Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Dan's housing plan


At the risk of repeating and repeating myself I cannot resist pointing followers again to what I regard as the most important evidence/references for those involved in the debate or discussions about the supply of new houses in the UK.  I can see no reason to question the research lying behind these publications and would suggest that those intent on repeating and repeating the claim that there is a need for over 200,000 new dwellings a year temper this message unless and until they can identify evidence based flaws in the following.

According to ONS figures the number of homes in the UK which are measured as over-crowded is about 3%, while the percentage of those  with one and more often two or more spare bedrooms is over 75%.  Not all  bedrooms are ‘spare’ but at only one per dwelling that would amount to a surplus of over 20 million rooms, or the equivalent of 10 million 2 bedroomed dwellings which is 50 times the suggested annual need for 200,000 new dwellings. 

The Intergenerational Foundation’s 2016 report Unlocking England’s Hidden Homes reckons on 4.4 million dwellings being ripe for sub-division which enables ‘down-sizing in place’ and would provide the equivalent of 20 years supply of new homes in existing settlements, using existing infrastructure, providing more customers for existing pubs and bus services and without building on agricultural land. 

Incidentally many of these ‘new’ dwellings would sit within the HAPPI3 family of housing suitable for the elderly.  If all the new built dwellings that our resources )land, capital, materials and labour) would allow (say 300,000), this would not meet the need for attractive downsizing options for the over 65s, which will soon comprise half the population.  If the Government wants to expel the mostly young and productive migrants back to EU countries in ‘exchange’ for the 3 million elderly Britons currently living and using health services in Europe, then this date will come even faster.

Finally, the report by Oxford Economics (OE) commissioned as evidence for the Redfern Review into the decline in home ownership (and other work by Ian Mulheirn its author) explains why supply will never be sustainable (my word) until the “Objectively Assessed Need” for housing takes into account the separate markets for homes; the one to provide shelter (and creature comforts) and the other as a property investment.

Dan’s housing plan brings these 4 reports together with the objective of providing the third kind of housing not described by OE, the opportunity, indeed privilege that comes with a house or flat, of living in and becoming part of a neighbourhood.   This rather ambitious plan starts with humble beginnings. Development plans (local plans and neighbourhood plans) set out the policies which will require all new dwellings to be a maximum of 2.5 bedrooms (no more than 2 proper and one spare).  All will have a shower room on the ground floor (if more than two storeys).  Policies will encourage sub-divisions of existing stock subject to energy upgrades.  Details of the designs will ensure a variety of building types; but mostly terraced or arranged in apartment blocks (to maximise garden space and energy efficiency).  There will also be communal indoor and outdoor space managed by the housing association and/or management company of which the owners will be members.  This could include guest accommodation unless some of the larger dwellings were designed so that the ‘extra’ space was self-contained and easily lettable.  Neighbourhood coaches (initially employed by housing associations where the benefits could be measured (ie low/no repairs, low turnover, vacancies, arrears) could assist in building networks amongst the new and existing houses/neighbours.  Finally (check recent blog posts on air quality), private car ownership would be replaced by membership of car clubs providing access to a variety of Ultra Low Emission Vehicles powered from the PV on the roofs of all the buildings in the area.

This is an “either I’m mad or they are” moment, given the advantages of setting this course for housing policy and the likely failure of alternatives.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

GreenSpeed bypassed again and again



Following closely on the blog of the response to Government's air quality (or more correctly its NOX) consultation, readers might be interested in the more comprehensive analysis of the transport system that was a (failed) submission to the 2017 Wolfson Economics Prize.   In that context it is interesting to see that the Technical Report on which the Government's proposals are said to be based confirmed 50mph as the optimum maximum for the national speed limit.  As already noted speed limiting does not feature in the Government's plan and it will be interesting to see whether it is included in any of the shortlisted entries to the Wolfson Prize.

Click either link  for a read through GreenSpeed failed Wolfson Prize .
   http://bit.ly/2pZb0T2



Sunday, May 7, 2017

Govt consultation on air quality



Apologies for the  lengthy post that is intended to provide an angle for those interested in the Government's latest attempt at avoiding legal challenges to its inadequate response to the health' emergency' being caused by road traffic.  It might be an exaggeration to claim that the General Election was called and legal  challenge mounted in an attempt to have this in the public domain after 8 June, but 11 million drivers of diesel vehicles is a significant constituency.  In the event the Government has limited the scope of the proposals to an extent that the Courts might be required again to seek to protect its citizens.  There is also an attempt to saddle local government with the blame for anything potentially unpopular.

