Predicting HDT 2020 measurement and launching ‘Project land supply’

I hope everyone had a happy #happynationalhousingstatsicticsday on the 25th Nov. I spent it reviewing the net completions data for councils which is essentially the net number of homes built between 1st April 2019 and 31st March 2020. That’s important to know because the figures don’t yet reflect the impact the pandemic is having on the construction industry and housing market; in fact they show that nationally the number of homes built increased by 1% from the previous year. So delivery has improved but for how long? 

Anyway, the reason I was reviewing spreadsheets was to try and use the number of homes built in 2019/20 to predict what everyone’s Housing Delivery Test 2020 result will be. To be clear -Government haven’t yet published the official Housing Delivery Test 2020 measurement or announced when they are expected so I was geeking out on spreadsheets all for my own fun. The Housing Delivery Test (HDT) uses the number of homes built against the housing requirement for the last 3 years; so now I know everyone’s number of homes built for the last 3 years I’ve got half of the equation and should be able to work out their result. Simple yeah, urmm not quite – the other half of the equation is a bit more tricky. Predicting the correct housing requirement figures for the last 3 years is more problematic as it involves a mixture of the transitional arrangements and either the figure from an adopted plan or the standard method calculations! Its maths upon maths! So for predicting the anticipated 2020 results here’s how it goes

Year 1 – Last year of transitional arrangements as set out in the Housing Delivery Test Rule Book which are based on the 2014 household populations projections.

Year 2 – either the figure from an adopted plan which is less than 5yrs old or the standard method figure whichever is the lower 

Year3 – either the figure from an adopted plan which is less than 5yrs old or the standard method figure whichever is the lower

If only it were that simple but there are other factors at play here – for example is an LPA taking unmet need from another area which would increase their figure? is there a stepped housing requirement in their plan? or does their plan turn 5 in 2019/20 and so will be a mixture of adopted figure and standard method based on the number of days in the year the plan remains less than 5yrs old?

Despite this minefield I had a go at working out what everyone’s HDT result might be and the results aren’t pretty. There are potentially over 120 councils who will be facing sanctions from the test this year all of which will need to produce an Action Plan. Over the summer PAS updated their guide on Producing an Effective Action Plan so if you need to produce one I strongly recommend you check it out.

Of the 120 (ish) around 70 will be facing the application of presumption of sustainable development for a 12month period or until the 2021 HDT measurement is published. This is a significant jump from the 9 councils in presumption from the 2019 HDT result and will involve councils over a wide geographical spread. Its also likely to involve some of the ‘good guys’ with both an up-to-date plan and a heathy land supply but due to delivery issues in 2017-2020 will be in presumption territory. This highlights to me the importance of predicting future HDT performance accurately so councils are forewarned of heading towards presumption and this will be something PAS will focus on as part of the HDT 2020 support in the new year. The interplay of having a current plan, whether there’s a pipeline of supply and whether delivery rates are sufficient are the holy trinity of navigating presumption territory. 

The three things all interact with each other as a cycle around falling into presumption and being able to understand and forecast each side is becoming more and more important. I’m going to be developing my thinking on this interaction and how to think about predicting delivery and land supply in the new year, with that in mind PAS are looking for willing guinea pigs, urm I mean councils, who may want to get involved in ‘project land supply’ so if you are interested sign up to our event on the 18th December here.

For those facing presumption as a result of HDT 2020, whenever they get published, PAS will be offering our support and we will announce some events in the new year focusing on how good decision making is key when the presumption is applied and more generally how to deal with the application in both development management and policy terms.

This other thing I’ve been grappling with this week is needs assessments and what role they play in the world of standard methods and proposed binding figures. Now councils no longer have to generate an Objectively Assessed Need via a Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) what is the future of housing needs and assessing the right type of homes needed going to look like. I don’t know – but I’m going to have a stab at it!

I’ve looked at dozens of different SHMA’s and needs assessment which all contain very similar datasets, most of which are readily found via ONS, NOMIS or the Census. Surely there must be a way to use this publicly available data for councils so they can procure an off the shelf analysis giving contextual information about the area, changes in population trends, local job market etc.. 

