Like Lying to a Spoilt Child to Avoid A Tantrum – How National Policy on Greenfield Sites Appears to Say One Thing and Means Another

Nick Boles was at least straightforward. We need to build more houses and that means more greenfield sites in local plans.

That scared the horses.

Now politicians appear to imply that is not their policy intent but don’t deny that might be the outcome of implementing their policy.

For example Boris said after the Chesham and Amwersham by-election (FT)

Johnson responded to the by-election loss by claiming there was “misunderstanding” about the reforms. “What we want is sensible plans to allow development on brownfield sites. We’re not going to build on greenbelt sites, we’re not going to build all over the countryside.”

Of course not all over it, but certainly on some of it.

Whilst Jenryk yesterday said

 None of us want to see homes being built on green fields, even less so on the greenbelt.

Of course none of us want to do the ironing, but we have to do it.

Consider NPPG

Where should the cities and urban centres uplift be met?

This increase in the number of homes to be delivered in urban areas is expected to be met by the cities and urban centres themselves, rather than the surrounding areas, unless it would conflict with national policy and legal obligations. In considering how need is met in the first instance, brownfield and other under-utilised urban sites should be prioritised and on these sites density should be optimised to promote the most efficient use of land. This is to ensure that homes are built in the right places, to make the most of existing infrastructure, and to allow people to live nearby the service they rely on, making travel patterns more sustainable.

Paragraph: 035 Reference ID: 2a-035-20201216

Conflict with national policy such as the NPPF para. 61 meeting the identified housing need?

Similarly after you have identified brownfield sites in the first instance, and their arn’t enough, what about the second instance.

Its taking the british public for fools, like not mentioning that you are taking a toddler to the drs for a jab in case they cry.

Don’t Plan for Economic Growth and a Jobs Led Plan – the Standard Method Wont let you Level Up

There was a time when national policy was clear that housing targets were minimums. However one problem with the way the standard method (a good idea badly done) works is that you no longer can plan for larger than demographic growth. According to the local plan you have to stick to the ‘standard method’ unless there are exceptional circumstances.

The baseline of course for the standard method is demographics, which is a backwards based projection, not a forward looking projection. So it bakes in trends, if you haven’t built many houses in the past few will form in the future , if you had economic decline in the past few will have moved there and the population will grown less.

The essence of planning though is to shape trends, in particular where there is economic opportunity for future job growth to plan additional housing, or otherwise you just plan for extended commuting. English planning is replete with examples, particularly Oxford and Cambridge, has resulted in massive extensions to travel to work areas. Hence some areas have been planning for ‘jobs led’ strategy, with additional uplifts to housing numbers as a result. Examples include Cambridgeshire and Oxfordshire in their last local plan rounds. Another is Doncaster, where the uplift is around 50%, another is Darlington.

Darlington of course is the poster child of levelling up and the breaching of the red wall with the location of a treasury outpost. With good road and rail connections it has plans for strong economic growth.

Darlington has huge problems of under enumeration and dodgy population and household projections. For years the ONS suggested its mid year population estimates were stagnant only to find in the 2011 census they weren’t. Yet this didn’t result in better estimates. Also school roll and GP lists suggested far higher population. Its SHMA suggested a figure of 368 dwellings per annum in line with historic rates. Also they added figures for employment growth so the final figure was 422 per annum. The submitted plan though should have explained the components and reasons for variance from the standard method.

NPPG explains some of the circumstances you can go above the standard method.

When might it be appropriate to plan for a higher housing need figure than the standard method indicates?

The government is committed to ensuring that more homes are built and supports ambitious authorities who want to plan for growth. The standard method for assessing local housing need provides a minimum starting point in determining the number of homes needed in an area. It does not attempt to predict the impact that future government policies, changing economic circumstances or other factors might have on demographic behaviour. Therefore, there will be circumstances where it is appropriate to consider whether actual housing need is higher than the standard method indicates.

