Geoffry Lean – Productivity Plan will put Countryside More at Risk


There are few greater scandals in Britain than the housing crisis. Every year we are building less than half the new houses we need, and prices are continuing to rise. The young are particularly hard hit: a few years agoShelter reported that two and a half million people were putting off starting families because they did not have a home of their own.

Housebuilding can also be a vital spur to growth. Constructing hundreds of thousands of homes helped Britain survive the 1930s depression, and was at the root of the Brazilian economic miracle four decades ago. Some years back the Centre for Economic and Business Research calculated that trebling housebuilding would create over 200,000 new jobs and increase GDP by £75 billion.

So George Osborne is absolutely right to focus on housing as one of the key issues in his “productivity plan” published today. But if he is to get the nation building again he will have to avoid the mistakes of the coalition government, which provoked widespread resistance, not least on the Tory backbenches, through proposing a virtual free-for-all through its controversial planning reforms. The National Policy Planning Framework(NPPF), when finally published, was a more sensible document than originally drafted, thanks largely to a campaign by the Telegraph, but many rural areas were still placed under siege and backbench protests intensified. George Osborne was right

In themselves, the reforms did far less than expected to increase housebuilding. Claims in today’s document that they are “working” because “planning permissions and housing starts are at seven year highs” should be taken with a large pinch of sodium chloride. The increase appears to be largely to do with the recovery from recession, with some assistance fromthe Government’s Help to Buy programme.

And any growth that has happened has been at the cost of public alienation against which the Conservatives themselves warned before the 2010 election, saying that bad planning “gives local communities little option but to rebel against Whitehall – and all too often against the notion of development itself” .That is what happened, and in spades, making much-needed housebuilding even more difficult.

So the Chancellor needs a different approach, and there are some signs that he has learned some lessons. The biggest among them is a new focus on brownfield land, rather than open countryside, for development –something long urged by this newspaper. This is a big U-turn. The last government scrapped longstanding targets, under successive administration, for building on previously developed land that had saved open countryside, stretching in total over an area seven times the size of Southampton. It also stopped keeping complete records of brownfield land after 2010, and the term did not even feature in the draft NPPF.

It has been back in fashion, however, since last summer, when Mr Osborne called for an “urban planning revolution”, and today’s document gives some idea of how he plans to accomplish it. Legislation will be brought in to establish new, statutory, registers of previously developed land suitable for housing and to grant automatic planning permission in principle on the sites identified in them, giving England a ‘zonal’ system for development, as is in place in many other countries.

This is broadly to be welcomed, but with some caveats. Planning experts say that countries with zonal systems usually have quite tight constraints on, for example, the design and quality of what can be built on them; abolishing the need for planning permission, without putting something of the sort in place, risks merely constructing tomorrows slums. And more than a few brownfield sites are important for wildlife: two evocatively named species – the Streaked Bombadier Beetle and the Distinguished Jumping Spider – entirely depend on them. Ending the need for planning permission puts it at greater risk.

Also welcome is ministers’ rhetoric about another of our campaign issues, preserving Green Belts, which both prevent urban sprawl and assist regeneration in city centres. Sadly, however, they do not feature in today’ s document, while something that does – plans to “deliver higher density development” around “commuter transport hubs”- may contradict the ministerial assurances, as many such hubs are in Green Belts.

And worryingly, open countryside elsewhere may be put at more risk. Big housing estates may be waved through by central government without locals having a say – something the coalition considered but then dropped as inconsistent with ‘localism’ – under plans to legislate to allow “major infrastructure projects with an element of housing” to be determined in Whitehall. And though the document proposes speeding up implementing or amending local plans, it looks as if councils without them (about half the total) will remain at the mercy of speculative builders wishing to put developments wherever they like.

Open countryside may be put at more risk (Alamy)

Another retrograde proposal is to scrap planned improvements in energy efficiency standards for new homes, which stands to benefit builders much more than buyers. It will make houses cheaper to put up, but they will probably be sold at much the same price, and will be much more expensive to heat.

Above all, however, the government assumes too easily that freeing up planning will get more houses built and that building more houses will necessarily bring down prices. Housebuilders often sit on land, while its value goes up, instead of developing it: at present they are holding enough land, with planning permission, for 400,000 homes, enough – even if built in a traditional terrace – to reach from London to Rome.

They also naturally prefer to build expensive homes than cheap ones and may well restrict supply to keep prices up. And supply and demand works differently in housing than many other markets; the relatively wealthy often buy second and third homes as investments or to rent, pricing out those who most need them.

So despite some improvements in today’s document, the Government still has a way to go in working out how really to tackle Britain’s scandalous housing crisis.

Indy – State Written Local Plans Designed to Avoid Slow Local Plans and Planning by Appeal

Isabel Hardman

David Cameron is a naturally placid type, not overly keen on picking fights with people. The chillaxing Prime Minister tends to avoid confrontation when he can, often pulling out of policies where he thinks a prolonged fight is on the cards. So, why on earth has he decided to reopen one of the bitterest battles of the last parliament, on planning reform?

