Watch this space.
Month: February 2013
The Tewksbury Case – Localism Act is No Big Deal #NPPF
The Ballilaw link
Even if full weight was given to the emerging JCS, in the inspector’s view the JCS proposals were not capable of meeting the identified housing need, and therefore could not rebut the presumption in favour of development as a result of the absence of a five year housing land supply. However, he went on to consider the effect of the Localism Act 2011 on the approach to be adopted, concluding that there was nothing in the Act to alter the long established requirement for a five year housing land supply and recognising that “the tension in policy between the desire for decisions to be taken locally and the requirement for a 5 year HLS remains unaltered”.
- On the basis of this analysis the inspector’s conclusions on prematurity were as follows. First, applying paragraph 18 of PS:GP, the JCS was only just at the consultation stage, without an agreed option to take it forward, and in such circumstances refusal on the ground of prematurity would only seldom be justified. Second, it was very unlikely on any basis that Tewkesbury’s proposed trajectory for housing development could deliver a five year housing land supply, whichever figures were used. Third, allowing the appeals would not predetermine future decisions on the scale, location or timing for any of the other proposed development sites which would be required under the JCS. Accordingly, Tewkesbury’s evidence failed the test indicated in paragraph 19 of PS:GP of showing clearly how allowing the appeal would prejudice the outcome of the JCS process. Thus
the inspector cannot be said to have disregarded the JCS. Rather he engaged with it but concluded that it did not bear the weight which Tewkesbury sought to put upon it..
- In my judgment, subject to the issue as to the effect of the Localism Act and the policy which it embodies, the inspector’s report and the Secretary of State’s decision accepting and adopting that report were the result of an entirely unexceptional application of the legal and policy principles set out above. In particular, the inspector and the Secretary of State were entitled to conclude that (1) the existing pre-PCPA 2004 development plan was outdated and therefore of very little weight; (2) the need for a five year housing supply was a material (and in fact the most important material) consideration; (3) Tewkesbury was unable to demonstrate such a supply in this case; (4) accordingly a presumption in favour of granting permission applied; (5) the emerging JCS was of little weight because it was at a very early stage; (6) in any event the proposals in the JCS were incapable of meeting the demand for housing during the next five years; (7) granting permission would not prejudice the JCS process; (8) there was therefore no basis to refuse permission on the ground of prematurity or otherwise because of the JCS; and (9) overall, the balance came down in favour of granting permission. Each of these conclusions was the result of applying well established principles and policies to the evidence before the inspector and was a legitimate exercise of planning judgment.
Mr Leigh submits that paragraph 14.8 of the inspector’s report (set out at  above) was wrong in law because the inspector treated the absence of a five year housing land supply as determinative in favour of the grant of permission, regardless of all other considerations. I would agree that if he had done so, that would have been an error of law, as paragraph 71 of PPS 3 (set out at  above) does not go that far. Nor do paragraphs 47 to 49 of the NPPF (see  above). However, as already explained, that is manifestly not what the inspector did. He was entitled to regard the lack of a five year housing supply as “the most important material consideration”, which was a matter of weight and therefore a decision for his judgment, but he did not treat it as a trump card overriding and rendering irrelevant everything else. I would not accept that (as Mr Leigh put it) once the lack of a five year housing supply had been identified, the result was a foregone conclusion.
The Localism Act – A Fundamental CHange?
I come now to the question whether the Localism Act 2011 has brought about a fundamental change in the approach to planning applications so as to vitiate the conclusions reached by the Secretary of State. Mr Leigh submits that it has, so that much greater weight must now be given to the views of the local planning authority. He identifies the change, not so much in the words of the Act (I invited him to draw to my attention the statutory provisions which had the effect contended for, but he made clear that this was not how he put his case) but in broad statements made by government ministers and others as to what the Act was intended to do, eliminating “top down” planning and transferring power to local communities.
