Tory minister skewered over property tycoon donations in toe-curling interview

This Government and its advisers appear to have no sense of shame – Owl

Lizzy Buchan www.mirror.co.uk

Tory minister Robert Jenrick has admitted he has “no idea” how much money property developers have donated to the Conservatives in the past year in a toe-curling interview.

The Housing Secretary was challenged on the number of donations to the party from property tycoons since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, amid claims from Labour that his new planning overhaul was a “developer’s charter”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Well I’ve no idea because ministers are not involved in those issues, that is entirely for the Conservative Party.”

Presenter Nick Robinson said £11m had been donated since Mr Johnson entered No10 and asked how the public could trust the Tories when they were receiving so much cash from developers.

Mr Jenrick hit back, saying: “You’re entirely mischaracterising what we’re doing here. We’re actually asking developers to pay more.”

He said the Government are “saying we’re going to abolish the current system which favours the big developers”.

In an awkward exchange, the senior Tory also admitted he regrets sitting next to developer Richard Desmond at a Tory fundraising dinner and sending him text messages afterwards.

Mr Jenrick came under sustained criticism when it emerged that he had met Mr Desmond at an event in November, where he was shown a video of the 1,500-home development at the former Westferry printworks in east London.

The Government later published documents relating to the development, which revealed that Mr Jenrick rushed through a decision on the project to prevent Mr Desmond’s company from paying an estimated £40million in tax to the local council.

Just 12 days after the decision was made, Mr Desmond personally donated £12,000 to the Conservative Party.

Mr Jenrick was later forced to overturn his own decision due to “apparent bias”.

Asked why people should trust him over the Government’s new planning proposals, Mr Jenrick said: “Well I don’t think this does give more power to developers, it creates a much more certain system. It will, for example, fix the challenge of developer contributions once and for all.”

Pushed to explain what he learned from the experience of the Westferry development, Mr Jenrick added: “I’ve set out the events around that decision and there are definitely lessons to be learnt.

“I wish I hadn’t been sat next to a developer at an event and I regret sharing text messages with him afterwards.

“But I don’t regret the decision, because I think it was right to get housing built on a brownfield site on a part of London that desperately needs it.

“The system that I’ve helped to design that is set out in the proposals we’re publishing today will actually move us forward significantly on some of the challenges that that case rose.”

Downing Street has said the matter is “closed”.

Planning for the Future – Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government – Consultation

The Government has just launched the consultation phase of its paper “Planning for the Future”. Consultation is open for 12 weeks closing on 29 October. 

The consultation takes the form of responding to a series of questions. This might, at first sight, appear restrictive but Owl has taken the trouble of copying all the questions to show that they permit ample scope for individuals and organisations to express their views and provide supporting evidence.

Owl would also encourage individuals to lobby their MPs as well.

Find the documentation here.

Topic of this consultation:

This consultation seeks any views on each part of a package of proposals for reform of the planning system in England to streamline and modernise the planning process, improve outcomes on design and sustainability, reform developer contributions and ensure more land is available for development where it is needed. 

Scope of this consultation: 

This consultation covers a package of proposals for reform of the planning system in England, covering plan-making, development management, development contributions, and other related policy proposals. Views are sought for specific proposals and the wider package of reforms presented. 

This consultation is open to everyone. We are keen to hear from a wide range of interested parties from across the public and private sectors, as well as from the general public.

Body/bodies responsible for the consultation:

Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government

Duration:

This consultation will last for 12 weeks from 6 August 2020. Enquiries: 

For any enquiries about the consultation please contact planningforthefuture@communities.gov.uk.

How to respond:

You may respond by going to our website 

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/planning-for-thefuture

Alternatively you can email your response to the questions in this consultation to planningforthefuture@communities.gov.uk.

If you are responding in writing, please make it clear which questions you are responding to. 

