Monday, 23 October 2017

Plans for Port Royal: anticipating a Regeneration Board >> Reference Group asserts its independence

The consultants met up with the reference group earlier this month on progress towards a final report on Port Royal:
Futures Forum: Plans for Port Royal: anticipating a Regeneration Board >> Scoping Study consultants' final report presented to Reference Group > more in the press

There have been questions as the 'independence' of the consultants:
Futures Forum: Plans for Port Royal: anticipating a Regeneration Board >> Scoping Study consultation and "independent experts"

And there have been questions about the robustness of the process:
Futures Forum: Plans for Port Royal: anticipating a Regeneration Board >> reference group to meet today as process nears completion

The community groups on the reference group make clear their independence in this letter to the Herald:

Sidmouth and Ottery breaking news and sport - Sidmouth Herald

How to build a good local economy

There are some very good projects and good ideas out there promoting 'local economies': 
Futures Forum: Open Source Ecology >>> Homebrew Industrial Revolution >>> Do-it-yourself sustainable development
Futures Forum: "Small plus small plus small equals big" >>> 'There is a blind spot about economic regeneration in most local authorities'
Futures Forum: Of devolution, local assets and investing locally
Futures Forum: REconomy... and community-led economic development
Futures Forum: The Forest Economy: woodland as New Economy metaphor
Futures Forum: Supporting sustainable local food production in Branscombe >>> planning applications
Futures Forum: "Doing it Ourselves" >>> Forum for a New Local Economy >>>
Futures Forum: The Bioregional Economy

And these are happening right now: for example:
Futures Forum: A Bank of the South West > to serve the everyday financial needs of ordinary people, local community groups, and small and medium sized companies >> Tony Greenham in Exeter: Thursday 26th October

A new initiative has been set up to help such projects and ideas develop:



A new website will help councils and community organisations to build ‘good’ local economies.
Launched by the Centre for Local Economic Strategies and the New Economics Foundation, with funding from the Friends Provident Foundation, it brings together case studies from across the UK on housing, finance, energy, procurement and commissioning, and local economics.
Called ‘Building a Good Local Economy’, the website sets out the powers and resources currently available to both local government and local communities to help them improve local housing provision, build up local energy supplies and create a thriving local economy.

Building a Good Local Economy website
Case studies include Homebaked, a bakery in the shadow of Liverpool football club that has become a model of community-led regeneration, and Manchester and Preston Councils’ work using local procurement budgets to build community wealth.
The website is part of the Good Local Economies programme, run by CLES and NEF for the last two years, which this year has worked with five cities – Belfast, Birmingham, Cardiff, Bristol and Leeds – to help them activate and model new approaches to local economic development.
The website aims to become a comprehensive database of projects across the UK that are challenging the dominant approach to local development. If you would like your project to be included, contact Clare Goff.

New website helps communities build ‘good’ local economies | New Economics Foundation
Creating Good Economies

How to avoid affordable housing

A new campaign is under way from the NEF:
Futures Forum: Save Public Land
Save public land | New Economics Foundation

It's all about (not having any) affordable housing:



Last week we launched our public land map, pinpointing where land is for sale and identifying developments on sites already sold. Today we are going to use our map to explore how developers use the planning system to avoid building the affordable homes we need.
Much affordable housing is delivered through a mechanism in the planning system commonly known as ‘Section 106’. Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act (1990) requires developers to provide a certain proportion of affordable housing in developments of more than 10 homes. The precise amount depends on the local authority’s housing needs, and what the developers write into their plans, but ranges around 20-50%.
Yet, despite these statutory requirements, our research shows that only one in five of the new homes forecast to be built on public land and sold off are likely to be classified as ‘affordable’, and as little as 6% of new homes are likely to be social rented housing.


A clause in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), introduced in 2012, states that developers’ schemes ‘should not be subject to such a scale of obligations and policy burdens that their ability to be developed viably is threatened’. This crucial wording means that developers can appeal planning obligations if they can prove they hinder the commercial viability of their schemes, using something called a ‘financial viability assessment’.
Developers must show that building the required amount of affordable homes would mean that the project could not return a decent profit to the landowner. What is an acceptable profit margin? For the redevelopment of the Heygate Estate in Elephant & Castle, the level of ‘acceptable’ profit was fixed at 25% – equating to around £300m.
In practice this means that developers can be granted planning permission on the understanding that they will deliver the council’s agreed level of affordable housing. After work begins, the developer submits a viability assessment showing that if they continue as planned, they won’t make a profit unless they lower the number of affordable homes. Councils then face a difficult choice: accept a proposed development that only partially meets local needs, or not have one at all and go through the whole planning process again.


