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Thursday, November 16, 2006
Olympic shenanigans
Money, money, money...that's what it's all about in the news.

After all the front page splashes over the rising costs of the Games, it is all about where to find the extra cash - and indeed, how much to find. The Treasury wants a huge 60% contingency to be factored in, whereas the Ken and the ODA call this "breathtakingly ridiculous" and call for a still massive 30%.

And where to get it? Well, according to Ken, he wants to effectively introduce a planning gain supplement levy on the uplift in land prices. “Land prices in the Olympics area have doubled. I will be looking at using the profits from developers on additional profits to service any cost overruns [on the Olympics].” Neale Coleman, policy director to the mayor and a member of the ODA board, said “If we had reliable receipts of what the land values would be after the Games, we could borrow against that now and the money could be used to fund extra Games costs. The two are connected because the LDA owns the land.”

However, some developers are clearly not sure that they are actually going to make much money on the sites. The ODA is renegotiating the contract to develop Stratford City after the two teams competing for the deal claimed the proposals were “unrealistic”. Apparently both consortiums bidding for the residential portion of the scheme, led by Lend Lease and Bouygues, have demanded a subsidy to ensure they can make a profit on the 4,500 homes in the scheme.

The negotiations are likely to delay the appointment of a developer, which was expected this month. It is understood that the stakeholders in Stratford City (the ODA, developer Westfield and London Continental Railways) have agreed to a subsidy but are unclear whether they, or central government, will pay. A 'source' said: “The whole deal was never going to stack up financially and it’s clearly going to have to be renegotiated. They are now having those discussions.”

It was "never going to stack up financially"? That's pretty damning. Or are the developers just protecting themselves from the cost repurcussions of the terrible partnering they are likely to suffer from a government who 'forgets' about VAT?
Going zero-carbon
I wish I had more time to do a proper post on the Stern report and reaction. Luckily a colleague at WorldChanging has done a fantastic article here. But suffice to say it has only fuelled the fire of those who are trying to push zero-carbon development. In particular, publicly funded development is going to have a lot more demanded of it in the next few years.

Ruth Kelly has already committed to developing a timescale, but the WWF is proposing that within five years residential development that is financed by the Housing Corporation, or that uses land supplied by English Partnerships, should be zero carbon.

The WWF argues further that all residential development that receives public finance should be zero carbon within 10 years. This would include the former ODPM’s growth programmes, including the Thames Gateway.

They want these goals to be achieved using the Code for Sustainable Homes. This document, which is due to be finalised by the DCLG next month, will set mandatory standards for public sector residential developments.

John Callcutt, the chief executive of English Partnerships, said he was committed to aiming for zero carbon as soon as possible. He said: “Once it comes out we will immediately start demonstration projects to show we can play a significant role.”

Some interesting stuff also came out last week about how to incentivise owners of existing buildings to upgrade their environmental performance. Building magazine is canvassing the industry to find out what their preferred incentives would be, from stamp duty rebates to tax relief or reduced business rates.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
In brief: Takeovers and other news.
Derwent Valley is buying London Merchant Securities for £1bn to create a combined £2.25bn portfolio of mainly commercial West End property.

In other takeover news, Crest Nicholson is in talks with consortium HBOS despite rejecting a £660m takeover offer from them last Friday, and Henderson has increased its bid for John Laing in the bidding war with Allianz.

GMW Architects with developer Hammerson is on the verge of being appointed to the massive redevelopment of Victoria Station in central London.

Land Secs posted a healthy rise in net asset value ahead of its confirmed conversion to a REIT in January.

The last details of Argent's s106 agreement will go to Camden committee on Thursday. The remaining objectors are expected to protest but it should, hopefully, be a formality.

