‘Midsomer is not Real’ Conservation Officer sticks their Nose up at Plaque proposal

Oxford Times

The Conservation Officer was later found dead with a red ‘refused’ stamp on their forehead

PLANS for plaques to celebrate a town’s role in TV drama Midsomer Murders has been rejected.

Thame Town Council had asked South Oxfordshire District Council for permission to fix six red plaques on listed buildings to celebrate its role in the ITV ratings hit.

But the plan, unpopular with council officers, was formally rejected by councillors at a meeting on Wednesday.

The town council had backed a bid to place the plaques on Grade II and Grade II* listed buildings.

But council officers said they were worried the historical significance of them would have been reduced had they been allowed.

A report prepared for Tuesday’s meeting stated: “Whilst the visitor may wish to ‘arrive in Midsomer’, it is important to also recognise that Midsomer is not real and that the market town of Thame is historically significant in its own right and not as the set of a television programme.

“A number of opportunities exist to highlight the use of various buildings in the filming of the series, but officers do not consider the application of a physical marker on buildings to be an appropriate way to do this.”

The town council said it wanted to use the plaques on the Spread Eagle Hotel in Cornmarket Street and the Swan Hotel in Upper High Street. They are both are Grade II* listed.

Thame Town Hall and Thame Museum, both in High Street, Market House in North Street and Rumsey’s Chocolaterie in Upper High Street are all Grade II listed and would also have been used.


Greta Thunberg is Right – Cumbria County Council’s Planning is Absurd


Addressing an event in parliament, the 16-year-old campaigner said the government’s active support for the new exploitation of fossil fuels was “beyond absurd”…

The UK’s active current support of new exploitation of fossil fuels, like for example the UK shale gas fracking industry, the expansion of its North Sea oil and gasfields, the expansion of airports, as well as the planning permission for a brand new coal mine, is beyond absurd,” Ms Thunberg told MPs.

She was referring to West Cumbria Minining’s recent approval for a metallurgical coal mine (used for coking in making steel) in Whitehaven Cumbria.

However it  is the burning of coal not energy output which creates emissions.  This would create 9 million tonnes of CO2 emissions a year.

The only argument was whether this would be a reduction from the scenario of importing the same coal.  However this is the same bad argument used in favour of fracking comparing one extinction scenario with another and no a potentially zero carbon solution such as replacing hydrogen for coal or using electric arc process both of which are potentially zero carbon.

The Six Year Local Plan Examination – A Cause for Concern

With a few very notable exceptions the key issue in the planning system is no longer getting local planning authorities to propose to allocate enough land, the key problem has become getting submitted plans to adoption.  It is an issue which needs to be front and centre of consideration in the forthcoming Green Paper on Speeding the Planning System.

Thew West Berks local plan a few years ago was the first Auger of a 6 year examination.  5-6 year examinations, mostly in Green Belt areas have become the norm, especially in high pressure Green Belt Areas.

The 2004 system had binding inspectors reports as a key principle.  The Coalition kept this as long as local authorities were seen to promote modifications.  As legally ‘main’ modifications required consultation anyway this wasn’t such a big deal however significant savings could be achieved if either inspectors could propose changes or their could be informal round table drafting sessions at examinations.

A key shift has been rolling examinations – ending a ‘report’ coming from the blue finding a plan unsound.  Rather we now have a practice whereby a plan has an opportunity to undergo profound change to achieve soundness. A key problem with rolling examinations is their almost impenetrable nature to those not directly involved in the examination, having to piece together many letters to find out  where a plan examination is.  A simple reform would be for inspector to keep up to date an executive summary document which states the current status and phase of the examination with hyperlinks to all key documents and decisions.

Long examinations are due to fundamental shifts in housing numbers, requiring extra work to be done on Green Belt Reviews, HELAAS, SEA etc.  So long examinations are in part a symptom not a cause.

A stable medium term position for housing numbers will help.  The botched attempt to create a standard OAN system, now held together with sticking plasters, didn’t help.  Even so agreement needs to be reached on the employment + element.  The increasing realisation that this can only be done at the functional economic region level, together with the need for statements of common ground and that many authorities are not able to resolve their housing needs alone has led to a slew of joint strategic plans.  But these are new, under-resourced, often underskilled and underscoped and without strong governance or programme management.   These require a different kind of high level EIP, more similar to structure plans.  So far their weakness has been  consideration of reasonable alternatives, also apparent in many traditional plan examinations.

If inspectors/panels were appointed earlier, prior to preferred options stages, there could be informal round tables with key stakeholders on scoping the key reasonable alternative options.  If you are late to this game tough.  I would also suggest SEA consultants are rigorously independent and report directly to the inspector/panel; to avoid insinuation of partiality or smoked room deals over preferred options, which have proven particularly troublesome in Green Belt areas.

