Wednesday, January 18, 2023

The Oxford Real Farming Conference and time for planners to promote agroecology

As is my wont I attend and then produce a blog about the Oxford Real Farming Conference.  This year the conference grew to over 4000 delegates with 1300 in Oxford and the remainder joining online from around the world.  My purpose is gauge where real farming is heading and whether the planning system could help. Nothing I heard dented my conviction that the potential of the planning system continues to be ignored.  The failure of the agroecology movement to engage with the planning system handicaps its growth and  prevents those operating the system from learning whet agroecology has to offer and how it could be supported and encouraged - a true double whammy. When one of the few (I think that there was one other) chartered planners could not even name the Minister for Planning (Lucy Frazer?) it is clear that some steeled status is needed before normal people can be expected to spend time on plan-making or decision-taking. It is almost impossible to understand the impact of existing plans and policies before trying to keep up with proposed changes.  The latest consultation to the National Planning Policy Framework actually signposts further changes scheduled for next year, and then wonders why people find better things to do.

Unfortunately when discussing what the land use planning system could do I also need to recommend changes to the system as well as challenging officers, councillors and inspectors to do what is already possible with existing controls to privilege applications that advance the cause of agroecology.  This includes the allocation of land for smallholding around settlements where there would be a presumption in favour of approving agricultural workers dwellings.  This would complement a practice of requiring all development proposals on the edge of settlements to place land for smallholding purposes into a local community land trust (through the use of s106 undertakings). One or more of the houses being proposed would be transferred to a housing association as part of the social housing quota but with the occupation limited to somebody working all or some of the smallholding land being secured.

It has become increasingly clear that agroecology has a materially different impact on land and soils that industrial farming in ways that can be measured; nutrient density of crops, soil depth and fertility, biodiversity etc.  In these circumstances there are grounds for changing the planning legislation to require permission to be sought than granted for material change of use.  It would be permitted development for farming practices to improve soil depth and fertility but planning permission would be needed for any operations that would harm soils; deep cultivations; applications of artificial fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides.  Industrial farmers would not approve but that is the point.  The expertise in planning offices would have to grow but the distinctions being drawn would be no more detailed than in the change of use of buildings that can be extremely tricky to investigate, measure and enforce. 

This change would excite those who are doing their own thing and to form a critical mass of 'real farmers'.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

How can LNRSs benefit from the LURB?

One of the reasons why normal people develop a deep distrust for the planning system must be down the difficulty experienced in trying to understand and track proposals to address its failings and propose improvements. Every new Government seems to see it as a duty to introduce fundamental changes through manifesto pledges, white papers, green papers, and ministerial statements in the press and in Hansard.   During years of grandstanding there will be expressions of public opinion through opinion polls and by-election results, and the publication of reports by NGOs and think tanks.  Eventually a Parliamentary bill will emerge that seeks to meet the test of fundamental change but actually amounts to more than tinkering around the fringe.


Welcome to the Levelling up and Regeneration Bill.  Fortunately this bears little if any resemblance to the Future of Planning White Paper drafted by Policy Exchange.  But neither does it meet any of the criteria associated with the levelling up of a divided country.  The unintended consequence is to alienate all those who would like to engage with the planning system to explore the potential to tackle the closely joined crises afflicting the climate and nature.

Borne out of this frustration is another report and Making the Most Out of England’s Land can be found on the UK Parliament website (pdf). Lord Cameron of Dillington, chair of the Land Use in England Committee said,  "Land use in England is facing a growing number of conflicting pressures and demands including for food, nature, biodiversity, net zero targets, housing, energy and wellbeing.  The government cannot afford to deprioritise this issue.”

The proposed  Land Use Commission would be responsible for creating a land use framework which will help identify and address current and emerging challenges and opportunities for land use in England.  The framework should, "replace the current siloed approach to land use policy with a deliberative and cooperative technique in order to make use of the opportunities and synergies that provides".

The provision, access to and maintenance of green space would be a priority in the framework.  Lord Dillington added that, in addition to a land use framework, regional priorities should be encouraged through the proposed Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRSs).  "The government must ensure LNRSs are given appropriate funding and prominence in the planning system to enable them to operate successfully and gain traction amongst farmers and other land managers.”

