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Note: This blog is no longer active - please visit my new site at HAT Projects where you will find our new blog!

Monday, July 31, 2006
View from the edge of the Olympics
The excellent blog Diamond Geezer is perhaps too rare an entrant onto these pages (not being solely about regeneration and building stuff, yawn), but for anyone interested in a thoughtful and observant take on London's past and future, he's always good.

But living as he does on the edge of the Olympics zone, he's been keeping a particularly beady eye on the changes (or lack of) there. Here's his response to the recently published Olympics Delivery Programme. The weary tone is a true and funny expression of what I sense a lot of people still feel about the whole thing, and will do until the legacy programme gets into gear.
Regional and urban units merge
Although Kelly announced last week that the institutional review widely expected to merge the Housing Coporation and English Partnerships is being extended into the autumn, some changes are already afoot. The urban policy unit of the Department of Communities and Local Government, formed after the landmark Urban White Paper in 2001 to deliver the 'urban renaissance' and surviving many other shifts and reshuffles, is finally to be merged with the regional policy division.

"It's a logical step because cities and regions drive each other," a senior source said. "A merged body is a better way than having two directors, where there's a risk they may not see eye to eye."

Urban Policy Unit director Professor Mark Kleinman will lead the new Regional, Urban and Economic Policy Directorate. Regional policy director Peter Betts is expected to leave for another division in the department.
Saturday, July 29, 2006
WorldChanging posts
I got asked a while back to start contributing to the fantastic blog WorldChanging - a source of cutting-edge reporting on practical ways to make a greener future, all over the world. Having been shamefully slow to get my act in gear, my first post is up, and keep reading for more to come!

And if anyone has things that they think should be covered on WorldChanging (or on this blog, for that matter) please drop me a line.
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Sunand wins RIBA presidency
Congratulations to Sunand Prasad, who was confirmed today as the next RIBA president. He's got great energy and experience at the coalface as well as at high level strategically. And on a more mundane level, its great to see a non-white face representing a profession that's still stuck in the dark ages regarding race and gender representation. Its one thing to talk to BME students about how they should become architects, quite another to have a face that demonstrates that it is possible.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
New links policy
You may have noticed less links in posts. I've decided as a matter of policy not to link to sites that are subscription only. Where possible I will find a non-subscription site that reports the same news (heads up to 24dash.com, GNN, ePolitix, BBC, Guardian, ruralnet and a whole load of blogs...) and in fact, most everything can be traced back to the original source press release which is a more accurate way of reporting anyway. But sometimes I just don't have time to do this - in which case you've just got to take my word for it that I'm not making stuff up.
In brief: London TG news
Ken's 'flagship' zero-carbon Thames Gateway housing project is going to be at Gallions Reach and consist of a measly 200 homes. He's now looking for a developer.

Meanwhile at the other end of the scale, the ODA is this month's largest housing client with a whopping £545m worth of stuff in the pipeline. Surprisingly to me, Rotherham council was next, with £315m.

And the Millennium Dome is, surprise, ranked as provisional favourite by the government’s Casino Advisory Panel for the location for the Super-Casino. Poor old Blackpool comes second.
Monday, July 24, 2006
'Radical' Restoration
The Guardian has set itself and its readers an interesting challenge this morning. In the context of the latest series of the BBC's 'Restoration' programme, this time focusing on rural communities, the paper has initiated a public debate and, eventually, a restoration-style poll in order to find threatened or undervalued sites from Britain's 'radical' history.

From Newsblog:

"This summer, we want to commemorate a broader heritage by listing all the radical sites of Britain which are being sold short by their councils or communities. Alongside the villages of Restoration, we want to tell another story of British history and, in the process, make sure we preserve and popularise our enervating, explosive, uncomfortable past.

"It is up to Guardian readers and bloggers to help make this happen. We want you to nominate, debate and determine the landmarks of radical Britain. What are the vital landscapes, monuments and historic sites in your neighbourhoods and what stories do they tell? Are they properly signposted, interpreted or just ignored? Do local schools, planners and civic societies understand their significance? Are they under threat?"

The two projects aren't necessarily in opposition, of course. The most radical village in Britian, anyone?