Wouldn’t it be great if councils could then bung in their own data from things like monitoring records and the housing needs register to then combine it with this standardised data approach to generate a simple and readable needs assessment. All packaged up with data visualisations and infographics – a needs assessment based on reliable data but at 30 pages not 300 that everyone, including the communities whose needs are being assessed could understand. The utopian data dream – I’ll be blogging on this as the project gets up and running.


“Planning for the Future” consultation events – What we saw and heard

This post is written in thanks and reflection to all the officers who attended our recent consultation events with the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) on the Planning for the Future White Paper.

Getting together in virtual “zoom” to listen, discuss, feedback and debate is fast becoming the new norm. Whilst we most certainly missed seeing you in person, and having multiple chats over lunch, we were mighty impressed with the level of engagement that you brought to these sessions. And for this we would like to say a very big thank you on behalf of both us at PAS and MHCLG.

The sessions were a safe place for you to talk openly about the proposals as individual practitioners, as well as on behalf of your councils. This intelligence and feedback to Government is hugely valuable and your thoughts, ideas, questions and concerns were captured from all the sessions. What we saw and heard will be important considerations for Government as they now reflect on how they will take proposals forward.  

The sessions really benefited from the fact that colleagues from across the country could meet to discuss their different issues. We can often be preconditioned to think that events have maximum benefit when we stick together in regions because experiences and challenges are similar. Whilst this has undeniable benefit, hearing about different challenges and practices from across the country enables us to think differently about what appropriate responses in our own areas might be. Afterall, no 2 councils are alike even if they are next door to one another. It also allows us to think about the proposals more holistically as a national planning system needs to work everywhere.

What was surprising was that even though we were in our virtual room together there was very little mention of the global Coronavirus “C19” pandemic. The current limitations on movement and functioning use of place(s) we all hope will be temporary. But what will the experiences of 2020 mean for how we plan for the future? What evidence will we need? what type of homes will people want? how will we go to work? how we will move around? what infrastructure will communities need? and importantly how we will support economic development? Of course, none of us have the answers right now but we will all need to think about this in Planning for the Future. Planning as a profession will become ever more important in the recovery from the pandemic.

Back to the White Paper, we thought it would be helpful to summarise some of the key messages that you told us during the events. As we said on the day, nothing that we heard is attributable, and who said what will remain confidential. We recognise that many of you have concerns about the transition arrangements into a new system and importantly what the timetable for that transition will be. Many of you told us that until you understand your areas housing requirements it is difficult both practically, and politically, to move forward with your plan making. Some of you see proposals as a radical overhaul of the system, while others consider them to be reflective of much of what you can already do. A favourite of mine was the recognition that there could be a role for new style development or planning briefs – I was brought up on these as a young planner with a fantastic teacher and am a huge advocate of their collaborative approach and most importantly what they can deliver.  

For a more detailed summary of what you told us please do head over to our website  

Losing 5YHLS – Let’s not be too hasty

There’s a lot of noise around 5YHLS at the moment. The Government’s consultation Planning for the Future proposes to remove the need to demonstrate a 5YHLS as well as an alternative option to retain 5YHLS if the calculation of how much land needed to meet development needs was left to local decision.

The requirement to demonstrate a 5YHLS has been long standing, it’s certainly been in place for as long as I’ve been in planning, so its potential loss appears on the face of it to be a pretty radical change. 

The Planning for the Future consultation seeks to retain the presumption sanction, not by virtue of 5YHLS but via the Housing Delivery Test (HDT) measurement result. My view is that  5YHLS has always been a carrot and stick scenario; the carrot is the benefit of showing the plan is being delivered as anticipated and having the ability to defend against unsuitable speculative development and the stick is the loss of control via application of the presumption in favour of sustainable development.  Is the carrot worth it, yes definitely and now the stick moves to the HDT measurement.

