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

Narrow roads squeezing buses out of new estates

Unfortunately, Stagecoach have chosen the wrong target when trying to find somebody or something to blame for this problem.  It’s not the planning rules, it’s the lack of them.  The drive for deregulation across many areas of government, has seen minimum road widths disappear and developers allowed to get away with doing the absolute minimum.  The only rules that seems to apply these days are those about visibility splays, to ensure that views are sufficient for a driver to pull out into traffic safely.

once again the politicians have allowed the developers to hold sway over common sense and good planning, creating blighted estates for generations to come.

Copied from The Times online

Narrow roads squeezing buses out of new estates
Graeme Paton, Transport Correspondent
July 31 2017, 12:01am,
The Times
Stagecoach says high-density developments are being built with roads only 6m wide, when operators need 6.5m to allow two buses to pass without clipping wing mirrors
Stagecoach says high-density developments are being built with roads only 6m wide, when operators need 6.5m to allow two buses to pass without clipping wing mirrors
RICHARD MILLS FOR THE TIMES

Residents on newly built housing estates are being cut off from the bus network because developers are failing to construct wide enough roads, according to public transport bosses.

One of Britain’s biggest operators warned that buses were being forced to avoid many estates amid concerns over narrow roads, sharp bends, overzealous traffic calming and parked cars.

Stagecoach said that high-density developments were being built with roads only 6m wide, when operators needed 6.5m to allow two buses to pass without clipping wing mirrors.

It blamed planning rules that have cut road widths or pushed the layout of sharp bends to keep car speeds down.

The company also said that national guidelines introduced by Labour 17 years ago intended to clear roads of cars by providing less off-street parking had backfired, with many motorists leaving vehicles on the street.

 

Stagecoach has issued its own guidance to councils, urging them to build roads at least 6.5m wide, with sweeping bends and off-street parking provided.

It also said that “shared space” schemes that seek to declutter streets by stripping out kerbs, road markings and traffic signs should be redesigned to “avoid buses straying into areas intended mainly for pedestrians”.

Nick Small, Stagecoach’s head of strategic development for the south, said examples included the Shilton Park estate in Carterton, Oxfordshire, where the company could not operate a full-size bus, and the Kingsway development, Gloucester, which had areas “impenetrable by buses”.

Daniel Carey-Dawes, a senior infrastructure campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “Bad design will lock our towns and countryside into toxic congestion and car dependency for decades.”

Martin Tett, housing and transport spokesman for the Local Government Association, said: “We will be looking closely at this blueprint and continuing to work hard to deliver places where our communities can thrive.”
1RecommendReply

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.

Only local government can break the developer’s strangle hold on the housing market

Copied from Sunday Telegraph Sunday 16 April 2017

Economic Agenda
The key to opening up the housing market

By Liam Halligan

For decades across much of the UK far too few homes have been built. The average house now costs almost eight times annual earnings – an all-time record. In London and the South East, of course, this ratio is even higher.

Much of “generation rent” is simply unable to buy a home. For millions of youngsters, even those with professional qualifications and good jobs, property ownership is an ever more distant dream. Ten years ago, 64pc of 25 to 34-year-olds, the crucial family-forming age group, owned their own home. In 2015, it was 39pc.

Three fifths of an entire generation of young adults is locked out of the property market. Over half of first-time buyers get assistance from “the bank of Mum and Dad”, rising to two thirds in the South East. The housing market, once a source of social mobility, has become a source of growing resentment.
Part of the solution, as we so often hear from our politicians, is to “get Britain building again”. Yet the March PMI construction index, which monitors the UK’s leading building firms, last week pointed to a housebuilding slowdown. During the final three months of last year, 2pc fewer new homes were completed in England than the same period in 2015.

Over 2016 as a whole, while the construction of 5pc more homes was started than the year before, the number of new-builds actually completed was 1pc lower. Just 168,000 new-builds came to market across the UK as a whole in 2016 – way below the 250,000 needed annually to meet demand. The UK has built, on average, 100,000 too few homes a year since the 2008 financial crisis. For decades before that, housebuilding was also too low. The last time we did build a quarter of a million homes was back in 1980 – and 113,000 of those were council houses. With council-housebuilding now barely a few thousand each year, the UK’s housing needs are largely reliant on the private sector.

Although few homes are built, the UK’s three largest developers still report surging profits. Barratt saw a 40pc rise to £295m during the second half of 2016 – despite completing fewer homes. Taylor Wimpey made £733m last year, up 22pc. Persimmon’s full-year profits were £775m, 23pc higher.

