Local Planning. Civic Voice on: “What’s proposed? The key things you need to know”

 Civic Voice on: “What’s proposed? The key things you need to know”

Owl is posting this in the hope that it might help individuals and groups such as local amenity societies frame a response, however brief, to the two consultations:

Consultation on changes to the current system (including the housing affordability uplift algorithm) – closing 1 October, and:

Consultation on the White Paper “Planning for the Future” – closing 29 October

  1. A new role for Local Plans 

There is a focus on Local Plans in the new system, but plans will have a new simplified role in identifying land for development and protection and setting clear parameters about what development can take place in those areas. Plans will be required to identify three types of land only:

  • Growth areas will be suitable for ‘substantial development’ and will receive automatic outline planning permission on adoption of the Local Plan. This could include new settlements, urban extensions, urban regeneration sites.

 

  • Renewal areas will be suitable for ‘development’ and there will be a statutory presumption in favour of development for the uses specified in the plan. This would cover existing built up areas and rural areas that are not allocated as Growth or Protected areas, where smaller scale development is appropriate. 

 

  • Protected areas will be sites and areas that due to their environmental/cultural characteristics justify more stringent development controls e.g. Green Belt, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), Conservation Areas, Local Wildlife Sites, areas of significant flood risk and important areas of green space. 

Plans are to be stripped back to essential elements consisting of a web-based interactive map, key and accompanying text which specifies suitable development uses and parameters e.g. height, scale, density limits. Design codes and guides should be produced alongside the Local Plan to guide the form and appearance of development. 

The existing ‘tests of soundness’ for Local Plans will be scrapped and replaced with a single ‘sustainability test’.

  1. Streamlined and faster development management process

For proposals that accord with the Local Plan, there will be a streamlined route to gaining planning permission. Essentially, the principle of development will have been agreed on adoption of the Local Plan with only specific outstanding matters to be considered later. Different routes are proposed for the three land allocations: 

  • Growth areas will receive automatic outline planning permission through the Local Plan. Detailed planning permission could be secured by a reformed Reserved Matters application, a Local Development Order, or, for very large sites e.g. a new town, a Development Consent Order under the Nationally Significant Infrastructure regime.

 

  • Renewal areas Planning permission would be secured through a new permission route which gives automatic consent if the scheme meets design/prior approval requirements (the ‘fast track to beauty’ proposes expanding permitted development rights to do this), a faster planning application process or a Local or Neighbourhood Development Order.

 

  • Protected areas A standard planning application would be required in these areas. 

For proposals that are different to the adopted plan, a specific planning application would be required, although this is expected to be the exception rather than the rule. 

To incentivise local planning authorities to determine planning applications within the statutory time limits (8 or 13 weeks) the paper proposes automatically refunding the planning fee or, for some types of applications, automatically granting permission if there has not been a timely determination.

The paper also hints at a reduced role for planning committees in the determination of planning applications with ‘the delegation of detailed planning decisions to planning officers where the principle of development has been established, as detailed matters for consideration should be principally a matter for professional planning judgment.’ (Para. 2.39) Where applications are refused, applicants would be entitled to an automatic rebate of their planning application fee if they are successful at appeal, ‘to promote proper consideration of applications by planning committees’ (Para. 2.41).

  1. Top-down housing figures

A new standard method for calculating housing figures for each Local Authority is proposed which would ensure enough land is released where affordability is worst but also factoring in land constraints e.g. Green Belt, flood risk etc. The new method would distribute the national 3 housebuilding target of 300,000 new homes annually and housing figures would be binding on Local Authorities removing any lengthy debates over the numbers at Local Plan examinations.

Given the proposed new Government set housing figures, the current ‘Duty to Co-operate’ test for local authorities would be abolished. 

An interim measure for amending the current method of calculating housing figures, for plans currently being prepared, is set out in the Government’s separate consultation, Changes to the current planning system. Lichfields have calculated the numbers for each Local Authority which is available here: https://lichfields.uk/grow-renew-protect-planning-for-the-future/how-many-homesthe-new-standard-method/ but it is important to note that this interim method is not exactly what is proposed in the White Paper as it does not yet factor in land constraints.

  1. Greater use of digital technology 

The paper proposes ‘greater digitalisation of the planning application process to make it easier for applicants, especially those proposing smaller developments, to have certainty when they apply’ (Para. 2.39). It proposes integrating the validation of planning applications when they are submitted; having ‘data-rich’ planning registers so that information can be easily found; automating routine processes such as screening proposals against design guides and codes and requiring shorter and more standardised applications that are machine readable. For major development, besides the drawings and plans, a planning statement of no more than 50 pages will be required. Digital templates for planning notices, a greater standardisation of supporting technical information, and standard national conditions to cover common issues are also proposed.

For Local Plans, they will be interactive, fully digitised and map based rather than document based, designed with the end user in mind and accessible on different devices. The idea being that they are more visual, easily accessible and understandable, encouraging wider public engagement. It is envisaged that ‘new digital civic engagement process will be enabled, making it easier for people to understand what is being proposed where and how it will affect them’ (Para 2.45). The White Paper considers the use of digital civic engagement tools could be transformational in terms of increased community engagement with plans.