We’ve been looking at whether developers are using viability assessments to sidestep local authority planning obligations by inflating their projected costs and minimising their projected sale values. We’ve examined some ‘sold’ plots on the map, and analysed the planning applications for those sites. Our fears have been confirmed.
Take Runwell Hospital in Wickford. Chelmsford City Council’s affordable housing planrequires that 35% of homes on new developments are affordable. Yet the former Runwell hospital site’s initial Section 106 Agreement required only 20% affordable housing provision. Even so, the developer has submitted an application to reduce this further to 10% on the grounds of affordability – just 61 of 575 homes.
In Wakefield, we saw this trend again, where the development on the site of Pontefract General Infirmary was required to deliver 30% affordable housing. Viability assessments cut this to 5% – 6 out of 124 homes.
These two examples represent the loss of 171 affordable homes – but they barely scrape the surface. Our new map will help us uncover more as we work with local communities to promote affordable homes in place of expensive private developments.

Land map reveals where developers have scrapped affordable homes | New Economics Foundation

How to encourage urban sprawl

Are we just building more suburbia?
Futures Forum: Garden cities and greenfield sites

That is, more suburbia in East Devon?
Futures Forum: The Cranbrook project >>> where's the town centre >>> the infrastructure >>>the 'growth point'?
Futures Forum: Going, going, gone?... Developers are 'extremely interested' in the views of Gittisham people

And a lot of it has to do with 'road building' - courtesy of our taxes:
Futures Forum: Subsidies and social engineering: or why we build roads.

The following piece is very much about the United States - but makes points pertinent to anywhere, where suburbia is everywhere:

The Government Created American Suburbia

Through decades of explicit public policy, the government strongly encouraged the sort of suburban sprawl unique to America.
Devon Zuegel

by  Devon Zuegel
In primary school, one of my friends lived in a duplex. This fact blew my mind. To my inexperienced 7-year-old mind, a duplex barely registered as a house. Her family shared a driveway with their neighbors, and their yard was tiny. It was the first house I’d ever seen that shared a wall with its neighbors. I’d seen apartments of course, but in my mind, those were temporary, for people who were saving up to buy a “real” home. I couldn’t understand that some people might actually prefer to live in something besides a private home because I’d never come across it before.
A duplex is a house divided into two units, with a separate entrance for each. Mind-boggling! My 7-year-old mind could barely comprehend what it was seeing.
My mental model of the world was pretty typical for an American child brought up in a single-family home. It’s easy to see why—US residential development is dominated by suburbs, and home ownership is touted as the ultimate symbol of prosperity. Other types of dwellings tend to be for young people starting out in life or low-income households unable to afford a place of their own. The popular image of the American Dream includes a white picket fence and a car, not an apartment and a subway pass.
This is in stark contrast with most other countries. The French word for suburb is banlieue, and it has come to connote poverty and social isolation because that is where immigrants and the poor tend to live. They’ve been known as “red suburbs” because of their tendency to vote Communist. Meanwhile, the wealthy live in the city center. In South Africa, the inner city is reserved for the privileged white class, while black citizens have an hour-long journey to work.* Kenneth Jackson wrote of Amsterdam that “affluence characterizes the old center … but the working class has increasingly been forced outward to the suburbs”. He continues:
“In Brazil the exclusion of slum dwellers from the urban cores is so deeply rooted in the culture that the Portuguese word to describe them is marginais, and the word used to describe their arrival is invasaƵ.”
Homeownership rates are lower in most of the world too, even for developed countries of comparable prosperity. Two-thirds of American families own a home. Meanwhile, the rate in Sweden, a wealthy nation, is just one third, and that rate has remained stable in the period of unprecedented prosperity the country has seen since 1945. The US rate is also double that of Germany, Switzerland, France, Great Britain, and Norway.
As a kid, I assumed that Americans’ tendency to live in suburbs was the result of individual choices. I thought people simply preferred suburban living, and that was why it was predominant. As I got older, I figured it was the result of a frontier mindset, lots of available land relative to Europe, and our economic strength in the postwar period.
There is truth to these explanations—some do truly love that lifestyle, and America’s wealth did enable it to develop in ways that other societies could not. Geography, timing, and prosperity all played a role in the rise of suburbia, but we have forgotten an even more important factor that shaped patterns of American development since the Great Depression.
What we don’t see is that decades of explicit public policy powered the expansion of suburbia. Our communities would look very different today had it not done so. While every level of government favored sprawl in many different ways, four policies had an outsized effect:
  • housing finance,
  • special tax treatment,
  • subsidization of a car-oriented lifestyle, and
  • zoning laws
Today, we take these policies for granted as a normal part of American life. Even fiscal conservatives don’t think twice about paying for roads, and few people can name the original mandate of the Federal Housing Administration. Questioning the mortgage interest deduction is political suicide, and we take for granted the right for homeowners to regulate the land use of their neighbors. Car ownership is a rite of passage for teenagers, and a lawn and a picket fence have become synonymous with the American Dream.
But none of these conclusions were inevitable. Government intervention influenced our expectations about home ownership, tax treatment, car infrastructure, and even what our neighborhoods should look like. In the course of the next few posts, we’ll dive into each of these four topics to understand how American communities came to be what they are today.
  1. Financing Suburbia: How government mortgage policy determined where you live
  2. Exempting Suburbia: How suburban sprawl gets special treatment in our tax code
  3. Paving Suburbia: How federal projects reshaped your community around the automobile (coming soon!)
  4. Zoning Suburbia: How single-use zoning is responsible for your 45-minute commute (coming soon!)
* We also see this pattern in some places in the US. City centers are gentrifying in places like San Francisco, DC, and New York City, pushing lower-income groups outside of the urban core.
Reprinted from Market Urbanism
The Government Created American Suburbia - Foundation for Economic Education - Working for a free and prosperous world

