A Readers Guide to Unwin’s Town Planning in Practice – Part 10 – Buildings – How the Variety of Each Must be Dominated by the Harmony of the Whole

Today we’ll cover chapter 10 of Raymond Unwin’s ‘ Town planning in practice; an introduction to the art of designing cities and suburbs‘  of 1909.

Unwin commences this chapter by remarking how only in the Modrn Age is there no longer a single dominant style that changes only slowly.

At any of these earlier periods a site planner, laying out his site, would have some fair idea as to what was likely to be erected upon it, and would know that whatever buildings were erected on the different plots would be in the main harmonious in style. No such harmony can be counted on to-day. Buildings are being erected in all conceivable styles, the majority, alas ! with little or none ; and except where some form of guidance or regulation can be introduced, no harmony or consistency can be counted on by the town planner…

In former days a general harmony of building in any district was secured by the economic necessity of using mainly local materials. From this fact there resulted, first, a great harmony of colour and style in each village or town ; and, second, a great variety of colour and style between the different towns and different districts.

Unwin was a critic of the architecture of ‘blatant shouting’

the first thing required is that both architects and the public should consider their buildings more from the point of view of their effect on the whole town. So long as each architect and each client thinks only of his own building, how individual and how noticeable he can make it, little progress in the total effect can be expected. Architects should first be trained to think first of how their building will take its place in the picture already existing. The harmony, the unity which binds the buildings together and welds the whole into a picture, is so much the most important consideration that it should take precedence. Within the limits of this enclosing unity there is plenty of scope for variety, without resorting to that type which destroys all harmony by its blatant shouting….if we are to have beauty of surroundings — and for what does the profession of architecture exist if it is not to produce beautiful surroundings? — we must set our faces against the development of such incongruities in our buildings as completely.

Unwin was one of the very first writers on design control

there would seem to be clear justification for the exercise of some public supervision of the designs of buildings… Difficult as it is for any form of artistic expression to be put under arbitrary regulations without its being seriously checked or even destroyed, nevertheless, it is possible by means of suggestion and supervision to obtain a certain minimum standard of design, to secure a certain degree of harmony, and at any rate to avoid the perpetration of such monstrous examples of ugliness as too often disfigure the country to-day….although it is not possible to secure by criticism really good designs from those who have not the power to make them, still it is possible to improve the designs of such people up to a point where they will at any rate form a harmless background for better buildings, and will not clash with the general scheme.

Simple design control Unwin suggested included defining materials, rooflines and fascia heights.

Unwin was even a crique of the monotony of sprawl

In the more suburban areas especially it becomes of great importance to group the buildings. Hardly anything is more monotonous than the repetition of detached or semi-detached houses, and this monotony is little relieved by variety in the individual houses

Unwin was also a critic of the typical bleak playground surrounded by roads Victorian board school

one sees in towns school sites with expensive paved and macadamised roads running on two or three sides of the playground. The money wasted in useless road frontage in such a case would have been far better devoted to a larger site on which some grass and trees could have been planted. It is, of course, important in a school site that there should be sufficient points of access for the scholars, but it is an advantage rather than otherwise that the access should not open out too directly on to the high-roads. There should, indeed, be some space for the children to disperse without going into conflict with the ordinary road traffic.

Just to finish the chapter with a modern photos of Astbury Church (in Cheshire) , which Unwin used an example of how carefully placed public buildings, rather than isolated public buildings, could enhabce the beauty of surrounding housing, and ‘complete the street picture’ in his lovely terminology.

TCPA Launches ‘Creating Garden Cities and Suburbs Today’ report #NPPF

Today at a parliament event the TCPA launched its experts panel report ‘Creating Garden Cities and Suburbs Today’ 

This report is a direct response to Government’s challenge for the sector to come together to show how the Garden City approach can be reinvented for the 21st Century. Drawing upon extensive feedback from two roundtable meetings of the Garden City and Suburbs Expert Group,  it is intended to be a catalyst for action by politicians, community and self-build groups, housing associations and housebuilders, investors and landowners, local authorities, and planners, spurring them to work together towards creating highly sustainable new communities based on Garden City principles – such as stronger community engagement and ownership, long term private sector commitment, and visionary design…

So what then is a Garden City/Suburb defined as?