This will need to be assessed prior to, and separate from, considering how much of the overall need can be accommodated (and then translated into a housing requirement figure for the strategic policies in the plan). Circumstances where this may be appropriate include, but are not limited to situations where increases in housing need are likely to exceed past trends because of:

  • growth strategies for the area that are likely to be deliverable, for example where funding is in place to promote and facilitate additional growth (e.g. Housing Deals);
  • strategic infrastructure improvements that are likely to drive an increase in the homes needed locally; or
  • an authority agreeing to take on unmet need from neighbouring authorities, as set out in a statement of common ground;

There may, occasionally, also be situations where previous levels of housing delivery in an area, or previous assessments of need (such as a recently-produced Strategic Housing Market Assessment) are significantly greater than the outcome from the standard method. Authorities are encouraged to make as much use as possible of previously-developed or brownfield land, and therefore cities and urban centres, not only those subject to the cities and urban centres uplift may strive to plan for more home. Authorities will need to take this into account when considering whether it is appropriate to plan for a higher level of need than the standard model suggests.

Paragraph: 010 Reference ID: 2a-010-20201216
Revision date: 16 12 2020

Now much of this should be policy not guidance. The phrase for example ‘there will be circumstances’ directly contradicts the test of ‘exceptional circumstances’

Of course at the examination this was challenged. No housing deal for the area, not a growth area then. Nothing in the guidance on underenumeration and cross checking with other data when ONS projections are out of date.

Darlington and Stockton Times

CAMPAIGNERS who have spent years battling a local authority’s ambition to build 11,000 new homes in the next 15 years mainly over open countryside say they are optimistic the target could be cut.

After almost 50 hours’ of examination by a government planning inspector, it remains unclear whether Darlington Borough Council will be told by the Planning Inspectorate to change its Local Plan.

The blueprint, which will shape where developments should be built until 2036, has attracted controversy since the previous Labour administration set its housebuilding target, which campaigners claim is far in excess of what will be needed.

The Local Plan was among the main issues fought over before the 2019 election, but the Conservative-run council has not sought to change the target or a proposal to build some 4,500 homes built on countryside north-east of the town at Skerningham.

The authority has insisted the area is needed to bring forward the amount of housing that is needed and that the development would be supported by new services such as schools, public transport and health facilities.

However, over the past five weeks residents and campaigners, supported by Darlington Green Party, have called for “rebalancing of the plan to preserve popular green spaces, wildlife habitats and a community woodland from the threat of house and road building”.

While the council argued the volume of construction is proportionate as well as economically and socially vital for the borough, campaigners told the inspector the proposals were at a “uncontrolled, inappropriate and damagingly unsustainable” scale.

Richard Cowen, of countryside charity CPRE told the inspector the government’s calculated housing need for the borough stood at 177 per year, but the council was aiming to get 490 new houses built annually.

He said while the government’s figure was not a limit, housebuilding should be similar to the government’s projected need unless there are exceptional circumstances. Mr Cowen said: “As a result, extra land may be lost under tarmac that would have a significant impact on biodiversity, particularly farmland birds, a matter that concerned Durham Bird Club.” 

Green Party councillor Matthew Snedker said while it remained unclear whether the campaigners had won any of the arguments, but planning inspector William Fieldhouse had accepted their calculations over housing need. Cllr Snedker said it was a possibility that the Skerningham Garden Village proposal could be removed from the plan as a result. He said: “Mr Fieldhouse accepted that some of the proposed housebuilding sites could come out of the Local Plan and it still remain sound. We left no stone unturned in challenging the plans.”

The inspector is expected to publish his findings in the coming weeks before the Local Plan is adopted by the council in August or September.

Sorry Mr Feldhouse but this would be a great mistake, if areas in historically deprived areas such as Darlington grow and attract more migrants this is exactly what the government’s levelling up agenda aims to achieve. Darlington would , ridiculously, be forced to reduce its housebuilding rate to 2/3rds of what it has been over the last decade.

Also the ugly and contradictory sections on the Method in NPPF and NPPG need to be tidied up, on how the urban uplift works when you don’t have urban capacity is even more of a dogs breakfast which I will devote a future article to.

