How to Stop Zero Plotting

House of Lords Built Environment Report on Meeting Housing Demand

Zero plotting is when housebuilders plot streets using suburban house types
as tightly as possible. Design for Homes informed us that these schemes allow
no space for soft landscaping at the front of the house and the streets tend
to have no verge or tree planting. This allows the developer to maximise
their land bid and win the tender. David Birkbeck explained that these
homes were previously built at 12,000 square feet to the acre and are now
built at 17,000 square feet to the acre. He remarked that builders “work
out how to build the maximum number of units with absolutely nothing
except for the minimum depth of garden allowed … and enough space for
two parking bays on plot to the front of the property” and suggested that
the business models of several companies are based on this practice. Homes
England does not allow its land to be sold to developers who adopt zero
plotting. We heard evidence that mid-rise developments use space effectively
to provide medium density dwellings and have less of a harmful impact on
the surrounding environment

Zero Plotting meaning Zero land left over after roads, footways, rear gardens and front parking.

If you assume two storeys then clearly the developer who pushes closest to zero plotting will achieve the greatest number of units and most likley to win a tender. Zero plotting is a symptomn of basic bulk zoning controls in British Planning that would guarantee space for greenspace on the frontage of the public realm. Of possible controls density is the crudest and least effective. Next is floospace area ratio, though that is only moderately less crude. Next and best is a proper design code (form based) with rules on Street Row (guaranteeing trees on appropriate non urban typologies) and front gardens on units with a villa or urbs in rus identity. Finally Urban Greenspace Factors and maximum plot coverage ratios can be effective, but like sensible FAR controls they should be based on measures which include half of the width of the frontage road added to the plot size denominator.

It is perhaps indicative of the failure of design controls in Engalnd that they became reduced to measures which only controlled adjoining amenity, and not quality (like minimum garden depth), and then mandated suburban solutions.

The Times Gets it Wrong no Planning White Paper U Turn

The Times typically bad reporting on planning

Homeowners will still be able to object to individual planning applications after the government confirmed a U-turn on its intended reforms to the system.

Homeowners will still be able to object to individual planning applications after the government confirmed a U-turn on reforms to the system.

Ministers had planned to replace the planning application process with a zonal system and mandatory housebuilding targets, stripping homeowners of their right to object.

The Times reported in September that the shake-up of planning laws was to be abandoned after a backlash from voters and Conservative MPs in southern England. A change of approach from the government, however, was contained in a submission to the Lords built environment committee.

In the report it said: “There will be a continuing role for public consultation as part of the planning application process. Even where the broad principle of development is agreed . . . all the details would still need to be consulted on with communities and statutory consultees, and approved by officers or committees where appropriate.”

The government’s submission added: “Our reforms will give communities a greater voice from the start of the planning process … We also want to see more democratic accountability, with communities having a more meaningful say on the development schemes which affect them, not less.”

In response to the move, Tom Fyans, director of campaigns at the countryside charity the CPRE, said: “It appears the government now genuinely understands the need for local communities to have a powerful voice in planning decisions. These are encouraging signs that suggest a fundamental change of approach when it comes to determining what gets built where.”

The Lords report warned that ministers would not hit their target of building 300,000 new homes a year unless they stopped dithering over planning reforms. The cross-party committee said that uncertainty and delays in overhauling the system had had a “chilling effect” on housebuilding.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe, chairwoman of the committee, said: “The most important aspect in terms of housing supply is planning. Frankly all the twisting and turning over reform has had a chilling effect, creating uncertainty for housebuilders and planners.

“The government needs to bite the bullet and actually build housing of all types and tenures.”

The report said: “The challenges facing the housing market have been well documented: too many people are living in expensive, unsuitable, poor-quality homes. To address these complex challenges in the long term it is necessary to increase housing supply now.”

Local councils should be forced to come up with a plan for their area, Neville-Rolfe said, as more than half do not have an up-to-date strategy for building more homes.

Help to Buy, the government’s flagship homeownership scheme, is criticised for pushing up prices. The £29 billion cost of the scheme would “be better spent on increasing housing supply”, the committee said.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “We share the ambition to reform the planning system to meet the demand for more high-quality homes and create a fairer housing market. We delivered more than 216,000 homes in England in 2020-21, well above the 186,500 forecast for the whole of the UK, and are investing a further £12 billion in affordable housing over the next five years.”

