Robert Jenricks vast overhaul of the planning system has hit a further setback after the Government quietly u-turned on plans to scrap the duty on developers to build affordable housing on small sites.
There has been fierce criticism. In an open letter issued shortly after the Prime Minister’s build, build, build speech, the chief executive of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), Victoria Hills, voiced concern about the approach that the white paper was expected to take and the “planner bashing rhetoric” and argued that sweeping away the planning system was not the right response. The President of the Royal Institute of British Architects, Alan Jones, agreed that the planning system needed to be reformed but branded the white paper’s proposals as “shameful”.
FOSH and other members of the South Devon Alliance had a number of Zoom meetings with Anthony Mangnall MP to make clear their opposition to many of the Governments planning proposals. Almost every Local Authority in England also made their concerns known about the ‘Planning For The Future’ White Paper.
There have already been several waves of planning policy change (including on change of use and permitted development rights (PDRs)) during the Covid-19 pandemic, with more to come.
Now the Government has quietly u-turned on plans to scrap the duty on developers to build affordable housing on small sites.
Last summer, the Housing Secretary announced a string of reforms to the current planning system including proposals to abolish the requirement for housebuilders to deliver affordable housing on sites of up to 50 homes.
Mr Jenrick believed the move, along with a raft of other changes to the planning rules, would dramatically speed up housebuilding in England by “cutting red tape but not standards”.
The Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government had raised the prospect of ditching what is known as the “small sites cap” for housing developments smaller than 50 units, prompting outrage from housing associations and campaign groups.
But the department has now rowed back on the plans following a consultation, slipping out its decision via an update on its website.
“We have carefully considered the consultation feedback and the situation in the housing market,” the DCLG states. “On balance, we do not consider this measure to be necessary at this stage, particularly in light of the broader way in which the sector has responded to the challenges of the pandemic.”
The u-turn is the second to hit the Cabinet minister’s reforms in less than six months after he was forced into another embarrassing climbdown on changes to the housing algorithm used to allocate where new homes should be built.
The changes formed a central pillar of the Conservative Government’s manifesto commitment to build 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s.
However, the proposals sparked a full-blown rebellion from Tory backbenchers, who attacked the “mutant algorithm” that would have seen house building requirements rise by as much as 200 per cent in certain Conservative heartlands.
Campaigners have welcomed the latest about turn from Mr Jenrick, with the countryside charity CPRE calculating the decision could result in around 6,000 new affordable homes being built each year.
Tom Fyans, deputy chief executive of CPRE, said it was a “massive relief” but warned too many key workers were still unable to afford to get on to the housing ladder, particularly in rural communities.
“Although welcome, this announcement only makes sure the situation doesn’t get significantly worse – more action must be taken to provide adequate numbers of genuinely affordable homes,” he said.
For more about the Planning For The Future White Paper and the remaining Government proposals see:
The founder of the White Stuff fashion and lifestyle brand has again lost his bid to keep the building, skate park and tennis court he built without permission in a Devon beauty spot.
South Hams District Council planners have refused the latest attempt that millionaire fashion boss Sean Thomas had made for the plans behind his house at Gerston Point in the South Hams.
Mr Thomas and his wife had acquired an adjoining strip of agricultural land and on that built a tennis court, skate park and garage without planning permission, on a site that is in the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and alongside the Salcombe to Kingsbridge Estuary Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Two retrospective planning applications had previously been refused by South Hams planners, who had passed the application over to the enforcement team to commence formal enforcement action and serve notice.
Mr Thomas earlier this year applied for a Certificate of Lawfulness for the development on the ground that the time limit for taking enforcement action has passed, but on Friday, South Hams planning officers once again rejected that bid.
Under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, the time limits for taking enforcement action in the case of operational development the time limit is four years, and the report of the planning officers concluded that on the balance of probabilities, the evidence submitted by Mr Thomas supported his claim that the skate bowl, tennis court and outbuilding were substantially completed more than four years ago.
However, the legislation says that an unauthorised material change in use of land will only become immune from enforcement action if it is carried out continuously for a 10-year period.
The report added: “The previous use of the land was for agricultural purposes. The land was purchased by the applicant in May 2015 and it is stated that it has been used for various domestic purposes in conjunction with the house prior to the engineering works and erection of the structures.
“The council considers that the operational development that is the subject of the certificate application is integral to or part and parcel of the unauthorised use of the land for domestic purposes, and as a result, the council may still legitimately enforce against it as part of the breach of planning control.
“The removal of the operational development is required to remedy the breach of planning control in the form of the unlawful change of use.
“The council has already issued an enforcement notice in relation to that unlawful change of use which also requires the removal of the operational development, and for these reasons, the application for the certificate is refused.”
The application had sought and failed to establish the lawfulness of the outbuilding, tennis court and skate bowl, with matters on the planning merits of the proposal not being considered at this stage.
The previous planning applications had, though, been refused on the grounds that the development still represents an unwelcome and incongruous intrusion into an undeveloped countryside location and the development fails to conserve and enhance the natural beauty and special qualities of the South Devon AONB.
The refusal of the Certificate of Lawfulness means that enforcement action is once again back on the table for the council to enact over the unauthorised development.
