Pickles Weekly National Planning Policy Tweak – This Time on Solar Farms

Statement to House 25/3/2015

Solar energy: protecting the local and global environment

Last year, the coalition government published a comprehensive solar photovoltaic strategy setting out our ambitions for the technology as an important part of the United Kingdom’s energy mix. In doing so, the strategy underlines the importance of focusing growth on domestic and commercial roof space and previously developed land.

My department supported this by consulting on reforms to permitted development rights which will encourage the take up of much larger scale solar power generation (solar photovoltaic) on non-domestic buildings and complement the existing flexibilities for home owners. These reforms allow for a 20-fold increase in the amount of solar that can go onto the roofs of non-domestic buildings such as warehouses and offices without having to submit a full planning application, subject to strict safeguards to protect local amenity. The proposals have been widely welcomed by the solar industry, and the measure will come into force from 15 April 2015.

The National Planning Policy Framework includes strong protections for the natural and historic environment and is quite clear that local councils when considering development proposals should take into account the economic and other benefits of the best and most versatile agricultural land. Yet, some local communities have genuine concerns that when it comes to solar farms insufficient weight has been given to these protections and the benefits of high quality agricultural land. As the solar strategy noted, public acceptability for solar energy is being eroded by the public response to large-scale solar farms which have sometimes been sited insensitively.

Meeting our energy goals should not be used to justify the wrong development in the wrong location and this includes the unnecessary use of high quality agricultural land. Protecting the global environment is not an excuse to trash the local environment. When we published our new planning guidance in support of the framework, we set out the particular factors relating to large scale ground mounted solar photovoltaic farms that a local council will need to consider. These include making effective use of previously developed land and, where a proposal involves agricultural land, being quite clear this is necessary and that poorer quality land is to be used in preference to land of a higher quality.

We are encouraged by the impact the guidance is having but do appreciate the continuing concerns, not least those raised in this House, about the unjustified use of high quality agricultural land. In light of these concerns we want it to be clear that any proposal for a solar farm involving the best and most versatile agricultural land would need to be justified by the most compelling evidence. Of course, planning is a quasi-judicial process, and every application needs to be considered on its individual merits, with due process, in light of the relevant material considerations.

CPRE – #NPPF has put #GreenBelt under More Threat not Less

As we always predicted.  Not yet on their website.


Tens of thousands of additional homes are being planned for the protected Green Belt than before the Government relaxed planning protections three years ago, new research shows.

A study by the Campaign to Protect Rural England showed that more new homes are planned for Green Belt land than when the National Planning Policy Framework was introduced in March 2012.

The CPRE’s report, “Green Belt under siege: the NPPF three years on”, finds that over 219,000 houses are planned for England’s Green Belt, 60,000 more than CPRE’s last count in August 2013.

The Green Belt is the ribbon of land around towns and cities which came in 1955 to prevent urban sprawl. It has under increased pressure because of demand for new homes.

The most under threat area of Green Belt land was found to be the Home Counties around London where the number of new homes planned on Green Belt land has nearly trebled since August 2013.

In its analysis of nine English regions, however, the CPRE paper shows that three city or county regions – London, Oxfordshire and Nottinghamshire – as well as the wider South West region are facing an increasingly large number of houses on Green Belt land.

It also shows that planning inspectors have signed off major releases of Green Belt in areas such as Leeds and Newcastle/Gateshead where there is ample brownfield land available.

Paul Miner, a spokesman for the campaign, said it was important that ministers worked “to strengthen Green Belt protection, not weaken it”.

He said: “Ministers have quite rightly resisted the siren calls of some organisations to relax controls over development in the Green Belt. Yet, our new research shows that large scale development is already planned – despite existing protections, the availability of brownfield land and community objections.

“We need to strengthen Green Belt protection, not weaken it. Whoever forms the next Government must look to improve Green Belt protection and focus development behind the one million homes we could build on brownfield land – for the benefit of both town and country.”

The report found that nearly 87,000 new homes were planned for the Green Belt in the “Metropolitan” counties around London, with a further 41,000 in Yorkshire and more than 35,000 in the west Midlands.

There were a further 16,000 homes planned for the Green Belt in the South West, 14,000 in Nottinghamshire and nearly 12,000 in the north west of England.

The Government’s decision to relax planning restrictions in 2012 and introduce a bias in favour of “sustainable deveopment” was bitterly fought by countryside campaigners and readers of The Telegraph.

The CPRE’s findings challenge claims by Mr Cameron that he as Prime Minister he had protected the “precious” Green Belt, insisting a line has been “scored in the sand”.

In a speech three weeks ago he said: “I want my children – and their children – to be able to play on a day out in the North Downs near London.

