help our economy to grow, and take steps to unlock sustainable economic growth. This can be done through more people walking and cycling, as it will reduce congestion, reduce the number of days lost through sickness and support the cycling and tourism industries in Wales.

The White Paper sets out proposals to require Local Authorities in Wales to:

  • identify and map the network of routes within their areas that are safe and appropriate for walking and cycling;
  • identify and map the enhancements that would be required to create a fully integrated network for walking and cycling and develop a prioritised list of schemes to deliver the network;
  • deliver an enhanced network subject to budget availability and following due process;
  • consider the potential for enhancing walking and cycling provision in the development of new road schemes.

Welsh Government Consults on Content of Sustainable Development Bill

The Welsh Government continues to stay out in from on the issue of sustainable development following up a consultation last year with a more detailed consultation on what might go into a sustainable development bill.

The Welsh Government has set a different direction for Wales since it was established in 1999. This difference is becoming more visible as devolution develops and matures. Our Programme for Government makes it clear that sustainable development is that difference, and is the foundation on which we will build a strong future for the country. We see sustainable development as the principle that helps us define the best development path for Wales. Sustainable development can be summarised as the maximisation of wellbeing or quality of life in Wales over the longer term, within environmental limits.

The bill would prescribe a sustainable development duty on organisations delivering public services in Wales.

We are moving away from tickbox compliance, and we do not want to add unnecessarily to the burden of bureaucracy: indeed, it may be that there are obligations that could be removed in the light of the proposed sustainable development duty, and we are looking to the public sector to help us identify which these might be.
We are proposing a duty that:
• applies to higher level decisions adopted by organisations delivering public services to guide the way they work;
• ensures that those decisions have to be informed by key sustainable development factors;
• Requires organisations to report on how they have complied with  the duty through their existing annual reporting.

We are not attracted to a legislative approach consisting solely of a high level duty, such as a general duty to have regard to sustainable development. We do not think that this kind of broad approach would produce the sort of tangible change we want to see in the short to medium term.

To promote sustainable development as the central organising principle, we think that organisations delivering public services should be required to ensure that their
high level decisions are informed by sustainable development thinking. We have identified different issues that we think are relevant to sustainable development
thinking and we have called these issues sustainable development factors.

This concept of sustainable development factors is confusing and is simply a catch all for the way an organisation acts in order to deliver SD.  They set out two main options broadly , an approach based on sustainable development objectives or one based on sustainable development behaviours, or some combination.  The behaviours identified are:

  • Long-term thinking; ensuring a greater emphasis on long-term outcomes, basing decisions on cost-effectiveness over the longerterm
  • Integration: decision making is supported by evidence of the wider and longer-term economic, social and environmental impacts that those decisions are likely to produce;
  • Working across organisational boundaries; taking a wider view, working in partnership across organisational boundaries;
  • Focusing on prevention; identifying critical early interventions, which generate long term cost savings and efficiencies in the future;
  • Engagement and involvement: involving stakeholders who will be affected by decisions;

Whilst the objectives, which expand on the UK 5 principles are:

  • the wellbeing of people and communities should be enhanced;
  • social justice and equality for all should be promoted;
  •  the vibrancy of the economy should be promoted;
  • environmental limits should be respected;
  • healthy, functioning ecosystems should be promoted;
  • cultural legacy should be strengthened;
  • healthy living should be enabled;
  • the interests of future generations’ should be recognised;
  • • people should be involved in the decisions that affect their lives.

So who will stay and who will go at DCLG in Weekend Reshuffle?

There has been pretty firm noises to the Daily Mail that this coming weekend will see a big reshuffle, the PM hand now forced by the delay in Jeremy Hunts fate at Leveson .  If he wants to make aan impact it needs to be now at the beginning of a new parliamentary session.

Sadly Caroline Spelman is likely to go.  She has been effective at standing up to Osborne, which has not helped her career prospects and being an agricultural economist has understood this sector well.  Her ‘low profile’ is a sign simply of keeping issues off the front pages and gassing badgers aside it will be sad to see her go simply because she is out of favour with the posh boys.  The Pm needs to keep the Male Female balance in the cabinet so it might simply mean Baroness Warsi being moved to this post in which case she could become minister for standpipes later this summer.  Cameron has a real problem in the small number of junior female ministers.  I count only three none of which have been suggested as promotion material, in fact under normal circumstances Maria Miller and Teresa Villiers, both terrible television performers, would be on the way out.    Expect Cameron to bring in two, three or even four women backbenchers as junior ministers, potentially drawn from the 2010 intake, to even up the numbers. But there are very few female tory mps,  top of the list must be Claire Perry as a former Osbourne advisor and current PSS, apart from her there is Karen Bradley a former Conservative Policy Unit wonk and there are several  world class brownosers from the 2010 intake such as Anna Soubry & Louise Mensch (high risk as she is so high profile and self promotional), Therese Coffey though not as self promotional, Esther McVey has the golden advantage of speaking with a northern accent, Chloe Smith impressive but too young,   Laura Sandys  with her background would make an excellent DCLG minister but she is not part of the Osborne set, as would Sarah Wollaston (a GP) in either health or an environmental post but an MP highlighting the problems of peak oil wont be at the top pof Osborne’s recommendations sadly, Nicola Blackwood’s prominence in human rights campaigns may also hold her back.

