Laurie McFarlane @L__Macfarlane Talks Total Rubbish on Zoning and Democracy in Guardian

Guardian – This article shows how many fail to understand zoning and the history of planning and planning around the world and cant even be bothered to learn.

Ever since the Town and Country Planning Act 1947 was enacted, landowners and developers have had to apply to their local authority for planning permission to build new property or convert existing buildings from one use to another. The act was an elegant attempt by Clement Attlee’s Labour government to balance public and private interests: land was kept in private ownership but the right to develop it was nationalised.

This is historically innacurate as I have written on this site many times. Consent was needed from the planning acts of the 1920s and 1930s. This was a zoning system but ‘interim’ consent was needed for permission outside zoned areas. The main effect of the 1947 act was to abolish the ability of zoning plans to grant development consent, the interim system being made permanent. The intent was to speed up post war reconstruction. The end result was to remove design control from development plans and hand it to council surveying and architecture departments. A disaster. Almost noting about public consultation in 47 Act, that came in post Skeffington in 1968. In fact there was little progressive about the 1947 Act it was regressive in most respects apart from land value capture, which is setting too high a rate did not last beyond that parliament.

under the reforms published this week, this will be replaced with a zoning system under which all land will be designated as one of three categories. In so-called growth areas, permission will be granted automatically without having to submit a planning application. In “renewal” areas, which are expected to cover urban and brownfield sites, permission will be automatically granted subject to some basic checks. Only in “protected areas”, such as the green belt and areas of outstanding natural beauty, will stricter development controls apply.

This totally misunderstands how zoning works. The only difference is that under a zoning system ‘permission in principle’, or development ‘as of right’ is granted, which means for example if a local plan says 100 houses on a site with access at point x developers dong need to apply again for outline permission for that, they move straight to detailed consent. The problem with the current system is you have to apply twice for the same thing. Even though it is against government policy to refuse permission for sites in local plans refusal is common, they almost always win on appeal and costs granted against the council. Total waste of time. What is more it is not democratic. Allocation is voted on by all cllrs. Planning permission only by a small number.

only those with psychic powers to foresee future developments will be able to object to them at the initial plan-making stage. Democratic oversight of individual developments will soon be a thing of the past.

Nonsense you dont need psychic powers. The design of development is only revealed at reserved maters stage and then of course the only material planning consideration IN LAW under the current system is the design. ou cant object to the land use which is clear for all to see at local plan stage. Laurie is encouraging planning authorities ro break the law and have costs awarded against them at planning appeal.

nine out of every 10 planning applications are approved by councils anyway. Some maintain that this figure is misleading, because only those who expect planning permission to be granted bother applying. But more than a million homes that have already been granted planning permission in the last decade have not yet been built. If the planning system really is the problem, why have these homes not been built?

In a system where development is left in the hands of profit-maximising firms, there is a strong incentive to build strategic land banks and drip-feed new homes on to the market at a slow rate. The reason for this is simple: releasing too many homes at once would reduce house prices in the area, which in turn would reduce profits.

By handing over even more power to private developers, the government’s reforms will make this problem even worse.

Why, you answered your own question, In a world where land is rationed it is in short supply. Future development consents are real options which landowners and developers speculate on for future profits. They ration the release of consents to no more than the absorption rate of the local market. This is a symptom of not enough land coming forward through planning, it would reduce the problem not make it worse . Even so where are the other 4 million homes over 30 years to come from? The solution to this is to tax land, which it seems the planning bill is to do starting with empty plots. The problem is MacFarlane’s discredited denialism that supply has anything to do with housing price, which many papers in recent years have debunked.

From the opening sentence to the final full stop, the government’s white paper emits a strong stench of corporate lobbying, and represents a slap in the face to evidence-based policymaking. 

Corporate lobbying led to the NPPF which was a failure no long term increase in housebuilding above pre global recession levels. No housebuilder have been lobbying for zoning. The pressure has been from think tanks and planning experts, because zoning is the universal system for planning outside Great Britain, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and Island. Where is the case for little island exceptionalism when the rest of the world builders greener, better houses, in grerater numbers and often with greater public participation?

CPRE’s Policy As Slow and Inefficient a Planning System as Possible as it means Fewer Houses Built

Just what are CPRE objecting to?

A dramatic loosening of planning laws to create a housebuilding boom will damage local democracy and destroy swathes of countryside by granting property developers a freer hand to build over green fields, planning experts have warned.