These three developers now build a quarter of all new homes, with the eight largest accounting for over half. Small developers, suppliers of two thirds of new homes in the 1980s now build less than a quarter. It’s hard not to conclude the big housebuilders, who control so much of the land granted planning permission, are deliberately building slowly, to keep prices and profits up. Waiting to build creates a shortage and means their extensive land holdings also rise in value.

The “big developers” have “a stranglehold on supply”, said Communities Secretary Sajid Javid, at last October’s Conservative Party conference. They are “sitting on land banks”, while “delaying build-out”. The House of Lords economic affairs committee has also weighed in, saying the UK housebuilding industry has “all the characteristics of an oligopoly”. These two statements alone, in my view, mean our competition authorities should take a closer look. The UK’s housebuilding giants deny any go-slow, of course.

When the long-anticipated housing White Paper was published in February, some of us were disappointed at the lack of bold measures. While admitting “the UK’s housing market is broken”, there was no mention of a previous pledge to build a million new houses by the end of this Parliament – so, by 2020. That’s probably because, in the words of Paul Cheshire, a professor at the London School of Economics and probably the UK’s top housing academic, there is “more chance of me living on the moon”.

‘It’s hard not to conclude the big builders are deliberately building slowly, to keep prices and profits up’

Since the White Paper was published, though, having followed various behind-the-scenes struggles across Westminster and Whitehall, I’m pleased to report a little-noticed development that may soon help unlock UK housebuilding.

This column has previously called for the creation of powerful Housing Development Corporations (HDCs) – state-initiated bodies that acquire land, grant themselves planning permission, selling on the land in parcels to private developers. The HDCs then use the “planning gain” from the sharp rise in land value to fund new schools, hospitals, roads and so on. If new housing means local public services are significantly enhanced, there would be far fewer objections from existing residents. Variations of this model have been successfully used in countries from Germany and Holland to Singapore and South Korea.
Under existing “New Towns” legislation, national government can set up HDCs – which, crucially, can buy land at “existing use” value. Arable land, for instance, is purchased as arable land, bringing a healthy upside once residential planning is granted – guaranteeing ring-fenced cash for extra local infrastructure. That’s far better than current “Section 106” negotiations, under which powerful housebuilders hold most of the cards and often spend less on local amenities than councils expect.

What’s new and interesting is that an amendment has been made to new housing legislation allowing local government, with central government permission, to set up HDCs. Councils can buy land for a large development, partnering with the private sector if needs be – but, crucially, the planning gain receipts stay at the local level.

Such cash can then be used to build local amenities or even give residents a council tax rebate, which should make housebuilding much more popular.

This could massively empower local government, while finally sparking the housebuilding the UK so desperately needs. “If councils are considering a sizeable development,” says an insider at the Department of Communities and Local Government, “they should give us a call”.

Some insight into why our competitive edge will always be blunt

A couple of weeks ago now, I was in the company of a number of senior people from one of of our major national developers.  We were all at attending a conference and  they were representing the sponsor of that evening’s conference dinner.

it was fast approaching midnight in the bar and the mood was jocular and relaxed with plentry of banter between politicians and developers present, as one might expect.  The conversation turned to the skills shortage and in particular the shortage of bricklayers in their industry.  In another life one of the politicians had been a builder, so was quick to agree with the developers’ complaints about the national apprenticeship scheme used to train brickies.

I won’t bore you with the details of their complaint, but suffice to say, that anything involving the principles of good bricklaying, was totally pointless when it came to training bricklayers, in their collective opinions.  As far as those in the know were concerned, it should only take a couple of months at the most to ‘knock out’ a capable bricky.

On the face of it, many people would sympathise with any employer who objected to paying for staff to be trained to a depth they believed would never be used ‘in anger’ so to speak, which of course is why these developers were complaining about apprenticeships for bricklayers.

However, if the belief that the absolute minimum will do when it comes to skills training, is common across all industries that make or build things in this country, we will always lag behind the rest of the world when it comes to increasing national productivity and therefore competitiveness.

The Germans have a far greater respect for non-academic skills than there has ever been in this country.  A qualified engineer in Germany is given the title Herr Doctor to acknowledge their skill and training for example.  Of course I’m not suggesting that all our young Waynes, Jacks, Jills and Johns should now be trained to the level of Herr Doctor Bricky.

However, if you give a young person a good grounding in their chosen career, then they are more likely to aspire to go further than where they started when they first started work.  There are plenty of 30+, or even 40+ tradesmen and women out there doing exactly what they were doing when they were 20, but could now be doing so much more, had they had the right training at the start of their careers.