There is some legitimate criticism that for HDT there is a time lag in picking up undelivery of housing in an area and isn’t as immediate in its application of the presumption if things are starting to go wrong for a council. Whilst I concede some of that criticism I don’t believe this is outweighed by the benefits of using HDT; it’s based on real world delivery – the actual number of net housing actually built and completed. There is no playing about with the spreadsheet to manipulate the numbers, you can’t find an extra block of flats that’s been built down the back of the sofa. HDT is a truer reflection of how the housing market and development industry is operating in that area; unlike 5YHLS which has become its own industry of number manipulation and the obsession with proving there is or isn’t a magic 5yr number. I should know, as a land supply specialist for many years it has become a micro industry for consultants, barristers and planners like me spending hour upon hour in Local Plan examinations and S78 appeals debating, or flat out arguing, as to the method of calculation, the variables and the nitty gritty of each sites contribution – all with the aim of showing or not whether a number added up to 5. That isn’t what land supply should be about and it is this micro industry with its endless arguing that I believe Planning for the Future is seeking to do away with rather than removing the fundamental basic that planners should think about how and when housing comes forward.

There are plenty of industry commentators out there either ready to mourn 5YHLS loss or jump for joy; but let’s not be too hastey. I don’t believe the proposal to remove the requirement to demonstrate is all that radical – it simply proposes to remove the ‘test’ element rather than the need to think about what is happening with land supply. Planners and councils should be thinking about land supply as part of the day to day function of their planning services and the monitoring feedback loop on whether their plan is actually being delivered. How can you tell if sufficient sites are coming forward to meet the development requirements and HDT measurement if you aren’t working out your supply pipeline? A fundamental principle of plan making is the need of a forward looking land supply to ensure the housing requirements set out in your plan can be met. Whilst in the future it might not be a 5yr period being looked at and instead might be 2yr, 3yr or even 10yr period the principle of ensuring development needs are being met and that infrastructure interlinked with sites is coming forward in tandem. Forecasting of an areas performance against its HDT for future years will become more important as council’s will need to accurately predict if or when the presumption would be applied and this is already seen as a crucial step in the production of a HDT Action Plan. During the last few months of my secondment with the Planning Advisory Service we have produced a guide on how to do an effective HDT Action Plan covering the importance of knowing what the future results could be based on predicted supply or changes to the requirement e.g. by adopting a plan. Have look here Housing Delivery Test – Preparing Effective Action Plans

So is the proposed removal of the need to demonstrate a 5YLS a radical change – no I don’t think so, to my mind it’s keeping the carrot and moving the stick.

Local Plans, White Paper, Transition – which way to jump?

“I love to talk about nothing. It’s the only thing I know anything about.”
― Oscar Wilde

I’ve learned during my time at Planning Advisory Service (PAS), that whenever big changes are afoot that it’s best to leave the ‘hot takes’ to the clever bloggers and tweeters, and to sit back, listen, and then reflect. We dance very carefully between helping local planning authorities (LPAs) understand and respond to change and how much (or usually little) civil servants are at liberty to tell us about the factors that will affect their choices. 
I’ll leave others to trade blows over the imagined planning system utopia/dystopia, to focus on the very real and practical ‘today’ issue that LPAs are asking us for a steer on – ‘should we carry on with our plan production under the current system?’ – not an unreasonable question when you consider the cost and resources involved in creating a local plan, the many different stages councils are at, and that a complete re-writing of the planning system as we know it is being heralded.

The answer (today) is ‘Yes’…
A qualified, multi-layered ‘yes’. A few versions of ‘yes’. An ‘it’s still only a consultation’ yes. Have I layed that on thick enough? When you consider the potential answers and the potential implications this all becomes truly mesmerising. It feels like folly to even think about these potential answers while what we have is ‘only’ a consultation; nothing is set in stone (yes I know that sounds naive), and with 300 odd LPAs there could be 300 or so different scenarios. To make it easier on myself I have simplified things by making a few assumptions based on what I ‘know’.

Is 2023 still relevant to plan making?
The government was clear from the very start of the Covid-19 lockdown that the 2023 deadline for councils to have an up to date plan remains. There’s nothing in the White Paper and the comments from Ministers about the 2023 deadline – this suggests that this is still a hard deadline that councils are expected to meet. To labour a previous point, we are still operating in the current planning system – nothing has changed. It didn’t change for Covid-19 and there is no mention of it changing for the White Paper.

What do we know?
The White Paper tells us:

  • New local plans are to be produced within 30 months of legislation coming into force, or 42 months if the local plan was adopted in the 3 years prior to legislation coming into force;
  • All LPAs to have ‘new style’ local plans ‘to be in place by the end of ‘the parliament’ (Planning For The Future page 74); assuming they mean this parliament i.e. May 2024.