While it is preferable for the LNRSs to be embedded in the planning system that emerges from its brush with the LURB, the progress of the latter bill through Parliament is so fraught with political infighting that Lord Dillington and his colleagues might be well advised to look elsewhere and promote LNRSs for their own sake and on their own terms.  That is a very unfortunate conclusion to arrive at as the losers will be all those who have been waiting for the planning system to deliver on the regeneration of the environment.  The environment itself will be poorer from these political games as it is treated as something separate from rather than intrinsic to our daily lives.


Monday, October 24, 2022

Custom-building and custom-splitting

I am writing this waiting for the dust to settle on the new administration led by Rishi Sunak and starting tomorrow 25 October 2022.  having wasted my time and yours addressing Greg Clarke and then Simon Clarke/Lee Rowley we don't know who will be put in charge of housing.  What we can anticipate is a renewed commitment to building 300,000 houses a year but, possibly, increasing the difficulty by giving more powers to local areas (ie those in blue wall constituencies like Amersham and Chesham that punished the Johnson Government threatening to adopt measures proposed by the Policy Exchange planner moved into Downing Street.

I feel fairly safe in saying that the 2022 administration will say all the right things about self and custom building but lack the imagination or knowledge of the planning system to give this the necessary boost. The custom building champion Richard Bacon MP is on record as describing the planning system as a "thicket". That a good description from somebody who lacks the energy or ability to sort out the wood from the trees.  When properly understood even the current and badly thought out legislation could be used to lift the numbers from under 10k to over 50k. Unfortunately there is not an MP who has the ability to do that.

By far the most read DanthePlan blog is that on custom building and the subject deserves an update since 2016.  The lack of progress could be evidence to support the contention that the is insufficient understanding at local and central level.

The first thing to do is to get onto the Council(s) register that provides the scale of the demand for serviced plots that the planning authority is legally required to be meeting. But, given that custom builders should, be definition, be prepared to go it alone, my next suggestion is to have conversations any housebuilder operating in the area of search. Would they reserve or sell a plot and build a house to my design?  They could be reminded of the Housing and Planning Act that places the responsibility  LPAs to ensure the supply of sufficient serviced plots but the housebuilder will mostly interested in offloading a plot at an acceptable price without depreciating any other.  Asking as a group about a contained part of a site might be more fruitful.  Agreeing the customising of the design(s) should be straightforward, but the involvement of your own labour less so.

An important- no very important - point to make is that there is provision for non-material amendments to be accepted by LPAs without the need for fresh applications.  The judgement of what is non-material one for the LPA but has to be made in the context of the permission as a whole.  In the case of say development of 50 dwellings it would be entirely reasonable for the LPA to agree that a change to a house type (or two or three) would not require a fresh application.  This would remove one of the objections from the housebuilder.

On larger sites the builder might only be expecting to build 30 to 40 units per year so the sale of plots in a discrete part of the site should not interfere with progress over the rest.  I am not going to predict how long or deep the recession might be affecting property prices but now might be a good time to be speaking to builders with unfinished sites.  The investment would have been made in the roads and drains and the prospects of achieving the projected prices for completed houses might have taken a dent.  Any delays might mean additional costs incurred in meeting the new Part L building regulations

Sunak might renew the Help to Buy scheme but might also have become aware that this has maintained and raised house prices mostly to the benefit of housebuilders. Without this kind of incentive (bribe) plot sales to custom builders could make economic sense.

Limited new build should only be encouraged if it is zero carbon in both building (inc materials and services) and then in operation (heating, lighting and appliances). Even if custom-builders are traditionally better than the housebuilders they might have to be better at building terraces that makes the net zero job much easier.  It is easier still for the custom-splitter.  This is more fully explained in a number of other blogs over the years, but starts with finding the owner of a larger house wanting to downsize-in-place and being prepared to partner in the physical sub-division of building and garden on the promise of well insulated, efficiently heated and accessible space suitable for their later years. This could result in the sale or a rent to buy of the new dwelling. The terms could and should be better than the equity release being touted by the finance industry.  I am waiting to see any other suggestions as to how housing needs can be met within carbon budgets or how 20 million existing dwellings can be retrofitted to net zero standards by 2035 (actually many fewer sub-divisions would be adequate to meet most if not all housing needs)?