The new laws, part of the government’s “Project Speed” to accelerate infrastructure projects, are intended to increase the number of homes being planned by more than a third, and were announced in the Queen’s speech. But critics described them as “an utter disaster” which would return the country to “a deregulated dark age of development”.

The CPRE ..warned the bill, which will largely apply only in England, ran counter to the proposed environmental bill and would “take us back to a deregulated dark age of development”. It fears most of the new homes are unlikely to be low-cost or affordable.

The planning bill is not about policy – the NPPF or the Housing Needs Formula which from the CPRE’s perspective they have legitimate rights to object to. Indeed I worked with them on the NPPF. No it is about improving regulatory efficiency and improving design.

You can object to it on grounds that you don’t like the new system but not that if the new system is successful more housing might be built. Of course increasing housing will mean more housing will be built n greenfield sites because 100% of new housing will never be built on brownfield sites, that is a mathematical fact. Which is why the main tactic of those opposing greenfield development has been to reduce housing numbers, produce local plans as slowly as possible and try to keep a planning system which crawls along and delays decisions.

What if the CPRE had to choose between

a. A Planning system that minimised greenfield development but produced all the housing we need well designed and zero carbon; or

b. A Planning system that saw housing built slowly, sprawling, in the wrong place

The CPRE seem to be in favour of the latter not the former because they are not concerned about the future, the future of the countryside or the future of young people but the present selfish NIMBY needs of its elderly members.

The Last Census – How Future Planning Will Use Digital Identities to Track Population

The recent news that the statistics regulator has scolded the ONS for overestimating its student population (compared to GP rolls etc.) is interesting. There has been disquiet for some time about the new ONS student model which isnt fit for purpose. For example Oxford and Cambridge complained it underestimated their student populations.

I don’t think it will male a huge difference to future planning in Coventry, which after all is the fastest growing place in the UK according to small business growth and is next to Birmingham which has a major shortfall in Housing Need. The worst thing it could do is a Leeds and redesignate Green Belt only to see its housing numbers go up (its a top 20 Urban LA now) having to go through the dedesignation pain twice. Qudos to Andy Street though who had the wheft to pick up the ball and run with it.

One factor that was thrown up was their model did not account for students that dropped out. However Nimbys should not get their hopes up, the global population is a control and remains the same. One student from Worcester dropping out for example is one more population for Worcester.

What this highlights is the extent that live registers of population are taking over from once a decade censuses as the main means of auditing population levels. The Pandemic has brought this forward. It has seen two developments. Firstly a huge national database based on gp rolls which suggests, surprise surprise, that the population of some major University Cities like Cambridge is roo low. Secondly the rise and rise of the NHS App, now likely to be used as vaccination certification for travel.

Internationally the alternative to censuses in some countries such as Denmark are population registers, in the past great registers held at Town Halls of where you live. This years census was nearly cancelled in favour of such registers and the ONS have stated this census may be the last conventional one. Truth be told though work on regstration at the time was not advanced, but now it is.

Registers are no longer paper documents. They are digital. All rely in what is called a ‘digital id’ which the government consulted on in February as an alternative to a conventional Card National ID. This the underlying reason why the government is pursuing legislation in the Queens speech requiring identity to vote. Let me explain.

Digital Identity’s are not new. The Blair government gave every UK person a unique digital ID across all government databases. All a physical National ID is is a card with encrypted biometric information saying I am this person. Such cards are no longer needed, apps can be used, and a number of countries like Australia are going down the cardless National ID scheme. Of course if you have the NHS app you already have such and your NHS numbers is now your main digital ID. However this requires a photo id and checking against your face, so currently it requires a surrogate national ID card. Compulsory ID to vote is likely to require free ID, such as in Northern Ireland, has they have admitted. So dont be surprised in future when you register at a GP, or claim universal credit your photos being taken, such as from your own smartphone, and fingerprint ID taken, as the NHS app uses.

David Davis needs to get up to date. Physical ID cards are yesterdays technology. We are past the age of ‘show us your papers’. Your ID is being tracked all day every day by dozens of government services using digital IDs.

For planners this has great potential for tracking population, travel movements etc. etc. In terms of privacy however there is great concern. What if a future government got its hands on this data. It could use the kind of microtargeting Vote Leave used on a grand scale. What about GDPR you say? Well remember for this very reason Cummings wanted to abolish GDPR and wanted the private sector to handle test and trace so they could raid HNS databases. Campaigner should recognize the tide in favor of digital identities is unstoppable, and also essential for pandemic control. Rather campaigners should ensure that legislation has privacy controls including making it a criminal offence to sell on data or use it for political campaigning purposes.