Legal change is needed to get around the problem that plans cannot be part sound.  If you agree that we are moving to a zoning and subdivision system it seems crazy that you can zone strategic site A simply because you also need strategic site B which needs extra work and consultation.

More radically we could move to a zone first examine later when their is time system (as per New Zealand).  If their is no reasonable alternative to some policies and sites their is no reason these cannot come forward earlier and examinations focus solely on the choice of alternatives.  The aim should be to make it quick and easy to modify plans with ‘no choice’ changes, such as over changes to the NPPF.

Finally I would suggest there is standard NPPG on Green Belt reviews.  Of which the PAS guidance is a starting point.    I do have doubts however about whether assessment by Green Belt purpose is the best of all possible approaches.  I would suggest instead an ‘openness scorecard’ relying more on standard SPAN guide methods, which would much more scientific.  I’m fed up with horrible examples like Grenoble Road (Oxon) where three rival Green Belt Reviews gave three different subjective Green Belt purpose assessments depending on the scale of review etc.   The methodology also needs to take account of the best option for compensation/enhancement of green belt objectives as per the Feb 2019 NPPF.




Health Impact Assessments for a few Dozen Dwellings – a total waste of time that should be squashed by MHCLG

One of the more heartening developments in Planning in recent years has been an increased awareness of health issues in the design and planning of urban areas.  This is nothing new of course planning in England was founded on public health concerns and it has always been a principal concern of urban design.

The World Health Organisation has been instrumental in promoting Health Impact Assessment of policy.  Policy that may be beneficial in one sphere may harm public health, so this is very sensible.  This has affected policy development in a number of countries and Public Health England has published a guide to HIA referring to ‘larger’ development’.

This is where the British Planning disease of proceduralism and lack of proportionality takes over.  Directors of Public Health in many local authorities have been nagging chief planners and heads of policies to include policies on HIA, or to do an HIA on a local plan, and many have just rolled over.

The impact on planning has been entirely negative, rather than mainstreaming health in key planning decisions it has made it a tick box exercise which in the vast majority of cases just adds to cost and does nothing to improve public health.

I have no problem of a systematic HIA of a development plan as long as it is wrapped up in a wider Integrated Impact Assessment to remove duplication with SEA etc.

I also have no problem with HIA of the very largest planning applications, especially when health issues have not fully been addressed in the local plan.

However development plans have had policies on compulsory HIA at application stage creep in.  For example in London for major development (defined in the London Plan as 30+ dwellings).  In Central Lincolnshire its 25+ dwellings, many more examples.

I’ve seen many of these HIAs, but all of them are simply tick box affairs involving the HUDU checklist, and showing very very tiny impacts on existing health services because of their scale.  This is tokenistic.  On very large strategic sites it is necessary to mainstream this work as schemes may well include health facilities or place large populations at risk (i.e. air pollution) but as such it should be part and parcel of the masterplanning process and not treated as a separate bureaucratic masterplanning exercise.   As a procedural exercise they are ususally completed by the planning consultants and not the designers anyway – so whats the point?

Notre Dame should use Transverse Laminated Timber and Glass, not Oak and Lead, in Rebuilding its Roof #NotreDame

T what extent should the rebuilding of Notre Dame’s Roof Trusses attempt to replicate blindly 12th century materials or to what extent should we make use of more modern techniques that mimic the original design’s surface appearance?

We are lucky that due to laser scanning we now precisely its appearance.  Violet le Duc in the 19th Century had no such advantage.  The stripping of gargoyles and statutory in the French revolution had no records kept in many cases.

To restore a building is not to maintain it, repair it or remake it: it is to re-establish it in a complete state which may never have existed at any given moment…The restoration had to involve not just the appearance of the monument, or the effect that it produced, but also its structure; it had to use the most efficient means to assure the long life of the building, including using more solid materials, used more wisely

Today he is sometimes accused of overrestoration.   Had he not restored Carcassone and had English Heritage been today in charge of restoration it would have been restored as a stabilised ruin even if that meant many towers being unsuitable.

But a stabilised ruin is no option for Notre Dame as it was for example at Coventry Cathedral.  It is both a national symbol, where Napoleon was crowned emperor, and an outstanding example of Gothic architecture, which France invented and le-duc commented was Frances national style. The Notre Dame we saw before the fire was a recreated of a severely damaged cathedral stripped of its statuary during the revolution and having lost its previous 13th century spire as it was unstable in the wind.  Le-duc essentially recreated a Gothic of the imagination, or more precisely of Vogtor Hugos imagination, as his novel the Hunchback of Notre Dame was an extended guidebook to how it appeared in the middle ages.  Led Duc rebuilt a larger and more stable spire.

