Summer 2003 – The Transport Issue
Sustainability Becomes Statutory
Sustainability has been a statutory requirement in Wales for a few years, but up until now there has, (as far as we know) been nothing in any English Act of Parliament requiring decision-makers to strive for sustainability. That is why, for example, the Local Agenda 21 departments of local authorities, which have been quietly abolished by Blair, were so gutless.
That is now going to change with the introduction of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill, which is due to become law in spring, next year. Section 38 of the Bill states that “any person who or body which exercise any function . . . in relation to a regional spatial strategy or local development documents . . . must exercise the function with a view to contributing to the achievement of sustainable development.”
This means that planning officers, planning committees and appeal inspectors will have to take sustainability into account when assessing developments or formulating planning policies. Of course, it all depends how you define sustainability, and the Labour government’s interpretation of the word is dodgy. The fullest explanation of what they understand by it is in the 150 sustainability indicators given in a document called A Better Quality of Life (DETR 1999). Some of these have little to do with sustainability, and are really just indicators of wealth; but the list is fairly comprehensive, and it is not difficult to identify government support for most aspects of what Chapter 7 considers constitutes sustainability (with the exception of “access to land”.)
More Power to the Unelected
Other measures in the bill which are likely to affect our readers include:
Regional Spatial Strategies
Additional powers are to be given to the English regions, through Regional Planning Bodies, and taken away from the counties. County council structure plans, if they exist at all, will no longer be understood to be development plans, while regional plans called Regional Spatial Strategies will be.
There is nothing in the bill about the public accountability of regional governments, which at present are unelected and a magnet for all kinds of mandarins, eminence grises, apparatchiks, and other unsavoury characters who thrive where decision-makers are appointed rather than elected. In a recent statement the ODPM suggested that the three northernmost regi ons in England should be allowed a referendum on whether or not their regional assemblies are to be elected, while Southern regions shouldn’t, because there isn’t any demand. It also seems that where regional assemblies are elected, then county councils will not be allowed: ie you can have an elected county, or an elected regional assembly, but not both.
Local Development Documents
This is the new name for local plans in England. The main difference seems to be that the plan will be in different sections which can be updated and adopted independently from other parts of the plan. This has been introduced because the whole plan approach is so ponderous that most plans are out of date almost as soon as they are adopted. Wales however, sticks with development plans.
Local Development Orders
Local authorities will be empowered to issue “Local Development Orders” permitting a class of developments, in the same way that the Secretary of State can issue General Development Orders (eg permitting agricultural buildings,house extensions etc.) The Secretary of State can veto these orders. This will make it rather difficult for organizations like Chapter 7 to advise people on a national basis.
PPG7 Goes Sustainable !
The consultation draft for the Planning Policy Statement (PPS) 7 which will replace the existing PPG7 (which currently lays down planning policy guidelines for the countryside) was due to appear “this summer”. But now, unsurprisingly, it seems to be delayed, presumably until autumn.
The ministry have announced that the title of the new draft will be Sustainable Development in Rural Areas , which bodes well, but you can’t tell a book by its cover.
Meanwhile a bunch of architects, spearheaded by the Architects Journal , are lobbying to keep PPG7’s outrageous Country Homes policy which allows homes for the rich to be built in places where homes for everyone else are forbidden. It seems that there are no limits to the depths to which some architects will sink in order to secure the right to inflict their oversized egos upon the rest of the population. Chapter 7’s submission to the PPG7 team argues that the Country House policy should be changed to a Highly Sustainable Homes policy, open to all sectors of society.
To keep abreast of what is happening with PPS7, and find out when the consultation draft is out, join the PPG7 e-mail group by e-mailing PPG7email@example.com
Judith Pillawa has been fined 850 by Carmarthenshire Council for defying an enforcement order against living in her caravan in her 17 acre woodland. Judith has to pay the fine off at 5 per week, which makes it slightly less of a sting, but this is a disproportionately high fine. Most first-time fines on low income people in caravans tend to be in the range of 300. The only first-conviction fine that we have heard of higher than this was also imposed by Carmarthenshire, 1,500 on somebody living in their workshop. We’re not sure what exactly is eating these Carmarthenshire madges but they won’t be able to fine Judith again, as her land has now been transferred to Pembrokeshire — where Tony Wrench is facing the demolition of his turf-roofed roundhouse.
Hockerton Housing Project is expanding. Permission has been gained for another two sustainable homes on land adjacent to the existing five-home settlement in Newark and Sherwood DC. The application was made by people who are a separate group from the Hockerton project, but who are working closely in tandem with the existing community.
Last year, Lord Justice Simon Brown ruled in the case of South Bucks DC v Porter that planners had to take into account human rights issues, the public benefits and disbenefits of making a family homeless and the possibility of having to jail defendants when they apply to the courts for an injunction to prevent somebody living on their land. This ruling has been upheld by the House of Lords when they dismissed the appeals of three local authorities and quashed injunctions against gypsy families.
The court ruled that the old “rubber stamping” process, whereby proof of a breach of planning control was sufficient to grant an injunction, no longer applied. Lord Bigham of Cornhill stated: ” When application is made to court . . . the evidence will usually make clear whether, and to what extent, the local planning authority has taken into account the personal circumstances of the defendant and any hardship an injunction may cause . . . It is ultimately for the court to decide whether the remedy sought is just and proportionate in all circumstances.”
Lord Steyn stressed that courts have a broad discretion in the granting of injunctions. He emphasised that courts must consider all re levant aspects: health, education, alternative sites, prevalence of roadside encampments, visual impact, landscape features, planning history, special designations, previous and pending applications and so on –as well as the Human Rights Act.
This is a major victory for not only gypsies, but also for other people living on their land, since local authorities will think twice now about applying for injunctions. Congratulations to Angus Murdoch of Travellers Advice Team, and the other lawyers who worked hard to secure this result. South Bucks DC v Linda Porter, Wrexham CBC v Michael Berry, Chichester DC v Keet & Searle.
Readers following the saga of Warren Fruit Farm on these pages will be sorry to learn that the project has finally collapsed. With Jim Aplin and Hayley Morland losing their appeal for a residential caravan to work their organic box scheme, and refusal of 12 months temporary permission for another four families, most of the couples hoping to set up smallholdings on the fruit farm subdivided into tenancies have thrown in the towel, and gone their different ways.