If jobs led housing strategies are to go unless they are ‘exceptional’ what about Ox-Cam Arc? Where this is the whole point and where current plans are looking beyond growth deal horizons and so the NPPG doesnt apply.

Jenryk Speech marks more pragmatic, cross-party and conciliatory tone on Planning Reform

Part of speech to LGA Annual Conference 6th July 2021

I highlight the key shifts in tone which we have advocated many times here.

First a return to (effectively) government regional offices.

We want every local council to produce a ten, or twenty-year plan for their town, their city or their communities and for government to work with you in a genuinely place-based way. For MHCLG to be your initial port of call, your partner, your champion within government. So, you are not simply working with us on housing, or local government and then the Department for Transport on transport and Education on education and skills and Health on health and equalities but together we take a place-based approach which will be able to yield the greatest results for you to lead that plan for the future of your area.

And on Planning Reform

New planning laws that offer the flexibility to deliver new mixed-use properties are critical to this vision and to meeting our government’s objective to build one million homes over the course of this parliament.

Certainly, every economic recovery in my lifetime – and far beyond – has always been led by housing and construction. Millions of jobs depend upon it.

That’s why housing and planning were central to the ambitious and comprehensive agenda that the Prime Minister set out for the whole country during the Queen’s Speech…

here’s still much more to do.

There’s no question, that the past year has been much harder for people stuck in smaller, substandard homes – or without a home at all – making our mission to address long-standing issues around affordability and delivering homes that meet people’s needs all the more urgent.

That includes the need to reverse the decline in home ownership, which is still out of reach for far too many people.

The property-owning democracy is one of the foundations of our country.

This should go beyond party politics. It is hard to believe that there are still people questioning the need for house building. Arguing in one form or another directly or otherwise that there isn’t a serious shortage of decent housing in this country.

Despite all the polls showing that the vast majority of people in this country aspire to own their home, by the age of 30 those born between 1981 and 2000 are half as likely to be homeowners as those born between 1946 and 1965.

We shouldn’t accept that home ownership should be reserved only for the lucky few. Those born into privilege or born within a previous generation.

I hope we can be serious about bridging this divide and we can do this as far as possible across the party political divide...

I know that councils can do more and want to do more not just in this regard, but to build the homes your communities need and deserve.

That takes us back to the topic of the planning system and how we can ensure sensible and pragmatic reforms that enable the planning system to be modernised and brought into the 21st Century. I don’t think we need to rip up the planning system and start again. I think we need to improve the planning system and I hope we can work together across the party political divide to ensure that a system that is sometimes slow and bureaucratic with poor outcomes and a low level of public trust can be improved for everyone’s benefit.

The planning system reforms announced in the Queen’s Speech aim to do just that, through a simpler, faster, digital, more predictable system that delivers homes, infrastructure like schools, hospitals, roads and Freeports and ensures the planning system is fundamentally modernised to take account of our commitment to Net Zero and the environment.

Let me be clear, the proposals we will bring forward later in the year will be council led. They will also be plan led; in fact the will emphasis plans more than ever before. They will require up to date plans for every local authority because that at the of the day is the foundation of a plan-based system.

It will be for councils to determine how to provide the homes their areas need, with communities having a greater voice from the very start of the planning process.

Our reforms will provide greater certainty over what development is permitted – and where – through clear land allocations in local plans.

They will also say where they don’t want to see house built and what we as communities want to protect including precious green spaces, the green belt, national parks, areas of outstanding national beauty and SSIs.

They will provide greater clarity; replacing complex and quite opaque Section 106 agreements with much more predictable, transparent levies which will be locally set, locally levied which greater flexibility for your as councils to determine how they are spend. That will ensure that more land value uplift is captured for public good, ensuring you as councils have greater revenue to fund more affordable and social housing.

The other litmus test will be if they top the balance in the favour of the small builder and local entrepreneur. The current planning system, although I am sure it is not the favourite system of the big volume housebuilder, nonetheless is one that they know how to navigate. They do so. We want a system which will enable small builders and new entrants to navigate with confidence, creating a far more diverse and competitive housing and construction industry.