Written responses should be sent to: 5 Planning for the Future Consultation, Planning Directorate, 3rd Floor, Fry Building, 2 Marsham Street, London, SW1P 4DF

When you reply it would be very useful if you confirm whether you are replying as an individual or submitting an official response on behalf of an organisation and include: 

– your name, 

– your position (if applicable),

 and – the name of organisation (if applicable)

 

Questions 

  1. What three words do you associate most with the planning system in England? 

 

  1. Do you get involved with planning decisions in your local area? [Yes / No] 

 

     2(a). If no, why not? [Don’t know how to / It takes too long / It’s too complicated / I don’t care / Other – please specify]

 

  1. Our proposals will make it much easier to access plans and contribute your views to planning decisions. How would you like to find out about plans and planning proposals in the future? [Social media / Online news / Newspaper / By post / Other – please specify]

 

  1. What are your top three priorities for planning in your local area? [Building homes for young people / building homes for the homeless / Protection of green spaces / The environment, biodiversity and action on climate change / Increasing the affordability of housing / The design of new homes and places / Supporting the high street / Supporting the local economy / More or better local infrastructure / Protection of existing heritage buildings or areas / Other – please specify]

 

  1. Do you agree that Local Plans should be simplified in line with our proposals? [Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

 

  1. Do you agree with our proposals for streamlining the development management content of Local Plans, and setting out general development management policies nationally? [Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

 

7(a). Do you agree with our proposals to replace existing legal and policy tests for Local Plans with a consolidated test of “sustainable development”, which would include consideration of environmental impact? [Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.] 

 

7(b). How could strategic, cross-boundary issues be best planned for in the absence of a formal Duty to Cooperate?

 

8(a). Do you agree that a standard method for establishing housing requirements (that takes into account constraints) should be introduced? [Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.] 

8(b). Do you agree that affordability and the extent of existing urban areas are appropriate indicators of the quantity of development to be accommodated? [Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

 

9(a). Do you agree that there should be automatic outline permission for areas for substantial development (Growth areas) with faster routes for detailed consent? [Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.] 

 

9(b). Do you agree with our proposals above for the consent arrangements for Renewal and Protected areas? [Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.] 

 

9(c). Do you think there is a case for allowing new settlements to be brought forward under the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects regime? [Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

 

  1. Do you agree with our proposals to make decision-making faster and more certain? 33 [Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

 

  1. Do you agree with our proposals for accessible, web-based Local Plans? [Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

 

  1. Do you agree with our proposals for a 30 month statutory timescale for the production of Local Plans? [Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

 

13(a). Do you agree that Neighbourhood Plans should be retained in the reformed planning system? [Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.] 

 

13(b). How can the neighbourhood planning process be developed to meet our objectives, such as in the use of digital tools and reflecting community preferences about design?

 

  1. Do you agree there should be a stronger emphasis on the build out of developments? And if so, what further measures would you support? [Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

 

  1. What do you think about the design of new development that has happened recently in your area? [Not sure or indifferent / Beautiful and/or well-designed / Ugly and/or poorly-designed / There hasn’t been any / Other – please specify]

 

  1. Sustainability is at the heart of our proposals. What is your priority for sustainability in your area? [Less reliance on cars / More green and open spaces / Energy efficiency of new buildings / More trees / Other – please specify]

 

  1. Do you agree with our proposals for improving the production and use of design guides and codes? [Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

 

  1. Do you agree that we should establish a new body to support design coding and building better places, and that each authority should have a chief officer for design and place-making? [Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

 

  1. Do you agree with our proposal to consider how design might be given greater emphasis in the strategic objectives for Homes England? [Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

 

  1. Do you agree with our proposals for implementing a fast-track for beauty? [Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

 

21 – appears to be missing [maybe these whizz kids can’t count – Owl]

 

  1. When new development happens in your area, what is your priority for what comes with it? [More affordable housing / More or better infrastructure (such as transport, schools, health provision) / Design of new buildings / More shops and/or employment space / Green space / Don’t know / Other – please specify]

 

23(a). Should the Government replace the Community Infrastructure Levy and Section 106 planning obligations with a new consolidated Infrastructure Levy, which is charged as a fixed proportion of development value above a set threshold? [Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.] 

 

23(b). Should the Infrastructure Levy rates be set nationally at a single rate, set nationally at an area-specific rate, or set locally? [Nationally at a single rate / Nationally at an area-specific rate / Locally] 

 

23(c). Should the Infrastructure Levy aim to capture the same amount of value overall, or more value, to support greater investment in infrastructure, affordable housing and local communities? [Same amount overall / More value / Less value / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.] 

