In May 2018 the public was asked to comment on the government’s new ‘National Planning Policy Framework’
This is one response
‘0’ “Why this head-on revolutionary approach?”
1 Nature of the public voice
2 Why this proposal for radical change?
3 The new central principle: planning should grow out of local individuals, who plan
4 Why we have laws
5 What the market Is not
6 Size – an automatic obstacle
7 System of local democracy is not being used in practice
8 The English sense of ‘Home’
9 The question of our freedoms
11 Solution: Totally upend the system
12 Value of non-cash assets – and the people who fight for them
13 The nonsense of sustainability
14 Where we go from here
15 The housing under-juggernaut
16 One new tool – “Residents’ Own Redevelopment to Higher Density“
- The government is asking the wrong questions.
- Current UK planning is upside down.
- It is reactive not creative.
- An entirely new framework, and laws, are needed based on the rights of the individual and the local community.
- Planning should be creative, outwards from these two sources.
- Not defensive, passive and negative as at present.
- Housing needs to be provided by the community – (in whatever form). The market, an admirable concept, has failed.
- Abandon “sustainable” as often misused. (Adopt something closer to “locally accepted”.)
- Environmental protection needs to become absolute.
- But, with all this, great mental, legislative and some financial resources should be put behind an effort to enable people to feel more capable of control of their local environments, and highly enabled to be the agents of suggestion and decision of how their communities should build.
- One of these community-based skills that should be part of the heritage of every locality should be the ability to plan its own development with expansion in its district of its own housing stock.
Why this head-on revolutionary approach?
(i) A response to a system that has been letting everyone down – dead-on-the-branch:
In response to the NPPF consultation, the writer (like most humans) simply did not have time to go through that exercise’s detailed choices of dozens or hundreds of compartmentalized questions on micro-policies for the ‘strategy’ of the current “planning system”.
In the current system a local authority acts only in non-proactive response to incoming planning proposals made by opposed, non-local-community, interests so often motivated merely by profit and land value, and usually coming from outside the local area.
It is not really a planning system – it is a reaction system.
The existing approach should be modified from the ground up. The current system does not have a ‘strategy’ – only a faulty ‘crash pillow’ for muted response to proactive external proposals – proposals that are almost always external to an existing local community and environment.
What you read here is a hurried composition, written on the last day of the government’s consultation on a ‘new National Planning Policy Framework’ (NPPF) – but it shows the value of that exercise in stimulating this mainly opposed response.
On that day, it was written on the moment, from a few notes – but from wide listening to and observation influences and complaints. Author had held it back for improvement of style – but here it is.
(ii) Origin of these ideas:
How did this author come to receive suggestions and articles which have knit into the thoughts presented here? By listening to many points of view due to starting a website (www.city-voice.org), – still trying to get on its feet but which aimed to listen to – and promote, those opinions.
These comments had one thing in the common: they all spoke of injustice – of systems that don’t work.
Hence this author took the courage to suggest what they all said: that …
Really, the system doesn’t work ...
One perceives a need to spark some kind of seismic shift in the way Britain thinks about its town and country (and even rail, road and air) planning: a complete rethink of the bases and techniques of our planning system.
1 The public voice
For the reason given above, this author has recently had the good luck to hear and observe a range of comments on planning. What you read here comes from a process of hearing points of view put forward by many people and groups with sincere and deep concerns. Conclusions drawn from observing, from the outside, these important and committed people, would include:
1) The government’s consideration should be weighted in favour of the output of these intelligent, thoughtful, reasonable and balanced people – those who are reacting to the scenario which I describe.
2) The entire scheme of planning needs to be rethought: the entire ethos must be shifted in favour of the local communities, and, indeed, of individuals, and against external forces.
The ‘basic right’ belongs to the individual. We could even add this to the list of ‘human rights’
The ‘consequent-right’ is that which belongs to and is enjoyed by ‘communities’.
(For the basis of a definition of the term ‘community’ one must always go back to the individual).
