Friday, 9 December 2016

Brexit and the RTPI

This year's AGM for RTPI East Midlands was held in Grantham at The Guildhall courtesy of South Kesteven District Council. Grantham may be away from the main population centres of Derby, Leicester and Nottingham, but a good crowd of over 40 was attracted. This was principally, I am sure, to the preceding discussion on Brexit and Planning. It was led by Professor Janet Morphet, ably assisted by this year's national RTPI President  Phil Williams, Director of Planning at Belfast City Council.

Guildhall Grantham
Prof. Morphet gave an excellent overview of the range of options for the UK leaving the EC and the potential implications on all the key areas that interest Planners. Clearly, as she readily acknowledged, we are in unchartered territory and uncertainty is the key analysis of the likely impacts of leaving.

All that said I found the presentation and subsequent response to questions depressing, but not I suspect for the reasons she outlined.

We are in uncertain times. There is a significant percentage chance that economically it might make us worse off. But do we really have to be so negative about the whole issue?

It is not all doom and gloom. The British people, rightly or wrongly voted, for Brexit. In my opinion a lot of the vote against was a rejection by those on the outside against the urban elites, especially in the south-east, who have clearly done well this century. But that good fortune has been inadequately distributed. To characterise, as Prof Morphet did on more than one occasion, that people with her views were and are being bullied by the Brexiteers is disingenuous to put it mildly. They can stand up for themselves. Personally I was voting for remain until the constant haranguing the night before the election by remain supporters on how was I going to vote turned me into an abstainer.

The urban elites in power, the 40 to 60 year olds, of which I might just be included, have never had it so good. No world wars to fight, free education to post graduate level, massive asset value increases with privately owned homes, early  retirement (given the increased age spans) and triple lock pensions. Compare that with the younger generation: those in low paid jobs that have not increased in value for a decade; only very expensive university education on offer; and, limited training for the technical skills we really need from those who don’t go to university.

The easy way to react to change and uncertainty is to be negative. What we need to do is be positive: What are the new opportunities of Brexit? What should we be doing differently? There is a brave new world out there. The opportunities need to be seized. They will not fall into our lap. Above all be inclusive and relate to as wide a constituency as possible. Love him or hate him the public persona of Nigel Farage is that he relates to those other than the urban elites. There is a lesson in this for all of us.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Landmark's Development Management Conference 2016

Baptist Church, Leicester
Front Cover - Latham Architects

A packed Charles Street Baptist Church this October saw 150 planning and related professionals hear presentations upon the latest issues in development management.

It even proved exciting as the twitter feed received, half way through the morning regarding the High Court's ruling on Brexit, sent a frisson through the proceedings. This was the announcement that Brexit was to be made even more complicated by requiring consideration by Parliament. And needless to say that provoked a legal speculation on the immediate issues for planning. It certainly gave the day a relevance that as an organiser I could not have expected.

What these annual events prove more than anything else is that with so many changes that occur in a year any practitioner just has to keep up to date to perform effectively. Landmark's Annual Midlands event (now in its 18th year) really does that by focusing on the legal changes (statute, Court interpretation, policy guidance and practice) before reviewing the year's hot technical subjects. With apologies for sounding so gushing, but I really believe it.

Planning balance and its proper consideration in two limbs tests instigated by the NPPF, particularly in issues related to heritage assets, are matters that need to be properly understood. This and the weight to be given to each issue was a key focus of the day. It helps give Planners our 'unique' perspective: namely what are the material planning issues to any decision and then how to properly judge the balance. Planners are generalists not specialists, but this gives us a critical place in the development process. Rather than the sectional interests that we have to suffer constantly in the daily grind.

In the afternoon the role play emphasised this balancing judgement with a review of two cases heard within a week of each other in the same village that led to opposite results on the same facts. You might think you could not make it up, but it was true! But it was also highly educational on the art of town planning. It is an art not a science.

Later Iain Reid provided an excellent review of both the genus and appropriate analysis of 'valued' landscapes: a concept largely brought to the fore in the NPPF.   And then to finish off Nick Sanderson described emerging changes in ecology evaluation and how dealing with the tricky issues of habitat and protected species can be improved. And is being done in places.

All in all a great day, which for me is always a highlight in the year. 

Peter Wilkinson

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Design Quality and Market Value

My thoughts on our latest professional seminar held on 25th April.

And the big winner on the night was………… Buildings for Life 12. The use of this now qualitative assessment tool, in its latest iterations for judging the quality of housing developments, was independently focused on by two of the speakers and supported by the whole panel. To work it needs to be backed by specific Statutory Plan authority and supported by knowledgable people both in Development Management and the industry as a whole. As Paul Collins said in his opening slide: "collaboration between all the parties is critical to improve design quality." James Wilson's view was that post recession blander housing has been encouraged /allowed due to high need and demand, so standards need to continue to be improved.

The seminar, backed by the RTPI, RIBA, RICS, Landscape Institute, ProCon and Academy for Urbanism, attracted 115 people to an evening again at the Parcel Yard bar in central Leicester. In a departure from the usual we had three speakers: Paul Collins (Nottingham Trent), Grant Butterworth (Leicester City) and James Wilson (Davidsons Developments), all speaking to a pecha kucha style* on the topic of the night. The intention was to look at Design Quality and Market Value from three different professional perspectives: chartered surveyor, planner and developer.