There has been some fierce criticism. In an open letter issued shortly after the Prime Minister’s build, build, build speech, the chief executive of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), Victoria Hills, voiced concern about the approach that the white paper was expected to take and the “planner bashing rhetoric” and argued that sweeping away the planning system was not the right response. The President of the Royal Institute of British Architects, Alan Jones, agreed that the planning system needed to be reformed but branded the white paper’s proposals as “shameful”.
There have already been several waves of planning policy change (including on change of use and permitted development rights (PDRs)) during the Covid-19 pandemic, with more to come.
For some time, the Government has been signalling its intention to make radical changes to the planning system in England. The Covid-19 pandemic brought about some immediate changes to certain aspects of planning policy – such as enabling pubs to offer hot food takeaway services – while other, substantial changes to the planning system, aimed (the Government says) at creating a new system suitable for the 21st century, are the subject of consultation through the white paper Planning for the Future. The Government also intends to make some changes to the current planning system and has launched a concurrent consultation about that.
Consultations launched in August 2020
Planning for the Future white paper
This briefing seeks to highlight key points within Planning for the Future – those which are perhaps most likely to be of interest to Members and those which have attracted most comment. Readers should refer to the white paper for the detail of the Government’s proposals.
In his speech on the economy on 30 June 2020, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, argued that “newt-counting delays” slowed down house building. He said that, in the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, we would “build better and build greener but we will also build faster”.
Launching the white paper, the Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick, set out how the reforms would simplify the system, while giving more emphasis to quality, design and the environment, and would support recovery from the pandemic.
Reactions to Planning for the Future’s proposals
The proposed reforms have, though, received a mixed response and have attracted some controversy.
Some have welcomed the proposed changes. In the press release accompanying the white paper, the CEO of Gleeson Homes, James Thomson, offered strong support for the proposals and particularly the commitment to build 300,000 new homes a year. In the same press release, the chief UK policy director of the Confederation of British Industry, Matthew Fell, was quoted as saying that the proposed reforms would allow housebuilders to get to work and good quality homes could help meet climate targets. The Chief Executive of Network Homes, Helen Evans, welcomed the proposals which would (she said) help increase the delivery of affordable homes.
There has, though, been some fierce criticism. In an open letter issued shortly after the Prime Minister’s build, build, build speech, the chief executive of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), Victoria Hills, voiced concern about the approach that the white paper was expected to take and the “planner bashing rhetoric” and argued that sweeping away the planning system was not the right response. The President of the Royal Institute of British Architects, Alan Jones, agreed that the planning system needed to be reformed but branded the white paper’s proposals as “shameful”.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England voiced concerns about how community involvement would work within a zoning system and “missed chances” around carbon-neutral, affordable housing. The housing charity, Shelter, expressed concern at the reforms’ potential impact on social housing. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, argued that the changes would be a “disaster for London” and a “nakedly ideological assault on local democracy”. In a preliminary response to the white paper, the Local Government Association said it was vital that new homes should be delivered through a locally-led planning system and communities should retain the right to shape the areas in which they live.
The August 2020 newsletter from the chief planner at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) summarises the proposed changes, which cover four main areas of policy:
Delivering First Homes: planning issues: First Homes are one form of affordable housing. Under Delivering a sufficient supply of homes, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) sets out how LPAs should assess the size, type and tenure of housing needed, including affordable housing, and says that major development (defined as ten or more houses) should normally (but with certain exceptions) provide at least 10% of the homes for affordable home ownership.
Here, the consultation document sets out proposals for setting developer contributions for First Homes. The consultation document suggests that planning applications should seek to capture the same amount of value as would be captured under the LPA’s existing published affordable housing policy within its Local Plan. A quarter of affordable housing on site should be First Homes and the consultation document offers two options for the remaining three quarters.
Threshold for developer contributions: As the Commons Library briefing Planning Obligations (Section 106 Agreements) explains in more detail, planning obligations – sometimes known as section 106 agreements or “affordable housing levies”- are legally enforceable obligations entered into under section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (as amended) to mitigate the impacts of a development proposal. The obligations may be provided by the developers “in kind” – by the developer building or providing directly the matters necessary to fulfil the obligation, for example by building a number of affordable homes for an area – or in the form of financial payments. (In some cases, it can be a combination of both). The Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) on planning obligations states that contributions should be sought from only for major developments, which for residential development means 10 or more homes or a site with an area of 0.5 hectares or more.
Under the heading of supporting small and medium-sized developers, the consultation document remarks that small and medium sized (SME) building businesses build the majority of smaller sites, which tend to build out more quickly. It proposes to go beyond the current power to defer Community Infrastructure Levy payments and extend the support given to SMEs in economic recovery by raising to 40 or 50 homes the threshold at which developer contributions would be sought, for a time-limited period which would end “as the economy recovers from the impact of Covid-19”. The consultation document acknowledges that there will be a “trade-off between introducing measures to increase the number of developable small sites and the importance of securing section 106 planning obligations to deliver affordable housing including First Homes”. The Government also proposes to scale up the site size threshold at the same proportion as the increase in the number of homes threshold.
