More interference in the planning system because the last piece hasn’t worked

There’s nothing here to suggest that this will cause a single new house to be built any quicker than it might otherwise be built under the system we had when we had regional plans and regional spatial strategies.

Eric Pickles must be so proud of himself.  He got a knighthood for convincing everybody to scrap something that was, admittedly unpopular with councillors in the Home Counties and high demand affluent areas.  In doing so, he effectively paralysed the planning system, leaving it to the mercies of his badly drafted developer’s charter, the National Planning Policy Framework.

Copied from The MJ.co.uk
Councils told number of homes they should build
By Dan Peters | 14 September 2017
Updated: 15 September 2017
The Government has told councils the number of homes it thinks they need to deliver every year as part of Whitehall plans to boost housing.

Proposals published by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) include a standard method for calculating councils’ housing need and an ‘indicative assessment’ for each authority.

The DCLG insisted its proposed system does not set targets but described the figures as a ‘starting point to ensure that it will be quicker for each local area to produce a realistic plan of its housing need’.

Communities secretary Sajid Javid said: ‘We are not attempting to micro-manage local development.

‘We’re not dictating targets from on-high.

‘All we are doing is setting out a clear, consistent process for assessing what may be needed in the years to come.

‘How to meet the demand, whether it’s possible to meet the demand, where to develop, where not to develop, what to develop, how to work with neighbouring authorities and so on remains a decision for local authorities and local communities.’

The DCLG claimed councils in England currently spent an estimated £3m every year employing consultants to work out how many new homes were needed in their area.

Mr Javid continued: ‘This new approach will cut the unnecessarily complex and lengthy debates that can delay house building.

‘It will make sure we have a clear and realistic assessment of how many new homes are needed, and ensure local communities have a voice in deciding where they go.’

A DCLG spokeswoman added: ‘The proposed changes will help boost housing supply and improve affordability.

‘It will help ensure councils work to a consistent approach to plan for more homes in the right places.

‘This is a crucial first step in solving the country’s housing crisis.’

The DCLG also suggested that only those areas where local planning authorities were ‘delivering the homes their communities need’ would be entitled to increased planning fees.

Housing minister Alok Sharma said there would be a 20% planning application fee increase for local authorities that committed to investing the additional income in their planning department, with potentially a further 20% for councils that met demand.

Areas that struggle to meet their needs locally have been told they will ‘need to work with neighbouring councils to plan across a wider area’.

A public consultation will now run for eight weeks.

Housing spokesman for the Local Government Association, Cllr Martin Tett, said: ‘There could be benefits to having a standard approach to assessing the need for housing, but a formula drawn up in Whitehall can never fully understand the complexity and unique needs of local housing markets, which vary significantly from place to place.

‘Ultimately, we need a renaissance in council house building if we’re to deliver the affordable homes this country needs – national ambitions will not be realised without new freedoms and powers for councils.’

Chairman of the District Councils’ Network, Cllr John Fuller, expressed early concerns that a national formula ‘may never take into account all local constraints’.

He continued: ‘Our members will want to be reassured that where there are overriding environment or infrastructure constraints that this must be taken into account in the plan making process.

‘To deliver additional housing growth, district councils must be given greater fiscal freedom and incentives to truly unlock their potential.’

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What goes around, comes around – again

The government’s continued interference and rewriting of the planning system, includes the rebranding of processes ministers had previously condemended as being too top down and even undemocratic.

To be fair, they are putting their own twist on this particular regurgitation of one of the most contentious pieces of the regional spatial strategy process that Eric Pickles made such a hash of scrapping, by calling it a ‘methodology’.

The end result of course will be the same.  The methodology is intended to circumvent long standing localised political resistance to increased housing development, by requiring those producing Local Plans, to use a process that always ends up with a plus figure.

Objectively assessed housing need is the way that’s supposed to be the way it’s done under the current system.  However, the ingenuity and cunning of local politicians, experiencing massive pressure from a vociferous and highly motivated NIMBY minded electorate, has found ways around this.

Inevitably, the draft Local Plan is then either found unsound at the Examination in Public, or as is more likely, land owners and developers simply submit applications on spec, using a lack of a 5 year housing land supply, as well as everything else in their tool box, to override local intransigence.

A subservient planning committee makes sure the politics holds sway, ignoring the hard work of their planning officers and effectively claiming black is white when it comes to their own council’s planning policies.

The inevitable overturn of the unjustified refusal, is swiftly followed by  appellant’s claim that, as well as being unjustified, it’s unreasonable.  This then opens the door to a successful costs claim, costing local taxpayers tens, if not hundreds of thousands of pounds.