To support Local Authorities, a guide to the new system and a ‘model template’ for Local Plans will be published to support standardisation of plans across the country. A series of pilots are also proposed with Local Authorities working with tech companies (referred to as the ‘PropTech’ sector) to develop innovative ways to engage with their local communities. 

  1. Streamlined Local Plan process

Local authorities will have 30 months to produce a new style stripped back local plan, with those that fail to do so ‘at risk of government intervention’. The shortened process will have five stages with ‘meaningful public engagement’ proposed at two stages (highlighted below in bold). However, the first time the local community will see any proposed plan is when it is submitted for examination:

  • Stage 1 [6 months] – Call for sites/areas under the three categories with ‘best in class’ public engagement.

 

  • Stage 2 [12 months] – Local authority prepares its Local Plan. 

 

  • Stage 3 [6 weeks] – Local authority submits the plan for examination and publicises the plan for consultation with ‘best in class’ engagement. Responses will have a word limit and those seeking changes must explain how the plan should be changed and why.

 

  • Stage 4 [9 months] – Planning inspector examines the plan against the sustainable development test and makes binding changes where necessary. All those that submitted comments on the plan would have a ‘right to be heard’.

 

  • Stage 5 [6 weeks] – Local plan map, key and text are finalised and adopted. Alongside the new statutory timescale, there will be a requirement to review the Local Plan at least every five years. 
  1. High quality design and a ‘fast track for beauty’ 

A National Model Design Code and revised Manual for Streets are due to be published later this year. These will build on the current National Design Guide, turning the broad principles of successful places into more specific standards.

To make design expectations more visual and predictable, there will be an expectation for local design guides and codes to be produced, with community involvement, to reflect local characteristics and ‘what is provably popular locally’ (Para. 3.7). These could be produced by Local Authorities alongside their Local Plans, neighbourhood plan groups or applicants bringing forward large developments. Only guides and codes that have involved the local community will have weight in the planning process. Where local guides and codes have not been produced, national guidance will be the default to guide decisions.

A ‘fast-track for beauty’ is proposed to ensure that development which accords with local design guides and codes has greater certainty of swift approval through the planning process. In growth areas, this will mean that a masterplan and site-specific design code will be required. In renewal areas, the paper proposes widening and changing the nature of permitted development so that it gives approval for ‘popular and replicable designs’ reviving the tradition of ‘pattern books’ (Para. 3.19). The focus of the new PD rights appears to be on redeveloping existing residential buildings to support ‘gentle intensification’ of towns and cities and a pilot programme is planned to test the concept.

A new expert body is proposed to help support Local Authorities as well as performing a wider monitoring and challenging role for the sector in building better places. A chief officer for design and placemaking should be appointed within each Local Authority, although there is no detail as to how this will be funded. 

  1. Section 106 and CIL to be replaced by a national ‘Infrastructure Levy’

The existing system of developer contributions is to end. Section 106 agreements and the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) will be replaced with a nationally-set ‘Infrastructure Levy’ charged on the final development value. The levy will be paid at the point of occupation, leaving councils to pay for and deliver any infrastructure needed up front. Councils will be allowed to borrow against future levy receipts to fund this.

It also proposed to extend the Infrastructure Levy to capture some permitted development rights e.g. office to residential conversions and demolition and rebuild rights, and to also deliver affordable housing, which is currently secured through Section 106 agreements.

  1. Conserving and enhancing the historic environment

The White Paper acknowledges that the statutory protections of listed building consent and conservation area status have worked well. Despite this, it proposes to ‘review and update the planning framework for listed buildings and conservation areas to ensure their significance is conserved while allowing, where appropriate, sympathetic changes to support their continued use and address climate change’. Little detail on the new framework is provided but the focus appears to be on making it quicker and easier to adapt historic buildings for new uses and ensure they have the right energy efficiency measures to support the Government’s zero carbon objectives. The Government will explore whether there are ‘new and better ways of securing consent for routine works’ with the potential for ‘suitably experienced architectural specialists to have earned autonomy’ from routine consents. 

No 10 and the secretly funded lobby groups intent on undermining democracy 

To accumulate power, a government with authoritarian tendencies must first destroy power. It must reduce rival centres of power – the judiciary, the civil service, academia, broadcasters, local government, civil society – to satellites of its own authority, controlled from the centre, deprived of independent action. But it must do this while claiming to act in the people’s name.

George Monbiot www.theguardian.com

So it needs an apparatus of justification: arguments that can be fed through a sympathetic press and manufactured into outrage against its rivals. This is where the intellectual work of such a government is focused.

In the UK, Dominic Cummings is not the sole architect of this project: much of the intellectual landscaping has been outsourced. Since the 1950s, an infrastructure of persuasion has been built, whose purpose is to supplant civic power with the power of money. The model was developed by two fanatical disciples of Friedrich Hayek, the father of neoliberalism: Antony Fisher and Oliver Smedley. They knew it was essential to disguise their intentions. While founding the Institute of Economic Affairs, the first of the thinktanks whose purpose was to spread Hayek’s gospel, Smedley reminded Fisher it was “imperative that we should give no indication in our literature that we are working to educate the Public along certain lines … That is why the first draft [of our aims] is written in rather cagey terms.”

