This month’s big idea, from this month’s Housing Secretary

Taking the Easy Way Out: Developers Warned on Poor Quality Homes

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has warned developers building poor-quality homes that they will have to “change their practices” as he called for a “systematic change” in Britain’s approach to planning and design – as reported in on 24/10/19 in the Times: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/housing-secretary-robert-jenrick-warns-developers-over-poor-homes-p2326f92x

The Government is tackling poorly designed homes – not poorly constructed homes with the launch of a National Design Guide.  This reminds planning authority that planning permission should be refused for developments that failed to take the opportunities available for improving the character and quality of an area and the way it functions.

The guide specifically discourages features that create barriers or segregation within a development.  So poor doors and exclusive playgrounds are out (see “Poor doors: the Segregation of London” & “Too Poor to Play”.

It encourages well-designed building which are functional and sustainable.  Things such as simple electrics, lighting and water systems which are discreet, well-maintained and easy to access to maintain.  It is a sign of the bad design and bad quality housing that the Guide needs to state these obvious facts.

Good design also means that places are robust, durable and easy to look after.  Regrettably, again, this is a feature which is all too often missing from new housing.

Addressing bad design is positive but it seems like the easy way out for the government.  It doesn’t touch on the bigger and more difficult issues of poor construction and appalling workmanship that we see on a day to day basis.  None of these issues will be addressed by the new design guidelines.

It is time for the government to focus on the problems buyers of new build homes are facing which stem from workmanship not design.  Missing insulation, defective floors, leaks, crumbling mortar, badly constructed brick walls and other serious structural problems.It’s time the government took action to make sure builders get these basics right.

New Zealand Tackles Nimby Defence of Property Interests Head in in New National Policy Statement

Lessons in spatial planning policy from the other side of the world – is ANYBODY on this side listening? In fact, will anybody stay in the job long enough to even understand it enough to try?

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

A very interesting read

Of course the New Zealand System is based on resource management which the draft statement says has not been focussed enough around spatial planning, or social and economic considerations.

Current processes for public participation tend to favour wealthier property owners over others (in particular younger, non-English speakers, ethnic minorities, the less educated and renters)….

Some planning decisions on urban development appear to consider only the effects on the natural environment or specific amenity considerations, and not how the urban environment meets the social, economic and cultural needs of people and communities. Many decisions
focus on the adverse effects of development, and do not adequately address its benefits (including for future generations). This can have a local and national impact…

The Government intends to introduce objectives and
policies in the NPS-UD that would:
• emphasise that amenity values can change over time, with changes in communities and…

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The Strategic Tradeoff in New Style Strategic Plans

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

The story of strategic planning since the 2004 Act has been in large part an innovation of new styles of plan facing the harsh reality of  contact with the Planning Inspectorate.

Now the results of the NEGC and West of England examinations into new style joint strategic plans offers an opportunity reflection similar to that following the unsoundness fining of the first core strategy for Stafford.

Although strategic planning has seen an inevitable revival the reason why it has not been welcomed with open arms is that in England we have never got the structure or geographical level of strategic planning right.  Numerous messing around with local government structures always short of a comprehensive form has led to a messy combination of strategic plan structures covering districts, unitaries, counties and combined authorities.  Though we have moved beyond the weak duty to cooperate to an effective duty to plan strategically there…

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How can we allow this to be happening in this day and age?

Windowless permitted development flats approved at appeal

A plan to convert a light industrial building into 15 flats under permitted development rights has won permission at appeal, despite seven of the units lacking windows and the inspector commenting that they “would not be a positive living environment”.

So why would a supposedly intelligent and well trained planning inspector, having made such a statement, still permit such a sub-standard form of development to go ahead?

Unfortunately, this summary is from a subscription site, so I am unable to get any further details.

Electric Vehicle Charging points to be Made Compulsory – but at £16k a time it will kill Affordable Apartments

Ludicrous piece of knee jerk policy making. Pandering to to some idealised image of a zero carbon car owning society within 25 or 50 years? Meanwhile we continue to build junk housing that fails in nearly every other category of providing decent accommodation that can cater for any sort of change to family circumstance. Need a bit more storage, you’ll need to move. Need room for a baby, you’ll need to move. Need to park a car, you’ll need to move. Want any sort of outside space – good luck with that one. Wondering where to put the 2, 3, 4 + wheelie bins your refuse and recycling now has to go in? Don’t bother looking for the well designed outdoor storage provided as part of the building regs, because central government were too busy wasting money on the electric charging point for the car you’ll never be able to afford, or even park outside your shoebox of a dwelling.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

DoT

We are proposals to alter existing:

  • residential
  • non-residential

buildings regulations to include a requirement for electric vehicle chargepoint infrastructure.

The government proposes every new residential building with an associated car parking space to have a chargepoint. We propose this requirement applies to buildings undergoing a material change of use to create a dwelling.

Installing chargepoints in residential buildings will add an additional cost ofapproximately £976 per car parking space for an average home.

