Sunday, 14 December 2014

"Developer-led free-for-all is actually council policy"

An article from the Horsham Society in West Sussex earlier this year suggests that 'developer-led free for all is actually council policy:
John Steele: Developer-led free for all is actually council policy

The question is: To what extent can this analysis be applied to other councils?

Developer-led free for all is actually council policy

Published: 07 June 2014

The leadership of Horsham District Council and local councillors are always wringing their hands in mock despair at the way in which planning inspectors are riding roughshod over local views and allowing speculative new housing developments in inappropriate locations. It’s not our fault, it’s out of our hands they say.

This is palpable nonsense. The reason that developments are being approved is because the council has failed in its duty to maintain a five year supply of housing land. It is as simple as that. What’s more, the council saw this coming and wilfully failed to act to prevent it...

The council chose unplanned growth. It isn’t the fault of the planning inspectors. The council knowingly chose the path that would encourage inappropriate speculative development throughout the district which would inevitably be approved...

Far better that the councillors had had the guts to pursue a policy that they knew to be right than simply leave planning decisions to the developers. Now communities have the worst of all worlds, unplanned development with little additional infrastructure.

The present developer-led free for all is actually council policy, whatever anyone may say.

So next time you hear a councillor say it’s not our fault you will know that it is simply not true.

John Steele: Developer-led free for all is actually council policy - Columnists - West Sussex County Times

And an investigation by Guardian journalist Oliver Wainwright earlier this year pointed to the dominance of developers:

The truth about property developers: how they are exploiting planning authorities and ruining our cities

Oliver Wainwright: Wednesday 17 September 2014

Councils are forced to blindly accept the developers’ figures as the ultimate de facto truth, allowing their own policies to be flagrantly breached. “I’ve never been confident in reports that I’ve received on viability,” says one planning officer, describing how the big property consultancies operate as something of a cabal, with one wary of challenging another’s figures.

“Every consultant that’s advising a local authority is hoping to advise a developer tomorrow. If they put the boot in on a big development scheme, they simply won’t be hired again.”

A relatively new field, viability has been given increasing weight by the government’s National Planning Policy Framework, introduced in 2012, which slashed 1,300 pages of policy down to 65, as part of the coalition’s triumphant bonfire of red tape.

The NPPF introduced a “presumption in favour of sustainable development”, which sounds innocuous enough – but as Peter Rees [former chief planner of the City of London] points out, “the definition of ‘sustainable’ has nothing to do with green issues or energy at all. 

It means one thing: commercially viable.” Immune from public scrutiny, viability assessments have rightly come under fire for clouding the accountability and transparency of what should be a statutory public process. 

Their confidentiality is closely guarded, in order to preserve developers’ trade secrets, but where the sale of public assets is concerned, there is increasing pressure for the books to be opened.

The truth about property developers: how they are exploiting planning authorities and ruining our cities | Cities | The Guardian

Looking at East Devon...

The District Council's planning committee rejected an application for housing and a care-home on the site of its (still-occupied today) Knowle headquarters - back in March 2013:
Committee turns down Knowle planning application | West Country (W) - ITV News
Minutes of a special meeting of the Development Management Committee held at the Council Chamber, Knowle, Sidmouth, on Friday 1 March 2013
Correspondence with potential Knowle developers - a Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council - WhatDoTheyKnow

It looks as though the District Council is about to consider exactly the same idea - bar some tweaking - having 'marketed' Knowle and received some interest from developers:

The District Council has instructed an independent Planning Consultant to provide a Planning Statement in relation to the Knowle to assist interested parties in formulating their tender offers.

Exceptional redevelopment opportunity within the popular coastal town of Sidmouth - Savills
East Devon Council headquarters go on sale | Western Morning News
Agenda for Overview & Scrutiny Committee - Thursday, 13 November 2014
Agenda for Cabinet - Wednesday, 3 December 2014

There are alternatives for the site:
Correspondence with Councillors on alternative EDDC use of Knowle
Futures Forum: Alternatives for Knowle

... but the District Council will not countenance any alternatives:
Cost of making Knowle offices fit for purpose…EDDC’s figures challenged | Save Our Sidmouth
Council must be scrutinised | Exeter Express and Echo
EDDC watchdog calls for ‘independent’ Knowle survey - News - Midweek Herald

... claiming 'commercial confidentiality':
EDDC’s relocation costs to remain confidential - News - Sidmouth Herald
East Devon District Council cites “commercial sensitivity” as reason to keep tight-lipped over move to Honiton and Exmouth | Exeter Express and Echo

This seems, sadly, to be the attitude when it comes to 'redeveloping' other prime sites - that the 'developer' should determine the 'development':

Port Royal in Sidmouth:

“We have always said that [the Save Sidmouth Drill Hall Campaign] proposals would be made available to a prospective developer capable of delivering comprehensive renewal of Port Royal.

‘Drill Hall must not hinder future plans at Port Royal’ - News - Sidmouth Herald
12/2254/COU | Demolition of former drill hall building and levelling/re-grading of base of site to form open air storage compound for boats and vehicles; existing pedestrian access on south end of site to be removed and new vehicle access route created at north end of site | Former Sidmouth Drill Hall The Esplanade Sidmouth
Sidmouth Drill Hall | Save Sidmouth Drill Hall Campaign
Development Brief for Port Royal/Ham Area of Sidmouth

Seaton 'regeneration':

A spokesperson for Tesco, added: “We are proud of our investment and commitment to the Seaton community. Our store is popular and we have created many jobs for local people.
“Unfortunately because of the difficult housing market conditions it is no longer financially viable to build the affordable housing.”

Tesco withdraws offer of affordable housing as part of East Devon seaside development plans | Exeter Express and Echo
East Devon District Council - Seaton Regeneration
Seaton Development Trust | Shaping the future
Tesco New Store Plans | Seaton, Devon
seaton | Search Results | Sidmouth Independent News
Stand Up For Seaton (SU4S)
Stand Up For Seaton (SU4S): October 2006

But the East Devon District Council does not appear to be alone in preferring to cosy up to developers and supermarkets rather than to actually listen to what their residents and tax-payers have to suggest...

For example, the community of Botley near Oxford has been fighting to stop over-development:
West Way Community Concern
Delight as West Way plan in Botley is thrown out but disappointed Doric reviewing what happens now (From Oxford Mail)

... and yet this is not simply a nimbyist group of naysayers against any 'development': indeed, the campaign group has produced its own blueprint for a vibrant project:
Botley 2020 | West Way Community Concern

On the other hand, it does appear that some local authorities are willing to countenance a different way of going about 'development': 

July 2007: Dave Chapman and Nigel Topping, interested in the idea of bringing the Dairy Crest site into community ownership and creating a sustainable business park, meet with South Hams District Council’s Head of Property Services, and leave the meeting determined that getting the development Totnes needs for the site will require bringing the site into community ownership, not just trying to influence from a distance what happens there.

Atmos Totnes: the story so far…. - Atmos Totnes
Atmos Totnes - Charles Fox - Transition Culture (podcast)
JoinedUpThinking-Part3AEDAPweb_2 - Google Docs
Futures Forum: Totnes REconomy Project ... and Atmos Totnes

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