- However, the core principle in paragraph 17 must be read in the context of the NPPF as a whole. That context includes (1) the presumption in favour of sustainable development in paragraph 14; (2) the requirement to boost significantly the supply of housing in paragraph 47; (3) the need, also in paragraph 47, for a five-year supply of housing land and the corresponding injunction in paragraph 49 that policies for the supply of housing should not be considered up to date if a five-year supply cannot be demonstrated; (4) the one year transitional period for development plans adopted in accordance with the PCPA 2004 by paragraph 214; and (5) the confirmation of the principle of prematurity contained in paragraph 216….
- In my judgment these matters are capable of being read together as a coherent whole. They demonstrate that, for the future, development plans prepared by local planning authorities in accordance with the national policy principles set out in the NPPF, including the provision of a five year housing land supply, will represent the starting point for consideration of planning applications, and that it may well be difficult to obtain permission for developments which are not in accordance with such plans. However, they do not suggest that greater weight should be accorded to the views of local authorities who do not have such a development plan (or during the one year transitional period, a development plan produced in accordance with the PCPA 2004) over and above whatever weight would be appropriate pursuant to the long established prematurity principle. Nor do they cast any doubt on the fact that, pending the adoption of local development plans, individual planning applications will continue to be dealt with, where appropriate by the Secretary of State, applying existing principles…
- I consider, therefore, that the Secretary of State was correct to say, in paragraph 32 of the decision letter set out at  above, not only that there have been changes to the planning system as a result of the Localism Act which will give local communities more say over the scale, location and timing of developments in their areas than was previously the case, but also that this greater say over such matters will depend upon the expeditious preparation of local plans which make provision (including in particular a five year supply of housing land) for the future needs of those areas. The Secretary of State’s decision in this case is in accordance with and not in contradiction to that approach. I see, therefore, no valid basis on which it can be concluded that the Secretary of State’s decision is unlawful as being contrary to his own policy, introduced as a result of or embodied in the Localism Act
- his essential case is (and can be no more than) that in some (undefined) circumstances the views of the local authority (albeit not yet embodied in an adopted local plan) are entitled to greater weight than other material considerations such as the need for a five-year housing supply (or, in effect, that the prematurity principle should now apply in circumstances where previously it would not have done). But quite apart from the fact that no such conclusion can be drawn from the generalised policy statements on which he relies, such a case would amount, apparently for the first time in English planning law, to laying down as a rule of law a requirement as to the weight to be given to the views of the local authority rather than leaving such matters to the planning judgement of the Secretary of State or his inspector. This would contradict what Lord Hoffmann described as a fundamental principle of planning law (see  above). The Localism Act contains nothing which could be regarded as enacting such a radical change and in my judgment it is inconceivable that any such change was intended to be brought about by the policy statements which accompanied the Act.
The role of Memorandums of Understanding in the Duty to Cooperate -Tamworth #NPPF
Further interesting development onwards from Coventry and Rushcliffe on the role of Memorandums of Development and the Duty to Cooperate at Tamworth.
In the Inspectors Letter the Inspector included in the notes of what changes were necessary to make the plan sound
- to align the two separate Anker Valley policy housing allocations in Tamworth Borough and Lichfield District on either side of the B5493 Ashby Road to form a
- comprehensively developed housing site of some 2150 homes;
- more detail on how the 1000 homes outside the Borough to meet its housing requirements will be dealt with by Lichfield and North Warwickshire Councils;
At he exploratory meeting.
Mr Roberts said that the Council intended to remove the restrictions in the various Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) and that these 1000 homes would appear on the Housing Trajectory as part of the Borough’s housing land supply. In response to queries, such as that from John Mitchell, Mr Roberts explained that the Lichfield MoU would be amended to remove restrictions so that both it and the Plan’s Anker Valley allocation could be treated as one comprehensive site (removing the restrictions on working starting only after 2021 or once the necessary linkages were complete). The North Warwickshire MoU would be amended to remove its restrictions, which are primarily not to deliver its homes until 75% of the Anker Valley or Borough homes had been completed.
Whether or not MoUs are needed to cover cross boundary sites to demonstrate DTP compliance has been a hot topic of discussion. The finding here seems to suggest (even though the plan overall failed) that they will if they enable the site to be treated as a whole in an unrestricted manner. Whereafter they can be treated as part of the ‘overspill’ to meet the objectively assessed need of the main tightly bounded town in NPPF terms.