Such an entirely new scheme should be based on defence of the local community – in reality, and in legislative reality, the defence of the individual – in first place – such that without the initial and prior consent of all individuals and the local community no application can even be considered by an elected local entity. That entity’s decision will be able to be passed only if local individuals and community have passed it.
They shall be the fount, source, power and right in all planning decisions.
There will be onus on the local authority (in town planning to be named the “Local Planning Assistance Agency” or similar, and possibly separately elected from the local council) to create, maintain and develop a positive and creative plan for the future, following and based entirely on local opinion. Very local. Any national rules with ‘presumption in favour’ of this, that or the other will be deleted from the law and replaced by ‘presumption in favour of the opinion, right, and power of the local individuals and community’.
This is a simplistic statement, but represents a basis to be developed into a more precise approach, with sensitivity and intelligence, obeying its basic principle.
2 Why this proposal for radical change?
The first thing that is wrong with planning today is that it is reactive – not creative.
The powers existing in law were conceived to ‘protect’ environments from an encroachment by ‘applicants’.
A negative power, to accept or refuse a proposal for an individual site. I can even apply for permission to build on your land! A monopoly game; a free-for-all; something similar to the result of a drunken party.
The present system has created and upholds a passive process – of ‘giving permission, but only after the gentleman has asked’.
Hence the anxious consultation to create a ‘framework’. Though, as before, there is no change in the mechanism – which is basically to create legislation-endorsed ‘protections’ for local authorities from having their decisions overturned by the courts if they refuse.
This, if you think about it, is ridiculous. What is needed is a creative, positive planning system rather than a negative, passive one.
Here is the central principle:
3 Local planning should grow out of local individuals, who plan how their communities will grow.
The whole basis for ‘planning’ and thus for any ‘planning framework’ needs to change.
In the past it has always been a centralized, handed-down concept – fruit of the necessary central-control mindset of two world wars, perhaps, or a Victorian sense of cap-doffing to a somehow better-qualified ‘authority’.
The existing framework includes and depends on the existing law – which this author proposes changing from top to bottom:
– Skilled and intelligent drafting will place the emphasis entirely on the local creating the overall;
– the small and local will have the option to ask-in the help of the large where needed to meet its aims,
– rather than the initiative being taken (in the absence of the local individual or community knowing anything about it) by groups whose main business raison-d’être is to make money out of acquiring rights and space and filling the local space with profitable construction.
No environment will be changed unless what comes in its place can be proven to be better – and have more value for the existing, local, users – and approved by them.
4 Why we have laws
What has happened in the twentieth century is that the whole concept of a planning system has been to some extent hijacked by forces masquerading as ‘the market’. Argument is made that ‘market forces should be free’. But these are in fact not market forces; they are the forces of size.
Capitalism is a good thing – enabling individuals to group interests and create great projects. And others to choose them; and humble, individual people to finance them.
However it does tend (like communism!) to give more power to larger organizations. This does not usually matter, but in planning and the environment (PaE) it does matter.
Since PaE is about space, it is precisely here that scale (which is a function of space..!) matters.
5 What the market Is not
Large organizations may tell you they represent ‘the market’.
In fact they don’t – they over-represent the power and advantage of size.
Our famous and idealistic Scots and other laissez-faire economists (18th century, and still alive in their concepts today) defined the ‘market’ as something practiced (in their theory) by intelligent ‘individuals’. Decisions, they said, are taken by ‘enlightened individuals’ – in this theory:
“the intelligent self-interested decision of each individual results in maximization of the common good”.
But that economics gives no account to the impact of size – indeed those economists sof the 18th century probably did not even imagine the scale and size to which organizations would grow, today.
6 Size – an automatic obstacle
The effect of size in planning, proposing and reviewing
What the present system means is that those who have an organization, with the most money, get to call the shots.
This is the exact opposite of the spirit of UK planning.
By definition an individual householder or a small community does not have money to oppose planning ’applications’ that have been technically and professionally prepared;
– meanwhile, by definition a specialized property-value-developer does.