What this shows is no u-turn – it simply was the Planning White Paper was so badly drafted the point wasnt clear. In zoning system you still need permission for a design, unless, as now, a design code would grant you permission on compliant design. This is simply doing what the government botched in drafting the White Paper – selling what a zoning system is and how it works. In fact this is the first full indication from Gove that he is not ditching a zoning system – whilst spinning to Nimby backbencher that it is a u-turn. It isnt.

Your Kids will Have to Move to Take Low Paid Jobs in Amazon Warehouses in the North of England – Gove’s Authoritarian Favoured Change to the Standard Method

Govy has talked about how the governments aims to achieve a fairer and more equitable distribution of need across the country, by which of course he means some adjustment in the standard method to achieve more housing in ‘levelling up’ areas and less in Blue Walls ‘overheating’ seats in the South East.

As we have talked many times in this blog a shift towards a Jobs led approach, and away from a trend based housing led approach is a good thing. Planning always starts with planning for future economic development. The jobs you need, where areas need to grow and where you need to put the houses and infrastructure to provide them. If you merely plan to grow areas that have grown in the past you cause two problems, firstly there are limits to fast growth in some areas. A good example in Peterborough which is close to reaching the maximum limits of expansion set by the fens, its growth will have to slow down. I am very skeptical when the PM talks about overheating in some areas as that overheating has been caused by 50 years of failing to plan for housing and supporting infrastructure at the scale and locations needed. Build enough of both and their is no overheating. None the less there are limits in some places as to where infrastructure cannot be expanded without excessive cost (a good but extreme example is the Isles of Scilly where you cannot expand fresh water supply without desalination, so there is a ban on all new housing). You also see an extreme example in Beijing where they finally realised that there were diminishing returns from the economies of agglomeration – building a 10th, 11th 12th ring road etc. Previously on this blog we theorised that a cities optimum size is where the urban economies of agglomeration were not exceeded by the geometrically increasing costs of new infrastructure as a city increases in footprint. Much of the productivity puzzle in British Cities can be explained by cities other than London not achieving the urban economies and productivity gains of similarly sized European Cities because of appalling public transport networks.

The second problem is that it confines areas which have declined or grown slowly in the past to permanent second division status. Here as we have stressed many times on here the NPPF and NPPG is woolly on when where and how jobs led housing growth can be justified, leading to some appalling inconsistencies by PINS at local plan examinations (such as between Darlington – deemed not a growth area, and Doncaster- which was .

When you move towards a jobs led approach however you are in the realm of strategic, regional and national planning whether you like it or not. The assumptions you make in an algorithm are in effect, whether you like it or not, regional and national planning policy making.

In a local plan formed around a functional market area it is fairly easy, you can shift growth to where you need it. At a strategic or wider regional level you can do also. For example the former South East plan suppressed growth West of London and added extra numbers in the Thames Gateway, but the infrastructure plan to unlock that growth never came. The assumption being presumably that over time as jobs grew in one area and housing was constrained to less than need in another there would be internal migration.

The key factor here that this is very long term. It is and can never be a ‘quick fix’ to the ‘Amersham Effect’ of trying to suppress number in the Blue Wall. Also over time the numbers really add up, take West Midlands for example where the official LEP economic growth forecasts imply a new city the size of Milton Keynes over 30 years to meet them. There has been of course debates since the second world war about whether growth in Brum should be constrained or accommodated, with one recent author for the Policy Exchange claiming Brums population should double by 2040. The bare minimum a SoS has to decide is which areas are growth areas and which are constraint areas. Take Oxford and Cambridge for example where 20 years of constraint policy after the war were a disaster in setting back the UKs competitive advantage in research based fields.