The current planning system tells us: All LPAs to have up to date (‘current system’) local plans in place by 2023.

What does this mean?
To get a ‘new system’ local plan in place by May 2024, legislation will have to be in force by December 2021 (just go with it – I’m no expert on the Fixed Term Parliament Act). Councils find themselves in one of 5 main scenarios:


ScenarioNew style plan required byoptions on what to do?
Current Plan will be more than 3 but less than 5 years old in Dec 2021, no plans to review it.May-24Make a new style plan once the new legislation is in force.
Current Plan will be less than 3 years old in Dec 2021, no plans to review it.May-25Make a new style plan once the new legislation is in force.
Reviewing plan and LDS Adoption date is on or before Dec 2021May-25Finish current plan to meet 2023 deadline, start new plan when legislation is in force.
Reviewing plan and LDS Adoption date is between Dec 2021 and end 2023, current plan over 3 years old in Dec 2021May-24Finish current plan to meet 2023 deadline, start new plan when legislation in force.
Reviewing plan and Adoption date is between Dec 2021 and end 2023, current plan less than 3 years old in Dec 2021May-25Finish current plan, start new plan when legislation in force.
Over-riding scenario: assume Legislation is in force by Dec 2021

This means that some councils could be starting to make their ‘new style’ plan while still finishing their old one. It could also mean that hundreds of councils will be making plans in sync – is the Planning Inspectorate ready for this? Can a new planning system really be delivered in this way and in this timeframe?

Could this all result in a colossal waste of time?
Glass half-full time; let’s talk about opportunities and investment. Whatever happens, councils need up-to-date frameworks for making decisions, and work being undertaken now will all be relevant preparation and monitoring to feed in to the next version of our local plans whatever form they take. If you are early on in the process of plan making/review then it is probably worth considering how your plan proposals might look in the proposed new system. There is nothing to stop you thinking about how your area might look categorised as growth, renewal, protection. Why not start thinking about a more rationalised evidence base? And, one of the things that isn’t going to change is the march of the digital planning system – there are many already advanced projects looking at local plans and back office systems that councils can test and help develop – talk to us at PAS, our friends in MHCLG digital land team or LocalDigital about how you can get involved. 

And remember, we still have 2023 and with that remains the current system of intervention, presumption etc.

A many-layered cake
Setting out the above is in many ways the simple bit. There are lots of nuances and details that define each council’s position. For example, those councils currently early on in the plan preparation stage / approaching Reg 18 consultation were already questioning the relevance of their evidence base due to the effects of the pandemic, and can now see the prospect that the type/weight of evidence they are working on/commissioning may not even be a requirement in the new system.

Then there are those at Reg 19 and beyond who broadly seem to be intending to carry on, but even these councils are being questioned by politicians as to the wisdom of continuing until the potential implications of the White Paper are fully understood.  

If only it was just the White Paper proposals LPAs that were feeding this question.  Layered onto this is the post/ongoing Covid-19 impact on transport/retail/town centres, values and viability, the recent changes to the Use Class Order, the new standard method for calculating housing need, PD changes and we also have the Local Government Devolution White Paper. Shall I also mention the Green Restart / Climate Emergency? 

So, the answer (today) is ‘Yes’ – keep making local plans
Yes, a qualified, multi-layered ‘yes’ to keeping going with your ‘current system’ local plan preparation/review if you are in the middle of it or planning to do so before December 2021. And don’t forget of course that all of the above could (and probably will) be shot to pieces as each day goes by.

Remember – it’s a consultation…
None of the above is true. Pure speculation on my part.  Nothing has changed yet. LOTS to be discussed, ironed out, explained and shaped, and can this all really be ready to go in December next year? For such fundamental proposals to take hold across the system, for local plans to be re-written, for ‘culture change’ to take hold it will be 5 -10 years before any new national system is properly established won’t it?

What can’t be disputed/hasn’t changed is that councils need an up to date framework in place for making planning decisions while we wait to find out what the new system looks like and proper and clear transitional arrangements are in place.  

