Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Reviewing the Bacon Review

The review of custom and self-building (CSB) carried out for the PM by Richard Bacon MP has just been published.   After 100 pages it recommends Homes England be given a greater role, more publicity including CSB show parks,  support for community-led housing, realizing potential of MMC, getting  support from the new planning framework and Act and ironing out creases with the tax regime.  Not much to object to but why does it take 5 years to expose the abject failure to implement the 2016 Housing and Planning Act? 

 Unfortunately Richard Bacon blames a conspiracy between the volume builders and the planners instead of the real culprit being the Government and the Secretary of State who cannot face the fact that the planning system could and still can get this show on the road.  The slagging off of the existing planning system and the support for Planning for the Future (by Mr Bacon, a Tory MP) fails to identify the main reason why the planners are such an easy target; the contradictory and/or inadequate advice provided by governments (eg Secs of State) who fail to or are ideologically opposed to understanding the potential of relying More on regulations.

If LPAs had been properly equipped with strong and consistent advice on CSB since 2016 the last 5 years and counting would not have been wasted, nor would this report or speculative recommendations be needed.  Even now, a clearly worded Written Ministerial Statement from Mr Jenrick (now Mr Gove) could have immediate benefits. 

 A minority of the public say that they would choose a new home but, I am afraid to say, about 80% of those that do, claim that they are happy with their choice.

The economic consultants to the report  concede that the energy efficiency standards of new building will improve so that the differential between the volume builder and the self/custom builder will narrow. In fact the gap must close to a net zero standard of construction and operational carbon if carbon reduction budgets are to be met. It seems unlikely that the recommendations will result in CSB becoming  any less  focused on detached houses and enabled to promote terraced houses and apartments that will required for new housing to meet carbon reduction budgets.   There is no mention of the imperative to "retrofit first". The Department of Leveling -up, Housing and Communities decline to say whether the new Help to Build Fund will be available to those wanting to sub-divide existing properties?

The need for residential sub-divisions, so that the insulation and heating of about 50% of our residential space and fabric is not wasted, is not mentioned. It would have been really interesting to see an economic analysis (inc social welfare) of custom-splitting.

It is hard not to see Richard Bacon as part of the failure to deliver on the 2016 Act and his criticism of the planning system suggest a significant lack of understanding of how it could and should be enabled to deal with this and other aspects of meeting housing needs.  My advice is to take some of the data from the report to persuade your LPA that it should be supporting CSB, but in the form of residential sub-divisions and custom-splitting. Given the climate emergency I am not inclined to be supporting hundreds of thousands of new builds however delivered.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Planning can address the climate emergency

Big claim for what might seem to be a small gain but this extract from a planning appeal file:///Users/danielscharf/Downloads/Appeal%20decision%203269526.pdf "Para 72.The S106 would ensure the implementation of a travel plan that would seek to encourage sustainable transport modes via initiatives such as residential information packs (including vouchers towards cycling and bus/rail travel) and car sharing. The S106 would also make provision for an electric car club to operate from within the site. 73.Based on the above measures, the development would satisfactorily promote a range of sustainable transport modes. This would help to address concerns regarding air pollution and the climate emergency. Therefore, it would accord with LP Policies CN9 and EM1... ". This is very significant.

In granting the permission the offer of an 'electric car club' is said by the inspector to carry limited weight as it comprised one parking space for the 110 dwellings. However,  the inclusion of the obligation to provide the EV car club would probably have been deleted as unnecessary were the inspector to have given it no weight.   Local planners should get a grip of the electrification of the road transport system.  Developers should be required to provide more cars and spaces to attract greater weight in decision-taking.

The real significance of the decision is the reference to the 'climate emergency'  - the first time I have seen this referenced in an appeal decision. As a material consideration this is an invitation for the public to provide evidence to decision-takers, both; LPAs and inspectors/Secretary of State, that accords with the emergency situation eg net zero long before 2050 and Cornwall are looking at 2030 This should not be limited to electric car clubs but to the carbon emitted in the building and operation of the houses.

If the climate (and ecological) emergency  is a material consideration, then it is unlawful not to take it into account for all developments implying carbon emissions (and biodiversity loss).  It might also be unlawful to make inadequate provisions for addressing the emergency.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Abject failure to deliver on self-building


The Right to Build Taskforce is trying to draw attention to hopeless state of self and custom building in the UK.   The New Self-Build Data Release І4 August 2021 issued by the MHCLG reveals the failure of Government to achieve anything close to what it has said it would like this sector to contribute to new housing supply and shows that a large proportion of councils are in breach of their legal obligations in terms of permissions for serviced plots available for self/custom builders on the statutory registers, and a fraction of the opportunities that NaCSBA say is the real demand.


The Task Force has assessed a large number of “general support” policies in local plans and find that they are of limited use in decision-making.  “Allocations, exceptions, percent policies and criteria based support for community-led and collective infill and exceptions are the most robust policies for providing an responsive land supply for self-build.” Any qualified planner working in development control/management would have known that this would be the case.


Richard Bacon MP should take credit for the current state of the law (ie the duty to permit serviced plots commensurate to the demand on registers), but has now become complicit in the failure to deliver in accordance with the legal duties.  Neither he nor NaCSBA (or the Right to Build Task Force) have ever been prepared to support custom-splitting as a way of increasing supply of opportunities for people to create their own homes, equivalent to a serviced plot but generally within existing built-up areas with existing facilities. New dwellings would be created with minimal levels of 'construction carbon'.  This would be a means of enabling the space and fabric of existing houses being heated and insulated to meet housing needs.  It will be interesting to see whether the Bacon Review to be published in the next few weeks has anything new to say on what is a sorry state of affairs.