The latter has amassed capital (like any efficient company) precisely for that purpose; while the former (a ‘community’) has this function nowhere within its remit, experience, current practice, previous experience or attributes – nor within the time that local people have available to dedicate themselves to even considering this activity.
In the environment, size creates a natural and automatic obstacle:
In this context, there is something about the nature of size that conflicts with the Englishman’s concept of ‘home’.
There you see what is wrong with English planning.
Yes, individuals expect the organized State to arrange and decide benefits for them on questions of organization and joint enterprise.
But in practice, in PaE (Planning and the Environment), they ‘enter the game’ with a disadvantage – their interest pre-sold-out – in relation to whoever has size.
Here is how it happens – and why the current approach to planning is wrong:
With the advantage of size, the independent motor forces of a normal market economy can wreak ‘havoc’ if not properly guided.
This was not even the case when land was not scarce, in the UK even up to as late as WW2.
But the force and power of ‘developers’ to handle and build on land is now something that competes with the space available – and thus competes, per se, with the common good, and with individual rights.
Rights – for example – to comfort, safety, and a sense of home.
Where have we heard this before ?
Ah, yes: er, an example:
Someone invented the, er … motor car.
It was very soon afterward that it became clear that the public policy power must regulate the action of this motor-power entity and contain, direct and restrict its activity and access.
Roads were divided into two lanes.
Cars had to stay on them.
Rules of the road were created.
Speed limits, conventions for left turns, right turns, etc., etc., were instated. (Crimes were established.)
Cars were not allowed in certain places. They had to be confined.
The analogy works well. The new device had – and concentrated – too much power to be allowed to be used freely. Simple.
An analogy with today’s planning appeal situation might be:
· A Car in principle has no right to enter a ploughed field.
The local authority can formally refuse its entry.
All the Car has to do it appeal over the head of the council –
and it can argue that the field was not enough of an asset, it was an out-of-date field, etc.
It becomes as if there had never been the concept that a car should not enter a ploughed field.
The ‘Local authority’ concept is another ‘motor car’ that has got out of control.
7 A system of local democracy is not being used in practice
We need – as an initial, protective, preventive measure, to establish a completely different ethos
– to completely upend the rights involved in the planning process:
Radical emphasis on the local will refresh the system – provide the fillip, stimulus, revitalization, required for all parties.
When people learn that they have the absolute power over their environment
(which is denied them by the current non-use of local democracy, in which councils as a result are too often peopled by the not-well-prepared, the less-interested or the simply wrongly-motivated),
a new spirit will prevail, and it will be right and good. Everything will change.
This may sound extreme; but it is a pragmatic solution for the way the current system is used in practice – not even, so much, for a reason of principle, but to give the whole system the necessary re-boost of energy from individuals and locals.
It is the way the present system is used that arouses the call for total protection of the local.
And the needed effect of shock to the status quo, and boost for rights, can be expressed firmly only by a proposal that is radical.
When a system is not working, radical action is called for. Palliative does not help.
“We built a castle, but the water swamped it. So the city needs a dyke to protect itself against a great power.”)
One aspect of this greater power is the misunderstanding that because an organization is larger it should be given more power.
More centrally, the current misuse is happening also because in the UK, people have not learned to use the local election system to change the future of their planning. They have a misconnect in perception. They do not realize the peoplethey elect will decide on planning !
(1) they complain only when the wrong application comes in;
(2) they are not aware that they can vote for planning policy decisions, attitudes, through local elections;
(3) they don’t do so. And
(4) because they perceive no coherent line of communication between proposals and their vote, they don’t even vote – further compromising the system;
(5) further bad applications come in because developers know the system is compromised.
(6) And the present ability to appeal simply sells the result of the game before it starts.
This author’s solution:
A. Give them (locals individuals) a direct power to defend.
B. Then let the way people use the existing local democracy system adapt to that.
8) The English sense of home
The conflict with the individual’s innate desire – and, surely we should say, right ? – to a sense of ‘home’ is self-evident when one considers the impact of size on planning.