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Dear Mr Clarke

No, this is not a typo. Simon Clarke has been appointed Secretary of State for Levelling up, Housing and Communities, taking over from Greg Clark to whom the previous blog was addressed. This game of musical chairs says a lot about our system of government; the prime minister rewards her friends with jobs and cabinet membership even if the current post holder might have years' of experience and has not done anythng wrong. Clark's predecessor, Mr Jenrick was retained by PM Johnson even though he had made serious errors of judgement. Three points of interest; the increase of housesharing by the over 50s, the problems with equity share, and the effect of the cost of energy/living on the salability of houses. The housing squeeze is making it hard for those without equity to move into the housing market. There are significant number of older people who are having to share houses in order to afford rent. What is normal for students is less acceptable to the more elderly and sedate. There is a distant prospect of middle aged housemates tolerating similar level of mess, noise, partying etc as in younger days. The problem in the UK is that there are insufficient housng models to accommodate the poor elderly, by what I mean, an absence of co-housing oportunities. Multiple occupation and shared housing does not provide the level of privacy that older people expect without confining them to the other extreme of single bedroom flats. The happy medium of small private areas and generous shared living areas is missing. Mr Clarke is likely to focus on boosting home ownership that has been associated with voting Tory without incentivising the diversity of supply to match our current needs and preferences. The obvious problems with equity sharing are coming to light (or journalists have stumbled across them). All are leasehold and many have high service charges and maintenance bills, both paid by the occupier and not the holder of the remaining equity (usually a housing association). But the problem that is not mentioned is the fact that equity sharing is a device that maintains or inflates the cost of housing that makes equity sharing necessary for so many. Take it away and the price of property would have to fall to meet what most people could afford in terms of both deposit and mortgage payments. Another case of a demand side stimulus rasing prices to require more demend side stimuli to add to the Help to Buy Equity loan Scheme that is reaching its end. Mr Clarke should resist renewing Help to Buy and recommend lending rules that disincentivise the mixture of rent and mortgage payments. High interest rates might do the trick in the short term giving the Minister time and space for a long term measure. In arranging a webinar to look at te impact that the cost of energy is and is likely to have on house prices I have found an estate agent who claims that the EPC has become the second matter of interest after price, having been 'nowhere' in previous months/years. I have struggled with finding a bank or building society to help but, on line, found NatWest to be ahead of the curve.see I am surprised by some of these findings (eg scale of EV home charging points) but encouraged by green mortgages and the trend of increasing interest in energy upgrades. This should experience a step change if we have a normally cold winter. Mr Clarke, your predecessors have been negligent in failing to establish a way of upgrading 20million homes, the result of which will be death and misery for those unable to adequately heat their sub-standard homes.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Dear Mr Clark

At least until there is a new Prime Minister on 5 September we have Greg Clark MP as the Communities Secretary. He has responsibility for the work being carried out by inspectors, including the report issued to West Oxfordshire in respect of an Action Area Plan for the proposed Garden Village being called Salt Cross. In this case the inspector recommended the dismantling of the policies aiming to make the development zero carbon and this is the letter and attachment sent to the Mr Clark’s department. 

Dear Sir or Madam 

In congratulating Mr Cark on his appointment as Communities Secretary (and leveling up) I thought that he might like to have to hand his foreword to the NPPF 2012 and commitment to zero carbon housing that was shredded by George Osborn. This only makes sense if national standards were enabling zero carbon.(see extract below) Mr Clark might have become aware of a recommendation made by a development plan inspector during his predecessor’s time and this is admirably summarised by Hugh Ellis in his TCPA blog at  I would urge Mr Clark, as a champion of zero carbon, to stamp his authority on the Department and ensure that the inspector's (rogue) recommendation is withdrawn before it is acted on by West Oxfordshire District Council and accepted by the development industry as the position of the Government. 


Daniel Scharf MRTPI 

NPPF 2012 

Foreword by Greg Clark 

The purpose of planning is to help achieve sustainable development. Sustainable means ensuring that better lives for ourselves don’t mean worse lives for future generations. 


93. Planning plays a key role in helping shape places to secure radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, minimising vulnerability and providing resilience to the impacts of climate change, and supporting the delivery of renewable and low carbon energy and associated infrastructure. This is central to the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development. 

94. Local planning authorities should adopt proactive strategies to mitigate and adapt to climate change, taking full account of flood risk, coastal change and water supply and demand considerations. 