Permission in principle: One of the key planning changes from the Housing and Planning Act 2016 was a new system of allowing the Secretary of State to grant planning “permission in principle”. Planning “permission in principle” is therefore a relatively new process which grants planning permission for housing-led development. It separates the decision about the principle of whether housing development should be approved from a later technical details consent process. The in-principle matters relate to the location, use, and amount of development on a site. It is expected that everything else will be reserved for the technical details consent stage. Planning permission in principle would then have to be combined with a new “technical details consent” granted by the local authority before development could go ahead. The PPG on permission in principle identifies the types of development to which LPAs cannot grant permission in principle; major development is outside the scope of permission in principle, unless the site is entered in Part 2 of a brownfield land register.
The consultation document seeks views on extending permission in principle to cover major development. The Government argues here that this change too would benefit SMEs. The existing restrictions in the Permission in Principle Regulations relating to environmental impact assessments and habitats requirements would not change.
Standard method for calculating housing need: The consultation proposed to amend the standard method, which must be used unless “exceptional circumstances” justify another approach. As the debate pack published in March 2020 for a Westminster Hall debate on the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework and the Green Belt mentions, Robert Jenrick had promised a review, to encourage more building in urban areas and on brownfield sites. In that Westminster Hall debate, the housing minister, Christopher Pincher, confirmed that the formula would be reviewed.
Before the consultation, the standard method comprised three steps (setting the baseline, affordability adjustment and capping the level of increase). The consultation document set out proposals to amend it, to include as a new element a percentage of housing stock levels and an affordability adjustment. Another change was to be the removal of the cap on the level of increase, which (the consultation paper said) “artificially suppresses” identified housing need. The consultation document set out the detail of the two, amended steps – step 1 was setting the baseline and step 2 was adjusting for market signals – and provided the results of the new standard method, which was a national housing need of 337,000 on the basis of currently available data.
The proposed change to the standard method – and in particular the increase in identified housing need it would create for some local planning authorities (LPAs) – attracted a great deal of controversy.
A short overview of the housing need calculation, and analysis of local authority data from the planning consultancy Lichfields, is available in the Commons Library insight Housing: How is need assessed?
The Commons Library debate pack on planning reform and house-building targets (prepared for the Backbench Business Committee debate on 8 October 2020 on planning reform and house building targets in relation to the White Paper, introduced by Bob Seely MP) provides background information and extensive press and comment.
Government announcement on 16 December 2020: standard method for calculating housing need
The Government response said that it had heard concerns (including in Parliament) that the distribution of need was not right and that it wanted towns and cities to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic renewed and strengthened (especially as the pandemic has changed the way people live, work and travel). The Government therefore confirmed that it would not be proceeding with the changes set out in the consultation.
The Government has instead amended the current standard method by adding a 35 per cent uplift to the post-cap number which it generates for Greater London and the local authorities containing the largest proportion of the other 19 most populated cities and urban centres in England (based on the Office for National Statistics list of major towns and cities). These are: London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Bristol, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, Leicester, Coventry, Bradford, Nottingham, Kingston upon Hull, Newcastle upon Tyne, Stoke-on-Trent, Southampton, Plymouth, Derby, Reading, Wolverhampton, and Brighton and Hove.
The Government announcement on 16 December 2020 attracted much comment, just as the proposed changes had in their earlier stages.
The Royal Town Planning Institute welcomed the announcement, while expressing concern that a target-based approach to housing was too narrow and wider priorities such as health, infrastructure, net zero carbon goals and the environment should not be side-lined.
The Local Government Association and others also expressed concerns about whether (for example) the new approach might make it harder to achieve the Government’s target of 300,000 new homes a year or to level up economic activity across disadvantaged areas. Similarly, the leader of Islington council in London was quoted as arguing that the target would be unachievable because of land constraints and the revised method would reinforce so-called Nimbyism. Planning magazine quoted the chairman of the Land Promoters and Developers Federation as arguing that the Government had “taken a highly regressive lurch backwards”.
The planning consultants Lichfields published their own analysis of the announcement and what it might mean for housing delivery. They too argued that the updated standard method alone was unlikely to lead to the delivery of 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s.
Changes already made
The Government has recently made various changes to planning rules, some of them in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Others – such as those relating to upward extensions – enact changes that the Government has long advocated.
Some of these changes relate to permitted development rights (PDRs), under which development may take place under a general permission granted by Parliament without requiring an application to the LPA for planning permission. Other changes – introduced through the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020– create new some use classes and abolish some old ones. The Explanatory Memorandum to these Regulations says that transitional provisions (retaining the effect of the PDRs based on use classes in place before these Regulations came into force) will apply until 31 July 2021, when new, revised PDRs for change of use will be introduced. The Commons Library briefings Permitted development rights and Planning: change of use offer detailed analysis of PDRs and change of use (although they were last updated in April 2020 and so do not capture all the most recent developments).
Other changes were introduced through the Business and Planning Act 2020, which received Royal Assent on 22 July 2020. The Act’s planning provisions are all now in force.
a fast track process for varying planning conditions relating to working hours on construction sites
time limits for development (extending the dates on which planning permission, outline planning permission and listed building consents might otherwise expire)
planning proceedings (giving the Planning Inspectorate more flexibility in deciding whether certain local planning appeals should be heard by way of written representations, a hearing or a local inquiry) and
arrangements for the electronic inspection of the Mayor of London’s spatial development strategy.
A new approach to Environmental Impact Assessments in planning?
In response to a PQ in July 2020, Christopher Pincher said that the Government wanted to see “better planning for nature”.
