Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Housing White Paper

 I will not include the full 7 page  response to the Housing White Paper (found through Google) but would encourage readers to  read the proposals and send their ideas to,   asap

To a very large extent the HWP  amounts to further tinkering with the planning system justified on the basis that the recommendations would be so profound and long-lasting that there would be no further meddling required!?   The HWP  is subtitled “Fixing our broken housing market". The Government refuses to understand the extent to which  it is the market in  land which is broken and that it would be by capturing the land value attributable to residential development  that many of the problems of housing supply could be fixed. However, there also needs to be a greater understanding of the planning and housing ' system'.   This means that by finding  and triggering a virtuous circle(s)  more can be achieved  and more predictably than by fiddling with  every little part. It is in this respect that by building almost exclusively two bedroom dwellings the whole housing  stock can  be brought into balance with housing needs (those of smaller households of young and old)  in a way that makes efficient use of land, materials and labour and results in lower costs of owning/renting and  living.

The HWP  seems to be a serious attempt by the Government to avoid its obligations in terms of reduction of carbon emissions.  There is no clear intent to ensure that unsustainable development (i.e. that which does not consume  its own smoke)  does not benefit from the presumption in favour of sustainable development set out at paragraph 14 of the National Planning Policy Framework.  It is most important that responses to the White Paper expect the Government to ensure that housing supply is consistent with the internationally agreed target of 1.5° of global warming. In the context where reductions will be very hard to achieve in industry, power generation, agriculture, transport and the military it is in the housing sector where building must be carbon neutral or negative.

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, the Government   continues to believe that increasing the supply of housing will reduce its price (and  not that it is the inflated price of land which is the main culprit).    The work by Oxford Economics  behind the Redfern Review  provides the latest explanation of how adding just 1% ( in practice much less) to a  stock of over 20 million houses will not influence the price.  The importance of this  relatively small increase to the housing stock is that  this scarce resource must be used with extreme care.  In order to  meet the  genuine needs for  housing the elderly  (and others in need of care) every new dwelling will be required to follow the models described in the HAPPI 3 family -  which include cohousing.  

The Government is playing with the idea of a national industrial strategy. In this context it could be suggested that  this could and should be complemented by a national spatial plan to  demonstrate how to make better use of the land and infrastructure than piling more pressures on the south-east. 

There are many other issues raised by the White Paper for readers to get their teeth into including the future of green belts and new categories of (un) affordable housing. The suggestion that larger sites be subdivided to  make the delivery of dwellings more certain could be supported especially as  local planning authorities are required to provide serviced sites for self/custom-builders.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Sadomasochism and land use planning

The more I reflect on the pain inflicted by the planning system on those seeking to promote genuine sustainable development (not the kind currently being espoused and supported by the central and local government) the more perverse the situation seems to be.    It would be reasonable to expect the land use planning system to be doing all it can to deal with the problems associated with industrial agriculture, the loss of bio-diversity, growing levels of homelessness, climate change, the crisis in social care and life threatening levels of air pollution.  If the system finds that it cannot create a vision for a more sustainable future and have this reflected in its development plans and decisions then it seems to be particularly perverse for it to intimidate, frustrate and mentally torture those courageous individuals and groups who have a vision and the energy to make progress in the areas of local/regional food systems (embracing permaculture or agro-ecology), genuine reduction in car use, and co-housing.   Which brought me to search the meaning of Sadomasochism in Wikipedia as, “the giving or receiving pleasure from acts involving the receipt or infliction of pain or humiliation”.  Whilst there may be few if any individual planners who derive pleasure from the acts and omissions which are responsible for holding back progress towards a sustainable society, environment and economy, there is evidence of some satisfaction (ie sadism) or complacency in the operation of the planning system which makes creative people (ie masochists) suffer in their often futile attempts to have their visions accepted and their plans approved.

A different but possibly more justified and inevitable form of sadism is requiring those outsiders (masochists) wanting to engage with the planning system to understand the difference between policy and law and to make intelligible the legislation and associated policies that are most helpful to their case.  As an example, for those with a particular interest in permaculture, Local Development Orders might be one of the most promising parts of the comprehensive statutory code within which the planning system operates.  This is the power as set out in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990,
‘60 Permission granted by development order.
(1)Planning permission granted by a development order may be granted either unconditionally or subject to such conditions or limitations as may be specified in the order.
(2)Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1), where planning permission is granted by a development order for the erection, extension or alteration of any buildings, the order may require the approval of the local planning authority to be obtained with respect to the design or external appearance of the buildings.
(3)Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1), where planning permission is granted by a development order for development of a specified class, the order may enable the Secretary of State or the local planning authority to direct that the permission shall not apply either—
(a)in relation to development in a particular area, or
(b)in relation to any particular development.”

But to many of those wanting to change the world, reading and seeking an understanding (including how this section is regarded by their local council) is tantamount to torture.  I should add that LDOs would probably only be really, as opposed to potentially, helpful were there to be a legal distinction between permaculture and industrial agriculture. 

Again reference to the law is interesting as there is a 1947 definition of ‘agriculture’ in the Act at  s.336, Interpretation,

“agriculture” includes horticulture, fruit growing, seed growing, dairy farming, the breeding and keeping of livestock (including any creature kept for the production of food, wool, skins or fur, or for the purpose of its use in the farming of land), the use of land as grazing land, meadow land, osier land, market gardens and nursery grounds, and the use of land for woodlands where that use is ancillary to the farming of land for other agricultural purposes, and “agricultural” shall be construed accordingly;”

Readers could consider what distinctions could be included in definitions of land uses that would fit the purposes of a world post 2017 and which could be implemented through Local Development Orders?