Well they would wouldn’t they – quality is already a distant memory

Reforms outlined by housing secretary Robert Jenrick have been broadly welcomed by the built environment industry, but they warn that quality must not be compromised.

Writing in the The Telegraph, Jenrick says England’s “outdated and cumbersome” planning system has contributed to a “generational divide” between those who own property and those who don’t.

Later this week, a policy paper will be published comprising “radical and necessary reforms” to the planning system. 

“Our reforms seek a more diverse and competitive housing industry, in which smaller builders can thrive alongside the big players and where planning permissions are turned into homes faster than they are today,” he explains. “Creating a new planning system isn’t a task we undertake lightly, but it is both an overdue and a timely reform.” 

Responding on Twitter, the RTPI said the government appears to have recognised its “tests” and in particular its four tests for zoning.

“As part of these reforms, we’re pleased that government seems to be making a commitment to maintaining local democracy, use of locally agreed design codes, increased focus on strategic planning and clear direction on meeting net-zero carbon targets.

“We are also interested to see an intention to move away from ‘notices on lamp posts’ to a more interactive, accessible online system – by focusing more on digital, planners will be freed up to do more proactive, strategic work, focused on delivery.

“We await the full policy paper due later this week. The RTPI looks forward to leading the discussion on any reform to the planning system in England by convening a series of round tables across its nine English regions to discuss the reforms in detail.”

‘Gross oversimplification’

Tom Fyans, director of campaigns and policy at countryside charity CPRE said: “The government’s intended reforms sound like a gross oversimplification of the planning system. First and foremost, our planning process must respond to the needs of communities, both in terms of providing much-needed affordable homes and other vital infrastructure, and green spaces for our health and wellbeing. 

“The planning process as it stands may not be perfect, but instead of deregulating planning, the government must invest in planning. Quality development needs a quality planning system with community participation at its heart.

“The secretary of state has claimed that these planning reforms will still be very much ‘people-focused’ but that flies in the face of what has been outlined today by the government. We eagerly await more details and will be joining forces with a range of other housing, planning and environmental campaigning bodies to push back hard on the deregulation agenda, which has never been the answer to the question of how best to boost economic growth.”

‘So far so good’

Jenrick’s plans to “strip bureaucracy and delay” from the planning system are a case of “so far so good” for Peter Hogg, UK cities director at Arcadis.

“The new approach may make it easier to get a consent, but how will it make the all-important financial viability – without proof of which housebuilders won’t build – more certain? Unless the policy addresses this we will have more planning consents but not more homes.

“Perhaps most of all though, where is the voice of the community in this new approach? Vibrant, sustainable liveable places take root and succeed where interests are balanced and the community is at the heart of shaping and defining a place. It will be important to make sure that ‘permission in principle’ doesn’t equate to ‘ignoring communities’ in fact.”

Acknowledgement of social infrastructure encouraging

Ken Dytor, founder and executive chairman of Urban Catalyst, said: “It’s encouraging that the government has put social infrastructure such as schools and hospitals alongside housing in its plans to speed up development.

“While the housing secretary is right that the uninspiring design of some developments fuels Nimbyism, concerns over additional pressure on existing public services are typically another major driver behind local opposition to new development.

“Similarly encouraging is the drive to harness greater community participation in the planning process by embracing a more 21st century tech-savvy approach. This should hopefully lead to a wider range of voices being heard, resulting in more inclusive, balanced developments.

“However, if the government’s ‘build, build, build’ agenda is to align with its ‘levelling up’ promise, we need to see regionally driven infrastructure linked to housing delivery to kick-start both national and local growth.”

Many measures already possible

Bernadette Hillman, partner in the planning team at London-based law firm, Sharpe Pritchard, commented: “Much of what the government proposes is possible under the current system and we should be building on the existing regime. Permission in principle already exists and there really is no need for major reform: just some technical adjustments and properly resourced local planning departments.

“We’ve seen permissions for millions of homes in the last 10 years not being implemented: we need delivery.

“There’s so much we don’t know yet – the devil will be in the detail, of course, and it will be an interesting few days ahead.”

Can’t be limited to housing

Mike Derbyshire, head of planning at property consultancy Bidwells, one of the key protagonists in the property industry’s Radical Regeneration Manifesto campaign, is on board with reforms.

“Our regeneration think tank has been calling for exactly this to happen – a radical overhaul of an antiquated system that has not evolved alongside modern real estate, communities and social systems; a fairer planning system that is inclusive and that prioritises environmentally friendly practices, and designated areas where planning can be fast-tracked.

