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Friday, May 26, 2006
"The Georgian Healing Collective"...
A shameless long quote from this week's column by Ian Martin, via BD.

My preliminary research turns up an interesting report from the Georgian Healing Collective. It interviewed two groups of people: one living in a Wolverhampton slab block, the other in the Royal Crescent, Bath.

Although inconclusive - some of the residents in Bath are only there at weekends - the results were startling. Those living in the Georgian houses seemed much more pleased with themselves than the Wolverhampton housing association tenants. Executive summary: Britain needs more 18th century houses.
Markets more economically beneficial than supermarkets
Queen's Market in Newham has been the subject of research by the New Economics Foundation, conducted as Newham Council plans to sell the market site for redevelopment as a mixed-use scheme with attendant Asda. Their research, found via R&R, concludes that the street market is more economically beneficial, providing more than double the employed people per 10sq metres than a typical supermarket. The fresh produce at the market is also 52% cheaper than the similar goods at Asda. Additionally, and similarly unsurprisingly, the report highlights the cultural draw of markets- more than can be said for your average chain supermarket.
Thursday, May 25, 2006
DCLG Ministresses announced
The DCLG has announced the full responsibilities of its new ministers following the reshuffle. Amazingly, it's now an all-female department apart from the lovely Phil Woolas. And there's a newbie in Meg Munn who, amongst other things, is now responsible for gypsies. The first thing I thought of was Keats' poem Meg Merrilees which begins 'Old Meg she was a gypsy, and lived upon the moor." Strange of me, I know.

The full list is as follows:

Ruth Kelly MP- Secretary of state for communities and local government and minister for women - Overall responsibility for the Department.

Phil Woolas MP - Minister for local government and community cohesion - Local government policy; local government finance; neighbourhood renewal; supporting people, community cohesion and faith; fire and civil resilience; cities.

Yvette Cooper MP - Minister for housing and planning - Housing; planning; planning Casework; urban policy; growth areas; Thames Gateway; building regulations; government offices; regional economic development (including Northern Way).

Angela E Smith MP - Parliamentary under secretary of state - Fire; building regulations; climate change; local government intervention and engagement; beacon councils; capacity building fund; e-government; audit commission sponsorship; performance framework; ordnance survey.

Meg Munn MP - Parliamentary under secretary of state - Women and equalities; support on community cohesion and faith; Gypsies and travellers; planning casework.

Baroness Andrews OBE - Parliamentary under secretary of state - DCLG business in the House of Lords; planning policy; planning casework; neighbourhood renewal (New Deal for Communities, neighbourhood management pathfinders and local enterprise growth initiative); liveability; social exclusion.
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
The Super-Casino Shortlist
24dash.com announces the provisional shortlist for the government's Super Casino, to be whittled down to 1 by the 'Casino Advisory Panel'. They are: Blackpool, Brent, Cardiff, Glasgow, Greenwich, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield.

A further 31 local authorities will be permitted to host large/small (not super!) casinos: Bath & NE Somerset; Bournemouth; Brighton; Canterbury; Chelmsford; Dartford; Dudley; Dumfries and Galloway; East Lindsey; Gt Yarmouth; Hastings; Hull; Leeds; Leicester; Luton; Mansfield; Middlesbrough; Milton Keynes; Newham; N E Lincs; Peterborough; Restormel; Scarborough; Sefton; Solihull; Southampton; South Tyneside; Swansea; Thurrock; Torbay; Wolverhampton.

The shortlist now enters a consultation phase until 28th June. RDAs and members of the public are asked to have their say about the choice of locations in time for the final list.
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
Moonbat madness
Any possible remaining respect I had for George 'Moonbat' Monbiot as an intelligent being just evaporated, on reading his shrill and hopelessly wrong-headed tirade in today's Guardian about second home owners. I can't be bothered to go to the effort of sensibly refuting the points he makes. I just wish the man would do some research and try to actually understand the issues before spewing forth a thousand words on the subject.

It is supremely irritating to find someone who cares about the right issues (affordable housing, rural community life) yet manages to go about suggesting 'solutions' that are completely lunatic: divisive, childish and playing right into the hands of those on the opposite bench. Someone kick the soapbox from under his feet, please.
Monday, May 22, 2006
Planning gain news
Research out today from the DCLG (still getting used to that acronym!) is really interesting, and to me, quite a shock. It shows quite how few developments actually involve any sort of section 106 agreement to offset their commercial gain by contributing to the public good.

