Friday, January 20, 2017

Planning and 'post truth'

I know that the abuse of language featured in a previous Blog but the 'inauguration' of one of the greatest exponents of lying prompts a further mention of the notable achievements of the planning system in this area.  In fact planning could lay claim to have pioneered this use of language in a civic sphere.

Town and Country Planning - The foundation of the present system is the 1947 Act bearing this title but, in fact there is no effective controls over forestry and farming that are the dominant uses in the 'country'.  But neither has there been any 'planning' (in the sense of aiming to achieve a vision of an overall public good) only a system reacting to economic and political demands.

Planning by appeal - a description used when there is heavy reliance on decisions taken by or on behalf of the Secretary of State when deciding appeals against the refusal of permission by LPAs.  This should be 'permission by appeal' as no planning is involved (see Town and Country Planning above).

Sustainable development - this is described in the National Planning Policy Framework as the  'golden thread' running through both plan-making and decision-taking.  A less appropriate analogy would be hard to imagine as this 'thread' is continually broken and mangled. And gold reputedly does not tarnish. The 'purpose of planning' is introduced in the NPPF as achieving sustainable development which is then said to be that which does not disadvantage future generations.  The role of planning has now been made subordinate to building regulations in the (joint) failure to ensure that new development 'consumes its own smoke' so that future generations do not have to.

Affordable housing - established by the Court of Appeal as a material consideration on the basis that the planning system could (and should?) legitimately differentiate between a dwelling that could be afforded by a person on average local earnings (subsequently agreed to be about 33% of earnings to be spent on accommodation) and one that would not.  Currently described in the NPPF as 80% of a market rent which in some parts of the country could be more than 50% of average earnings and only then made 'affordable' through Government assistance (ie £29 billion of Housing Benefit).

Community - This term keeps cropping up to justify all sorts of developments which serve to reinforce privacy (and loneliness - As Philip Slater said, “The longing for privacy  is generated by the drastic conditions that a longing for privacy produces.”    The pursuit of loneliness  1968).

Reduce - a term that crops up in planning policies which has become synonymous with 'mitigation' which actually  means 'increase', but not quite as much as might have occurred without some interference.  Cannot be relied upon when substantial and measurable 'reduction' ie carbon emissions from buildings and traffic, is actually necessary.

Garden Cities/Towns/Villages - Welwyn Garden City was completed in 1930 but neither this nor the new settlements  subsequently built as new towns included the market gardening zones included in the original concept of Ebenezer Howard.  When para 50 of the NPPF refers to 'Garden City principles' it means a branding to make large scale new housing sound more acceptable and nothing about the inter-relationship between the new settlement and the surrounding countryside.

Objectively Assessed Need - The 'need' assessments being relied upon are to be found in Strategic Housing Market Assessments or SHMAs (despite Ministerial statement that these contribute to the assessments and are not determinative - another post-truth?).  SHMAs confuse 'demand' with 'need', recommending larger houses to be built in the private sector than for social rent.  SHMAs also fail to acknowledge the declining levels of household size and unsustainable level of under-occupancy by emphasising the real and objective need to provide attractive downsizing options for all sectors.

I had previously suggested that the Courts might be interested in the corruption of language in this way and could provide a corrective to the above terms, in particular 'sustainable development' and 'affordability'.


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