The Tories were so horrified by the way their changes to the National Planning Policy Framework and the Localism Act upset so many of their natural voters, as well as prominent charities including the National Trust, that they ran away from the reforms and spent two years trying to calm everything down. Now they’re at it once more, announcing really rather ambitious plans to build more homes by overhauling the planning laws.

Changing legislation that controls how many homes can be built in a particular place seems even more pointless when you consider that successive governments have tinkered endlessly with the planning system without achieving very much at all.

Economists estimate that the UK now needs 250,000 new homes every year to keep up with demand (which has more to do with family breakdown and people leaving home before they get married than it does with immigration). But the UK hasn’t built that many properties in a year since 1980.

The effect of this is a spiralling housing benefit bill that the Tories are currently trying to control by shaving bits off here and there, while not removing the key driver in its growth, which is a shortage of housing. The bill for this year is expected to be £24bn, but by 2019-20, it is projected to have fallen back to just above its 2010 level of £23bn, still far too big for the Tories to claim they have shrunk the size of the welfare state.

This is the reason the Tories know they must reignite the row over building more homes. The severity of the UK’s housing crisis is far worse than the severe frown on the face of a Nimby angered by yet another new clutch of homes being built in their back yard.

There is another, slightly less grand reason for reforming the planning system. George Osborne has noted housing’s rise as an issue that voters worry about, and also knows from his party’s history that ambitious ministers who build many homes tend to do pretty well. Harold Macmillan cemented his rise to prime minister by meeting a Tory target to build 300,000 new homes a year early. The Chancellor is keen to move next door in Downing Street at some point, and a legacy like this would help no end. Selfish, perhaps, but anyone keen to see more homes built should be thrilled that someone at the very top has adopted housing provision as a personal mission: it means we might finally see some action.

The action that Osborne has gone for is a curious mix of liberalising planning laws a little further and what appears to be the state intervening more. Londoners will be able to add additional storeys to their properties in some cases, and developers will gain automatic planning permission for developments on “suitable” brownfield sites.

But if a council has failed to produce a local plan, the Government will intervene and write one – detailing how many homes will be built, and where, in each local authority area.

Cameron was, I understand, insistent that these government-written plans include plenty of consultation with local people, because he is wary of further upsetting voters already antagonised by what they feel has been years of central government forcing inappropriate development on their area.

Of course, these reforms alone won’t solve the housing crisis. There are other factors  than simply the planning system hindering the country from building enough properties. Chief among those is a serious shortage of skills in the construction sector, which means builders are having to turn down projects because they don’t have the staff to deliver them.

But the reforms do solve two problems, the first being that many councils have not planned for meaningful development in their areas, and the second that development will be imposed on those areas by the Planning Inspectorate even if it is deemed inappropriate by locals.

You would expect a set of reforms like this to upset the groups that had fought so viciously with the Government over its last pop at planning. But, curiously, the Campaign to Protect Rural England described them as “understandable”, and was over the moon about ministers’ renewed promises to protect the Green Belt.

Perhaps this suggests that the Tories have finally cracked the conundrum of how to build enough homes without upsetting small-c conservatives. But I wouldn’t get too excited. When the Government set out on the last tranche of planning policies, initially everyone called those reforms a “Nimby’s charter”. I remember talking to one of those involved in the reforms who warned me that “people are going to get incredibly upset when they realise what this legislation actually means”. In time, he was proved right.

The chances are that many people will get incredibly upset again when they realise that there are going to be more homes built in their areas. At that stage, the Tories will need to grit their teeth and assume that those angry people won’t stay angry once they realise that the new homes which provoked them to hold angry campaign meetings and write furious letters to their MP weren’t that bad, after all, and at least their children can afford a home near by. For Osborne, the prize for gritting his teeth is a glittering one. He just needs to be sure his party will stick by him.

Flat Flippers Look for the Door at Nine Elms


Britain’s biggest housing development area, Nine Elms in London, is seeing a wave of “flat-flipping” as investors try to sell unbuilt properties amid fears the capital faces a glut of expensive homes.

Nearly 20,000 units are under construction at Nine Elms, on the south bank of the river Thames facing Chelsea — the equivalent of a new garden city. The project describes itself as “the greatest transformational story at the heart of the world’s greatest city”.

Many of the flats have been reserved by foreign investors, who usually pay a 10-20 per cent deposit but do not need to find the balance until construction is complete. Selling the home on before that suggests the buyer wants to get out of the deal, agents say.

House prices in London’s most expensive areas fell in the second quarter of this year for the first time in more than half a decade, recent research for the Financial Times by data provider LonRes found. At the same time, developers have embarked on a building boom: more than a decade’s worth of high-priced homes are being built across the capital.

The market wobble has begun to feed through into buyers’ sentiment: a third of the homes for sale on property portal Rightmove in the Nine Elms area are resales of as-yet unbuilt high-rise apartments, an analysis by the Financial Times has found.

Some of these homes will be duplicate listings but estate agents familiar with the area said they were seeing high volumes of previously sold flats back on the market.

Ed Mead, a director of estate agent Douglas and Gordon, said the Nine Elms area was “getting a bit silly”. Prices were “wildly out of kilter with what homes in the surrounding areas are selling for”.

