Friday, November 27, 2020

Cultural cleansing and the denial of history

 I don’t usually clutter up this site with cases that I am dealing with.  However, the future of the best preserved physical remains in the UK  from the Cold War could and should be of general interest.  The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) ( is currently deciding whether the Council can issue the planning permission (ref. 18/00825/HYBRID) that it has resolved to grant for the masterplan for the redevelopment of the former Cold War airbase at Upper Heyford in north Oxfordshire, or whether this is a matter of more than local importance that justifies the ‘calling-in’ of the application for ministerial determination (after a public inquiry).

There is more than enough material to write a PhD on how the treatment of physical remains from the Cold War by the authorities has been a reflection of the refusal or reluctance to learn about the defining ‘event’ of the last hundred years.  The Panel considering an application to have Upper Heyford included on the tentative list for inclusion as World Heritage Site regretted the absence from the WHS of Cold War sites, and recommended the carrying out of research to identify the potential of a transnational designation of sites that should best commemorate this conflict(s).  Meanwhile heritage delayed is history denied.

The Secretary of State is very reluctant to interfere in local decision-making (unless there is a sense that the delivery of houses is being delayed unnecessarily).  There are a number of reasons particular to Upper Heyford that makes it politically sensitive; the local MP has their office on the site, the Chairman of English Heritage is/was also chairman of the company owning and developing the site, the council is staunchly conservative and has no desire to acknowledge the heritage potential of the site if this implies increasing numbers of visitors (that are being encouraged to visit Crocodile World in a neighbouring district). In considering the heritage potential of the air base, it is unclear whether the MHCLG (or the Culture Minister) have any interest in providing an opportunity for the public to learn and increase their understanding about the Cold War and, incidentally, current relations with Russia.

However, there are a number of aspects of the application that would normally excite the interest of the Secretary of State:

1.     The heritage assessments have been submitted without any scoping – to reveal the potential of the site in terms of materials or audiences.

2.     The National Planning Policy Framework expects the ‘necessary expertise’ to be deployed in assessing the impact on sites of significant historic importance (the heritage plan for Upper Heyford has been prepared by the owner/housebuilder displaying ‘the Englishman’s perverse desire to trivialize’ (Martin Amis)).

3.     The recommendation for refusal by Historic England has been overturned by the planning officers and committee.

4.     No reference has been made to the international heritage conventions of Paris, Granada or Valletta.

If it were not for the perverse desire of the Government to permit houses whatever the other impacts, we should be looking forward to a public inquiry and an exploration of cultural cleansing and the denial of history.


Sunday, October 18, 2020

Select Committee looks at 'Planning for the Future'

Initial reactions to the White Paper were posted in an earlier blog - together with the hyperlink and the deadline of 29 October.  The MHCLG Select committee has opened an inquiry into the White Paper with a closing date of 30th October.  Rather than post DanthePlan's comments on the White Paper submitted to MHCLG I thought that readers could be encouraged to submit evidence to the select committee.  This is on the assumption  that the Government might take more notice of what a cross party committee had to say about the proposals to change the planning system than individuals finding fault with the 'provocation' issued by the Cummings/Jenrick/Airey cabal.   The select committee is set up with the responsibility to collect and assess evidence while the authors of the White Paper are ideologically constrained to stick to their guns.

There are too many things wrong with the White Paper to summarise in the blog and some arguments can be adopted or adapted from DanthePlan's Select Committee evidence.

The one issue that justifies special mention is that of embodied or construction carbon as it is currently at a level about 30 times that which would be compatible with official carbon budgets, and the MHCLG has refused to answer enquiries about where this is being dealt with in the White Paper (esp as almost all the images of exemplary design/beauty show developments of with high levels of construction carbon). These would represent the carbon emitted in the next decade when significant reductions are most needed.  

My MP has asked Ministers to visit the development at Southmoor Oxon where construction is claimed to be carbon negative in buiulding (use of timber and lime render) and operation.  It can be done, although possibly not at scale or by the volume builders - hence the need for residential sub-divisions that could be scaled up through custom-splitting (see earlier blog posts).

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Wild back better

I don't want this blog post to divert attention from the invitation to join a planning workshop (see previous post) or the need to respond to the Planning for the Future consultation I should say that the Ministry have failed to reply to my request for information about where 'embodied' or construction' carbon is being addressed? This is greater than operational carbon and is emitted in the next decade (rather than the next 60years) during which it will be most important to reduce emissions.

So "wild back better" is the reposte to "build back better" that is the slogan banded about by the PM and his government. If "build" applies to communities and (social) businesses well and good.  But the PM clearly has high speed rail, roads, runways and millions of new houses on his mind.  HS2 will be in carbon deficit (construction carbon exceeding theoretical saving compared with competing air and road travel along the route) for a hundred years.  The construction carbon in an expansion of Heathrow would overshoot carbon budgets when any concrete and cement should be reserved for building hospitals and houses.