Please go to the consultation (see URL below)  and (before 15 June) put the Government straight on the need to take advantage of an opportunity to improve life for all.

https://consult.defra.gov.uk/airquality/air-quality-plan-for-tackling-nitrogen-dioxide/

7.   Are Clean Action Zones the quickest way?
The quickest way to reduce all the pollutants from road traffic is to implement systemic measures and not singling out NOx in a few areas that apparently fail to meet an artificial standard.  Speed lim its can be reduced immediately, at no cost and with completre fairness. As the Technical Report says "C.6 Speed Limits:  A reduction of 20mph is the most effective in terms of NOx emissions, so a 50mph limit is presented as the maximum technical potential option."  Not only do the proposals ignore the issue of speed limits (eg 20mph being more polluting than 30mph with the current generation of petrol and diesel engines)but what the Technical Report says is an "immediate" problem has now become the "most immediate".  This is a very significant difference both in law and for the people being poisoned meanwhile.  The costs attributed to reductions in speed limits in the Technical Report are down to its very limited viewpoint affecting a few isolated areas and stretches of road rather than the systemic change required.

8. What should local government do about CAZs?
The Government should not be dumping this issue on local authorities.  Local measures could have very limited and local effects without the Government taking responsibility for systemic change.  There are places which fail air quality tests which are not on the Government's list. Everybody deserves to be protected from harmful pollutants wherever they live or visit.  The Government could start by changing the name from "Clean Air Zones" to something more truthful which does not imply the absence of poison gases, which might happen to be coming slowly down to legally acceptable levels. 

The impacts on businesses (and local residents/visitors) of truly effective measures to bring pollutants from road traffic down to harmless levels could be very severe.  This is why the Government needs to have a proper plan for the transition.  The alternative will be a repeat of legal challenges while the health and lives of citizens is impaired.  Local Government should not be expected to take the blame for these profound effects.

9.         Options available to local government?
 First reduce the national speed limits to 50mph(see Technical Report) and 20-mph (see all evidence on safety).  Every area must be equipped with electric car clubs.  A lower national speed limit (ie 50mph) is suited to electric cars where range is a priority.   Such a limit would remove most if not all of the comparative advantage enjoyed by ICEs.

All new residential and commercial developments must pay for charging points and for a number and range of ULEVs for the new and existing residents.  Public money should be used to build this fleet and charging possibilities.   These cars will be privileged in terms of use of lanes (on dual carriageways) and workplace, town centre and retail centre parking.   Public money should  not be spent on scrapping diesel or petrol cars.  Their use will just become more limited and much less convenient than (shared) electric club cars.  It will be up to private car owners how to react; move to clean buses, cycling, walking or the car club.

10.      How can impact be measured?
 It should be relatively easy to have a plan of an area and assess the need/demand for access to electric vehicles.  Some of these can be provided by developer funding from new development.  Where these opportunities are unlikely to arise local government must step in and seek to recover some of the cost from users.   Bans of ICEs from urban areas (and failing stretches of inter urban roads) should be put in place after a reasonable warning/grace period.  These should need limited monitoring other than the level of exceptions allowed for special reasons. It is a fundamental principle that measurements are not designed to gauge whether legal limits are being achieved but that the levels are immediately (ie within 12 months) reduced to de minimis levels so that the measurements are to identify and correct any unintended incidence of unfairness in the new system.

11. Which vehicles to retrofit?
 Buses could be converted to LPG or hybrid LPG/EV.  HGVs should be LPG. Vans and taxis (why only black cabs?) should be LPG and EV or hybrid.  There could be some slow to convert/remove HGVs and a shortage of or cost implications of reliance on LPG.  If there is a reduction of heavy goods movements by road then that would be a very welcome consequence of this power shift.

12.      Information to customers?
 Government should make it clear that the use of privately owned ICEs (no distinction between petrol and diesel) will be limited on the strategic road network (ie lanes reserved for ULEVs), and in urban areas (eg parking reserved for ULEVs).  Individual ULEVs might be purchased but as the Technical Report says, that is a very expensive option.  This story must be justified by the special duty of care which must be shown to children as the most vulnerable to irreversible damage to brains and lungs and to other disadvantage groups (see Technical Report).