Guardian Newsblog: Your chance to shape Britain's radical heritage
Worst first or last?
This one came up last week and I really am still not sure what I think about it. One thing I do know, and that is I'm really surprised it didn't make mainstream news. After all, a consultant says that we shouldn't try to deal with the worst-off (mot deprived) areas first and instead, should concentrate on the fringes where things aren't so bad? Sounds like an ideal 'Let Them Rot'-type Sun headline. But that's what TCPA consultant Julie Cowan said in a speech last week.

The ‘worst-first’ social welfare approach to regeneration is increasingly shown to be unsuccessful in the longer term and should be replaced by a new socio-economic model, which aims to proactively boost and capture land and property value for the public good. “This will require some difficult decisions on which neighbourhoods to prioritise for intervention. In the longer term it may be more effective for the worst estates to wait until surrounding cusp estates are at a level which will support and attract regeneration investment.”

Its all a very money-focused (or, to use the euphemism 'market-informed') argument: regeneration only happens by attracting higher-income residents to an area, capturing the consequent increases in property value and 'recycling' these back into providing affordable housing etc. I'm not at all anti- an economic theory of regeneration, but in this case, questions that immediately arise are clear: what about pricing out lower-income families? does the trickle-down effect really work? Can you 'capture' enough 'value' to really be able to make significant changes to the quality of life of the severely deprived? what about ideas of capacity building, skills training, raising the level of income of poor families?

What do you all think about this?
Friday, July 21, 2006
Ken's new powers...
In case anyone didn't already know, from the amount that's been on the news:

He can now overrule the boroughs to grant as well as refuse planning permission. He will be the lead on s106 agreements for those planning apps that he decides. He has control of housing money for London. He can appoint the charis and some board members of ACE London, MLA London and the London sports body. He also has new powers over skills development and waste, though not as much on the latter as he wanted.

Full details here. Everyone (well, IPPR et al) are saying this is a clear signal from Ruth Kelly that she's in favour of more devolved city mayors, dangling the carrot of increased powers in front of those cities consdering the big shift.

Predictably the boroughs are hating it. A senior adviser to the mayor said Livingstone intended to “kick ass” over planning applications, now that he had the power to grant approval for schemes refused by London councils and Ken himself said he expected some 'spectacular rows'. I can't wait.
Greening new development and old
A fair amount coming over the wires this week about greening our building stock. The tide is certainly shifting, but whether all the targets and 'recommendations' go far enough, who knows?

English Partnerships is looking at a proposal to significantly raise the eco-standards it requires of its developments. Details are still thin on the ground, but Margaret Ford did mention the words "low carbon and carbon-neutral". "Things that seemed radical a few years ago are now absolutely mainstream" she said - and its true that the pace of change is really speeding up.

Meanwhile, the Sustainable Development Commission (where Jonathan Porritt was re-elected chair this week) said that cutting emissions should focus on existing buildings, a theme already in the news thanks to Building mag's 99% campaign. Anne Power was part of the report team and said that "In the last few months there has been a really big recognition, and almost every ministerial statement on what should happen next now refers to the existing housing stock." They reckon that retro-fitting technology could halve a household's energy use (but at what cost to those like me who own period flats and have no spare cash?) And of course, this comes on top of the news that the new HIPs will have to have energy certificates in them...so those who can't afford to retro-fit will bear the brunt of seeing their property lose value too.

And the Social Market Foundation released a report that says the government should bring in a “green buildings” tax relief system to encourage businesses to reduce the carbon footprint of their properties. Most EU countries already have tax breaks for energy-efficient domestic properties and Germany has relief for non-domestics too.

To reflect on the last two items, why not tax breaks for energy-efficient homes that would offset the cost of all this retro-fitting technology that we will effectively be forced to introduce if we want to sell our homes?
Thames Gateway news
Various leaks have been emerging from the government's draft Strategic Framework for the TG. The BBC reported today that DCLG is taking forward the idea of the Thames Estuary Park - apparently including the possibility of flooding some of the area to make new habitats. "The 300-page report leaked to the BBC is currently a discussion document, but it outlines major changes to the development strategy in the area and raises the possibility of a Thames Estuary Park. Housing developments would have to take advantage of the latest eco-technology and be designed to the highest industry standards."