English people like their sense of home. It is politically calming, strengthens the comfort of the population.
Even – an added aside – if properly handled, it will make immigrants and refugees welcome and give them a sense of identity with the community, – even helping reduce incidence of unrest or radicalization.
We know we all need that sense of ‘security’ and ‘familiarity’.
In the new system, all power rests with the individual.
An axiom which most English people will accept, we think, is:
It is the individual’s right not to have his home – and the ‘environment’ he calls ‘home’ – disturbed.
We believe strongly, within our central store of believed clichés, that:
‘the Englishman’s home is his castle’
– yet we have overwhelmingly abandoned this in the way the planning system is used and managed.
The Englishman, in practice, does not even become aware of local planning issues until it is too late
– does not understand that these issues affecting his castle should be the key issues in a local election
– rather than any considerations of ‘political party’, which should most for this reason not be elements in a local election:
(although they may be useful components of our democracy at national level).
– Thus the Briton ‘does not even come out to vote’ at local elections.
The result is that councils increasingly are widely peopled by second-rate minds, with stodgy opinions, lack of initiative, fear of losing votes, etc.
Hardly the freedom that the Englishman deserves of having his own castle.
Since these are, unfortunately, facts, the ONLY way to counter them, as a rapid or longer-term solution, is by giving real power to the individual and the local community.
What figures first here is psychology.
The sense of home and the sense of place, for many.
Are we meant to create a nation of nomads, forever shifting place at the whim of a ‘market’ that includes forces majeures that displace them?
The answer to that surely should be ‘no’.
9 The question of our freedoms
Do our freedoms express the above concepts?
We are very, very attached to our freedoms.
Indeed they express the most magnificent elements of our personality as a nation.
Freedom is individual, non-divisible, inviolable. And so on.
The very phrase makes our heart beat stronger. We are English.
BUT when the motor car (for example) was invented and it was found that was not enough space for them to roam freely, rules were, simply, invented.
Their freedom infringed some of our most basic freedoms.
So the new device was restricted.
This point has been reached in land development in our small country.
The ‘developer’ must not be allowed to roam freely.
Only by radically reversing the whole game can we get back a purchase that will
(1) control the decline; (2) assert our “English freedoms”!
People have misunderstood some basics.
The Cameron government of the UK (2010), with its first NPPF, adopted the ethos that everything (especially ’housing’) would get built if a vast carrot was extended in front of the private-enterprise building companies.
(a) the rules were a tad too liberal
(3) developers by vocation are not past-masters/paragons of public-service-motivated ethics.
Like the car whose engine is too powerful to be driven by a novice or an ill-intentioned person, land development now needs equally to be regulated, cautioned, circumscribed, guided, by more than a notice that says: “Drive your Car in here, and then appeal against the local elected entity’s decision”.
As you may be aware, the existing NPPF (2012) was celebrated by Cameron in an aside as “a developers’ Charter” (Daily Telegraph, 23 Sep 2011). This shows:
(a) a misunderstanding of conservatism – which is for the individual, not for the agglomerated company, and
(b) a misunderstanding of the very word ‘planning’.
To seek a light-hearted phrase, for a moment: what is needed is an Individual’s charter, a Homeowner’s charter, a Local communities charter, a charter for freedom – from intrusion, unless by total local consent.
11 Solution: Totally upend the system
Hence this author proposes a complete reversal of the basis of the legislation. It shall say:
1) All power rests with the individual.
It is the individual’s right not to have his home – and the environment he calls home – disturbed.
2) If those proposing change can persuade the locals (individual, villages streets, condominium buildings, fishermen, whatever) that the change will bring them benefit, then it shall pass if the locals agree.
BUT ALL LOCALS MUST FIRST AGREE. There shall and can be no pressure on them that if they (perhaps in the form of a local council) refuse, they can be overruled on appeal.
3) This enshrined right percolates down to street level, and to the level of the individual and the individual house, and its owner or perhaps its multiple owners.
