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The Big Question on… infrastructure

ucyow3c7 May 2015

The beginning of gutter politics?

Sometimes politics pops up where you least expect it. In the middle of an election campaign politics appears in all the usual places – the health system, taxation, the economy, welfare. But politics doesn’t stop there. In between elections and beyond the headlines, politics still goes on.

Of all the places you would expect to find politics, urban drainage isn’t one of them. It doesn’t appear in any party manifesto. Campaign strategists like Lynton Crosby and David Axelrod are unlikely to be prepping their candidates on how to respond to questions about surface water runoff. Gutter metaphors aside, decisions about how to engineer urban water systems so that our streets and homes don’t flood during rainstorms is not obviously an area for politicians to campaign about. Surely of all things, urban drainage is something for the engineers to deal with, so that politicians can get on with making really tough decisions on important issues, like health, tax and the economy.

Urban drainage engineering has been undergoing a quiet, but significant revolution in recent decades. Until recently drainage in modern cities has been designed so that the water that falls on our streets and roofs is taken away as quick as possible. It keeps us safe from flooding during storms, but it dumps dirty water elsewhere, usually in streams and rivers that suffer from pollution and changing patterns of flow. (more…)

The Big Question on… infrastructure

ucyow3c28 April 2015

Would devolution overcome uneven city investment?

Uneven growth, devolution and urban futures research

The financial crises and recession that began in 2008 were initially viewed as an opportunity for rebalancing the UK economy away from financial services towards a broader base, and addressing Britain’s long term north-south divide. The reality of recent years have instead seen a strengthening of regional divisions with high rates of growth in London and the South East, compared to mixed or negative performance in the rest of Britain. While the South East now needs to tackle the knock-on effects of growth in terms of the severe housing shortage, many regions in the UK have struggled to achieve growth.

The 2015 general election is unique for the prominence of city devolution policies by all the major parties. The Conservatives have over the last year been devolving some powers and budgets on and ad-hoc basis to northern cities, while Labour and the Lib Dems propose more comprehensive devolution in their manifesto commitments. These policies are aimed at boosting growth in northern cities and thus narrowing regional disparities. (more…)

The Big Question: When will government realise that regulation is not a dirty word?

ucyow3c23 April 2015

In an oft-quoted speech made to the Welsh Conservative Conference in March 2011, UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced:

“We are taking on the enemies of enterprise. The bureaucrats in government departments who concoct those ridiculous rules and regulations that make life impossible for small firms. The town hall officials who take forever to make those planning decisions that can be make or break for a business – and the investment and jobs that go with it.”

Although subsequent speeches from government Ministers about the planning system avoided quite the same level of rhetoric, the attitude encapsulated within it does seem to reflect the actions of the current UK government towards regulation and our planning system. (more…)

The Big Question on… planning: Is a democratic planning system good for politics?

ucyow3c23 April 2015

People are disillusioned with the planning system and what it offers for a better quality urban environment. The core problem is that the current system relies too heavily on promoting market-led property development and then trying to get a share of the development profits to deliver social and environmental benefits. This can work in some locations provided market demand is buoyant and the planning system is allowed to regulate and then negotiate to get a good share of profits, so-called ‘planning gain’. But in many places across the country market demand is not buoyant and local planners and politicians are concerned about development going to other areas. Furthermore the Coalition Government have encouraged a programme of deregulation, further weakening the ability of the planning system to negotiate with developers. The provision of affordable housing within new developments has been particularly badly hit by this. Developers can now go back to renegotiate reduced amounts of affordable housing, arguing that economic circumstances have changed; and lack of transparency around development profitability makes it difficult for local planners to counter such arguments. (more…)

The Big Question on… local planning: Can effective planning only come from devolution?

ucyow3c23 April 2015

The governance of planning at the local and regional scale in England has been characterised by upheaval and uncertainty with negative effects on local growth and equity. The latest upheaval comes in the form of “localism”, which is a misnomer insofar as key powers in the planning system that affect local communities continue to be exercised by the Secretary of State.

Centralisation and lack of transparency in planning make a major contribution to declining faith in the political system because the planning system is often an important point of contact with the state for the citizen. Ensuring the public legitimacy of the planning system is a pressing concern. A necessary condition for this is a genuine decentralisation of planning as part of a wider reinvigoration of direct, participative and representative democracy.  The next government should commit to achieving a broad consensus for such a programme. This will involve a move away from the ad hoc deal-based system which characterises current central-local relationships and in the direction of enduring and stable frameworks within which regional and local development occur. (more…)

The Big Question on… land: Should we strengthen the common interest in land and building ownership?

ucyow3c23 April 2015

As the economy grows, as settlements expand and infrastructure is built, so the market value of land and property swells.  The widespread perception that home-ownership is ‘safe as houses’, backed by surges of credit, adds pressure. As demand for development land has grown, the differences between the prices paid for land with different use rights have widened. Britain’s 1947 Planning Act established the principle that private owners could enjoy the value of their property in its current use but needed permission to develop it or change its use.

After 65 years this principle has been much diluted, leaving the UK in an impossible situation —unable to meet its needs for housing and good settlements, unable to fund necessary infrastructure, unable to reconfigure old buildings and settlements to meet environmental imperatives.  This is paradoxical —and unnecessary given the unprecedented profits and capital gains being made from land and property. (more…)