A new unit has been set up by the government to provide independent advice on improving the provision of affordable homes. The National Housing and Planning Advice Unit will help provide evidence and analysis to regional planning bodies.
Queen's Speech
I feel a little sorry for the Queen, having to mouth the politicised words of 'my government'. Today's speech was dominated by security, immigration and the environment, and the Queen confirmed that the government would introduce a climate change bill “consistent with the need to secure the country’s long-term energy supply”. The Climate Change Bill commits to a 60% reduction by 2050 but there was no mention of annual targets.

Other measures:
A new Local Government Bill will overhaul the regulation and inspection of councils while devolving more powers.

Greater London Authority Bill will strengthen the mayor's powers on homes, strategic planning and climate change issues.

Planning reform proposals to be published in spring 2007.
EP/Housing Corp merger
Looks like its all systems go, despite some murmurs of discontent from the Treasury about the costs of setting up the new body. Apparently we may hear something officially on the 20th.

Likely to be called Communities England, it also appears that it will be headed up by civil servant Richard McCarthy, currently a senior director of the DCLG, and presently chairing the joint EP/corporation board that is managing the merger. It held its first meeting last week. McCarthy is also close to Baroness Ford, EP’s chairman, and is a former chief executive of the Peabody Trust and chairman of the National Housing Federation.

Communities England would take over the DCLG’s responsibilities for programmes such as stock transfer, arm’s length management organisations, housing market renewal, the Thames Gateway and neighbourhood renewal.

It will take between nine and 18 months to set up because of the need to secure parliamentary approval for winding up the corporation and EP, as they are both statutory bodies.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Olympics news
Richard Rogers kicked up a storm last week by claiming that he and Ken Livingstone are 'deeply concerned' about the procurement strategy being undertaken by the Olympic Delivery Agency. Rogers attacked the planned use of design-and-build contracts, and threatened a boycott, saying that he wouldn't compete for buildings that were going be be delivered by D&B.

Meanwhile his practice RRP is going to compete for the only remaining non DB contract - for the velodrome, which sees every ambitious and big-name architect in town joining the competition.

His brother Peter, who chaired the Strategic Forum 2012 task group, has told everyone to 'stop bashing' the Olympics. Effectively criticising Jack Lemley's comments that there was too much talking and not enough action going on, he said “I think what they are trying to do, which is think before they act, is absolutely right. We’re far too prone to coming up with good ideas and getting on with the building, before we have an understanding of what we want to do.”

The Treasury is playing it safe by refusing to guarantee it will offer full compensation to the Olympic Delivery Authority for the £500 million VAT bill that the body faces. However, there are rumours that Gordon Brown is to announce he has found a way round VAT on construction costs on Olympic projects in his pre-budget statement later this month. There are also whispers that Brown is planning to replace the Jowell-Caborn partnership on the Olympics, with Southampton MP John Denham apparently high on the list.

Meanwhile, the chief exec of Leaside Regeneration, Paul Brickell, has claimed the LDA is overstretched due to the 2012 Olympics effectively stopping redevelopment elsewhere in the capital. He pointed out that litle work has been done on the regeneration of the Poplar Riverside site in east London for nearly five years.

‘The LDA does seem to be overstretched because of its Olympics commitments, and so I would prefer to see the Unitary Development Corporation (UDC) take over.

He also criticised the LDA's approach to integrating industrial and residential uses. ‘Tower Hamlets Council wants to retain residents and create a mixed environment for families and younger people, and the UDC is more likely to deal in creating that mix. But the LDA’s plan is quite different – creating a grittier mix of industrial and residential uses, which the GLA is championing.

‘If family units are to live there then they are the least suitable set to sit alongside any industrial use for the site – a lot of people are questioning the LDA’s direction,’ he added.

The proposed mosque near the Olympic Park is attracting yet more controversy, as temporary planning permission to use portable cabins on the land as a mosque expired recently, and a petition opposing it was handed in to Newham.