The number of as-yet unsold flats being put up for resale suggested that “some people do feel vulnerable”, he added. “There is a weakening of sentiment.”

Charlie Ellingworth, a partner at buying agents Property Vision who has dubbed Nine Elms “Singapore-on-Thames”, said that buying off-plan was “the ultimate option play” for “a lot of the buyers [who are] Asian”.

“You only need to put down 10 per cent and then see how the market goes,” he said.

A lot of these buyers are effectively taking a financial position rather than buying a property– Henry Pryor, an agent who acts on behalf of wealthy buyers

The Nine Elms area is particularly prone to speculative buyers, he added: “It’s a dog-basket of developers all whacking stuff up, all jam-packed against each other, and walking out of the door and trying to find a pint of milk is really hard. Looking at what’s coming out of the ground, I wouldn’t want to live there and not many people we talk to want to buy down there.”

Henry Pryor, an agent who acts on behalf of wealthy buyers, said that some foreign investors treated apartment pre-sales as “currency trades” and “currency speculation”.

“A lot of these buyers are effectively taking a financial position rather than buying a property,” he said, warning that “investing for capital appreciation rather than yield is gambling” and predicting that the future for house prices in Nine Elms was “down”.

“If you can find some other patsy then my advice would be absolutely to [sell],” Mr Pryor said. “As long as the music keeps on playing, everyone is happy but at some point the music stops.”

The highest number of unbuilt apartment resales listed on Rightmove on the random day this month that the FT chose to analyse were at the Battersea Power Station redevelopment, where a Malaysian consortium is turning 42 acres of urban wasteland into 4,000 homes and 3.5m sq ft of shops, restaurants and offices.

The company building the power station scheme, Battersea Power Station Development Corporation, has its own in-house estate agent that is marketing some of the resales.

BPSDC said the agency, Battersea Power Station Estates, “has been created to support all those buyers of homes at Battersea Power Station whether it be in lettings, resales, management or providing ancillary services such as furniture packages and interior design”.

“As with any new-build development which is marketed off-plan there is always a demand for resales, the majority of which have been to local purchasers who want to become part of the growing Battersea community,” she said.

Other developments with large numbers of apartments on the market listed as “resales” were Ballymore’s Embassy Gardens and two schemes by Berkeley Group — Riverlight and the Tower at its One St George Wharf project.

Ballymore and the Nine Elms Partnership, which co-ordinates development of the area, declined to comment.


A Zonal System, Can Create ‘Slums of the Future’ or World Class Communities – So why did Osborne & Clark Choose Slums

The debate about governments half hearted and poorly designed shift a zonal system has already started a debate Sadly Some major figures in British Planning might be giving  the appearance of defending the indefensibly slow and under performing discretionary British System rather than arguing for the kind of zoning systems we see in other jurisdictions that produce the most sustainable high quality communities in the world.

Take these these three photos.  One produced under a modern well resource zoning system of planning, one under a discretionary system, another under a poorly resourced planning system that does little but control land use.  Now ask yourself which system consistently produces quality housing at a greater scale than ours?

Kate Hendersen of the TCPA quoted in the guardian states that zoning would “undermine any possibility for making good quality places where people want to live.” “Our real concern is if you can’t have a conversation about things like internal space standards, accessibility and green space, we’re really risking creating slums of the future,”

But which of these three is most like the slums of the future?   the Persimmion scheme from Hull shown above created under the discretionary approach.  The first taken from Peter Hall’s last book was from a system that mandated  internal space standards, accessibility and green space”. The problem is not going for zoning system per se but the government preference for a Japanese type zoning system where only ‘the minimum of technical details are controlled.

Similarly the RTPI

“Zoning is certainly not a panacea for speed,” says Janet Askew, president of the Royal Town Planning Institute, whose research has focused on regulatory systems in planning. “It is an incredibly complex process, with zonal plans undergoing convoluted discussions before they are agreed. The fact that land is zoned for housing doesn’t mean it goes through the planning system more quickly at all.”

But there are zoning systems many in Europe that dispite taking years and are convoluted do get in the end, have higher coverage, less of a mismatch between need and zoning and manage to deliver per capita far more housing – so what are we doing wrong.  The RTPI right to highlight that good zoning requires more time and resources than zoning and that good zoning sometimes takes a long time, but still any, France, Denmark and the Netherlands manage to plan for more and better quality housing than we do and have more up to date plans.

What I would like to see from professional and campaigning bodies is a consensus that if you are to go down the zoning route then lets learn from the best in the world and do it well.  The last thing we want is a poorly resourced system like we see in the Third World and in the  rural American, Mexican, Turkish, chinese or Japenese systems where cheap apartments or little box suburbs are encouraged.

Now the government has the lesson of its last round of planning reform and not giving the impression of concreting over the countryside.  But without massive resources urban regeneration all they are doing is slightly more quickly consent for two years supply.  intention is to use this as first wedge in a reform that would see the slums of the future covering the countryside once the government argues mid term that big brownfield sites all got consent, they arnt ewe have done everything we can with limited public spending and therefore we have to extend housing zones to tghe Green Belt and Greenfield Sites, with by then large numbers of local plans being directly decided by the Secretary of State.    By then very few of the slums of the future will be built.  It will take a gneration for the introduction of Greg Clarks favellisation of British Planning

Oliver Wainwright Guardian – Osborne’s Planning Reforms Risks Creating Slums of the Future


Britain is incapable of building enough homes and it’s the planning system that’s to blame. So says triumphant George Osborne in his grand Productivity Plan, a document unveiled today as a blueprint for a more prosperous nation.

