Botched new ‘uban uplift’ increases Black Country Green Belt loss needed by 10,000 ‘Most of the brownfield sites have either been built on or they are so contaminated that we cannot build on them’

Express and Star

A new report reveals the shortfall of new homes needed in the Black Country is now 36,819, which has shot up from the 26,920 figure given two years ago.

And council planners say there are not enough brownfield sites in the region to cope with the growing population.

It comes amid campaigns to save areas like the Seven Cornfields in Wolverhampton from development.

Walsall Council boss Mike Bird expects the shortfall of homes to continue rising, saying the issue is now at “crisis point”.

Councillor Bird said: “It will keep increasing because the housing shortage is such an issue, we are at crisis point. We have all got to look at the greenbelt and Walsall is no different.

“There is pressure on greenbelt, the whole of the Black Country. But our policy is brownfield first and we will continue to do that.”

In Sandwell, there are less green spaces available to build on than other Black Country boroughs.

The council’s deputy leader Maria Crompton said the Government is putting local authorities in difficult positions to meet housing demand, adding that urban areas may have to resort to building high rise properties as a last resort.

Councillor Crompton told the Express & Star: “The difficulty we have got is the Government is dictating how many houses we are supposed to provide.

“We have only got so much space. Most of the brownfield sites have either been built on or they are so contaminated that we cannot build on them.

“The Government are asking for something that we can’t provide.

“We are in a bit of a dilemma. We are caught between a rock and a hard place. What do we do?

“We haven’t got anywhere to build the houses, other than the small amount of green space that we have got. We don’t want to do that but how do you get round it?

“We certainly don’t want to start building high rise properties because that is not what people want.

“But it has got to be considered because we have got to look how best we can fulfil the Government’s requirements.”

The claims of housing shortages have come from a report published by The Black Country Plan – a joint planning project carried out by all four Black Country councils – Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton.

The latest report, called the Black Country Urban Capacity Review Update, said: “The review has found that the gap between supply and need over the new Black Country Plan period up to 2039 has grown to 36,819 homes, an increase of around 10,000 homes since 2019.

Shortage”Around half of this increase is as a result of a further loss of occupied employment allocations during 2020 in light of new evidence, and the remaining half is as a result of changes to the national housing method, which increased Wolverhampton’s local housing need by 35 per cent.”

The next report on housing shortages is due next year.

But council bosses say the actual housing shortfall figures themselves are set by the Government.

And Dudley Council leader Patrick Harley expressed concern that the figures are inaccurate, branding them “utter nonsense”, and he said he will be speaking with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government [MHCLG].

He told the Express & Star: “I think this uplift is arbitrary nonsense from MHCLG, I really do.

“It is utter nonsense to uplift by that capacity, utter nonsense. I certainly will be talking to our local members of parliament. We need to make sure our MPs are making it really clear to ministers of the impact of that decision.

Other councils and the West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street, all say they want to prioritise brownfield sites.

“These are arbitrary figures which I don’t believe are correct. We will certainly be writing to ministers to make our case. But these are absolutely arbitrary figures, they are nonsense.”

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street said he would work to help increase the number of brownfield sites being put forward for development.

Mr Street said: “There is still an incredible amount of derelict brownfield land left to develop, and I remain firmly of the belief that this is the answer to the Black Country’s immediate housing needs.

“I am committed to working with local councils to speed up the number of brownfield sites being brought forward, and we will continue to make Government cash available to clean up eyesore sites to pave the way for development.

“There remains pressure on greenbelt sites in and adjacent to the Black Country, but I will continue to give my full support to councils, communities and campaigners in resisting greenbelt development for years to come.”

Areas of land across the region have been put forward for development by landowners and developers. Among them is Foxcote Farm, Stourbridge, where 1,500 houses have been proposed.

Meanwhile thousands of people have signed a petition against 1,300 homes that could be built on 284 acres of farmland near Penn Common, an area known locally as the Seven Cornfields.