“I want them to be able to walk, as they can now, from Liverpool to Leeds through green belt protected land.

“I want to know that in the green belt that exists around our cities, nearly one-fifth of England’s ancient woodland stands tall and proud, as it has done for centuries.”

New PAS Paper highlights you can now Back Three Legged Donkeys

Excellent here

There has been some media attention on the perceived implications of making decisions without having an up-to-date Local Plan, particularly if the authority also can’t demonstrate a five year land supply of specific deliverable sites against objectively assessed housing needs (as required by paragraph 47 of the Framework). Some have suggested that any development, whatever the impacts, is acceptable in the absence of an up-to-date Local Plan because of para 49 of the Framework – sometimes referred to as ‘the presumption’. Some people effectively say ‘there’s no point in refusing this housing scheme as without a housing supply and plan, we don’t stand a chance on appeal’. However national policy and the objective of pursuing sustainable development is a material consideration in planning decisions irrespective of the status of an area’s development plan. And levels of planning appeals upheld against an authority’s original determination remain constant at only one per cent of all planning decisions in England. There are several recent cases where development has been refused permission in the absence of an up-to-date Local Plan or five-year land supply because it would conflict with national policy objectives. These cases are summarised below; the full reasoning is set out in the relevant hyperlinked decision letters.

Mike Kiely POS – We Need to Faff About the #GreenBelt

Mike Kiely Chair of POS at the National Planning Summit

POS was “not saying that there is a need to review the green belt”.

He said: “You have to make those decisions that exist in each particular area but I think the question will arise and will have to be addressed at some stage and we need to do that properly and what we’re advocating is approaches that release green belt land in the right way, brings forward developments that have high levels of sustainability and enables the infrastructure that’s necessary to support that development to be properly funded”.

POS has also produced a discussion document titled “We need to talk about the Green Belt“.

This otherwise excellent paper could easily be called ‘Faffing about the Green Belt’ for not giving a straight answer to the question – Do LPAs need to review Green Belts?  Its the kind of faffing about and ‘on the one hand and the other’ double talk that gives Planners, rightly, a bad name.

The paper only goes astray in a few paragraphs but they make all the difference to the final outcome.

[Reviewing the Green Belt] …is no easy decision. It should only arise after all reasonable and acceptable efforts have been taken to maximise the amount of development within the urban area. …Similarly, it should also only arise after other options, such as the growth being accommodated in other areas in ways that do not result in unsustainable patterns of growth, have been fully explored.

In other words you should only look at one reasonable alternative after you have dismissed another reasonable alternative without having compared them.  What has this got to do with planning, rather it is a process or evidenced exhaustion and plan making prevarication?  How is this legally and procedurally defensible given the requirements  of the SEA directive to compare all reasonable alternatives at an early stage of plan making?  The POS paper seems to be repeating the ‘last resort’ doctrine which the courts rejected last year in IM Properties v Lichfield [2014] EWHC 2440 (Admin)

Planning authorities seven key legal constraints in putting forward their local plans and deciding whether or not to review the GB, oddly the paper faffs around so much talking about the pedagogical issues that it mentions none of them.

1.  The legal constraints and caselaw on what constitutes ‘exceptional circumstances’

2. The Duty to Coooperate – both legal and soundness tests and the overspill OAN  arising from footnote 9 (environmentally) constrained areas and OAN overspill from metropolitan areas

3. The SEA directive – and it seeming conflict with the DTC in the 2004 regulations

4. Soundness requirement regarding evidence – and potential conflict with the Boles doctrine that conducting  GB review can only be initiated by an LPA

5. Hunstan -OAN must be determined in a ‘policy off’ unconstrained mode

6.  The blurring of the issue by the New NPPG – allowing GB to be treated as a NPPF para.14 ‘contraint’ but not distinguishing between policy (which local plans can amend and can be challenged by evidence) and environmental (which local plans cannot) footnote 9 constraints

7.  The increasing caselaw and precedent on ‘valued landscapes’ and its relation to Green Belt Purposes in a GB review

Brandon Lewis faffs about the Grenn Belt – repeating like a parrot ‘exceptional circumstances, exceptional circumstances’ without giving a guiding hand through this seven test minefield.  Similarly POS please stop faffing about the Green Belt, at some point talking has to stop and planning has to begin and please help planners in that regard by providing a guidance note that addresses these issues and guides poor beleaguered planners through.

Pickles to Introduce ‘Travellers Must Travel’ Policy

Telegraph – This seems to be preannouned now to prempt Lib Dem opposition.  Earlier Telgraph link (now removed) suggested this.