The rest of the letter is worth reading. Unintentionally funny sadly, you only allocated one site, you should have allocated 75 etc.
I have a major post in the works on how EiPs in the last six months have tackled SHMAs of the NPPF ‘Booost’ issue.
Quarter to One in Morning Decision – Could NPPF Cost a By Election?
Controversial plans to build more than a thousand homes on countryside near Botley have been given the go-ahead by councillors in the early hours of this morning.
Despite pleas from dozens of protesters and warnings that the development would “tear the community apart”, councillors fromEastleigh Borough Council voted through the proposals for 1,400 new houses at Boorley Green.
Hunreds of people packed into the meeting which did not finish until 12.45 this mornig.
The row over the homes has come as politicians vie for votes in the upcoming Eastleigh by-election, triggered by the resignation of Chris Huhne.According to planning officer Louise Cutts, there had been “enormous levels of objections” to the plans.
Protesters warned the ruling Liberal Democrats that approving the planning application would mean they would lose out on votes for their candidate, Mike Thornton, who has backed the plans.
And many of those against it spoke out last night to enthusiastic applause and standing ovations at the auditorium in Kings Community Church, Hedge End.
Botley Parish Council chairman Colin Mercer said: “This plan’s effect on Botley and its environment will be totally profound.
“If you vote for this proposal you are telling the people of Botley that you don’t care about our village.”
Chris Tapp, representing Botley Park Golfers, said: “The borough clearly needs more housing, Botley needs more housing but it doesn’t need the biggest development in the borough for 25 years.”
One resident warned at the meeting: “This development will have an impact on local residents – and also how they will vote in the upcoming by election.”
Other campaigners referred to the support that Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has given to the proposals during a recent visit to Eastleigh.
Botley Parish Action Group leader Sue Grinham said: “Does Nick Clegg know this proposal will destroy a community?”
She added:: “Please, please listen and reject this application.
Ensure you provide a legacy to this borough you will be proud of in the future.”
Just two weeks ago more than 600 protestors staged a march to object to the plans.
The impact the development will have on traffic, the existing community and other infrastructure such as sewage and drainage were cited by objectors as the main reasons the new houses should not go ahead.
They also argued the application was “premature” because it had come ahead of final approval of Eastleigh Borough Council‘s Local Plan – which is where the area of land was first earmarked for homes.
The Local Plan still has to go before an Independent Planning Inspector – a process which has been delayed – and protesters say bypassing this step is “undemocratic”.
But councillors argued that the housing crisis in Eastleigh borough was so acute that the homes needed to be given the go-ahead.
Council leader Keith House said: “There is a time bomb ticking away here and the people that will pay the price of that are our children and grandchildren.”
The Liberal Democrat-run Hedge End, West End and Botley Local Area Committee also said there were more than 6,000 people on the council’s waiting list for homes – and the development would provide 420 affordable houses, along with more than 2,000 jobs.
The outline planning application was approved, with two abstentions and one objection from Councillor Rupert Kyrle.
Lyveden New Bield Windfarm JR Begins
I think we were the first to report on this very strangely worded decision letter last year
The country’s leading conservation bodies have teamed up with East Northamptonshire District Council to fight plans for a wind farm near the Elizabethan ruin of Lyveden New Bield.
West Coast Energy wants to build four 300ft turbines at Barnwell Manor, owned by the Queen’s cousin The Duke of Gloucester – although he is not a party to the case.
The Planning Inspectorate gave the go ahead for the wind farm in April last year, arguing that any harm done by the wind farm was outweighed by the benefits of green energy.
However Morag Ellis QC, representing the council, argued that the inspector’s decision was legally flawed and he had underestimated the harm that would be caused.
Ms Ellis told Mrs Justice Lang the way the inspector had worded his decision was “genuinely mysterious and wholly inadequate”.
The inspectorate had concluded the presence of the turbines “would not erode a reasonable observer’s understanding or appreciation of the significance of the designated heritage assets – and they would therefore have no harmful impact on their settings”.
Ms Ellis said: “That is an extraordinary conclusion. There are a great many top-dollar heritage assets involved here.