What is PAS doing?
Massive change is going to happen. Local councils have to respond, and carry on.
We will be supporting the consultation process with a series of events from mid-September, and more generally we are planning to provide support to councils with weighing up their options on ‘which way and how to jump’, and once they are decided, help with some of the practical plan making implications. Which, if I am right about the above, will mean ‘blended’ support around the traditional current system plan making requirements and helping prepare to deliver a ‘new system’ Local Plan. 

Digital local plans take two

We’ve written before about our initial work on local plan standards, and how it began a series of increasingly basic conversations that left us a bit baffled. Fortunately we have a long tradition in PAS of having lots of extremely clever people as friends and colleagues and picking their brains to make ourselves look more competent. We held our first session last week- there was lots of excitement and creativity. What follows are my initial thoughts – so you can be the judge of whether our tradition is working. 

It’s not the book it’s the library
It’s tempting to think of a local plan as a book – so a digital local plan is just an online version of that book. It’s true that ultimately the local plan process ends up producing something that looks like a book, but it is also at different times and for different audiences a whole set of proposals, data sets and conclusions drawn from the data. I live in the wonderful borough of Lambeth – you can see their local plan evidence base neatly marshalled in a library. The library is used to inform the debate and choices through consultation and ultimately examination at which point its importance fades. 
For me, there is limited benefit in doing a make-over of a local plan. Sure it would be interesting to see a “before” and “after”, and improving engagement and accessibility of the finished product is definitely important but if our goal is engaging, responsive and more open plans it’s got to involve the underlying data – that’s why it’s got to be the library and not just the book. 

A “rules based” system of assessing sustainable development involves everyone
To go back to basics for a moment the job of a local plan is to answer the question “is this application sustainable development?”. The goal of the current reforms to the planning system is to provide greater certainty to the answer of this question by shifting the balance away from discretion (planning judgement) and towards rules. 
Clearly the process of applying rules is going to work better for some concepts than others. Traditionally it’s where “building control” sits allowing “planning” to be a bit more human. 
But for a system of rules to work they need to be relatable to everyone. The rules have to be debated at local plan stage by local people, they are codified in the plan, they are acknowledged by architects and applied in a context in applications. It’s an end-to-end thing that involves everyone speaking the same language. This is a big ask, and our starting position is that we don’t have a national way of measuring floorspace or counting bedrooms – let alone rules about [cough] “beauty”. 

Eating the elephant
Where should we start? This is going to be the most important question – and is far more difficult question in this context than for any other project I’ve ever thought about. For example, I have begun many “transformation” projects on how planning applications are dealt with. Almost all planning applications take a few days to complete – you can just begin trying new things and the feedback loop tells you how its going in a week or two. The cycle time for an application is a few days. By contrast, a local plan cycle time is measured in years, and worse the cost of a plan is measured in millions. At some point we are going to roll up our sleeves and try new things but what we can’t do is to try a whole plan in one go and wait to see what happens. 

The startings of a manifesto?
So – a great conversation started to unpack some of the issues, hopefully to make me sound a bit cleverer. And, it’s clear that this is an interesting problem with long-term benefits around openness, cost reduction and understanding / managing development better. But what next? We could keep having sparky conversations and there are lots of interesting projects already underway out there – but perhaps we need a manifesto or some other way of organising the next year or two. 
Alongside the obvious stuff like “find out what the rest of the world is up to” and “ensure we understand the capabilities of what we already have” it feels like the next phase is going to need to deal with three topics:

1. Establish the design patterns for local plans. One of the most important things the Government’s Digital Service did in its very early days is to establish what were known as design patterns. These are the rules for how to deliver core elements that crop in many different contexts (eg how to ask for a credit card). We need to work out the common elements that inform a local plan, so we can see the opportunities for a standard approach and platform. I’m imagining patterns might include things like “ask people what they think about a rule expressed as a number” and “make site information findable” and even “allow people to suggest changes to a shape on a map”. 
2. Make an example “rule based system”.  I can remember a long time ago (12 years!) I tried to make an XML “expert system” to describe permitted development. It was hard. It neatly demonstrated that until the regulations are written in a rule-like way the judgement has to be deferred to a human operating the rules (“is this the principal elevation?”). We need to out a rule-based system end-to-end. How about adverts? Neat, specific and lots of experience and competence out there. New regs, new rules, and a language that connects them to a site. 
3. Talk numbers. All this stuff is exciting and there is already some great work underway, but at some point we are going to need to understand the costs and benefits. Getting datasets and policies to a defined standards (and quality!) is an enormous undertaking for LPAs and we should be clear about how much this transformation is going to cost. And, to re-use my “library” metaphor, is it all data equally valuable and are there any opportunities to reduce cost by maintaining some of it nationally?

