Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Re-distribution could lower house prices while building will not...

 For somebody who is chastised for saying that increasing supply of houses will have little impact on prices it is of some relief to have this confirmed by authoritative research. Banking on Property: What is driving the housing affordability crisis and how to solve it- Positive Money March 2022


"Although these supply-side arguments may sound plausible, the available evidence indicates that they fail to explain why housing has become so unaffordable for many. In contrast to perceived wisdom, since the mid 1990s – the period that has seen the most rapid house price inflation – the English housing stock has grown by 168,000 units per year on average, while growth in the number of households has averaged 147,000 per year (Mulheirn, 2019). As a result, while there were 660,000 more dwellings than households in England in 1996, this surplus grew to over 1.1 million by 2018. Similar trends are apparent in Scotland, where a surplus of 74,000 in 1996 more than doubled to 169,000 by 2017, and in Wales, where the surplus increased from 56,000 to 92,000. Even over the past three years, when criticism of a perceived housing shortage has intensified, growth in the supply of housing has continued to outpace growth in the number of households in England." Those with the money are owning more space and denying it to those without.  This is in the form of second homes other forms of under-occupancy - although a couple living in a 4 bedroom house as is now commonplace should not influence the above figures that are simply based on households and dwelling units.

The report goes on,"If the primary driver of house prices is the balance between the new supply of housing and new household formation, then the increase in surplus housing stock would imply that house prices should have fallen relative to incomes. But as outlined in section 1, in reality house prices soared during this period.".  The scale of under-occupation might not affect housing numbers but probably has an affect on the price paid for a square foot of a house/flat to buy or rent. Demand is created by the wealthy for space, whether it is to be occupied or not.

And while I am/you are here, this podcast  about the bioregional construction economy is really thought provoking

and Inside Housing have reported that giving money to social housing providers has utterly failed to kick start a programme of energy refitting. There are profound problems with the supply of labour and materials that Government will have to intervene at every level. There are over 25million dwellings in all sectors to be refitted in the next ten years and we have only experience false starts.


Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Nature recovery through bioregioning

 Those working in a planning system despised by (some)  conservative politicians and distrusted by (some of) the public can only wonder when the potential of the system to deal with the climate and ecological emergency will be realised - if ever. This quandary arises when considering the potential of planning at the bioregional scale that would imply a systems approach taking into account and integrating human and natural systems.  Bioregioning has been around for long enough to have been in and out of fashion several times as frame for understanding the countryside while the UK planning system has continued to plan for the towns their expansion and adaptation.  These two operating systems have barely if ever touched, except through my advocacy.  I have argued that bioregioning might not have a catchy title but, being essentially based on the scientific collection and analysis of data and the perusal by local people and communities, it does have the potential to build a consensus on how to plan and adapt in response to the climate and ecological emergency.

The Conservative Government (comprising politicians of varying conservatism) has issued a Nature Recovery Green Paper  seeking views on how regulation could or should apply to matters arising out of the Environment Act (eg an Office of Environment Protection) and a desire to plant trees to sequester carbon and attract votes.  Responses are invited until 11 May and the online survey is at



The existing planning system  is based on democratic decison-making (ie by elected councillors sitting in a committee, receiving advice from professional officers, and subject to appeals to the Secretary of State all within a statutory legal framework,  having regard to case precedents and supervised by the courts.  Why would a responsible Government not build on these foundations by extending powers into changes in and affecting the countryside, rather than continue with the approach that the system is a communist plot that locks up jobs and denies profits to public spirited developers?

In advocating for the adoption of bioregioning as the guiding principle for town AND country planning it is necessary to advocate for planning per se and to point out that there might not be sufficient time to negotiate a path(s) to net zero and biodiversity net gain without a plan.