So clearly something needed to be done, but was it a one size fits all approach that catches the good, the bad and ugly all at the same time?  Or, with a bit more thought, focus and dare I suggest subtlety?

Could the government not have found a way of dealing with the inherent politicisation of the planning system in certain councils, through performance analysis and forthright challenge – name and shame league tables would have been a good place to start.

Now what what we are likely to see, is a national methodology that can be manipulated by the government of the day, using one of those algorithms they love to use every time they want to stitch up the opposition via the revenue support grant system.

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Consultation on assessing local housing need delayed
The Department for Communities and Local Government has confirmed the consultation on assessing local housing need has been delayed until Parliament returns in September.

Speaking at the Local Government Association (LGA) conference early in July, communities secretary Sajid Javid said the government would launch a consultation on a new way for councils to assess their local housing requirements that month.

This was first announced in the housing white paper in February.

Now, a spokesperson at the DCLG has confirmed that the department “intends to publish the local housing need consultation when Parliament returns in September”.

Richard Blyth, head of policy at the RTPI, told The Planner the standardised methodology “must be introduced so as not to cause a hiatus in local plan production”.

Andrew Gale, chief operating officer, Iceni Projects, said: “While the introduction of a new simplified methodology for assessing housing requirements has been widely supported by many in the industry, the government has clearly concluded that efforts to force councils to increase the number of homes in their local plans is too much of a political hot-potato.”

2 August 2017
Laura Edgar, The Planner

How to be a very clever fool

If you take a look a Sajid Javid’s Wikipedia entry, you’ll get some insight into why he was possibly the second worst choice as Secretary of State for Local Government, after Eric Pickles.  At least Pickles started his political life as a councillor, which is clearly where he gained his hatred for the sector.

in Sajid Javid’s case, Given that he’s never been a councillor, one can only assume that his dislike for councils is based on the size of his local council tax bill, the introduction of a fortnightly refuse collection, or an over complicated recycling system, where he resides.  Or is it that he really is a hardcore bean counter, with absolutely no people skills, who simply wowed everybody with his big brain and financial speak to become an MP and now finds himself like a fish out of water?

That said, even he must surely appreciate that, unless you carry your electorate with you, then all your highminded, doing the right thing policies count for nought, when it come to the ballot box.

Singling out councillors, as the sole reason why housing isn’t getting built in high demand areas, goes to demonstrate how out of touch so many of our MPs are.

The electorate are very happy to vent their anger with central government at local elections, especially when the council in control is from the same party as the government.  They feel that their vote is simply sending a message, as opposed to having any real impact on the future of the country, in the same way voting in a General Election does.

imagine then the fallout for those in control, if they have approved hundred, or even thousands of new houses, against fierce local opposition, even if it is desperately needed.  Ignoring the political pressure involved, especially in areas where the well heeled, well connected take up arms and their cheque books, shows a clear lack of political realism, let alone accume.

Also, I would remind Mr Javid, that his predecessor scrapped one of the key policy mechanisms for by-passing these so-called ‘selfish local councillors’ – Regional Spatial Strategies.  These set the housing numbers required for each area within the region covered and dictated individual Local Plans accordingly.  Eric Pickles came in like a bull in a china shop and threw these documents on the pyre in 2010, telling us all that such things should be decided locally, because locals know best.

Of course he didn’t really mean it, because waiting in the wings, was the National Planning Policy Framework.  This supposed simplification document of only 52 pages contained footnotes referring to documents containing at least 1800 other pages.  It was then followed up with the NPPF technical guide of nearly 200 pages and numerous ministerial directives, that have attempted to correct perceived shortcomings of the new improved system.

just to add insult to injury, the government has sought numerous ways to rig the system in the developer’s favour.  If you can’t prove you have a 5 year supply of readily available housing land, then it’s effectively anything goes.  If the developer claims the houses are too expensive to build, or more accurately, the profits aren’t big enough, they can play the viability card and avoid the provision of such things as affordable housing, provision of a school, or contributions to other local facilities.

Finally, and a perfectly example of his deep ignorance of all things planning, is his threat to shame council leaders into revealing their ‘real’ housing need.  Every council has to do this piece of evidence based work, as part of their Local Plan preparation.  Therefore, at some point, it becomes a matter of the public record, as part of the statutory consultation process.

I’m not sure what the difference is going to be between these figures and the ones he envisages, I’m not sure.  What’s worse, there’s very little point going through this duplicate process, if you then don’t have the delivery mechanism needed to make the need a reality.  You’re picking the wrong targets Mr Javid, on so many levels.

Like so many things in government and no more so than in planning, we are going around in circles. We’re going from local to top down, back to local and on to goodness knows what, given that the bloke now in charge, really doesn’t seem to have a clue where to start.