The proposed development would effectively fill the green buffer between Wolverhampton and Sedgley and remove open space enjoyed by tens of thousands living in the area.

What a Planning Reform Bill Should Look Like – If it is to be real reform and passable

Draft Planning Reform Act Here Word Here PDF

A couple of weeks ago I announced.

The MCHLG select committee is right. A draft Planning Reform Act should be published for consultation….

This is why I undertook the ambitious task of drafting out what I think a Planning Reform Act will look like.

It took a couple of weeks longer than I thought, because English Planning law is just huge and complicated. It just isn’t a good options to patch it up further, we need to codify, simply and reform – in that order – yes Gareth Bale should have that on his T Shirt.

Every attempt at planning reform since 1987 has failed and made planning slower and more complicated, through a failure of not getting the basics right and because of the law of unintended consequences though sweeping away what works for marginal changes of marginal benefit.

Essentially 99% of objections to planning reform you see on the net, in the press and amongst politicians is planning produces bad development, bad development is bad, planning reform will produce more development, as development is bad we need less development. Just look at almost any MPs speech on the last opposition day motion, almost any CPRE press release. That is the logic. You spot the logical flaw?

Planning reform has to break this illogical planning ‘hamster wheel and doom’ to quote both the prime minister and Bob Seely MP by ensuring that more development means good development in the right place. For all of the government’s utterly botched attempts at communicating how a move to a more zoning based system will work there has been a substantial shift. The government recognizes that less planning will led to a faster spinning hamster wheel of planning doom. More bad development will lead to ever more Nimbyism, and ever more pain for whatever party is in power. For the first time, well since I think the Town and Country Planning Act of 1932 we have a recognition we need more better planning on the model of what works to bring about the best designed, best located and largest scale of development internationally.

Saying it again, England is almost unique in not having strategic planning, and the UK is unique (though no longer in the Republic of Ireland or Scotland) of not having a zoning and subdivision based system, which Britain despite pioneering abandoned in 1948 on the wholly misjudged view short term view that as the State was now designing everything you no longer needed to masterplan areas for good design.

We see in much of Europe and (small) parts of North America and Australia countries with Zoning and Subdivision Systems achieve far higher development rates at far higher quality (just look at Peter Hall’s last book Good Cities Better Lives. This gives the lie to an argument you often here, its is impossible to deal with issue x in a zoning system, take almost any issue you will find examples to show this is a fallacy.

One of the reasons it is a fallacy is that in almost any planning regime (except the smallest of American counties) planning is a hybrid system of development control and zoning. In Germany almost every rural case is development control, design control is widespread and actually far more sophisticated in many zoning systems with form based zoning, German B-plans etc.

I often speak to planners who just don’t get how planning would work in a zoning system. What about minerals, what about brownfield sites in AONB, what about nature sites in regeneration areas etc.? That because the Planning White Paper was just terrible, almost irredeemably badly written asking for know input from planners with actual experience of how planning, subdivision and zoning works in such systems. Because it failed to explain a false narrative that this was a ‘developers charter’ cam about or ‘liberalising’ planning. No quite the opposite if that was the case we would have had more of the ‘build what you like where you like’ NPPF system, which failed on every measure it set itself, less green belt development, more housing in local plans more locally taken decisions (rather than at appeal), more responsibility locally with less top down strategic planning. What in fact we had was a tacit admission was that attempt had failed. Local plans have slowed to a crawl and we only have more approvals because we have reverted to an appeals led not plan led system. The problem was the government had so poorly explained how a new reformed system would work it had fermented a tsunami of opposition before it could explain, or it have even thought through, how it might work.

Hence this project to show how a reformed codified planning system could work.

In the next article ill explain some key components of the suggested act and how these could be used to build a wider consensus in civil society and across Parliament for reform.

Then ill go through the draft Act in a third part to explain some of the thinking behind each section and part.