“This decision turns government policy on conservation on its head.”
The National Trust and English Heritage fear that if one wind farm is allowed to go ahead on the basis that the benefits of green energy outweigh the importance of heritage, then other sites will also be in danger.
Already conservationists are fighting a number of other wind farms near heritage sites around the UK, including Brent Knoll, the Jurassic Coast and Spurn Point.
Mark Bradshaw, of the National Trust, feared if they lose the case it will pave the way for councils or planning inspectors to ignore Britain’s history when considering wind farm applications
“This case is about protecting special places of the highest designation from inappropriate development. It doesn’t come much higher than this.
“It concerns balancing the preservation of our heritage – historical, architectural, cultural and religious – against the need for renewables.”
The court case is due to end on Thursday but judgement could take up to ten days to conclude.
The case comes as Ed Davey, the Climate Change Secretary, insisted he would not allow wind farms to be built that “irritate” people.
“I don’t want to have onshore wind in places that irritate people … We have looked at how communities can benefit from hosting onshore wind. I hope this can persuade people that this is not so unacceptable as people might think. If you show communities that there is something in it for them, their acceptance levels increase dramatically,” he told Prospect magazine.
Mr Davey also responded to suggestions that communities have been bribed into accepting wind turbines in their areas and that incentives offered to wind energy companies have a distorting market effect.
“Wind developers don’t get any money or subsidies if they do not generate. If they are as bad as some people say, they will go bust,” he said. “It’s almost as if people think these people are getting rich with wind turbines that are not going around. Not true.”
Only 5 years Behind on Planning in India Dave
Sorry Dave was in India on this project almost a year ago and have to say the Japenese Government have a lead of at least 5 years. The great game replayed.
Prime minister David Cameron has paved the way for UK architects to design a 1,000 kilometre-long ‘economic corridor’ linking Mumbai to Bangalore in India
Speaking in Mumbai at the start of a three-day trade visit this week, the prime minister said British companies were first in line for a wealth of opportunities on the ambitious project.
He said: ‘It’s an ambitious vision which could truly a partnership for the next generation. It would unleash India’s potential along the 1,000km from Mumbai to Bangalore, transforming lives and putting British businesses in prime position to secure valuable commercial deals.’
‘With me I’ve got architects, planners and finance experts who can work out the complete solution,’ he said during a speech at Unilever’s Hindustan base, reported Economic Times.
Companies on the trip include Kings Cross station designer John McAslan + Partners, AJ 40 under 40 practices Sybarite Architects and Project Orange, Benoy, Arup, Aecom and Atkins.
The UK has pledged £1 million in match funding towards a feasibility study for the project which would see new towns and cities built between India’s two major powerhouses.
It is estimated the programme – part of a combined effort between the UK and New Delhi government – could unleash £16 billion worth of development. It is thought the area could include one million new homes. Transport, telecommunications and energy infrastructure is expected in the first phase.
Since 2006 the Japanese government has supported a 2,700 kilometre-long industrial corridor between Mumbai and Delhi. Crossing six Indian states, the enormous project is expected to include six 20,000 hectare investment zones.
Cameron wants to cement a special relationship with India, hoping Britain can become the booming nation’s principle business partner. More than 150 delegates – including business leaders and university heads – have joined the prime minister on the trip.
During the visit Cameron welcomed an announcement Atkins will open a new design centre on Delhi’s outskirts in April.
He said: ‘This demonstrates how Britain’s world-class expertise in design and engineering can help British businesses to succeed in fast growing markets like India.’
Engineers at the 375-capacity centre will focus on water, transportation, utilities.
Easteligh By Election Anti Greenfield Twitter Stunt Backfires
Interesting isn’t it that the Conservative election tactic now seems to to be to campaign against greenfield locally – a lot of mps of anti regulatory bent manage to get away with campaigning against any loss of greenfield locally whilst endorsing it nationally – im sure central office has noticed how well this has worked and how few people notice. Interesting to that this could only have come through Micheal Green – Sorry Grant Shapps (now the Minister for Stopping Housing). We will see if Lyndon Crosby finds an immigration angle to this nearer a general election. Will Nick Boles comment on this new approach?