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Plans for Port Royal: 'further investigations in respect of flooding and covenants' needed

The consultants at Port Royal have presented their report to the reference group:
Futures Forum: Plans for Port Royal: anticipating a Regeneration Board >> Scoping Study consultants' final report presented to Reference Group > press release
Futures Forum: Plans for Port Royal: anticipating a Regeneration Board >> Scoping Study consultants' final report presented to Reference Group > more in the press

They need a little more time, though, before the final version is ready:

Report on renewal of Port Royal unlikely before next year - Latest Sidmouth and Ottery News - Sidmouth Herald

The consultants have specifically highlighted needing to carry out 'further investigations in respect of flooding and covenants'.


As Councillor Marianne Rixson has been saying for some time, the Port Royal and Eastern Town areas have been reclassified as the high-risk Flood Zone 3a:
Futures Forum: Plans for Port Royal: anticipating a Regeneration Board >> Scoping Study consultation >> "a stitch-up"

The Historic Sidmouth website has also been concerned:
Futures Forum: Plans for Port Royal: of sewers and sewerage

A solution would be to build high:
Futures Forum: Plans for Port Royal and the Eastern Town >>> apartments over car parks

But all of this is connected to the Beach Management Plan which is slowly making its way:
Futures Forum: Plans for Port Royal > and the Beach Management Plan > and the Traffic Management Plan


There is the very tricky legal area of covenants in the Eastern Town and Port Royal areas:
Futures Forum: Plans for Port Royal: who owns what
Futures Forum: Plans for Port Royal: anticipating a Regeneration Board >> Scoping Study consultation > Vision Group report 2012
Futures Forum: Plans for Port Royal: anticipating a Regeneration Board >>> of covenants and land-swapping at Port Royal

The Drill Hall has a history:
Futures Forum: Plans for Port Royal 2009: "We are desperate for someone to buy this site and to give us good money for it."
‘They’ve stolen our Drill Hall’ - claim - Latest Sidmouth and Ottery News - Sidmouth Herald
Futures Forum: Plans for Port Royal: 'Alternative ideas as to how the Port Royal area of Sidmouth could be redeveloped'

The Ham Green also has quite a history:
Futures Forum: Plans for Port Royal: anticipating a Regeneration Board >>> and developing the Ham...
Futures Forum: Plans for Port Royal: anticipating a Regeneration Board >> Scoping Study consultation >> new campaign as 'scare-mongering'
Futures Forum: Plans for Port Royal: anticipating a Regeneration Board >> Scoping Study consultation > an overview of the maps and the options

How sustainable is the construction industry? >>> >>> Mining for sand >>> "to protect our waterways and beaches, we must look for alternative building materials to supplement the use of concrete"

A couple of years ago, this blog asked about the sustainability of concrete:
Futures Forum: How sustainable is the construction industry? ... 'Concrete is responsible for 7-10% of CO2 emissions' ... 'The industry must shift its emphasis beyond recycling and towards reuse'

One of the key ingredients of concrete is cement:
Futures Forum: Quarrying in East Devon > and The Big Polluting Cement Giant

Another is sand.