The institute, and the other lobby groups Fisher founded, honed the arguments that would be used to strip down the state, curtail public welfare and public protection, and restrict and undermine other forms of social cohesion, releasing the ultra-rich from the constraints of democracy. Unsurprisingly, some of the richest people on Earth poured cash into his project.

His groups translated Hayek’s ideas, seen by many as repulsive, into a new political common sense – producing the reframings and justifications on which Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan built their revolutions.

Others began to copy this model. Madsen Pirie, the founder of the Adam Smith Institute, describes in his autobiography how, using funds from 20 of the UK’s biggest companies, he helped to chart the course that Thatcher took. Every Saturday, while she was in opposition, staff from the Adam Smith Institute and the Institute of Economic Affairs sat down for lunch with Conservative party researchers, and leader writers and columnists from the Times and Telegraph, to plot out her rise to power. They “planned strategy for the week ahead”, and would “co-ordinate our activities to make us more effective collectively”. Pirie describes how he devised many of the policies that defined Thatcherism.

And elsewhere too, not least in the testimony of the Brexit campaign whistleblower Shahmir Sanni, there is evidence that these lobby groups coordinate their work, creating the impression that people in different places are spontaneously coming to the same conclusions. Several of them work from the same offices, in 55 and 57 Tufton Street, Westminster.

The lobby group that Boris Johnson’s government uses most is Policy Exchange. While it claims to be a neutral educational charity, it was founded in 2002 by the Conservative MPs Francis Maude and Archie Norman, and Nick Boles, who later also became a Tory MP. Its first chairman was Michael Gove. Its proposals and personnel have been adopted by the Conservative party ever since.

Policy Exchange has played an important role in shifting power away from rival institutions and into the prime minister’s office. For several years it has been building a case for curtailing the judiciary. It provided the ammunition for the government’s current attack on judicial review, which enables citizens to sue the government to uphold the law. This was the process transparency campaigner Gina Miller used: in 2016 to oblige Theresa May to seek parliamentary approval for triggering the Brexit process; and, last year, to overturn Boris Johnson’s suspension of parliament.

Policy Exchange calls such rulings “judicial overreach”. It claims they threaten the sovereignty of parliament and the separation of powers between government and judiciary. To my mind they do the opposite. The law is not whatever Boris Johnson says it is: it is legislation passed by parliament and interpreted by the courts. Both the Miller cases returned powers to parliament that prime ministers had seized. The government has now appointed a former Conservative minister, Lord Faulks, to examine judicial review, along the lines suggested by Policy Exchange.

This lobby group has called for the prime minister’s office to have greater powers “to develop and direct policy change” through the civil service, and to appoint leaders of public bodies whose “culture and values” align with government’s aims. It has led the public attacks on what it calls the “chilling effects” of leftwing views in academia. Its recent report on academic freedom was brilliantly eviscerated in the Guardian by Jonathan Portes, who found it riddled with basic statistical errors and mistaken assumptions. What purports to be a campaign for intellectual freedom looks more like a McCarthyite attempt to suppress left-leaning ideas. It’s an effective weapon in the government’s gathering culture war.

Policy Exchange’s proposals for changing the planning system, which involve a massive removal of power from local authorities, have been adopted wholesale by the government. One of the authors of this scheme, Jack Airey, has moved from the thinktank to Downing Street, as a special adviser.

Last year, Policy Exchange published a polemic that claimed Extinction Rebellion is led by dangerous extremists. As usual, it was widely covered by the media. Less discussed was the report that the lobby group has received funding from the power company Drax, the trade association Energy UK, and the gas companies E.ON and Cadent, whose fossil-fuel investments are threatened by environmental activism. These are among the few funders whose identities we know. Policy Exchange is listed by Who Funds You? as among the UK’s most opaque thinktanks. It might seem remarkable that without having to reveal its funders, while promoting shifts that could harm civil society, Policy Exchange remains a registered charity.

Conservative governments clearly attach great importance to the way charities are overseen. In 2018, a parliamentary committee sent the government an unprecedented letter, pointing out that the government’s preferred candidate as chair of the Charity Commission, the former Tory minister Baroness Stowell, was “unable to demonstrate … any real insight, knowledge or vision”; could not be seen as neutral; and had failed to withstand the committee’s scrutiny. The government appointed her anyway, and she remains chair today.

By such means, political life is steadily undermined, until little remains but authority and obedience to the prime minister. Without strong civic institutions, society loses its power. From the point of view of global capital, that’s mission accomplished. To resist the government’s machinations, first we must understand them.

• George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist

At PMQs, there’s only one person who looks fit to run the country – and it’s not Johnson

Boris Johnson’s complete lack of shame has long been one of his defining narcissistic traits. His willingness to betray family, friends and colleagues for short-term personal gain is common knowledge. In much the same way, his lack of competence – his inability to grasp basic details – has also been priced in to the equation, as no one on the Tory benches much cared. It was just Boris being Boris.

