Using LDOs to Boost Brownfield Sites is Using a Loaf of Bread to Drive in a Nail

Im a fan of LDOs, indeed they were my idea, having strongly lobbied for them in 2003 before the 2004 act.  But they are the wrong tool for the job – they are like trying to hammer in a nail with a loaf of bread, much wasted cost and damage for little effect.

The consultation published today. Building More Homes on Brownfield Land threatens to place LPAs in special measures unless they have them in place.  I.E. applications will be made to PINs.

The chancellors objective announced at his July 2014 Mansion House speech was for an Urban Planing Revolution – the  Government’s objective of having local development orders in place on more than 90% of suitable brownfield land by 2020 is reconfirmed in today’s consultation, which only took six months to draft and by the look of it could easily have been cobbled up in a couple of days.

It has a bizarre set of criteria similar but different to the familiar and longstanding deliverable, available, viable tests for allocating land.  For example it excludes sites in use, which would remove all temporary uses and all sites which are majorly unoccupied.  One wonders why?

An exceptionally low target is set of 5 or more units.

There is an even more bizarre ‘plan b’

A second option would be to amend the National Planning Policy Framework. The policy change would mean that local planning authorities that had failed to make sufficient progress against the brownfield objective would be unable to claim the existence of an up-to-date five year housing land supply when considering applications for brownfield development, and therefore the presumption in favour of sustainable development would apply.

This would mean more greenfield development – have they really thought this one through?

The document shows all the signs of a war between the head in the sky juveniles in the Treasury and the DCLG officials stating this just wont work.  So DCLG puts out something that just wont work to prove the Treasury wrong.  In the meantime with the Chancellor’s attention distracted Pickles has been promoting a presumption against development for developments against which he holds a personal prejudice.

The fact is LDOs have not been widely used. Certainly not for the last Osborne initiative which was where they were supposed to be Enterprize Zones.

LDOs have a place.  They were modeled on what internationally is known as a DCP (Development Control Plan) indeed several  of my staff do nothing but prepare these across several countries every day of the week.  These set out the regulations for building height, build to, acceptable uses etc.  They are design codes put in law.  They are especially useful where jurisdictions have few if any DM staff. The onus is on developers to draw them up, following an approved schematic masterplan and then a zoning and subdivision plan and get them approved under what is the equivalent of a PUD (planned urban development) clause on the local zoning code.

This proposal seems to have been cobbled together without any research, evidence or international precedent. There is no regulatory impact assessment, always a sign of a train wreck policy.

LDOs only work well after a site has a masterplan, has been zoned and subdivided in international parlance.  They also need to be funded and use specialist expertise which the British Planning System has disgracefully spent all it efforts not teaching for two generations.

What this proposal misses out is the intermediate step – the masterplanning.  The bit that Osborne in his Mansion House speech wrongly referred  to as ‘red tape’ and ‘planning regulations’ when it is masterplanning that makes great cities even when there are no regulations.

LDOs are not a good tool for this. A single stage system for approving the principle of development is a good idea.  That will enable investors to get finance for development.  This can then be combined with a LDO like system for gaining detailed design approval without endless small applications, or not as suits.  It is the principle of the height, volume and mass that matters to investors as this is what sets GFA and value.  The focus on LDOs then is missing the point.

I have previously suggested a system which would act more like a hammer and not a load of bread, the Irish Special Development Zones Regime which is well tested.

The suggested punitive regime  will simply grind Development Management and housing delivery in pressure cities like London to a halt.  The few remaining planning staff will be diverted from fee earning income to none fee earning income (indeed requiring a treasury grant).  Developers will give up masterplanning and writing codes leaving it to LPAs now threatened with special measures.  the LDOs will be knocked out cheaply and quickly, especially given the ridiculous 5 units threshold, with nothing brave done re heights or layout to avoid controversy.  This will in the medium term depress delivery, developers might simply ignore them  and apply anyway for more defeating the object.  Perverse incentives leading to bad tools.

The tragedy is for this policy botch, which I think is even more of a botch than the NPPF, is that it was easily avoided.  Their clearly has been a shift in England towards a zoning and subdivision system. Our unique discretional planning system being matched by its unique failure to deliver enough implementable zoning for new homes.   By looking at research, other jurisdictions, and tapping into the expertise of professional at home and abroad who know about how single consent systems and masterplan type consents work we could have had a decent set of easily implemented reforms that would have seen a proper share of risk and costs between local planning authorities and applicants.

Instead we will have a furious response to the consultation, it either being driven through and failing or more likely being abandoned with the DCLG being blamed, and being used as a pretext after the election for Osborne to privitise this function, given the DCLG’s ‘failure’


2 thoughts on “Using LDOs to Boost Brownfield Sites is Using a Loaf of Bread to Drive in a Nail

  1. Pingback: Osborne’s Brownfield ‘Urban Planning Revolution’ Fails at Launch -Its Just a Planning Performance Agreement | Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

  2. Pingback: A Shift to a Zoning and Subdivision System for Brownfield is the big News in Productivity Plan | Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

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