“We are pleased to see the government taking action to ensure that, on paper, the right sort of regeneration and development happens. We now need to see how this works in practice; for example, it cannot be limited to housing as mixed-use development is just as important to the success of modern communities and well-designed cultural neighbourhoods are crucial to a more positive and united society. But it is a step in the right direction and one which we will watch unfold with great interest and will to succeed.”

Cannot compromise on quality

Mark Crane, the District Councils Network’s lead member for stronger economies, said:

“Getting the country building desperately needed homes again will be a vital part of the national recovery from coronavirus, and district councils stand shovel-ready to deliver.

“But we cannot compromise on the quality of new homes and places and sideline public consultation, which we fear will be the consequence of the government’s planning reforms.

“District councils and their local communities continue to grant nine in 10 planning permissions, while tens of thousands of homes with planning permission remain unbuilt – the housing delivery system is broken, not the planning system.

“To tackle the housing crisis, councils need to be given the funding to invest in infrastructure and the powers to build homes that are green, high quality, and affordable.”

Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), said: “The prime minister has said we need to ‘build, build, build’ our way to recovery and a flexible and responsive planning system is essential to deliver this aim. Local small builders have an important role to play in delivering the high-quality homes the country needs but 42 per cent of small builders have difficulty engaging with the planning system. New measures that make the planning system quicker and more affordable are welcome but it is vital that high standards in design and build are not compromised as a result, and that any overhaul doesn’t in fact add further delays.”

3 August 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Porter about to bow out of LGA? But his one liners will live on it seems

Local Government Chronicle online
Friday 06 May 2016
LGC briefing: Local elections analysed
Commentary on the local election results

Political earthquake of the day: Breaking: Porter predicts Tories have lost control of LGA

Under chaos theory a hurricane can ensue in China as a result of something as minor and apparently unrelated as a butterfly flapping its wings over New Mexico.

On a similar principle, something as insignificant as a set of local elections in which virtually no seats changed control is on the cusp of causing a political earthquake in Westminster.

The political earthquake takes the form of a change in power at the Local Government Association but the butterfly may be composed of slightly more than a set of only moderately compelling electoral contests. As will be explained below, political skulduggery lurked behind its local democracy wings.

To understand this chaos we need to cast our minds back a year when the results of the local elections left the LGA on a political knife-edge. The Conservative group came out slightly above Labour after all of the calculations were undertaken to determine which party was in the ascendancy.

Within the past 24 hours it seemed likely the Tories would retain LGA control. Few people believed Jeremy Corbyn’s prediction that he would gain seats and the first results last night showed the Conservatives doing better than Labour. All seemed set for another year of Gary Porter leading the LGA.

Cllr Porter – a rare politician, noticeable for his plain speaking – has won plaudits for his honesty and, should his term of office come to an end, he may well leave us with as many memorable quotes as his predecessors managed since the LGA came into being. This is no disrespect to the LGA’s former chairs, more a compliment to Cllr Porter’s outspokenness. His putting the District Councils Network “on the naughty step” for arguing its members should retain their current portion of business rates will live long in the memory.

Cllr Porter’s demise has not been caused by the electorate turning against the Tories – the parties have at the time of writing lost an almost identical (but fairly negligible) number of seats – but the arithmetic turning against them.

The earthquake has been the result of Sheffield City Council unexpectedly deciding to re-join the LGA, just before the deadline to do so last night. With the LGA’s power balance determined by the number of councillors each party holds and the population they serve, the readmission of a city with a population in excess of half a million people could be crucial.

Sheffield had previously been one of a small number of councils, including Barnet, Wandsworth and Bromley LBCs, which decided against LGA membership. Its decision to re-join the association shortly before a final deadline of 10pm seemed to catch most off guard.

The complex calculations that determine who wins LGA control have yet to be determined but Cllr Porter thought Sheffield would be the deciding factor. He told LGC’s David Paine: “I will be surprised if the LGA is still Conservative controlled by the time the final count is done.”

He may also consider it unfortunate that the remaining councils which are not LGA members are Conservative strongholds. None of the three Tory-dominated London boroughs had the political cunning – or the financial commitment – to opt to pay to join the LGA at the last minute. Even if they decide to join today, their membership will not be considered in the calculations until after next year’s election.