This is not correct.  If you are installing a chargpoint in af ront wall next to a parking space the cost for the socket is £45.   If you have flats where anyone can plug in (to avoid electricity rsutling) the cost of a digital charging pole is 14-16 thousand.  This will likely kill off affordable apartments and build to rent.  As of yet there is no technical solution to this at an affordable price.  The sensible…

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The Emergence of ‘Soft’ Strategic Planning

The legacy of Eric Pickles and his Conservative supporters across the country, have left this country with both the current housing shortage and a belief that Nimbies can win the day with the right MPs on their team.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Soft planning is a new style of planning, nothing to do with its statutory status or otherwise.  We have non statutory strategic plans in places like Leicestershire and Surrey and emerging statutory plans with a ‘soft’ stage in places like Oxfordshire., Northamptonshire (next month) and Greater Exteter.  What all of these have in common is absolutely no sharp edges of housing numbers assigned to locations which might hurt a Nimby or upset a local politician.  They are easy to agree as there is no need to set up a structure to make hard choices that cannot be agreed through unanimity.  If you get housing numbers at all it is in an appendix stating need as a fact with a comment that this does not imply distribution. You might get a diagram showing growth locations, but only in the non statutory forms to get around SEA requirements.

Are they useful.  Certainly…

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Ministers were warned about ‘shameful’ parking-space sized flats

Permitted development = Quantity over quality

Ministers and officials ignored warnings that developers were creating “unbelievably small” flats by exploiting a change in planning rules, The Times can reveal.

Civil servants who attended a meeting with a leading architect three years ago were shown evidence that the policy was resulting in terrible living conditions but allegedly dismissed it. The architect, Julia Park, sent a letter to ministers including James Brokenshire, the housing secretary, two years later arguing that the policy was being abused by “unscrupulous landlords”.housing secretary, two years later arguing that the policy was being abused by “unscrupulous landlords”.

Since 2013 permitted development rights have meant that developers can convert offices into flats without planning permission or minimum size requirements. The government did not start a review of the quality of the housing that was being created until March this year.

Yesterday The Times exposed three developers who have made millions from converting offices into tiny flats dubbed the “slums of the future”.

Some are 14 square metres, barely larger than a normal parking space and significantly below the minimum space standards that would apply under the planning regime. Many house children and vulnerable adults paying rent of about £800 a month for a bedsit, with one company, Caridon, receiving £8 million a year in housing benefit payments.

The Local Government Association and MPs called on the government to take urgent action. Martin Tett, the association’s housing spokesman, called on ministers to “urgently bring forward its commitment to review the quality of homes”.

John Healey, the shadow housing secretary, said that the “warning signs have been clear for several years but ministers have sided with developers rather than those desperate to get a decent home”. Mr Healey said that the government should “act now to make these developments go through the planning system and meet the same standards”.

An impact assessment published when the rules were changed in 2013 concluded that the move would probably lead to 140 applications a year. Instead, more than 11,000 applications have been approved in five years.

The assessment also dismissed the risk of “houses being located in unsustainable locations, such as industrial sites” as minimal because they wouldn’t be “attractive” for developers. A number of developments on industrial estates and overlooking major roads have been carried out.

Ms Park, who is head of housing research at Levitt Bernstein and chairwoman of the Royal Institute of British Architects’ housing group, met a senior planning official and her deputy at what was then the Department for Communities and Local Government in spring 2016 after raising concerns about the quality of office conversions. She highlighted an office-to-residential scheme in which two of the apartments were 13.5 sq m. “There is no outdoor space, no view and really nothing good you can say about them,” she said.

Ms Park said that the example was dismissed as a “one-off” and that that year, after a three-year trial, the change in the rules was made permanent.

In August last year Ms Park wrote to ministers to draw attention to Newbury House on the A112 dual carriageway in east London, calling it “one of the worst examples I have encountered, though it is by no means an isolated case”. She described “double studios” for two people as small as 14.7 sq m with no through ventilation, and said the building was in poor condition, with an open ground floor that was full of rubbish.

“We can only be deeply ashamed that people are living in this way, and equally ashamed that this is a direct result of a ‘flagship policy’ — one that continues to be hailed as a huge success by politicians and unscrupulous landlords, but few others,” she said.

A civil servant replied to Ms Park in October, insisting that office conversions were making “an important contribution towards housing supply” and were “producing homes that suit a range of needs and budgets”.

Ms Park wrote again to press her case. “The risk that mental and/or physical health could be adversely impacted by living conditions such as this is substantial,” she said.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said that permitted development rights for office conversions were being reviewed “in respect of the quality standard of homes delivered”.

Caridon said that it was providing affordable housing and denied the flats were substandard.

Only recently I read that the housing minister, James Brokenshire, is very well respected across the whole sector. This comment was made by a leading member of the LGA. It therefore comes as a disappointment to

Nitrate Pollution Moritoriums – Makes the Case why only the State can Plan Strategically

Does this have any impact for us as we border the Wash?