Lets take a hyopthetical model where standard method numbers were jobs led in some levelling up areas (which will include some coastal areas in the South, East and South East) and the numbers were pro-rata reduced in others.) Lets keep international migration levels fixed or even for the sake of the model assumed low or zero. Then with the job growth area and a broadly fixed population there has to be net internal migration sufficient to match the job growth AND counter existing net internal outmigration trends. Lets then look at job growth trends in the areas at the edge of cities in the Midlands and North most in need of levelling up. These have mostly been in the logistics sector. Note the recent SoS raft of decisions releasing land in the Green Belt in the North West for Big Shed led development. Some were PDL (former coalmines) in the Green Belt. Try finding a site for a big shed logistics park outside the Green Belt within an existing urban footprint anywhere in England. Though there has been growth in some sectors such as banking and insurance (such as Leeds and Sheffield (where I live) this has typically been London firms shifting lower paid back office jobs. Similarly service sector job growth in city centres in the north, such as selling bubble tea to students are universally low paid.

So the message for children of the middle classes in Amersham, Fleet etc. is simple, move north and earn far less or stay south and live with your parents forever.

In the past these choices were masked as EU migration filled the low paid jobs, now the rapidly downwardly mobile middle classes are supposed to fill them, much like the genteel poverty enjoyed by the children of the former governing classes of empire in England much of the early and mid 20th Century. The PMs own daughter (who works as a waitress) is the classic example.

How Gove is Repeating All of John Prescott’s Greatest Planning Policy Mistakes

History repeats itself, ‘first as tragedy, second as farce’ as a certain well known German writer said. No more so than in the field of Planning Policy, where we are now in the third round of what might be termed the ‘Grove Prescott Cycle’.

This cycle plays out as follows:

  • Government (of whatever colour) announces ‘planning reform’
  • Opposition (of whatever colour) denounces reform (whatever is proposed) as a ‘developers charter’
  • CPRE launches a national campaign opposing any reform
  • The Daily Telegraph publishes photographs of concreting of Green Belt – in each and every case of sites 10s or 100s of miles outside the Green Belt
  • The Government U-Turns
  • Announces Priority for ‘Brownfield First’
  • Housing Completions fall off a cliff, local plan making and housing numbers in local plans are reduced
  • After a couple of years the Treasury panics and announces a economic review after 2-3 years, worried about overheating of housing markets and falling off of construction as proportion of GDP
  • Government (of whatever colour) announces ‘planning reform’
  • Rinse Repeat ad nauseum

This is the ‘Gove Prescott Cycle’ but its origins go back to Patrick Jenkin and even to the 1960sas governments have reigned back of housing targets as household formation forecasts were undershot because households only form into houses that are built.

You might recognise this as an example of Nauhaus’s ‘political business cycle‘ fluctuation of economic activity due to intervention of political actors in an election cycle.

It is striking just how much Govy is repeating point by point all of the great political mistakes of John Prescott’s time at the ODPM.

You can read an excellent summary of this time by Matthew Spry on Lichfields Blog and Andrew Pritchard In Chapter 3 of the English Regional Planning 2000-10, edited by Corinne Swain, Tim Marshall, and Tony Baden.

Research by Savills in 2004 indicated that the immediate effect of PPG3 was to ‘restrict greenfield availability rather than increase the availability or capability of development of brownfield sites’ – which in turn had implications for land prices and housing supply

The Barker Review of Housing Supply Interim Report (2003) observed that:“The sequential test introduced in PPG 3 requires local authorities to release land for housing development in an order of preference that prioritises brownfield sites. It is not the intention of the policy to restrict land supply but some local authorities appear to have overinterpreted it to the detriment of housing being delivered. Indeed research from ODPM supports this point, arguing that local planning authorities understand ‘brownfield first’ but also erroneously believe PPG3 says ‘greenfield never’.The ‘prematurity of sites’ is often a reason for the refusal or delay of applications for housing developments. However, priority sites may not always be immediately available or suitable for development. In some local authorities, this policy is used to block development rather than actively manage the release of land.”