John Crace , the sketch www.theguardian.com 

But something has changed over the course of the summer. Johnson is no longer seen as a man with the winning touch. Quite the reverse, in fact. Many Conservatives are slowly waking up to the fact that he may be a liability. Many prime ministers have discovered that being in the top job requires a different skill and mindset to that of getting the top job.

The difference with Boris is that he shows no signs of being willing to learn how to adapt to the change. Rather, he appears to be getting worse and worse at being prime minister. Limitations that are increasingly being exposed in laziness, short-temperedness and forgetfulness.

Prime minister’s questions are often dismissed as a piece of performance theatre. Something only of interest to those inside the Westminster bubble. And there is some truth in that. But they also offer a window into a leader’s soul, revealing qualities such as empathy, wit, intelligence and humility.

And on all counts Boris is failing miserably: his inability to gauge not just the mood of the House of Commons but the nation also is borderline sociopathic. It is as if he is holed up in a bunker, surrounded by yes men – there are almost no women in Boris’s inner circle – telling him only the things he wants to hear.

By contrast, Keir Starmer is learning fast. His early outings at PMQs were never less than competent, but there was an awkwardness to them. As if he were working out how to play the role of a man who had been elected leader of the Labour party. But now we’re beginning to see the real man. His questions are just as focused, but there’s now an ability to think on his feet and to respond to the prime minister’s lies and disinformation with genuine incredulity, anger and – when needed – humour. At PMQs there’s only one person who looks fit to run the country and it’s not Boris.

Then it’s not as if the Labour leader hasn’t been spoiled for lines of attack on the prime minister, and predictably Starmer chose to go in on the exams chaos. Either Boris knew about the problem and chose to know nothing, or he didn’t know about it when he should have done. Simple question: which one was it? Just as predictably, Boris resorted to bullshit and bluster. Labour had never wanted children to go back to school in the first place. An outright lie, as Starmer had unequivocally given his support to students returning on several occasions in May and June.

After that, Johnson had a full-on meltdown. Even the few Tories in the chamber had the grace to look embarrassed. First Boris accused Keir of being anti-Brexit – as if having been a remainer meant you automatically wanted tens of thousands of people to die from the coronavirus and for the less well-off students to be downgraded in their A-level results. He then went on to accuse Starmer of being an IRA supporter.

 Keir Starmer reacts furiously after PM accuses him of IRA tolerance – video

This was too much both for the Labour leader and the Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle. In the past Hoyle has been reluctant to challenge Johnson when he goes off on a tangential mega-rant, but this time he was quick to rein him in.

Starmer looked understandably furious and reminded Boris that as director of public prosecutions he had pressed charges against many terrorists. He could also have pointed out that it hadn’t been him who had recently offered a peerage to Claire Fox, who defended the 1993 Warrington bombing when she was a member of the Revolutionary Communist party.

“If he was a decent man, he would apologise,” Starmer said. But Boris isn’t a decent man, so he didn’t. Instead he continued to rush on his run. There would be no extension to the furlough scheme because it would merely encourage people to hang around at home doing nothing. As if the prospect of being made unemployed was a lifestyle choice for millions of workers.

Starmer ended by asking why Johnson was now refusing to meet the families of those who had been bereaved by Covid-19, having promised to do so on TV just days earlier. Remind me, was this the 12th or 13th U-turn in the past six weeks? Now was the time for Boris’s sad face. Or failing that, serious face. But he can’t do either, so he just smirked a little. The reason he wasn’t going to see the bereaved wasn’t because he cared too little but because he cared too much. Their stories might make him unhappy. And besides, it would be inappropriate as the bereaved were in litigation with the government. They weren’t, but what’s one more lie among so many?

The meltdown precipitated by Starmer continued for the rest of PMQs. Boris seemed to have no idea there were a huge number of industries such as aviation, tourism and hospitality that weren’t going to return to normal anytime soon.

Nor did he know that Matt Hancock had just extended some local lockdowns at the very moment he was saying more people should be going back to work. One day, it might occur to Boris that some companies might not want to take a punt on their employees’ health by forcing them back before the workplace is properly secure. But today wasn’t that day.

Rather, it was the day for Boris’s carers to try to get him out the Commons before he did any more damage to either the country or the Tory party.

It was also a day for those watching PMQs to ask themselves what they had done to deserve a leader who is visibly falling apart week on week. There was never anything very clever about Boris: now there isn’t even anything funny. Of all the coronavirus joints, in all the towns in the world, he walks into ours.

 

Housebuilders hardly need a leg-up when the housing market is already over-stimulated

Demand is “very strong”, prices are rising and the order book is a fifth fatter than a year ago, but a chairman of a housebuilder can always find something to grumble about. John Allan of Barratt Developments frets that many lenders aren’t offering 95% loan-to-value mortgages these days.

Nils Pratley www.theguardian.com 

Most observers might regard the banks’ relative restraint as sensible. After all, house prices are being pumped up in a recession – to record levels, the Nationwide tells us – by stamp duty holidays and the approach of restrictions from next spring on the Help to Buy scheme.

Allan, however, has a different take: “It is important that lenders and the government consider what further options are available to help potential first-time buyers who want to purchase their own home,” he says.