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

10,000 homes in South Hampshire put under moratorium.

Fareham cancels its Planning Committee

South Hampshire News

HOUSEBUILDING has stopped in Hampshire as local authorities seek legal advice on how to obey environmental advice from government – a move that has been branded a shambles by a senior councillor.

Government department Natural England has released a recommendation that all new-build homes have to meet strict environmental rules over nitrate levels. This, they say, is because high levels of nitrogen pollution are affecting protected sites in the Solent area and new housing contributes additional nitrogen to the water.

But developers say the target of being ‘nitrate-neutral’ is impossible to meet as nitrates are in drinking and waste water – and local authorities have stopped issuing planning permission while they seek clarity.

And councils still face having to hit government housebuilding targets,

One of the councils affected, Fareham Borough Council, has even cancelled its next planning meeting.

Leader…

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Kier and their lack of attention to detail

Updated at end of the entry

As a member of the district council’s planning committee you get used to hearing the people’s concerns and sometimes even their anger about proposed new development. 

However, once the public concern has died down, most if not all of those issues resolved and the development built, there can be details that come back to bite you.

The pictures below show such minor details within much larger areas of development at Wygate Park.

The first 3 photos are shocking, both visually and potentially, literally.  How anybody could think it made sense to place a utility box, with a mains electrical power feed in the direct path of vehicles entering and leaving a heavily used residential car park, escapes me. 

Having done so, how can they then consider that two cheap wooden planted tubs, already falling apart, are an adequate form of protection against moving vehicles weighing up to 3000kgs?

The second set of photos are of an issue that I thought I’d already addressed, when I found the original bollard lying on the ground, due to the bodge job that had been carried out installing it the first time – how long did they expect 4 long wood screws in plastic plugs normally used in brickwork to last in Tarmac?.  With the help of the our planning enforcement officer, I got the bollard refitted with bolts instead of the wood screws used originally – who do these people employ?  Even then the refit was poorly done, but at least it was more secure than the original amateur job.

Imagine my shock then when I visited the site again sometime later, only to find that the bollard had now disappeared completely.  It appears to have been displaced in favour of new Tarmac and a services cover.  The location still has plenty of space for a correctly positioned bollard, using a nearby lamp post and low wooden fencing to block off the path that would otherwise allow vehicles to pass through easily.

The first photo in the second set show where the bollard is now, notice anything?  That’s right, it’s now in a completely useless position.  It now serves no purpose whatsoever, because vehicles can drive around it with ease, using the Tarmac area serving the properties to the left and drive over the gravel strip as shown by the white tyre marks in the second photo and continue on along the nice new Tarmac footway.

I had considered approaching the site manager directly rather than via our planning enforcement officer about both these issues.  I’ve already tried this with the utility box and planters. This has been met with a deafening silence and I was only asking for the name and contact details of somebody within Kier management.

Ignoring these seemingly minor issues, prior to new development being handed over to the council – the formal term is adopted – stores up problems for the future.  The utility box is of course the dangerous one; I don’t even know what it does, but if it gets hit and badly damaged, the residents will expect somebody’s help getting things sorted out and one things for sure, it won’t be Kier doing it, especially if the car involved is a hit and run.

The useless drive around bollard will very definitely end up in the district council’s complaints box.  Those living beyond the far side of Minsmere Close and wanting to get to and from the school in a hurry, are soon going to starting using this footway as a rat run.  This will be followed by residents in properties along that footway becoming justifiably very unhappy and complaining to the council and their local councillors.  This means that, unless this ridiculous situation is resolved now, local council taxpayer will be footing the bill to fix it instead of the developers.

Therefore, given the silence to date on the utility box, I’m using this unsubtle approach and going public (not that I’ve really got much public to go public with), to see if that gets me anywhere.

Location – access to residential parking court
Utility box logo and DANGER warning 
One of the disintegrating planters ‘protecting’ the box
The new and useless bollard (Spalding Academy School in distance)
Tyre tracks of those already using the shortcut
Location where the bollard was and should still be installed

Then just as I was about to post this article, what should appear in today’s Daily Telegraph. Nothing but empty promises in my opinion when they are coining it in as in the case of Persimmon. Until we have a much larger pool of developers seeking our business and greater range of housing for buyers to choose from, these sharks will keep knocking out their photo-copied designs and building them as cheaply as possible.


Daily Telegraph 4 March 2019

Update

I’m very please to be able to offer an update to this sorry tale, having now been able to make contact with somebody at the right level. However, the answer I received could so easily have come from the site manager had he bothered to respond.

The electrical box and its associated crumbling planters, are apparently remnants from the old sale office that was in that location as the site was being developed out and should have been removed at the same time as the sales office.

The lonely and ineffective bollard is another piece of unfinished business by the onsite team. This one is about the installing of something called a knee rail. This would be a low level fence along the length of the narrow graveled strip to the left and designed to prevent vehicles crossing over.