HS2 is being particularly damaging to ancient woodlands and other natural features/landscapes. Similarly with airport expansions and the £27billion road building programme.  David Attenborough was on TV this week describing the scale of the devastation to the biosphere but the Government ploughs on.  There has been a growing awareness of the concept of re-wilding (or just 'wilding' as Isabella Tree prefers) and  "wild back better" is a slogan that describes this movement. WBB mimicks the Government's rallying cry but, in a word, points to what should be the priority for the sake of the planet and our survival.

Don't forget to respond to Planning for the Future, and say if you want to join a planning workshop

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Planning forum, class or workshop

For the last ten years I have been running planning classes and workshops to examine the concept of land use planning and the way in which it is being practiced in England.  I am thinking of running this on line and this blog post is to see whether there is any interest from 'followers' and other readers in meeting regularly on Zoom to share knowledge and experience of the planning system(s)? 

I am thinking of 1hr long sessions on a weekly basis (probably on a Sunday evening) during which I would introduce a topic that would have been mailed out in advance, followed by Q&A. I normally hold a 'media watch' for people to describe and discuss what they have seen in the media in the last week. There could also be presentations from the 'class' to try out concepts and ideas.  I am not proposing any assessments but there could be scope for articles or collective action when responding to consultations.

If 20 people send an 'expression of interest' to explaining why they would like to join and where they live (and whether Sunday evening would rule them out), I will set up a Zoom account and send an email with starting instructions. If more than 20 express an interest I could hold a waiting list or run another class.


Thursday, August 13, 2020

Have your say on Planning for the Future

The Government has published a White Paper 'Planning for the Future’ (genuine consultations used to be Green Papers?) at the link Responses have to be made by 29 October 2020.


The proposals follow closely the thoughts of Jack Airey who has moved from Policy Exchange to No10 to help Dominic Cummings to disrupt and change the land use planning system as it was devised in 1947 and tweaked several times over the last 70 years.  A similar move of personnel (Alex Morton) from Policy Exchange took place about 20 years ago with no lasting impact on the planning system other than ill thought out proposals burning up resources preventing it from  functioning efficiently, thus exposing it to accusations of failure and in 'need' of further ill thought out change.


Between now and October there will be further Blogs on what impact the proposed changes are likely to have on the urban and rural environments, the climate, homelessness and biodiversity.  However, there are some basic points that suggest that the proposals are unlikely to further the causes of social justice, or enable a green recovery.


We live in a richly textured and complex country the settlement of which has taken place over thousands of years.  It is simplistic to think that lines can be drawn on a map carving the country up into three categories (effectively green, red and amber) that could accurately reflect the real needs either of these different areas or the country as a whole. 


If the Government had the first inkling of systems theory it would know that the principle of ‘requisite variety’ says “that in order to deal properly with the diversity of problems the world throws at you, you need to have a repertoire of responses which is (at least) as nuanced as the problems you face.”  The current planning system is complex but no more so than the range of problems it is expected to manage.  Reducing town and/or country into zones would lose the principle of dealing with individual cases on their merits.  The Paper says that the zoning would be subject to public involvement but with only three options and no experience of zoning it will not be possible for lay people or experts to make informed choices on where to draw the lines.


Another reason why the proposals are misguided can be seen in the expectations of what a changed planning system could achieve.  Neither Policy Exchange nor No 10 appear to understand that being the fourth most unequal country in the world makes it very difficult to level-up as per the election promises by handing the job over to the urban development industry.  Zonal planning would be an energy sapping distraction from what the planning system should be enabled to achieve in terms of housing, transport, climate and ecology.


It does not help that the Government has the unshakeable belief that 300,000 new houses have to be built every year to meet housing needs instead of a composing a strategy to re-distribute the existing surplus of housing space (ie 28million often under-occupied dwellings for 27m households).  1 million new dwellings in the next 5 years is a lot of construction carbon and the MHCLG has been asked where reference to this issue might be found in the consultation paper.


And, finally, the planning system could and should be revitalized, starting with the omission from the 1948 Act, which is control over agriculture and forestry.   

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Local Plan examinations and the professional planner

I thought that it might be interesting to post some of the representations I made to the examination of the South Oxfordshire Local Plan.

In correspondence the Head of High Growth & New Settlements at Homes England had advised that:
1.It is the Government, not Homes England, that is responsible for
developing policy on net zero in housing, though the agency will work
closely with them to deliver against this; and
2.Local planning policy will set out local expectations for net zero,
affordable housing etc., and again the agency will work closely with the
local authority to deliver against this.

This seems very helpful because HE are stating that they are happy to work with central Government if net zero housing is required and with local planning policy, again, were this to reflect local expectations regarding net zero housing. Homes England should be encouraged to stick to the words of the Head of Growth.