Is it really important, though? Maybe for housebuilders, who would prefer lovely trading conditions to continue indefinitely. But “further options” sounds suspiciously like the sector’s usual bleat for more subsidies.

Allan didn’t offer ideas, but elsewhere one can hear calls for the temporary stamp duty holiday on house purchases worth less than £500,000 in England and Northern Ireland to be made permanent. Or perhaps next spring’s trim for Help to Buy, which will place regional caps on eligibility, could be delayed?

On both scores, Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, would be silly to listen. The greatest chunk of the Treasury’s subsidies always sticks to the housebuilders, who really don’t need a leg-up. Yes, Barratt’s pre-tax profits in the 12 months to June fell 46% to £492m, but look at the financial ratios: operating profit margins of 14.4% and a return of capital employed of 15.6%.

Most companies in most other sectors would love those figures in good times. Barratt got them despite “unprecedented disruption” when sites were closed during lockdown. And its “cautious optimism” for the current year translates as confidence that returns will soon be back to plumper pre-lockdown levels.

The best way to help first-time buyers, one could say, would be for house prices to drift lower and for Barratt et al to accept healthy, as opposed to exceptional, margins. An over-indulged sector does not need more help.

 

The people who will help make Exeter’s 2040 vision a reality – In secret. Where are Ben Bradshaw and Simon Jupp?

Here is another article shedding a small dose of sunlight on secret dealing concerning property development.

Owl’s earlier post revealed that “Exeter City Council has convened an unelected board that meets in private, does not publish its discussions or decisions and is taking responsibility for major policies which will determine Exeter’s future.” and that both Ben Bradshaw MP and Simon Jupp MP were listed as board members. These two MPs are not listed as members in this article [Correction at 1153 Owl failed to notice them coming first as “The Right Honourables”. As has been pointed out to Owl, whilst Ben Bradshaw is a member of the Privy Council, Simon Jupp isn’t. The correspondent continued “If the Exeter group cannot even be accurate in listing their members properly………”] – Owl hope that this is correct since MPs should not be playing any part in secret planning deals. Despite what Karime Hassan says, Owl will be candid: lack of transparency damages reputations. 

Karime Hassan, Chief Executive Exeter City Council  says: “The effectiveness of the Place Board in confronting issues that need to be addressed so as to remove obstacles to delivery requires a level of candour and confidence for leaders to confide among each other in a constructive and positive tone. It is difficult to have such conversations in a public setting, quite simply leaders will not reveal things in public that they would in a more private setting. For understandable reputational reasons trust is generally a prerequisite for frank and candid conversations.”

Litchfields’ analysis shows that Exeter, under the new algorithm, would have to build 5,116 homes a year. No wonder so much pressure to continue with GESP from the “friends of developers” lobby.

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com 

The people who will work together to ensure Exeter’s ambitious 2040 vision have been announced.

The Liveable Exeter Place Board has been formulated by Exeter City Council to help get buy in from the leading organisations within the city in ensuring that the aims and ambitious of Exeter can be met.

Initially set up to help drive the Liveable Exeter Garden City programme – which would see 12,000 homes built on the largely on brown field sites within the city – its aim would be to tackle the challenge of how to secure the funding and investment required as infrastructure costs are likely to be high, and build in such way that we deliver the quality outcomes captured in the Exeter Vision 2040 vision.

But the Board– which has brought together an impressive body of civic, community, business and national leadership focused on making Exeter a stronger city, guided by a long term vision for Exeter 2040 – now has new terms of reference for its work and will also look at how Exeter can be Net Zero Carbon by 2030 and will include references to the UNESCO City of Literature status and the role of culture in its work.

Chief Executive and Growth Director, Karime Hassan, told Tuesday night’s Exeter City Council executive meeting that the COVID-19 crisis and subsequent recovery planning has demonstrated the value in having such a vehicle in place for the city with the turn out from leaders across the city has been impressive.

He added: “The board will looks at how to build an inclusive and sustainable and healthy city, and includes lots of issues that are beyond the control of the city council and requires partners in the city to work together. The success won’t be building 12,000 homes, but delivering the community infrastructure and great neighbourhoods, that we address the congestion we see in the city, and that we deliver the net zero carbon agenda.

“We cannot achieve that on our own – we have to achieve it with our partners. Unless we have the coordination, then we won’t deliver the ambitious vision for the city.”

The Exeter Vision 2040 statement is a vision for the city, and includes Exeter being healthy and happy, that health, care and wellbeing services will be designed and delivered in partnership with the communities who use them, and there will be high quality and accessible built environment and green spaces, with great arts and cultural facilities, will encourage healthy and active lifestyles.

A comprehensive network of safe routes will ensure that most everyday journeys are made by walking and cycling is also part of the vision, as is access to world class education and training, meaningful high-quality employment and fair wages, to attract the best global talent, keeping more money in the local economy, and being a global leader in addressing social, economic and environmental challenges of climate change and urbanisation.

Mr Hassan added: “The Liveable Exeter Place Board provides a forum to collaborate across the city in pursuit of these outcomes. The Council’s convening power in bringing people together only goes so far, but it is a good start in shaping and influencing other organisations to work towards our collective ambitions for the city.