There are of course endless thrusting male policy wonks expecting promotion, especially from the 2010 intake, few can guarantee that apart from Kwasi Kwarteng and Sam Gyimah (one of very few intellectual centrist Tory Mps).  Again there is a real shortage of candidates who don’t sound too posh.

At Ministry of Justice the big headline grabbing event would be Micheal Howard (a QC) replacing Kenneth Clark, rumoured for the last two years.  It would be hard to promote this as a younger man coming in following retirement as he is only a year younger, but it would be promoted as a getting hardline on law and order move.

Will Teresa May stay?  The odds would have to be on her going the problem is having enough women around the cabinet table.  The PM may simply take the risk and offset it by appointing more female junior ministers.

Lansbury must be odds on to go, who would replace him.  Grant Schapps must be a favorite, although he could become Tory Party Chairman and take on some of the campaigning/political strategy role that Osborne does.  He is a firm Cameron favorite – understandable given his ability to give the impression that he achieving a lot whilst actually going backwards.

Greg Clarke was tipped for promotion as the coalition kept him out of cabinet, but it was understood he star fell after the NPPF row hit the front pages.  It rose with the final version and his typical panglossian spin on its contents, but must have fallen with the Mayoral referendums fiasco.  He might one day make the top table but effective cabinet ministers need to be much less naive about human nature and the tendency of people to fight rather than sort things out sensibly.

So will Eric Pickles stay?  Hes only 60 so not yet ready to be put out to grass.  Before the Election his was treated with some ridicule by Cambourne and the sure intention was to dump him soon after the election.  But a confident northern media performer beloved by old style Tories has its advantages.  Though it has to be said that his performance at the DCLG has been appalling with an obsession with trivia such as dustbins, flags and bowling greens rather than substance, and a notorious spin/thuggery operation together with his SPAD Sheriden Westlake.  Tales of this via senior civil servants will have reached Cameron, so Pickles might be diplomtically moved, possibly as a twitcher to Defra which might be given an enhanced brief so it doesnt seem like a demotion.

So DCLG is likely to be the department with the most changes, and who might fill the vacant posts, who knows?

Osborne might insist on one of his as planning minister if Greg Clark moves upwards or sideways (and I think he would welcome even sideways) so possibly Claire Perry which would likely see an enormous upheaval in terms of ‘removing red tape’ and ‘improving efficiency’.  She has written in the past of ‘planning sclerosis’ , but at a local level made exactly the same noises on the NPPF as almost every other MP, though the likelihood is to promotion to the Treasury Team, but dont be so sure.

Guardian on Cuts to Planning Staff

Guardian – I expect 2012-13 to be much tougher with many authorities having to cope with 20% budget cuts.

Britain’s planners are under more pressure than ever before. Since the publication of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), planning teams are changing the way they work to help local communities play a greater role in the planning process. Meanwhile, the rush is on to draw up local plans before the end of a government-imposed “transition period” to implement the NPPF.

More is required of planners at exactly the time when there are fewer skilled staff available to take on the burden of work. Figures gathered by the National Trust under the Freedom of Information Act show that the number of planners working in local authorities has dropped as councils strive to cut costs.

Almost half (47%) of 227 councils surveyed in late 2011 had suffered a cut in the number of planning staff since 2008, with only 7% seeing more staff employed to deal with the extra work. More than a third (37%) have also had their overall budget for planning activities reduced.

And as a result, only 22% of local authorities that have adopted a core planning strategy said it would be in place by the end of last year.

The overall reduction in staffing across the authorities equates to 2% between 2008-09 and 2011-12, much of it a result of restructuring in response to swingeing cuts to public funding for council services.

James Lloyd, who gathered the data for the National Trust, said that local plans and other aspects of the Localism Act would put extreme pressure on shrinking teams and budgets. “Without increasing capacity within planning departments, that’s a huge burden. All planning applications that are made could be reviewed under the NPPF.”

Lloyd says that engaging communities – part and parcel of the government’s new planning policy – is difficult and takes time and resources to support and encourage their involvement in the planning process. “Other council staff will end up picking up the slack,” he warns.