Ive been too busy to post on here for a while but the combination of a Grant Shapps Twitter stunt gone wrong and him covertly campaigning against housing was too good a combination to let pass.
A spate of statements from party activists and MPs, including Robert Halfon and Nadhim Zahawi, appeared on Twitter just before 2pm attacking the Liberal Democrats over housing policy.
Each tweet was identical – “The Lib Dem Eastleigh campaign in turmoil as Party’s candidate admitted he ‘voted for’ 5,000 new houses on green spaces” – and the social networking site was soon abuzz with users claiming the episode was orchestrated from Tory central command and proof that some in the party were still struggling with the subtleties of campaigning in the digital age.
Jim Waterson, a reporter with City AM tweeted: “Tory party press operation: it doesn’t work if you get all your MPs to mysteriously tweet the same phrase.”
The Liberal Democrats said the incident revealed how out of touch the Conservatives’ campaign had become.
“The Tory Twitter lemmings are just showing how little the CCHQ spin machine actually knows about Eastleigh,” said a spokesman. “By jeopardising plans to build vital homes, the Conservatives have put all of Eastleigh’s green spaces at risk.”
This is from the 13th Feb Speccie blog by Isabel Hardman
Alarming news reaches this blog from the Eastleigh by-election, where the battle has descended into a catfight about a policy the two main parties support at national level. How unusual for parties to detach themselves from their own policies when a prize seat is in sight: this time round it’s the Lib Dems and Tories fighting over a development of new homes in the area on greenfield land.
The Lib Dem leaflets promoting Mike Thornton say ‘residents are angry with the Conservatives for putting green fields under threat from big builders’. The Tories backing Maria Hutchings point out that Thornton and his Lib Dem colleagues on the council voted in favour of the local plan for Eastleigh, which includes provisions for up to 4,700 new homes on greenfield land. Oddly enough, both parties at a national level backed the government’s Localism Bill and coalition ministers in the Communities and Local Government department worked together to develop the National Planning Policy Framework.
Fighting a by-election on protecting green spaces is hardly a new tactic. But it’s still disappointing as at a national level both parties have been outspoken on the need for more homes to solve this country’s housing crisis. Pollsters will point out that it’s also all about the framing of the arguments. Turn up on the doorstep and tell someone their area is about to get a new development of homes and they’re unlikely to react well. Tell them that new homes are being built in their area so that their children can afford to stay there and they’ll be much more positive.
In Eastleigh, research by housing charity Shelter found rents rose by £289 between October 2011 and September 2012: a rent inflation of 3.2 per cent while wages rose by just 1.5 per cent, and house prices in the constituency are 7.76 times the average wage, as opposed to 6.65 nationally. Yet just 220 new homes were started in Eastleigh in 2011/12, down from 310 the previous year.
I had a conversation with a Tory MP recently which underlined this. We’d been discussing some of the problems with the ‘bedroom tax’, and the concerns that this MP had about cutting housing benefit for the under-25s. But a little later, we started talking about development. The MP said they would vote against any plans to water down protections for greenfield sites because they ‘believed in the green belt’. They didn’t see the connection between the two: if you keep taking away with one hand so that house prices and rents rise as a result of the housing shortage, there comes a point where the state cannot afford to keep giving with the other hand in the form of housing benefit to cover those soaring rents. I also always wonder when someone says they ‘believe in greenfield’ whether they realise how arbitrary the designation for greenfield actually is: the quality of the landscape is not relevant to whether land is included within a green belt (you can read the criteria here), and researchsuggests 60 per cent of the green belt is actually devoted to intensive farming.
Of course, it’s naive to expect candidates to start knocking on the doors of Eastleigh constituents and engage them in an argument about housing demand, just as it would be foolish (but perhaps not impossible) for Ed Miliband to pitch up at a local market stall and tell shoppers ‘I want to talk to you today about pre-distribution’. The other big fight in this very local by-election is, after all, about a gravel pit. But this scrap is a useful foretaste of the sort of campaigns other Tories and Lib Dems will run in 2015. Though it is laudable for a minister to speak from an ivory tower about the housing shortage being the greatest threat to social justice, it is far more tempting at constituency level to talk about ‘protecting green spaces’.