At the heart of the Garden City ideals is the development of holistically planned new settlements which enhance the natural environment and provide high-quality affordable housing and locally accessible jobs in beautiful, healthy and sociable communities. The Garden Cities were among the first manifestations of attempts at sustainable development. Key Garden City principles include:

  • strong vision, leadership and community engagement;
  • land value capture for the benefit of the community;
  • community ownership of land and long-term stewardship of assets;
  •  mixed-tenure homes that are affordable for ordinary people;
  • a strong local jobs offer in the Garden City itself, with a variety of employment opportunities within easy commuting distance of homes;
  • high-quality imaginative design (including homes with gardens), combining the very best of town and country living to create healthy homes in vibrant communities;
  • generous green space linked to the wider natural environment, including a mix of public and private networks of well managed, high-quality gardens, tree-lined streets and open spaces;
  • opportunities for residents to grow their own food, including generous allotments;
  •  access to strong local cultural, recreational and shopping facilities in walkable neighbourhoods; and
  • integrated and accessible transport systems – with a series of settlements linked by rapid transport providing a full range of employment opportunities (as set out in Howard’s vision of the ‘Social City’).
A bit wordy though could they not have updated CB Purdoms famous one sentence definition adopted by the TCPAs precessessor the GCTPA in 1919?
A Garden City is a town planned for industry and healthy living; of a size that makes possible a full measure of social life, but not larger; surrounded by a permanent belt of rural land; the whole of the land being in public ownership or held in trust for the community
The concept of ‘social life’ – coming from Unwin, that the Garden City is essential as Garden Cities and Suburbs are as much community endeavours as architectural ones.
So what are the benefits of Garden CIties and Suburbs comprehsively planned?

Meeting the nation’s housing needs involves more than just delivering housing units – we need to create beautiful places which offer a wide range of employment opportunities (initially through the delivery of development, but in the long term through the promotion of lasting business growth); a complete mix  of housing types, including social and affordable housing; zero-carbon design; sustainable transport; vibrant parks; and local food sourcing. Comprehensively planned new Garden Cities and Suburbs can deliver all this, but they also provide a powerful opportunity to introduce governance structures that put people at the heart of new communities and give them ownership of community assets. Taken together, this approach provides a unique opportunity to encourage the emergence of more sustainable lifestyles.
The case for new Garden Cities, Suburbs or Villages can be made in three parts:

  •  First, large-scale new communities are an important part of the portfolio of solutions that will be essential in tacking today’s acute housing shortage – a shortage which cannot be addressed exclusively on a plot-by-plot basis.
  • Secondly, well planned new communities provide an opportunity to create high-quality sustainable places, allowing for the highest sustainability standards, economies of scale, and better use of infrastructure. A holistic approach to designing new communities provides an opportunity to consider how homes and neighbourhoods can be made attractive places in which to live and work, inenvironments which are socially inclusive and resilient to climate change. In the words of RaymondUnwin, one of the Garden City pioneers, Garden Cities offer a ‘more harmonious combination of city and country, dwelling house and garden’the exact opposite of the ‘bolt-on estates’ so often seen today.
  •  Thirdly, experience from the Garden Cities and New Towns shows that, properly managed and underwritten by the capture of land values, large-scale new developments can be good for business and society.

The Expert Group recommended that the best approachto aligning the vision for a new Garden City or Suburb is for local authorities, landowners and developers to enter into a Garden City Joint Venture or Local Development Agreement.

 A brief summary of the five principal areas that need to be addressed is set out below:

 1. Vision, leadership and governance

  • The Government must make a sustained commitment to the Garden City principles.
  • Local authority leadership and advocacy of Garden Cities and Suburbs are also vital.
  • Communities must be at the heart of debates about a locality’s future. We need a radical culture change in the governance of new communities, so as to rebuild trust in, and change public perceptions of, new communities and large scale development

2. Unlocking land

  • The Garden City vision cannot be realised without access to the right land in the right place at the right price.
  • The key to unlocking land and aligning the vision for a new garden city or suburb is for local authorities, landowners and developers to enter into a Garden City Joint Venture of Local Development Agreement.