 

23(d). Should we allow local authorities to borrow against the Infrastructure Levy, to support infrastructure delivery in their area? [Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

 

  1. Do you agree that the scope of the reformed Infrastructure Levy should capture changes of use through permitted development rights? [Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

 

25(a). Do you agree that we should aim to secure at least the same amount of affordable housing under the Infrastructure Levy, and as much on-site affordable provision, as at present? [Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

 

25(b). Should affordable housing be secured as in-kind payment towards the Infrastructure Levy, or as a ‘right to purchase’ at discounted rates for local authorities? [Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.] 

 

25(c). If an in-kind delivery approach is taken, should we mitigate against local authority overpayment risk? [Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.] 

 

25(d). If an in-kind delivery approach is taken, are there additional steps that would need to be taken to support affordable housing quality? [Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

 

  1. Should local authorities have fewer restrictions over how they spend the Infrastructure Levy? [Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.] 

 

26(a). If yes, should an affordable housing ‘ring-fence’ be developed? [Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

 

  1. Do you have any views on the potential impact of the proposals raised in this consultation on people with protected characteristics as defined in section 149 of the Equality Act 2010? 

The Secret Diary of a track and tracer “I have seldom felt so desperate”

After people working for England’s test-and-trace system told the Guardian they were making a handful of calls a month, John Crace imagines the secret diary of a contact tracer

29th May: An email arrives. “Dear Sir, I am delighted to offer you a job as one of the UK’s ‘world-beating’ test and tracers. It will be tough, skilled work, involving dozens of phone calls each day, and your training will begin tomorrow. Thank you again for your dedication. Together we can beat the coronavirus and bring the country back to normal by Christmas. Yours, Boris Johnson and Baroness Dido Harding.”

7th June: Another email arrives. “Congratulations on completing your training.” I reply that I have yet to receive any training. Hear nothing back.

9th June: I email the head of training at Serco to remind her of my existence and to say that I am still awaiting instructions. This time she replies promptly to say that the training was targeted to help workers get used to long periods of doing nothing and that I need to be focused a great deal more on being patient. The less we do, the more effective we are being.

23rd June: I have yet to make a single test-and-trace call, despite having sat at home with my phone at the ready and the TV switched off for the past 14 days. I ring my local Serco HQ to check that they actually have the right number for me. They do so, and confirm that I am in the weekly draw for the most productive member of staff over the course of the last week.

1st July: Sod’s law. Have just invited some friends over for a barbecue, when I get an alert from the test-and-trace centre to call someone. Go indoors to prepare to give the bad news they will have to self-isolate for 14 days only to find it is a non-existent number.

4th July: I’m now on a roll. I get a second alert and call the number, which goes straight to voicemail. I don’t let this go as I don’t want to be responsible for a super-spreader slipping through the net. Eventually a man picks up and starts yelling at me. I am the 12th person to have contacted him over the past few days and would I please stop interrupting his quarantine?

10th July: The call centre emails to ask me what my favourite flower is. I give this a few minutes’ thought and reply. “On balance, I think I like bluebells the best. Why do you want to know?” An hour or so later I get an out-of-office reply saying “To be honest, we don’t give a shit one way or another what your favourite flower is. It was just a way of finding out how many of you were still monitoring your phones.”

18th July: I have seldom felt so desperate. I submit my own number to the test-and-trace database just so that someone will ring me to tell me to self-isolate. Even then no one calls. I ring the Serco human resources department. After half an hour the line goes to voicemail. “If you are a test and tracer who feels their life might be entirely futile, please try calling the self-help group Test and Trace Anonymous.”

19th July: “My name’s Simon and I’m a test and tracer,” I say. “Join the club,” says a woman. “Try not to worry too much. There are thousands of us who feel the same. Some people have been doing this for months without talking to anyone. Why don’t you sign up for one of our daily quizzes?” Finally I feel like I am getting somewhere.

21st July: Totally psyched for the quiz. “Question 1: Name the woman on the Jockey Club board who was responsible for giving this year’s Cheltenham festival the go-ahead, thereby risking the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.” Easy. Dido Harding. “Question 2: Name the former chief executive of TalkTalk whose utter ignorance of the company was famously described as a lesson to all.” That would be Dido again. I’m beginning to think there may be a theme here.