And our reforms will make the planning system more accessible through digital plan-making; ensuring more local people – more than the 1% who currently engage with plan making – can get involved.

Local people can see what’s happening in their area and have their say at the swipe of a smart phone, reconnecting them to a planning system that serves them.

In all, we’re taking power out of the hands of the big developers. We’re ensuring that there are fewer lawyers and consultants involved in the planning system and giving it back to local communities, to small builders and to democratically elected local councillors. .

We will also consider new ways of ensuring that sites build out as expected. Something that drives a great deal of public mistrust and frustration with the current planning system. And which through my many conversations with councils and councillors, I know is a serious area of concern for you.

In addition, our reforms will empower local people to set standards for beauty and design in their area through local design codes reflecting their area’s unique aesthetics, culture and heritage, with tree lined streets accompanying new developments.

An approach – reinforced by changes we intend to make to the National Planning Policy Framework – that will put beauty, for the very first time, at the heart of the planning system.

And we are now establishing the Office for Place, led by Nicholas Boys Smith, who worked with Sir Roger Scruton on the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission which aims to help local authorities across the country create user-friendly, effective design codes for their communities.

We’ve announced the 14 councils who will test this new approach and will bring forward further pilots over the course of the summer to ensure councils are ready to do this at scale when the new revised planning system comes into play. So that those design codes and masterplans are not unusual, inspired outliers or the things that you see in particularly impressive local estates like the Duchy of Cornwall, but something that is ubiquitous and present in all of our daily lives.

In short, our aim is to give councillors control over what to build where; replacing jargon-laden and technical documents running to thousands of pages with readily-understandable, easy to navigate, succinct assessments; creating the design codes and masterplans reflecting the genuine preferences of the community and extending participation to anyone with a smartphone.

This is about creating beautiful homes and neighbourhoods that instil (sic) pride and that are built to last.

It’s about empowering local communities to shape their future in real, practical, ways.

It’s about returning planning and planners to the social and moral mission that it originally aspired to be.

Something I hope we can all sign up to.

Compare the line ‘

I don’t think we need to rip up the planning system and start again.

With Boris with the forward to the White Paper

tear it down and start again….That is what this paper proposes….a whole new planning system for England.

I do wish Jenryk learned how to use an apostrophe.

Many of the key White paper proposals are there in the speech, apart from the silly proposal to abolish any semblance of strategic planning. The key components are there even zoning, but softer language is used,

Our reforms will provide greater certainty over what development is permitted – and where – through clear land allocations in local plans.‘ how else could the later references to enabling masterplanning and design codes in local plans make sense, or more competition from new entrants and SMEs. The reference to SMEs was weak referring only to navigation of system rather than getting more plots from a zoning and subdivision based system, but the latter point is very hard to make in a short speech.

So AT LAST the kind of pragmatic reform we have advocated here is being delivered, and hopefully on the model we have advocated here. Lets hope the two extra months to craft a response – hopefully a real white paper (not the green paper equivalent we got) and a draft bill in Sept. and a full bill in January.

On final thing just who was it who was advocating this more cross party pragmatic approach to reform, with a road map of how to do so.

Only here. The response of the vast majority of the planning profession, and pressure groups was ‘duh…how will this work’. Only by understanding of how different planning systems work can any progress be made.

Correction: Highways England PD Rights for Infilling Bridges

Last week I made a post on whether Highways England could infill under bridges. I was wrong. The PD right only applies to the highways authority. These bridges were granted by the DOT as liabilities several years ago. For the most part roads running over them are not maintained by Highways England. Rather the PD right they quote is in the Act, for ’emergency works’ by statutory undertakers, which includes Highways England as a ‘strategic highways company’.

But apparently they are wrong as they are using in many cases the wrong structural engineering standard. It would appear the easiest way to save them is for the highways authority to out on a weight limit. As Highways England may have submitted false information to Penrith there may even be legal grounds for revoking the certificate and taking enforcement action (as recently happened in Islington.

Full story here

Planners, please chide me for such silly mistakes.