The Board will meet in private, although regular updates on the work will be provided to the scrutiny and executive committees, and any decisions they would make would be brought through the council’s existing governance systems.

Explaining why meetings would not be open to the public, Mr Hassan added: “The effectiveness of the Place Board in confronting issues that need to be addressed so as to remove obstacles to delivery requires a level of candour and confidence for leaders to confide among each other in a constructive and positive tone. It is difficult to have such conversations in a public setting, quite simply leaders will not reveal things in public that they would in a more private setting. For understandable reputational reasons trust is generally a prerequisite for frank and candid conversations.

“We have declared a climate emergency and we need to work at pace. Therefore whilst acknowledging members desire to have matters discussed in a public fashion, if the Board is to be able perform its role effectively, the Board must be allowed to work in the manner it determines appropriate.”

Cllr Phil Bialyk, leader of the council, added: “It provides a forum to discuss the challenges of the vision and how they can be overcome to realise the vision. Place board gives the leaders a chance to raise other issues which they believe require the support of others to overcome for the better of the city. This will deliver the aspirations for the city of Exeter.”

The executive on Tuesday night agreed to note the terms of reference and membership of the Liveable Exeter Place Board and that Cllr Bialyk would report back to the City Council, in whatever is the most appropriate form, matters arising from the Liveable Exeter Place Board and issues for consideration at the Liveable Exeter Place Board.

The members of the Board are:

  • Sir Steve Smith, The Government’s International Education Champion and current VC of the University of Exeter (chairman)
  • The Right Honourable Ben Bradshaw MP for Exeter (Labour)
  • The Right Honourable Simon Jupp MP for East Devon (Conservative)
  • Cllr Phil Bialyk Leader, Exeter City Council
  • Cllr John Hart Leader, Devon County Council
  • The Right Reverend Robert Atwell, Bishop of Exeter
  • Shaun Sawyer, Chief Constable, Devon & Cornwall Police
  • Suzanne Tracey, Chief Executive, Royal Devon & Exeter NHS Foundation Trust
  • Lord Charles Courtenay, Earl of Devon
  • Dinah Cox, Chair of Trustees, Devon Community Foundation
  • John Laramy. Principal & Chief Executive, Exeter College
  • Lee Elliot-Major, Professor of Social Mobility, University of Exeter
  • Ian Cameron, Business Group Director, Met Office
  • Claire Kennedy, Licensee and Curator, TEDxExeter
  • Kalkidan Legesse, Social entrepreneur and Managing Director at Sancho’s
  • Paul Crawford, Chief Executive Officer, LiveWest
  • Steve Hindley, Chairman, Midas Group, & Great South West
  • Glenn Woodcock, Director Oxygen House
  • Charles Johnston, Executive Director of Property, Sport England
  • Tony Rowe OBE, Chief Executive & Chairman, Exeter Rugby Club
  • Julian Tagg, Chairman ECFC, Chairman City Community Trust
  • Sarah Crown, Director of Literature’ Arts Council England
  • Lady Lucy Studholme, Chair of Board of Trustees, Exeter Northcott Theatre
  • Mike Watson, Managing Director – Stagecoach South West
  • Mike Gallop, Western Route Director, Network Rail
  • Matthew Golton, Interim Managing Director, GWR
  • Matt Roach, Chairman Exeter Chamber of Commerce & MD Exeter International Airport
  • Karime Hassan, Chief Executive & Growth Director, Exeter City Council
  • University of Exeter – One place is being held for the University of Exeter’s new Vice-Chancellor Lisa Roberts

 

Cummings recruit sacked after suggesting police use ‘live rounds’ on BLM protesters

A data specialist recruited to the civil service following Dominic Cummings’ call for “weirdos and misfits” to work for the UK government was sacked recently after posting on social media that police should use live rounds against Black Lives Matter demonstrators, the Guardian can reveal.

The data architect appointed to a senior role in the Cabinet Office after applying through a scheme unveiled by Boris Johnson’s chief adviser was dismissed in July after colleagues discovered his Twitter post and reported it to senior managers.

It is the second known departure of a government recruit hired under the project set up by Cummings, to tempt an “unusual set of people” into senior government roles. Both departures involved recruits who publicly expressed sentiments viewed as racist.

In February, Andrew Sabisky, who described himself as a “superforecaster”, stepped down from a role at Downing Street after it emerged that in some of his previous writings on genetics he had suggested that black people on average had lower IQs than white people.

After Sabisky resigned, suggesting he had been selectively quoted, No 10 refused to answer questions about how he had been recruited and whether he had been properly vetted.

Will O’Shea, 57, posted the comment about Black Lives Matters protests on 5 July, at the time marches were being organised across Britain following the killing of George Floyd by police officers in the US.

Responding to one person’s tweet suggesting that Metropolitan police officers had been chased out of a housing estate in London by demonstrators, and another that called the police cowards, O’Shea replied: “Time to get out the live rounds.”

At the time, the Government Digital Service (GDS), the Cabinet Office department where O’Shea was working, had already been beset by complaints from some black, Asian and minority ethnic staff that they had been subjected to systemic racism and bullying at work.