Titled “Fixing the Foundations” (implying that the government’s “Laying the Foundations” strategy from 2011 produced rather shaky footings), the plan proposes a number of measures based on “streamlining” the “excessively strict” planning system, to stimulate house-building. It has been received with rapturous applause by the development industry, but are the regulations really what’s stopping homes being built? Is it not down to the fact that developers are sitting on land, because it is more profitable to leave it vacant than build on it? Or that they are exploiting the system to avoid building the kind of affordable housing so urgently needed? Or that the borrowing cap is critically preventing councils from building their own homes?

By eroding the power of local authorities and centralising planning power even further, is Osborne aiming his firing sights in the right direction – or is he revealing his flawed understanding of housing supply?

One of the most radical proposals in the plan is to introduce a “zonal” system, which would see planning permission granted automatically for housing schemes on brownfield land (ie land that has previously been built on, such as former industrial sites).

Zoning is already used in the rest of the world, from the US to France and Germany, where areas are designated for a particular use. The decisions about how land will be developed are agreed before an application is even submitted. The outline rules are set out in advance, so the developer makes a proposal in accordance to what is specified in the zoning plan.

Britain is almost unique in having a discretionary planning system, where the decision to develop a site is taken only when an application is made – and the discussions happen during the individual planning process, on a case-by-case basis. Introducing housing zones might sound like a sensible way to avoid the delays of negotiation, but is this really the case?

“Zoning is certainly not a panacea for speed,” says Janet Askew, president of the Royal Town Planning Institute, whose research has focused on regulatory systems in planning. “It is an incredibly complex process, with zonal plans undergoing convoluted discussions before they are agreed. The fact that land is zoned for housing doesn’t mean it goes through the planning system more quickly at all.”

To Askew, introducing a zonal system makes little sense, because once land has been designated for housing in a local plan (which goes through a statutory consultation process), it will almost certainly get permission. [Actually there have been several prominent cases in recent months where LPAs have refused schemes in outline in brand new plans] “It simply threatens to remove power from the local authorities to negotiate over the crucial details of a scheme, in terms of mitigating what impacts it could have on the area,” she adds. “It completely flies in the face of localism.”

Kate Henderson, chief executive of the Town and Country Planning Association, agrees, arguing that granting automatic planning permission for housing schemes would “undermine any possibility for making good quality places where people want to live.”

“Our real concern is if you can’t have a conversation about things like internal space standards, accessibility and green space, we’re really risking creating slums of the future,” she says. “We appreciate the government wants to speed things up, but it shouldn’t just be about quantity but quality. If planning is deregulated any further, we’ll end up with places that we’re going to regret building.”

Housing charity Shelter has cautiously welcomed the introduction of housing zones, a policy it recommended in its own report to the government. But it also emphasises that the crucial question is what sort of homes will be built, not just how many.

“Councils could use zones to force developers to compete with one another on quality or affordability, rather than on land price,” writes Shelter policy officer Pete Jefferys. “A council would zone a piece of brownfield land for development then welcome bids for how it could be developed, ensuring that affordable housing and infrastructure are also included.”

But how far councils will have a say in negotiating such matters remains to be seen, in a context where planning powers will become increasingly centralised and focused solely on lubricating applications through the system.

A second part of Osborne’s plan addresses an extension of “permitted development” rights, allowing people to grow their homes upwards. The last few years have seen planning regulations further slackened by stretching the scale and scope of what you are allowed to build without planning permission – known as permitted development.

In the name of boosting house-building, the Productivity Plan proposes to allow rooftop extensions in London to be built “up to the height of an adjoining building” with no planning permission. (But before all you neighbours of the Shard start rubbing your hands with glee, the plan states it will only extend to a “limited number of storeys”).

Osborne’s plans ‘risk ushering in a new generation of poorly planned and hastily built housing’. Facebook Twitter Pinterest
Osborne’s plans ‘risk ushering in a new generation of poorly planned and hastily built housing’. Photograph: WPA Pool/Getty Images
For Henderson, this is one of the most alarming proposals. “When we saw permitted development rights extended for things like conservatories, it massively upset communities, leading to a huge number of neighbour disputes and a feeling that local people are no longer having a say in how their communities are being developed,” she says. “And it will do very little to address the housing crisis. London needs to accommodate an extra one million people in the next 15 years – and they’re not all going to live in loft extensions.”

As Askew puts it, “there have been a lot of little nibbles to extend permitted development over the last few years, but they add up to a big shift.” From allowing office to residential conversions, a policy that has seen swaths of workspace lost, to the “vacant building credit”, which allows empty buildings to be converted to housing without any of the usual contributions to affordable homes or amenity space, the bonfire of red tape is having damaging consequences.

