The UK’s Planning System is broken, doesn’t work for everyone, and needs fixing

I have just read this very good document from The Bartlett School of Planning at UCL London:

“5 Radical Ideas for a Better Planning System”.

Its basic thesis is that ‘the Planning System needs to rediscover its original purpose of delivering fairness and promoting collective wellbeing…..’, which is something I totally agree with.

The document from The Bartlett is well worth a read, and I agree with pretty much the whole of it, apart from the bit about annual Land Value Taxation the reasons for which I can explain if anyone is interested.

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Are road charging and tolling things of the past?

At a recent ‘Transport Debate’ Labour, Conservative, and Liberal Democrat transport spokespeople seemed to agree that traffic congestion can be tackled by using traffic and freight management technology, without resorting to systems of road user charging which many people, including myself, do not like or support.

Patrick McLoughlin MP, Liberal Democrat transport minister, Baroness Susan Kramer and former shadow transport minister, Labour MP Lilian Greenwood made the comments as part of a ‘Great Transport Debate’ debate hosted by KPMG.

Conservative Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: ‘Intelligent traffic control will happen and the smart motorway programme is the way forward’, and that in addition to smart motorways roads could be relieved through more effective freight distribution, including encouraging night-time deliveries and transferring more freight off the road and onto the railways.

Baroness Kramer (Liberal Democrat) thought there would still be a role for congestion charging as in London, in order to improve air quality, but ‘where I’m much less convinced is on the open road, I think this debate will be overtaken by new technology’, for example ‘by vehicle platooning as a way of increasing road capacity, with convoys of cars or lorries travelling in electronic road trains behind a lead vehicle’.

‘There is an awful lot of new technology coming and, in five years, we will see road pricing as an argument of the past’, she added.

This information has come via a report from Transport Surveyor, although they didn’t actually report what Labour said.

This is an interesting development which links together two of my recent blogs: about ‘Smart Cities’ being about making places work for people rather than the technology suppliers; and on some evidence from the USA which found that people are paying to use ‘fast’ motorway lanes when it doesn’t save them much time, and the poor were paying to do this more than would have been assumed.

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Reclaiming the “Smart” agenda for fair human outcomes enabled by technology

A full and very interesting blog by Dr Rick Robinson about ‘Smart Cities’, pointing out the vital points which I have been going on about for some time:   technology is not ‘Smart’ unless it’s used to create human value, and that Smart Cities must be about people first and foremost (and this may not even include ‘technology’ in some circumstances).

Well worth a read.

Reclaiming the “Smart” agenda for fair human outcomes enabled by technology.

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Are roads being tolled to benefit the technology suppliers and operators rather than the users?

I have just read a report by one of the large transport and planning consultants which looked into why drivers us ‘managed lanes’ on Motorways (that is where variable tolls are charged according to the time of day in order to manage demand and control congestion).

An interesting thing they found was that more drivers than might be expected used these managed lanes and paid the tolls despite the time savings being very small – very little over the time taken on the un-tolled lanes. In other words, people paid a toll when there was no reason to do so.

To me this illustrates what I have been thinking for some time – the tolling of roads and motorways is being pushed not by the need to save time or to manage congestion but by the suppliers of the technology and the operators of the tolled roads, all of whom are more interested in making money for themselves than making our economy work more efficiently. And this argument also applies to ‘real-time’ and variable tariffs for energy which will become possible once we have smart-meters which are being rolled-out at great expense to the consumers but with 80% of the benefits going to the energy companies.

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The Law Of The Forest And The Freedom Of The Streets


Worth a read.

Originally posted on The New English Landscape:

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This was the order of human institutions: first the forests, after that the huts, then the villages, next the cities, and finally the academies. 

Giambattista Vico, The New Science

‘What the fuck do you think an English forest is for?’ raged Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron, when served with a notice to move his caravan from its woodland clearing, in Jez Butterworth’s 2009 anti-arcadian play, Jerusalem. The kids who come there, he claimed, are safer than at home. This is where the wild things are. The opening stage direction: ‘England at midnight’.

Butterworth’s explosive ‘state of the nation’ drama raised many questions about the state of the nation. In a highly urbanised society, talk of the ‘meaning’ of the forest today might seem anachronistic. Yet it raises anew the spectre of waking up to find that many historic freedoms – about rights to roam and freely associate (and on occasions run…

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Housing and Local Development Orders

The Government is proposing that each Local Planning Authority must identify previously unallocated brownfield sites which are suitable for housing development, and that each must put in place Local Development Orders for 90% of these sites by 2020, with 50% having LDOs by 2017 (‘Building more homes on brownfield land – Public consultation. response and feedback’)

I have long said that Simplified Planning Zones have a role to play in helping to bring forward sites for development (not just for housing), and it has surprised me that so few Planning Authorities have even considered them as part of their tool-kit (in fact I am convinced that many have never heard of them). So, I support the use of Local Development Orders where appropriate, but not as a blanket solution imposed from on-high.

