A Planning Book Perfect for George Osborne

Sadly we have to explain the most basic purpose of planning.  This book is perfect for Gideon, send him a copy


Where Things Are From Near to Far

 A Children’s Book About Planning

by Tim Halbur and Chris Steins

While playing in the city park, little Hugo wonders, “Who put these buildings here?” Hugo’s mother leads him on a whirlwind trip through the city, the country, and everything in-between to explain the answer. This engaging book is an easy introduction to the world of urban planning, and illustrates that “every building has its place.”

About the Book

The book is based on the urban-to-rural transect, which divides cities into six different zones ranging from rural countryside to dense skyscrapers. The transect is a great way to look at the building blocks of a city, and to start thinking about how all the pieces of a city get planned in relation to one another. The urban transect was originally created by Andrés Duany, a Miami architect.

Every day, city planners help shape our cities and towns — making streets safe for pedestrians, improving building designs so they meet the needs of citizens, improving traffic flow, creating bike paths and city parks, and preserving historic buildings. This book is a tribute to the work that they do in hopes that kids will learn more about this fascinating career at an early age.

This fun to read, 22-page, full-color, 6″x9″ hardcover book was written by Planetizen Managing Editor Tim Halbur and Editor Chris Steins, and features hand-colored illustrations by artist David Ryan. The book was inspired by Steins’ desire for a book to introduce planning to his twin three-year-old boys.

Sorry but the Blanket Ban on Fracking in SSSIs was Irrational and Had to Go

I don’t like fracking.  I don’t like the lobbying tactics of fracking companies and the way they distort the evidence on climate change.  I particularly dislike Osborne’s slathering support for it.  Yet here I am strongly arguing that the blanket ban on fracking under SSSIs, introduced in a panic by the government last year, has to go.  The announcement of its repeal has led to sequels of ‘betrayal‘.

Almost nothing in the UK has a blanket ban.  They are always evidence based tests and exception where the the evidence to protect is weak and the evidence to develop is strong.  That even goes for National Parks and Green Belts.  Except of course where the discretionary nature of  such decisions is undermined by knee jerk primary legislation.  There are great advantages in certainty over planning, but where the impact of certain developments cant be fully known in advance and is highly development and site specific, such as with windfarms, incinerators and fracking rigs there is advantages in making a decision following a full and objective environmental assessment.

Yes many developments will be unpopular.  They will give you a pain in the stomach approving them.  Particularly for local politicians.  But planning is often about deciding where unpopular uses have to go where national policy is in their favour.  The alternatives to an objective evidence based system is one based on cronyism, corruption, favoritism, fashion or dictat.  I would much rather have a system where an inspector hears evidence and sometimes makes a locally unpopular decision than one where decisions are based on whom a minister is sharing a Jacuzzi with – the system prevalent sadly in most of the world. Where this happens the cumulative impact of bad decisions is horrific, and if you want a planning system where things are so slow and clogged up that no hard objective decisions are ever made go to Rome and watch the litter in the streets, the horrible suburbs and the Romany camps along the Tiber and wonder why such places regularly voted to have such a terrible quality of life.

When it comes to unpopular uses planning often stands in for national policy. Don’t use local planning impacts as a surrogate for when you dislike national energy policy.    Dont like energy policy on solar farms/fracking rigs/windfarms, its so much easier to use local impacts as a surrogate and urge refusal whatever the evidence on those local impacts.  If that happens often governments of any com,lexion will simply strip local planning decisions makers of powers over local energy applications.

We don’t have undeground SSSIs we have terrestrial ones.  The impact is on water, water flows for miles from deep underground.  Whether a rig is precisely over an SSSI or not has little to do with whether it will harm the SSSI.  If the impact on water is harmful it will harm wherever the water flows, if not not.  So it is the evidence on water that matters not vertical propinquity.  You might as well ban all flying over SSSIs simply because it crosses an at grade line on a plan.  This is a malefaction on a map only not a planning impact.  There is no rational defense to an outright ban.  What its defenders are saying is whatever the evidence we should allow them.  If you think the risks are high then ban them altogether and be done with it.  If you think the risks should be assessed and be based on evidence then let them, be assessed and make a rational choice.

If you disagree with me please supply an argument that doesnt equate to fracking should be banned everywhere.  I might agree wit you but so long as it isnt we have to make decisions and you have no logical case.