There are over 30 questions in the consultation (with a number encouraging references to system thinking and ecology).  In answer to the question on enforcing wildlife contraventions the principle of stewardship should apply.  A council can compulsorily purchase a listed building that is being  neglected by an owner.  This principle could apply to land where a natural asset is being harmed?  The suggestion of prioritising the natural environment above property ownership would set the sparks flying (ie Daily Mail headlines) and no landowner would be unaware of the possible consequences of  infringing the law.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Zero Carbon Homes now - not in 2025


On 30 March 2022 a conference was held in Bicester, “Making the future the present: delivering zero-carbon homes in Oxfordshire”.  Officers and members from all the Oxfordshire councils heard how new homes could be zero carbon in both embodied and operational carbon and that there was not good reason to delay by either developers or the planning authorities.


As a reminder, the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, Section 19 is up to date with all changes known to be in force on or before 31 March 2022.

19. Preparation of local development documents


(1)[F1Development plan documents] must be prepared in accordance with the local development scheme.


[F2(1A)Development plan documents must (taken as a whole) include policies designed to secure that the development and use of land in the local planning authority's area contribute to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change.]


and the,


Planning and Energy Act 2008, Section 1 is up to date with all changes known to be in force on or before 31 March 2022.


1. Energy policies


(1)A local planning authority in England may in their development plan documents, [F1a [F2corporate joint committee] may in their strategic development plan,] and a local planning authority in Wales may in their local development plan, include policies imposing reasonable requirements for—


(a)a proportion of energy used in development in their area to be energy from renewable sources in the locality of the development;


(b)a proportion of energy used in development in their area to be low carbon energy from sources in the locality of the development;


(c)development in their area to comply with energy efficiency standards that exceed the energy requirements of building regulations.


The speaker from Warwick and Stratford District Councils that are producing a Development Plan Document by 2023 (why not an SPD in 2022?) that is strong on operational carbon but less so on embodied carbon, cited the Planning and Energy Act but not the much stronger Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act; eg the first says “may” and the second says “must”.


The officer in charge of the Oxfordshire 2050 was asked about the issue of viability appearing in the otherwise excellent policy on zero carbon building, saying that this made it NPPF compliant as an indication of “soundness”. This is a serious misunderstanding of both the NPPF and s38(6),  that applications will be determined in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise.  The 2018 revisions to the NPPF were intended to avoid arguments being made about viability at application/appeal stages by requiring the likely costs associated with developments to be clearly elucidated in local/development plans.  In this case the achievement of net zero in embodied and operational carbon is the obvious requirement.  Any questions about viability could be raised as an “other material consideration” had there been, for example some material change in circumstances since the relevant policy was adopted and/or the site was purchased. The County would be undermining this simple process were the issue of viability inserted as part of the policy itself; the wriggle room being part of the development plan on which land purchases would be based and not an other material consideration to be introduced down the line. This was explained to the planning officer who said that the policy was not yet agreed or adopted.


On another subject there seems to be a level of agreement that zero carbon might add between 6% and 10% to the build costs the higher figure would apply if generation was added to insulation and airtightness (although heating systems  might cost less in very efficient buildings). And build costs are only part of the sales price.  The Communities position that no regulation of embodied carbon is desirable due to there being no agreed methodology (see Future Buildings Standard;  zero carbon readiness and delay to 2025 ) could soon have to change as the UK Green Buildings Council (and LETI) have come to some clear and generally agreed conclusions on this complex issue.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Well done to Hereford Council

The  adoption by  Hereford Council of Passivhous Plus for its own development s but with an eye to wider impacts (ie on the private sector builders) deserves to be widely known. 



It is worth highlighting the recognition of the impact of construction carbon and how it will be addressed  

" Low embodied carbon

Low embodied-carbon construction is recommended in the HFH policy, aligned with LETI and RIBA 2030 targets. To achieve true net zero, residual embodied carbon emissions from the new homes will be offset through a parallel programme of retrofitting local, existing homes to Passivhaus EnerPHit or AECB standards. 


The Herefordshire Future Homes standard is a great example of a triple-win policy – it’s good for people, the planet, and the economy!  These new homes will be warm, cosy and cheap to live in; they’re good for the climate and for nature; and they will create new high-skill construction jobs.  At a time when we’re worrying about climate change and about increasing fuel bills, these council houses are showing what all new homes could and should be like."

