Innovation – where does it spring from?

I have just come across this article in Harvard Business Review from Beth Comstock of GE, which explores where innovation comes from and how structures can be set up to encourage it:

I recognise a lot from my own experience and my way of working in here.

More specifically, Urban Regeneration and Growth has to be planned for and tackled in this way – bringing together many different things and ideas and then integrating them into an integrated whole. There are many experts in many of the different specialities but we need more people who are capable of bringing (and like to bring) all of them together and get them all working together. As Beth Comstock says “someone to join the dots”.







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Management of Parks and Public Open Space – are there really any ‘innovative’ funding solutions?

I have written about this elsewhere, although not actually in this blog: but I get fed-up and annoyed whenever I see the call for ‘Innovative thinking’ on how Public Parks and Open Space should be managed and how the cost of doing so is funded.

To me this so-called ‘Innovative’ thinking ends up chasing its own tail because ‘we’ are unwilling to accept the obvious fact that the easiest, and fairest, way of funding management and maintenance of parks and public opens space is via taxation with the management done by Local Authorities.

I am not going to say anymore, other than quoting a few words which I have just read from Jonathan Lovie and David Lambert from The Gardens Trust in its Spring 2016 news letter (page 14):

“The so called austerity cuts are being seen across the country with many local authorities foreseeing an imminent end to their ability to fund non-statutory services such as parks. In a shocking reverse of the last twenty years’ progress, all authorities are looking at ways either to reduce costs or increase income, and to share or even transfer responsibility for management and maintenance. The results of the pilot studies carried out for HLF and Nestas’s ‘Rethinking Parks’ project are expected shortly; they will examine a range of possible new forms of funding and management but history tells us that the reason parks are in local authority ownership in the first place is that for the vast majority there is no realistic alternative. We await the HLF’s second ‘State of the UK’s Parks’ report this summer with trepidation.”

I shall repeat the following section for the sake of clarity and for emphasis – “history tells us that the reason parks are in local authority ownership in the first place is that for the vast majority there is no realistic alternative”.

Quite – so let us face this up-front and stop this ‘innovate solutions’ guff.

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Budget displays a garden settlement prospect

A good run through of planning related aspects of the March 2016 Budget.

However, for Garden Cities and New Towns (and major developments generaly) the uplift in land values needs to be captured fully to pay for the infrastructure of all sorts which is required.

Development Corporations need to be given the powers which the ‘old’ New Town Development Corporations used to have.

Planning Portal Blog

Wednesday’s Budget announcements confirmed the government’s appetite for a new wave of garden settlements with a promise of legislation to make it easier for local authorities to work together to create new garden towns and cities.

Local authorities and businesses covered by the Black Country Local Enterprise Partnership have just unveiled ambitious proposals for a new garden city providing some 45,000 new homes in 30 towns and settlements in and around Wolverhampton, stretching from Aldridge to West Bromwich.

The scheme has the backing of the government and the support of the Homes and Communities Agency. Some 550 brownfield sites across the sub region have been identified. The 1,500-hectare project will require an investment of around £6bn.

Ministers are also keen to provide technical and financial support for areas that want to establish garden villages and market towns of between 1,500 and 10,000 homes. The prospect of “planning and financial flexibilities”…

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Time to attack the Viability Argument

I have just corresponded with someone about development in London and thought I would repeat a section here:

The ‘viability’ argument drives me mad and local authorities should throw them out. If the developer really can’t make money on a site which they have purchased for development it means that they have paid too much for it; and why should the public bale them out?

The Peabody example sounds mad – ‘it will cost an extra £997,000 because of asbestos’ – well Peabody is a massive body and across the organisation should be able to absorb this. We need some Local Authorities with Planning Officers and Councillors who have the bottle (and professional knowledge) to tell developers to bugger off, and if they “can’t” develop a site the Council will Compulsory Purchase it at a price where someone can.

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The problem of tall towers in cities

Earlier this week I heard the end of a very interesting talk at Ecobuild from Dr Julie Futcher about the challenges posed by developing and building in cities at high densities, especially with tall buildings.

In summary:

Using London as an example, tall buildings are being planned for and developed in isolation without enough regard being given to the effects they have on their surroundings, neighbourhoods and neighbours.