According to one of the last families to leave:”The final straw that drove us to leave wasn’t the planners (although it is a weight off our shoulders that we don’t have to fight them now). It was partly everyone else going, so we’d be very isolated without neighbours or any community; and partly the way the whole Warren Farm set up is going now. The owner is ‘farming’ the place himself now to give justification for bringing ‘mobile agricultural structures’ on without planning permission. Actually the work is being done by two unsavoury characters who used to rent a holding here and behind the scenes were very clear that their only motivation in appearing to work the land was to get a desirable home in the countryside, took the piss out of people who genuinely work the land and whose set-up disgusted the RSPCA when they got called in about their poultry. It’s a total scam now. All the genuine motivation behind the whole project has left.”
So, well done, Tewkesbury planners; having made life impossible for people with bright ideas how to make the fruit farm a functioning and productive community, you have cleared the decks for scam artists. It will come as no surprise if the owner decides it is in his interest to bull-doze the orchards (which the local plan says should be conserved) in order to present himself as a “bona fide farmer”.
Caroline Barry has had renewal for her straw-bale agricultural dwelling summarily refused by Mendip District Council, and is facing enforcement proceedings. The decision was delegated to the officers, thanks to the machinations of a certain district councillor, even though an Inspector at a previous appeal stated: “In granting [temporary] permission for the mobile home in 1999, the Council clearly felt there was some merit in the enterprise and I think that it is reasonable to ask that it is given a full review after the passing of an appropriate time.”
Holywell Fields application for five eco-homes in connection with a box-scheme and other agricultural activities in Aylesbury Vale is going to appeal on 9 September.
Congratulations to Nick H. who after a five year struggle has got three years temporary planning permission for a wooden dwelling on the one acre plot where he raises day old poultry.
Homesteading is a way of getting housing cheap in run down areas, by promising to stay in the area and help build a new community. Newcastle hit the headlines in 2001 when they sold four ex-council flats for 50 pence each to local families willing to stay and invest in the community. The new owners agreed to invest their own money in repairing and refurbishing the properties. Their investment was matched by renovation grants from the council. The scheme helped to create a stable community by encouraging people to stay in the area.
Last year Sheffield put up some of its council homes for sale at a 50 per cent reduction. The properties were all “difficult to let” and only available to local families who wanted to stay and invest in the community. The council wanted to see the properties brought back into use.
To find out more about what councils and housing associations are doing to tackle low demand for housing in some areas, you can contact the Empty Homes Agency, 020 7828 6288, firstname.lastname@example.org (from Groundswell News 21 , Spring 2003, 020 7737 5500.)
Land Settlement Association Scheduled for Sustainable Rebirth?
Near the village of Fen Drayton in Cambridgeshire is the 95 hectare site of the former Land Settlement Association . The LSA, which was established in the 1930, contained about 50 small-hold ings each consisting of a dwelling and approximately 3 acres of land. Since the 1970s the economics of horticulture have forced many of the small-holders out of business with the result that the estate now consists of a network of small land holdings with a wide variation in land use, including some disuse and a patch work of buildings of variable quality.
The policy for the LSA in the South Cambs local plan allows only for development associated with agriculture or forestry. However, during the public consultation on the existing Local Plan a local developer sought to have this policy revoked. In his adjudication, the Inspector stated that in his view it would be appropriate, given the history of the area, to consider effective ways of re-using the land as a positive new test-bed for future patterns of sustainable living. He recommended that the necessary modification of the Local Plan should be considered during the second review due to start this autumn.
The developer’s response was to propose the establishment of an eco-village consisting of about 700 houses. In view of this proposal South Cambridgeshire District Council sought clarification from the Inspector concerning his recommendation. In reply he stated that he had not intended a large scale development but did recommend that consideration should be given to devising a policy that could lead to development that would be far more modest in scale but more radical in character.
The Parish Council is concerned about falling numbers in the primary school and would like to see some development within the village. A village survey conducted during the summer of 2002 indicated that the village would support modest development but would resist large-scale development. The District Council’s planners are presently working on a new policy for the site. We are not sure who sent us the above information. If anyone can put us in touch with the prospective developer, we would be grateful
To Gwyrdd, meaning Green Roofs, is a newly formed group who have joined forces to promote affordable, local-needs, eco-friendly housing near Newport. They have received funding to research methods of financing and constructing eco-homes and are visiting best -practice homes around the country, so that they can report back to the public in the area. For more information contact: 01239 821909 or email: email@example.com
Sustainable Projects Ireland Ltd (SPIL) is applying for planning permission to build a village of 100 ecohomes connected with a pub, an organic farm and enterprise centre. The homes will be solar powered and built from environmentally friendly materials, while the village will use the traditional layout of Irish rural town around a village green. The non- profit co-operative is consulting locals before applying for planning.
The existing “adverse possession”, by which you can claim ownership of a definable piece of land if you have been in continuous and genuine occupation for more than 12 years goes “oot the wundie”(as our Caledonian expert puts it) on 13th Oct 2003, when relevant sections of the Land Registration Act 2002 come into force.
The new law means that: it is no longer possible to use adverse possession as a defence against a possession order if the land is registered.
If the land is registered you now have to inform the title holder after 10 years of your occupation, allowing him two years to reassert possession.
If land is unregistered not much changes. For more information phone Advisory Service for Squatters, 0207 837 75 80
New Agricultural Subsidies Pit Landowners Against Tenants
A dispute has broken out between landowners and tenant farmers over the latest proposals for the “decoupling” of Common Agricultural Policy subsidies from production. Payments for arable production will paid out to those who hold “entitlements” calculated upon the area cultivated in the period, 2000 to 2002.
According to Professor Allan Buckwell, chief economist at the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), the entitlements may be sold without the land which initially justified them — rather like milk quotas. However you can’t sell the entitlements on until you have activated them by cultivating the said land; subsequently any buyer has got to demonstrate that they are indeed cultivating an area of land equivalent to the value of the entitlements — though it doesn’t have to be the original land.