Underlying Osborne’s frenzied drive for growth and productivity, there is also an explicit admonishment of public sector planners in not doing their job well or fast enough. The plan will introduce new penalties for local authorities that make 50% or less of their planning decisions on time, while introducing powers for the government to impose local plans on areas that haven’t produced their own. Yet there is not a whisper about supporting the sector that has been relentlessly drained of resources, bullied beyond all capacity to function.

“What we really need is to rebuild the planning service,” says Henderson. “It is demoralised, deregulated and poorly resourced, which makes it challenging to make decisions quickly and efficiently. Rather than imposing harsher penalties, it should be about investing in skills.”

By prioritising his abstract dream of productivity over the reality of making decent places to live, Osborne risks ushering in a new generation of poorly planned and hastily built housing that will bring none of the community benefits the planning system is there to provide. Instead of relentlessly chipping away at local authorities (as a distraction from addressing the real obstacles to housing supply) he should be strengthening planners’ ability to plan – not to mention lifting the borrowing cap, reviving affordable housing grants and stopping developers squatting on empty land for years.

A Shift to a Zoning and Subdivision System for Brownfield is the big News in Productivity Plan

One of the main themes of this blog over the last two years (fpr example here , here, here, herehere,  here, here and here)  is that we are and we should be seeing a shift to a zoning and subdivision based system in England (dont say we didnt predict this) – this is for two reasons

1) Such systems are the key reason why other comparative counties can and do deliver more housing than we – in particular from custom build -as they are much better enable to deal with development at scale.  Our system is perfect for odd houses here and there but not for the regime change in numbers we need.

2) we simply dont have the number of planners to deliver the number of houses we need done the labour intensive way – e.g. small sites here and there through neighbourhood plans etc. Especially we the planned reduction in public sector planning staff – from severely overstreached to beyond breaking point.

The logic will be to extend this from brownfield to greenfield as the cheap to develop greenfield sites will rapidly run out and the public spending to unlock tough brownfield sites though welcome and a reversal of the previous ‘rapid release of greenfield sites first’ approach of the NPPF is only a tiny fraction of what is needed.

Before we deal in detail with this lets look first at the changes that dont require legislation (or only monor amendments) and are just productivity pussying around.

9.9 Over the previous Parliament, the government removed top-down regional strategies and placed local authorities at the forefront of deciding how to meet the need for housing through their local plans.

9.10 It is vital that local authorities use these powers to put in place local plans that set the framework for the homes and jobs local people need. The government will take further action to ensure that local authorities put local plans in place by a set deadline to be confirmed by summer recess. The government will publish league tables, setting out local authorities’ progress on providing a plan for the jobs and homes needed locally. Where they are not, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will intervene for those local authorities that do not produce them, to arrange for local plans to be written, in consultation with local people.

Greg Clark rather stupidly deleted the local plans database.  That didn’t last long did it.  The ability for the SoS to intervene is already in legislation.  The aim here like special measures in DC is to threaten and hopefully not have to intervene, but a threat never enacted is no threat at all.  As i’ve said ill see it when I believe it when Greg Clarke allocates the Gypsy and Traveller Sites needed in two of the slowest local plans – Epping Forest and Brentwood, and when he approves a plan which includes a Garden City of a needed sub regional size.  Then the SoS will need to cooperate with himself and finally we will be back to Strategic Planning.

The government will also take steps to ensure that local plans are more responsive to local needs. The government will bring forward proposals to significantly streamline the length and process of local plans, helping to speed up the process of implementing or amending a plan.

None of this requires primary legislation.  The process is already short a single stage – the real problem however is the inability of lpas to pass the hurdle of plans meeting OAN.  This is a more systemic problem than process and the productivity plan seems to do nothing to ensure that plans are submitted that meet OAN in full.  Though plans are too long the length issue is a red herring as there is no real correlation between length and spped.  History has shown that Brakers ’20 or 30′ page plan was a red herring and undeliverable.  Still no reason to see a return to 200 page plus plans.  The plan hints at a more streamlined process for amending plans.  This again is difficult as plans in primary legislation have to be sound as a whole and the single thing that dates plans most is OAN.

The government will also bring forward proposals to improve cooperation between local authorities. The National Planning Policy Framework is clear that local authorities should look to meet their housing need, as far as is possible within constraints. Where they cannot meet their need in full, they should cooperate with other local authorities to do so. The government will strengthen guidance to improve the operation of the duty to cooperate on key housing and planning issues, to ensure that housing and infrastructure needs are identified and planned for.

Im reminded of the SNL sketch where Hilary Clinton announces her campaign slogan as ‘you will vote for me’  here Clark’s is ‘will cooperate’  rats please stop fighting in the sack please. Stregthening guidance again is pussyfooting around the real problem – lack of larger than local planning of overspill objectively assessed need around large cities with Green Belts.

Areas around commuter transport hubs offer significant potential for new homes. The government will work with mayors in London and across the country to use new powers in the Devolution Bill to use development corporations to deliver higher-density development in designated areas. The government will consider how policy can support higher density housing around key commuter hubs. The government will also consider how national policy and guidance can ensure that unneeded commercial land can be released for housing.