95. To support the move to a low carbon future, local planning authorities should: ●● plan for new development in locations and ways which reduce greenhouse gas emissions; ●● actively support energy efficiency improvements to existing buildings; and ●● when setting any local requirement for a building’s sustainability, do so in a way consistent with the Government’s zero carbon buildings policy and adopt nationally described standards. 

I would urge all readers who are concerned about the impact that this decision could have on the development of garden villages and new residential development more widely, to write in similar terms to the Department of Leveling –Up, Housing and Communities to limit the damage that could be caused by a failure to use the planning system to facilitate the transition to zero carbon.

Monday, July 25, 2022

Good law to climate rescue

This might not be a planning case but the judgement could and should have profound implications for the land use planning system. In The Queen (on the application of (1) Friends of the Earth Limited(2) Client Earth (3) Good Law Project and Joanna Wheatley v Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy [2022] EWHC 1841 (Admin) the judge (who had a planning background) decided that the Government is legally obliged to explain how it intends to meet the carbon budgets set out by the Climate Change Committee and officially adopted. The Government has been reluctant to do this because a) it hasn’t a clue or b) it realizes that some of the necessary measures might not be popular with its voters? Two areas that the CCC had highlighted as requiring more attention were home energy and food and agriculture. The rate and extent to which the energy efficiency of houses will have to be improved to meet the 5th and 6th carbon budgets falls outside anything that the Communities or Business Departments have hitherto dared to suggest or offer meaningful financial support. The Government should view the judgement as a blessing in disguise as it can reasonably blame the Courts for any inconvenience caused in bringing the nation’s building stock up to a decent standard. All those involved in the operating the planning system should be considering if its actions are consistent with the carbon budgets. Being an arm of government the planning system must be seen to be operating in line with carbon reduction budgets (and not just the targets). Both candidates for the election of the next Prime Minister have confirmed support for the net zero target for 2050 and both have identified home insulation as a primary target (having been ministers in a Government that has been in dereliction of its duty in that regard since 2010). Congratulations to Client Earth, Friends of the Earth, Ms Wheatley and Good Earth Project for eliciting the help of the Courts in ensuring the planning system plays its (important) part in facilitating the transition to net zero. Zero carbon housing is most likely to involve a reduction in new building and increase in subdivisions (even custom-splitting – see many previous blogs). A zero carbon agriculture (see National Farmers Union net zero by 2040 target) might also need support from the planning system if not a change to the law to bring agricultural practices under control? (see previous blogs)

Monday, June 27, 2022

Who is going to fight for green retrofitting?

As a subscriber to the housing blog  Red Brick (the red corner) I often find myself adding a comment questioning the reliance on new building to meet genuine housing needs.  I am tempted to write in similar terms to  Lichfields (in the blue corner) about a report prepared for the Land Promoters and Developers Federation (LPDF) - Banking on Brownfield - that is all about proving that this strategy would fail to meet Government new building targets and greenfield development is necessary.  The report can be found at

The report is aimed at the Government which is retreating from the 300,000 per year target and the tilted balance in favour of granting permission when 5 year land supply cannot be demonstrated in circumstances where an up to date local plan has been adopted. No mention by Lichfields of the carbon emitted in the construction phase or the claim from Kent University that 300,000 new houses per year would 'embody' the whole carbon budget for all sectors of the economy.

Instead, I am in the green corner concentrating my fire on Channel 4 and John Lewis and Partners who sponsor the 'Homes on 4' series including programmes hosted by Kevin McCloud, George Clarke and Sarah Beeny.  I find it hard to believe that John Lewis or his Partners can be happy with these programmes concentrating on increasing light, space and profits without any mention of energy efficiency. I found a Waitrose cashier/Partner who was as unhappy with the balance of these programmes as I am.

Anybody with clout in this area could join the fight (ie correspondence) to have energy refitting as the main theme for 'Homes on 4' programmes as 20million homes need to have a deep refit in the next ten years. Increasing their size, vaulting the ceilings and having large areas of glass will make this task more difficult.  A discussion about external wall insulation and heat pumps would be very informative but is not seen as sufficiently entertaining for TV audiences? I have also asked the editor of The Planner (the magazine of the Royal Town Planning Institute) to include an article about residential sub-divisions, including custom-splitting, but am not holding my breath - Lichfields and their reports are considered to be more important.