60 per cent of medium and large residential sites and 90 per cent of smaller sites, and an amazing 79 per cent of retail developments and 88 per cent of industrial applications have no s106 obligations attached to their planning permissions. That's incredibly low in my opinion. And the value of the s106 agreements that are made only added up to £2bn in 2003/04. - not very much, and to put that in more comprehensible figures, the average value per agreement was as follows:

Affordable housing has the highest average at just under £250,000, followed by education (£118,000), transport and travel (£83,000), community and leisure (£59,000) and open space (£25,000).

Given the amount of money that is being made by these commercial developments, contributing £25k to 'open space' is completely pathetic. That would pay for a few yards of new pavement at most. And a quarter of a million for affordable housing is also completely risible, paying for maybe three new units, or a fresh lick of paint on an aging council block? Granted, I know that a lot of developments provide public open space, amenities and affordable housing within the development as they know that otherwise they would be obligated to pay, but still I am amazed at how low these figures are.

Commenting on the report, Yvette Cooper said: "The research shows there should be plenty of scope to increase contributions from planning gain without hindering development" and for once, I think that's an understatement.
Friday, May 19, 2006
End of week news round-up
David's choice of the week's news...

One in three London architects from overseas
A survey conducted by BD suggests that a third of all architects in London are from outside the UK. This is no surprise to anyone who works here. Even more diverse, I would suggest, are the capitals architecture schools.

Welsh Health Bonanza
BD also reports on a £1.7bn framework agreement from Welsh Health Estates, 'Designed for Life'.

'Trafalgar Square' for King's Cross
Ian Ritchie Architects are busy writing the brief for a major new public space in front of King's Cross, a development which stretches from the British Library to the Lighthouse building. It will apparently be the largest public space "carved out of London" since Trafalgar Square. Goodness knows the place needs it. The area is currently only good for extreme cycling (one on one combat with taxis, lost pedestrians, and bendy buses).

Biennale Pavilions
Chetwood Associates and David Morley Architects have both designed pavilions for the upcoming London Architecture Biennale, to be complete by 16th June. Both will be strategically located in Clerkenwell, the heartland of Biennale territory.

Hawkins/Brown organise mixed-use in a Brewery
The £53m regeneration on the site of the former Watney Brewery has won planning permission. Interestingly, water will be supplied by two brewholes used by the former brewery since the 19th Century.
Thursday, May 18, 2006
Yvette Cooper, Miliband and greener housebuilding
Interesting speech (full text) last night by Cooper about the government's commitment to greener and more energy-saving development. She praised the local authorities that are already doing good suff (like Merton with its famous 10% rule for renewable energy in new developments), saying that if all local authorities took the measures that the best are doing, Britain's energy use would fall by a fifth.

She also announced as expected that the next stage of the Design for Manufacture competition (otherwise known as the £60,000 house) will be for zero-carbon and low-cost homes. Interestingly, I have been involved with a project at London Metropolitan University which this year has been getting students to design exactly that - a £60k, carbon-neutral house design. And she also said that they are undertaking feasibility work to see how to "make the Thames Gateway a low carbon development area and to move towards carbon neutrality."

I think its fascinating how green issues are really high on the agenda now. Yesterday's Guardian ran an interesting piece on BedZed four years on and many of the problems that it has encountered - but the fact is that a huge number of changes have happened in those four years and the next generation of zero-carbon developments currently being planned by companies like Bioregional Quintain will benefit from better and simpler technology at a more cost-effective and future-proof level. Meanwhile supermarkets are competing to green-wash themselves and there is a national shortage of organic milk.

Is this a belated realisation that high oil prices are not going away? I'm really interested to see how the mainstream of commercial developers start to adopt some of the really easy and cheap green elements into standard spec office blocks, residential developments and shopping centres. Can we sell them an understanding of the commercial, brand and financial benefits that they can get from this?

At Adnams, my father recently commissioned what is basically a massive industrial shed to house a new distribution and storage depot - and when costed out, it was only marginally more expensive to do the whole thing with a green roof, glulam timber beams and all the sustainable works than to build a conventional shed because the price of steel has gone so high. They said that they calculated the cost savings of lower energy use to pay back the extra build cost if energy prices rose by 1% or something tiny - and last year, their energy unit price rose by around 30%.