This arrangement will create a new market in entitlements, which could make life more difficult for new entrants, who will have to buy entitlements as well as land. There is also a danger that farmers will move their entitlements away from land where “cross-compliance” with environmental standards imposes a heavy burden, and towards land where compl iance is relatively cheap and easy.
The matter has opened up a bitter dispute between the CLA and the Tenants Farmers Association over whether the entitlements should be attached to the land or to the farmer.
The CLA accuse the TFA of having pushed through legislation which is solely in the interest of existing tenants, who will inherit the entitlements — and of betraying future and prospective tenants, who may take on a tenancy from which a previous tenant has walked away with the entitlements.
Reg Haywood of the TFA however claims that “The CLA is lobbying like a wolf in sheep’s clothing as its main concern is not the environmental issues but that the control of the new entitlements should be in the hands of those who own the land and that would be a disaster for British agriculture.”
Chapter 7 agrees with the CLA that creating a market in entitlements is highly undesirable. On the other hand, paying landowners on a per-acre basis for producing very little food is manifestly unjust — even more so than paying them for producing lots of it. The danger is that it will attract a new class of urban landowner who will buy up large areas of land and cash in on the subsidies, whilst producing a minimum of food, leaving the consumer even more reliant on dodgy imports.
One answer is to protect UK agriculture by imposing tariffs on imported produce so that home-produced food sells at a decent price. But we will have to wait for the demise of the World Trade Organization before this happens.
I refer to the very last entry in your interesting report Sustainable Homes and Livelihoods in the Countryside , 89. The Dryden Case.
I recognise that you write “we cannot vouch for all the information provided above”. However Harry Collinson was a friend of mine. He was a gentle man who cared for the environment — you almost certainly would have felt more in tune with him than with Mr. Dryden.
I do not know about the case in detail, but I do dislike you quoting it as if Harry were an authoritarian figure.
Wouldn’t it be better if you had less numbers in the appendix, but could vouch for them?
The editors write:
We apologise if we have caused any offence. We certainly did not wish to impugn the memory of Harry Collinson, who we described (in C7 No 11) as “very brave”, and who was found, in Derwentside DC’s report on the tragedy, to have acted entirely properly. The information we have published on this affair comes from Derwentside’s report and to this extent we can vouch for it.
Our quarrel is with the planning policies Harry Collinson was employed to impose, which do not provide for self-employed people who want to carry out normal manual activities in their backyard (in Dryden’s case small-scale agriculture, car repairs and firewood) — but instead seem to expect all manual workers to live in residential boxes and go out to work for a firm on an industrial estate.
Some readers may have been lucky enough to have known Jeremy Sandford who died earlier this year. Jeremy was best known for his groundbreaking TV documentary on homelessness, Cathy Come Home , which triggered the formation of Shelter. If I remember right, he followed it up with Edna the Inebriate Woman , notable for Patricia Hayes’ convincing and sympathetic portrayal of a “bag lady”.
But Jeremy did not pursue his TV career and opted for a modest rural existence in the border counties, where he helped travellers and others out with plan ning applications and eviction orders. I used to bump into him at Glastonbury and the Green Gathering, wandering around, accordion slung over his shoulder, always happy to spin a tune. He was a lovely, gentle, modest man, and will be fondly remembered by many.
Driven out of House and Home
How the right to build was sacrificed for the right to drive.
For the last eighty years the English rural planning system has been operating under a false premise. The premise is that homes destroy the countryside. But homes do not destroy the countryside, the culprit is the motor car.
Up until the arrival of the motor-car in about 1900, hardly anybody complained about the effect of house-building upon the rural environment or saw it as a threat. Homes were built where they were required, close to farmland, mineral resources or water, or clustered around market centres and transport nodes. Houses were, by necessity, built from local materials that blended into the landscape and imposed certain solutions to structural problems which formed the basis for vernacular styles. Insofar as people did complain about house-building, they were concerned with the spread of the metropolis and slums in industrial towns. Town Planning, as it was beginning to be called, grew up around the concern to secure adequate sanitation and enforce housing standards, not around the need to protect the countryside
Critics of development were more worried about the incursion of the railways into the countryside than about houses, and were already beginning to question the need for mobility. “Now every fool in Buxton can be in Bakewell, and every fool in Bakewell can be in Buxton” was Ruskin’s comment when a railway line was constructed between the two towns.
Around 1900, everything changed with the arrival of the motor car. HG Wells foresaw the entire process in 1902 when he prophesied: “By the year 2000 people in fast cars on specially built roads will turn the whole of South East England into one vast suburb”. He was right about the fast cars, right about the bypasses, right about the suburbs and right about the South East.
By 1912 George Bourne was describing how the Surrey village where he had lived for 30 years was already being bought up by car-borne commuters. By 1932 the town planner Thomas Sharpe was warning that with growing use of the car “all the land in the country can be regarded as building land and consequently all the land in the country is being laid out as a gigantic building estate”.
The problem that Sharpe identified was elementary. The mobility provided by the motor car (far more penetrative than the railway), allowed “every fool” working in London or Manchester or Bakewell to live in a house miles out in the countryside and drive into the city and back again every day.
There are two solutions to this problem. One is to restrict motor transport, the other is to restrict housebuilding. Although houses in the countryside had caused no problems whatsoever for centuries, the solution chosen was to restrict the right to build. The 1947 Planning Act, which remains the foundation stone of our planning system, did nothing to restrict the production or use of motor vehicles or the construction of roads. Instead, it took away the primordial right of a person to build their home on their land (even if they didn’t own a car). The right to build anywhere was sacrificed for the right to drive anywhere.
The justification for this social decision has been that restricting the public’s right to drive would be draconian — as if restricting the right to build were not. The driving force behind it was economic. Restricting car production is of no benefit to the motor industry, but restricting land use has a miraculous effect upon property values. Besides the people who pushed through planning legislation were the sort of people who could afford both a car and the inflated cost of a scarce house in the countryside.
