Friday, November 25, 2011

Localism Act

There is too much in the Act to cover in one blog so I would just look at the potential for neighbourhood planning.  The Government claim that this should be looked at as an enabling power rather than a compulsion.  Taking a parish council (population of about 2500) currently with a precept (ie annual spend) of £30,000 it seems highly unlikely that they would want to spend the equivalent on producing a formal neighbourhood plan (to go through procedures of referendum, checking conformity with the Core Strategy/Local Plan and the Examination in Public. Although this would make the plan a development plan document for the purposes of "s.38(6) accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise." the alternative would be a more traditional village or community plan which could cost around £1000.  The 'bottom line' is the weight given to the plan by the local planning authority or inspector on appeal.  This should depend on the rigour with which the evidence on which the plan is based was collected and the scale of the public consultation.  This can be done without a huge amount of outside help.  Formal adoption would probably take up most of the cost involved in the Neighbourhood Planning process  and is unlikely to add much value.  Dispensing with the referendum and EiP should not mean that a parish should not leaflet, hold meetings, and debate alternatives with residents and landowners.  A flush of community plans might be one of the unintended consequences of the power to do neighbourhood plans.

The position is less straighforward in towns and urban areas but again, forming a neighbourhood action group does not imply that a formal neighbourhood plan needs to be prepared and a community plan might well suffice.

In both cases I cannot resist the prompt that plans at all levels (I hold out little hope to see this in the NPPF due in April 2012) should privilege and seek to normalise co-housing and community self-build (see previous blogs).  In my opinion the promotion of these issues is sufficient justification for communities to get involved in the planning process.  A Norwegian visitor wondered whether co-housing was illegal in this country as he could not think of another explanation for the absence of examples.

Happy planning


Saturday, September 17, 2011


As I suggested in the opening blog, the model residential development which has been prevalent since 'planning' started in 1948 has been designed to meet the demands of individualism, privacy and a secure pension.  Without condemning these objectives, I would suggest that any success has been achieved at the expense of the environment (energy and other resources) and society in the growth of isolation and lack of sociability.

If only for the purposes of saving carbon, I believe that planners should privilege and mainstream co-housing schemes.  This should be done through development plan documents and planning decisions; approving applications which demonstrate a significant level of sharing of indoor and outdoor space and refusing those which don't.

Co-housing should aim to minimise the space dedicated to individuals and families and maximise the space for shared activities; living (including cooking and eating), working (including business activity), studying (including CIT and library), playing (leisure activities for all age groups, and the car of children,  sick, disabled and elderly.  The 'common house' should provide sleeping accommodation which could be used by guests, but also when families do not fit their current unit and are waiting to move within the scheme. The aim would be for close to 100% occupation of bedrooms unlike the 50% in existing housing.  Outside the garden (and livestock) can be shared together with equipment, cars, bikes, pets, knowledge and skills.

Whether through conversions or new build the design should be minimise use of energy and resources in building and occupation and the ethos of early joiners is likely to make the most of low energy designs (eg zero carbon by 2016). A element self-building and/or finishing would add a further dimension by reducing costs and building the community. There could also be synergies with the Community land Trust movement.

Increasing the level of sharing of space should reduce the build costs and enable accommodation to be relatively affordable although planners would have to be persuaded to accept co-housing as part of its affordable quotas.  Financing of co-housing would be made much easier if it was normalised by planners such that it was the main if not the only game in town.  Initially there would be sufficient finance from those keen to downsize to something much more convivial than sheltered housing.  There would also be a demand from those currently in crowded accommodation not properly designed for sharing.  C0-housing  would be attractive to those unfortunate to find themselves in B&B or temporary accommodation.  Interest from home owners and housing associations should enable there to be units for rent in every scheme.

Planners would be entitled to see the legal documentation behind any co-housing scheme before granting a permission to check compliance with policies in development plan documents, including those on the provision of affordable housing.  They might also have to be persuaded that by permitting co-housing these schemes will provide models of sharing and cooperative behaviour for residents in the less well suited housing built over the last 60 years and before.  Common space for use of residents could be shared by the residents in the locality.

Whist not very common in this country co-housing is popular for example in Scandinavia, and should not be confused with communes and housing for fringe groups.  Examples in the UK are occupied and sought by people who would definitely be classed as 'normal' and could even include planners and those sitting on planning committees.

The first job is to draw co-housing and its benefits to the attention of planners and then to take advantage of the policies supporting sustainable development pointing out the economic, social and environmental advantages co-housing would have over conventional models.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Welcome to unreal world of planning

DanthePlan has been a local government planner for 13 years and in the private sector since 1989.  He teaches planning at the Oxford University Department of Continuing Education and also does some training of solicitors in the dark art.  There has been a smattering of private consultancy and work for voluntary organisations.  There are many different forms of planners and I use this shorthand for those practicing the 'town and country' kind empowered by the Acts of similar names.

Why a blog?  Sometimes I need to spell out my thoughts so that I can read them and see if they make some sense.  Repetition of views which can be found elsewhere would be senseless but I believe that DanthePlan can make an original contribution to the debate about how we plan for future development.

The planning minister spotted that there has been a remarkable lack of planning from the 20,000 of us marching under the banner of professional planners. Whist he is hoping that we will dance to his tune as recently set out in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), I have something entirely different in mind.  Planners have been guilty of being the poodles of politicians and the mouthpieces of developers.  Before they protest these allegations, planners should look carefully at the developments carried out since 1948 and decide whether they would rather take the credit/blame of shove this onto politicians and developers and start instead with a relatively unblemished record in 2011 guilty of the lesser charge of being spineless?

My proposal is that planners should look at what would really comprise 'sustainable development' and refuse to pander to the individualism and demands for privacy which has unsustainably high environmental costs.  Planners should stand up for and privilege forms of housing, employment, retailing, use of the countryside and recreation, which can be shown to be part of a low carbon economy. My guess s that will rule out support for much if anything of what has been the practice of developers during the last 60 years. We should stop being pension providers; limiting the supply of houses and preventing unneighbourly development to maintain the value in house owner' bricks and mortar, but actually start to become an environmental profession.

That is my starting point and every week or so I will explain how I believe planners could earn the trust of people and politicians and be given the responsibility to share in the planning of the transition to and realisation of a low carbon, bio-diverse and socially inclusive future.  To the many (if not most) planners who disagree with my prognosis I would put the question why they should be trusted with finding a route out of a mess of their own making?