Oops – statement inaccurate. In our new law-to-be, this right does not percolate down: it rises up. It ORIGINATES in the individual’s right to no change without his permission. It percolates up, with the words for ‘groups’ – building, street, club, cricket pitch owner, group of pub users, street association, district association, local society, borough council, city council, district council – even being subsidiary instances of the same power, gradually assuming the same position in the sentence.
Property developers were told by one of David Cameron’s closest advisers that controversial planning reforms would “trigger more housebuilding”.
4) All assumption in favour of any application for planning permission being passed is removed. All phrases using ‘assumption in favour’ of anything other than the direct and basic right of the individual not to have his environment disturbed without his explicit permission are deleted from the face of our planning law.
It will be noted that the ‘politics’ behind this position is both extremely conservative – the life and protection of the individual and her/his rights being the core of the entire enterprise – and extremely radical (‘of the left’) in the sense that an ordered society requires rules, and they require to be imposed on behalf of all.
In other words it mixes the two motivations, proving entirely that any concept of ‘national-party politics’ in local matters is largely counterproductive and at best thoroughly out of place, irritatingly irrelevant.
12 Value of non-cash assets – grass, open land, other amenities.
The cash value of non-financializable components
People will not pay rent to the government to retain the countryside.
But some will fight almost to the death for preservation of this ‘amenity’ – this benefit.
This article, in its role as response to government consultation, supports ALL the submissions made by:
- for example – Friends of the Earth; Need Not Greed Oxon; CPRE, the Green Party, etc. –
as all obviously right and sensible. Some snap examples from two of their recent memos:
(1) “New NPPF has no protection for farmland.
“Presumption in favour of sustainable devt.’ is the exact opposite. “
“Viability” in housing planning undermines sustainable development.
“Brownfield-first needs restoring.”
“Councils are prevented from refusing development on traffic grounds.” Etc., etc.
(2) “With NPPF consultation we need:
Need more protection for National parks, AONB and wild spaces with
presumption against all new development.
General presumption against development on open space /countryside.
Taxes on unused brownfield land to rise (not general land tax).”
In their material you will find many references to protecting all the public assets that have no definable monetary value and are not financializable:
Urban open space;
– All of these have ‘cash value’ as amenities. Acknowledging this cash value will insert them as ‘worthy subject of discussion’ in any conversation with those approach is led by money.
These values need to be brought to the fore, and argued for, and their underlying assets protected.
(It is not suggested they be valued for any purpose of sale – but to be able to acknowledge the value of their contribution. Clearly they should never be sold.)
( It would be preferable that all existing public open spaces be preserved forever. )
Trees, open space etc. contribute to mental health. People are happier in streets with more trees.
There are numerous studies on these, indicating that these values need to be avidly preserved.
See items referred to on the Twitter account @CityVoicEd.
In the present unsatisfactory situation of planning, items whose benefit is intangible or unpriceable – or at least not easily priceable – must be retained, as a simple, preventive, absolute safeguard. There should be an absolute presumption in favour of a total stop to building on any urban open space of any type, any greenfield site, and all Green Belt land, for several years until this whole planning system has been completely redeveloped, fully understood by the local public ( as it will be when rules make all planning start from THEIR plans, not interventions by outsiders in any given space of community ), and control of use of these community goods is irrevocably returned to totally local control (person>street>district, in that order).
13 Sustainable nonsense
This word’s time has come. It needs to be replaced. It is simply being used as a platter on which to serve up any argument including developers’ arguments for putting in anything anywhere, or authorities’ arguments for planking down new towns.
Down with sustainable. Up with “regarded as sustainable by/for locals”.
14 Where we go from here
In the new system:
Every community will have a responsibility for seeing how many homes need to be built in its area.
We will build out from what each local community expects.
Planning will be proactive rather than reactive.
The initiative will come from and be generated, guided and directed by the community.
Developers will be passive in their primary role. Locals will invite them to execute their local plans.