Travellers must prove they are actually “travelling”, under a new Government crackdown to stop gypsies trying to set up camps on the Green Belt.

Under new plans, to be published by the Government next month, travellers would have to prove they have a “nomadic” lifestyle to qualify for help in the planning system.

Experts said that this would in practice mean showing that they had been on the move for two months every year, possibly by moving camp to horse fairs.

The changes have emerged days after the High Court ruled that gypsies will no longer automatically be banned from setting up camp on Green Belt land because ministers had been unfairly discriminating against travellers.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles had been wrong to introduce a policy of ministers personally reviewing and rejecting all bids made by gypsies in 2013 in attempt to prevent a repeat of controversies like the Dale Farm fiasco in Essex.

New draft planning rules state that “for planning purposes the Government believes a traveller should be someone who travels”.

They add: “Travellers who have given up travelling permanently should be treated in the same way as the settled community, especially regarding sites in sensitive locations, such as in the Green Belt.”

Councils are obligated in planning rules to provide land to house traveller communities.

The Housing Act 2004 also requires housing authorities regularly too undertake regular assessments of the accommodation needs of gypsies and travellers.

However the new nomadic qualification could dramatically cut the number of people who are seen as travellers under planning rules.

There are an estimated 300,000 gypsies and travellers in the UK, of whom only about 40 per cent regularly travel for two months or more every year.

Eric Pickles, Communities and Local Government secretary, said the changes would introduce more fairness into the planning system so that more people are treated equally.

He said: “The public want to see fair play in the planning system, with planning applications being decided on the basis of their affect on the environment, not who the applicant is.

“It is for local and national elected representatives to determine planning policy. This Government will stand firm in allowing councils to safeguard the Green Belt which prevents urban sprawl and stops the open countryside being covered in concrete.”

Joseph Jones, a spokesman for the Gypsy Council, said that Mr Pickles should have to resign after the ruling.

He said: “This is a very, very divisive issue – they are saying if you live on a gypsy site and you don’t go travelling every year, you lose your gypsy status.

The idea that gypsies or travellers are nomadic is nonsense. Gypsies and travellers have always travelled for work – and that is not a nomadic way of life.”

Mr Jones said that life was made harder because councils are “closing not opening” transit sites across the country.

He said that some travellers could qualify by visiting the horse fairs that are held most weekends between April and October every year.

Sprawl Increases Infrastructure Costs by 10-40%

New Climate Economy

Urban sprawl costs the American economy more than US$1 trillion annually, according to a new study by the New Climate Economy. These costs include greater spending on infrastructure, public service delivery and transportation. The study finds that Americans living in sprawled communities directly bear an astounding $625 billion in extra costs. In addition, all residents and businesses, regardless of where they are located, bear an extra $400 billion in external costs. Correcting this problem provides an opportunity to increase economic productivity, improve public health and protect the environment. The report identifies specific smarter growth policies that can lead to healthier, safer and wealthier communities in both developed and developing countries.

The report, Analysis of Public Policies that Unintentionally Encourage and Subsidize Sprawl—written for the New Climate Economy by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, in partnership with LSE Cities—details planning and market distortions that foster sprawl, and smart growth policies that can help correct these distortions.

Sprawl increases the distance between homes, businesses, services and jobs, which raises the cost of providing infrastructure and public services by at least 10% and up to 40%. The most sprawled American cities spend an average of $750 on infrastructure per person each year, while the least sprawled cities spend close to $500. In its Better Growth, Better Climate report, the New Climate Economy has found that acting to implement smarter urban growth policies on a global scale could reduce urban infrastructure capital requirements by more than US$3 trillion over the next 15 years.

The new report defines smart growth—the opposite of urban sprawl—as compact, connected and coordinated urban development. Smart growth cities and towns have well-defined boundaries, a range of housing options, a mix of residential and commercial buildings, and accessible sidewalks, bike lanes and public transportation. By reducing per capita land consumption and infrastructure and transportation costs, smart urban growth policies can deliver significant economic, social and environmental benefits.

Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, lead author of the report said:  “Smart growth is not anti-suburb. Instead, it ensures that diverse housing options are available and incentivizes households to choose the most resource-efficient options that meet their needs. We are now seeing growth in demand by millennials and the elderly for affordable, compact housing in accessible and multimodal neighborhoods. However, current government policies tend to favor larger, less-accessible homes. For example, in most communities there are strict limits on development densities, restrictions on multifamily housing and excessive parking requirements, which drive up housing costs and encourage sprawl. Consumer preferences are changing; government regulations on housing should too.”

Sprawl is bad for your health. Americans who live in sprawled neighbourhoods are between two and five times more likely to be killed in car accidents and twice as likely to be overweight as those in more walkable neighbourhoods.

