Friday, October 28, 2016

We need a plan

The lack of a plan for Brexit and for foreign wars (see Chilcot Report) brings the need for planning and a 'plan' to the fore.  I have been busy doing the rounds and listening to debates about housing (Search for The House of the Commons), intergenerational justice, decentralised energy and local food and have had my sense that the land use planning system is a necessary evil reinforced.
On the question of 'justice', it seems to me that people are more likely to accept apparently unpleasant regulations and policies if it is clear that the impacts are equally shared or at least any unequal distribution is genuinely in the common interest.   This can only be demonstrated through a plan.

On the question of energy, there were two strong messages about the need for a plan. One proposal was for a county wide 'master plan' and there was another proposal to use neighbourhood planning. Given that land use planning is accustomed to dealing with roads, waste and drains (and all sorts of other social infrastructure) it would be a small step to incorporate energy.  Of course there are some plans dealing with where wind and solar generators might be acceptable.  However there are no strategic plans to show how a county (say) could become energy (and carbon?) neutral by 2050 including demand management measures. Maybe county councils could produce mineral, waste and energy plans?  Gavin Barwell is saying that county councils might have to supervise (plan?) for the housing supply if districts can't agree (Mr Pickles the destroyer of strategic planning eat your heart out) so why not give counties power over electricity supply and distribution. Some coordination seems to be necessary. In fact county wide planning for mobile phone signals and broadband might also be a good idea.

On the food front, there is some dispute over the factors to be taken into account, but the carbon emissions attributable to the food supply chain are very substantial (13% Committee on Climate Change and 50% UNCTAD), and will need to be reduced. There is potential in 'local food' to reduce the emissions from growing, processing and distribution (see many previous blogs) and this will need a new approach to planning.

So  coming to housing, the first tranche of custom builders both as individuals or associations of individuals on council registers will nearly have been sealed (ie 31 October).  The discussion of housing as a 'commons' ranging from Calais through rough sleeping, squatting, social/affordable housing to coops and co-housing ended with a call to engage with those preparing neighbourhood and local plans.

All in all this was an exceptional couple of weeks for DanthePlan, providing many good reasons to support the planning system.  However, this support is for the system as  it could or should be and not as it is.   Those involved in intergenerational justice (not only the young) should get involved.  Those involved in energy (mainly electricity) and food should be engaging with the planners (from the Minister downwards) to get their needs understood. Those involved in housing have to get beyond the absolute shortage and get into fair distribution (of the commons) and assisting the planners in appreciating the special advantages of coops and co-housing so that they can be privileged through the development plans.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Public speaking at committee

To 'have one's day in court' or just the chance 'to have one's say' seems to have some popular appeal even if the result is a disappointment.  Public speaking at planning committees seems to be based on this rather superficial and limited purpose. If a three or five minute presentation to a planning committee actually affected the way in which a planing application was decided it would probably amount to an unlawful influence over the decision-making process.  In court  evidence can be thoroughly examined but committee procedures are much more 'linear'.

When a committee meets to decide an application it should have available access to all the 'background papers' which are referred to in the officer report which should include the professional analysis or assessment of the application and a recommendation based on s38(6) that the determination be made in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise; the report having identified and weighed the relevant policies and other material considerations.  The background papers should include all representations received while the application was being processed up to the publication of the committee agenda.  One potential anomaly are written comments received in response to representations appearing for the first time on the agenda and/or to the officer recommendation itself.  However, these late written comments should also be made available at the committee and, in theory, could be addressed by public speakers.

Public speakers are advised not to raise new matters (as this would disadvantage speakers who might already have spoken or have a pre-prepared speech).  This is the correct approach but raises the question of why speak at all if the points have already been made in writing?  Thinking that simple repetition would be pointless, speakers change or embellish their comments.  For individuals this is just a single error.  For those representing parish councils or residents' groups or NGOs changes to the written representations without specific and minuted authority are compounding the error.   For these comments to be taken into account by committee (and why else provide the platform?) could invalidate the decision of committee.

Some councils allow for the speaker to be questioned (supposedly for purposes of 'clarification'). This will extend the period afforded to one side of the argument and the response to a question could only be an opportunity to emphasise a previous point or to make a new point  (without authority in the case of representatives) - both potentially prejudicial to the other parties.  So public speaking at committee seems to be based on a false premise; what is said must strictly repeat previous written representations or be ignored.  Taking late representations into account could invalidate the decision. But who is to tell what  the committee members actually took into account in casting their vote?

On a separate matter, I am reminded that those who want to keep up to date on housing (as opposed to the mainly planning side of these issues)  should register to receive the posts from