The predictable result has been that the automobile has permeated the countryside, whilst affordable housing has almost disappeared. Dual carriageways have been driven through the middle of the New Forest, Salisbury Plain and virtually every other landscape that the original campaigners for planning legislation wanted to protect. Villages have been taken over by commuters and turned into dormitories. Shops , post offices, schools and public transport have disappeared, making it even more difficult for the 20 per cent of rural dwellers who don’t have access to a car to carry on living there. Houses built out of imported materials are plonked like flying saucers on the edge of villages, and so planners impose stylistic restrictions, in a pathetic attempt to make them look vernacular, which instead just makes them look false. Efforts to kick star t rural economies back into action result in reverse commuting with people who can’t find anywhere to live in the country driving out from the towns. And anyone who wants to live in a rural community on a common or garden income (note the derivation of this expression) is faced with draconian planning problems if they try to live where they work.
On top of that, the unbridled use of motor transport has caused a host of other problems. Transport accounts for over a quarter of the UK’s carbon emissions, and the output of emissions has nearly doubled since 1970. The other costs of motor transport include excessive resource use, pollution, ill health, accidents, road-building, increased length of journeys, demands on police time, incursions on public space, restrictions on children’s freedom, additional child-care expenses, pressure to earn a two-car income, increased criminal opportunity — and the planning system itself, which was more or less unnecessary until cars arrived.
Recognition of all these problems (except the last one) has led the Government to adopt a policy of restraining traffic growth. The means it has adopted to achieve this echo and reinforce, the original mistake made in 1947. The ratcheted increase in petrol tax, introduced by the Conservative government in a fit of panic after the road protests of the early 1990s has been abandoned by the Blair government. Roadbuilding is back on the agenda. The only measure advanced by the present government to stem traffic growth is the planning solution: to force people to live in places where, supposedly, they will drive less.
So it is that, in the last ten years, a series of planning measures and policies have been imposed upon us, restricting even further the right to live where we choose. The 1994 version of Planning Policy Guidance (PPG) 13 recommended that planners discourage small settlements, and increase densities in urban areas so as to “make it easier for people to live near their work.” The 2000 Urban White Paper proposed making cities more attractive places to live to lure them away from the countryside. PPG 3 on Housing enforces a “sequential test” which means that housing is not permitted on greenfield sites until every scrap of available brownfield land is used up. The idea is that if you cram everyone, except the privileged few who can afford a house in the countryside, into compact cities then they will drive less, because they will live nearer their work and other facilities.
Of course this is fantasy. The main object of owning a car i s to be able to get somewhere else, preferably before someone else. In a competitive society people drive as far as their income and their available time allows them. People in the rich and densely populated South East (excluding London) own more cars, commute further and drive more each year than people in the other less densely populated regions. Mothers in Hampstead spend hours driving across town to ensure their little treasures get the best possible education. Ken’s congestion charge for London motorists , if the charges are high enough, might have a real effect. But merely forcing more people to live in Hampstead, Hackney, Hemel Hempstead or Halifax will have an utterly marginal impact upon their driving habits, and upon the total carbon emissions of the country. It is a form of environmental window dressing, designed to protect the motor and oil industry, and the impact is most keenly felt by the people least to blame — those who would like to live in a self-reliant rural community where there was no need to own a private car.
The measures proposed in PPG13 and PPG3 are a topsy-turvy solution based upon forcing people to live in the right place so that they drive cars less. But it is motor cars that are the problem, not houses. Any rational society would cut vehicle use to globally sustainable proportions and then people would automatically live in a sensible place.
Towards a Sustainable Rural Transport System
Persuading countrydwellers to abandon their cars may not be as difficult as it might seem.
A lot of nonsense is talked about how car ownership is a necessity for country-dwellers. In fact over 20 per cent of rural households do not have permanent access to a car. For example, two of Chapter 7’s neighbours are key workers in the health sector who do not drive, and who have brought up four children in a small village, without any noticeable ill-effect.
But living in the countryside without a car is becoming progressively more difficult, because 80 per cent of the population has become dependent upon one, and very often two cars. Public transport services, local shops and other services become unviable, and non-drivers find themselves increasingly marooned.
The Government claims that it wants to reverse this trend, but its efforts to do so have so far been misdirected, half-hearted and ineffective. Here we propose a new approach which will not bring in sustainable rural transport overnight, but which could set the ball rolling in the right direction
* * * Current Government policies to cut rural car use comprise one very flimsy stick, one stick which is more of a blunt instrument and one extremely unappetising carrot.
The flimsy stick is taxation, which is currently applied at a level that fails to reflect the damage caused by motor cars, and is utterly ineffective at deterring people from driving. The risk of another gutter-press led protest against fuel taxation is sufficient to ensure that no UK government will dare introduce levels of petrol taxation that will make a difference. Effective carbon taxation requires international agreement, which at present is being blocked by the Texas oilmen who run the US administration.
The blunt instrument is the planning policy restricting dwellings in the countryside, analysed in detail in the previous article.
The carrot is the money which has been thrown into rural public transport by the Labour Government as sign of its commitment to “sustainable rural transport”. While those of us who already use rural buses can only be grateful for the minor improvement in public services, it is clear that the Government is tossing banknotes into the wind. Motorists are not (surprise surprise) jumping out of their cars t o use the new services — the 11.15 pm from Yeovil is lucky if it has two people on it. Besides, the new services have been so poorly advertised that one suspects that the plan may have been to withdraw the funding after a few years, on the grounds that there is “no demand”.
* * * What is needed is a fresh carrot which is so attractive that it will persuade large numbers of people to abandon their cars and change their lifestyle. There is only one such carrot: and that is the prospect of a good home in a desirable location, where car ownership was unnecessary — and at a price significantly lower than would be paid for a normal house.
Not everyone would go for this. But if you placed an advertisement in the property section of the local paper like the imaginary one below, who can doubt that you would be inundated with queries? The same would apply for a more modest house in the affordable price bracket. A cluster of such developments in a given rural area would create the critical mass necessary to support public transport and other facilities and as services became better the process would snowball.
The ease with which the government could initiate such a project is probably without parallel. It would cost them nothing. All that would be necessary would be for it to encourage local authorities to insert policies such as the following into their Local Plan.
Barsetshire Local Plan Policy SH1
CAR FREE SUSTAINABLE HOUSING DEVELOPMENTS MAY BE PERMITTED WHERE NORMAL RESIDENTIAL DEVELOPMENT IS NOT ALLOWED PROVIDED THAT:
THE DEVELOPMENT PROVIDES A CAR POOL SCHEME OF NOT MORE THAN X CARS PER 10 HOUSEHOLDS.