Current planning legislation is huge and growing. Nine huge volumes of the planning encyclopedia, rising rom one when I started. The suggested Act is long at 603 pages but an 80% reduction from what we have now with removal of massive duplication and simplification. The draft act is base around a small number of key concepts such as ‘development’ and ‘planning permission’ – these key concepts are explained up front rather than in section 50+ as in the current act. Rather than numerous definition of key concepts like ‘England’ (Seven I counted in current legislation) there is one. Rather than numerous similar concepts like ‘permission in principle’, LDO, Outline permission etc. there is one. It goes on. The new codified system would be much simpler to apply. No longer similar slightly different concepts for planning, listed building, ancient monument, tree, adverts, hazardous substances control there is one. Planning Permissions become modular, notices being able to include orders (as in the 2008 Act), the nonsenses of notices and counter notices goes, we simply have one concept of ‘appeal’. Plans are called plans not ‘documents’, lets calls a spade a spade. Silly things that caselaw cant be included in planning conditions such as affordable housing schemes and car capped schemes, are included. The duties of the Secretary of State are clarified, no longer meddling in casework (always suspect on transparency grounds) but responsible to Parliament to meeting national objectives such as housebuilding and achieving net zero and net gain. It enables and incentivizes zoning but doesn’t force it, that would be a very bad idea, it needs to happen first in the biggest masterplanned sites. It reforms ‘outline’ permissions and its archaic ‘reserved matters; with a modernised system of permission in principle and parameter plans that mimics modern practice in masterplanning and form based zoning/design coding. But the best advice I can give is just dive in and explore.

The hardest thing is cross-referencing. I would be grateful of some proof reading on that. Ideally you only finalise that when the final bill is needed. Many schedules will be needed but ideally far fewer than previous acts as many of these simply amended non codified legislation.

Its not possible sadly to junk many of the acts as these still apply in Wales and Scotland and many cases simply modify past land compensation law.; but at the very least practitioners will be able to carry round what they need in one paperback book sized document. Unless planning is simplified and codified it will be too complicated to reform and be implemented.

What to do with it? Well I hope lawyers and planners will read it and make comments. Its an open source document released on an MIT licence. What I hope also is that it gives ideas with the MHCLG and they take the brave but necessary move of publishing a draft Planning Reform Bill.

Ros Coward in Guardian – The Dangerous Myths of the Avocado Super Nimbys

There is nothing worse than a Nimby denying there is anything wrong with being a Nimby and then peddling their usual long discredited myths.

Ros Coward Guardian

[developers]…spin a narrative that the planning system – manipulated by obstructive nimbys – prevents much-needed homes for the less well-off from being built. 

But the narrative is of course nonsense. The crisis in housing is not of capacity but of affordability. Outside urban areas, the vast majority of houses being built are four- to five-bedroom executive-style housing on greenfield sites: completely out of the reach of first-time buyers or those on council waiting lists.

Such houses, the wrong houses on the wrong sites, won’t bring prices down. Especially when other government policies, such as help to buy and stamp duty holidays, inflate them.

Nonsense such housing is unaffordable because we aren’t building enough houses leaving only the richest able to afford them. If we forced all houses to be built as affordable only but increase house building then the most well off would still be active in the housing market driving house prices up ever further as they would be forced to bid on existing housing stock rather than new housing. Also even executive housing reduces overall prices through the ‘filtering effect’ which means that removal of those buying new homes enables, at the margin, the poorest marginal new house buyer to enter the market, most likely through buying run down existing stock and upgrading up. (note this is a triple up supply side effect not a trickle down demand side effect). What is more this narrative is not spun mainly by developers. Large oligopolistic house buildingers are not baying for reform but progressives, in the states the YIMBY movement is largely left wing.

Nor is it correct that locals have successfully been blocking planning consent. The government claims we must build 1m new homes – but a million houses already have planning permission, yet remain unbuilt. The real villains are the developers and land agents, who increasingly negotiate planning permission and then sell on the land to developers, who control its release for building. It’s not nimbys but profitability that determines when and where building happens.