Also in July 2020, in a speech on environmental recovery, the Environment Secretary, George Eustice, announced a consultation on changing the approach to environmental assessment and mitigation within the planning system, to (he said) “front-load ecological considerations in the planning development process” and “protect more of what is precious”.
Dr Jeremy Biggs, co-founder and director of the Freshwater Habitats Trust, told i: “If the agenda is less box ticking and better science-based conservation action, then that is welcome. But if we hastily ditch protection of threatened species and habitats in the name of planning reform, that will make it difficult to stop the decline of nature, never mind reversing it.”
December 2020 consultation on permitted development rights
A new PDR to allow change of use from the new use class E (commercial, business and service) to C3 residential.
An amended PDR for the extension of schools, colleagues, universities and hospitals, to support the faster delivery of schools and hospitals and other public infrastructure improvements.
A similar right for prisons and defence sites, which would allow prisons (but not other residential facilities such as immigration removal centres) to expand their facilities.
Faster decisions on applications for planning permission: for relevant planning applications, the statutory period for determination would be reduced from 13 weeks (or 16 weeks in the case of development requiring an Environmental Impact Assessment) to 10 weeks.
Existing PDRs will be consolidated and simplified.
As with other proposed planning reforms and the existing PDR for office to residential change of use, these proposals – and especially those relating to change of use from Class E commercial, business and service to residential – have attracted some criticism. In the Local Government Chronicle, the head of planning and practice at the RTPI and the chief executive of the Town and Country Planning Association were quoted as arguing that the changes relating to change of use from Class E to residential could create “a lot of dead frontage” and that expanded PDRs were “not the way” to create necessary housing.
Sections 1.5 and 2.1 of this briefing and parts of the summary, dealing with housing requirement and the standard method, and section 6 (formerly section 1.15) on further reading were updated on 8 October 2020.
Sections 1.5, 2.1 and 6 were updated again on 11 December 2020, when new section 2.5 on implementation and new section 4.2 on the December 2020 consultation on permitted development rights were added and section 1.14 on transition to the new system, section 3.2 on temporary use of land and relevant parts of the summary were also updated.
Section 2.1 was updated again on 12 January 2021.
Other parts remain (except for some minor amendments) as first published on 20 August 2020.
The Government is “consulting” (Closing date 15 March) on important changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to incorporate ideas in the “Living with Beauty” report (see below) and on its ideas for design codes.
These proposals follow on from the ‘Planning for the Future’ consultation which attracted criticism from around the country and a mini rebellion in the Commons.
A Civic Voice newsletter has links to all the documents. It emphasise the need for as many people as possible to take EDDC’s consultation on the Local Plan – Options and Approaches seriously and respond to it. Closing date 15 March.
National Planning Policy Framework and National Model Design Code: consultation proposals
In response to the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission report, the Government has announced:
• It will publish a draft national design code setting out clear parameters of good design and a simple process for local communities to define what buildings in their areas should look like • Create an Office for Place within the next year which will pioneer design and beauty within the planning system • Provide £4 million for the community-led housing fund, in addition to extra funding for successful areas under the heritage campaign • Propose changes to the planning framework to place greater emphasis on beauty and placemaking
A number of other changes to the text of the Framework are also set out and explained in this consultation document, but at the time of sending this update, we do not believe that government is proposing a review of the National Planning Policy Framework in its entirety at this stage. A fuller review of the Framework is likely to be required in due course, depending on the implementation of the government’s proposals for wider reform of the planning system.
In addition to the NPPF consultation, the government has published a new National Model Design Code that outlines the design standards new developments are expected to meet. This provides a checklist that will guide local councils to create their own, unique, local design code. This consultation is also seeking views on the draft National Model Design Code, which provides detailed guidance on the production of design codes, guides and policies to promote successful design.
It would be easy to imagine the English countryside is a lovely place. Everyone has been talking about discovering the wonder of nature during lockdown and there are constant reports of droves moving out of towns and cities for more pastoral locations.
In many ways, however, the opposite is true. Look around and you’ll find local actions groups protesting, petitioning and even praying to save precious stretches of countryside from destruction. If you are one of the escapees from town, I’d check your new view isn’t earmarked for development.
We have already seen an orgy of eco-vandalism as a result of the HS2 rail project: heartbreaking images of wrecked nature reserves, magnificent old trees felled and ancient hedges bulldozed. But HS2 is only one in a vast catalogue of destructive developments. In Greater Manchester, for example, Friends of Carrington Moss are fighting a massive housing project planned on green belt that is also precious peatland. Meanwhile there are countrywide protests against the government’s road building spree. The Wensum link in Norfolk; the Stonehenge tunnel; the Lower Thames Crossing; and major roads in sensitive open countryside in Lancashire, to name but a few.
Kent is particularly badly hit – not just by Brexit lorry parks. Housing developments are everywhere, Graveney marshes have been designated for industrialisation, and now another ecologically important marsh at Swanscombe is targeted for a vast theme park billed as “the UK’s answer to Disney World”.
Protest groups fighting these developments are usually made up of inexperienced, previously apolitical, locals. Out of necessity they fight separate local campaigns. But the current level of destructive development is a nationwide problem requiring a nationwide response. Taken together, these developments are changing the character of the countryside towards urban sprawl. They are inflicting irreversible damage on wildlife.