A recent scheme in Scraptoft by Davidsons
This led on to a substantial discussion regarding the propensity in most Local Plans for large allocations, typically described as Sustainable Urban Extensions (SUEs). The massive upfront costs, including those relating to trying to generate a distinctive place, put them largely in the hands of a few major housebuilders who have a semi monopoly position driven by finance, not drive for quality per se. One can understand the political and administrative advantage of this approach. However, perhaps we need to build more on the multitude of attractive and successful locations we already have with more smaller schemes; enhancing them with extra or improved facilities (doctors surgery / leisure centre / new store etc) rather than starting from scratch?
I don’t think we drilled down into the value side enough (like we did not achieve any resolution of a simple question on how much individual elevational enhancements, such as chimneys, justified their cost in market value terms).  It is difficult to prove beyond doubt that extra costs will be recovered (RICS research). However, the evidence presented on the night was more than interesting, and showed that strong place making in general can improve house price premiums.  There were seeming failures even here, for example with early results for Upton in Northamptonshire appearing to show a negative return. 

Thanks to all the speakers. If anyone has particular topics in the future that they would like to see aired please say so, because the overall approach certainly attracts a good audience.

* Pecha kucha is a Japanese originating presentational format where each speaker is restricted to a specific number of styles and each slide moves on at a prearranged regular time, say 20 seconds."

Monday, 7 March 2016

Creating successful places in the East Midlands: Challenges Catalysts and Opportunities

Last night I attended an extremely stimulating evening event organized by the RTPI Urban Design Network in Leicester’s fast becoming iconic City Hall and specifically its wonderfully restored lecture theatre.

Five speakers (from the different professional disciplines of Valuer, Architecture, Landscape and Transport), chaired by Leicester’s Head of Planning each gave first rate presentations from their perspective.

Friars Mill. Another emerging successful place in Leicester.

Rather than set out what each speaker said I prefer to observe the particular thoughts and messages I got out of an excellent evening’s entertainment, followed up by discussions in the pub (It was so good I was glad I gave up my weekly indoor tennis slot to attend).

The modernist mantra of ‘Form follows Function’ was ditched for ‘Form follows Fiction’ (attributed to Bernard Tschumi apparently). In other words to have or create special places you need to form a story that resonates. There has to be a purpose or a shared experience from the users that transcends their individual experience and this creates people’s critical associations and memories.

We all know there is a multiplicity of ingredients that go into creating successful spaces. I well remember the noughties, when DETR’s seven objectives of character; continuity and enclosure; quality of the public realm; ease of movement; legibility; adaptability; and diversity became for a while a sort of mantra. What the Leicester event so strongly demonstrated was that however hard one tries to define and classify, there is such a broad range of possible responses and solutions that it is impossible to be prescriptive.

Going forward on how we either create those special places or repair existing ones what did I get out of it?

We have to find better ways of introducing greater individuality and distinctiveness. Places should not be dominated by one land ownership or one developer or one funder with one solution that, with the best will in the world, stifles individual creativity. (And I accept that there are always exceptions for geniuses like Nash and his Regent Street London, but even here only one of the buildings is now an original).

Connectivity with a purpose and ease (at a human scale) to move through places and spaces is another fundamental. The sequence of movement and spaces on New Walk Leicester is a particularly special place for me. Surprisingly none of the speakers mentioned that as one of their special East Midlands places on their ‘bucket’ list. Generally they bemoaned the paucity in our region, although I think they were being too critical.

I was really impressed by the quality of the landscaping and drainage, seemingly combined with excellent management, of the former docks area of Stockholm, described by David Singleton.

And finally (on something I know well, but still learnt from) Barry Pritchard’s review of the wide variety of highway and pedestrianisation solutions adopted by the Leicester Council over the years in the City Centre. And how the jury is still out on some of the current solutions like ‘shared spaces.’

Thanks to everyone involved (in alphabetical order and in addition to the above): Grant Butterworth, Nils Feldmann, Tim Garratt, Neil Stacey and Justin Webber.

Peter Wilkinson

Friday, 22 January 2016

Change is on the Way

The new Government has not taken long to get into its stride by introducing changes to the Planning system. Most changes these days require alterations either to primary or secondary legislation, or at least prior public consultation. So it is 2016 that will see the implementation of many of these alterations.

What do we know so far? Well often the devil can be in the detail, so while the full implications may be unknown the direction of travel is clear.

The Housing and Planning Bill should be enacted in the spring.  Key aspects that will change the context for planning professionals include:

·    Planning permission in principle for brownfield sites securable through direct applications or qualifying documents such as development plans and the proposed statutory registers. Secondary legislation will be required to provide the necessary detail.

·      The Bill is set to create a statutory duty upon Councils to promote “Starter Homes” to buy at a discounted (at least 20%) price. This category will be added to the current definition of Affordable Housing (social rented, affordable rented and intermediate (i.e. with an element of equity belonging to the occupiers) housing.

The Government is also currently out to public consultation (to 22nd February) on the first proposed changes to the NPPF since its publication in 2012. Suggested revisions include:

·      Revised definition of affordable housing to follow the Bill above.

·      Higher density housing would be expected around commuter hubs “where feasible”.

·      A greater support for housing development on brownfield sites (including in the green belt).

·      A new “housing delivery” test to allow for action where Councils are failing to meet targets for new homes provision.

·      Being more supportive to new settlements.

·      Greater encouragement for small site housing development.

Other changes in the pipeline or recently enacted include:

·      Temporary rights to convert offices to residential, which would have expired in May, have been made permanent.

·      New rights to convert light industrial buildings and launderettes to residential use are likely.

·      Equally, the redevelopment of office sites for housing in principle may be introduced.

·      Councils will have to have produced their local plans by “early 2017” or face Government intervention.

It seems that yet again the only certainty is uncertainty. But here at Landmark Planning we will endeavour to keep ourselves and everyone else up-to-date.

Peter Wilkinson