So the message really is that its much, much more commercially sound now to do things greener - the tipping point has been reached. The need is to gather the evidence base that can prove this to the development sector and get them to understand its real.
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Affordable Rural Housing
The hot topic of the day. The long-awaited report from the Commission on Affordable Rural Housing has come out and has been all over the media today. If you haven't read it, the whole thing can be downloaded here. the main headlines: we need to be building 11,000 affordable homes a year in villages and small towns, 30,000 affordable homes a year altogether in rural areas, rural exception sites should be exempt from paying a planning gain supplement, and Natoinal Park authorities should take on some of the moral and economic responsibility for building affordable rural homes.

I feel that my head is too deeply in this debate (I'm in the middle of completing a speculative project about low-impact new sustainable communities in the countryside) that I can hardly comment. There's nothing so surprising about these findings, as is usual, but it is how this new housing takes physical shape, and what kind of future it embodies in terms of social structures, working patterns, economies and ecologies, that matters.

I'd like to see a real debate about what kind of visionary, radical new futures for the countryside might be possible, which goes beyond numbers of houses and the price of petrol. Because in case no-one noticed, the countryside is in a kind of crisis in more ways than one and just building more houses ain't going to solve it in the long term. Equally, according to the State of the Cities report, we all want to go and live in the countryside - so what kind of lifestyle is it that we are all craving, and how can we plan for our dreams to be fulfilled?

Anyway, here's more comment on the report from the Housing Corporation, Adam Smith Institute guy with his own pet version of how to un-plan the countryside.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
News update in brief
Sorry for lack of posts. Life is hectic. June will be better!

But a few interesting bits and pieces around, aside from continual Ruth Kelly-watching as she gets into her stride at the DCLG.

The draft planning guidance for the Lower Lea has been released, setting out the strategic framework for the areas around the Olympics site. It said up to 173ha of industrial land could be provide between 30,000 and 40,000 homes, as well as retaining some industrial facilities.

Landowners, developers, funding and delivery agencies, and local councils, will be expected to incorporate the development principles into their plans. At least 44 per cent of the new homes should be family housing, with 50 per cent of the overall provision affordable. The plan outlines the transformation of the valley into a "water city" through the enhancement and extension of existing waterways. It also suggested a system for pooling planning gain receipts to spend on transport, and also possibly to education, health and open space facilities.

The Green Party has complained to the EU that Argent's development at King's Cross breaches air pollution rules because the new development will arguably contibute to a 'massive' increase in traffic.

Terry Farrell's plans for a major residential-led scheme next to St Thomas' Hospital have been rejected by planners who said that "The development as it stands does not offer a suitable living environment for residents. The buildings would have to be lowered and moved away from the boundaries of Archbishop's Park." The client is the hospital trust and they are currently considering whether to appeal.

Our friend Chris Murray has officially been announced as the new head of the Core Cities Group.

And CABE has awarded three schemes its highest Building for Life awards: the Accordia development in Cambridge published in BD the other week designed by Feilden Clegg, Maccreanor Lavington and Alison Brooks, Gun Wharf in Plymouth and the Hyde Housing scheme in Deptford by BPTW. Seemingly picking up on the rather comic press release from English Partnerships last week about car parking 'transforming' neighbourhoods [is this what 'good design' is reduced to?] CABE said that most schemes under consideration fell down because of bad integration of car parking. You might think that after all the effort put into developments, they might have the creativity to not let cars dominate the public realm...such a simple thing to get right!
Thursday, May 11, 2006
Heatherwick and the Lea bridge
The AJ is sooo behind the times. Today they report (for subscribers only) that Tom Heatherwick has 'dramatically' replaced Wilkinson Eyre on the Lea bridge from the Leamouth peninsula site being developed by Ballymore to Canning Town centre.

I was told back in March by Fred Manson that he'd been working on the bridge with Heatherwick, in his new role as associate director or somesuch with Heatherwick's studio. I would have reported it on the blog then if I'd have thought it was actually news. Hey, Ballymore probably thought a curling-up bridge would be a great idea to stop the Canning Town scallies getting into their swish gated - no, moated - development...
Ruth Kelly, already in hot water!
Tuesday: we all wake up to the Today programme and Ruth Kelly telling us how 'social housing will be my personal priority' and how she will 'root out' those NIMBYs who oppose new housing in their neighbourhoods. She says that she wants an end to the culture of householders being "protective of their own space" and raising objections to social housing developments near their homes. All in the context of housing being apparently a major factor in the BNP success in Barking and DAgenham. About which I hope to post in more detail in a bit (given that B&D is one of the major sites for the Thames Gateway carpet of commuter homes).