And finally, the Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Greater London, Sir Christopher Benson, has been appointed the chairman of the urban regeneration company Stratford Renaissance Partnership. He was previously chair of the LDDC, CrossRail and Costain.
Monday, November 13, 2006
Battersea takes a step forward
The developer of Battersea Power Station has been given the go-ahead to develop on the adjacent site, before actually completing the renovation of the power station itself.

Wandsworth Council agreed to Parkview's plans, as well as the amendment to the Section 106 agreement, which defined how ‘complete’ renovations needed to be on the power station before work could continue elsewhere on the site. They now just have to secure the site and do a few repairs.

Leslie McDonnell, of Wandsworth Council, said: ‘Parkview now have the consents they need to get on with the job of restoring this famous building. They have told us they will be ready to start the work in earnest in the New Year – we expect them to keep to this.’
Heseltine and privatising planning
A call by Conservative Party cities taskforce chief Michael Heseltine to privatise the planning system has been slammed by planning officer representatives.

Heseltine said that he would favour the privatisation of some planning functions to speed up the system, saying that currently, public sector planning applications were often dealt with by inexperienced and overcautious staff. He said that planning consultants and surveyors could be licensed to take planning decisions, rather than planning officials.

But Planning Officers Society president Hilary Herbert said: "We do not think he should be preempting the work of Kate Barker's review. The government has also just implemented a fundamental reform of the planning framework, and this should be given time to bed down."

She added that privatising the system would remove the democratic mandate currently held by planning departments.

After the row, Heseltine appeared to backtrack, saying that he specifically meant only issues to do with listed buildings and conservation areas, not planning in general.
Pathfinder blues, Ikea news
One pathfinder is innovating: Ikea is about to enter the first planning application for its BokLok homes in Gateshead. The flatpack homes will have their UK launch at the Building Centre later this month.

But another is in the news for all the wrong reasons: because it is apparently 'ignoring' a design review panel in the area, seeing it as a thorn in the flesh.

Liverpool’s design review body has not been shown any detailed planning applications for new housing in the controversial housing market renewal area. The Liverpool Urban Design & Conservation Advisory Panel (Ludcap) has grave concerns about the quality of schemes now being built and passing through planning, which it has been denied the opportunity to comment on because it is seen as “a thorn in the flesh”. The panel’s frustration follows a row between the pathfinder and Cabe in the summer, when the design watchdog opposed compulsory purchase orders in the area. It later dropped its opposition.

A source close to the panel expressed frustration at the authorities’ reluctance to use its design expertise, and suggested it was seen as “a thorn in the flesh, an unnecessary bother.” The source criticised the quality of housing now on site in the pathfinder, which has caused massive national controversy because it involves large-scale demolition of terraced housing.

“If the planning authority, which has the power to say yes or no, can’t influence the developers, how can a body like Ludcap?” said David Birkbeck, chief executive of Design for Homes.

He added that developers were more concerned with the Building for Life criteria, used by English Partnerships and taking architectural quality as only one element, than with design review.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
WorldChanging book
Yesterday I received my contributor's copy of the eponymous book from worldchanging.com (where I write, recently on Google Sketch-up and before that on Kinsale's Energy Descent Action Plan, Ecoliteracy and more) and it is humungously exciting. Beautifully designed, packed with authoritative, pithy articles on everything from nanotechnology to urbanism to lightbulbs, it really is the definitive "User's Guide to the 21st Century" as the strapline has it.

And all priced at a very reasonable £24.95 (£16.46 on Amazon, though please support your local bookshop...) so guys, you know what to get all your friends for Christmas! Shameless plug, I know - but with a foreword by Al Gore and rave reviews from the other side of the Atlantic where it is already released, the book speaks for itself. Out officially on the 24th November.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Class divide in regeneration
Wow. Pointing out the obvious...A study by the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) reveals that middle-class people aspire to suburban living and see regeneration as an aid to that - but working class people are less convinced by such change. "The lesson for regeneration agencies is that they need to understand how people feel about them, not assume that they will be understood. This shows just how successful middle-class residents have been at imposing their tastes when it comes to the places in which we live."