Planning has now become the central issue of the close-fought Eastleigh by-election, with both Tories and Liberal Democrats claiming the other wants to pave over the countryside.
The Liberal Democrats have been accused of particular hypocrisy by their Tory rivals, who say their local councillors are backing plans for up to 4,700 new homes on greenfield land in the local area.
Leaflets distributed by Mike Thornton, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Eastleigh, say he is “working to protect the land between our villages from development”.
“In our area, residents are angry with the Conservatives for putting green fields under threat from big builders,” his campaign material says.
During a visit on Monday, Mr Clegg, the deputy Prime Minister, also said the Liberal Democrats are the party to fight for “green spaces” against the Conservative Hampshire County Council’s proposals for a gravel pit in the constituency.
However, Tory sources point out that Mr Thornton is one of the 37 Liberal Democrat councillors who voted in favour of Eastleigh’s draft local plan, which approves thousands of new homes on greenfield land.
Last night, Mr Thornton said the local council’s plans for more housing are necessary.
“By jeopardising plans to build vital homes, the Conservatives have put all of Eastleigh’s green spaces at risk. Eastleigh needs new homes and that is why the Liberal Democrats designed a sustainable plan,” he said.
“The Conservative refusal to support our plans has meant that bulldozers will be forced into the important countryside and green space in between our villages.
“Our plans were even supported by the Conservative County Council, until the Council Leader was undermined by his own by-election candidate, who said she was against them.
“The Tories are now desperately trying to cover the mistake their candidate made. Hampshire Tories have put our countryside at risk, and put job creation in jeopardy.”
Leaflets for Maria Hutchings, the Conservative candidate for Eastleigh, claim she “spoke out against Lib Dem plans to concrete over the countryside by building almost 5,000 houses on greenﬁeld sites in Eastleigh.”
The campaign literature, bearing pictures of Mrs Hutchings with a Save our Countryside banner, point out that she also “campaigned against the County Council’s plans for gravel extraction in Hamble”.
The row illustrates how the issue of planning has caused acrimony in a local community, pitting local politicians against national ones.
A Conservative source said: “Candidates and MPs are, of course, free to campaign against bad development in their area and there is no inconsistency with Government policy.”
Inside Housing – East of England Plans Falling 41% short of Household Growth
English councils will fall almost 30,000 homes short of meeting housing need each year under the government’s reformed planning system.
Figures obtained by Inside Housing this week show councils are planning for 183,000 homes a year in their adopted or emerging local plans. But government household projection data states 212,500 new homes are needed each year to keep up with demand.
This means the nine English regions will fall 14 per cent short of meeting housing need. The figures will fuel fears that the government’s localism agenda, which ended central housing targets in favour of locally set development plans, could exacerbate the housing crisis.
Pippa Read, policy leader at National Housing Federation, warned that councils ‘must robustly assess the homes that are needed in their areas and plan how they will meet this demand’.
‘Not doing so would be too costly when house building is at its lowest peacetime level since the 1920s, hundreds of thousands of new households are being created each year and millions of people remain on housing waiting lists,’ she said.
Councils have until April to draw up local plans under the government’s new national planning policy framework. Local plans allocate land for housing and justify the scale of development over a period of 15 to 20 years.
The region with the least hope of meeting housing demand is the east of England, where councils are planning just 19,000 homes a year despite needing around 32,000 annually according to government predictions.
John Acres, residential business development director at planning consultancy Turley Associates, said political pressure means councils are less willing to approve development. ‘Local authorities are looking afresh at housing need [in drawing up local plans] and there’s a huge discrepancy between the housing need and what they are prepared to provide,’ he said.
Trevor Miller, shadow cabinet member for strategic housing at Chelmsford Council, which is planning 808 homes a year compared with 1,000 homes cited in household projections, said: ‘Our problem is one of finding the land for housing and the finance for it. There’s plans for some housing in the pipeline at the moment but it’s never as much as we would like.’
