A welcome statement of the blindingly obvious

Successive governments have an unenviable track record of jumping in to the middle of problems and dealing only with the here and now and not the root causes.

The planning system is very much a victim of this knee jerk approach.  Labour bulldozed into it, with its impossible to produce Local Development Framework process, remnants of which still remain with us policy wise and on the ground, literally.

The Conservatives spent all of their time in opposition, listening to their grass roots members whinging on about the Labour government’s planning system and vowing to reform it as soon as they took back control.

This promise saw the demise of regional spatial strategies and the rise of the ludicrously described ‘streamlined’, National Planning Policy Frame, the NPPF.  This was claimed to bring us everything we ever wanted to know about planning, in 52 easy to read pages.  In reality,  every page contained footnotes leading to other planning documents, containing hundreds more pages.

The NPPF was quickly followed by a technical guidence of twenty plus pages, so that professional planners could actually make some sense of its vague and ambiguous statements.  It has also been followed by a number of ministerial and chief planner letters, offering yet further and necessary clarifications.  Then of course there’s the inevitable high court rulings that have occurred, because of the poor drafting and ambiguity of this badly drafted document.

However, none of this planning policy interference, has helped to deal with the issues raised in the article below.  The excuse used as always, is that such matters are best determined locally.  What they really mean is that government doesn’t want to upset the development industry, or be directly responsible for reducing the returns on land prices that come with planning permission.

Expecting individual local planning authorities, to build the evidence base required to prove that a development should be built in an attractive and user friendly way, is a nonsense.  The public often attack planners for not listening to local concerns, or of not using common sense when approving a development, because they don’t understand the severe constraints and limitations they are required to operate under.

Ugly housing is a product of many things, lazy and greedy developers, being only one.   Lazy and expedient politicians, unwilling to create effective national standards for room sizes, a requirement for internal and external storage spaces, minimum road widths, adequate levels of off street parking and high quality amenity space, are an even bigger cause.  Likewise, the use of parking courts and private drives, no matter the housing types, all add to the drop in the quality of housing development and a trend that can only lead to the building of the slums of the future.

latterly, the use of leasehold agreements for the purchase of family homes and the buy to let initiative, have ultimately damaged the establishment of traditional communities.  Such arrangements turn housing developments into nothing more than transit camps, full of people with little, or no interest in their local community and simply waiting to move on to the area, or property they really want.

Copied from Sunday Telegraph online Sunday 3 Sept 2017

PLANNING
Ugly new homes will create more Nimbys
By Edward Malnick and Steven Swinford
BRITAIN risks creating a new generation of Nimbys unless the Government stops “ugly” Sixties-style modernist designs being imposed on communities, a senior Tory MP will warn this week.
Neil Parish, the chairman of the environment select committee, will tell ministers that a drive to build a million more homes by the end of the decade risks “killing any sense of goodwill” in local communities if the new buildings are inappropriate. The MP, a former council planning officer, will suggest that parish councils and neighbourhood forums are given funding to draw up binding “design codes” based on ­input from residents to ensure new developments reflect their views.
His intervention comes after ­research uncovered concern across ­Britain about “poorly-built” and “unattractive” new properties appearing around the country.
The Conservative manifesto reaffirmed a pledge to build a million new homes by 2020. But there are fears among some MPs that the move could prompt a backlash in local communities if the homes are unsightly.
Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, warned in July that the Government needed to “avoid the disastrous design choices of the past” in order to build “local support” for additional construction.
In a Westminster Hall debate on Tuesday, Mr Parish will warn that some communities are “terrified” of new buildings “because they have seen how previous developments in the last 50 years have left communities with homes totally unsuitable for their area”. “If we fill our towns and cities with housing people feel is totally inappropriate for their area, we will kill any sense of goodwill,” Mr Parish is ­expected to say.
“We can’t go back to the mistakes of the Sixties and Seventies. It damaged trust in new housing for a generation.”
Research published last month found that 60 per cent of people feel there are too many “poorly-built, unattractive new-builds”. Two fifths of people feel that newly built properties are eyesores, according to the survey of 2,000 people.

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Birmingham International HS2 – A car Park or New Urban Hub

Another expensive piece of this overpriced, inadequate and unnecessary rail line. Meanwhile our existing transport system continues to fall apart.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Birmingham Post

The Government is being urged to upgrade plans for a Midland high-speed rail interchange in a bid to create a gigantic new urban centre.

The Department for Transport has been formally asked today to alter its blueprints for the Birmingham Interchange HS2 station near Birmingham Airport by development body UK Central Solihull Urban Growth Company (UGC).

Its ambitions for a major mixed-use development near the airport could add billions to the local economy – but it feels the current HS2 plans do not go far enough.

Published plans for the site comprise just a ‘parkway’ rail station and car parks serving the HS2 high-speed line between Birmingham and London, due to open in 2026.

Now the UGC has outlined the major changes it wants to see to the controversial transport scheme to deliver the infrastructure needed for a fully-connected urban quarter – with HS2 at its heart.