What’s enabling this destruction is the national planning system, which ought to protect local communities, but now disempowers them. Planning has been hijacked by two doctrines. One is that pouring concrete will get us out of recession, the other that there’s a general housing crisis rather than an affordability crisis. Local challenges to these views are steamrollered as merely nimbyism.
Since the coalition government introduced the national planning policy framework in 2012 the planning system has increasingly favoured developers. That legislation insisted councils set housing targets but they lacked land to meet those numbers. Local authorities were forced to redefine green-belt areas as “available for development”. It was the beginning of a land grab. The Campaign to Protect Rural England states (in 2018’s The State of the Green Belt report) that since 2013 “huge amounts of greenfield land designated as green belt has been released or included in councils’ local plans”.
Robert Jenrick’s so-called planning “reforms” now go a lot further. Even after a backbench rebellion and a rethink of the algorithm used to calculate housing targets, the housing secretary still wants to impose a controversial American system of zoning along with a presumption in favour of development. The proposals are scarily anti-democratic. Housing targets will be imposed by central government and local input sidelined. Yet the housing developments championed by Jenrick do nothing to increase the number of affordable homes. Developers don’t want to build cheap starter homes. They prefer five-bedroom, low-density housing – hence the hunger for greenfield sites, especially those near beauty spots, which are massively more profitable. Meanwhile developers shun available brownfield sites that CPRE estimates could support building 1m new homes.
The National Infrastructure Commission’s assault on local democracy is even more blatant. The NIC is truly a wrecking ball to the countryside. Alongside HS2, think Minsmere, the RSPB’s jewel in the crown, threatened by Sizewell C, or the proposal for a million houses on “the Oxford-Cambridge arc”, most of which would be on green belt. And let’s not forget Guston lorry park, dumped on the unsuspecting residents of Dover. Local opposition is virtually irrelevant in NIC hearings. I know this first-hand having attended one such inquiry where local experts were openly mocked by some of the developers present. It felt like a sham of democracy.
Boris Johnson sometimes claims to care about biodiversity and speaks of supporting nature’s recovery and protecting green belts, digressing once about families picnicking in “wild belts” amid flourishing flora and fauna. But he also loves putting on hard hats for photo ops, promoting “build, build, build” and saying he won’t let “newt counters” get in his way. If “green” Johnson was the real thing, he would insist Robert Jenrick consider planning alongside environmental ambitions. And he would push through the much delayed environment bill, which could provide a framework for joined-up thinking on the environment. Instead he presides over a tsunami of destruction.
There are glimmers of a national fightback. The nationally coordinated Transport Action Network has just challenged the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, for rejecting environmental impact assessment in his road building policy. And CPRE is coordinating other green groups to put forward a democratic, ecologically aware vision of what planning could do in a post-pandemic world. The local groups waging their lonely battles need this national cooperation if the fight against the Tories’ eco-vandalism is to succeed – we need it before it is too late.
Countries only have only a limited time in which to act if the world is to stave off the worst effects of climate change. Here are five reasons why 2021 could be a crucial year in the fight against global warming.
Covid-19 was the big issue of 2020, there is no question about that.
But I’m hoping that, by the end of 2021, the vaccines will have kicked in and we’ll be talking more about climate than the coronavirus.
2021 will certainly be a crunch year for tackling climate change.
Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General, told me he thinks it is a “make or break” moment for the issue.
So, in the spirit of New Year’s optimism, here’s why I believe 2021 could confound the doomsters and see a breakthrough in global ambition on climate.
In November 2021, world leaders will be gathering in Glasgow for the successor to the landmark Paris meeting of 2015.
Paris was important because it was the first time virtually all the nations of the world came together to agree they all needed to help tackle the issue.
The problem was the commitments countries made to cutting carbon emissions back then fell way short of the targets set by the conference.
In Paris, the world agreed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change by trying to limit global temperature increases to 2C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. The aim was to keep the rise to 1.5C if at all possible.
We are way off track. On current plans the world is expected to breach the 1.5C ceiling within 12 years or less and to hit 3C of warming by the end of the century.
Under the terms of the Paris deal, countries promised to come back every five years and raise their carbon-cutting ambitions. That was due to happen in Glasgow in November 2020.
The pandemic put paid to that and the conference was bumped forward to this year.
So, Glasgow 2021 gives us a forum at which those carbon cuts can be ratcheted up.
2. Countries are already signing up to deep carbon cuts
And there has already been progress.
The most important announcement on climate change last year came completely out of the blue.
At the UN General Assembly in September, the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, announced that China aimed to go carbon neutral by 2060.
Environmentalists were stunned. Cutting carbon has always been seen as an expensive chore yet here was the most polluting nation on earth – responsible for some 28% of world emissions – making an unconditional commitment to do just that regardless of whether other countries followed its lead.
That was a complete turnaround from past negotiations, when everyone’s fear was that they might end up incurring the cost of decarbonising their own economy, while others did nothing but still enjoyed the climate change fruits of their labour.
And China is not alone.
The UK was the first major economy in the world to make a legally binding net zero commitment in June 2019. The European Union followed suit in March 2020.
With the election of Joe Biden in the United States, the biggest economy in the world has now re-joined the carbon cutting chorus.
These countries now need to detail how they plan to achieve their lofty new aspirations – that will be a key part of the agenda for Glasgow – but the fact that they are already saying they want to get there is a very significant change.