Ancillary legislative aims/thoughts/components:
a) The amount you are allowed to earn by providing housing should simply be limited to … (define).
b) Land value tax could be used as a tool (requires a complete and arduous study ..)
c) Every 3 or 4 years the type of construction that is priority will be re-assessed.
15 The housing under-juggernaut
Since the First War, we built public housing. A great British compromise, it provided a roof for the many.
It was not capitalist, but it did the job.
Thatcher removed the supply, and the world’s population has ballooned – ours too – while no new housing was built.
Obviously the stock did not meet the demand. So we have a shortage, and high prices.
So who should provide the supply – Keynes, or Mammon?
The shortage is so large that boosting private housing is not going to reduce rents to obviously desirable levels in the short term. From a nation of shopkeepers, we become a nation of homeless, nomads, bankrupts.
I would love it if capitalism could fill the gap.
My soul – and I suspect, Britain’s – adores capitalism;
but just as a local authority has to build road signs – has to control people’s freedom, it seems clear that
the need is so large that any number of ‘developers’ are not going to do the job.
– Especially since, as a result of the present planning system, no one is able to insist that any developers’ enterprise must contain social housing.
Thus, the entire NPPF needs to be REBUILT to accommodate this point alone !
It will be pretty clear to anyone how this should be written into a new NPPF (maybe requiring a new law), but the basic is once again:
(1) trust the locals (the ‘right’ is theirs, after all).
(2) delete the capacity to appeal.
(3) include an obligation to build social housing EVERYWHERE.
(4) upend the planning system and make it a creative not a reactive one, as I propose.
And a small point. A Twitter user proposes that if the number of homes allegedly needed (300,000?) is divided by the number of the UK’s communities (villages, towns etc.), each one has only to build approx. 6 per year. Write that into the NPPF. Simple. If it is out by a factor of 10, it still works.
16 A specific new tool – RORH – could – thus should – be facilitated by legislation
Residents’ Own Redevelopment to Higher Density (‘RORH’)
This is an idea born of contributions to City-Voice.org which came in by chance (luck).
One article said that the housing stock of Oxford could be tripled if certain low-rise low-quality non-historic areas were redeveloped to three or four times their current density.
I reacted with my localist Bible: this is a potentially perfect idea, but it can only take place if every single, last house owner agrees to it. And the profit must be theirs.
The site CapX points out that areas of Bloomsbury were built exactly on this basis – that an elegant master plan was agreed, and one by one plot owners built their components into it. They all made profit. Today’s owners will all make profit. The local authority could coordinate the overall plan – which would have to be fantastically good before I would approve it! – but once (perhaps with a competition – an international one for Oxford – !, for example) a great, new, overall plan for an entire quartier of the city was approved, the local authority could then lead-propose what percentages of the profit from the development could go to the owners, and how much would be allocated into providing all that needed social housing!
This would happen only if all owners agreed.
Repeat the previous sentence.
That would be the ‘market force’ behind this proposal.
This is called RORH or Residents’ Own Redevelopment to Higher Density,
and this authors’ notes on it, not yet polished, are at: https://tinyurl.com/ybposda8
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
(Some afterthoughts only)
– for development into longer discussion
a. Why we have lost control of scale.
b. Who ‘owns’ the space around us?
That is the question. What attitude do we take to it?
What is our philosophy on this?
A first thought is that not we, but our descendants own it!
– because though mum and granny pass away, Georgian buildings and horrid high streets remain.
– and they remain to give our children and grandchildren probably the same reactions we feel.
Hence we have a duty that our built environment be useful and beautiful for all…now and then..
c. We are ‘victims’? – and an authority will change this?
Or we are proud and able defenders of our local space with the capacity to do so?
( About the author: ) (This function of listening to local complaints and expressing them more widely starts back in 1972 (!) when the author was secretary of the Soho Society, one of the most intelligently-guided of the local societies that helped influenced the now-mainstream-accepted instinct to preserve older architecture and local communities in the fabric of central London in that and later decades. (He had two main teachers, distinguished young architects Dickon and Charlotte Robinson.)
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