There have been several pieces of late from around the world on the unsustainability of mining for sand:
“Prevent sand mining” - The Hindu
Centre mulling new law to curb illegal sand mining
Petition · Stop Sand Mining and Protect the Beautiful Beaches of Sierra Leone · Change.org
Sand mining in KZN a great concern - Mokonyane | Mining News
The biggest threat to World Heritage island | Sunshine Coast Daily

Here is a very good piece from earlier in the summer which looks at the issues:

Urbanisation and sustainability: Can sand mining ever be green?

20TH JUNE 2017

As urbanisation increases so does the demand for sand in construction, making it the most mined resource on earth.

The result has been widespread ecological devastation, as riverbanks and waterways are stripped of their foundations. With no population decline in sight, can sand mining be made sustainable?

Demand for sand is high as rapid urbanisation in China and India has created a boom for the mining industry. Fuelled by this, illegal mining has grown, unnoticed and unchecked around the world, destroying ecosystems, waterways and beaches.

Though a seemingly plentiful resource, only certain kinds of sands are actually useful for construction purposes. Desert sand, for example, isn’t suitable for either construction or use as silicon due to its worn, rounded edges, so instead it is river banks and beaches that are being plundered.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that 85 percent of all mining activity in the world is sand or gravel.

Urbanisation and sand mining

Since 1950 the number of people living in cities has quadrupled to reach 4bn, more than half of the global population. Sand is predominantly used to make concrete to build the houses needed for burgeoning populations, but it is also used in glass and electronics.

Last year China consumed enough to cover the entire state of New York an inch deep. As it’s is a relatively cheap commodity, it is uneconomical to import and mines can usually be found within 50km of construction sites. Singapore has increased its total land mass by 20 percent since the 1960s by dumping sand in its waters. The material was almost exclusively imported from nearby islands off the coast of Indonesia; two of the islands were mined so excessively that they no longer exist.

Conservation Action Trust executive trustee Debi Goenka said: "The quantities being extracted are unsustainable and cannot be replenished naturally. The construction sector is experiencing a huge boom, and the need to build reinforced cement concrete (RCC) structures requires huge quantities of sand."

Meanwhile, the US is also experiencing a boom, with sand use from the biggest basins doubling between 2012 and 2016. Plus, it is being used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, as part of a mixture pumped into the ground to extract the natural gas within. Last year 8m tonnes was used in the US fracking industry, including increasingly popular and cheaper brown sand.

Eroded beaches and dry rivers

Sand mining can severely damage environments and ecosystems. Often mined by dredging sea and river beds, the practise poses a threat to biodiversity as creatures and plants are stripped from the depths, and the stirred up plumes suffocate fish and block sunlight from the remaining underwater vegetation. Along riverbanks, mining has changed the path of rivers or, without sand to act as an aquifer, allowed them to dry up entirely.

Bridges and other surrounding infrastructure have also suffered; in 2001, a bridge in Portugal collapsed killing 70 people after excessive sand mining damaged the foundations.

But it is the destruction of beaches more than anything else which has brought the reality of mining to the public’s attention, according to Goenka.

"Sand mining is damaging because it aggravates the problem of coastal erosion, which is particularly severe in areas that are already experiencing serious problems caused by sea level rise. Or by the creation of artificial structures such as jetties or groynes that block the flow of sand in the seas."

It’s not just environmental but also social damage that follows on from sand mining. In India a so-called sand mafia has been established; a group made up of labourers, suppliers and developers which utilises bribery and muscle controlling the hundreds of millions of tonnes of sand being mined from India’s waterways every year.

Illegal mining activities take many forms, such as operating in prohibited areas, but often the mafia simply works in areas far beyond the remit of the licence. In India, sand is classed as a minor mineral, as opposed to major minerals such as diamonds and coal. Due to this classification, it is only subject to state and not federal law, so penalties and enforcement vary. For instance, illegal mining in the state of Uttar Pradesh is punishable by two years in prison or a $410 fine, a minor sum when compared with the potential profits. Such limited consequences and constant demand ensure the continuation of illegal sand mining, and some suggest that the police and local officials are happy to accept bribes for turning a blind eye to the practices.

Can it be done sustainably?

While legal sand mining operations often take greater environmental care, the question of sustainability remains, as although sand is constantly being created, this happens at a very slow pace.

“Sustainable sand mining is only possible if the quantities that are extracted are less than the quantities that are being replaced through the natural processes,” said Goenka, adding, “Since this varies from month to month and depends on the currents and tidal factors, this is a tricky process and most sand miners do not bother to try and maintain a balance.”

Many companies are aware of the need for sustainable mining practices and seek to minimise potential damage.

US Silica, the largest pure-play fracking sand provider in the US, produces a sustainability report every few years, outlining its environmental programme which is focused on protecting local habitats and minimising the company’s operational carbon footprint.