This is already policy in terms of density and releasing uneeded commercial land.  The real issue is when where and how compared to other options.  Again pussy footing around.  If the government really wants a strategy based on smart growth around transport hubs as the principle then:

1) The government should amend the NPPF to make support Smart Growth.  Previously it rejected this on the now discredited and politically unacceptable assumption that mass growth around villages would be the preferred new housing vector.

2) It needs massive support for CPOs and enabling infrastructure – as well as of course means of land value capture

3) Its not enough we need Greenfield sites too so why not support high density sites around stations here where brownfield sites are insufficient?

4) There is a name for joining up housing and transport around a full network of a city – strategic planning – again a slow creep back by a government that wont admit it made a disastrous mistake in scrapping strategic planning.

If Greg Clark or the Treasury want to know how to make a Z&S system work in legislation and practice you can call me, otherwise spend three years wasting time.  The same hourly rate as your economic competitors of course.


Evidence suggests that delays in processing planning applications may be a significant factor preventing housing supply from responding to upturns in the market.

Significant progress has been made, with the proportion of major applications dealt with on time rising.  The government wants to see further progress, with all planning decisions made on time. This is particularly important for SMEs. The government will therefore:

-legislate to allow major infrastructure projects with an element of housing to apply through the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Regime (NSIP)

Makes perfect sense depends though on how laarge ‘element’ is.

– tighten the planning performance regime, so that local authorities making 50% or fewer of decisions on time are at risk of designation

-legislate to extend the performance regime to minor applications, so that local authorities processing those applications too slowly are at risk of designation

Small beer – though the current regime provided a perverse incentive to slown down small applications in favour of large ones.

introduce a fast-track certificate process for establishing the principle of development for minor development proposals, and significantly tighten the ‘planning guarantee’ for minor applications

How will this be different from applying for outline consent?

repeat its successful target from the previous Parliament to reduce net regulation on housebuilders. The government does not intend to proceed with the zero carbon Allowable Solutions carbon offsetting scheme, or the proposed 2016 increase in on-site energy efficiency standards, but will keep energy efficiency standards under review, recognising that existing measures to increase energy efficiency of new buildings should be allowed time to become established

Big stuff – as feared allowable solutions is scrapped and with it the zero carbon target.  How dumb after many authorities took years putting in place the allowable solutions infrastructure.  Why biodiversity offsetting and not carbon offsetting.  Presumably zero carbon is now of no importance.

introduce a dispute resolution mechanism for section 106 agreements, to speed up negotiations and allow housing starts to proceed more quickly


More devolved planning powers

All good stuff and as predicted however


As the Mayor’s housing strategy set out, any increase in housing supply in London will be overwhelmingly brownfield development, and is likely to involve increasing densities.

Helping London to ‘build up’ in this way will reduce the need to ‘build out’, helping to provide homes for Londoners while protecting the countryside. Planning processes can create unnecessary burdens for proposals seeking to increase density on brownfield land.

The government is keen to support the Mayor’s aims, where there is local consent. The government will therefore work with the Mayor of London to bring forward proposals to remove the need for planning permission for upwards extensions for a limited number of stories up to the height of an adjoining building, where neighbouring residents do not object. In cases where objections are received, the application will be considered in the normal way, focussed on the impact on the amenity to neighbours.


Nothing focussed on design then. From mega extensions to mega roof extensions. Think about it all of London like Stamford Hill – is that really a good example.

The quality of london’s environment is very large part depends on the quality of its roofscape.  Its a disaster in areas like Fulham and Stamford Hill where local policy has been lax.  Try it for a few years and it will be swiftly revoked.  Its not just neighbours that see monstrous roof extensions but everyone on the street. This is a shanty town approach to planning a great city.

Starter Homes

Mostly as predicted given the exception sites approach has been a huge flop as predicted.  Of course they will eat into real affordable housing delivery.

So the real meat

The government is committed to an urban planning revolution on brownfield sites, including funding to provide infrastructure, strong local leadership to shape development and assemble sites, and the removal of unnecessary planning obstacles.

Previous studies have found that the country’s planning system – where development proposals require individual planning permission and are subject to detailed and discretionary scrutiny – can create the sort of “slow, expensive and uncertain process” that reduces the appetite to build.

The government is clear on the need to promote use of brownfield land, and will remove all unnecessary obstacles to its re-development, including these sorts of planning obstacles.

The government has already committed to legislating for statutory registers of brownfield land suitable for housing in England. The government will go further by legislating to grant automatic permission in principle on brownfield sites identified on those registers, subject to the approval of a limited number of technical details.

On brownfield sites, this will give England a ‘zonal’ system, like those seen in many other countries, reducing unnecessary delay and uncertainty for brownfield development.

In the spring, the government consulted on reforms to bring forward more brownfield land for development by making the compulsory purchase regime clearer, faster and fairer for all parties. This first round of reforms will be introduced through legislation in this session of Parliament. A number of additional proposals have been received from that consultation; the government is considering the case for these additional compulsory purchase reforms to further modernise the system, and will bring forward proposals in the autumn. These will allow local authorities and others to drive forward and shape brownfield development, and will not alter the principle of Secretary of State sign-off on compulsory purchase orders.

