A lesson in planning from the Germans?

We will probably never experience a totally pain free development process in this country; nimbyism has become too ingrained in our culture. However, we could go a long way towards reducing the almost universal resistance we currently experience, to new housing, by actually delivering the high quality development, instead of just talking about it.

The question is, how do you ‘force’ developers to build homes that have suitable room sizes, enough inside storage, outside storage for wheelie bins and bicycles, sufficient off street parking – and of course, look good?

In defence of developers, they often start on the back foot, by paying too much for the land they want to build on.  It’s easy to suggest that this is the developers’ fault and that they should just refuse to pay the inflated prices demanded by the landowners.  However, developers have businesses to run and would soon be on the breadline if they held out for a more sensible price, as there will always be another developer willing to pay.

So what’s the answer? Whilst there are many who distrust much about Europe – mainly because of the EU – we do admire much of what the Germans do and the way they do it. As well as their black and white traffic laws, highly efficient manufacturing base and litter free streets, the Germans also seem to have a planning system, that delivers high quality housing.

They do this is two ways. Firstly, they use zones of development, within which building can take place without the need to go through the sort of planning processes we use in this country. Of course, underpinning these zones, there are a raft of design and development guides, that have to be applied to the build.

The second thing they do and the one that must surely allow them to deliver high quality development, along with the required infrastructure and facilities, is exercise a degree of control on the price of land.  They do this by ensuring that there is enough of it available to satisfy demand, thereby avoiding the sort of price inflation that always happens when something is in short supply and high demand.

I suspect the present government has attempted to mimic the German system to some extent, by requiring all local authorities to have a Local Plan identifying a five year supply of housing land.   In addition to this five year land supply, councils must also have an ‘objectively assessed need’ of what housing is required for their area.   In practical terms, this means that the council can’t just produce a Local Plan and stick it on a shelf the next 20 years, as seems to be the passed practice.

Of course, this housing needs assessment and five year housing land supply requirement has not gone down well with the majority of councils, especially those in areas where house prices are high, such as the south east and rural areas adjacent to large cities.

The politicians in these councils are screaming blue murder about concreting over the countryside, the loss of the green belt and urban sprawl, all this whilst ignoring the increasing demand for housing and the ever increasing difficult for young people trying to get on the housing ladder.

Frustratingly, the government has failed to explain the thinking behind the changes introduced by the National Planning Policy Framework, fuelling the suspicion that these changes are more about the bank accounts of the developers, than providing homes that people can afford. This suspicion is further reinforced, by the trump card government handed to developers, in the form of a viability test.

The viability argument allows developers to wriggle out of providing affordable housing, community facilities and just about anything else they believe will, according to them, make the development financially unviable. Which of course rolls us all the way back to the price paid for the land in the first place. If you provide enough of anything to satisfy the demand, then the cost of the commodity on offer, in this case land, not only remains stable , but often reduces in real terms. Clearly, we’re not ‘making’ any more land, so it has its own dynamic when it comes to value. As such, it wouldn’t be helpful to compare it to something that was in the past expensive to produce and therefore expensive to buy, but now has become affordable to all, such as the simple cup of tea, but it does help to set the scene. Provide enough of anything and then make it readily available to those who want it and the price of it finds an affordable level. That seems to be the very simple rule the Germans have used.

Mr Brown uses old grievance to miss the point

At first, Mr Brown’s letter, in the recent edition of the Spalding Guardian, appeared to be in support of Chris Brewis and his ‘Crowland playhouse’ comments and my rebuttal letter regarding his totally artificial outrage.

However, upon further reading, Mr Brown is actually using his letter to revisit his dis-satisfaction with a complaint he made in May. At that time and in another letter, he complained about the response he received from a council officer, when he complained about a neighbour operating a hairdressing salon from home. Allegedly, the officer told him, ‘we don’t have the resources to investigate’. He also finished his complaint by referring to civil servants, an error he claims was him being flippant. I’m afraid I missed his flippancy in a Twitter response and assumed it to be his lack of understand that local government staff were not civil servants.

On the matter of the home based hairdressing salon, I’m pretty certain that what he claims to have been told, would not have been the whole story – our planning compliance officers are far more professional than that.

What the officer would have said was, that in principle, small businesses, operating from residential addresses, but not causing any issues for other residents, are viewed as acceptable. He would also have been told that it would require a certain level of evidence of actual disturbance to neighbours, before any investigation was carried out and that we did not have the resources to spend time collecting that evidence.

Finally, his letter in the Guardian was entitled, ‘This is why so many people are disillusioned’. I think it would have been far more accurate to say, ‘This is why Mr Brown is so disillusioned’, as his letter is clearly about him not getting his way, rather than anything to do with democratic representation.

Something every planning committee already knows

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online

Homeowners prevent housebuilding, report finds
24 October, 2014 | By David Paine

House-building rates are lower in local authority areas with higher proportions of homeowners, according to analysis by the Institute for Government (IfG).

The report,‘Housing that Works for All – The Political Economy of Housing in England’, covered the period from 2001 to 2011.

It follows the publication of the Lyons housing review, which outlined how up to 200,000 new homes a year could be built by the year 2020.