24th July: Am given a number to ring by one of the other test and tracers. Big mistake. I get through to a Liam Fox who thinks I am from the World Trade Organization. “I’m sorry about all my hacked emails on the US-UK trade talks,” he says. “But am I still in line to be director of the WTO?” I suggest that’s unlikely. But on the upside I tell him he doesn’t have to self-isolate for 14 days. He starts blubbing and I put the phone down gently.

26th July: I finally get to make a call that isn’t a fake number, doesn’t go to voicemail and hasn’t been rung countless times before. As a result, I am given a €50 voucher to spend anywhere in Spain over the course of the next month.

27th July: All non-essential travel to Spain is stopped and a 14-day quarantine imposed on travellers returning from the country. Try to flog my voucher to friends stuck in Spain for €20. Get told to bugger off.

1st August: Receive a message from Boris Johnson saying all those working from home should now be working in the office. Worried, I ring the No 10 switchboard to let them know I don’t have an office. A bored receptionist says not to worry as Boris is working from his country house for the rest of the summer.

England’s planning reforms will create ‘generation of slums’ – White Paper out for consultation today 

The biggest shake-up of planning for decades has caused fury that moves to fast-track the construction of “beautiful” homes across England will “dilute” democratic oversight, choke off affordable housing and lead to the creation of “slum” dwellings.

Oliver Wainwright www.theguardian.com 

Under the proposals, unveiled on Thursday, planning applications based on pre-approved “design codes” would get an automatic green light – eliminating a whole stage of local oversight within designated zones.

Land across England would be divided into three categories – for growth, renewal or protection – under what Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, described as “once in a generation” reforms to sweep away an outdated planning system and boost building.

New homes, hospitals, schools, shops and offices would be allowed automatically in “growth” areas. In “renewal” zones, largely urban and brownfield sites, proposals would be given “permission in principle” subject to basic checks. Green belt and areas of outstanding natural beauty would be protected.

While the proposed changes are likely to appeal to developers, they prompted stinging criticism from housing charities, planning officers and architects who warned of a new generation of fast and substandard housing.

The Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) condemned them as disruptive and rushed, saying 90% of planning applications are currently approved but there are up to 1m unbuilt permissions. Labour called it “a developers’ charter” that will “set fire to important safeguards”.

The long-awaited government white paper touts a new streamlined process designed to reduce red tape and harness technology to deliver homes more rapidly, ministers said. Government sources insisted there would be no dilution in building standards.

Changes out for consultation under the white paper also include:

  • Requiring local housing plans to be developed and agreed in 30 months, down from the current seven years.
  • Extending the current exemption of small sites from having to make “section 106” payments – the means by which developers are forced to provide affordable housing.
  • Ensuring that all new homes are carbon-neutral by 2050.

At the weekend, Jenrick said the new regime drew inspiration from “design codes and pattern books” used in the construction of Bath, Belgravia and Bournville.

But the prospect of a modern-day application and use of such codes to give developers “permission in principle” in zones categorised as being for growth was greeted with alarm in some quarters.

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) described the proposals as “shameful” and said they would do “almost nothing to guarantee the delivery of affordable, well-designed and sustainable homes”. “While they might help to ‘get Britain building’ – paired with the extension of permitted development rights last week – there’s every chance they could also lead to the development of the next generation of slum housing,” said RIBA president Alan Jones.

Proposals to extend the current exemption of small sites from having to make section 106 payments were slated as a way of helping smaller developers bounce back from the economic impact of the pandemic.

But Shelter said social housing “could face extinction” if the requirement for developers to build their fair share was removed. “Section 106 agreements between developers and councils are tragically one of the only ways we get social homes built these days, due to a lack of direct government investment,” said its chief executive, Polly Neate.

“So, it makes no sense to remove this route to genuinely affordable homes without a guaranteed alternative.”

The proposals contain scant detail on any alternative way to boost the number of affordable homes, promising only that they will not decrease.

The white paper proposes a consultation on developers making in-kind payments of affordable homes toward the levy or allowing local authorities to buy a proportion of affordable housing at a discounted rate.

