Two Impossible Things Before Breakfast – Carbon reduction and increase simultaneously a material planning consideration

A thought after reading the autumn statement, how can both reducing carbon emissions through renewable energy and increasing carbon emissions to the max (by manipulating the Carbon Budget) to boost growth through fracking be simultaneously a material consideration.  Its like saying increasing flood risk and reducing flood risk are both good things at the same time.  The government argument is an illogical and in my view unlawful fudge contrary to the Climate Change act and so I believe any planning application for fracking approved on this basis would be well worth a legal challenge.

Of course the government could settle the issue and be honest and say in a revision to the NPPF that carbon impact was a material consideration against fracking but energy and growth issues outweighed this.  Of course the latter would be hard to prove given the research both by the climate change committee (claiming Fracking will put up Bills) and the support for this position by Ed Davy.  But of course this is a government marked by incompetence, incoherence, lack of evidence  and backfoot reaction on every policy issue.    Unless the NPPF is changed though I don’t see a viable path to approval for any fracking scheme.

Boles Reinvents Growth Areas (thank Goodness) but Who Decides Where They Are?

One of the consequences of the precipitous dismantling of strategic planning was the ending of official government recognition and support for growth areas, and indeed most of the extra funding and support that these areas had.  But Boles at the DCLG Select Committee yesterday seems to have reinvented them.

“What we are doing is that we are working out a list of those authorities where either there seem to be particular problems, or where they are priority areas because they are priority areas for growth and development.”

In the absence of growth areas being determined by strategic plans them who and where will growth areas be determined.  With for example the East of England Plan about to be revoked where does Cambridge get its designation as a Growth area, of Greater Norwich, or the Haven Gateway, one of the fastest growth areas in the UK?  Indeed how will the Minister for Central Planning determine these in the absence, as required by European Directive, a consultation process and environmental report with realistic options for assessing the evidence of their impact?  And dont say LEPS, they will all say they are growth areas and so far have zero technical capacity, and no democratic mandate,  to do the work that the Autumn statement requires of them.   The minister for Central Planning it would seem would be happier in corporatist Italy before the war rather than in the inevitably messy reality of democracy with competing interests and checks and balances.

A parliamentary question would be in order on what these priority areas are and on what evidential basis they are chosen and assessed.

Of course if the minister really wants a blow by blow authority by authority description of what is going wrong in the complete absence of the local knowledge supplied by government regional offices, which Micheal Hesiltine described Yesterday as throwing the Baby out with the bathwater,  he can always ring me and set up a meeting.

Pickles Puts Boles Back ‘on Message’


Planning Minister Nick Boles admitted yesterday that he did not believe his controversial suggestion for Britain to build homes on two million acres of countryside should be put into practice.

The new minister caused a storm last month when he supported a 3 per cent increase in UK-wide development to alleviate the housing shortages caused by high immigration.

The plan was to build homes on green-field land, increasing development from 9 per cent to 12 per cent nationwide. But yesterday, Boles denied the claims, arguing that they were meant to illustrate a wider point about under-development rather than create a particular policy or target.

His admission came after the Prime Minister told the Liaison Committee on Tuesday that the Planning Minister was right that houses are going to have to be built on some protected sites. Appearing alongside Eric Pickles and the other local government ministers, Boles told a committee of MPs:

‘What I was doing was making an argument about how little developed this country actually is, contrary to many people’s belief, and how little land would be required to completely solve, for the foreseeable future, any housing problem at all. What I was not doing – and I want to be very, very clear on this because I absolutely passionately don’t believe it – is setting any kind of target or plan or expectation of what would happen, or might happen, or needs to happen over the next 20 or 30 years, which is the period I referred to.’

Responding later to challenges that he had based the argument on outdated figures, he added:

’8.9 per cent of development is the truth, and my only argument – and Newsnight was an argument and nothing more – is that means – thank God, hallelujah, I am grateful for that fact – that means 91% of England is countryside, and isn’t that fantastic, and doesn’t that mean we shouldn’t be too worried about meeting our housing challenge.

‘I’m sorry, Mr Chairman, but you are quoting selectively from a film that was 10 minutes long and a discussion that was 15 minutes long, it was 25 minutes of the Newsnight program. I’m sorry, it is not what I said, it is not what I meant, it is not what we’re suggesting as a department.’

Clive Betts, the Chairman of Communities and Local Government select committee who led the heated session, picked up immediately on the similarities between Boles’ language and that used by the PM on Tuesday:

‘I heard what was said about there not being targets, that this was just raising an issue. That’s actually the exact answer the Prime Minister gave yesterday – you’ll be pleased to know – at the Liaison Committee, virtually the same words in fact.

Eric Pickles, who been silent during the five minute back-and-forth, interjected at this point to commend Boles for being ‘on message’, causing rapturous laughter from the panel of cross-party MPs. But the Secretary of State was keen to match Boles’ attempt to mend cracks in the coalition. During a tongue-in-cheek discussion about the department’s view of the Treasury, Pickles offered high praise for one Lib Dem colleague:

‘There are of course tensions inside the Coalition, and I sincerely hope that I’m not doing my colleague any damages, but I think Danny Alexander, inside the Treasury, has been an enormous advocate for localism and an enormous advocate pushing that through. We could not have done those deals together, particularly not got the business, without his considerable help.’

Boles – Dont Worry

BBC News reports on DCLG Committee Hearing yesterday.  Also on Telgraph, but as its behind their expat hating firewall I cant report on it.

The amount of built-upon land in England is “not worryingly high”, Planning Minister Nick Boles has said.

In a committee hearing, Mr Boles was asked about his recent remarks on BBC Newsnight, when he said building on another 2-3% of the land in England would “solve the housing problem”.