13. How could the Government further support innovative technological solutions and localised measures to improve air quality?
The Government should be honest about the challenge of this transition and immediately start to place the health and wellbeing of its citizens (esp children) above the (hyper)mobility of the few.   This good news story should explain that the complementary measures of introducing electric car clubs would improve accessibility for everybody.  The streets would be better for walking and cycling. Reduced congestion would allow public transport and taxis to be more frequent and run on time.   The lower national speed limit will incentivise the research and development of electric vehicles no longer attempting to compete with the performance and allure of ICEs. Vehicles designed for lower maximum speeds (ie ULEVs) are, unlike ICEs, less polluting at lower speeds.
This is the only route to improve air quality to acceptable levels (not standards) and establish the pathway to zero carbon transport by 2050 (or earlier), see Technical Report.
These proposals represent the wrong answer to the wrong question.   The harm being caused by diesel and petrol engines (and dust from brakes, roads and tyres) as well as the noise (engines, wind and tyres) and harm to life and limb will not be removed by targeting NOx reductions at a few isolated areas and roads.  This challenge is actually an opportunity to move quickly to a clean, safe, reliable, affordable and fair transport system - in and between towns.  The trigger for the virtuous circle creating these new conditions would be one of the essential elements of such a system that would be lower maximum speeds in and between urban areas. 
The alternative (as being proposed) would be to continue with a dirty (just clean enough), dangerous, unreliable (eg congested), expensive and inequitable transport system that becomes an increasing burden on people, business and the environment.



Sunday, April 23, 2017

AECOM support for local plans passing the carbon buck


I thought that I would share my latest experience of considering the merits of a draft local plan.  This comes with a Sustainability Appraisal from AECOM and the statement:
 "Focusing on the matter of minimising per capita CO2 emissions from the built environment (as opposed to emissions from transport), the proposed spatial strategy performs well in that there is a concentration of growth

at larger sites, potentially leading to opportunities to design-in low carbon infrastructure. However, there is little certainty, at this early stage.

No proposed LPP2 Development Policies are focused on climate change mitigation / low carbon development, recognising that a strong policy framework is provided by Core Policy 40 (Sustainable Design and Construction) and Core Policy 41 (Renewable Energy). ... Significant effects are not predicted, recognising that climate change is a global issue (and hence local actions can have only limited effect)."

There are three main problems with this Appraisal
1.  There are no policies in the plan to seek to re-balance the size of households with the size of housing.  The level of overcrowding is close to 3% and under-occupancy closer to 80%.  There is a desperate shortage of housing suitable for the elderly, no adequate policies supporting self/custom building or co-houisng and nothing about low carbon building.  
2.  The 'strong' policies referred to and relied on by AECOM are in 'response to climate change' and relate to the adaptation of housing to higher temperatures and flooding (CP40) and renewable generation (but not wind). 
3.  The achievement of carbon reduction targets is a global operation comprising personal and local actions.

For a district where residents and businesses emit substantially more carbon per capita than the global average to be supported by AECOM in this way is a little troubling.

The last point is that local plans drawn up along these lines are being adopted around the country after being found to be 'sound'  as inspectors are no more keen the planning authorities to take carbon emission reductions seriously.  And by concentrating on 'soundness' local plans are missing out on issues that could substantially increase the quality of life; co-housing, local food systems and a transition to lower car ownership and use (of ultra low emission vehicles). 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Planning to reduce carbon emissions 2


Less than a year ago I posted a link to the first edition of Planning to Reduce Carbon Emissions which claimed that land use planning could, if used to its full, be responsible for a 50% reduction in emissions  - perhaps with a few relatively minor tweaks to the law.  Quite a lot has happened on the research front and the transport section was criticised as being too weak, so here is an updated version. Planning to reduce carbon emissions 2

The Government promised to publish an Emissions Reduction Plan  in early 2017.  Nothing has appeared although it has (ominously) been renamed a Clean Growth Plan. And we know from a photograph taken of a civil servant's file that efforts to reduce carbon emissions are to be scaled back while the Government concentrates on Brexit being seen to have a rosy economic glow.