Teaching somebody more than just how to lay one brick after another in a straight line, until somebody tells you to stop and go back to the beginning and start again, should be welcomed as an investment in our country’s future, not resented as an annoying delay in building your bottom line at the end of the financial year.

Short-termism infects every area of government and private industry in this country – at least government has the partial excuse of the election cycle for this.  This continues to put us on the back foot when it comes to competing with the competition globally.

Seems I could become one of the last planning committee chairman under this government’s plans

Housing bill amendments branded ‘privatisation of planning’
5 JANUARY, 2016 BY DAVID PAINE

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online
Concerns have been raised that the government is privatising the planning service after it tabled a number of major last-minute changes to the Housing and Planning Bill.

Amendments put forward by the government this morning include plans to let developers choose who processes planning applications.

Also planned are changes to let local authorities set their own planning fees, a new section 106 dispute resolution process, and giving ministers the power to force councils to sell off land.

MPs are due to debate the bill, and 100 pages of proposed amendments, in the House of Commons this afternoon.

New clauses proposed by communities secretary Greg Clark will allow planning applications to be processed by an approved “designated person” if an applicant “so chooses”. While local authorities will still be responsible for the final decision on any planning application, regulations will in due course outline the circumstances under which an external recommendation by a “designated person” will be “binding” on a local authority.
Hugh Ellis, head of policy at the Town & Country Planning Association, called the amendments “extremely controversial”.

“It raises the prospect whereby the advice of a private consultant on a planning application could be more or less binding on a planning committee,” Mr Ellis told LGC. “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out that what’s happening here is a fundamental assault on the public interest objectives of planning.”

A part of the amendments will force local planning authorities to share relevant information, such as the planning history of the land to which an application relates, with the designated person as well as the communities secretary.

Mr Ellis called the amendments “very worrying” and added: “People have talked about the privatisation of planning services and I think that’s probably what this is.”

He added: “I do wonder if people, particularly local councillors, who haven’t got their heads stuck in the Housing and Planning Bill will wake up to a particularly nasty shock over what this legislation has resulted in overall.”

Another government-proposed amendment will let councils locally set planning fees. The District Councils Network has repeatedly called for that, and in a briefing document on the latest amendments the Local Government Association voiced its support.

However, the proposed wording of the legislation gives the communities secretary the power to “prevent the charging of fees that he or she considers excessive”.

Plans to amend the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 and give the communities secretary the power to direct councils, and other public authorities, to dispose of the land they hold were condemned by the LGA.

“Councils are best able to manage locally their assets to meet the needs of communities and are on track to bring forward significant levels of development on their land up to 2020,” it said. “Local authorities should retain the flexibility to manage their own assets.”

Another proposed new clause would give the communities secretary the power to impose “restrictions or conditions on the enforceability” of how many affordable homes, including ‘starter homes’, local authorities want built on a site.

The LGA said that should be for councils to “determine locally”.

The LGA also expressed concern over government plans to introduce a new dispute resolution procedure in relation to section 106 negotiations. The amendments will allow for an appointed individual to oversee disputes.

“Strengthening requirements for the upfront negotiation of S106 agreements would be a more effective means of avoiding delays than offering an alternative route for resolution,” the LGA said.

Timely and welcome support from my fellow ward member

This is the text of a letter submitted by my fellow ward member, councillor Christine Lawton, to our local press.

“I am pleased that something amuses Mr Cronin, although I did not find his unhelpful attitude at the steering group which looked at the possibilities of building a community centre for Wygate at all funny. On the question of delay perhaps he should consider “motes and beams”.   

As to his central question “Why are the residents being restricted to a building?”, the simple answer is that the 106 money from developer was for a community building.  Like my predecessor (before your time Mr Cronin) I too am a simple soul – I believe that a facility which could accommodate such excellent groups as cubs, WI, dancing classes for children, a meeting place for the retired would be in principle a fine idea.  That is why the Wygate community is being surveyed  (by an independent charity) to ascertain the wishes and desires of the local residents.  That sounds pretty democratic to me!

I value team-work and loyalty and wish to associate myself with the efforts of Cllr Gambba-Jones and others in this attempt to discover the appetite for a centre for Wygate residents.  Let the people decide – it works for me.”

I’ve taken the liberty of adding the link to Wikipedia for those, like myself, who are unfamiliar with the parable, or just read the panel below.  I couldn’t have said it better myself – no actually, my education doesn’t stretch that far, so I couldn’t have said it at all; thank heavens for Christine!