3. Renewables are now the cheapest energy ever
There is a good reason why so many countries are now saying they plan to go net zero: the collapsing cost of renewables is completely changing the calculus of decarbonisation.
In October 2020, the International Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organisation, concluded that the best solar power schemes now offer “the cheapest source of electricity in history”.
Renewables are already often cheaper than fossil fuel power in much of the world when it comes to building new power stations.
And, if the nations of the world ramp up their investments in wind, solar and batteries in the next few years, prices are likely to fall even further to a point where they are so cheap it will begin to make commercial sense to shut down and replace existing coal and gas power stations.
That is because the cost of renewables follows the logic of all manufacturing – the more you produce, the cheaper it gets. It’s like pushing on an open door – the more you build the cheaper it gets and the cheaper it gets the more you build.
Think what this means: investors won’t need to be bullied by green activists into doing the right thing, they will just follow the money. And governments know that by scaling up renewables in their own economies, they help to accelerate the energy transition globally, by making renewables even cheaper and more competitive everywhere.
4. Covid changes everything
The coronavirus pandemic has shaken our sense of invulnerability and reminded us that it is possible for our world to be upended in ways we cannot control.
It has also delivered the most significant economic shock since the Great Depression.
In response, governments are stepping forward with stimulus packages designed to reboot their economies.
And the good news is it has rarely – if ever – been cheaper for governments to make these kind of investments. Around the world, interest rates are hovering around zero, or even negative.
This creates an unprecedented opportunity to – in the now familiar phrase – “build back better”.
The European Union and Joe Biden’s new administration in the US have promised trillions of dollars of green investments to get their economies going and kick-start the process of decarbonisation.
Both are saying they hope other countries will join them – helping drive down the cost of renewables globally. But they are also warning that alongside this carrot, they plan to wield a stick – a tax on imports of countries that emit too much carbon.
The idea is this may help induce carbon-cutting laggards – like Brazil, Russia, Australia and Saudi Arabia – to come onside too.
The bad news is that, according to the UN, developed nations are spending 50% more on sectors linked to fossil fuels than on low-carbon energy.
5. Business is going green too
The falling cost of renewable and the growing public pressure for action on climate is also transforming attitudes in business.
There are sound financial reasons for this. Why invest in new oil wells or coal power stations that will become obsolete before they can repay themselves over their 20-30-year life?
Indeed, why carry carbon risk in their portfolios at all?
The logic is already playing out in the markets. This year alone, Tesla’s rocketing share price has made it the world’s most valuable car company.
Meanwhile, the share price of Exxon – once the world’s most valuable company of any kind – fell so far that it got booted out of the Dow Jones Industrial Average of major US corporations.
At the same time there is growing momentum behind the movement to get businesses to embed climate risk into their financial decision making.
The aim is to make it mandatory for businesses and investors to show that their activities and investments are making the necessary steps to transition to a net zero world.
Seventy central banks are already working to make this happen, and building these requirements into the world’s financial architecture will be a key focus for the Glasgow conference.
It is still all to play for.
So, there is good reason for hope but it is far from a done deal.
To stand a reasonable chance of hitting the 1.5C target we need to halve total emissions by the end of 2030, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN-backed body that collates the science needed to inform policy.
What that means is making the sort of emissions reductions achieved in 2020 thanks to the massive international lockdowns every year to the end of the decade. Yet emissions are already edging back to the levels they were in 2019.
The truth is lots of countries have expressed lofty ambitions for cutting carbon but few have yet got strategies in place to meet those goals.
The challenge for Glasgow will be getting the nations of the world to sign up to policies that will start reducing emissions now. The UN says it wants to see coal phased out completely, an end to all fossil fuel subsidies and a global coalition to reach net zero by 2050.
That remains a very tall order, even if global sentiments on tackling global warming are beginning to change.
I’ve travelled all over the world for the BBC and seen evidence of environmental damage and climate change everywhere. It’s the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced. Tackling it means changing how we do virtually everything. We are right to be anxious and afraid at the prospect, but I reckon we should also see this as a thrilling story of exploration, and I’m delighted to have been given the chance of a ringside seat as chief environment correspondent.
The UK is, of course, culturally, spiritually and emotionally part of Europe.
This Agreement with the European Union is designed to honour the instruction of the British people – expressed in the referendum of 2016 and the general election last year – to take back control of our laws, borders, money, trade and fisheries. It changes the basis of our relationship with our European neighbours from EU law to free trade and friendly cooperation.
And this ambitious Agreement – carefully judged to benefit everyone – is the first the EU has ever reached allowing zero tariffs and zero quotas. We will preserve the immense benefits of free trade for millions of people in the United Kingdom and across Europe.
At the same time, our Agreement means that the UK will fully recover its national independence. At 11pm on 31 December, we will take back control of our trade policy and leave the EU customs union and single market. We will take back control of our waters, with this treaty affirming British sovereignty over our vast marine wealth. We will take back control of our money by ending vast payments to the EU. We will take back control of our borders and will introduce our new points-based immigration system at the start of next year. Most importantly, the agreement provides for the UK to take back control of our laws, affording no role for EU law and no jurisdiction for the European Court of Justice. The only laws we will have to obey are the ones made by the Parliament we elect.