Copied from ConservativeHome

Published: July 16, 2017
Inflammatory language, noble aims. Javid prepares to battle for more home ownership and social justice.

By Paul Goodman

“From now on these council leaders, who include many Conservatives who should know better, are going to have to start telling the truth.

“We are not prepared for them to lie about the housing crisis to protect Nimbys [Not In My Backyard] who have had too much sway for too long.

“They are going to have to adjust to the idea that everyone has a right to a roof over their head in this green and pleasant land, not just a privileged few.

“Owning your own home is a fundamental part of being a Conservative. If a whole generation of young people cannot afford to do that, we can’t complain if they vote Labour.’

“Selfish Conservative councils need to smell the coffee or there won’t be a Conservative Party in the future. We have to end the tyranny of a well-heeled minority who complain a maisonette built within five miles will ruin the view from their “in-out driveways” and orangeries. They have the cash and clout to bully everyone else into submission. It cannot go on.”
Whichever “official” briefed today’s Mail on Sunday about Sajid Javid’s plans for housing – the source is described in that way – cannot be accused of seeking to ingratiate the Communities Secretary with Party members.

In one sense, this way of communicating Javid’s view, if it was authorised, is odd, since he reportedly has leadership ambitions. In another, it is par for the course. As we have written many times, the Communities Secretary is seized with the need for more homes to be built. And as politicians go, he is a very straightforward character – more inclined than most of them to sail straight towards the shore, rather than tack and trim to the tides.

At the end of last month, we reported that he sees the key to achieving this as “a needs assessment for each area based on robust data which local authorities are not able to water down to the point where nothing much gets built at all”.

Before the last election, he was unable to shift Theresa May on this point, and she was all-powerful in government. The transformation in the balance of power between her and her Ministers since June 9 is thus working to Javid’s advantage. The Mail claims that “he will this week warn that if wealthy areas like Maidenhead in Berkshire refuse to build extra homes to solve the UK’s housing crisis, they will drive more young voters who can’t afford to buy into the arms of Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn”.

For the Communities Secretary to name the Prime Minister’s constituency would be quite extraordinarily, er, direct – and we must assume that the paper is gilding the lily.

But it sounds pretty much on the money when it adds that the Communities Secretary “is ready to ‘shame’ some council leaders into owning up to housing needs” and that “they will be ordered to perform a ‘full and frank’ audit of their area and explain how they will meet demand”. Javid will apparently “promise to increase the number of homes built a year in Britain from 190,000 to 300,000, a rise of 58 per cent” and “has the Prime Minister’s full backing”. Hmm.

We agree with the Communities Secretary. The importance of building more homes isn’t a post-election fad for us, suddenly unearthed since June 9th.

In the ConservativeHome manifesto, published three years ago, we called for a fairer deal for young people in Britain’s housing settlement – complete with new garden cities and new paths to home ownership “Central government support should be switched to enable councils, housing associations and other registered social landlords to build new homes,” we wrote. “This new support would be conditional on making these new homes available through schemes that help tenants to become owners.”

But make no mistake: Javid is set for the mother and father of all dust-ups with Conservative-controlled councils, whose fear of the Party’s collective leadership, in the wake of the election result, has plunged through the floor and is still heading downwards.

So he will need to deploy a bit more honey and a little less vinegar than today’s report suggests if he is to seek to keep local councillors onside. It is just as well that the changes he wants don’t require primary legislation, which wouldn’t stand a cat in hell’s chance of getting through the Commons, as presently constituted. But he must ready himself for outraged Tory MPs to come knocking at his door in droves, backed up by Conservative council leaders.

Democracy and politicians – never the twain shall meet?

As Whitehall politicians become more and more impatient with the drain local democracy places on the public purse, successive governments are finding ways to marginalise local politicians and insert those in their own image into that level of government, to do their bidding.

Labour attempted it with regional assemblies, with a sop to local democracy being made via the quality parish council initiative.  Regional government would emasculate every democratically elected body that currently existed outside of the Westminster bubble, with parish councils taking on parochial service delivery, thereby offering their local electorate a facade of local democratic power and control.

The current government has offered local government the ‘carrot’ of devolution.  The stick comes via the wresting away of democratic decision making and therefore wider than local spending powers, from directly elected local representatives, with the introduction of elected mayors.  These mayors would apparently see the bigger picture and establish a more direct line of ‘communication’ for their areas with central government.

Having failed to get these in place in a number of areas, they now appear to have come up with another cunning plan to do away with these pesky councillors.