This could have a devastating impact on recruitment and retention to the discipline. The Planning Officers Society is also worried about cuts and workload. Spokesman John Sylvester says: “Planning was always seen as a very attractive career, but it’s more difficult at the moment. There no doubt about it – staff are under pressure.”

Sylvester says the profession may struggle if the economy was to suddenly recover leading to an increase in development applications.

However the overall figures mask some interesting regional differences. At first glance Breckland district council appears to have lost its entire planning team between 2008 and 2011. However, the council has in fact outsourced its planning function to Capita Symonds, while its head of planning is a shared post with South Holland and Lincolnshire council. When the 15-year deal was brokered in May 2009 the council promised a £4m saving. All staff were transferred over to the service provider, but some may have been lost to redundancy or restructure since.

Of the councils that submitted data to the National Trust, Birmingham was also among the hardest hit. According to the bare statistics its 53-strong team was reduced to 21 between 2008 and the end of 2011, a 60% cut.

However, the council said the figures appeared as a result of changes to titles and roles over that time. Birmingham says it currently has around 35 officers carrying out “traditional planning work” although they may not be called planning officers. In recent years the planning, regeneration and development departments have been merged, with officers working across disciplines.

Richard Goulborn, director of planning, says Birmingham is well equipped to deal with an influx of work following the NPPF. “Technological advances and efficiencies born out of cross-departmental working have offset any impact of cuts,” he explains. “The overall number of planning applications we deal with annually continues to rise, and we continue to deal with them within set timescales.”

Such changes to planning officer roles and job descriptions are worrying the profession’s leaders.

Kate Henderson, chief executive of the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA), warned over cutting or diluting specialist roles in the planning team, such as conservation officers or climate change advisors.

“Councils are, of course, having to make difficult choices but there is a real danger that in making those choices that key area are not going to have enough attention,” she says.

Specialist officers are fighting back. Jo Evans, chair of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation has uploaded a message to all members to the institute’s website, sharing details of how to campaign against changes to workloads and responsibilities.

“At present we probably all feel that we are working in difficult times and the signs are far from optimistic that heritage protection will survive unaffected or completely intact because of the deep cuts expected in public services,” she wrote. “We must try to ensure that national and local heritage is not dismissed as an ‘unaffordable luxury’ in these difficult times.”

The institute has also posted a draft statement which conservation officers can amend and share with council chief executives to campaign against cuts and dilution of expertise.

Some smaller councils have, however, bucked the trend. Newark and Sherwood has seen its planning team grow over the period (although figures for exactly how many staff it has taken on are disputed). The council has responded after seeing an increase in planning work due to new infrastructure projects including the contentious waste scheme at King’s Lynn.

Nevertheless, Henderson worries that the status of planning may not recover from the current hit. “It’s been very difficult. What we have seen is lots of people going into the private sector. The mission of the local authority planner was once regarded as one of the best jobs in local government … that no longer feels the case.”

Does Inflation erode Debt? – Not necessarily

It is repeated so often that it becomes a nostrum – inflation erodes debt.

But if a shortage of electricity supply causes the price to rise and this is the kind of good that it is not substitutable then what impact will this have on debt – other than reducing disposable income making household debt harder to pay.

There are two kinds of inflation, inflation in wages, and inflation in goods and services.

It is inflation in wages that can possibly erode debt because debt contracts are set the premium in nominal not real terms.

Wage inflation in the economy as a whole can only occur with monetary expansion whatever its cause.

The key issue from the point of the consumer debtor is whether the erosion of the principle from monetary expansion is offset by any increase in interest rates.

In a variable rate loan because of compound interest you are paying proportionately more interest than principal and vice versa as the term advances.

So if interest rates did rise because of a monetary expansion only those with an advanced term loan are likely to benefit.

From the point of government debt wage inflation should lead to more tax revenues which should erode the ratio between tax receipts and debt principle.

But again interest rates are key, as is the term structure of debt.

So the issue turns then on to what extent interest rates are affected by market expectations on inflation,.  If monetary expansion is used to monetise government debt principal then that is not expanding money in circulation,  through reducing future debt it reduces future private sector income in sectoral balance terms and should reduce inflationary expectations not increase them.  The conventional retort is that if debt is monetised then this removes a limit on expansion in government expenditure, which must be paid with future debt or taxes which market expectations will demand compensation for in terms of higher interest rates.

But what if a government said, ok if our debt auction fails at above some set rate then we will immediately monetise debt and will do so for ever and a day?  This would then neutralise expectations above that level, as monetisation solely to pay debt is not inflationary.

But wont the market simply expect any monetary expansion be used to pay for increased government expenditure which could be inflationary.  But an independent central bank in the real world would have that ability, if their was a strict legal firewall over state money creation for debt monetisation then there would be no market expectation that this would be inflationary.