While we made our fair share of compromises during the negotiations, we never wavered from the goal of restoring national sovereignty – the central purpose of leaving the EU. I have always said that Brexit was not an end but a beginning: the start of a new era of national change and renewal, the next act in the great drama of our country’s story. We will regain the ability to wield powers that have for too long been the sole preserve of Brussels. We will now take up these tools to deliver the changes that people yearn for and, in so doing, we will restore faith in our democracy.
The UK is, of course, culturally, spiritually and emotionally part of Europe. This agreement provides for close and friendly cooperation with our neighbours in all the many areas where our values and interests coincide. It is my fervent hope that this Treaty, rooted in Britain’s sense of itself as a proudly European country, will help to bring people together and heal some of the divisions created by the referendum over four years ago.
The responsibility now falls on our shoulders to take full advantage of the freedom of action our country has regained. Next year will be our opportunity to show what Global Britain can do, reasserting ourselves as a liberal free trading nation and a force for good in the world.
The Society is 60 in 2021! What a remarkable milestone this is and a great tribute to all those members who have so loyally supported the Society over the years and have worked so diligently to protect and enhance this beautiful place where we live, work and play.
NEWS FROM THE SOUTH HAMS SOCIETY
As we approach our 60th anniversary, it would be lovely to recapture some of those memories and achievements. The Society’s committee is keen to hear how Members would like to record and celebrate six decades of South Hams Society life? Or to know if there is a desire to do something that leaves a lasting legacy for future generations? Here are some ideas for starters:
Create a new woodland – or plant a ‘tiny’ woodland (as these initiatives are known) within in a new housing development
Sponsor an award for the best kept village, village amenity/wildlife area, historic village feature or for the best land, countryside or wildlife regeneration project
Work with landowners to restore our iconic limekilns, as the Society has done previously at Frogmore and Batson Creeks.
Create a Society Archive with the support of Kingsbridge’s Cookworthy Museum
Restore our distinctive rural fingerposts, (signposts) as has been done elsewhere (eg Dorset )
Do please let us have your ideas and suggestions, along with any photographs you an share of the Society’s past activities and social events. You can e mail your memories and thoughts to:
or write c/o the membership address at the end of this post.
We’ll be marking our 60th anniversary throughout the year.
This milestone also provides a great opportunity to increase public awareness of the Society and hopefully to bolster membership numbers! Watch this space for more information in due course.
URGENT: SEARCH FOR A NEW CHAIR
We are still without a chairperson to lead the Society. If any member is interested in this position, and in helping to steer our organisation, or knows of anyone outside of the Society who might be, please talk to any of the trustees or get in touch with Didi Alayli, at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The commitment required is circa 8 days a month. As with all our trustee posts, this voluntary role requires that the post holder is resident in the South Hams. The appointment is for one year and then open to annual election or re-election. There is no obligation beyond a year in office! Come on, help us to secure a leader for the Society for our 60th year. And maybe even a new president!
That’s about it for 2020, except to say that whilst researching SHS newsletters from bygone years, I noticed many interesting contributions from members. If anyone would like to submit an article or a news piece or a photograph for the next edition, or has a suggestion for future subject matter, do please get in touch. We are reverting to the Society’s traditional, quarterly newsletter format here on in, with the next edition due February 2021. If you are submitting copy, (ever hopeful), the deadline is Monday 25 January.
“The reality of modern Britain is that the local is fighting back”.
Planning secretary Robert Jenrick’s climbdown over his planning white paper is welcome. Its core proposal for houses to be built according to a Whitehall formula – the so-called “mutant algorithm” – emerged in August reputedly at the bidding of the building lobby, eager to boost their development land-banks in the south-east. It has collapsed under a barrage of protest from southern Tory constituencies that faced being concreted over and northern cities that Jenrick was going to starve of housing subsidies.
The reality of modern Britain is that the local is fighting back. It is no longer unusual for provincial counties and towns to be mentioned on the BBC. In one hour I recently heard Manchester, Leicester, Stratford, Hereford and Kent all demanding freedom to fix their own lockdown strategies. Others have sought to regulate their own schools or distribute their own furlough grants. But nothing has evoked greater fury than Jenrick’s stripping local councils of planning powers.
The Jenrick formula demanded that every community in England build a precise number of houses dictated by Whitehall, irrespective of local wishes. It was rumoured to be rooted in the medieval principle that a “local need” for housing was determined by local births, marriages, divorces and deaths, as if today’s population did not travel. This was then adjusted by price to yield a “need” figure.
The bias towards development in the south-east was massive. It decided house-building should decline by 28% in the north-east but rise by 633% in Kensington.
Horsham was told to cram its entire past century of growth into the next 10 years. I am not aware of any country in the world, except possibly China, with so arithmetically top-down a plan. It would have made Lenin blush. Such an idea would not have passed first base under most prime ministers, if only for its political ineptitude.
Policy to Boris Johnson is a matter of slogans. He appears not to have noticed that his cry of ““build, build, build”now contradicted his cry of “we must level-up the north”. Nor did he notice that he had opposed 514 homes in his own south-east constituency, including a 12-storey tower that he called “wholly out of character for the locality”. This was laughable, given his tower infatuation as London mayor.
Jenrick now has two tasks. He has promised to bring some sanity to his housing formula. He would do better to scrap it altogether. Local people can best judge whether and where they want their communities to grow, and there is no evidence they automatically oppose it. Besides, they have some collective rights to decide such matters in a democracy.