Building Design – Localism Has Failed – Osborne Right to Take Powers Back

BD  Amanda Baillieu

what really matters is Osborne’s two-fold message.

First, that localism is failing a younger generation who can’t get on the housing ladder and, second, he’s had enough of our selfish ways.

We are the problem – not planners, banks, overseas investors buying off-plan or housebuilders hoarding land, but all of us who have somewhere decent to live and choose to deny that right to anyone less fortunate.

And it’s no longer just NIMBYs in their Gloucestershire villages who are stamping their green wellies in protest; it’s people in Havering and Hampstead as well who have taken advantage of localism’s improvisational nature to say “no”.

But this was not how it was supposed to be.

The Localism Act gave people power to decide about new development in their area with the proviso it would only be allowed if they voted for it.

While “neighbourhood plans” are not perfect – they are too complicated and have proved expensive to implement – they gave people a chance to say what they thought development should look like and where they wanted it.

To date, only 35 plans have been adopted (one in London) and they are almost all concerned with hyper-local issues, like parking and the design of traffic junctions, rather than the bigger picture.

Local plans have fared no better. More that half of all district councils lack an up-to-date local plan, not because they’re under-resourced and being bullied by housebuilders, as the TCPA would have us believe, but because a local plan would mean councils having to take their fair share of the total UK housing need, which they clearly don’t want to do.

Many of these councils are Conservative-led and what’s so exciting about Osborne’s proposals is that he’s taking on these recalcitrant Tory councils and telling that they’re out of time.

He’s also called time on his party which always has a tricky balancing act in the run-up to an election, with the last one no different.

In the first three months of this year Eric Pickles, then communities secretary, granted only 10% of called-in applications, blocking the development of 9,200 homes in Conservative-controlled areas. But in the three years prior to that he granted more than 70% of similar applications. Of course elections slow things down but such politically motivated decisions leave a bad taste in the mouth when people are desperate for somewhere to live.

And then there’s the time it all takes. Not just for planning but also to unlock sites in public ownership, which is another power Osborne has wrestled away because, left to their own devices, councils wouldn’t do it themselves.

Localism was a way around that, cutting red tape, transferring power to the local level and changing the way development took place. But it has failed. We were handed the reins, but it turns out we didn’t want them so Osborne has taken them back.

Varoufakis is Wrong – Once an Electronic Drachma is Created The Market Will Quickly Supply the Currency

Guardian – one of the very few things Yanis has said I will disagree with

Exiting a common currency is nothing like severing a peg, as Britain did in 1992, when Norman Lamont famously sang in the shower the morning sterling quit the European exchange rate mechanism (ERM). Alas, Greece does not have a currency whose peg with the euro can be cut. It has the euro – a foreign currency fully administered by a creditor inimical to restructuring our nation’s unsustainable debt.

To exit, we would have to create a new currency from scratch. In occupied Iraq, the introduction of new paper money took almost a year, 20 or so Boeing 747s, the mobilisation of the US military’s might, three printing firms and hundreds of trucks. In the absence of such support, Grexit would be the equivalent of announcing a large devaluation more than 18 months in advance: a recipe for liquidating all Greek capital stock and transferring it abroad by any means available.

Yanis is quite right to emphasize the difference between ending a currency as for example Argentina did against the Dollar, and creating a new currency from scratch.  However he seems to think that no transfers can take place until the physical currency is in circulation, as if it is the currency itself which is what what has value.  However cash is simply a contractual IOU, a note of assets and liabilities, a note of a debt.  I will you with whatever backs the note – in modern currency terms the work done to produce goods and services to pay the taxes that balance exactly the government spending that brings currency into circulation, and ensures that the IOU retains its value.

Providing the public can pay its taxes don’t need physical currency.  For those that cant or wont use electronic payments – like some pensioners and those without bank accounts – the market has found a solution.  You can buy in almost any country the world electronic payment cards preloaded with electronic currency.  We know that Visa has already set up its systems to allow for a new Greek only Euro.  This would be bound to trade at discount becoming a new Dracma for reasons I have explained.  Therefore as soon as any Greek Government is forced to create electronic currency to jointly provide liquidity to its banks and pay wages the market within days would be issuing such cards.  Print on them the domination stored and don’t allow change except in other smaller cards – how is that any different from cash?  Hence you don’t need any more a fleet of Jumbos to create a currency – just state electronic payments and the market will swiftly supply it.

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