“Regardless of size or type, any organisation’s operations affect the environment,” the 2014 report claims, “and we work hard to minimise our footprint by maximising efficiencies and reducing resource consumption.”

The fact remains that meeting the current demand requires an unsustainable amount of sand. To address this imbalance, campaigners suggest we use other construction techniques to reduce the need for sand.

“We need to look at alternatives to RCC constructions,” says Goenka, “And we also need to recycle and reuse construction debris.”

In developed countries, reuse of construction materials continues to grow in popularity, with concrete and asphalt from demolished infrastructures being crushed and recycled. For example, in the UK in 2014, nearly a third of housing materials came from recycled sources, and elsewhere, there can and should be a greater reliance on building materials, such as straw and mud.

As urban populations continue to grow, so does the need for sand. So it seems that, in order to protect our waterways and beaches, we must look for alternative building materials to supplement the use of concrete.

This piece originally appeared on Mining Technology

Urbanisation and sustainability: Can sand mining ever be green? | Verdict

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Britain’s housing market is broken, and help to buy is just making it worse.

Nobody seems to like the 'Help to Buy' scheme:
Futures Forum: "Public opposed to £10 billion Help to Buy expansion"

So why is the government so determined to spend another £10bn?

Well, the likes of Morgan Stanley don't particularly car e for the scheme either:

A developer's help to buy poster.
 New figures reveal new-build house prices are increasing thanks to help to buy. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images
The chancellor, Philip Hammond, is lining up another £10bn to extend the“help to buy” programme first launched by George Osborne in 2013, which has already sucked up £10bn of taxpayers’ cash. Yet a report from Morgan Stanley – not usually the type to stick the knife into a flagship government policy – lays bare how this colossal sum has been almost entirely wasted.
Those billions have not helped buyers. The money has gone almost entirely into the pockets of the giant housebuilding firms, which have raised the price of developments by almost exactly the amount made available by the government. All it has meant for first-time buyers is more misery – by pushing up house prices.
Help to buy works by giving aspiring homeowners an interest-free government loan worth up to 20% of a property’s value – if the buyer opts for new-build. The idea was that it would provoke a wave of new building.
But the Morgan Stanley report, headlined “The help to buy premium – and its unintended consequences”, drily unpicks the data, revealing how the beneficiaries have been the major developers. Researchers compared the price of new-build houses in 2013, when the scheme began, with the price of existing or “second-hand” houses.
There has always been a small premium for new-build; people will pay extra for spanking-new kitchens and bathrooms. But since 2013, that premium has rocketed. “The divergence between new-build and second-hand prices is higher than it’s been since records began,” says the report.
Of course, Morgan Stanley didn’t produce this report for the likes of me to make a dig at the government. Its interest is in the share prices of the major housebuilders. It worries that the big builders won’t be able to get away with charging a premium of more than 20% for new-builds, and that the super- profits may be coming to a close.It says that the price of new-build has outstripped second-hand by 15% since the start of help to buy. “We are now around 5% points away from the level at which new-build prices have diverged by the full amount of the government’s equity loan (20% of house price across England).”
Make no mistake about just how much help to buy has fuelled developers’ profits. The new-build market is increasingly reliant on help to buy, with the large builders – Barratt, Taylor Wimpey, Persimmon – suggesting that about half of their volumes are help-to-buy purchases. And what a brilliant money-making wheeze it has been. Morgan Stanley says: “Help to buy (and broader house price inflation, among other things) have helped housebuilder earnings triple since its launch.”
The builders will say the scheme has, indeed, provoked some supply, but evidence is thin. Morgan Stanley says: “Though it has helped drive supply, figures provide ammunition for critics who suggest it has pushed up prices, rather than making them more affordable.”
Despite this, Hammond is preparing to bung another £10bn at the developers – perhaps to “give clarity and certainty” about the scheme – which even the rightwing Adam Smith Institute says is “like throwing petrol on to a bonfire”.
But George Osborne didn’t need investment banks or thinktanks to tell him this back in 2013 when he launched this madness. Guardian Money at the time spoke to the people at the sharp end: young people excluded from the property market. Duncan Stott of the PricedOut group was particularly prescient: “Help to buy should really be called ‘help to sell’, as the main winners will be developers and existing homeowners who will find it easier to sell at inflated prices. Pumping more money into a housing market with chronic undersupply has one surefire outcome: house prices will go up.”
But the government chooses to listen to the developers instead. Britain’s housing market is broken, and help to buy is just making it worse.

Help to buy has mostly helped housebuilders boost profits | Money | The Guardian