THE DEVELOPMENT IS CONVENIENTLY SITUATED IN TERMS OF ACCESS TO FACILITIES AND PUBLIC TRANSPORT, OR ALTERNATIVELY THESE ARE PROVIDED BY THE DEVELOPERS.
A TRAVEL PLAN IS PROVIDED SHOWING HOW THESE AND OTHER MEASURES WILL PROVIDE A VIABLE TRANSPORT NETWORK FOR RESIDENTS.
THE DEVELOPMENT IS SUSTAINABLE IN THE FOLLOWING OTHER RESPECTS . . . (eg renewable energy, waste disposal, on site employment etc.)
Planning is an awesome tool, because single sentence policies such as the one above can alter the structure of land prices across the entire region. Policies such as this one would enable developers, or groups of self-builders, to buy land at agricultural prices, or not far above, cutting 50 or 100 per cent off the cost of each house. It therefore also offers a way of providing more affordable housing in the countryside for the relatively high numbers of poor people who do not own a car anyway. It can be introduced at a local level, and so can be introduced as a pilot scheme in selected districts to assess the benefits and the difficulties.
Obviously, there would be difficulties. For example, car-free developments might well work for public transport commuters, locally based workers, home workers and retired people; but it is difficult to imagine a contracting sheep pregnancy scanner or a rural builder running their business without some kind of dispensation for work vans. One can imagine an undesirable scenario where workers commuted to their yard by public transport or bike and then hopped into their pick-up, when they might just as well have parked it overnight at home.
A policy favouring car-free rural developments would not on its own create a sustainable rural transport system — that would require a level of taxation or rationing that reflected the social and environmental costs of the motor car, and that would only come through international agreement.
But allowing car-free rural housing would reward those who chose to pollute less; and it would build up the nucleus of a car-free rural society to provide a viable and attractive alternative, if and when a punitive level of carbon taxation or rationing is finally introduced.
What is a Car-Free Development?
A car-free housing development is not free of all automobiles, but is free of dependency upon them.
This is achieved by imposing a legal agreement upon owners or tenants that they do not own a private car; and by providing a range of services giving residents greater choice as to what mode of transport to use for any given journey.
These services may include:
A community car pool or hire scheme, with or without a van, minibus etc. Shared electric vehicle powered with renewable energy generated on site. Bicycle facilities. Shared school runs etc. Regular delivery services for all essential commodities. On site shop and other facilities. A “travel club” which makes arrangements with public transport providers to buy tickets in bulk at a discount. In larger developments, provision by the developer of new public transport services, eg a new bus service.
Residents still have access to a car when they need one. However the standing costs of running a car are paid for on each journey. Whereas car owners tend to amortize standing costs by making as many journeys as possible with fuel costs of around 10 pence per mile, car-pool participants are faced with the true cost of the trip, more like 30 or 40 penc e per mile, every time they travel.
Car-pools are common on the continent, particularly in Germany, and are emerging in this country — there is one in Bristol, and another in Stroud. There are a number of urban car-free developments in the UK. And a few rural developments (Hockerton Housing Project, Tinkers Bubble and Steward Wood) have shared car systems.
Here are a few sensible suggestions for solving traffic problems — followed by a few not so sensible ones
The Buscycle and the Walking Bus
Colin Ward writes:
I live at one of the nodules of an interesting transport experiment. We’re continually told that the complexity of the rural journey to work means that you will never lure commuters out of their cars, and that this inevitably results (for those who can afford it) in two-car families, with one partner driving to the nearest town or its station, while the other has to take on the school runs and everything else.
One of our local heroes has plugged a few gaps in the big operators bus services by running an early morning bus to catch a specific train and another late night bus home for teenage merry-makers.
Now he has dreamed up the buscycle, and won the support of local authorities to run two experimental routes in Suffolk. The bus cycle is a 16 seater bus with trailers that can carry 9 bikes. The publicity explains: “Ride your bike to the bus stop, load it on the trailer and jump on the bus. You can then unload it at the other end and finish your journey on your bike. If you prefer, you can leave it in one of the secure bike parks at the bus stop so it’s waiting for you when you return. Of course, you don’t have to have a bike to use the buscycle.”
The buscycle’s initiator told me of the time it takes for an idea like this to take root in people’s minds and then to change their daily habits.
But, the Buscycle may be one of those bright ideas that is too useful to ignore, just like the “Walking Bus” where one adult accompanies the further child on the walk to school, gathering up others en route so that the daily journey becomes a healthy social event.
In 1971, 88% of 9-year-old children were allowed to go to school unaccompanied. In 1990 this was just 27%. One third of all travel by females in the UK is now for the purpose of chaffeuring.
Governments are so fearful of the powerful motoring lobby, and so unwilling to face up to the social and environmental costs of ever increasing car dependence, that we have to rely on little local initiatives like these to start the process of changing our behaviour.
Pull Down Your Urban Motorway
As you walk along San Francisco’s Embarcadero with its palm trees blowing in the ocean breeze, watching historic street cars rumble by, it’s hard to imagine that just 10 years ago you would have been walking in a dark smelly street under two levels of freeway. That freeway was damaged by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, and torn down to make way for today’s spectacular boulevard.
Demolishing the freeway was controversial, since it provided access for a large part of the city. But some of it was demolished immediately after the quake and Hayes Valley, a once marginal neighbourhood, soon blossomed with new shops, restaurants, and activity. Residents realized that demolishing the rest could have similar benefits and began fighting reconstruction plans. Between 1996 and 1999, San Franciscans voted four times on whether to rebuild the Central Freeway, ultimately deciding to replace it with a boulevard.
The Embarcadero is now complete and Octavia Boulevard is under construction. Early results are nothing short of extraordinary. The Embarcadero is a major regional shopp ing and entertainment district; real estate values have rocketed, and billions of dollars have been invested in the area. Hayes Valley has been transformed into one of the city’s most hip and arty neighbourhoods. An area once filled with drugs, prostitution and parking lots, now boasts restaurants, galleries and new apartments.
Demolishing the freeways provided two fundamental ingredients for urban revitalisation: extra land (the freeways took up a huge amount of space) and an improved environment. As is the case with nuclear power stations, demolishing the freeways cost more than building them; but land sales made up the cost difference.