3. Investing in infrastructure – balancing risk and reward

  • De-risking development for investors is the only way to unlock the potential of high-quality new communities. The Government can play a key role in laying the foundation for local action, for example by providing certainty about policy and fiscal measures in order to de-risk investment.
  • Local authorities should consider actions such as prudential borrowing against income from the New Homes Bonus. In return for greater direct financial commitment from the public sector, landowners could be expected to take a longer-term, patient and reasonable approach to assessing the value of their land assets.

4. Planning ahead

  • A compelling vision for sustainability must be integral to new Garden Cities developed today.  Delivery of the Garden City vision requires long term holistic masterplanning which sets out with boldness and flexibility local aspirations for high-quality communities.
  • There must be an effective strategic approach to maximise certainty for business and reap the benefits of economies of scale.

5. Skills, co-ordination and delivery

  • The government should provide a ‘one stop shop’ offering local authorities and developers direct access to statutory and support bodies that will influence the evolution and content of emerging policies.

The chapter on ‘unlocking land’ I felt was rather weak and reflected some divisions in the expert group on the use of CPO.  It rightly recognises that comprehensive land ownership is essential, but doesn’t offer a clear off the shelf model might be achieved.  It rightly recognises that a joint venture partnership is needed, but ducks what will happen where individual landowners don’t play ball or the main landowner does not return enough partnership share in uplift in land values to the community.  There has to be a ‘fallback’ cpo option here, a universal lesson from all large scale development and regeneration projects in the UK, and I was expecting from the report a new model that the government could adopt in this regard, although it does usually look at modifying the leasehold reform act to enable the kind of Garden City or SPAN freehold retention model.    It recommends a ‘New Garden City Development Agreements’ whereby for example the LPA used its CPO powers/LDO, whilst the landowner too a long term investment approach.  I don’t think this would work as there would be no certainty for investors beyond the local government electoral cycle.  The Dutch model of local development corporations with proactive powers seems much more practical.

Debt is Bad, Debt is Good – Has Cameron signalled a Plan A+ re infrastructure spending?

At the same time as Kate Henderson was giving speech on the TCPA’s new report calling for new funding mechanisms (off government balance sheet),  for new housing/Garden Cities David Cameron was giving his big economics speech to the IoD, where he hinted at just such mechanisms.

I say ‘economics’ with some caution as I expected to read the speech for any economics ideas rather than just crude sloganeering, and 90% of the speech is just such self-justifed sloganeering with phrases such as:

‘we must resist dangerous voices calling on us to retreat. Yes, we are doing everything we can to return this country to strong, stable economic growth. But no, we will not do that by returning to the something for nothing economics that got us into this mess.

We cannot blow the budget on more spending and more debt.’

But read between the lines, these phrases are there to give the political impression of no u-turns, that plan A is being kept to.  But what is noticeable there is no attempt whatsoever, as Osborne did in speechs when the coalition did when it took office, attempt to expand any concept of ‘expansionary fiscal contraction‘ as economic justification for an austerian fiscal policy, that private consumption will rise with austerity because consumers will expect to be taxed less to pay for higher debt servicing costs in the future.  That theory, which the Treasury Taliban so pressed on the ‘Quad’ when they took office is in intellectual tatters.  It simply has not been borne out by events.  There are two factors at play here, firstly not just austerity but change in debt throughout the economy has depressed aggregate demand in the economy.  Banks are unwilling to invest and expand private credit and hence overall demand because of the weak outlook.  Secondly the expansionary fiscal contraction theory was based on high government debt leading to high debt servicing interest rates, and the debt dynamics of these high interest rates overriding any impacts on demand from austerity.  But for countries that enumerate those debts in their own sovereign currency – like the UK, Japan and US – interest rates have fallen not risen, they are in the UK lower than at any point since the 16th Century.  Cameron’s Speech does not make the easy attack that Greece shows us the way ahead for Britain if we dont reduce debt.  I imagine because Treasury and BoE economics now understand what nonsense that idea is – because of course the euro periphery does not enumerate debts in their own currency.  Why are interest rates so low?  Well its a classic example of where new economics has got it right and neo-classical economics have got it wrong.

As Wilhem Buiter wrote in the FT last Week

As with Japan, the fiscal positions of the UK and US have become much worse since the crisis. Yet, as in Japan, these two governments have managed to borrow far more cheaply than they could before the crisis…Importantly, bond yields have continued to fall in these countries even after central bank buying of government bonds has ceased…. bond yields have continued to fall in these countries even after central bank buying of government bonds has ceased….