No we consent only around 60% of the 300k houses we need and have done (net of demolitions) since the war. We consent less than any other developed nation, and have the most expensive housing, no coincidence. 1 million unbuilt homes is less than 4 years supply – plans need to plan for at least 15-30 years – and largely needed to maintain a supply chain of consents by housebuilders. There is a problem of housebuilders limiting supply to maintain an ‘absorption rate’ which planning reform will help as it will break large sites up to many smaller builders, as on the continent, but even if the absorption rate problem was solved we would still need more unbuilt permissions in the future to maintain a stock of future consents. This NIMBY fallacy is a classic case of confusing stocks (unbuilts) and flows (permissions). The problem is the flow of permission is too low.

Dismissing anyone who opposes this as a nimby allows developers to present themselves as holding the moral high ground. Nimbys are anti-progress refuseniks, they say, while developers are good for the economy, bringing improved infrastructure and even environmental gains. Yet anyone who has been involved in a local campaign will tell you how rarely developers contribute to local infrastructure, and how frequently finished developments can differ from original plans. The proportion of affordable housing is invariably the first casualty, renegotiated downwards as soon as planning permission is achieved.

This is a silly zero sum game fallacy. Developers are often bad people therefore development is bad. Logically it doesn’t follow. No Nimbys are bad people also because they have dangerous wrong ideas, like eugenicists they are just plane wrong on the facts and there ideas on development HAS to be discredited by the progressive left otherwise it will have the worst distributional impacts on the worst off. Which is why I call the NIMBYs, Avocado NIMBYs, brown on the inside and green on the outside, and often allying whenever they can, which we see all around the world, with keep out the oiks and poor, blood and soil nationalists.

As for biodiversity benefits, the country is littered with housing developments with failed gestures towards habitat creation – dried-up ponds and dead saplings in plastic tubes. In a campaign I am involved with to save York Gardens in Wandsworth, the developer’s plans initially retained a magnificent, protected mature black poplar tree. But once local consultees had dispersed, thinking their beloved tree was safe, developer Taylor Wimpey returned to the planning committee insisting that the route they now needed for their cables involved felling the tree.

So because it often goes wrong we shouldn’t even try to enhance biodiversity as part of new development? Again no logic here, its a council of despair. There are hundreds of example of transformational biodiversity net gain schemes, for example the largest carbon capture project in the UK, the creation of new slat marshes at Wallingsea island, was created through spoil from construction of HS1.

Fundamentally, these campaigns are about the wider issue of biodiversity protection. What matters to each of them is the protection of everyday nature – those undesignated green spaces and natural resources that attract visitors, which support wildlife and help combat climate change. Many of these sites are worryingly vulnerable. They have no formal protection, there’s often no data on the wildlife there, and developers often regard them as vacant lots.

There are many valued local green spaces, but national planning policy sets clear standards of what characteristics they must have to protect. What Ros is arguing here is dismiss these and protect every blade of grass just because someone nearby wants to stop development on it. The truth is the vast majority of new wildlife areas, now parks and new children’s play areas are created as part of new development. The vast majority of new development on greenfield sites takes place on fields where intensive farming has bled all natural value from them, and where national policy and soon the law will require an uplift in biodiversity when they are developed.

Nimby can be used as a convenient, pejorative term to downgrade the importance of wildlife protection while obscuring arguments about who actually benefits from developments and which people lose out. Perhaps we don’t have to abolish the term altogether, but rather repurpose it. Nimby should no longer stand for “not in my back yard” but “nature in my back yard”. Because in my opinion, it’s certainly not a selfish thing to worry about the guardianship of future biodiversity.

Sorry NIMBY you have convinced noone who knows the facts about the economics of housing development, your arguments drip selfishness and privilege. By far the best way to have nature in my back yard is to build millions more backyards.