Meanwhile, the document says that councils are falling way behind on hitting their housing targets for the area. Just 7992 homes were completed in the Kent councils of Dartford, Gravesham, Medway and Swale over the past five years - two-thirds of what is needed to meet the new homes target for the Kent stretch of the Gateway. “It falls well behind what would be needed to meet the 2016 target of 43,000,” says the report, which criticises council and planners for failing to earmark sufficient housing in their plans. It says the targets for Kent may need to be cut unless roads are delivered.

However, London seems to be doing well on the target-hitting, with the GLA and councils having allocated enough land to meet the target.The report shows that 17,000 dwellings have been provided in the London part of the Gateway over the past five years. As a result 8300 homes must be built each year over the next decade to meet the capital’s target of 100,000 Gateway homes by 2016.
Thursday, July 20, 2006
Rural is everywhere - but to what end?
If you've not been reading the Guardian's series of articles on rural England over the last week, haven't read the trade press for months, never listen to Radio 4 - oh, ok, if you are like 95% of the population - you may not have noticed the growing profile of rural issues, and about time too. Today the Commission for Rural Communities published the latest State of the Countryside report, and as last year, it is full of interesting facts and warnings, yet if I think about significant policy changes over the last year, or indeed any projects that really push new ideas, not much springs to mind.

But in any case, here's a linklog of some of the recent stuff:

Really interesting project (nicely designed website too) - The Enterprise for Inclusion project - from the Plunkett Foundaton and Defra which aimed to provide sustainable funding for rural social exclusion. Tiny amounts of money were given, but more interestingly, came with generous amounts of advice from the E4I team (often up to 15 days) which I'm sure is the thing that made the difference.

CPRE's response to the SotC report - predictable drivel about how we've all got to curb our natural urges to live in the countryside and be confined to the cities. Anti-democratic, if you ask me.

An fascinating book from the Countryside Agency - a visual documentation of the changes to the agricultural landscape over the last 33 years.

Local government reckons that if central govt left it alone for a bit they would be able to solve affordable rural housing issues. Yeah right.

A brochure from EMDA about some of the stuff they've been doing on modernising rural delivery.

A glimmer of action: the launch of the Village CORE programme with £2m to give to new community-run village shops over the next three years.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Scotland leaps ahead on renewables
Scotland is considering becoming the first of the UK executives to make all new developments generate 10% of energy needs on-site. Draft policy is now out for consultation on this, but I'm pretty sure it will go ahead, especially given Scotland's natural resources of wind, waves, and water. It's all part of them meeting an already agreed target of 40% renewable energy by 2020.
Thames Gateway news
A roundup from the bleak, beautiful brownfields...

The London Thames Gateway DC has released its corporate plan for the next two years - £100m worth of investment including £17m for Canning Ton Centre, £15m for Rainham, and £25m for Barking. Also in the plan - £15m to put in new locks nad clear the channels so that by 2012, water taxis and pleasure craft can ply the Lea navigations without worrying about the tides. The plan is downladable from here.

Urban Splash will be building their first major development in London if they wins the tender for redeveloping the St Andrew's Hospital site next to Bromley-by-Bow. they haven't announced who their architect partner wil be yet, but they are up against all the usual suspects. After their success in Canning Town, my money's on Countryside with KCAP/Maccreanor Lavington.

After all the Prescott/Dome/casino furore, Ken Livingstone has expressed his 'support' for the project as a 'keystone' of Gateway development. Surely the whole thing is a storm in a teacup, again?
Friday, July 07, 2006
Farrell's Thames Gateway Park rolls on
Terry Farrell has unveiled the latest iteration of his idea to turn the whole of the Thames Gateway into a National Park. Proving the naysayers wrong, with an increasingly serious group of backers including the Bank of Scotland, Experian and the Future Foundation, he's not giving up yet.

This more fleshed-out version includes a huge bridge snaking all the way from Shoeburyness in Essex to Sheerness in Kent and various things about how many wind turbines would be needed to cut carbon emissions by 60% (1 every 9.5 ha, in case you're interested, plus oads of solar panels on roofs) and other such stuff. They're hoping to show it to Ruth Kelly before the end of July.

[more for Building subscribers here.
Tuesday, July 04, 2006
In brief: CABE slams BSF, flooding as flood defence, and Barker on planning...
A new report from CABE completely slams the Building Schools for the Future programme, saying that 50% of designs are not up to scratch, and that briefs must face a review 'as a matter of urgency' for being badly out of date. Worth a read.