Countries with huge fiscal deficits are being rewarded with huge falls in bond yields. Is that the wages of virtue? Surely, this ought to disturb those right-thinking people who have frequently foretold a bond market meltdown in the UK and, still more importantly, the US.

What, then, is going on? What are markets telling us? The most important thing they are telling us is that the conventional view of the relationship between fiscal deficits, debt and interest rates is nonsense in balance-sheet recessions.

The best explanation of this lies in the work of Richard Koo, Chief Economist of the Nomura Research Institute in his book, The Holy Grail of Macroeconomics (John Wiley, 2009). He updated the argument in a presentation he made at the April 2012 conference of the Institute for New Economic Thinking in Berlin.

In essence, Mr Koo argues that the experience of the US and UK looks like that of Japan because it is: all these countries are experiencing balance-sheet recessions.

During asset price bubbles and, in particular, property bubbles, credit and debt explode unsustainably. After these bubbles burst, businesses and households are left with what they now believe to be excessive debt. Moreover, the financial system is also damaged by the same process of deleveraging. In this environment, businesses and households seek to run down their debts by trying to ensure that they spend less than their incomes. The result is the threat of a huge contraction in aggregate demand.

If affected economies are to escape deep depressions, they need huge swings either towards current account surpluses or towards fiscal deficits, as vents for the excess desired savings of the private sector. If the government reacts to its deficit by trying to eliminate its deficits too quickly, domestic demand will collapse. This is particularly true for relatively large and closed economies (such as the US or even the UK), which are unable to shift their external balances swiftly, other than via depression-induced collapses in imports.

The iron law of balance-sheet recessions is, in brief, that it is impossible for every sector of the economy to run a financial surplus at the same time without a collapse in aggregate demand.

This is the story for aggregate demand. But it has, of course, a direct corollary in the demand for assets.

By running a large financial surplus in order to deleverage and improve net worth, the private sector generates a huge aggregate excess demand for the financial liabilities of other sectors, domestic and foreign. For a country with a floating exchange rate, some combination of two things must then happen: a fall in the exchange rate and/or a rise in the price of the other domestic sector’s liabilities. But the latter sector is, of course, the government.

One would, therefore, expect to see a huge increase in demand for the liabilities of the government. That is exactly what we do, in fact, see. This is why bond yields collapse even though the supply of government bonds explodes: both are the direct consequence of the balance-sheet induced weakness in private sector spending and its move into huge financial surpluses.

So the private sector looking for a safe haven has high demands for government bonds.  Given the low interest rates it would be a good idea to invest no.

There is good debt and bad debt, debt which fuels speculation and consumption which will not in the medium – long term create net assets and growth, and good debt, debt spent on investment on assets such as infrastructure which does create long term growth.  Some of these non-neoclassical ideas must be getting through the thick skulls of the Treasury Taliban because Cameron’s speech only attacks the former types of Debt not the latter.  Indeed he specifically states:

 I welcome the opportunity to explore new options for such monetary activism at a European level, for example through President Hollande’s ideas for project bonds.

Cameron didnt mention it but Hollande was imply backing an EU idea.

The aim is to attract institutional investors to the capital market financing of projects with stable and predictable cash flow generation potential by enhancing the credit quality of project bonds issued by private companies.

As the PM mentions in his speech that he wanted to

pass on the benefits of low interest rates to businesses and families. We have the credit easing programme for small businesses we have mortgage help for people who want new homes and then there are the guarantees for new infrastructure projects.

I want us to go further, so I’ve asked the Treasury to examine what more we can do to boost credit for business, housing and infrastructure.

So the idea here is to to directly inject money into the economy to underwrite private sector credit creation, using government guarantees secured through low interest rates and the UKs long terms debt funding.

This would only work though if the assets created through investment accrue in value, if the aggregate demand being sucked from the economy through austerity is greater than the boost to the economy from the investment which supplies demand to assets then austerity will still prove counterproductive.  The second problem is that in trying to shift expenditure off government balance sheets it requires infrastructure which has positive externalities to privatize and charge service users at a price which recovers the debt rather then marginal cost  – this simply results in much more expensive infrastructure debt financing, a price paid for by consumers and future generations.  It might make much more sense for this debt to go on the government balance sheet.  The obsession with government debt alone neglects the contraction in spending from consumers paying for high costs infrastructure and deflating future taxation receipts.