Many of these individual towers are being designed to be ‘green’ and low-carbon, but some basic issues are being missed. For example, these tall buildings soak up heat during the day and then release this heat during the night – and this effect is even more marked in clusters of tall buildings which is being missed in the pre-planning and pre-construction modelling and simulations.

This leads to heat-islands which are not that great a problem when these buildings are offices which are not occupied at night – but will be a problem when they are residential towers, of which many are now being planned for London. Tall residential towers, especially when in clusters, could well lead to very uncomfortable sleeping conditions.

Also, these tall towers are having, and will have, a detrimental effect on the environment of their neighbours and neighbourhoods. For example, the proposed tall tower cluster at Bishopsgate Goods Yard will cast a large shadow over the low rise Boundary Estate – a Council Estate which was laid out to take advantage of passive solar design; so that the streets received sun-shine and daylight and the homes received passive solar-heating.

Studies have shown that the new tall towers will remove this passive gain to such an extent that the heating costs of those on the Boundary Estate will rise by about 5% .

So, the people living in this area will not only be living in a giant shadow with all of the ‘liveability’ issues that brings but will have to pay out more in heating costs.

The question has to be asked if it is right that one landowner should be allowed to pass these costs onto their neighbours in the interest of profit maximisation?

I can’t help thinking that we seem to have moved away for the point of having a Town Planning System – to balance the needs and interests of society as a whole.

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Localism and the contradictions of policy and economic philosophy

I have just been reading an interesting paper from 2013 ‘The economics behind the move to ‘localism’ in England’, by Paul Hildreth (University of Salford, and UCL, Bartlett School of Planning), and David Bailey (Coventry Business School).

In here they argue that there is a mismatch between the rhetoric of Government about Local Economic Growth and the policies which they bring forward to achieve this growth. For example, Government talks about giving more power to local areas but then sets out rules and guidance which actually restricts these freedoms, and retains real powers in the centre (and this applies to ‘recent’ Labour Governments as well as the LibDem/Conservative coalition).

In essence the political rhetoric and the policy initiatives are not effective because there is a mismatch between these and the underlying economic framework. Over the last 40 years or so there have been changes in rhetoric and policy but all have been built on a neoclassical economic philosophy which doesn’t allow the stated aims to be delivered.

This reminds me of my blog post of 1st August 2011 where I said that local economic success is affected by the success, or otherwise, of the national economy:

And of my post of 11th July 2013 where I said that it is easier to achieve local economic success if we have a climate of general and widespread economic growth:

In other words, it is difficult to deliver what is set out in the rhetoric if it, policies, and the underlying political and economic philosophy don’t all match up. And difficult to get economic growth with an economic model which restricts growth.

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BT Openreach and freeloading users of their infrastructure

Right, I am taking my life in my hands here in a defence of Openreach as there are some out-there for whom OpenReach and BT can do no right – but here goes.

Actually, what I will write is not so much a defence of BT OpenReach as trying to add a little bit of perspective. I am prompted to do this by today’s report from OFCOM, which I hasten to add I have not read – having only read their headlines.

I heard on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme some vox-pops where we had people complaining about the inadequacy of their Broadband service; with it ‘taking too long to down load movies’, and a housing estate which was built 20 years ago but doesn’t have a high enough broadband speed.

Well, did the supplier of the movie via broadband service invest in the necessary broadband infrastructure to make downloading of their service possible, or did they just free-load on the infrastructure which was already in place? Did the supplier of the movie down-load service structure itself so that it pays as little UK tax as possible (some of which could be invested into better infrastructure if the ‘market’ wouldn’t do it)?

Why didn’t the developer put in broadband infrastructure when they built the housing estate, or were they hoping that someone else would do so for free? Some may say that this was 20 years ago and the developer couldn’t be expected to put in this sort of infrastructure, but I don’t accept this argument: the need for this sort of infrastructure was foreseeable 20 years ago – they just didn’t want to pay for it. In addition, we are still getting this now – new developments which are not being fitted with Fibre-to-the-Home from day one.

It seems to me that ‘we’ are expecting Openreach to act like a public service whilst forgetting that the masterplan was to take BT out of being a public service and turning into in a private company who’s role is to make money for its shareholders, not to be a public-service utility

I am pleased that OFCOM are ‘encouraging’ the other broadband providers to build out their own first or last mile networks – and it is going to be interesting to see how many of them are willing to risk investments which require a 20 year pay back period (and indeed share their infrastructure with micro-providers of broadband services).

Rant over.

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