Housing supply in numbers
|Region||Adopted core strategy||Annual average from adopted core strategy||Emerging core strategy||Annual average from emerging core strategy||Annual average total of adopted and emerging core strategy||Annual household projections||Difference between adopted/emerging core strategy and household projections||% difference between plans & household projections|
|Yorkshire & Humberside||131710||6658||245025||14105||20763||27120||-6357||-23|
|East of England||288920||13534||119596||5643||19177||32240||-13063||-41|
|South East of England||230652||12407||282305||14053||26460||35400||-8940||-25|
Portas Pilots and the Peppa Pig Costume
They were the 12 towns that the Government boasted would be in the “the vanguard of a revolution” to revive the UK’s battered high streets, with Mary Portas, the retail expert and TV personality, parachuted in to lead the initiative.
But The Independent can reveal that the so-called “Portas Pilots” have spent just 12 per cent of the £1.2m awarded in May, indicating that progress has been painfully slow.
Worse still, certain councils and their “town team” appear to have squandered chunks of the £100,000 they were given on seemingly wasteful items, such as £1,600 on a Peppa Pig costume, nearly £1,000 on postage, according to Freedom of Information Requests seen byThe Independent.
At a time when some of the high street’s biggest names have gone into administration, the snail-like progress of the Portas Pilots and lax approach to taxpayers’ money has angered retail experts. The 121-store fashion chain Republic has hit the buffers, putting 2,500 jobs at risk, while Blockbuster’s administrator said it was closing a further 164 stores, in addition to the 160 already announced.
The retail expert Paul Turner-Mitchell, who submitted the FOI requests, said it demonstrated the majority of councils were not capable of delivering the dynamic change needed to revive UK high streets. Mr Turner-Mitchell, a director of Rochdale-based retailer 25 Ten Boutique, said: “It’s disappointing that, given this unique opportunity to try something different, many councils have wasted funding on the usual bureaucracy of meetings, expense claims and consultants.”
He added: “The high street needs urgent support so why is so much of this money still sitting in local authority bank accounts?”
The findings will further fuel the argument that the work of Ms Portas, whose company did not return calls, is unlikely to yield long-term benefits to the UK high street.
Of the Portas Pilots, the 11 councils that responded had only spent £136,000 by 31 December of the £1.1m they were awarded.
For instance, Croydon had only spent £4,950 of its £100,000, while Wolverhampton had accounted for £11,817 of the same amount.
Other councils, such as Stockport, received a further £362,000 from the council and other bodies but had only spent £25,800 of a whopping £462,000.
John O’Mara, the chairman of Stockport Town Team, said: “We’ve spent time putting our enthusiastic, committed Town Team in place, which has now spent more than £25,000 on worthwhile projects.
He added: “This is a pilot – it’s about new ways of working. What’s important is getting this right, not how quickly we get the money out of the door. These things don’t happen overnight.”
Such meagre spending appears to shatter hopes raised by the Government last May. At that time, Local Government minister Grant Shapps said: “These pilots can be the vanguard of a high-street revolution, and others can look at their example to kick-start a renaissance of our town centres.”
More controversial are findings, such as Dartford Council’s Portas Pilot spending £5,983 on newspaper adverts, £1,317 on surveys, £1,610 on hiring a person in a Peppa Pig costume, and £317.46 on items from Waitrose.
A Dartford spokeswoman said: “Local newspaper adverts have been used to promote the launch of Sunday trading in the town, our six-month Sunday market pilot and our bursary scheme for businesses looking to set up in the market. The council hired Peppa Pig for the day as it’s a proven way to draw in families to events.”
But eyebrows have also been raised by Wolverhampton City Council, whose team has spent £989 on postage.
A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “The Government has given the Portas Pilots a share of £2.4m to spend as and when they see fit to best improve their high streets and encourage residents to shop locally.” He added: “But the main aim of this scheme has been to harness the energy of local people to breathe new life into the town centres and make them the hearts of their communities again, and Pilots up and down the country are already doing this very successfully.”
Money to spare: The bills
Pilot/Amount Received/Amount Spent
Market Rasen £98,599/£32,520
Margate Failed to respond to FOI/Failed to respond to FOI
All Mod Cons Included