So there are important shifts in economic thinking at the Treasury, being held back however by the need to provide political cover for failed osbournomics. A full plan B is awaited.

Housebuilding Starts fall 11% in Q1 compared to Q4 2011

Published today the Q1 stats.  Of course completions are a lagging indicator and starts a leading indicator.  With starts down and completions up suggests a torrid time for UL housebuilding throughout 2012.  Watch as usual for Grant Shapps to spin the most irrelevant statistic over the most misleading time horizon he can find.  The problem of course is that the government’s ‘affordable housing’ model requires private sector schemes to latch onto.  We no longer see the counter cyclical government funding schemes on anything like the same scale we saw during the Major government at time of recession.  We could see under 100,000 completions in the 2012-2013 March to March period – a disaster.  How long will it take for the government to accept that its policies for housing financing, and securing additional land for housing, are failing and how this is is adding to not reducing government spending because of increased housing benefit and hostel spending?

Seasonally adjusted house building starts in England stood at 24,140 in the March quarter 2012. This is 11 per cent lower than in the December quarter 2011.
• Completions (seasonally adjusted) increased, up 6 per cent to 31,010 in the March quarter 2012.
• Private enterprise housing starts (seasonally adjusted) were 8 per cent lower in the March quarter 2012 than the previous quarter, whilst starts by housing associations were 21 per cent lower.
• Private enterprise and housing association completions (seasonally adjusted) both increased by 8 per cent from the previous quarter.
• Seasonally adjusted starts are currently 42 per cent above the trough in the March quarter 2009 but 50 percent below the December quarter 2005 peak. Completions are 36 per cent below their March quarter 2007 peak.
• Annual housing starts totalled 104,970 in the 12 months to March 2012, down by 6 per cent compared with the 12 months to March 2011. Annual housing completions in England reached 117,870 in the 12 months to March 2012, an increase of 6 per cent compared with the 12 months to March 2011.

York – Recommendation what Recommendation? #NPPF

What are committee reports on major planning applications for?  To present the pros and cons of a development and to make a recommendation of where the balance lies in terms of planning policy and other material considerations right?  If not you might as well just employ a temp not even a planner to summarise representations and look up and summarise policies.

So when you get planning reports without a recommendation you know that for some reason that planners have been cut out of the loop.  In the case I have been sent by my York Correspondent it is patently obvious that this is because the leader of the Council and the CE because they are determined to approve a scheme contrary too national and local policy proposing a John Lewis store in an out of centre location.  The report includes the following on its policy impact

4.37 City of York Core Strategy Submission (PublicationVersion, 2011) – the Core Strategy is at an advanced stage, though the policies remain to be examined for soundness and the weight to be attached to the policies needs to be considered in that context. These development proposals would significantly impact on the retail strategy and policy set out in the Core Strategy. The non delivery of retail on Castle Piccadilly and York Central would be likely to compromise the delivery of the strategic approach in the Core Strategy.The proposal presently under consideration could create a substantial risk to the soundness of the plan which could risk its withdrawal. As Members will be aware, applications for planning permission must be determined in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise. Should the Core Strategy be withdrawn, and in the resulting absence of an adopted or emerging plan, the policies contained within the National Planning Policy Framework (as material considerations) will be the primary policy consideration in the determination of planning applications, rather than a locally determined plan for York. At the heart of the Framework is a presumption in favour of sustainable development. Without the Core Strategy there will not be any up-to-date policies that will guide how the presumption will be applied locally.

4.38 York’s Local Plan and local evidence base work (undertaken as part of the Core Strategy preparation) that supports the provisions of the Framework would also remain as material considerations. 

So this may be the final blow leading to withdrawl of York’s Core Strategy.   Surely this should have been a matter, the location of a community stadium which requires enabling development, to be sorted out at Core Startegy stage.

However now it is clear that York will require an urban extension/garden suburb to be found sound whey not combine that as enabling development for the stadium, with appropriate retail development as enabling development for the stadium as well as the housing. This could even be linked up through CIL and an infrastructure plan.