Hugh Ellis, director of policy at TCPA, criticised the reforms overall, saying: “This kind of disruptive reform doesn’t suit anybody, neither landowners nor developers. They’re turning the system on its head at a time when it’s working very well for the volume house builders – 90% of planning applications are approved and there are about a million unbuilt permissions.”

He added: “It’s about local democracy. When local people are walking down the street and come across a new development they didn’t know about, the answer will now be: ‘You should have been involved in the consultation eight years ago when the code was agreed.’

“It’s diluting the democratic process. At the moment, people get two chances to be involved: once when the plan is made, and once when a planning application is submitted. Now they’ll only have a chance when the code is being prepared.”

Zack Simons, a planning barrister at Landmark chambers, said there was a lot to welcome in a move towards digitising the planning system but added that “literally nothing” trailed in Jenrick’s public statements could not already be achieved under the current planning system.

“Promises of “radical reform” can grab headlines. But remember that of more than 400,000 planning applications which are determined every year, over 80% are granted permission and under 0.5% are appealed to the Planning Inspectorate.”

A government source said it was misleading to suggest planning rules were not an obstacle to building. “The [90%] approval statistic masks the numbers of people who are put off applying altogether because of how bureaucratic and difficult this is,” the source said.

However, little has been announced on what measures, if any, will be taken against developers who do not use the permission they have been granted.

The white paper takes aim at the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act, which has acted as the basis for planning since it was passed by the Labour government of Clement Attlee.

A “complex” planning system has acted as a barrier to building the homes people need, said Jenrick. “We will cut red tape, but not standards, placing a higher regard on quality, design and the environment than ever before,” he said. “Planning decisions will be simple and transparent, with local democracy at the heart of the process. As we face the economic effects of the pandemic, now is the time for decisive action and a clear plan for jobs and growth.”

The Conservatives will hope the overhaul will be favoured not only by investors and developers, but also by the younger voters currently outside its reach.

The Tory manifesto commits the government to 300,000 new homes built every year and, before coronavirus hit, senior Tories saw housing as the key mission of the government as a way of targeting a primary concern of many under-40s and city-dwelling voters shut out of the housing market – those most likely to vote Labour.

“We are seeing a huge generation divide on housing,” one Tory source said. “The under-40s may have half as much chance of owning a home. That is being directly addressed by the first homes programme but the broader point is this planning system has held back homes being built on land that is ready to be built on.

“And we know the main concerns which local people may have are about good design, environmentally friendly, buildings that fit into the architectural landscape, ones people are proud to own. We are not cutting any building standards.”

Beaver families win legal ‘right to remain’

Fifteen families of beavers have been given the permanent “right to remain” on the River Otter in East Devon.

Obviously Owl is delighted –  see original bbc article for images and a couple of videos produced by Devon Wildlife Trust

By Claire Marshall Environment & Rural Affairs Correspondent www.bbc.co.uk 

The decision was made by the government following a five-year study by the Devon Wildlife Trust into beavers’ impact on the local environment.

The Trust called it “the most ground-breaking government decision for England’s wildlife for a generation”.

It’s the first time an extinct native mammal has been given government backing to be reintroduced in England.

Environment minister Rebecca Pow said that in the future they could be considered a “public good” and farmers and landowners would pay to have them on their land.

Beavers have the power to change entire landscapes. They feel safer in deep water, so have become master makers of dams and pools.

They build complex homes – known as lodges or burrows – with underwater entrances.

The River Otter beaver trial showed that the animals’ skill replenished and enhanced the ecology of the river catchment in East Devon.

They increased the “fish biomass”, and improved the water quality. This meant more food for otters – beavers are herbivores – and clearer and cleaner water in which kingfishers could flourish.

Their dams worked as natural flood-defences, helping to reduce the risk of homes flooding downstream.

The evidence gathered by researchers during the trial helped the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to make what it called its “pioneering” decision to give the beavers the right to live, roam, and reproduce on the river.

Beavers were hunted to extinction 400 years ago for their meat, furry water-resistant pelts, and a substance they secrete called castoreum, used in food, medicine and perfume.