In the past 24 hours, announcements that have been timed to coincide with the polls have proved more significant than the polls themselves.

Of the 124 councils with elections, just four have so far changed political control.

But we have seen a new frontrunner emerge in the race to be Greater Manchester’s elected mayor in the form of Andy Burnham. The shadow home secretary let it be known that he was considering swapping national politics for local politics at 10pm, as the polls were closing.

While his move is being analysed by the national media for indicating frontbench despair with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership, it also signifies a sea change: suddenly local politics offer prominent politicians an alternative career path to Westminster.

Meanwhile, this afternoon, it emerged that the government is to U-turn on its plan to force all schools to become academies. Many councils feared the move would result in them being unable to meet their duty to ensure all children had a school place.

This is one set of elections in which the burying of bad news (Mr Burnham’s possible departure from the frontbench is clearly bad for Mr Corbyn and the announcement had to be timed to minimise the damage) and political opportunism has triumphed over the ballot box.

Should Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes emerge as the new Labour LGA chair he will be hoping that Barnet, Bromley or Wandsworth do not attempt the same trick as Sheffield in a year’s time.

True scale of settlement cuts emerges

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online
20 December, 2012 | By Dan Drillsma-Milgrom

Councils face much higher funding cuts than those announced by communities secretary Eric Pickles, fresh analysis of the local government settlement has revealed.

An LGA briefing on the settlement said council funding would be cut by almost 4% next year and 9% the year after.

The cuts in core government funding for councils stands in contrast to communities secretary Eric Pickles’ claims that local authorities’ ‘spending power’ would reduce by only 1.7% next year.

LGA chairman Sir Merrick Cockell (Con) said the figures showed that local government continued “to bear the brunt of public spending cuts in the spending review period”.

The LGA’s calculations showed that councils’ start-up funding allocation in the new retained business rate funding system would decrease on a like-for-like basis of 3.9% in 2013-14. The following year, while councils’ local share of retained business rates is projected to grow by 3.1%, the revenue support grant which still makes up the bulk of councils’ funding is forecast to fall by 17%. The net effect is for a projected 8.6% decrease in funding.

Sir Merrick claimed that local government’s cuts in the spending review period would now exceed 33%, in comparison to the 28% originally announced.

The briefing also confirmed a number of details from the settlement announcement:

Of the £661m being paid to councils through the New Homes Bonus, £411m would be top-sliced from councils’ formula funding in 2013-14.
The amount held back to fund the safety net has been reduced from £245m to £25m
Twenty areas have been designated as pools for the purposes of top-ups, tariffs and safety net payments. These are: Berkshire; Greater Birmingham & Solihull; Buckinghamshire; Coventry & Warwickshire; Cambridgeshire; Devon; Gloucestershire; Leeds City Region; Leicester & Leicestershire; Lincolnshire; Greater Manchester; Norfolk CC and Broadland; Northamptonshire; Nottinghamshire; Oxfordshire; Somerset; Staffordshire & Stoke-on-Trent; Suffolk; Surrey; Worcestershire

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READERS’ COMMENTS (2)

Graham669 | 20-Dec-2012 2:40 pm
Pickled is doing his usual act of stupidity, the secondary effects of the crazy cuts in LA funding will last far longer than he is in office.
This charlatan will unfortunately leave a legacy of social damage that will take decades to heal.

patrick newman | 20-Dec-2012 4:04 pm
As predicted we only find out the truth well after Pickles has spoken but I doubt if cares too much about that. A further round of redundancies is inevitable thus putting more pressure on state finances through increased benefits and reduced tax yield. There must be many councillors who feel unhappy about being Pickles’ neighbourhood axemen.

Chief Planner could be Chief Politician

I went to East Lindsey District Council near Louth last Friday, to hear Steve Quartermain, the chief planner at DCLG, field questions from elected members about the revised planning system.

As an aside, having spent 38 years in the RAF it still feels wrong to be able to drive on to an RAF station, even a disused one, without being challenged. For those who don’t know, ELDC is based on the old RAF base at Manby and it was easy to spot the guardroom, SHQ, station workshops, the barrack blocks and of course, the sacred parade square, now desecrated with parked cars. I’m pretty sure the vinyl on the floor of the bogs (toilets to you civvies) was the original stuff from RAF days!