The Sequential ‘brownfield first’ approach failed and barely lasted three years (2000-2003) before the Barker review forced changes. Against a background where the political priority was reducing greenfield development it became a policy of ratcheting down greenfield not ratcheting up overall supply. The policy contained a number of overall flaws:

  • It failed to make the fundamental modelling distinction between stock and flow of previously developed housing sites and did not consider cases (the majority in the South East) where the stock or flow of deliverable housing sites was sufficient to maintain and increase supply
  • It failed to consider deliverability, viability and point of availability of sites
  • The 5 year horizon was far too short for strategic sites
  • The Plan Monitor and Manage approach never worked for large sites which need certainty of infrastructure and financing to get started at all. It was a drip feed approach which instead needed a breaching of the dams.
  • The money to deliver the most difficult brownfield sites never came
  • It failed to understand between the geographical distinction between spread of housing need and distribution of brownfield sites
  • It not not understand the relative scarcity of Brownfield sites which then accounted nationally for less than 1/3rd of national need over 20 years (and since has fallen as the easiest brownfield sites have been developed and the rate of brownfield sites coming forward has slowed due to the reversal of deindustrialisation).

Prescott though planning across a 20 years horizon was ridiculous as after 20 years urban renaissance would sweep the north, and hence planned housing in the South East could undershoot. He was wrong, most northern major cities did revive but south-north migration was very low. They simply added to and did not displace housing need. Prescott was mightily annoyed with Proffers Stephen Crows report on the draft RPG9 for not trying hard enough to meet housing need in full and lacking evidence that it could not be done. Of course it could be done with good planning and effort. Similarly Gove in his words to the DLU select committee criticized planning inspectors for criticising planning authorities for ‘lacking sophistication’ in dealing with local housing requirements. The truth being that experts saw through the Nimby bullshit being whispered in the SoS’s ear (just like Prescott) of an incoming and entirely lacking in sophistication, expertise and experience secretary of State. There is a planning golden rule here. When ministers criticise PINS it is because they are not following a nonsensical and unevidenced political dictat that inspectors are supposed to guess (in this case from reading the runes of a bizarre ‘build back beaver’ conference speech) that hasn’t yet been translated into written planning policy.

Prescott’s remaining Grace was the regional housing targets as a backstop, but their abolition by Pickles led to a further lost half dozen years as strategic sites were again kicked into the long grass. Notably Prescott revealed in his memoirs that his early years housing policies were a great mistake. As will Govy im sure when Truss relegates him to the House of Lords

Now policy seems to be dominated by the ‘Piers Corbyn’ false prophet of bullshit to the Nimbys Ian Mulheirn  whose ideas are accepted by almost no other figure in the housing economics field and seems to think that speculation on housing and financialization is the cause of high house prices not scarcity, omitting the simple fact that no commodity is speculated on unless it is scarce. Promoting the simple bonkers insane idea we have a surplus of households over housing, ommitting the circular nature of household formation which has falled because of a shortage of houses for people to move into. Why are such nutters listed to – politicians listen to him for the same reason antivaxers listed to Corbyn – they confirm the conspiracies, wispers and prejudices held by certain groups – in this case Nimby cllrs and Mps.

There are lessons here –

  • to stick firmly to the policy measures in the centre of the Gove-Prescott Cycle – focussing both on unlocking brownfield sites and increasing housing numbers
  • Large Greenfield New Settlements with delivery mechanisms running across multiple electoral cycles will always be needed
  • Attempting to shove Housing Numbers around the Board from North to South like a giant game of Risk never works, policies which cap below jobs led need anywhere will simply crush completions
  • A long term strategic planning approach to determining numbers is needed
  • Regional planning needs to be based on functional city or county regions not artificial regions based only on linguistic differences
  • Planning for large sites must proceed at local, sub-regional and regional level in parallel, otherwise large sites will take 20 years or more to progress
  • Don’t oversell planning reform and don’t overreact and panic to the inevitable Nimby backlash
  • Don’t disrupt plan making by changes, any change will be used as a faux excuse to slow down and reverse the release of land
  • Don’t listen to false prophets and unrepresentative AstroTurf Nimby groups; you will regret it in your memoirs.
  • A long terms approach, spanning decades, is needed for strategic infrastructure unlocking strategic growth.

If your priority is to increase development (not simply the proportion of a falling quantum of completions) on brownfield sites you focus actions and spending on such sites. If your priority is to reduce development on Greenfield sites then ‘Brownfield first’ simply becomes an excuse, a prop for policies that simply reduce development overall. As we find from close study of sites over long horizons it doesn’t actually prevent development of the best strategic Greenfield sites, it simply postpones them, altering the phasing into someone else’s administration. You see the real motivation by many suburban Nimby MPs who wnat to reduce housebuilding in cities also. There priority is not brownfield more but all housing less.