The earthquake helped push San Francisco into the future. Hopefully other cities can get there, without a natural disaster.
Adapted from Land and Liberty , Henry George Foundation, Autumn/Winter 2002-3.
Build Ditches through Bogs
Transport Minister, Alastair Darling, recently pledged 7 billion for widening motorways and trunk roads. Transport 2000 director Stephen Joseph stated: “This will simply put more cars on the road, and make matters worse”. His colleague, Steve Hounsham, put it more graphically in regard to the Birmingham Northern Relief Road: “This road will fill up with traffic faster than a ditch across a bog fills up with water.”
Commute from Another Country
Kent County Council is encouraging families to move to France and commute to work in order to relieve the pressure for new housing in the South East. The council is hoping to tempt families to travel daily to work in the UK with cheap deals through the tunnel or on the Eurostar. The Council doesn’t mention what people in Normandy think of their countryside becoming a London suburb.
Use Land Profits to Subsidize Car Production
Profits resulting from restrictive land-use policies designed to stem car use are being used to subsidize unprofitable car production. Honda recently revealed that a site in Swindon, which the car manufacturer bought for 6m in 1985, is now worth 200m. Honda’s factory on the site has lost 390m since it opened in 1989, but there are no plans to shut the plant. The company is banking on the assumption that in the future it will continue to be able to offset production losses with land value gains. (Info from Land and Liberty )
Hide Cars U nderground
At a cost of 183 million pounds, a two kilometre tunnel is to be bored under Stonehenge in order to “rescue Britain’s greatest ancient monument from the surrounding roads.” According to The Stonehenge Project, “a world class visitor centre will be created . . . It means that Stonehenge gets the dignified setting it so justly deserves”.
Dignified? There is nothing more undignified for man, beast or building than to be gawped at by tourists. It was the banality and the sheer unpleasantness of the A303 that protected Stonehenge and kept it aloof. Once the cars are underground, the heritage-mongers will have a field day plastering the site with interpretation panels and sales points. Stonehenge will have about as much dignity as a caged tiger at the zoo.
On page 6 we outlined how worship of the motor-car has led policy-makers to herd people , against their will, into dense urban housing developments, in the name of sustainability — a policy encapsulated in PPG3 on housing. In following five pages we present a selection of writings from authors critical of this stance.
David Nicholson Lord says building in the countryside could be an act of reclamation, not devastation
It’s an odd but intriguing fact that most people who live in cities — and in Britain at least that means most people — would rather live somewhere else. They don’t like man-made environments, find urban life stressful, noisy and polluted and hanker after the countryside. This is the consistent message of opinion polls going back over half a century and helps to explain why in recent years Britain’s metropolitan areas have been undergoing a net loss of 90,000 people a year. It also explains why Britain’s cities, and thus also its countryside, are at a turning point.
If you’re one of the 80 per cent of the population who live in urban areas, you probably won’t need to be told this. In London, a booming service economy coupled with big new inflows of migrants has reversed a long-standing population decline and the big question is how all the new houses — over 20,000 a year for the next two decades — are going to be shoehorned in without ruining quality of life. In many Northern cities the picture is quite different — of continuing decline, of housing, indeed of whole neighbourhoods, that have become unsellable.
Do these apparently different symptoms have a common cause? And if so, is there a cure? The answer to both these questions is “yes.” It’s about connection — or more accurately disconnection — with nature.
Nature is vital to human functioning. Evidence has accumulated over the last two decades that the “double indoors” of office and city is harmful for human health, physical and psychological. Greenery, by contrast, is therapeutic — relieving stress and aggression, promoting creativity and healing. It also plays a vital role in “air-conditioning” cities.
Science can’t fully explain the relationship between humans and nature. Culture, mythology and spirituality are also involved. Nature has always been a primary source of spiritual experience and since the decline of Christian
ity in the West, it has emerged as the basis of the “secular religion” of environmentalism. In effect, the lack of nature in cities deprives people of their religious rights.
In fact, those able to escape cities have always found ways of doing so. Since the mid- 20th century the demographic phenomenon known as counter-urbanisation has devastated inner-city areas. The larger and more densely populated the city, the faster population outflow has occurred. Conventional social science techniques go only so far in explaining counter-urbanisation. One key study on England attributed it to a “force deep in the English psyche.”
While the disconnection of people and nature imposed by urbanisation and industrialisation over the last two centuries persists, cities will remain places from which people wish to escape. We need to green our cities, far more imaginatively than currently envisaged. And since this will mean freeing up space in cities for nature, we will also need to create new places to live in the countryside.
Let’s look at cities first. These can be turned “inside out” by networks of greenways linking up with larger blocks of open space, from parks and commons to urban forests, wetlands, river floodplains and city farms. We also need to re-examine legislation that governs urban land values, since these are a serious obstacle to developing new low-intensity uses. Other possibilities include road closures to create new land uses; “wild” zones for young people; a big expansion of urban farming and the local urban food economy; city “homesteading” schemes for small farmers; and energy and recycling projects to make cities more self-sufficient.
We also need to allow more people to live outside cities — and this d oesn’t have to be a recipe for rural Armageddon. It would help if we started thinking about national carrying capacity and population policy. The four million extra homes said to be needed in England over the next two decades are the result of social and political choices, about family size and structure, population growth and immigration. As such, they are amenable to change.
Equity — in other words, environmental justice — also suggests another look at the rigid distinctions enshrined in the planning system between city and country. Over 80 per cent of British people are crowded together on roughly a tenth of its area. Is it heresy to suggest that this ratio should be relaxed a little?
If we did that, we might be pleasantly surprised at the results. First, since much of the countryside has been badly damaged by intensive farming, it’s not beyond belief that new settlement could improve it environmentally — in terms, say, of wildlife value or landscape features.
Second, the UK’s population will eventually start to decline — around 2040 on current forecasts. This means we could design short-life developments — to be recycled back into nature when human pressure abates. Whether it’s the pioneering zero-impact BedZED project in south London or the 15,000 communities that form part of the international eco-villages network, an enormous fund of knowledge has been built up on how to design settlements that are green, sustainable and good to live in. Why don’t we put this knowledge to use?