I dont think the government really gets what it takes it make a zoning and subdivision (Z&S) system work.  I can speak from authority on this as I am one of the very few English planner to work under both the DC and Z&S systems. Indeed as we speak I am PMing the masterplan and finalising the preliminary consent application for a brownfield site for around 270,000 people in a country with a Z&S system.  Indeed my day job is to speak to ministers at high level in such countries about improving delivery and bring forward key projects that have been stalled for years.

The keys steps in a Z&S system are as follows.  Firstly you need a plan that zones.  You can have a zoning change without a plan but in a democratic country you are likely to get bogged down in legal challenges over whether this amounts to unlawful spot zoning.  So the key is getting the zoning plans in place.

A good zoning plan must do three things

1) be clear on the amount and use of development allowed. Typically floorsapce area ratio (FAR) or some such is used.  This needs to be set and regulated by transport models and above all by a transport strategy that minimises unnecessary use of the car.  Global experience suggests that without this a build to the sky policy results in total urban dystopia.

2) Focus of form and illustrative plan, and mix, rather than Council of Athens Style Euclidean Zoning separation. If any English planner needs to look up illustrative plan, the council of Athens of Euclidean zoning the they cant call themselves a planner and the planning school that taught them so be immediately certificated.  You have made dc bureaucrats not planners.

3) You need a strong system to ensure that submitted proposals comply with the plan and dont violate the assumptions of the zoning plan on issues such as traffic and infra capacity.  Schemes need to work in conjuntion with the cumulative impact of other schemes in cities undergoing major change.  This isnt just a limited number of technical details its all about planning specifically masterplanning. Except in those third world countries where plans are just ignored and we get favella quality schemes or monstrous out of place Megaprojects or both, universally Z&S regimes require some form of preliminary concept approval of a masterplan.  These show at superblock scale the land use, FAR, heights (typically) road layout and storm drainage, and often require that connections are shown to be possible for potable water, black water and electricity.  You will be requires to show you have sufficient ‘exactions’ for technical plots and public services – often to a formula.   Larger schemes often require a series of studies like n traffic,  Unless you can show this your scheme cant be shown to connect to the city – indeed it becomes parasitic on it.

4) Finlly once you have concept approval you can proceed to subdivision (parcelisation or pltting it is known as) and detailed regulation of plot designs.  The government niavely has jumped straight to 4 through the LDO route ignoring the need for planning 1, 2 and 3.  The larger the site and the larger the number of large sites the more this breaks down.   It is not removing ‘red tape’ to make a Z&S system work rather it requires a big shift in resources and skills to a different kind of planning.  Indeed it requires a positve embrace of the virtues of more of this kind of planning, which of course you see in spades in our successful competitor nations and high density World Cities such as Singapore. Without this you will get yet another Greg Clark niave neoliberal planning reform march them up the hill and down again planning reform failure.



7Km Ashdown Forest Exclusion Zone Policy Overturned by Court of Appeal

Something of a surprise in a hellishly complex case.  Big implications for other euepopean habitat policy issues.

Balli  Ashdown Forest  Economic Development Llp and (1) Wealden District Council(2) South Downs National Park Authority

My conclusion, arrived at with a degree of reluctance, is that policy WCS12, in so far as it relates to the 7 km zone, was adopted in breach of the duty under regulation 12 of the SEA Regulations relating to the assessment of reasonable alternatives. That makes it necessary to consider the question of relief.

The fact that nobody suggested alternatives cannot, however, validate the Council’s failure to consider the question at all.

The big consequence is that an Appeal at Stone Cross Crowborough is now likely to succeed.

The key issue was that the SANGS approach wasnt working and Natural England had backed down

there is evidence that the effect of policy WCS12 has been to prevent new residential development within the 7 km zone because of the unavailability of SANGs and notwithstanding the willingness of developers to make a financial contribution towards the provision of SANGs. The delay caused by the absence of SANGs provision is a matter of real concern.

Natural England’s own stance has changed, at least partly in reaction to this concern. This appears from correspondence with the Council on which Ms Colebourn relies in her second witness statement. In a letter of 15 April 2013, Natural England stated:

“We are aware that the current approach is a matter of concern, and that the SANGS requirement in particular is seen by developers as an obstacle to housing delivery. Our expectation is that a combination of different measures would be most effective in protecting the  forest  from the effects of an increase in recreational disturbance but we are mindful that reliance on SANGS for this does present a risk of delay in putting in place a scheme which would stream line the granting of planning permission for housing. In order to avoid such a delay, our advice is that a strategic scheme of avoidance and mitigation measures can be put in place, in a phased approach, so that at no point is it necessary to refuse planning permission on strategic (non case specific) grounds relating to recreational disturbance on the SPA and SAC.

Our understanding is that in the next two to three years, approximately about 800 houses are likely to come forward in your two authority areas and figures have been provided to indicate that this will increase visitor numbers on the  forest  by about 1.7% ….

In order to ensure that we are aware of the options to safeguard the SPA and SAC which will be least burdensome to developers, we have explored with the Conservators of  Ashdown Forest  their views on access management and monitoring. They have indicated to us that in principle they would be willing to take on additional resources, as part of a broader programme of measures, to increase the level of monitoring and wardening on the  forest . Our advice is that this could be made sufficient to address at least the potential increase in visitor numbers on the scale indicated above ….