Steve Quartermain was on very good form as always and was able to deflect, defend, duck and generally avoid any criticism of his masters in Whitehall. As an example, given David Cameron’s recent conference criticism of the planning system (again), I asked Steve if the government actually accepted that there are over 400,000 unimplemented planning permissions across England and that if they did accept this figure, then why did his political masters keep blaming the planning system for the lack of growth?

His answer was clearly well practiced and before 2007 it would have actually been an accurate one. According to Steve, 400,000 dwellings is what is needed to satisfy about two years of new housing delivery, so councils need to continue to replenish the stock of planning permissions to meet this need year on year. That would be a good answer if we weren’t recession and if our house building industry wasn’t only managing to build just over 100,000 houses a year.

On this current performance, the house building industry is likely to take at least 3, or even 4 years, to use the 400,000+ outstanding planning permissions. Steve Quartermain of course knows this better than anybody. However, being the politically astute planning professional that he is, he threw back the historical building rate figures from when times were good, bolstered by the long term deficit figure of 3 million houses, that no government has ever managed to put a dent in and swiftly moved on to the next question.

I will however give the Chief Planner his due for being consistent on one message to the assembled members – get on with producing your Local Plan. Many of those at the meeting still didn’t seem to get the other message Steve has been giving out since the coalition government rewrote the planning rules. It’s your plan, if you don’t want something to happen, get the evidence and use that to produce your LOCAL planning policies. Conversely, if you do want something to happen, do the same thing for that goal. Too many of the members at the meeting kept basing their questions on wanting the government to produce national policies that either allowed, or prevented something. One even asked about guidance on materials to be used!

These members still don’t seem to understand that this isn’t the way it works anymore and that, apart from where the central government still wishes to impose its wishes on the nation as a whole, the rest of it is up to them.

Immigration becoming yet another elephant in the room

Unashamedly lifted from the Conservative Home website, as I could not have put it any better myself.

Immigration comment
“The Coalition has declared its intention to get net immigration down from last year’s level of nearly 250,000 to the tens of thousands. But even that will not be good enough. In order to avoid the population reaching that 70 million, we have to get immigration down to 40,000 a year or less.” – Nicholas Soames and Frank Field in The Telegraph
“To put the matter brutally, neither David Cameron nor Theresa May has to live in Southall, Bradford or Tower Hamlets. They do not experience at first-hand the bitterness of traditional English people, who see their communities overtaken, their culture pushed aside, by people who force a path into Britain without the smallest desire, or even willingness, to embrace our ways or share our values.” – Max Hastings in the Daily Mail
“Ministers in the Home Office, from the Home Secretary downwards, should be under absolutely no illusion that failing to achieve the modest target set for them well before the next election will have a consequence: the public outcry they have faced these past few days will be as nothing to the wrath that unfolds.” – Express leader

Another piece of directed localism

More directed localism from government today, with George Osborne announcing a freeze on council tax. Last time I looked, it was individual councils, via it’s elected members, that decided whether or not their council tax should rise, fall or remain the same, not the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Of course central government has the power to cap councils that it feels are planning to levy an excessive increase in their council tax rate. However, it now seems that the Chancellor has decided that he knows exactly what every council in the country needs to keep providing services to it’s local taxpayers, even before those councils have started their budget setting deliberations for the next civic year.

Of course, any relief in the ever increasing rise in household bills is to be welcomed and any council that decided to increase it’s council tax levels after the Chancellor’s announcement, would be either very confident of it’s political support amongst it’s taxpayers, very foolish, or desperate. However, that’s not the point. This government has banged on and on about getting rid of ‘big government’ and giving power back to local people. Yet, in an opportunistic piece of political posturing at the party conference, George Osborne is now going to tell local councils that it is not their role to make this decision on behalf of their local taxpayers. So much for localism.

Why can’t central trust local on NPPF goals?

Is it possible that government will ever trust local government, or are we to be condemned to a constant tirade of abuse from Eric Pickles, combined with the sham politics that is called Localism?

The NPPF is a major worry to many organisations concerned about caring for the green areas of this country (and not just the Green Belt I hope). Yet, despite all the detailed concerned being put forward by the experts, I think there are a few reasonable changes that could be made to overcome the vast majority of the public’s concerns at least.

The first of these would be to delete the statement that, where a local plan is silent, indeterminate or out of date, planning permission should be given. This requirement puts too much pressure on councils and will either see local plans being rushed through, or great resent being generated in the communities the government claims to want to empower, when development is imposed on them.

The second thing government should do, is delay the implementation of the NPPF, in order to give councils a sensible time period to deliver their local plans.