Looking up at the trusses and ceiling of a Gothic cathedral they appear as stone, when in fact you see plaster beneath an oak beam structure topped with many tonnes of lead.  As we found at York and Windsor you cannot always replace like for like as the original masonry structure may have expanded with the heat and lack of a binding roof.

As Oak cannot be seen, is heavy, not fire resistant, and environmentally damaging.  Where are the 1,300 primeval mature oaks over 52 acres?   Certainly no longer France, and even if a patch were found deep in eastern Europe somewhere why not leave them in place.  Similarly lead.  Now we have far cheaper and lighter composite roofing materials, which no one would ever know the difference in seeing them from the ground.

Having just burned down why rebuild a roof in a location where it is hard to fight fire in a highly compustable material?

A more modern and cheaper, lighter and stronger material is TLT transverse laminated timer.  It chars not burns.  Studies support the counter-intuitive idea that charring produces an insulating layer that actually slows pyrolysis, making it advance predictably and sparing enough wood to pass two-hour fire-resistance tests. Being cpoisted from softwood it retains moisture and fire resistence, whereas 9 century old oak is tinder dry.  .  TLT, made of laminates of softwood and epoxy it is almost as strong as steel and far lighter.

Pieces of sawn timber are graded for strength, before being glued together
under pressure with the grain in the laminates running parallel to the
longitudinal axis of the section. Strength-reducing defects such as knots,
splits and sloping grain are randomly distributed throughout the component
allowing it to be designed to higher stresses than solid timber of the
same grade.

Use of modern materials raises the possibility of striking architectural interventions.  Many a gothic cathedral prior to electric lighting had stained glass windows replaced with clear glass.  Using TLT a roof can in effect be engineered as a curtain wall, a fully glass roof stairing up to heaven.

Macron wants the restoration done in 5 years.  Le Duc took 25.  Often the key constraint is craftsman.  But if your not using oak you dont need master craftsman.  You can and should build the wood in a factory.  A roof a parametric structure designed in Revit with a computer structural and fire resistance model.

Scruton Finally Fired from Better Buildings Commission


Sir Roger Scruton was fired as a Government adviser today over a series of ‘white supremacist’ remarks in a magazine interview.   

The academic, who advised the Government on housing policy, told theNew Statesman that Islamophobia was ‘a propaganda word invented by the Muslim Brotherhood in order to stop discussion of a major issue’.

In an attack on the government in Beijing, he claimed ‘each Chinese person is a kind of replica of the next one and that is a very frightening thing’.

And of claims Jewish billionaire George Soros wields too much influence over Europe he said: ‘Anybody who doesn’t think that there’s a Soros empire in Hungary has not observed the facts.’

Sir Roger also rejected claims of mounting extremism in Hungary as he said ‘the Hungarians were extremely alarmed by the sudden invasion of huge tribes of Muslims from the Middle East’.

The Prime Minister faced immediate calls to fire him as a government official today.

Without hours, Government sources said: ‘Professor Sir Roger Scruton has been dismissed as Chairman of the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission with immediate effect, following his unacceptable comments.’

Mrs May’s deputy official spokesman said: ‘These comments are deeply offensive and completely unacceptable.

‘It is right that he has been dismissed.’

Former Chancellor George Osborne said: ‘Yesterday, leading Conservatives rightly ask what they can do to reconnect to modern Britain.

‘Today, these bigoted remarks from the man they bizarrely appointed to advise them on housing.

‘How can Downing Street possibly keep Roger Scruton as a government adviser?’

The Prime Minister (pictured today at PMQs) faced immediate calls to fire him as a government official today.

Former Chancellor George Osborne condemned the 'bigoted' remarks and said Mrs May must sack Sir Roger immediately

Former Chancellor George Osborne condemned the ‘bigoted’ remarks and said Mrs May must sack Sir Roger immediately

Labour’s Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary Dawn Butler said: ‘These comments by Roger Scruton are despicable and invoke the language of white supremacists.

‘His claim that Islamophobia does not exist, a few weeks after the devastating attack in Christchurch, is extremely dangerous, and his defence of the prejudice stoked by Viktor Orban’s government in Hungary is appalling.

‘He should never have been appointed but the Government should have sacked him when his horrific comments about rape, homosexuality, Islamophobia and antisemitism came to light, and when his association with far-right, neo-fascist organisations was exposed.

‘Instead, they defended him, with the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government praising him as ‘a very brave defender of free speech’.

‘Theresa May must sack Roger Scruton immediately. If she doesn’t, it will be further evidence that she is turning a blind eye to the deep-rooted prejudices and racist views in the Conservative Party, and will again signal that her government endorses these disgusting views.’

A No 10 spokesman said he had not seen the remarks but added: ‘He is an adviser on housing.

‘It does not sound like in these comments he was speaking for the Government.’

May faces racism storm over adviser Roger Scruton