The IfG said there was a risk of planning decisions being biased in favour of current homeowners.

This was in part because of a lack of city or region-wide planning co-ordination, which meant planning policy operated “exclusively at the local level and is responding to the interests of local residents”.

It said new developments often created new infrastructure costs for councils, and extra demand for public services, yet the increase in revenues from developments was “limited”.

The report also warned that the requirement for planning permission to be granted for any change of land use made decisions “slower and more uncertain”. Homeowners were among the most likely groups to oppose new homes, it said.

Miguel Coelho, IfG fellow and co-author of the paper, said: “A common accusation is that planning decisions tend to cater for the interests of current homeowners, rather than allow for a wider, more balanced set of interests. New empirical presented in this paper lend support to this hypothesis.

“Our analysis shows in particular that in the decade to 2011, housing stock grew significantly less in local authorities where there were higher proportions of owner-occupiers amongst local households.

“Credible proposals to reform the planning system should address this problem and ensure that planning decisions allow for the full breadth of interests affected by development.”

However, the paper acknowledged reforming the planning system would be difficult.

It claimed there had, so far, been a lack of public support to do so, and that the wealth of households and health of the UK financial sector had “become inextricably intertwined with the macro-economy, thus undermining the case for fast, radical reform”.

It also claimed that “successive governments have struggled to find a sensible balance between regional/national planning co-ordination and local democratic legitimacy”.


Developers are the only ones being heard by DCLG

It doesn’t matter who the minister is at the time, when it comes to DCLG and planning policy, they apparently all have the same priority – developers and their wellbeing.
Although all of us with an interest in planning, have been shouting long and loud, about the shortcomings of the NPPF. However, what we didn’t really cotton on to initially, or at least not as far as I noticed, was a hand grenade with the pin already out, called viability.
It would be nice to think that the government’s rationale for introducing the viability trap, was to overcome developer sins of the past – greed.
You might recall that, in the lead up to the 2007 financial bubble burst, house prices were increasing at a ridiculous pace. Developers were keen to cash in on this lunacy and seemed ready to pay just about any price to get their hands on land. Of course, landowners, were equally keen to cash in, so pushed for the highest price they could get.
Now if you or I overpaid for something we bought and then expected somebody else to pick up the bill, because we couldn’t afford to use it, we’d be told tough luck mate, them’s the breaks. Developers overpaid for land that they then banked, confident that the only way was up when it came to house and therefore land prices.
However, in the case of the developers, they’ve found something else to cash in on – the government’s panic about the economy and their belief that house building will somehow save it. So instead of having to bite the bullet and take the hit in their pockets, the developers have convinced the government that nothing will get built, unless they can wriggle out of all of the requirement


Minister urged to protect future of rural affordable homes

Housing minister Brandon Lewis has been urged to protect small rural communities from Government proposals which could drastically cut the development of new affordable homes.

Community Lincs is backing the plea by its national body ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England), which has written to the Minister to outline its objections.

The charity says the planned changes to policy will threaten the future of communities in the countryside, where house prices have risen by 82pc in the past 10 years.

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) is consulting on its proposals to remove section 106 planning obligations, which deliver affordable housing, from sites of fewer than 10 homes.

ACRE, the national voice for England’s 38 rural community councils, says small-scale developers may simply stop building affordable homes if the changes go ahead.

The charity is calling on the Minister to exempt all sites in communities with a population under 3,000.

Community Lincs Chief Executive, Fiona White said: “Figures from DCLG show that in 2012/13, 66pc (1,905) of homes in settlements under 3,000 were delivered through Section 106 agreements.

“Clearly, the proposed changes would prevent a significant number of affordable homes being developed each year. This would have a profoundly damaging effect on small, rural communities – threatening their long-term sustainability.

“Affordable housing enables local people to remain in a community where they have families, schools and jobs. It allows people to return to communities where they grew up and it helps sustain local services, including schools, businesses and shops.

“If these changes go ahead, we expect to see developers only building housing at market prices to obtain the greatest profits. There is a major shortage of affordable homes across the UK and Government policies should ensure that more are built, not fewer.”

ACRE chief executive Janice Banks said: “We are calling on DCLG to make an exception for communities with a population under 3,000. This would give the Minister the opportunity to deliver a policy that works for the right reasons in the right communities whilst avoiding serious damage to affordable housing delivery in small, rural communities.”

Ms Banks said a cross-party bill, which would give local authorities the decision on the most appropriate threshold, was not the answer.

She said: “While we agree that DCLG’s proposals don’t take any local conditions into account, leaving the decision with local authorities will simply result in a postcode lottery. An exemption for small communities is the fairest solution.”

Issued: 22/09/2014

Media contact: Stuart Duckworth: 01529 301967

Notes to editors:

· Section 106 agreements – known as planning obligations – require developers to provide contributions – such as affordable homes or playgrounds, for example – to offset negative impacts caused by construction and development.

· Rural house prices have risen 82% in 10 years, faster than urban areas. (Simple Average House Price Sales, The Land Registry)

· In 2011, the average lower quartile house price was 8.3 times the average lower quartile earnings in predominantly rural areas. This compares with 7.1 in predominantly urban areas and 7.3 in England as a whole.