Contacted by an undercover Guardian reporter posing as a recruitment agent, O’Shea confirmed he had applied for a job in government through the Cummings recruitment advert, which was posted on his personal blog on 2 January. O’Shea said he was interviewed in person by Ben Warner, another aide to the prime minister who works closely with Cummings.

In subsequent emails, O’Shea initially said “I was let go because of my tweet” but then said he was never given a reason for the abrupt termination of his Cabinet Office job.

He accepted that former colleagues found his tweet was racist, incendiary, and offensive, and took him to mean that the police should shoot black people in London who were demonstrating.

“I can see how it was taken that way, and I am sorry for that,” O’Shea said. While he regretted sending the tweet, which he said was “wrong”, O’Shea stressed he did not mean it seriously. He added: “I didn’t say ‘shoot blacks’ and that was not what I meant or wished.”

O’Shea subsequently deleted his personal Twitter account, which he said was to “get rid of any of the things I had said”.

Cummings’ blogpost in January calling for “weirdos and misfits” focused on some of his key obsessions: harnessing of digital data by government, forecasting, and accusations of “profound problems” in civil service decision-making. It was headlined: “Two hands are a lot – we’re hiring data scientists, project managers, policy experts, assorted weirdos…”

The areas of work for the “unusual set of people” the prime minister’s adviser said he wanted to recruit included “the frontiers of the science of prediction”, “data science, Alternative Intelligence and cognitive technologies” and “decision-making institutions at the apex of government”.

In an apparently parallel process to normal civil service recruitment, aspiring recruits were invited to apply by sending in a CV and maximum one-page letter to a dedicated email address.

O’Shea did not meet Cummings, but said he was interviewed at Downing Street by Warner, a data scientist who is known to be close to the prime minister’s chief adviser. He worked closely with Cummings on the Vote Leave Brexit campaign. After reportedly working on the 2019 Conservative election campaign, Warner was recruited by Cummings in December last year to work alongside him in No 10.

O’Shea said Warner interviewed him in the large room Downing Street where the daily televised Covid-19 press conferences were subsequently held. He said he was later approved to work on a No 10 project to reshape the government’s use of data, which would involve breaking free of controls each departments has.

“So basically they wanted to see how they could break governance rules,” he said.

The project was suspended when the Covid-19 pandemic struck, O’Shea said, and Warner then told him he could get him a job in the Government Digital Service.

He told the undercover reporter: “Ben Warner said … ‘we can’t hire you right now, but I’ve got some friends in the Cabinet Office. They’re looking for a similar set of skills, but it’s not as long term.’”

In April, O’Shea joined the GDS, the Cabinet Office department responsible for digital output, working on policy documents setting out standards for how other government departments can operate digitally.

He is understood to have first caused concerns among black, Asian and minority ethnic colleagues with contributions he made to internal discussions about race, including one following an article published by the Daily Mirror on 5 July about alleged racial discrimination in Whitehall, which was headlined: “White people 15 times more likely than black candidates to get civil service jobs.”

O’Shea emphasised to the Guardian that he had not been racist in those discussions and had been asking white staff members not to criticise another white colleague too severely for their intervention. But he accepted that his contributions prompted some of his colleagues to look at his social media accounts.

On his Twitter account, they were shocked and distressed to see his tweet of 5 July about the police and BLM demonstrators: “Time to get out the live rounds.”

In a statement to the Guardian, a government spokesperson said: “Will O’Shea was … employed by the Cabinet Office as an external contractor for the Government Digital Service on coronavirus. All standard vetting processes were carried out for a contractor role through a commercial framework.”

Call to halt massive shake-up of Devon’s local government

The leader of Torbay Council has joined a call to delay a massive reorganisation of local government.

Edward Oldfield www.devonlive.com

Steve Darling has signed a letter from Liberal Democrat councillors warning the shake-up would be an “unwelcome distraction” from efforts to tackle Covid-19 and support economic recovery.

They say they oppose any restructuring imposed on communities which would take decision-making further away from voters.

Devon is expected to be next in line in the Westcountry for a reorganisation to dismantle the currently two-level set-up in some parts of the county.

And that could also trigger a change in Torbay, which is one of the country’s smallest unitary authorities.

A recent report by the County Councils Network said replacing the two-tier system across England could save up to £3billion over five years.

Torbay (population 136,000) and Plymouth (population 263,000), have single-tier unitary authorities responsible for all services.

But the rest of the county is covered by Exeter-based Devon County Council providing services such as education, social services and highways.

There are eight district councils providing services such as planning, housing and leisure.

Many areas also have parish and town councils, with responsibility for some local services such as grass-cutting and waste bins.

Critics say the system is needlessly expensive and can be confusing about who does what, but supporters say it bring democracy and decision-making closer to voters.

Steve Darling, Liberal Democrat, leader of Torbay Council

            Steve Darling, Liberal Democrat, leader of Torbay Council (Image: Steve Darling)

In Torbay, only Brixham has a town council. A proposal to set up similar bodies for Torquay and Paignton was dropped at the start of this year after public opposition.