Thursday: it comes out that actually Kelly opposed new social housing in her own back yard. Just last week she opposed the building of a new social housing development in Bolton for poor families and has opposed around 1600 new homes in total.

Whoops. Evidently she has inherited a propensity for embarrassing mistakes from Prezza...
Monday, May 08, 2006
What next for the ex-ODPM? Profile of Ruth Kelly
Obviously the big topic over the weekend was what the Cabinet reshuffle means for planning and the many huge regeneration schemes in progress all over the country, directly affecting the lives of millions of people. I was a bit annoyed to talk to someone who works at the Foregin Office on Saturday who glibly mentioned that he thought the ODPM 'didn't really do much'. What?? It may be hopelessly inefficient (just like the FO) but it really does impact on people's lives in a way few departments do, I would say.

Well, now its the Department for Communities and Local Government, now it's Ruth Kelly not Prezza - and what have we got in store?

The DCLG strangely has expanded responsibilities but less cabinet ministers. Its new remit includes Home Office community and civic responsibilities alonside race, faith and gender policy stuff that's being consolidated from across several different departments. Tellingly, although it gets some Home Office portfolios, it does not get the so-called 'Respect' agenda which stays firmly with the crime and punishment section of the government, not the 'civic renewal' bit. Says all you need to know, doesn't it.

And what does this mean? In a piece of non-news, the CPRE are trying to make everyone believe that Kelly's accession might mean that the south-East growth plans will get dropped quietly. As if that would really be possible. I'm quite curious that Miliband didn't become the minister in charge and I'm not sure what I think of Kelly's Catholic family values coming into the arena of 'communities.'

She's definitely a New Labour loyalist, that's for certain - as anyone who witnessed her performance to force through the deeply unpopular Education Bill recently will affirm. Although its interesting to see that she did work with IPPR on an early report into PFI which was a little bit scpetical. How all parties have changed their tunes now. She's apparently squeaky-clean - apart from the Opus Dei question - as the Register of Member's Interests records only a pair of tickets to see Harry Potter where others hold lucrative directorships or receive expensive holidays for free.

She's got a reputation for caring about the issues of working mothers. She's got four kids herself, famously giving birth eleven days after first being elected as an MP. She refuses to work long hours or take a red box in the evening, which has allegedly caused problems with the speed at which she has made decisions or engaged with issues within her own Department. There's a good profile of her here if you want to find out more about her personality.

I don't know what she'll be like on the issues that face her now. I like the fact that she knows about being a working mother and perhaps will place more emphasis on quality of life within new 'sustainable' communities. But at the same time I think she definitely has a Gordon Brown-esque belief in the voluntary sector providing local social services and I think we may see the Treasury and the DCLG getting much closer. Her and Yvette Cooper will make some double act - two rather boyish women in trouser suits with the postures and party loyalty of Soviet social realist poster-girls but the scariness of twin young Thatchers. Can anyone add any comments about what we should look out for?
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
Stratford City bust-up
Amazingly, London and Continental Railways have decided enough is enough, and sacked the developers for Stratford City. After the catfight that's been going on for the last few months, complete with takeover rumours, shoot-out auctions, Ken's dodgy ayatollah comments, and all the other stuff that makes this whole affair the greatest property soap opera running, it came through on my newsfeeds yesterday that they've served notice and are actively looking for a new developer.

It's all here on Planning, but I thought y'all might want to read it without going through the annoying subscribers-only site, so I've cut-and-pasted the best bits:

Landowner London & Continental Railways (LCR) has begun legal proceedings to terminate its contract with the developers on the Stratford City scheme. The consortium Stratford City Developments Limited is owned by developers Stanhope, Westfield, Multiplex and Aldersgate.

LCR's decision came after the failure last week of a 'shoot out' auction, where one of the companies had been expected to buy out the other parties. Stephen Jordan, managing director for property at LCR said: "LCR has taken all reasonable steps to try and ensure that SCDL has been afforded every opportunity to resolve its internal issues." He said the decision did not jeopardise the provision of Olympic facilities on Stratford City land.