Councillor Ellie Chowns, Cabinet member for Environment & Economy, Herefordshire Council

In addition, all sites should have a One Planet Living Action Plan describing how exemplary environmental practice is included across ten principles, including ecology, water, green travel, and zero carbon. This can be found at https://www.bioregional.com/one-planet-living/


Wider impact

Herefordshire Council hopes that the HFH policy will 'help to raise building standards of private sector and other local housing providers. Clear, consistent and ambitious HFH building standards from the outset will optimise building efficiency, minimise design and construction costs, and give confidence for local industry capacity-building.'


The previous blog post described 'progress' as muddled.  To find Hereford Council leading the way reinforces the view that Government have decided to leave the job of meeting carbon budgets and targets to local councils while Mr Gove ponders on what levelling up might mean? (in electoral terms).  He has been seen flushing the planning white paper down the pan and hopefully that is not just a rumour.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Muddling towards zero carbon

Given the consensus that there needs to be significant progress towards (net) zero emissions from housing and transport if the transition is to be negotiated without severe social disruption the disarray in Government is both puzzling and concerning.  Having committed to a Planning Bill and revisions to the NPPF it is too much to hope that the current hiatus will last, but none of the suggested changes to the current legal and policy framework would make the transition any faster or more certain. Quite the opposite.  If, for instance, the Government confirm 2025 as the date for zero carbon housing, a million more houses will be built that would require retrofitting to add to the 20million+ that are waiting to be upgraded.  Meanwhile the industry might be coming to its senses and responding to consumer demand for houses that can be heated with lower energy bills.

In Abingdon we have one volume builder installing air source heat pumps and solar PV on houses with limited construction carbon, and EV charge points - all before being required to do so.  A neighbouring developer will find it difficult to build to a lesser standard.  Another developer (building to a carbon negative standard in construction and operational carbon) has come to an arrangement with Gridserve to provide EVs for the car club for its residents, setting and example that other developers might find hard to resist, even it wanted to. Hiyacar (https://www.hiyacar.co.uk/), can make it really simple to make car sharing a step towards decarbonising transport. Fortunately these market pressures (and even corporate responsibility?) can raise standards even where adopted policies, building regulations and conditions on outline permissions are out of date and behind the zero carbon curve.

Also in Abingdon we have examples of road schemes inherited from another era - one where carbon reductions were not the paramount objective.  The combination of 'working-from-home', active travel, 15 minute neighbourhoods, electrification (and automation?) of road transport, avoidance of construction carbon, busing-back-better and car sharing/clubs, means that all road schemes need to be re-evaluated.  There are councils hoisted on the petard of 'infrastructure first' who should be redirecting their energy to 'accessibility first' in ways that will not depend on new construction and that will be life enhancing. There are likely to be cases where road capacity both within and between urban areas is reduced and not increased.

And in Plymouth Persimmon Homes have found it possible to build with air source heat pumps and PV that has influenced the orientation of the houses.

The resounding message from COP26 was that Government(s) are incapable to lead the way to zero carbon. It will be down to businesses and consumers to drive down carbon emissions through their choices. This will not be sufficient without Government interventions but where voters lead politicians will follow.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Is the planning system safe in the hands of Michael Gove MP?


The AGM of the Wildlife and Countryside Link held on 6 December was an opportunity for Secretary of State Michael Gove to reveal his current thinking on reforms to the planning system. These can be summarised as:


The 5 year housing land supply rule has caused his inspectors to pass bad plans.  This implies that the way in which the national Planning Policy Framework NPPF (ie the presumption in favour of sustainable development) needs to be applied in a different way together with the methodology for calculating housing needs. The 300,000 houses a year national target should not be relied on, and local plans should not be driven by targets but by social justice and quality of life.   Mr Gove also said there is a need to fully recognise the nature and climate emergencies in the operation of the planning system.


He expressed support for ‘gently dense’ development, sites that is a nod towards the Yimbys, 15 min neighbourhoods and would be consistent with custom-splitting.  The reorientation of Homes England’s mission might include embracing ‘retrofit first’ and reduce the incidence of (un)sustainable urban extensions.


