Road Projects must consider the environment, and wider social and economic issues

Now that The Highways Agency has bcome Highways England it is interesting to note that tenders from consultants and contractors are being assessed purely on quality terms providing bidders meet the Highways England’s target price.

Their Director of Complex Infrastructure, Chris Taylor, has been quoted as saying: ‘The change from the Highways Agency to Highways England comes with wider responsibilities. We are going to be held to account on how we treat our customers, stakeholders, local communities and the environment. It brings a step change in the whole agenda and this is being reflected in our new wider expectations from contractors on delivery of major projects.’

When awarding contracts for a recent project, Highways England had to remind bidders of these key criteria which contractors had to address, with the need to see more focus from them on skills and economic development within local communities.

This is interesting, as a while back I made more or less the same points to Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce about the way in which any new Lower Thames Crossing ought to be designed and procured. That is, it must be considered from the earliest moment as much more than just a project which connects point A with point B.

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Something is very wrong when we can’t afford to maintain parks and open spaces

I have just read that New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA)  has a project which aims to help reclaim open spaces around NYCHA developments in the Bronx that have been abandoned and locked up.  They say that because the agency has so much open space and no staff or budget to maintain it, it is creating partnerships with community organizations to put outdoor spaces to use in the forms of youth soccer fields and community gardens and farms.

Creating partnerships with communities and community groups is good, but when one of the richest countries in the world ‘cannot afford’ to fund the maintenance and management of parks and open spaces, with all of the health benefits which they have been proven to provide, I can’t help thinking that something, somewhere,  is very wrong.

And this isn’t only happening in the USA – it is being repeated in the UK.

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What will your powerhouse do for you?


A tiny little warning from someone other than me than devolution may not be all that some are saying it will be.

For example, “There is a lot of talk about regions and cities keeping more of their taxes but if Manchester and Newcastle keep more of their own taxes, then London and the South East will keep more of theirs too. That can only lead to a redistribution of tax away from the poorer regions, unless local taxes are increased to compensate. England tends to get richer the closer you get to London. If these wealthier regions redistribute less of their money, poorer regions will have to make up the shortfall by taxing their residents and businesses at a higher rate.”

If you mention the prospects of more business rates to investors they say ‘ then we will not be investing in your city or region’. When I got those running large investment funds to say this at a recent localism and devolution conferance you could hear the sound of the local authority leaders’ jaws hitting the floor – I would have thought that their senior staff would have at least already mentioned this possibility to them.

Originally posted on Flip Chart Fairy Tales:

The Northern Powerhouse made it into the Queen’s Speech, giving George Osborne a good laugh when Her Majesty mentioned it. The government is pushing ahead with its plans to devolve extensive powers to city regions, starting with Manchester. Devolution to local government, an idea which was loathed by the Thatcher and Major governments, is suddenly the height of fashion and not just in Conservative circles.

The idea gained momentum after the referendum on Scottish independence. It got mixed up with the row about Scottish votes on English laws and became, all at once, an answer to the West Lothian question, a way of stimulating the growth of urban centres outside London, rebalancing the economy, allowing more tax revenues to be raised locally and making services more responsive to local needs. Or something like that. People can project all sorts of things onto what at the moment is still a blank page.

A lot of people seem…

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The right to Build you own home – and who’s job it is to ensure this happens

I haven’t read the detail yet (indeed I don’t even know if there is any detailed thinking yet), but this week’s Queens Speech said that A “Right to Build” will be introduced, under which local authorities must identify and release “shovel-ready” plots for self-build or for residents to commission a local builder to build their home.

I have said before that if we are to increase the level of self-build by a meaningful amount it is totally necessary for serviced plots to be made available; and these plots must already have most of the Town and Country Planning work already done on them before they are sold to the self-builders. This work must include design frameworks and guides which still allow for flexibility.

But all of this takes resources and money which need to be spent upfront and I can’t see where the Local Authorities who are going to be made responsible for identifying and releasing these ‘shovel-ready’ plots are going to get this money from.

In addition, if we are going to start to catch up with countries such as Holland  on the numbers of self-build homes, we have to be influenced by some of their practices such as sites being owned by the local authority, and these local authorities selling plots at a fixed price and not to the highest bidders at an ever increasing price.

Don’t forget that ‘Failing to Plan leads to Planning to Fail’, and I am concerned that this is exactly what will happen.

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Monaco and its Residential Market – what about the workers who make Monaco work for the super-rich?

I have just had a quick scan of this report from Savills on Monaco’s residential market:

The following section, to me, really stood out:

“Monaco is unusual in that almost all of its residential stock could be considered ‘prime’. The ‘mainstream’ housing stock, in which many of its workers live is found in bordering
French towns”.

I can’t help thinking that a detailed exploration of this section would be really interesting.

  • What sort of homes, and in what conditions, do the ‘normal’ people who enable the tax-haven to function on a day-to-day basis live?
  • What sort of incomes are they on?
  • They may live in near-by French towns but are they indigenous to these places or have they been imported from elsewhere?
  • What sort of hours do they work and on what sort of incomes?
  • How do they travel to and from Monaco and who has paid for the connecting infrastructure?
  • What effect does having a tax-haven, designed to function mainly for the world’s super-rich have on the sustainable development and economics of the surrounding French towns?

As London seems to be in danger of segregating into areas for the world’s ultra-rich and the rest of us, the answers to these and other related questions may be useful in deciding on, and planning for, how we really want the London of the future to be.

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Regeneration lessons from Detroit – focus on improving the lives of your residents

I have just been reading an interesting article about Detroit’s new approach to its Regeneration. I was going to also say ‘Growth’, but part of the plan is recognizing that Detroit has shrunk and the need to accept and plan for this ‘de-growth’.

I have seen previous references to some places needing to accept, and plan for, ‘Decline’, and this is a phrase I do not like as (to me) it seems to accept defeat. De-growth sounds a little bit better – but not much; so again not a phrase I would choose to use.

However, what I do like about Detroit’s long-term strategy (as reported in the article) is the primary aim is to improve the quality of life of its residents; economic diversification and environmental sustainability.

This quality of life approach is in contrast to Detroit’s (and of many other places’) previous approach to regeneration of trying to turn back the clock based on increasing land values and attract inward investment, with public bodies taking on the risk for large-scale urban development projects, with private firms reaping any financial rewards. This led to investors believing that municipal bonds were essentially risk-free and offered high rewards, so when Detroit’s local government tried to make up for its lack of funds, because of its shrinking tax base, by issuing bonds there was no shortage of willing investors.

The problem was that the urban development undertaken, based on large and mega physical projects, did little to reverse the city’s economic decline or outflow of its population. In the end Detroit’s local government declared bankruptcy – not an option available to UK local authorities as they are ‘bodies in perpetuity’ so can’t go bankrupt. But the dangers of borrowing secured against future tax receipts which don’t materialise is a warning which UK Council’s (and urban regeneration advisers), given the current fashion for talking about devolution and localisation, need to be well aware of and to learn the lesson.

Anyway, I like the sound of Detroit’s focus on improving the quality of life for its residents as the primary aim, rather than chasing big inward investment schemes. This reminds me of something I have said in the past about the regeneration of towns and cities:

“your town and neighbourhood must the best version of itself that it can be and not a second rate version of somewhere else”.

This approach, of being the best version of yourself,  is based on people and improving the quality of their lives, and understanding that regeneration and economic growth ought to be all about people.

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FT letter: who is going to build the houses we need?

Blog from Shaun Spiers on housing and need to accept that to get a lot more homes (which is what we need), the Government will have to build:


FT letter: who is going to build the houses we need?.

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