The "remediable" notice letter served on the developers allows for a 42-day period in which they could suggest a solution. However a spokesman for LCR said there was little prospect of such an outcome, and that the company was already searching for a replacement developer. LCR said the notice letter allowed them to take control of the consultants working on Stratford City.

The spokesman said the scheme remained on course to begin next year, even though the developers may decide to mount a legal challenge to the notice. A revision to the planning application for zone one of the project, including an increase in housing levels, will be submitted to Newham Council next week. An Olympic Delivery Authority spokesperson: "We have been undertaking contingency planning in recent weeks in case the differences within the Stratford Consortium do not resolve themselves."
Monday, May 01, 2006
In brief: Ken and the waterworks, Sunand Prasad and more Tory policy
Ken Livingstone reckons Thames Water should spend its millions fixing water leaks instead of building an "energy guzzling desalination plant" in Beckton and is going to oppose the plans. The mayor believes that if the company worked to best practice in demand, supply and leakage management, it would be able to save seven times the capacity of the proposed desalination plant by 2029.

Glad to see the lovely and thoroughly right-headed Sunand Prasad (of architects Penoyre and Prasad) is going to stand for president of the RIBA. After two quite daft and actively unhelpful presidents, we hope he'll get it and restore some edge to the organisation. So far no-one else has put themselves forward, and nominations close on the 12th May.

And in a really easy move, the Tories have said that they will crap lots of regeneration quangos and 'return power to local councils'. Easier said than done, and how to ensure co-ordinated strategy and delivery, who knows. Unfortunately, I tend to think that you get rid of one lot of bureacrats and they just get new jobs elsewhere. In this case, in the under-skilled local authorities, or within the government departments that will be responsible for giving them money.
CABE slams Gehry scheme
Anothe example of the generally toothless CABE flexing its muscles against a high-profile architect. One of my first year tutors many moons ago, Selina Mason (now head of design review at CABE) has called Gehry's controversial and curvy high-rise scheme for Brighton and Hove 'banal' due to the quality of the public realm. When will developers learn that at the end of the day, their schemes will fail or succeed due to the quality of the ground-level public spaces and integration with the surrounding area, no matter how glamorous the stuff above head-height may be? (from Planning, subs only)
Rural issues news
Interesting stuff came out last week about some rural stuff. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation published a report on why affordable housing in rural areas is in such critically short supply.

The report notes that house building levels have dropped by four per cent in the past three years, compared to a 19 per cent rise in urban areas, and that right to buy sales have cut the number of rented homes by 36 per cent since 1980 in rural communities. New affordable housing in rural areas now stands at just six per cent of total new stock compared with 16 per cent in urban districts. But in contrast to recent stuff coming out from the Tory party, the authors suggest that the way to solve this is through better use of empty properties, under-used farm building conversions and many other small measures. Very much in tune with what the JRF generally suggests, I think these are sensible measures but perhaps the scale of the issue, combined with other factors about the increase in demand for the rural lifestyle, might warrant a more radical approach. Not that I'm with the Tories, mind you.

Meanwhile second home ownership continues to rise, with the South-West leading the way. The region has a quite astonishing 21.3% of total housing as second homes. Interestingly, London comes in second - evidently a lot of people have pied-a-terres, or for tax reasons are declaring their city properties as their second homes.

And in environmental news, DEFRA have announced new measures to encourage the use of biomass. But typically, they are pretty weak really and I don't think will make a real difference to scaling up this most sustainable and easy-to-access energy resource which might also be able to really kick-start the agricultural economy now that the death-knell for CAP-supported wheatfields has sounded. DEFRA also announced the board of Natural England, the agency set to replace English Nature and bits of the Countryside Agency in October.
New blogs
Life is stil hectic so apologies for the stuttering stream of posts.

But two new-ish blogs have appeared that are addressing some interesting things. It's good to see more people starting blogging on the topic of housing, development and all the rest of the regeneration stuff. At Brickonomics - written by a 'rogue housing researcher' (how rogue? how does this rogue-ish-ness manifest itself in the research?) there's a lot of good stuff about housing (surprise!) which is well worth a read.

And over at this blog there is an admiral stab at a single-issue campaigning blog of which I would like to see more, and having more impact. Called 'Unlocking the potential of empty homes' it does exactly what it says on the tin - very in-depth coverage of the empty homes issue (which I do think is one of the major scandals in the debate around housing) alongside a lot of sensible suggestions about how to reform the policies that mean so very many houses lie empty around the country.