In 2013 video evidence emerged of a beaver with young on the River Otter, near Ottery St Mary. It was the conclusive proof of the first wild breeding beaver population in England.

It was a mystery how they came to be there. Some suspect that the creatures were illegally released by wildlife activists who, on social media, are called “beaver bombers”.

The beavers faced being removed. However, the Devon Wildlife Trust, working with the University of Exeter, Clinton Devon Estates, and the Derek Gow Consultancy, won a five-year licence to study it.

Now there are at least 50 adults and kits on the river – and they are there to stay.

Peter Burgess, director of conservation at DWT, said: “This is the most ground-breaking government decision for England’s wildlife for a generation. Beavers are nature’s engineers and have the unrivalled ability to breathe new life into our rivers

Environment minister Rebecca Pow visited one of the stretches of river where the beavers are active. She said that the project, “was so important because it is informing how we think in the future.”

She described beavers as a “natural management tool”, and said that having them on land could be seen as providing a public benefit for which farmers and landowners could get paid, under the new subsidy system once the UK leaves the EU.

She said: “In our new system of environmental land management, those with land will be paid for delivering services, such as flood management and increased biodiversity.

“Using beavers in a wider catchment sense, farmers could be paid to have them on their land.”

While the future of the River Otter beavers is now secure, it’s not clear what will happen to other wild populations across England.

There is evidence that beavers are active on the River Wye, the River Tamar, and perhaps also in the Somerset levels.

Beavers were reintroduced to Scotland a decade ago, and last year they were made a protected species. However, farming leaders raised concerns about the dams flooding valuable agricultural land.

Last year, Scottish Natural Heritage granted licences to cull around a fifth of the beaver population.

Mark Owen, head of freshwater at the Angling Trust, said: “There remain serious concerns around the impact the release of beavers could have on protected migratory fish species, such as salmon and sea trout.”

He said that the trust was “saddened that the minister has decided to favour an introduced species over species already present and in desperate need of more protection”.

Those involved in the beaver trial believe that any wider reintroduction project needs careful management. Prof Richard Brazier, from the University of Exeter, said the activities of beavers help to lock up carbon, along with increasing biodiversity.

The rodents are also encouraging “wildlife tourism” with people wanting to spot them bring in welcome revenue to the local economy.

He said: “The benefits of beavers far outweigh any costs associated with their management.”

 

Aide who helped build red tape bonfire for England’s planning policy

While the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, is the public face of the move to launch a Conservative revolution of the planning process, one of its central architects is a softly spoken, bespectacled young thinktank operative who only joined the government in February.

Jack Airey was hired as a special adviser against the backdrop of Dominic Cummings’ shake-up of the Downing Street apparatus. Yet a report co-authored by him and published in January by the thinktank Policy Exchange is regarded as a precursor of the overhaul announced on Thursday.

In Rethinking the Planning System for the 21st Century, Airey sketched out plans for a bonfire of red tape and a future in which “development rules should be clear and non-negotiable”.

Throwing out the notion that specific uses should be attached to individual private land plots, he wrote, “Market conditions should instead determine how urban space is used in the development zone.”

Before that report, he had also been regarded as one of the drivers of a “building beautiful” agenda, co-authoring in 2018 a Policy Exchange paper with the late Conservative philosopher Roger Scruton.

Thursday’s white paper owes much to the recommendations of a Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission subsequently chaired by Scruton, which called for measures to “end ugliness” and a planning “fast track for beauty”.

Though coming from a thinktank known for its rightwing tilt, and as a platform for strongly pro-Brexit positions, Airey himself does not fit with the caricature some on the left might be tempted to paint. He has, for example, pushed back at the notion that immigration has been at the centre of the housing crisis and called for the building of new homes rather than “pulling up the drawbridge”.

Nevertheless, he has spoken of his surprise at feeling what he described as the “full throttle of some parts of the architectural community”, following his work with Scruton.

“I knew it existed but I was taken aback by some of the things some people have said,” he recalled in one interview with an architect’s podcast, in which he spoke of his proposals being labelled “fascistic”.

Judging by the initial reaction to the government’s white paper, his latest ideas might yet become the focus of even greater heat.