The false narrative is that developers neglect Borwnfield sites because they are cherry picking more profitable Greenfield sites. By the same stupid logic you should criticise farmers for farming the best agricultural land rather than expensively reclaiming the most boggy land, and if farmers produce less food overall and are less profitable and can reinvest less in improving productivity. Of course all land has a margin beyond which some sites are unviable, and the most profitable sites are developed first. Many brownfield sites are the most profitable, as they are central and well serviced and you often don’t have to pay for new infrastrastructure (though not always). The fact that we dont see far more brownfield development is that a) there isnt enough of it, and here all the evidence, even from CPRE research, shows there isnt enough to hit a 300k a year target, and b) much of it is unviable. Given Sunaks unwillingness to massively invest in brownfield recovery (which has an opportunity cost, such as developing rapid transit and infrastructure on well located sites) a brownfield first policy is simply a housing less policy, or simply a ‘dont upset the Nimbys’ policy.

Govys Coach Trip

 With the enduring TV show shifted off dry land and onto a 2,500-passenger Med cruise ship 'it's guaranteed to befull of sun, sea and sass'
Fresh from a wild night clubbing, Govy takes Cllrs on a coach trip to a windfarm to count all the dead birds the operator cleaned up the day before

DBIS Community Engagement and benefits and Onshore Wind

Online parish polls and coach trips to see other windfarms, are two examples of how developers can go the extra mile to make the development real for people, to reach beyond and supplement typical, traditional methods of engagement:
Coach trips to see other windfarms
‘“We offered free coach trips to see windfarms. For some people, it was just a day out. It was just a free coach trip really, they didn’t really care too much about our windfarm development.
“But then when one or two letters appeared in the local newspaper saying that windfarms kill birds and stuff like that, some of the people who had been on coach trip wrote into the newspapers and said, no they don’t, we’ve actually been to one and didn’t see any dead birds.” (Developer)

The Planning Committee votes

Vale of White Horse – The End of the Oxfordshire Growth Deal

Vale of White Horse in its local plan review is abandoning the ‘jobs led’ housing figure embodied in the Oxfordshire Growth Deal for the much lower standard method. This implies if jobs do grow in Oxfordshire as much as forecast than it will require much longer and carbon hungry commuting.

But the Oxfordshire Growth Deal was already dead, The districts has not met it by failing to agree a strategic plan for Oxfordshire as agreed in the deal, hence government had withdrawn the special concessions (three year housing land supply) in the deal. The writing was on the wall when three of the five Oxfordshire districts voted in anti growth coalitions last May. The ‘Growth Board’ might even get a new name as growth is now a dirty word.

Noises from government says growth deals are going. They were hostages to fortune. Never had clear governance on who leads on them and were bad politics in only covering part of devolution. However the growth deals were the main means for delivering higher targets in the Arc – so where now? They also transformed the effectiveness of transport and infrastructure planning in Oxfordshire and Cambridgeshire with the money that flowed, compare with the one man and a do operations in most counties. They made the planning of locations like Bicester Garden Town and Northstowe effective.

So now we have a vacume. The Oxford-Cambridge Arc strategy has been slowing to a crawl and under Gove one wonders if it will grind to a halt. Again a loose contract dependent on unanimity is no substitute for hard binding startegic planning arrangaments.

The two things that might emerge are firstly a wider and more central adoption of ‘jobs led’ planning and secondly new mechanisms for strategic planning. Both though require a firm agenda for planning reform. So you might as well tell the last rights for the Oxford Cambridge Arc because if you are relaying on a form positive agenda for planning reform you could be waiting a very, very long time.

Junior Transport Minister – Owning a car ‘Outdated 20th Century Thinking’

Daily Mail

Owning a car could become a fad of the past, a government minister claimed this week.

Junior transport minister Trudy Harrison, 45, told a sustainability conference owning a car was outdated ’20th-century thinking’ and the country should move to ‘shared mobility’ to cut carbon emissions.

Almost 80 per cent of households in the UK own a car according to figures by Statista for 2020.