Development, in other words, doesn’t have to be for ever and doesn’t have to involve a vast and expensive infrastructure. A series of self-sufficient eco-cities — each laid out as a constellation of eco-villages and each designed to “live lightly” on the land — is a vastly different proposition from an agglomeration of heavily-serviced dormitory housing estates. Combined with experiments in building and tenure — for example, kit-built timber-framed houses on short-term leases — it could be an act of reclamation, not devastation, particularly if linked to homesteading or food production.
That people might experience it as such is evidenced by the much greater readiness twixt higher-density living in a rural environment. In 2001 a Gallup poll found that 75 per cent of the population would be prepared to live in high-density housing provided it had a rural or village setting; only 23 per cent would be interested in high-density housing in cities. Clearly, access to “real” nature is a major determinant of the acceptability of settlements.
It ‘s worth pursuing the logic of this survey, however. If people would be happier living at higher densities as as long as they were in the countryside, “greenfield” development would not only promote the “human ” sustainability of settlements; it would also save land — in other words, countryside. Building outside cities would mean, simply, less building — anywhere. David Nicholson-Lord is is the author of Green Cities – And Why We Need Them , NEF Pocketbook 9, available from the New Economics Foundation (0207 089 2800) or Central Books (0208 986 5488), price 4.99
Am I the only one to get a sinking feeling when thinking about the new approach to housing described in PPG3 of March 2000? This is one of the foundation stones of the residential density directive 2002, which will be operative from 2 December 2002.
The directive tells us that housing developments below 30 to 50 homes per hectare should be avoided as representing an unsustainable and inefficient use of land. Fortunately, we have a rich legacy of relatively low-density housing and initially the residential density directive will only apply to south-east Engla nd.
Where is the evidence-based research that says my back garden, which feeds and entertains my family, is an inefficient use of land? Every day I leave my detached house in a village and commute ten miles to work in Oxford by a public bus service. Where is the research that says this and other villages along existing bus routes are unsustainable locations for low-density housing?
Where is the evidence that public open spaces of sufficient quality and accessibility can be provided and managed to compensate for the loss of private provision? Where is the convincing story that an urban renaissance has anything to do with the protection of rural England, or vice versa?
There is no such evidence. PPG3 is the greatest confidence trick ever played by a government on the public and the planning system. Its affordable housing provisions are an excuse for not having to finance housing from the public purse. Its sequential test of sustainable housing locations for development is an excuse for not having a transport policy that deals effectively with the car driver.
The sadness is that PPG3 is an obstacle to the development of affordable homes and an integrated, sustainable transport system.
Letter in Planning magazine, 15 November 2002, from Daniel Scharf, planning adviser, Morga n Cole, Oxford .
Communities of Place
Alastair McIntosh I have a reputation for spoiling landscapes for people. That’s the trouble with being an ecologist, and particularly a human ecologist. You get taken somewhere by somebody and then you read the landscape in such a way as to spoil it for them!
For example, my French wife took me to one of her family’s favourite spots in the Alps. She asked me what I thought of this place that she’d loved since childhood, and I said, “Well, it’s beautiful. But it’s a fossil landscape. It was created by pastoral practices now discontinued and so, sadly, it’s dying.”
Saddened and a little doubtful, she took me to see a local farmer. True enough, he confirmed, very few people are still following the old grazing practices. Why make hay when you can import it so much more easily from further down the valley. To make matters worse, it’s getting more and more difficult for the few traditional farmers who remain to get by. Without a certain critical mass, there just isn’t enough networking to share labour and resources. As a result both a way of life and, more slowly, the landscape that it created over many generations were under transition. As the human ecology of place unravels, so does its natural ec ology.
The same is true all over Europe. I see it every time I go back to my home island, Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides. Once the blown-sand “machair” coastal grasslands were covered with raised beds “lazybeds” and were the arable mainstay of the community. Today, it’s cheaper to buy the potatoes from the shop. In consequence, the machairs don’t get fertilised with seaweed, dung and soot the way they used to. It’s thought that this causes them to suffer gradual nutrient reduction and so the vegetation cover becomes less resilient. When winter storms come, the wind can more easily get in underneath the turf and cause massive sand blow-outs.
The lesson, again, is that people in the past have substantially made many of the landscapes we most know and love. I find this particularly evident as you leave Scotland and fly across the Irish Sea. On reaching Ireland you immediately observe that you’ve come to a country with a different history.
In Britain, the countryside has been sanitized of its people since the Enclosures and Highland Clearances. Left behind is a landscape in which, too often, “everyone who ever mattered is dead and gone”. 1
Thanks to landlords and the planning systems that their social class in political power constructed, rural life tends to be the preserve of the rich and t heir servants. The poor more often live up an urban high-rise with a TV as their only window on nature.
In contrast, Ireland’s countryside is still alive with human settlement. It’s a cultural landscape where people and nature have co-evolved into communities of place.
Place matters in Celtic identity. This sees the social realm as being much more than a mere community of interests, but rather, an holistic community of place. It’s a very powerful thing that goes right to the soul. It enters our bones and even the smell of who we are.
Genesis 27 has the poetry to name what the sterilised modern world misses. “See,” said the aged and blind Isaac, reaching out, as he thought, to confirm the identity of his son Esau. “The smell of my son is as the smell of a field which the Lord hath blessed.”
Even the vexed problem of incomers can be reconciled by the power of place. No less an arch-colonist than Edmund Spenser lamented of Ireland back in 1589: “I heard that any English there should bee worse then the Irish: Lord, how quickely doth that countrey alter men’s natures!” If you stay in a place long enough, you eventually start to partake of the qualities of that place.
At least, that was true then. In those days people were far less mobile. You couldn’t buy corn from Americ a or chicken from Thailand. You had to stand the ground on which you stood. And that way the ground could work its magic. It could heal and sustain the culture.
Today, if we want to keep a grip on culture as well as conserve the environment, we must plan, consciously, to maximise what the experts call “linkages and multipliers” with our local place. We must do so not just at the economic level, but also the psychological, spiritual and cultural levels of what it means to be a human being.