Original vision for Birmingham Interchange HS2 station in Solihull
Original…

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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.

—————————-

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.”
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Developers Plan to Ditch Sherford Design Code Stymied

Well done to the committee for sticking with their policies and not allowing developers to pressure them in to watering them down. Hopefully the inspector, at the inevitable appeal, will agree.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Plymouth Herald

Alas Devon CC still ruins everything by insiting on Asphalt pavements

The Princes Trust tweeted support for the decision.

Code here

Sherford developers have been blocked from scrapping a strict set of design rules – as councillors said the move would have created a “zombie town” with “years of planning thrown out of the window”.

Housing firms applied to ditch a town code drawn up 13 years ago and replace it with a set of “fundamental principles” allowing greater flexibility over materials and construction methods.

Consortium bosses denied the move would affect the quality of new homes, but members of the planning committee were not convinced.

Cllr Jonny Morris (Lab) said he did not want Sherford to end up like Poundbury in Dorchester, which he described as the sort of place you would see “in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse”.

Cllr Vivien Pengelly (Con): “I am deeply…

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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.

Recycling – are we it doing because it seems like a good idea, even though it’s rubbish?

A government sponsored charity called WRAP is a very valuable asset to councils, helping them wade through all the confusing legislation surrounding recycling.  It also adds a degree of weight to the argument that it is the commercial sector and industry that needs to stop generating the amount of materials it does, that aren’t recyable and limit the use of those that are to the minimum.

However, WRAP is advisory, has a limited budget and has no powers that would allow it to make any real changes.  It therefore doesn’t really help when they release a report stating the blindingly obvious – people are confused by recycling, by what can and can’t be recycled.  It tells us that the rules are too complicated and ‘suggests’ that it’s councils that need to do more.

Hardly surprising that they would turn the spotlight away from their paymasters, but nonethelsss disappointing.  It ignores the increasing funding deficit local government is experiencing and fails to offer any real solutions.

Suffice to say, councils are used to being dictated to by central government and told to fix problems created by them in the first place.

If householders want the convenience of throwing everything in the same recycling bin, they had better be prepared to pay dearly for the privilege of doing so.

Even then, paper, card and in particular newspapers and magazines, needs to kept completely clean and uncontamined throughout the process. We should at least be able to expect householders to cooperate on this. If not, we really are fighting a losing battle.

The only way we’ll get any improvement in recycling is to spend money. Believing you can do it by bullying councils by attempting to shift the blame on to them, is not only counter-productive, it’s pointless.

We’ve convinced a large element of the public that they have a duty to recycle, in order to save the planet, but the only way government has demonstrated their commitment, is by short term incentives, that then get withdrawn, or swallowed up in the inpeneratrable morass of the annual local government financial settlement.

The government also continues to behave in what can only be described as a cowardly and evasive way when it comes to showing any form of leadership on the major issues. Too much of the public believe that it is councils that somehow control and determine what does and doesn’t not go into their recycling bins.
Councils have a statutory duty, in law, to collect and dispose of household waste. These days, that household waste get collected in different streams, residual – the non- recyclable stuff and recycling.
In some areas, mainly rural areas, one council collects and another disposes. Large urban areas and cities tend to have unitary councils, that do both. However, the result is the same, once collected and ready for disposal, only the private sector has the infrastructure to process what needs to be disposed of.
Most non-recyclable waste goes into incinerating in the form of energy from waste plants, with less and less going into landfill sites.
Recycling is disposed of, by handing it over to the recycling industry, who have agreed a contract with the council based on what they can and cannot sell on. The volitilty of the recycled materials market, means that most of the contracts are short in length and, if the local authority insists on including materials the recyclers can’t sell, very expensive to the council and therefore their taxpayers.
Why include stuff the companies can’t sell? For exactly the reasons mentioned in the article. The public are already confused and annoyed by the recycling messages received from their councils. Imagine what the response would be if the list of recyclates changed every three or four years?
The Tetrapak issue is a perfect example of this issue. The only company in the country that was recycling these was based in Scotland and stopped operating over 5 years ago.  However, because my own council told our residents that they could recycle them when it was all the fashion, we put in place a contract that requires these to be accepted as part of the mix.
If a company takes on a contract and accepts an item as recyclable that then becomes unsellable, that’s their financial loss.
If a council puts in an unsellable item, its the taxpayer that pays for this to be taken out. If the householder puts it in, despite being asked not to, its contamination and can see a complete freighter load written off and sent for burning, or to landfill.

The government’s threat to pass on the EU £500,000 a day fine for missing the 50% recycling target, to councils, will probably be retained in some form even post Brexit.  The recycling target will be transposed into UK legislation and no doubt so will the threat of the fine.

if this does happen, I suspect we are going to see councils become far more bullish about recycling post Brexit and start pushing back on some of the highminded ideology that has been driving the whole agenda for far too long.