The Environment Agency's new strategy of 'managed retreat' in certain coastal areas has its first big-scale test now that work has begun to breach 300m of a sea wall to create the UK's largest man-made marine wetland. As I write, the tide is entering on to what was wheatfields to create the new salt marsh and mudflats. the idea is that it will absorb tidal energy and stop flooding further inalnd without requiring unsustainable defence systems.

And finally, Kate Barker has said, contradicting the noises coming out of the Treasury, that her review of the planning system is not going to recommend any major changes. Erm, Brown to Barker, hello? Her interim report can be downloaded from the site - worth a read if only for the extremely good summary of 'how the planning system works' - good both for beginners and hardened policy spods like myself...
Pointing out the obvious: Consultation doesn't work
A report which points out the obvious but is extremely welcome to my ears, is out today from Planning Aid. It concludes that 'traditional forms of engaging local people will fail to win the trust of disadvantaged communities facing major change'.

Well, I could have told you that, but I'm glad to have an authoritative source to back up what we know through practical experience. This report follows a two-year study, the largest of its kind, by South East Planning Aid which focused on engaging the 200,000-strong community across Kent Thameside.

It says that authorities must go the "extra mile" to make involvement interesting, relevant and meaningful and that many communities do not know the planning system and do not have the confidence or capacity to take part. It also (thank goodness!) stresses the long-term aspect of public engagement, saying that several years are needed to achieve lasting results.

We see every day how 'consultation' ends up being a one-way, zero-sum management procedure and how local communities are way too smart to be fooled by the PR guys or even the happy-red-shoes 'consultation experts' and their post-it-note boards, when it becomes clear that nothing changes as a result. I just wish that Planning Aid would be even more forthright in its language and tell it like it is; that this appoach is worse than no effort at all, actively damaging relationships between communities and decisionmakers, contributing to the apathy and cynicism surrounding all structured political relationships.
Monday, July 03, 2006
Green Building Regs and the 99% campaign
Many of you may have already read about the 99% campaign, started by Building Magazine last week. The basic premise is that 99% of our building stock is 'old' and totally fails to meet any sort of energy efficiency standards. The back story is clearly that the construction lobby feels that it is being unfairly asked to shoulder the (expensive) burden of decreasing the UK's carbon emissions when owners and manageers of existing stock don't have to lift a finger.

The campaign is supported by British Property Foundation, the RICS, the Construction Products Association and individuals including Sir Neville Simms, former Carillion boss and chair of the government's Sustainable Procurement Task Force, Sir Stuart Lipton and Phyllis Starkey, chair of the Department for Communities and Local Government Select Committee.

Well, this all comes on the back of Ruth Kelly announcing that planning permission for domestic generation equipment would be scrapped, and Alastair Darling saying that new energy rules might mean that homeowners are forced to install wind turbines or loft insulation, or be penalised by their energy providers. The way this would work is that energy companies would be set much tougher targets for reducing consumption, that they would then pass onto homeowners.

Ken Livingstone has upped his on-site energy generation requirement from 10% to 20% (in the face of a lot of scepticism about deliverability, it has to be said) and Angela Smith, the Building Regs minister, is now backing the 99% campaign and says a cross-departmental group is looking at the issue already.

It seems almost too good to be true perhaps - that the tide is genuinely turning at long last in favour of a meaningful engagmeent with environmental issues? Perhaps these are only small steps - but there seem to suddenly be a lot more of them happening than ever before, which can only be a good thing. And some - like Ken's new rule and the Energy Action Areas that he's piloting - seem genuinely radical to me.
Ken gets more power
Our omnipotent mayor will have even more power over the squabbling boroughs, under new rules that will come out next month. Building (subs only) writes that the mayor will take over chairmanship of the London Housing Board (currently with the GOL) and thus will be responsible for shaping the capital's housing strategy, which sets the priorities for the Housing Corporation's grant programme.

Ken may also have his planning powers extended. All council local development frameworks in the capital may have to conform with the policies set out in the London Plan - such as the requirement that affordable housing percentages - to the letter, unlike the discretionary powers they have now. About time too, as far as I'm concerned - what's the point of having this strategic joined-up Plan if the boroughs don't actually have to conform to it properly?