The extraordinary defeat of the Tories at the 2021 Chesham and Amersham bi-election has forced a re-think of the planning reforms set out in the Planning for the Future White Paper, which was based on the work of Policy Exchange, the think tank that Michael Gove had founded in 2002.  The irony that PE came so close to causing fatal harm to the Tory Government should not obscure the fact that the reforms likely to upset the ‘blue wall’ are on hold while some purpose is found for ‘levelling –up to appease Tory voters in the ‘red wall’. There is a reasonable prospect of the planning system as is being operated in a more sensitive and environmentally friendly way.  It might be too much to hope for the Secretary of State to find that reforms to neither planning law nor policy are strictly necessary were he to use his existing powers through national policy statements, oral and written ministerial statements, local plan examinations and planning appeal decisions. All those involved in the planning system; public, professionals, developers, politicians (and enlightened think tanks?) could then concentrate on the re-fashioning of urban and rural areas to enable the transition to a carbon neutral/negative economy.


This discussion is the clearest possible reminder that “planning is politics”, and that all those with constructive ideas about how to negotiate the transition to a carbon neutral or energy positive and more biodiverse economy should engage vigorously at local and national levels.





Sunday, November 14, 2021

The performance gap

 In the real world controls over the use of land and buildings (ie planning) and formulating low/zero carbon transport policies count for nothing unless the gap between good intentions and lousy outcomes is bridged. I am not referring to deliberate cheating that was exemplified by VW emission tests, but the sloppy way in which the elements of the various systems are linked leaving scope for leakage and slippage at every 'join'.

Writing at a time when the Government seem to have been energised by having the COP spotlight turned on its chairing role there might be an opportunity to introduce some meaningful policies that could cut through the blah, blah, blah.

As an aside, the Ministers claiming that the PM/Government could not intervene in the Cumbria coal mine proposal that is being considered at appeal were in denial or ignorance of how the planning system works.  Followers of this blog will know that planning decisions are taken under the stricture of s38(6) of the PCPA 2004, "...in accordance with the development plan  unless material considerations indicate otherwise."  I don't know what the local plan for the area of the coal mining application has to say on the matter, but I do know that what Government Ministers say in a formal capacity count as material and must be taken into account.  The principle of 'sub judice' does not apply to a planning case where at the time of making a decision all material considerations must be taken into account. The Business Secretary, the Minister for Leveling up, or the PM could issue a statement written on departmental letterhead or spoken in Parlaiment and recorded in Hansard, that the appeal inspector would have to take into account (no compulsion to follow, but very surprising if adequate and intelligible reasons could be found not to). 

So working on the assumption that the dust will be blown off existing policies relating to sustainability and regeneration and where necessary will be replaced with even stronger ones, there is still the significant risk that implementation will fall short of what is necessary to reduce carbon emissions.  The draft SPD posted on 17 April 2020 [Climate and ecological emergency SPD]is still relevant and can be proposed to local councils without the resources to update development plan policies in the timescale required.  But what is needed is a stiffening of the links between words and action.  

All development plans and SPDs should include requirements to appoint independent experts, before, during and after the development is carried out:

-  to ensure compliance with the conditions that relate to building standards (building inspectors will not be checking the quality and quantity of the insulation on every house),

- the same or different expert to help the residents understand how to operate the low/zero  carbon living for which the building is designed, 

- an assistant to organise the low carbon and active travel (setting up the car clubs and related IT systems), 

- an assistant to support low water use including composting systems and toilets, and biodiversity improvements across the site and its boundaries (ie https://drive.google.com/file/d/1axaIWMl1n4vKWAjFYRaHMfFI6DEbYURD/view

How these independent experts are to be sourced will be up to the developers who (with few exceptions) have been found not to be trusted or relied on in these respects.  These helpers should have excellent communication skills but also be armed with some concrete means of persuasion such as rewards for low energy use, possibly paid out of a fund collected by those responsible for higher levels of emissions? Remember contraction and convergence anyone?

This role could be described as facilitating One Planet Living and could be filled by one or more people or one consultancy. The setting up of neighbourhood assemblies could and should also be part of the job.