Devon is expected to be next in line for the kind of reorganisation which has already replaced the two-layer system with unitaries in Cornwall and Dorset.

A review is being carried out in two-tier Somerset, with proposals to replace the county and five districts with one or two new unitaries.

Devon is expected to come under scrutiny as a result of the Government’s discussion document, the Recovery and Devolution White Paper, due to be published soon.

The letter to the Secretary of State Robert Jenrick from the Liberal Democrat Group of the Local Government Association asks for a delay to any changes because of the pandemic.

The councillors say: “Council officers and members have gone above and beyond on behalf of our residents and local businesses since March and are committed to maintaining and developing that support despite the financial challenges we all face.

“The complex problems we and our communities will face in the coming years are unprecedented. Therefore, it seems extraordinary that national government have decided this would be a good time to instigate a mass programme of local government restructuring. Reorganisation is an extremely resource-intensive and unwelcome distraction at a time when we should be completely focused on responding to the recovery needs of our communities.

“Any reorganisation of councils should be driven by what is best for local communities and places. Our partnership work throughout the Covid pandemic has shown how well councils and local partners are working together within existing structures, therefore we can see no sense at all in spending money on a top-down reorganisation that will take members and officers away from our crucial recovery work.”

A report by the County Councils Network said replacing two-tier counties with a single unitary authority could save almost £3billion over five years. The study, from accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) said putting two unitaries in place would reduce the savings to £1billion.

Crucial to the new arrangements will be the preferred size of new unitary councils, and there has been speculation the Government wants to set a maximum of 600,000.

The population currently covered by Devon County Council and the eight districts is around 800,000, so that could see it split in half, with Torbay merged in.

The Conservative leader of Devon County Council, John Hart, has said he does not want to “lead the charge” towards a unitary authority, but will wait and see what the Government proposes.

A plan to give Exeter unitary status was reversed when the Conservative government came into power in 2010.

Torbay became a unitary authority in 1998 at the same as Plymouth, with Cornwall the following year. Dorset made the change last year, followed by the ongoing review in Somerset, leaving Devon alone in the Westcountry with the county and district system still in place.

Torbay’s MP Kevin Foster says the current two-tier system is on the way out, and wants Torbay to join the discussion about the future shape of local government.

He said in his weekly newsletter: “The two-tier system does not have a long-term future and at some point Devon will need to decide how a Unitary system would look in the traditional Devonshire County.

“This is a debate our bay should be part of, rather than looking to remain solely on the basis of the boundaries drawn up in 1998.”

There are two consultations on Planning Reform with closing dates 1st October and 29th October. The Algorithm comes first.

Planning reform

Whilst distracted by the White Paper Owl discovers another consultation on key ideas with earlier closing date. of 1st October. These include changes to the standard method for assessing local housing need – the inexplicable algorithm. Clearly, these ideas will be carried forward to the White Paper reforms and need to be challenged in both consulations.

Alongside the White Paper, the Government has also published [“sneaked in” under cover of the white paper – Owl] a “Changes to the current planning system” consultation which takes forward some of the ideas proposed in the White Paper in the short term, before the new system is implemented. This consultation closes on 1st October. 

From the introduction to “Changes to the current planning system”:

  1. Since 2010 the Government has introduced planning reforms to improve the current system. In 2010 only 17% of local authorities had local plans in place and now 91% of local authorities have plans. Over 2,700 groups have started the neighbourhood planning process since 2012. We’ve delivered over 1.5 million new homes since 2010 including over 241,000 last year alone – that’s the highest level for over 30 years. And planning permissions for new homes have more than doubled since 2010. But this isn’t enough – we want to deliver the housing people need because happier, more rooted communities bring our country together.

 

  1. Planning for the Future [White Paper – link above] sets out plans to undertake a fundamental reform of the planning system and explains that this would be accompanied by shorter-term measures. This consultation sets out proposals for measures to improve the effectiveness of the current system. The four main proposals are:

 

  • changes to the standard method for assessing local housing need, which as well as being a proposal to change guidance in the short term has relevance to proposals for land supply reforms set out in Planning for the Future [the algorithm with its inexplicable affordability uplift  all based on idealised economic theory that breaks down where there is limitless demand (eg from second home owners and retirees from wealthier regions). Oh and don’t forget that large developers control the “build-out rate”  though below is the government’s solution: give small builders a free pass on building affordable houses – Owl];

 

  • securing of First Homes, sold at a discount to market price for first time buyers, including key workers, through developer contributions in the short term until the transition to a new system [see earlier post on awkward details in this policy – Owl];

 

  • temporarily lifting the small sites threshold below which developers do not need to contribute to affordable housing, to up to 40 or 50 units to support SME builders as the economy recovers from the impact of Covid-19 [so how do we get “affordable” housing? – Owl];

 

  • extending the current Permission in Principle to major development so landowners and developers now have a fast route to secure the principle of development for housing on sites without having to work up detailed plans first. [Outline plans – haven’t they been doing this for years under the ancient regime in EDDC with disastrous results? Once given permission in principle what leverage can you have over developers when they, for example, come back to reduce the affordables? – Owl]