Kier and their lack of attention to detail

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.

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”.

A lesson in planning from the Germans?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NPPF additions, it’s becoming more and more like ‘guided’ planning

Following in the footsteps of the bovver booted Eric Pickles approach to Localism – called ‘guided Localism’, we are now seeing more and more ‘guided’ planning.

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Despite their claims that this government had swept away thousands of pages of planning guidance and regulation and replace it with a 52 page, clear and succinct document called the National Planning Policy Framework, we continue to see more and more detailed additional guidance being added to fill the huge holes in the planning system, created by the NPPF.

As an aside, the NPPF was never, ever only 52 pages, end of story. As soon as it was published, I went through it, checking for how many other documents were referred to in the numerous footnotes, detailed in the small print at the bottom of nearly every page. I stopped when I got to 1800 pages plus, as my suspicions had been confirmed. Admittedly, some of these footnotes have themselves been superceded, but the fact remains, that the NPPF was a con job.

This extract from the latest addition to the NPPF +, is tantalising to say the least, given the poor quality of the new housing currently being built. The full document can be viewed by following this link.

http://planningguidance.planningportal.gov.uk/blog/guidance/

Housing design issues
Well-designed housing should be functional, attractive and sustainable. It should also be adaptable to the changing needs of its occupants.

In well-designed places affordable housing is not distinguishable from private housing by its design, nor is it banished to the least attractive part of the site.

Consideration should be given to the servicing of dwellings such as the storage of bins and bikes, access to meter boxes, space for drying clothes or places for deliveries. Such items should be carefully considered and well designed to ensure they are discreet and can be easily used in a safe way.

Unsightly bins can damage the visual amenity of an area. Carefully planned bin storage is, therefore, particularly important. Local authorities should ensure that each dwelling is carefully planned to ensure there is enough discretely designed and accessible storage space for all the different types of bin used in the local authority area (for example landfill, recycling, food waste).

In terms of parking, there are many different approaches that can support successful outcomes, such as on-street parking, in-curtilage parking and basement parking. Natural surveillance of parked cars is an important consideration. Car parking and service areas should be considered in context to ensure the most successful outcome can be delivered in each case.

We don’t need a tilt, we need an earthquake

Balance of power tilts back towards councils, by Richard Garlick
14 March 2014 by Richard Garlick

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The planning minister struck a slightly penitent note when he was explaining his finalised planning practice guidance to the Daily Telegraph last week.

Nick Boles said that additions were being made to planning guidance in some areas where the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was “not working as it should”.

The message to the Telegraph readers was clear: we are listening to your concerns about an NPPF-enabled development free-for-all, and we are taking steps to bring it under control.

It was the latest step ministers have taken to insulate the government from such criticisms. Only a few days earlier, Boles had written to complain about an inspector who had told Reigate & Banstead Borough Council to release green belt land, saying the latter “had invited misinterpretation of government policy”.

He can fairly argue that the finalised guidance will in some ways bolster local planning authorities’ control of development. But it would be an oversimplification to suggest that ministers are reaching for the reverse gear on their planning liberalisation.

Boles can argue that the guidance will bolster local controls on development
Alongside the guidance, Boles confirmed changes that will mean that in most places planning permission is no longer needed to convert shops outside key shopping areas, or agricultural buildings with a floor space of up to 450 square metres, into homes.

These are major incursions into local democratic control of development. What’s more, the guidance itself instructs planning authorities to leave no stone unturned in the struggle to make brownfield sites viable and competitive with greenfield alternatives.

Commentators have suggested that this will force councils to accept lower design standards on brownfield sites than elsewhere, as well as relinquishing any claim to deciding the scale of developer contribution necessary to provide the infrastructure needed to support the scheme. Boles may be bolstering councils on some fronts, but he continues to undermine them on others.

That said, the finalised guidance does offer genuine reinforcement for town halls.

No longer is it the government’s position that only “in exceptional circumstances” will applications be dismissed as premature in terms of prejudicing an emerging plan. Guidance now spells out that the duty to cooperate is not a “duty to accept”, and planning authorities are not obliged to meet their neighbours’ unmet needs. Unmet housing need is unlikely to constitute the “very special circumstances” needed to justify development in the green belt, the guidance says.

Not of all these provisions are major changes to the status quo. In some cases, the finalised guidance is confirming an approach that councils have already been arguing for successfully in front of inspectors, or which the secretary of state for communities and local government has been enforcing in call-ins. But, cumulatively, these and other measures in the guidance look likely to, in some sectors at least, slightly tip the balance of power back towards local authorities.

Richard Garlick, editor, Planning richard.garlick@haymarket.com.

Affordable housing con

In their housing bill, the government has suggested that developers should be able to renegotiate section 106 agreements for affordable housing contributions, in order to enable them to deliver currently stalled developments. At the same time, the government has found yet more money, in those treasury coffers that are supposedly bereft of funds, to provide £400m for guess what? – affordable housing!

Setting the stage for developers to wriggle out of providing an element of affordable housing within their developments, suggests a return to the council estates we have been working to get away from since Margaret Thatcher introduced right to buy.

The cynic in me sees more than a little collusion, or even out right conspiracy in these proposals. Developers have never liked devaluing their open market housing developments with affordable housing, even when they could afford it. Even then, they tried their best to bunch them all together in the back of the site – almost out of site out of mind (that’s a pun by the way, not a typo)

Now, with the government promoting the renegotiation of s106 agreements for this provision, whilst at the same time providing money for its delivery, it would seem that the developers are going to get their wish and we are going to see the potential emergence of a new clutch of sink estates.

Instead of giving developers a way of undermining local authorities ability to deliver affordable housing using their own policies, why doesn’t the government give councils the £400m? Councils could then use this money to subsidise developers and require them to maintain a mix of tenure within their developments. But of course the developers wouldn’t like that idea, so it’s never going to happen.

Developers are far from hungry

I see the developers are taking full advantage of all the publicity about the housing shortage, to take yet another swipe at the planning system, in cahoots with various ministers of Government.

Behind all their whaling and whining, hides the fact that, difficult times or not, the industry still has hundreds of thousands of planning permissions they have not implemented. Why isn’t Greg Clark berating the building industry and asking why they aren’t building what they’ve already got, instead of moaning about wanting more? to paraphrase Oliver Twist, ‘Please sir, my bowl is already quite full, but can I have some more anyway!’.