Planning reforms ‘will cost Britain decades in fighting climate change,’ warn enviromentalists

The government’s proposed reforms of the planning system will cost Britain decades in the fight against climate change and resign nature to “isolated fragments of land”, environmentalists have warned.

Jon Stone Policy Correspondent www.independent.co.uk 

Countryside charities said plans to make new homes carbon neutral by as late as 2050 – beyond what scientists say will be a tipping point for climate change – as “pitiful” and dramatically less ambitious than previous ambitions scrapped by ministers.

The government says the framework spelled out in its new planning white paper would “cut red tape” and create a “major boost” for construction firms while delivering more homes.

Under the plans, unveiled by housing secretary Robert Jenrick, land would be categorised as either suitable for development, a “renewal” area, or protected. On the first two categories, building projects could be fast-tracked without going through the current planning permission process if they meet certain standards.

Labour branded the proposals a “developers’ charter”, while the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said it was not clear how much local involvement there would be under the new system.

Despite the government’s insistence that the moves would create tree-lined streets and promote “beautiful” buildings, the Royal Institute of British Architects said there was “every chance they could also lead to the creation of the next generation of slum housing”.

The plans include a pledge to make only new homes carbon neutral by 2050, when the UK’s entire economy is already supposed to be carbon neutral, according to the government’s own Climate Change Act, which is written into law.

A previous Code for Sustainable Homes, introduced by the last government in 2006, would have imposed similar strict climate change and environmental requirements from 2016 onwards, but it was scraped by the government in 2015 before it came into full effect.

The government was recently warned that its net zero plans were “doomed to fail” unless it took serious action to tackle carbon emissions from homes, notable heating, by a commission backed by the CBI and experts at the University of Birmingham.

Tom Fyans, deputy chief executive of CPRE, said: “The government’s aim to deliver carbon neutral new homes by 2050 is pitiful and represents 34 lost years given that the Code for Sustainable Homes aimed to achieve the same thing by 2016 and was dropped by government. If this government is serious about tackling the climate emergency, it needs to be much, much more ambitious on new build.”

The government says the proposals will protect green spaces and still involve local decision-making, but Nikki Williams, director of campaigning and policy at The Wildlife Trusts, warned: “We live in one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world … Protecting isolated fragments of land is not enough to help wildlife recover nor will it put nature into people’s lives – something that is now recognised as vital for our health and wellbeing.

“It’s critical that government weaves nature into the heart of every housing development, old and new. Government proposals for ‘tree-lined streets’ are nothing like enough. Parks, green spaces and all the areas around our homes must be part of a wild network of nature-rich areas that will benefit bees and birds as much as it will enable people to connect with on your doorstep nature every single day. ​This is essential if we are to tackle the twin climate and biodiversity crises as well as provide homes that people want to live in surrounded by beautiful, buzzing green spaces.”

She added: “The government may find it inconvenient that wildlife won’t stick to its three categories and survives outside protected areas, as well as thriving on some brownfield sites that it would like to see developed.”

Construction firms welcomed the plans, however, with James Thomson, chief executive of Gleeson Homes, stating they would “go some way to supporting local [small-to-medium] housebuilders and their supply chains” and “will also help to ‘level-up’ the country through increased infrastructure investment, bringing jobs and homes to the north”.

Helen Evans, chief executive of Network Homes and chair of the G15 Group of London’s largest Housing Associations said: “The country needs many more affordable homes and the planning system makes an important contribution towards that. I strongly welcome the intention of government’s proposed reforms to increase transparency and certainty to help increase the delivery of affordable homes.”

Mr Jenrick said: “Our complex planning system has been a barrier to building the homes people need; it takes seven years to agree local housing plans and five years just to get a spade in the ground.

“These once in a generation reforms will lay the foundations for a brighter future, providing more homes for young people and creating better quality neighbourhoods and homes across the country. We will cut red tape, but not standards, placing a higher regard on quality, design and the environment than ever before. Planning decisions will be simple and transparent, with local democracy at the heart of the process.

“As we face the economic effects of the pandemic, now is the time for decisive action and a clear plan for jobs and growth. Our reforms will create thousands of jobs, lessen the dominance of big builders in the system, providing a major boost for small building companies across the country.