Given many suggestions that the examination was a ‘political fix’ I thought that it would be helpful to show the extent to which it should be an exercise led by planning professionals including the Inspector as a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute

There is no doubt that professional planners have been asleep at the wheel and are in a process of playing catch up.  In a press release of 29 June 2020
In launching ‘Plan the world we need’ on 29 June 2020 Victoria Hills CEO RTPI said that, “Chartered Planners abide by a strict code of ethical conduct of professional standards and work for the benefit of the public.” And the document ‘Probity and the professional planner RTPI (Jan 2020) says, “Professional planners are held in high regard because they deal with the important long term issues that affect the lives of the general; public. Balancing competing needs and preferences in exercising their professional judgements is a core part of this role”. 

I then tested the patience of the Inspector by reading from other RTPI documents:


A climate change position paper

The concept of ‘climate justice’ frames the RTPI’s current programme of work on climate change. This position paper -the first in a series on the programme -introduces the concept, discusses relevant academic literature, and explores why climate justice matters to spatial planning in the UK.

Making the case for spatial planning

… Both public engagement and equity are long-standing concerns for planners, but the imperative of climate change makes them even more crucial. … The level of coordination and collaboration required to weave compelling narratives across different sectors, communities and landscapes necessitates fair and effective spatial planning. For organisations which advocate for spatial planning, whether they are the RTPI, government, charities, academic, or private sector, this is the ‘story’ which needs telling, and climate justice is a powerful way of doing it”.

Priorities for Planning Reform in England April 2020

“Objective 1: Responding to the climate and environmental emergency . The UK’s progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions has been largely driven by decarbonisation in the power sector. To meet the objectives of the Climate Change Act 2019 the net zeros law and the international Paris Agreement, there is now an urgent nee to deliver rapid and sustained reductions in both operational and embodied emissions across al other sectors of the economy.  Planning plays a critical role in the decarbonisation of buildings and transport as recognized by the IPCC, UN Habitat and the Committee on Climate Change. While we welcome proposals for  Future Homes Standard to reduce the carbon emissions from new homes, more action is urgently needed throughout the planning system,” Including plan-making.

Recommendation one

Invest in regeneration and retrofit. Levelling up and  decarbonisation requires proactive planning to improve and regenerate local areas =. More than 80% of the housing stock to 20050 is already built, with even largescale new builds representing only a fraction of the change required. Investment in regeneration and retrofit [ ie subdivisions and custom-splitting], is also needed to reduce embodied and operational emissions, while improving wellbeing and increase resilience to flooding ond overheating.

Recommendation two

Refocus planning on 21st Century issues
Previous rounds of reform and restructuring, coupled with an excessive focus on the delivery of new housing, have limited the ability to plan holistically to wider economic , social and environmental issues….. These benefits must be properly accounted for in the plan-level viability assessments and the examination process.” And finally the 2020-2030 corporate Strategy states: “Urgency around the climate change crisis is at the forefront of everyone’s minds.  The role of planning is pivotal in achieving global sustainable development.  The SDGs are due to be delivered by 2030. The challenges that many planners face may be local but they have global impacts.  This sits within our public interest in our Royal Charter. The decarbonisation  of our economies will not be without its challenges but planning and planners sit at the vanguard of the solution.  Planners can build upon their existing approach to sustainable development and utilize their influencing position to lead the opportunity to deliver climate action.”

I would be very happy if those prepared to engage in the plan-making process reminded the professional planners involved of the stated position of their Institute and the Code of Professional Conduct.  I would also be interested in the response from the RTPI were complaint to be made against members who have demonstrably failed to follow the lead of the Institute in addressing the challenge of climate change and biodiversity loss.

Monday, July 6, 2020

The power of neighbourhood assemblies and emergency declarations

As readers would know, I have suggested that extended family groups could be one of the underestimated agents of change in response to the climate and ecological emergencies (  As one family member is very often a member of another family, were both to hold assemblies and the declare emergencies, family networks working towards net zero carbon could cover the planet.

An alternative affinity group could be a ‘neighbourhood’.  Many of the effective measures to reduce carbon extend beyond the family/household into the local area.  Calling neighbourhood assemblies, making neighbourhood declarations and moving groups of (say) 100 households towards net zero carbon could be replicated across the globe. There would be overlaps in interests and areas/spaces being shared.

In middle class suburban England (where high consumption and carbon emissions are the norm) will have to experience significant behavioural changes  and, as with families, there is much to be said for doing it together.

Fences could be removed/relocated to provide spaces for growing food, recreation and getting together. Guest accommodation could be found within the existing houses or built, together with a common houses for catering and meeting (the origin of the public house).  Home-working could move towards neighbourhood working if existing or new spaces were found for shared offices, workshops, stores, food processing (and cafes). Cars (electric of course), other vehicles and tools could be shared as could books and games.  The sharing economy (inc mutual credit systems - see could grow out of the assembly and declaration to achieve net zero carbon. Not all neighbours would join, in but there could be a Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) as the project developed and flourished.  Some of the changes would require planning permission, and the engagement of the planning system and the local development plans could even help in the dissemination of the low carbon practices.

Planning for neighbourhood action would be a productive use of time spent on ‘probation’ and ensuring that the emergence from ‘lockdown’ is a green recovery whatever the Government might be suggesting and promoting.