In June 2002 I was invited to North Cork in Ireland to speak at an event called A Rural Planning Symposium for Duhallow . The organisers had read my book called, for reasons that will by now be evident, “Soil and Soul,” and they wanted to share with their county planners ideas about the relationship between community, spirit and place.
I knew that Ireland was in the middle of a major debate about rural strategy focused round a policy document called the National Spatial Strategy . I got it off the Internet before going there and was both fascinated and disturbed to find very little awareness in the Dublin-based planners’ minds of what place is really about.
Yes, the strategy claims to be “about people and places,” but no-where does it mention co-operation upon which community is built. Instead, it emphasises “the enhancement of national competitiveness”.
Maintaining the cultural heritage is actually listed last in the Strategy’s guiding vision. One is reminded only too poignantly of Ireland’s great scholar, Daniel Corkery who, in his 1924 masterpiece, The Hidden Ireland , laments: “And how soon we became aware that what the writers in English omitted concerned the mind and the soul the hidden world!”
Of course, to Corkery “the writers in English” meant those “improvers” and colonisers who saw no value in a place other than its capacity for economic production. Gaelic culture, by contrast, understood place not just for what it could grow, but also for its mythology, its stories, and the poetry and song that flowed from every rock, flower, and river. As writers like William Blake and Shakespeare show, Anglo-British culture too is capable of such understanding, but sadly, it has lost much of it as English became the language first of colonisation and now of its corporate equivalent — globalisation.
Ireland’s National Spatial Strategy is seen by many grassroots folk as bearing too much of the hallmark of planners trained in British university departments. Yes, it contains admirable proposals for shifting population growth away from Dublin, but it suggests building up regional urban centres rather than making it easy for local people to continue living in their local rural neighbourhoods.
Whether in Britain or in Ireland, I think this is a mistake. It may be cheaper, as the Co. Cork planners told the conference, to have people living in towns. But how do they calculate these sums? Do they look only at infrastructure provision, or do they cost in such “externalities” as social work and policing costs?
I think it is vital that people can, if they wish to, continue living with the land even if not directly from it. Planning policy should favour locals wanting to maintain their roots. But how can that be achieved without ripping up more and more of the countryside in the way that’s been blighting Ireland in recent years?
After meeting me at Cork airport, my Irish hosts took me to one of the Duhallow area’s ancient sacred sites, Tullylease, where, in addition to a 6,000 year-old drystone fort, there was a statue of the Virgin Mary. “Have a look at this,” said my host, community worker Brendan O’Keeffe, as we surveyed the gently rolling lie of the land. “It will show you how long we’ve lived here and what this place means to us. It might inspire you in what you’re going to be saying tomorrow.”
Well, although I’m not a Roman Catholic, true to the spirit of the culture I subsequently checked out the “Magnificat of Mary” at the opening of Luke’s gospel. Sure enough, there was the perfect rural planning policy written out words with which I was to commence my address at the conference. Verses, or shall we say, clauses 52-53 of chapter 1 read as follows: “He hath put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent away empty.”
Applying this principle as a planning policy, I suggested, would militate against Ireland’s “Celtic tiger” magnates who’ve been building more and more “trophy mansions” on every pristine hilltop they can get their hands on.
It would favour the construction of “clachans”, as we traditionally called them in Scotland. A clachan is a small cluster of homes: close enough for friendship but out of earshot of each other’s family rows!
Nestled sensitively into the landscape and designed for sustainable ecological living, clachan-style development could honour Ireland’s rural beauty. They could meld agriculture with residential plots and with native woodland to provide screening.
And who knows, maybe it’s not just Catholic Ireland that could benefit from the application in planning law of Clause 1:52-53!
1. “Above the 60th parallel in Canada you feel that nobody but God had ever been there before you. But in a deserted Highland Glen you feel that everyone who ever mattered is dead and gone”. (Hugh MacLennan)
Published in The Aisling , Aran Islands, Ireland, Issue 31, 2003, pp. 65-67, and posted on the website of Open Democracy. Alastair McIntosh (www.AlastairMcIntosh.com) is a Fellow of Edinburgh’s Centre for Human Ecology. His book Soil and Soul: People versus Corporate Power (Aurum Press, 12.99) will be reviewed in the next issue.
Then a Mason Came Forth and Said, “Speak to Us of Houses”
. . . And he answered and said: Build of your imaginings a bower in the wilderness ere you build a house within the city walls. For even as you have home-comings in your twilight, so has the wanderer in you, the ever distant and alone. Your house is your larger body. It grows in the sun and sleeps in the stillness of the night; and it is not dreamless. Does not your house dream? and dreaming, leave the city for grove or hill-top?
Would that I could gather your houses into my hand, and like a sower scatter them in forest and meadow. Would the valleys were your streets, and the green paths your alleys, that you might seek one another through vineyards, and come with the fragrance of the earth in your garments. But these things are not yet to be. In their fear your forefathers gathered you too near together. And that fear shall endure a little longer. A little longer shall your city walls separate your hearths from your fields. And tell me, people of Orphalese, what have you in these houses? And what is it you guard with fastened doors?
Have you peace, the quiet urge that reveals your power? Have you remembrances, the glimmering arches that span the summits of the mind? Have you beauty, that leads the heart from things fashioned of wood and stone to the holy mountain? Tell me, have you these in your houses? Or have you only comfort, and the lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and then becomes a host, and then a master?
Ay, and it becomes a tamer, and with a hook and scourge makes puppets of your larger desires. Though its hands are silken, its heart is of iron. It lulls you to sleep only to stand by your bed and jeer at the dignity of the flesh. It makes mock of your sound senses, and lays them in thistledown like fragile vessels. Verily the lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul, and then walks grinning in the funeral.
But you, children of space, you restless in rest, you shall not be trapped nor tamed. Your house shall not be an anchor but a mast. It shall not be a glistening film that covers a wound, but an eyelid that guards the eye. You shall not fold your wings that you may pass through doors, nor bend your heads that they strike not against a ceiling, nor fear to breathe lest walls should crack and fall down. You shall not dwell in tombs made by the dead for the living. And though of magnificence and splendour, your house shall not hold your secret nor shelter your longing. For that which is boundless in you abides in the mansion of the sky, whose door is the morning mist, and whose windows are the songs and the silences of night.
From The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, 1923.