While the ERP/CGP is awaited (and Client Earth seem to be losing patience by issuing veiled threats of legal action) some councils are already doing their bit.  Lambeth LBC (and there might be others) is already requiring buildings to emit 35% less carbon than the equivalent built to Part L of the Building Regulations. And the developer is also expected to make a financial contribution to the council to enable the 65% of carbon emissions to be offset!  The assessment of planning applications is being carried out by environmental consultancy Bioregional.  I have seen an appeal against 4 conditions on a planning permission containing a condition along these lines but this particular condition was not challenged, a sign of general acceptance/approval of this approach to emissions reduction/clean growth or that appeals have been tried and failed.  But where is Sajid Javid and Graham Barwell, our Secretary of State and Planning Minister? The ERP is the responsibility of Nick Hurd MP in the Business Department but January's Housing White Paper is in DCLG's court and it said next to nothing about carbon.

How can much criticised planning authorities progress with their local plans when a fundamental part of the evidence base (ie the ERP/CGP) is being withheld or delayed by the Government that has been their greats critic?


Friday, April 7, 2017

More transport confusion

Last year (27/11)  I drew attention to the 'transport confusion' caused by the proposal to (re)build a railway between Oxford and Cambridge at the same time as proposing a road or 'expressway'.  A further report from the National Infrastructure Commission has been published showing no less enthusiasm for the road.  see https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-national-infrastructure-commissions-interim-report-into-the-cambridge-milton-keynes-oxford-corridor

This report does actually say that the potential conflicts and synergies need to be explored.

This report has been published  at the same time as 4 Parliamentary Select Committees are considering the future of the motor car in light of the pollution (particulates, NOX, CO2 and dust from tyres, brakes and roads) being caused by motor vehicles of all kinds but with the attention being focused on diesel engines.  The combination of science identifying the health risks (equivalent each year to the battle of the Somme) and the special legal duty of care to children (young lungs and brains particularly susceptible to damage) is a fantastic opportunity for Government to explain that there is no choice in reducing dependency on private cars with extraordinary public benefits for heath and well-being. How does a new road fit with this?

But the real point behind this blog is that the point about a rail link being delayed just as long as there remains the possibility of a road link was discussed with two of the most knowledgeable  experts in this field.  It seems that this conflict has been put very strongly to the NIC which is insistent that the expressway remains on the table.  The NIC remains impervious to the fact that  this will delay or derail the railway.

Those able to respond    (growthcorridorevidence@nic.gsi.gov.uk) could point out that the feeder roads are just that. Traffic would not start at either Oxford or Cambridge and  the heavily congested A34, A40, A420 will become even more congested, strangling the knowledge spine running along the A34 through Oxfordshire and defeating the claimed purpose of invigorating the scientific community along the east/west 'brain belt'.   Congestion is likely to increase on feeder roads at the eastern end.

But there is another point that could be made in support of the rail.  The justification for HS2 that the time savings between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham to London has been abandoned in favour of a case that the new line is needed due to capacity problems on the West Coast Main Line.   Without the imperative of saving time, the possibility of a junction of east/west rail with HS2 becomes a very attractive proposition.  Currently many routes necessitate a change in London (adding to congestion) and being able to change trains  in the midlands (if there could be no slips) would greatly enhance the national rail network.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Unlocking hidden homes


I have mentioned it before, but the report by the Intergenerational Foundation cannot be recommended highly enough.

The consultation on the Housing White Paper ends on the 2 May  and I would urge all readers of DanthePlan, even if they do nothing else,  to draw the DCLG’s attention to the report by emailing  planningpolicyconsultation@communities.gsi.gov.uk

The only thing that I would add to the recommendations made in  Unlocking England’s Hidden Homes would be to say that Local Planning Authorities could make Local Development Orders  which can have the same effect as a change to the General Permitted Development Order  and can include conditions subject to which a change could be implemented as ‘permitted development’.  Clearly not as good as a change to the GPDO that would apply to all councils but could be done while waiting for the Government to take the necessary action.

I also think that achieving new dwellings for as little as 5k to sort out plumbing, electrics, partitions and possibly stairs, would compare so well with new building on greenfield land that councils should introduce permissive policies in their development plans (local and neighbourhood plans) where permission is (still) required, and count the new dwellings and even anticipated new dwellings, against their housing land supply figures.  Grants could be made available that could be recovered on the sale (or rent) of the new  dwelling(s) and even justify a  specialist team with the necessary skills to streamline the delivery.

Well done the IF