How Nightclub Agent of Change Issues are Dealt with in Zoning Systems (and many other issues too)

A rather silly article today about nightclubs agent of change and the planning white paper.

DJ Mag

A new white paper published by the UK Government plans to completely reorganise England’s system for planning applications, leaving the country’s clubs under serious threat of encroachment from developers, with little room for objection from local communities or authorities.

Motion in Bristol and The White Hart in London are two venues that illustrate the risks this transfer could pose. They exist at opposite ends of the venue spectrum; the former a renowned large club, the latter a small pub which hosts live music and DJ sets for locals. Both have fought battles against developer encroachment: Motion has survived, whilst the White Hart will soon lose its ability to host any music whatsoever.

The main reason for these contrasting outcomes was a differing application of ‘agent of change’. 

Of course the agent of change principle was introduced from continental Europe – where err they have a zoning system. This is terrible journalism – pure sensationalism. Zoning is applied in almost every other country in the world and those that have agent of change as a legal principle find it is entirely compatible. The fault is not just lazy journalism but the total and utter failure of the government to understand how zoning works and explain how it might work in the white paper – underpinned by them havng no zoning experts advising them.

It works in such systems using overlay zones

Overlay zones typically provide a higher level of regulation (more restrictive) than the existing zoning classification, but they can also permit exceptions or be less restrictive.  In cases where conflicting standards are given by an overlay district and the underlying zoning category, those of the overlay district typically control.

Overlay districts are used to accomplish a variety of goals.  They are usually prompted by recommendations or policies in a community’s master plan or a special study.  Examples of goals related to overlay regulations include water quality protection, traffic safety / access management, appearance standards…etc.

A good example is flood risk. If flood risk is so high, such as functional flood plane, to prohibit development you zone it for protection. But f less that is development could be acceptable if designed in a certain way you apply standards through a flood evaluation overlay zone.

Same with issues such as hazards, setting of heritage assets and many other issues. It if about regulations being smart, applying additional regulatory control only where needed and granting ‘as of right’ development consents where not. They always override the base zone regulation. How can anyone disagree with that?

Jenryck’s ‘Gentle Density’ Cap in London will lead to Massive Greenfield Development Outside London

Some background. The latest draft revision of the London plan removed the density matrix and relaxed tall building policy so boroughs had to define suitable areas not confined to opportunity areas, town centres etc.

This caused some concern in outer London boroughs. Even subsequent to the EIP outer London Boroughs lobbied the SoS and yesterday the mkinister issued a final direction.

Innpracgice in terms of stage 2 directions there has been uncertainty over how the policy would be applied. In Mitcham next to a tram stop the Mayor has insisted on a 10 storey scheme rather than the ‘gentle density’ scheme favoured locally. In Barnet he has failed to intervene in the local rfusal of a 6-8 story scheme.

The letter : and direction.

I am issuing a new Direction regarding Policy D9 (Tall Buildings). There is clearly a
place for tall buildings in London, especially where there are existing clusters. However, there
are some areas where tall buildings don’t reflect the local character. I believe boroughs should
be empowered to choose where tall buildings are built within their communities. Your draft
policy goes some way to dealing with this concern. In my view we should go further and I am
issuing a further Direction to strengthen the policy to ensure such developments are only
brought forward in appropriate and clearly defined areas, as determined by the boroughs whilst
still enabling gentle density across London.

Policy D9 Tall buildings
A Based on local context, Development Plans should define
what is considered a tall building for specific localities, the height
of which will vary between and within different parts of London
but should not be less than 6 storeys or 18 metres
measured from ground to the floor level of the uppermost

The draft plan definition was the same as the notification limit i.e. 30m , 40m in City.

The reality in London is that where large sites come forward in Outer London such as estate regeneration or industrial estates the abolition of the density matrix meant the expectation was these would be at least 8-10 storeys and this would not be classified as a tall building. The large majority of such sites not being in areas allocated for tall buildings.

Now they would be and would be contrary to development plans. With this one stroke of a pen Jenryk has halved development capacities for large sites in London. You will note that his predecessors have been saying to the Mayor development in LOndon should double. Where, how?

The letter concludes intriguingly

I am pleased that the communication between our
teams is ongoing and positive. I would like to see details of work on a strategy with the wider
south east authorities.

Of course now Lon is required to undertake a Green Belt review and the changes mean Boroughs can choose to lose employment land instead even if occupied. Though if occupied I cannot see how such land could be considered ‘available. Even if all of Londons strategic industrial sites were developed it would only take up a small proportion of Londons land shortfall. It is simply too high and the shortfall will be much higher given Jenryks new ‘gentle density’ definition.

The numbers dont lie. With the policy change, even with massive sacrifice of industrial land, Jenryks change means massively increased loss of greenfield sites, including for replacement industrial land in the wider south east. Planning is about trade offs and the minister just made one. More gentle density in London, in favour of dramatically increase greenfield development outside London.

Just an observation here. If you are owner of a large site how to do you value it? Without firm standards there is a risk of overvaluation and a squeeze on affordable housing.

Policy is also too crude. Gentle density and tall buildings are the nodes but the majority of large sites in reasonably accessible locations should be in the very high density category of 18-30m. These areas should be subject to strategic zoning in the London plan.

How will the Government Bring Forward the Oxford Cambridge Arc Framework?

Budget 2012

The Budget announces plans to develop, with local partners, a long-term Spatial Framework to support strategic planning in the OxCam Arc

They have even advertised for a post to bring this forward – how?

At first the government may have had ambitions that local authorities would bring this forward themselves. With Buckinghamshire declaring UDI this is no longer practical. They cannot do it as an NPS as housing is excluded from the National Infrastructure regime.

Perhaps the plan is for this to be some kind of informal non statutory document.

The government also commissioned a study from AECOM for the area marked official sensitive. One step down from an official secret. The intention surely to inform a framework – but as environmental information it would have to be made public if at any stage it informed a development consent. Like any study you might guess it has some sensible locations anyone could choose and some less sensible ones. I’m just speculating (cough, cough). Also the slowness in terms of taking things forward might mean it is already out of date in terms of housing numbers methodology, infrastructure planning and in particular modelling zero carbon scenarios.

Recently at a conference a senior civil servant hinted that if LPAs did not bring forward new communities in the ARC the government would bring forward development corporations. However if done on the new town model with approved masterplans then this would be a ‘development consent’ and would fall foul of the SEA directive if their were not early engagement on realistic options. With a secret strategy where is the engagement? Of course you could just declare corporations without plan making powers – but that was tried and failed in Thurrock and West Northants.

So we are precisely nowhere. The scardy cat nature of the government means they have lost three years. How dare they criticse lpas for slow plan making. My guess is there will have to be some kind of reset. Setting out a new study based on 1) the new formula for housing need and 2) more up to date figures on land constrained areas (London) overspill based on the final London Plan numbers and 3) using the new government zero carbon targets. Just issue the old report on some obscure government website as background evidence without any endorsement.

The 2004 act section 27 gives the SoS reserve powers to direct LPAs to revise plans or even prepare plans (subject to indpendent examination). This could give the SOS powers to prepare startegic policies only for the arc. This could relate to:

  1. strategic scale developments (over 5,000 units say
  2. Strategic infrastructure
  3. Housing targets for each LPA or sub area.

We have had 3 years of useless faffing about of planning between the government and counties/districts in smoke filled rooms. Lets let in some sunlight.