Basically, it says that working-class residents don't see themselves on a housing ladder and don't see any way of moving 'up in the world', so don't value regeneration for bringing an uplift in property values. They were most affected by lack of jobs and services and thought that public agencies generally did 'nothing' for them, while the middle-classes saw themselves as 'here for now' and didn't mind a bit of scruffiness if they were near to restaurants and bars. They saw themselves as eventually moving on, whereas the working-classes wanted to but thought they would never be able to.

Some were offended by the report, though I think this is a misreading. Pauline Davis, managing director of Liverpool's New Heartlands pathfinder programme which is where the research took place, said: "The suggestion that people living within the pathfinder area are incapable of long-term vision, strategy and planning is patronising, offensive and plain wrong."
In brief...
In case you haven't heard:

I forgot to mention in yesterday's Gateway round-up the pretty hilarious news that part of the DCLG's strategy is to rebrand it as Thames Estuary Parklands in order to attract investors and residents.

That's as well as the 'oops' from the Olympics team as it was revealed that they had forgotten to add VAT to their budget estimates. You might think that at that level, mistakes like that wouldn't happen?

Residents of Croydon are bracing themselves for the big man after Will Alsop won a competition to carry out a 'visioning exercise' for the town centre.

Unconnectedly, plans for the controversial Gateway site in Croydon are apprently pushing ahead with a new planning application from Stanhope imminent.

Clever old Davis Langdon have announced they are going to offset all their carbon emissions and also start a carbon consultancy service for clients.

CABE has rapped the wrists of Dev Secs and Sheppard Robson for not being green enough on their £150m Oriental City scheme. It said: “We note that the retail units beneath the housing will generate excess heat that should be harnessed for the residential and school development. At a time of pressing energy concerns, we would view it as appalling if this were not the case and recommend that the local planning authority consider this as a condition.”

CABE also accused them of discriminating against the affordable housing in the scheme, saying “It would be unacceptable for the layout of affordable housing to be evident or for different levels of landscape design and maintenance to be visible in the garden deck. The establishment of a sub-community with a sub-standard garden courtyard must not be tolerated by the LPA.”
Anyone see a Barker review coming?
Talk about planning reform is hotting up ahead of the Barker review publication.

Tony Blair has pledged to introduce a new planning bill, pre-empting the Barker report. This is despite Barker hinting in her interim report that she didn't think there should be another major shake-up of the planning system.

The government is also considering establishing an independent commission to examine major infrastructure projects including nuclear power stations, transport schemes and possibly large housing schemes.

This comes as the proposals in last week's White Paper, to remove major planning decisions from council committees to a nominated individual, received a mixed response, with the LGIU worrying that it will lead to corruption. The proposal suggests a single elected mayor or council leader could take all decisions on strategically important applications.

Meanwhile, a committee of MPs have reported on the planning gain supplement idea and said that it needs a lot more work to ensure its success, and that the government should consider a better section 106 system in tandem with the new proposals. There has been trading of comment between the parties on the fact that PGS will go to the Treasury and not local councils.

Locally controlled spending is at the heart of the Tory response, with Cameron publishing a sustainable communities bill on Friday, which proposes giving local authorities the power to decide how millions of pounds are spent. The bill has been drafted in conjunction with Local Works, a cross-party campaign for stronger local democracy. It would allow local authorities, after consulting members of the community, to work out their own alternative local spending plan and to allocate that public spending in their area in a different way.
Monday, November 06, 2006
Thames Gateway news...
No phasing in Barking, barks Ken at Bellway Homes. A report presented to the mayor's latest planning meeting said Bellway and EP, its JV partner, had proposed a cap of 4,000 units on its Barking Riverside scheme until funding has been secured for a £295m extension of the Docklands Light Railway through the site. The joint venture envisages 10,800 homes spread across the 179ha brownfield site. But basically Ken wants no phasing to force the government to commit funding for the DLR.