Copied from The MJ Online Thursday 25 May 2017

Strengthening local democracy
By George Jones and John Stewart | 24 May 2017
Few have commented on a strange proposal in the Government’s Industrial Strategy green paper. It states: ‘We will work with local government to review how to bring more business expertise into local government, for example through the creation of a modern “alderman” type of role within local government’. There is no explanation of what this sentence means.

The use of the title alderman clearly repeats the use of the title mayor, which used to be restricted to the person indirectly chosen by the council to perform the politically-impartial role of chairing the council and carrying out ceremonial and social functions. But now it also refers to a person directly elected by the local electorate as the executive leader of the authority. The use of the word ‘mayor’ was intended to make this new role attractive to voters, but instead it confused the electorate as to what the role was to be. Now the term ‘alderman’ is perhaps seen as a way of making the new proposal (whatever it is) acceptable.

Whoever thought up this word may have misjudged how most people think. Aldermen have long been forgotten. They were abolished in the 1974 reorganisation of local government with little regret. They were seen as often frustrating the democratic will of the people, since they were appointed by the councillors, not the voters, and served for a six-year term.

Aldermen were usually senior councillors protected from defeat by the electorate. The position had been created in the 19th century as constituting a kind of House of Lords in local councils, acting as a constraint on the dangerous democratic processes of elected councillors.

The Government is intensifying its attack on local democracy. It is following its previous demotion of elected councillors into only the role of scrutiny of executive mayors by now proposing to diminish them further by inserting into councils aldermen, appointed not elected locally, with full voting rights.

This proposal signifies that in the culture of central government there is little interest in local representative democracy and no concern for its principles. It shows talk of local devolution is a sham.

The result of central government’s neglect of local representative democracy, or even of understanding its importance, has been that in a series of initiatives it has undermined elected local government.

Over the last 20 or more years, functions have been removed from elected authorities and placed under appointed bodies. The outstanding example is education, where schools are increasingly under the control of ‘chains’ which have emerged without any clear legislative basis.

The essence of local representative democracy is expressed in the direct election of councillors by citizens of the area they represent. But in combined authorities the mayor is the only member who is directly elected. The other voting members are appointed by their own councils.

The principle of direct election has been replaced by indirect election, usually of the leaders of the separate authorities. The principle of equal representation of areas is undermined by a restriction to a single individual for each authority, despite greatly varying populations.

The creation of directly-elected mayors undermines the position of councillors. The concentration of power in a single individual weakens local democracy. The council, as the expression of local representative democracy can alter policies and the budget only if there is a two-thirds majority, which is impossible in most local authorities.

The introduction of such ‘special majorities’ is a recent development in legislative bodies. It means the majority of a council can have no power even if a majority has voted for a proposal.

Local representative democracy is the principle on which our local government has long been based. It is the only effective way in which citizens can ensure accountability. Some, however, urge the merits of participatory democracy, and see it as opposed to representative democracy. We are not opponents of the techniques of participatory local democracy, but regard them as ways to strengthen representative democracy.

In a variety of ways local representative democracy is being eroded, leading to greater centralisation.

These developments have rightly led many, including The MJ, to argue for the start of a discussion on the future of local government, hoping it would help to reverse the process of centralisation, which has been a feature of the last 40 or so years under various governments.

Local representative democracy must be the basis on which effective and accountable local government can and must be built. There is no alternative if local government is to have the authority of responsibilities that can challenge the process of centralisation.

Centralisation cannot deliver effective government, since it thinks in terms of uniformities, whereas reality consists of diversity. Local government is the government of difference: it can respond to messy reality in ways that reflect the diversity of local circumstances.

Critical requirements to strengthen local representative democracy are for all concerned to recognise its importance and understand that political representation is an active role, involving interaction with the electorate, seeking out its views and ideas, and not merely waiting at surgeries for people’s complaints and specific problems to be aired, important though that is.

Indirect election and special majorities should be eradicated, as should the focus on single individuals as directly-elected mayors. Councils should be recognised as the supreme body locally and not regarded as requiring mechanisms to constrain its operations.

One basic constitutional change is needed to strengthen local representative democracy, ensuring it is truly representative, and that is to introduce proportional representation into local elections. The case for local government proportional representation is stronger than for Parliamentary elections, and it grows stronger in an increasingly multi-party society.

These ideas and more are set out in a book written in collaboration with Professor Steve Leach of De Montfort University, entitled Centralisation, Devolution and the Future of Local Government in England (Abingdon: Routledge, 2017).

John Stewart is emeritus professor of local government at the University of Birmingham. George Jones, emeritus professor of government at the London School of Economics, died last month, shortly after writing this article

A tribute to George Jones, originally published in The MJ, can be viewed here