Early implementation of a scheme for increased monitoring and wardening would not only have benefit itself in enabling development to proceed, but with the monitoring built in, it should also provide information to inform the balance of measures put in place over the longer term. This would help to ensure their effectiveness in safeguarding the SPA and SAC, at lowest cost to development.”…

 to quash the relevant part of policy WCS12 would not leave a serious lacuna in protection pending adoption of a replacement policy. Development would still be subject to the screening/assessment requirements of regulation 61 of the Habitats Regulations; and if the avoidance of adverse effects on the  Ashdown Forest  SPA could only be achieved by the provision of SANG, a requirement to that effect could be imposed on a site-specific basis.

Osborne’s Productivity Plan without Planning

Today Chancellor Goerge Osborne will announce his productivity plan with yet another round of liberalization of planning.

Anticipated within it is Guardian

Ruth Lea, economic adviser to Arbuthnot Banking Group, said possible measures could include: “A productivity plan to improve productivity, including the creation of regional business clusters, based on the northern powerhouse scheme.

Last year the Shoreditch body Tech City had its remit extended to the whole of the UK.  Its reports suggest enormous potential of technology clusters.

As Osborne himself said of there report in Feb

“What’s so exciting about today’s Tech Nation report is that it shows how we’re seeing the growth of tech businesses right across the country. As part of our plan for a truly national recovery we will do everything we can to support this growth and back the different tech clusters that are emerging around Britain.”

But so far no action.  One thing you can be pretty sure about though is that what is really needed, Strategic planning of infrastructure, training and land use to unlock the potential of these future hubs, wont be included.

The report should have a more apt title, not the Productivity Plan, but the Productivity Puzzle.

Clarke Concedes Eric Did Make it Up as Went Along on Prematurity

We covered this case in March expressing incredulity at the SoS’s reasoning.


In March, Pickles overruled a planning inspector and dismissed the appeal by developer Muller Property Group against Cheshire East Council’s decision to refuse permission for the scheme in Nantwich.

Last week, however, Clark decided to stop fighting the case, which had been due to be heard in the High Court later this month.

This latest decision came after Muller triggered new Planning Court rules which allow judges to issue directions before a hearing.

Inspector David Nicholson (DCS Number 200-003-459) originally recommended approving the development because the council had not identified a five-year land housing supply.

But the secretary of state found that an emerging local plan from Cheshire East Council meant that the true picture on housing land supply had not yet been established.

His decision said that “it should not therefore be assumed at this stage that the development of this good-quality agricultural land in open countryside for uses which are not in accordance with the local plan should proceed on a piecemeal basis”.

Muller claimed that this reasoning represented a “clear inconsistency from the secretary of state’s previous approach”.

A court order issued on Friday says that the secretary of state accepts that he did not address his mind to the terms of National Planning Practice Guidance (NPPG) policy on prematurity in reaching the decision.

“In those circumstances, the parties are agreed that the decision falls to be quashed for failure to consider the NPPG policy,” it concludes.

Jeremy Cahill QC and Jenny Wigley of No5 Chambers acted for Muller Property Group in the proceedings.

Its Great Greece Voted Oxi – But Germany will Force them Out of Euro in Days

The Greferendum was a great poke in the eye to euro-austerians and a triumphant rejection of bullying and the subversion of democracy.  But what happens next? In the unlikely event that the ECB does a volte face and acts as lender of last resort to Greek Banks on Monday – and that is highly unlikely as the institutions are sure to be beset by days and weeks of confusion – which Germany will want to stoke it wants to force a Grexit– then as early as Monday the Greek Government will be forced to issue liquidity itself with a parallel currency or Euros marked with Y – which the National Bank of Greece prints anyway.  If not there will be bank failures and crisis. What happens then is interesting.  The Euro is like the Gold Standard only if the amount of gold shrunk over time.  From a circuitist perspective when a currency issuer taxes its destroys the unit of account and when it spends it adds to it.  The Euro is similar but more complex –  countries as the amount of Euros is fixed and issued to national central banks in proportion to its capital key (GDP per head x population) – this then being an asset on the ECB balance sheet earning  interest to the ECB at the ECB financing rate –  this means when  euro governments run a surplus they cause deflation as the taxation is steadily eating away at the base of the unit of account. If the Greek government recapped it banks with some form of parallel currency it would in effect be issuing above its capital key and so other euro users would likely not accept it at par (for example euros stamped with Y  issued against Eurozone rules) – it would likely trade at a discount. If it traded as a discount the Greek Government could not accept it at par for tax payments as through arbitrage no one would rationally spend the parallel currency they would use it to pay taxes only instead – this is a good example of Gresham’s law. Over time with the Greek Government abandoning austerity and expanding the unit of account and the Eurozone doing the opposite the value of the two currencies would drift ever further apart. So Greece doesn’t have to be thrown out of the Euro – and Im sure Germany knows this – it simply needs the Greek Government to step in as lender of last resort, then every day this new currency circulates the more its splits from the euro.