Third, government should make it a requirement for councils to produce an evidence based assessment of their local housing need. This in itself would not be any easy exercise, as a significant amount of local information and forecasting would be needed to achieve the required evidence base. However, once done, as well as placing a requirement on a council to deliver that housing, it would put that council in control and not the developers.

Of course such changes would suggest that government was willing to trust local government to deliver and with people like Eric Pickles in the government it’s difficult to see that happening.

Gold plating – what we do best!

Yet another story about EU legislation having a negative impact on the UK economy. This time it’s agency staff receiving the same employment rights as permanent employees. The legislation was apparently enthusiastically grasped to their bosom by the LibDems soon after they were invited into Government – thanks for dropping us in it yet again Mr Vince Cable.

Following the standard script, ministers claimed, ‘we had no choice because…….this time the excuse being, ‘the unions put pressure on us’. Since when has any government done anything they didn’t want to do because of a union (unless it was Labour of course)?

Read on and you get to the real reason why the UK has yet again been stitched up by it’s own government. According to the Institute of Directors, the Government has once again ‘gold-plated’ a piece of EU legislation and made it’s impact far worse than it needed to be. Either these people just love writing new regulations, or they see it as another opportunity to create more jobs for the boys, with new bunch of Whitehall bureaucrats required to police the new rules.

Huhne , apparently no better than the rest of us

The ongoing farce that is Chris Huhne’s game of cat and mouse with the police over his alleged speeding offence, rather sums up the moral degradation issue our country is currently wrestling with.

Those of us who have been elected are regularly told that public service is an honour. We are also told that those of us fortunate enough to gain the public’s trust, through the electoral process, should be prepared to be held to a higher standard of behaviour in office. Chris Huhne’s personal integrity has clearly been called in to question and yet he continues to plead his innocence and desperately hang on to his position as a government minister.

Whilst such behaviour is not exactly the equivalent of rioting or looting, it could be argued that it is actually a form of high class anti-social behaviour. It could also be argued that it should receive the same zero tolerance approach now being demanded for ‘ordinary’ citizens. If it’s good enough for them, then it should be doubly so for those in public office and required to be held to a higher standard.

One could of course argue that Chris Huhne is innocent until proven guilty, but is that an acceptable approach for somebody in a high profile public office? Would not an honourable man, sensitive to the repetitional damage of such grubby goings on, consider his position? History is dotted with the names of honourable politicians who, when their personal integrity was called in to question, stepped aside until their name was cleared – I think David Laws is potentially the most recent example. In doing so, they should be seen as setting an example for other public servants to endeavour to follow.

Unfortunately, Chris Huhne appears to consider himself too important to take such an honourable course of action. Either that, or his moral compass has titled in the same way as all those rioters and looters who took to the streets 10 days ago. Whatever his reasons, it sets a pretty poor example to the rest of us ordinary folk.

Police or community? Why not both?

As MPs go through the motions in Parliament today, I hope at least a few of them, including those on the Tory benches, take the opportunity to ask David Cameron how, given the events of that last 7 days, he intends to put his Big Society vision in to practice.

Surely, the recent horrifying and depressing events across England, are a confirmation of what David Cameron has been saying since he became Party leader. His biggest problem now, is being seen as all talk and no action. Can he really expect all those people who turned out on the streets of London, armed with brooms and bin bags, to keep on being so community spirited, without something more than words of encouragement from his government? If he does, then his vision is doomed already.

Just like a train needs a track to run on, Big Society needs the right sort of infrastructure to support it. People are demanding no more cuts in police budgets, so that more officers can be put on the streets – that’s one solution. However, the heavy hand of authority is the way regimes such Syria, Lybia and Zimbabwe control their populations. I don’t think any right minded citizen would wish to see the UK go down this route, if only because it fails completely to address the underlying issues. Policing is the answer, but not neccesaraily high police numbers. Policing focussed on and based in the community, in other words, a return to a form of the good old village bobby.

If David Cameron believes that the Big Society can work, he could do worse than start by reintroducing genuine local policing. This could be in the form of a proper community based police officer, complete with office and house – sound familiar? Or, as works in other European countries such as Holland, community wardens living and working in their communities. Recent events in Japan also highlighted their system of community based officials. I also understand that it is common practice to see mini-police offices on many street corners in Japan, providing genuine community based policing. The key to this approach is ensuring that there are enough boots on the ground, as they say in the military – over to you Dave.