Residents of compact, connected communities in the United States save more money and have greater economic opportunity than they would in more sprawled, automobile-dependent neighbourhoods. Households in accessible areas spend on average $5,000 less per year on transportation expenses, and real estate located in smart growth communities tends to retain its value better than in sprawled communities, due to greater accessibility to services. These communities are also more inclusive for people who cannot drive: they offer easier access to schools, public services and jobs, and encourage mixed-income communities. Because of these factors, research shows that lower-income children tend to be much more economically successful if they grow up in smart growth communities.

Helen Mountford, Global Programme Director for the New Climate Economy, said: “Reducing urban sprawl is good for the economy and the climate. For a real-world example of sprawl versus smart growth, compare Atlanta and Barcelona. Both cities have approximately the same population and the same level of wealth per person, but Atlanta takes up over 11 times as much land and produces six times the transport-related carbon emissions per person as Barcelona. And congested, sprawling cities are costly to the economy; for example through all the hours that commuters or delivery trucks waste stuck in traffic jams. Cities that are compact, connected and coordinated can unleash productivity and growth opportunities, while minimizing harm to the climate.”

All cities can benefit from increased economic productivity, more affordable housing options, more liveable communities, infrastructure cost savings, reduced accident risk, improved public fitness and health, increased opportunity for physically and economically disadvantaged groups and improved mobility options for non-drivers. These benefits are particularly important in rapidly developing cities where resources are limited and a greater portion of households are impoverished and cannot afford automobiles.

Adoption of smart growth policies would also help fight global climate change. Urban sprawl is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, according to Better Growth, Better Climate, the New Climate Economy’s flagship report from September 2014. Cities are responsible for 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions.  The adoption of compact, transit-oriented cities could reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by about 0.6 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2030, rising to 1.8 billion tonnes CO2equivalent by 2050, more than twice the annual emissions of Canada.

Worcester Proposes Two Urban Extensions and Has no ‘5 Year Supply’ shows #NPPF definition is barmy

Worcester News

Worcester City Council had an official land supply of more than eight years in March last year, but that is no longer the case.

The official housing ‘need’ for Worcester, as deemed by an independent Government inspector is 9,830 properties by 2020, but the city is 630 short taking into account current building, future expected permissions and the other bits of land forecast to be developed.

One big reason for the change is because in the South Worcestershire Development Plan (SWDP), the blueprint earmarking land for homes in Worcester, Malvern and Wychavon by 2030, inspector Roger Clews upped the requirement from 23,200 to 28,370 last year.

The city council, which has taken legal advice, has also now been told two controversial ‘urban extensions’, one south of the city between Kempsey and St Peter’s and another next to Dines Green west of Worcester, are not allowed to form part of the latest five-year land supply calculations – despite both sites expecting to contribute more than 1,100 properties by 2020.

Woyuld be nice to see the report and legal advice, educated guess the ludicrous footnote 11 definition which means sites that deliver within 5 years dont form part of teh 5 years supply unless they are available ‘now’, which means that if you have to do anything however small to make the site available it isn’t considered ‘deliverable’ even it it is, for example,  knocking a wall down to form an access.  Barmy.

How Much is Town Planning Worth to Society? – A Radical Thought Experiment to Solve the funding crisis

The latest attempt to ‘simplify’ planning is to publish a new and more complex than ever 163 page GPDO, which will have two major effects, firstly to make a great deal of money to those with assets that can now be valorised, secondly to ensure that local planning authorities make a great deal less money from fees.  Surely something is going wrong somewhere?   That got me thinking, how much is the new GPDO worth, and could we capture it to fund the service of planning?

A radical thought experiment.  We abolished all PD rights and all local plans,  You could build  nothing.  If you wanted to build something you have to buy development rights.  If you wanted to stop  something being built then you pay a higher price to buy out those rights.  Seen in this way planning would have no shortage of funding, and the pockets of Nimbys would be nowhere near deep enough to buy put all rights for housing as consumers consider the extra price they would pay over their lifetime for not bidding higher than Nimbys.  I am not suggesting for a moment that this would be practical, or that it would be desirable with an unequal distribution of wealth where the wealthy would simply entrench their position where they block out housing and entrench their rentier status.  But it does frame the problem in the correct way. If wealth were equally distributed what would be the shadow price that people would pay to protect or allow for development and where?  What kind of regulation would emerge?  What kind of planning would the consumers of ‘planning services’ to use the economists application of the term  ‘services’  demand?

Thinking this way you cant help think that the GPDO and much planning regulation is just an entrenchment of power and privilege and an institutionalization of rentier income.