Sunday, November 27, 2016

Transport planning confusion

Westminster watchers will know that the new Government and its Chancellor is looking for ways to boost the economy and the "in"  word, "infrastructure" has caught his eye.  He is particularly attracted to the proposals in the report prepared by the National Infrastructure Commission at

This blog has said very little about infrastructure in the belief that we should be concentrating resources on fixing and sweating existing assets rather than building more that would increase the need for more fixing.  This is particularly the case in respect of road building.

The NIC report supports the reinstatement of  a rail link between the growing cities of Oxford and Cambridge, via Bedford and Northampton.  But, there is equivalent support for a new Expressway (is that a euphemism for a new motorway?).  In his Autumn Statement the Chancellor mentioned these projects in the same breath.   The first I heard of the 'Expressway' was at a meeting where one of the possible operators of the railway (Chiltern Railways, that is running trains from Oxford and Bicester to London) made some cutting remark about the (im)possibility of the rail link being completed and/or being viable if the road was also being promoted. 

The failure to resist the road building lobby (and mentality) will be just one reason for failing to meet carbon reduction targets. But even in transport planning terms it makes no sense. In 2004 the Government declared that it can no longer hope (or afford) to build its way out of congestion (The Future of Transport. White Paper, Department for Transport, TSO),  but the Chancellor committed £1.3 billion to this exercise in futility and the potential for growth in jobs and housing along this corridor proved too attractive to the Government in the face of advice that the new road would add to the congestion on the network including the A34.  The NIC refers to Science Vale UK and to the possibility of 20,000 houses in Didcot.  Without making this blog too local or parochial, this area is already very congested and the A34 is a main artery that cannot cope with existing demand.

The lesson is that roads and railways are part of an integrated system where the comparative advantages of the private car over the slightly less flexible and more expensive railway (relying on the marginal cost of journeys) must be resisted by our transport (and financial) planners.  The expressway might make the area more accessible on  a map, but the DfT knows that it would make the roads in the region more congested.  On the other hand a railway could take existing traffic off the roads in and around the area.  We should also be concerned about the growing influence of the NIC if it continues to be blind to the multiple problems associated with road transport.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The London Plan should follow where St Ives has taken the lead

Readers of DanthePlan who did not get their hands on the Evening Standard of 15 November would not have seen Simon Jenkins' celebration of the Court finding that the policy in the St Ives Neighbourhood Plan limiting the occupation of new houses as 'principal residences' is lawful.  The NDP can be read at:

and the relevant and apparently lawful policy is:

"H2 Principal Residence Requirement
Due to the impact upon the local housing market of the continued uncontrolled growth of dwellings used for holiday accommodation (as second or holiday homes) new open market housing, excluding replacement dwellings, will only be supported where there is a restriction to ensure its occupancy as a Principal Residence.

Sufficient guarantee must be provided of such occupancy restriction through the imposition of a planning condition or legal agreement. New unrestricted second homes will not be supported at any time.

Principal Residences are defined as those occupied as the residents’ sole or main residence, where the residents spend the majority of their time when not working away from home.

The condition or obligation on new open market homes will require that they are occupied only as the primary (principal) residence of those persons entitled to occupy them.  Occupiers of homes with a Principal Residence condition will be required to keep proof that they are meeting the obligation or condition, and be obliged to provide this proof if/when Cornwall Council requests this information. Proof of Principal Residence is via verifiable evidence which could include, for example (but not limited to) residents being registered on the local electoral register and being registered for and attending local services (such as healthcare, schools etc)"

While neighbourhood planning has had the potential for innovation  a combination of examiners and supervision by LPAs has meant that most are rather badly drafted versions of local plans. However, readers of this blog would recall that there was no such thing as 'affordable housing' until an appeal court judge explained (agreeing with the LPA and disagreeing with both an inspector and a high court judge) that a dwelling affordable as a ratio of local earnings was materially different in planning terms to one that was unaffordable.  Since then affordability has been a thread  throughout the housing debate that has seen the term corrupted to the extent that a return to court on the issue is overdue.

Coming back to local occupier/principal residence conditions, these might be legal but could be a nightmare to enforce.  I have to put up my hand to writing an article in the Journal of Planning Law expressing scepticism about the an attempt in 2002 by Exmoor National Park Authority to introduce a similar policy.  I do wish the residents of St Ives and Cornwall Council well in what should be seen as an experiment that should be closely monitored and improved where necessary.  Taking my cue from Simon Jenkins, I do think that the London Mayor should exploit this judgement and that The London Plan should follow where St Ives Neighbourhood Plan has taken the lead.