Subsidies should then be concentrated – as Jenrick now proposes – on the renewal of brownfield land especially outside the south- east. He should honour Johnson’s levelling up. He should worry less about his developers and look at the scandal of empty sites, under-occupancy and housing vacancy. The luxury towers, many foreign owned, that now line the Thames in London are reportedly half empty, but they will doubtless contribute to Jenrick’s 300,000 new “homes”. For most people a home implies a place someone lives, not a shell.
Britain’s housing policy is chaotic. The rental sector requires urgent review. Property taxes are too low, renting is too insecure, but at the same time incentives to sublet empty space are inadequate. It is absurd that repairs and conversions attract full VAT while new-build is VAT-free. If Jenrick is bereft of good advice, ask the Germans or the Dutch.
As for the future of British planning, it is still up for grabs. The reason for the most drastic reform of British planning in half a century was Jenrick’s allegation that “it takes an average of five years for a standard housing development to go through the planning system”. This developers’ gossip is simply untrue. The BBC’s Reality Check could find only five big developments that had taken that long, while Whitehall’s own figures showed that 89% of major applications were decided “within 13 weeks or the agreed time”. Delay was usually caused by developers themselves going to lengthy appeal.
As for landscape conservation, the August white paper implied that, subject to central targets, areas of rural land could still be declared “protected”. The paper nowhere defined what should qualify. Meanwhile, outside these protected areas, almost any building is to be permitted without so much as planning permission. This is like arming the police and allowing them to shoot on sight.
Most protests at the new system have pointed out that the current system is not broken, except insofar as it allows builders to build land banks against rising prices. This is already rampant. The CPRE claims land for 1.3m homes is lying idle, with permits already in place for more than half a million of them.
A planning lawyer of my acquaintance considers the dropped proposals so vague that, far from Johnson’s “build, build, build”, they would have meant the opposite, “a lawyer’s paradise”.
All is not bad. There is virtue in the white paper’s concept of zoning for different degrees of development. There is virtue too in its design code and calls for “more beauty”, though not a whisper about who should enforce it if at all. What is unarguable is that planning matters to the entire appearance of Britain. Bruised and abused over the decades, that appearance remains each generation’s lasting legacy to the next.
Bad planning is for all time. Jenrick has spent the past year playing with dynamite. The former Tory leadership contender Jeremy Hunt accused him of nothing less than undermining local democracy. Now his humiliation of local government has exploded in his face. It shows that two can play at another Johnson slogan – “Take back control”.
An updated formula will be weighted to focus on developing family homes in 20 of England’s largest cities and making the most of vacant buildings and underused land.
Bob Seely, the Conservative MP for the Isle of Wight, said that the change was “absolutely the right decision”. He said: “I am sure MPs will want to look at the re-jigged plans in detail, but this is an initial victory for those who care about their communities.”
The decision follows a consultation launched in the summer that sought views from planners, councils and the wider public.
It is understood that the views of MPs were sought by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, after many aired their concerns in the Commons. An updated formula will now be rolled out to local councils to enable the delivery of 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s.
However, the Government could still face opposition on its own benches, as Tory MPs expressed concern that the White Paper would still have “serious implications” for local democracy.
Mr Jenrick said: “This Government wants to build more homes as a matter of social justice, for inter-generational fairness and to create jobs for working people. We are reforming our planning system to ensure it is simpler and more certain without compromising standards of design, quality and environmental protection.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated and magnified patterns that already existed, creating a generational opportunity for the repurposing of offices and retail as housing and for urban renewal.
“We want this to be an opportunity for a new trajectory for our major cities – one which helps to forge a new country beyond Covid – which is more beautiful, healthier, more prosperous, more neighbourly and where more people have the security and dignity of a home of their own.”
He also confirmed that a new Urban Centre Recovery Task Force has been set up to help promote the “development and regeneration of our great town and city centres”, with a focus on revitalising the high street.
The Task Force includes Peter Freeman, who is responsible for the redevelopment of King’s Cross and new Chair of Homes England.
The Government also intends to revise the so-called “80/20 rule” which guides how much funding is available to local areas to help build homes to ensure funding is not just concentrated in London and the South East.
It comes after analysis by Lichfields, a planning consultancy, revealed that the previous proposed system would lead to sharp increases in house building in areas with high Conservative support.
In Chichester, West Sussex, the annual target would have risen from 425 to 1,120; in Reigate, Surrey it would have gone up from 460 to 1,091; and in Tonbridge in Kent it would have increased from 425 to 1,440.
Several Tory MPs argued that the algorithm would have “concreted over” the south rather than “level up” the north, while complaining that it favours building in rural areas rather than cities and towns.
Bob Seely, the Tory MP for the Isle of Wight, who led backbench calls to amend the planning proposals, hailed the change as “good news”.
He said: “I am sure MPs will want to look at the re-jigged plans in detail, but this is an initial victory for those who care about their communities.
“It’s very good news that more homes are planned for northern cities, many of which have suffered population declines in the past 50 years, especially as locations such as my constituency of the Isle of Wight have increased our populations significantly and at, frankly, an unsustainable rate.
“I hope this is the beginning of a renaissance in building back better and supporting our vital levelling up agenda