Meanwhile the DLR link to Stratford International got planning approval, which will come as a relief. It will mean there is an alternative to walking 400m with your wheely suitcase between the Eurostar and the Tube station, although you will have to endure more escalators/crowded DLR carriage/etc in the process. Proposals for an airport-style travelator are still being contested by the government (pro) and LCR (anti).

Moving further out, a couple of EP projects around Basildon have hit the buffers, due to concerted local opposition and problems securing infrastructure funding. My crystal ball says that these issues will continue to dog every outer Thames Gateway scheme. They were due to create 2,000 homes and 6,000 jobs and the council leader Malcolm Buckley said EP should have sorted out the road improvements. "The Government wants us to grow but won't provide the necessary funding."

This comes as government procurement watchdog the Office of Government Commerce - which has the power to make recommendations to ministers - confirmed it has started a review of the effectiveness of public spending in the Gateway.

And surprise of the week, the The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management says that the government should relocate communities away from areas of flood risk, including the Thames Gateway, and go for managed realignment of coastal areas. It said: "...the wisdom in re-locating people here is debatable since in the Thames Gateway alone over 36,000 homes are proposed for areas at risk from tidal flooding."
X-listing eyesores?
Over the weekend, I'm sure a lot of you read or heard about an idea from La Cameron's fave think-tank (the Policy Exchange) to x-list building s that 'the people' find ugly and demolish them. As almost everything the PE suggest seems to get made into Tory policy about a month later, this is one to spend a minute untangling.

From the Observer:
"The X-list manifesto, part of a collection of essays on a new 'green' approach to cities, admits that simply being ugly won't be enough to condemn a building to the wrecking ball. Candidates for destruction will also have to be uninhabited or unused, have 'a distressing and anti-social impact' and blight the local economy.

"Under the Policy Exchange plan, local residents would nominate urban architecture for X-listing. There would then be a three-month period for debate, a selection of a long list by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, and a final selection by an 'X-list jury' including architects, urban planners and developers. The aim, O'Shaughnessy says, is not just to watch buildings go boom, but to address 'political alienation' and urban blight by giving residents a greater sense of ownership over their surroundings. 'X-listing puts people first,' his essay argues, 'by giving them a direct say in shaping their environments.'"

Wow. First, CABE will think all the buildings that are nominated are modernist masterpieces, against the will of the unwashed masses who think Gropius is something perverts do in the park. Secondly - addressing political alienation by allowing people to topple buildings? Bread and circuses, anyone?

The whole thing should, of course, feature televised live gladiatorial battles between 'traditionalists' and 'modernists' over whether New Zealand House is nice or 'distressing'. Or, of course, it could be the conduit for interesting local debate over the value of the built environment, conflicting readings of urban space, and the promotion of a shared understanding of local identity accompanied by fairy cakes and tea. Feeling cynical today, would rather see the former.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Lemley spills the beans
Ooh, how embarrassing. After resigning a couple of weeks ago as the chair of the ODA, when everyone said nice platitudinous things about him, Jack Lemley has exposed the real reasons for his departure to his local paper, the Idaho Statesman.

He claimed that politics was threatening to bring the project in late and over-budget. He said there had been a “huge amount of local politics” involved in moving the 300 businesses from the 700-acre Olympic site in East London. He said that the issue was the “kind of thing that confuses and frustrates the process.”

Lemley said that he resigned because he did not want to have his reputation of delivering projects on time ruined. He said: “I felt it better to come home now than face that in five or six years. I went there to build things, not to sit and talk about it, so I felt it best to leave the post and come home.”

Lemley also criticised the current debate over whether the main Olympic arena should be converted into a football stadium after the games declaring that: “A football field was not compatible with an athletic stadium”. Watch out, West Ham.