The Government’s consultation document sets out a proposed definition for brownfield land suitable for housing which I agree with. However, it must be stressed that not all brownfield land sites are suitable for housing because of their location and it must be recognised that this is a vital issue. Sites for housing must be well serviced by transport and communications; be well supported by infrastructure and services of all sorts, and be in locations where jobs and employment can be easily accessed. We must avoid the mistakes of the past where housing numbers were given priority above all else, and the wrong sort of homes in the wrong locations were built with us still paying the social and economic costs today.

I am also concerned about large sites being designated as brownfield when in reality only a small proportion of these sites were actually previously developed and there are large areas of undeveloped greenfield within the ownership envelope – for example on large Ministry of Defence Sites. I am not saying that the greenfield should not be developed, where appropriate, but the figures mustn’t be ‘fiddled’.

As an ‘incentive’ Government proposes that for those authorities which fail to have Local Development Orders in place central Government ‘designate’ them (essentially do the job themselves). I think it is vital that there must be some sort of difference in treatment between those authorities which under-perform despite their best intentions and endeavors, and those which are being deliberately obstructive (or are just incompetent) in planning for and processing appropriate development in the appropriate locations. Punishing poor performance which is due to lack of resources to carry out the work required to a high standard will lead to resentment, as well as risk inappropriate development due to the work being taken over and carried out by the ‘centre’ which does not fully understand the local circumstances.

Establishing Local Development Orders will only work in providing Places which Work for People if Local Planning Authorities have the required level of resources to develop good quality orders. Development Orders must be of high quality if the right sort of development is to be delivered in the right locations, and to secure the wide spread support from local communities. It needs to be recognised, and accepted, by Government that the aim is not to deliver a high level of house building at any cost, but to deliver ‘Places which work for people’ and which are sustainable through a constantly changing economic, environmental and social environment.

The interim target of having DLOs in place for 50% of suitable sites from 2017 does not provide sufficient time to prepare high quality Development Orders, and quality is just as important (and in the long-term, more important) than quantity. ‘Designating’ authorities, with their powers taken over by central Government, should only be done if they are being deliberately, or negligently, obstructive rather than lack of sufficient progress is due to lack of resources.

All in all, the proposed approach from central Government is only sensible if the local authorities have the required level of resources to do the work to a high quality. These resources must be available according to need, not subject to a bidding competition to a limited pot of funding. If the Government wishes to have more sites allocated for housing development, instead of using the ‘stick’ they may be better off understanding and addressing the reasons why Local Authorities are tardy in bringing forward sites for development: often this is because the funding required to service the additional population arrives too late or not at all.

It is vital that local planning authorities have sufficient and high quality planners, and other professionals and professional support, to develop and deliver Local Development Orders, as well as the resources to provide the evidence and the level of detail appropriate for each development order. Without the necessary resources the proposals will be seen as a heavy stick with which to beat local communities rather than a genuine effort to help provide the appropriate homes in appropriate locations in appropriate communities.

Update:Since posting the above I have seen this report from the IFS ( ) which says that Local Authority Planning and Development Departments have had the largest cut of all other service areas, with their funding cut by half of what they had in 2009/10. This looks worrying in view of my opinion that Making Places which Work for People requires good Planning.

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Abandoned by Tesco? Then set up a market to save your Town Centre

A few days ago, on BBC Radio 4, I heard a piece about Gordon Brown (yes that Gordon Brown), leading a hands on campaign to keep Tesco in the centre of Kirkaldy. Leading from the front, he persuaded the owner of the building which Tesco lease to reduce the rent in an effort to make the economics add-up for them and to reverse their decision to close their store down which is seen as the anchor for the town centre.

As the landlord is willing to be flexible over rents, if I were Gordon Brown (or in charge of making the town centre work) I wouldn’t bother with Tesco.

Instead I would work to turn the building which Tesco is vacating into a food-market using local businesses and suppliers to offer good quality and affordable fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and other products.

This would entail a fair bit of effort in identifying stall-keepers; setting up supply chains and contacts, and with training and supporting locals who may not have ran businesses before.It would also require someone to act as curator to ensure quality and a generally high level of ambition.

I would put my efforts into removing our dependance on Tesco or any of the other big-boys in the grocery world. It won’t be easy but it is the sort of thing more town centres have got to do if they want to survive and thrive.

We should also be doing this on the sites which Tesco has left empty through their abandoning of some of their new developments.

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