He said he had been “making an argument about how little developed this country actually is”.

There was scope to build on “land that nobody cares about”, he added.

As he appeared before the Communities and Local Government Committee, Mr Boles was called upon by committee member and Conservative MP John Stevenson to provide “evidence” to justify his position.

Mr Boles replied that he had been trying to draw attention to “how little land would be required to completely solve, for the foreseeable future, any housing need at all”.

Even south-east England, he argued, was “not heavily developed”.

“That doesn’t accord with our experience because most of the way we see the countryside is driving, and needless to say settlements are close to roads,” he explained.

In fact, there was “plenty of brownfield land, empty homes and sites on scrubby land that nobody cares about” on which to build new houses, he said.

But he emphasised that it was not coalition policy to set “any kind of target, plan or expectation of what would happen, or might happen or needs to happen over the next 10, 20 or 30 years”.

He also argued that criticism of the figures he had produced in the Newsnight programme was baseless.

Thanks to “without question the most accurate survey of development in this country”, it was beyond doubt that 8.9% of England was developed, he suggested.

“That means – thank God, hallelujah, and I’m grateful for the fact – that 91% of England is countryside.”

He asked the committee: “Isn’t that fantastic? Doesn’t that mean we shouldn’t be too worried about meeting our housing challenge?”

Surely it is how people the experience the countryside the matters, and most people will experience it from roads and heavily urbanised/suburbanised settlements.  The % approach is meaningless.  Dont worry said the doctor, im giving you a 3% solution of arsenic  its a fatal dose but its only 3%.

The presentation of the UK National Ecosystem Assessment Land Cover Analysis is simplistic and just plane wrongheaded.

Firstly as the UK NEA land cover analysis includes all habitat types it includes marine and estuary areas to the low water mark, so the ‘non urban’ areas in the stats are not countryside, but includes the sea.   It is unclear if Boles is only using terrestrial data.   Secondly it includes non urban land covers within urban areas which plainly are not countryside, such as parks and railway embankments.  the best estimate of urban coverage is the ONS official urban/rural boundary maps, now being revised, which at last count showed around 12% of England being urban

Maldives Gets $800 million New Airport Island For Nothing After New Dictator Declares Infrastructure Charge Illeagal

Ok you are a small island state and wish to build a new airport which requires reclamation of a new island, the largest infrastructure project in the nations history.  You give the contract to a Malaysian country company that in return gets a concession of 25 years and in the contract the right to charge each departing  passenger an infrastructure fee (25 dollars) to pay for the capital cost.

This is massively unpopular and the government leader that signed the contract gets overthrown in a coup.  The incoming leader gets his crony judges to declare the charge illeagal.

The result GMR of Malaysia are $800 million dollars out of pocket.  They say they will sue, in which courts where?

Its a Drag to be Proved Right on Unworkable Joint Plan Working Arrangements

Something I have been banging on about for several years is that many of the joint working arrangements for plan making would ultimately prove unworkable and fall apart.  Well all of the evidence is now in with the last few weeks alone several models falling apart.

Lets look at the evidence:

Simply working together:   That really worked in Stevenage/North Herts and Harlow didnt it.

-‘Aligned’ Plans:  Insuperable legal problems.  How is the SEA on jointly arrived at policies to be assessed and consulted on, by the first EIP only?  Of course all it takes is one LPA to fall out, and a harsh inspectors report, as we found in Rushcliffe recently and its back to square one.  Also rather oddly results in some LPAs have two core strategies one for outside the joint planning area and one for inside.

-A Joint Plan but no Joint Committee:  Completely fell part in Greater Worcester.  Looks permanently on the point of collapse in Cheltenham/Gloucester/Tewks

-A Joint Committee but 50:50 voting rights:  Completely fell apart in Luton/South Beds


Indeed there is only one joint model that has been tested and proven to work (relatively),  as in Northants, A statutory joint committee with a voting structure that ensures that there can never be deadlock.


Is Osborne Planning a Fracking Planning Fast Track?

In the Autumn Statement

1.82 The Energy Bill, published in November 2012, will provide certainty to investors to bring forward up to £110 billion of investment in new infrastructure to meet the UK’s future energy needs. The Government’s Gas Generation Strategy will set out its view of the expected role for gas in the coming years. The Government expects up to 26 gigawatts (GW) of new gas capacity could be required by 2030 on current carbon budgets. If the fourth carbon budget is revised upwards and emissions reductions are more gradual, then up to 37 GW of new plant could be required. Support available for low carbon electricity investment through the Levy Control Framework up to 2020 will be capped at up to £7.6 billion per year (in 2012 prices) in 2020-21 – more than triple the £2.35 billion available in 2012-13. This will allow generators from both renewables and gas to invest with confidence and provide protection for consumers.

1.83 To maximise economic production from UK natural gas resources, the Government will also establish an Office for Unconventional Gas. This will join up responsibilities across government, provide a single point of contact for investors and ensure a simplified and streamlined regulatory process. The Government will also consult on the tax regime for shale gas.

A few points of note.  The language assumes that the purpose of a carbon budget is to expend carbon to the max rather than to minimise it, and therefore the strong hint is that Carbon budgets will be relaxed and of course renewable subsidies will be capped to allow the gas expansion.  This of course is turning UK carbon reduction policy on its head.  Secondly the new OFFRACK or whatever its is called will have an inbuilt conflict of interesting that it will both regulate the negative impacts of the technology and promote it.

Will fracking become the first minerals extraction technology to come under the Major Infrastructure regime?  There would be some sense in that in that experience suggests that even test drilling for both unconventional gas and conventional oil and gas are universally opposed.