Ms Harrison, who is also a former parliamentary private secretary to Boris Johnson, said the UK was ‘reaching a tipping point where shared mobility in the form of car clubs, scooters and bike shares will soon be a realistic option for many of us to get around.’

She told a virtual audience at shared transport charity CoMoUK what the country needed was a move away from ’20th-century thinking centred around private vehicle ownership and towards greater flexibility, with personal choice and low carbon shared transport’.

‘Changing the way people consider car ownership and dependency will take time,’ Ms Harrison said.

Ms Harrison, who is also a former parliamentary private secretary to Boris Johnson, said the UK was ‘reaching a tipping point where shared mobility in the form of car clubs, scooters and bike shares will soon be a realistic option for many of us to get around’

Yet she added: ‘Many things seem far fetched until they aren’t and I believe the same is true for shared mobility.

Cars are responsible for approximately 13 per cent of Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The Conservatives said they would reduce emissions to net zero by 2050 and have committed £5 billion to ‘greener’ transport such as walking and cycling.

One way of achieving this is by the banning of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030.

E-scooters are also expected to be made legal on UK roads to promote a greener way of getting about.

New Research – Each LPA needs an extra 4-5 large Sites to Hit Government 300k target

Litchfields

Feeding the Pipeline …– looks at how many additional implementable planning permissions on sites are needed to boost housing delivery from 243,770 net additional homes (2019/20) to achieve ambitions of delivering 300,000 net additional homes per annum across England. It does this by exploring how 10 of the country’s largest housebuilders draw upon their land pipelines to bring forward new homes, illustrating how many additional planning permissions will be necessary for the housebuilding sector as a whole to scale-up their delivery to achieve the national 300,000 homes per annum ambition.

The research shows that, with generally short pipelines held by housebuilders equivalent to 3.3 years’ output and each ‘outlet’ delivering on average 45 homes each year, to bridge the gap to 300,000 net additional homes will require additional sites – or ‘outlets’ – being granted planning permission. The scale-up needed is equivalent to each District in England granting permission for an extra 4 to 5 medium sized sites per year, or alternatively 4 to 5 large sites which deliver each year over a longer period, in addition to continuing to approve its usual ambient level of permissions being granted.

Why listening to Nimbys is Statistically Proven to lead to Bad Unrepresentative Decisions

Standard Error Reblogged

There is a popular sentiment that local control is closest to the people and will be most representative of local interest. An emerging strand of research on local politics, especially with regards to land use decisions, is centered on the empirical reality that local politics is often less representative of local interests than state or federal politics. Instead, it is often dominated by local busybodies who have the combination of vested interests and free time to show up at local city council meetings and complain.

These local busybodies are less-judgmentally known as “neighborhood defenders”, after the 2019 political science book [Amazon]. The authors find that the adoption of practices centered around local community input and control tend to be dominated by small groups of residents. These residents tend to be motivated to participate by a high degree of attachment to the status quo, and coordinate effectively to block new housing or indeed policy change of any sort. When the local government opens up a public hearing on new development to community input – at 8 PM on a school night – these neighborhood defenders are the community who show up to give their input. Even when the community would benefit as a whole from new housing, the fact that local government is dominated by “who shows up” often means that the more local a government the more it can be swayed by idiosyncratic individuals.

Pin by Aubree Newton on funny movie/tv show quotes | Parks n rec, Parks and  recreation, Parks and recs

The method by which local governments solicit public input on housing policy could charitably be described as a “convenience sample” [Wikipedia], which is exactly what it sounds like. I’d go even further to say that it represents an adverse selection [Wikipedia] problem, in that it is accidentally designed to draw input from people who do not accurately represent the public’s opinions. (Who shows up to a public meeting to comment on housing development? Not a normal person). This is why being seen as development-friendly is political death in most local governments, even though a large majority of the public supports building more housing in their community [Cato].

Ultimately, you can consider the near-lockdown on home construction in most of America’s cities as a function of terrible sampling practices. Land use is one of the most important decisions a community can make, so it is only right that decisions are made with community interests and input in mind. However, the mechanism that most local governments have settled on to sample the community to assess their interests is…really bad. It has led to policy outcomes that diverge further and further from actual public opinion.