Digital Local Plans – Flintstones before Jetsons

For a while now PlanTech projects have been making steady progress e.g. digital front/back-offices, validation systems, evidence bases and recently PAS team completed an ‘Alpha’ project on digital data standards for local plans with colleagues at Dxw. Having had our digital appetites whetted, we’re giving ourselves a bit of room to use what we’ve learned so far to explore what might be around the corner for “digital local plans” (a ‘Beta’ project maybe?) and whether we should (or could) do something to help.

Starting in the right place
As a starting point we are asking ourselves whether we know (or even have some nouns to describe) what a digital local plan is, what it’s made of and how it might be packaged. There is no shortage of those that agree that a digital plan is a good idea and plenty of people including ourselves “imagining if it did this…” or wondering “wouldn’t it be great if it did that…”. but there aren’t that many clear articulations out there of what is a “digital local plan”? Who it is for? and How is it better? It needs to have a clear purpose and benefits and once we understand this, we can begin to establish the steps involved in actually making one.

The near future
We’ve found it quite easy to wave our arms around and imagine the bright shiny future – but digital plan utopia is probably 10 years away. We want to understand what the near future looks like and involves – what should we start doing now and over the next 3 years as we move from PDF files to… ? How are we going to use and access a digital plan – controlling land use using data may fit naturally and ultimately onto some kind of map but local plans are about much more e.g. where do things like the “vision” etc. live, and how, practically, do we shift from 5 year plan reviews to working with a plan that is ‘living’ and dynamic?

A practical, pragmatic approach
During August we’re bringing a few people together to start to build a consensus. We have a suspicion that the “sprint method” that we are all starting to become comfortable with – the post it notes, the discovery / alpha / beta, the “user experience” and even the slack channel – means we may not spend enough time on thinking and talking. Some services are deep and haven’t been really thought about for decades.

Our starting point therefore is to bring together some practical and pragmatic people and have a chat. We want to kick around some difficult questions with a small group we trust and see what happens. And, perhaps, when we know how local government understands the domain and its own needs, we can expand the circle out.  For now this is all quite low-key, and if it has legs it will ultimately be something we do in public.

Housing Delivery Test – Action Plans in a pandemic

I’m a few months into a secondment to the Planning Advisory Service and I never expected to be grappling with a new role during a global pandemic. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster getting to grips with a new way of working and juggling the homeschooling of my little ones but I’ve got there in the end!

It’s been a real privilege to take part in the latest round of support events for authorities undertaking a Housing Delivery Test Action Plan for their 2019 HDT measurement. The events have been a bit different to those I helped at last year – no 30+ people in a nice office with a fancy lunch. So I’ve dived into the brave new world of virtual meetings holding 8 more intimate events with between 4-8 officers. I have to say the smaller, more intimate approach has been well received in terms of the more bespoke support and we’ve really been able to drill down into the delivery issues each attendee is facing which you don’t get to do in a bigger event.

It’s been a learning curve in how to facilitate that’s for sure, especially in terms of the technology and people’s home broadband speeds, but smaller virtual meetings definitely allow for a more focused discussion whilst at the same time being more informal. I feel I really got to know the attendees and the challenges they were facing both in terms of how their council was responding to the pandemic and in putting together their action plans.

So what I have learnt through talking to councils about delivery, well for starters delivery is really complex and there is no quick fix or magic wand to improve performance. It’s going to take a pick and mix approach with solutions and fundamentally a collaborative working with the development industry and other stakeholders, councils cannot achieve this on their own.

There are no regional similarities, I thought there would be but there really wasn’t. Even the urban areas had wide variances on why delivery wasn’t happening as expected, ranging from a reliance on brownfield containmed land with low viability to the stark reality that residential wasn’t the preferred land use of developers of sites. Some councils and areas definitely share some characteristics but in the end everyone had a unique reason why underdelivery had occurred which came out in the root cause analysis. 

The updated guide produced by the Planning Advisory Service is really good and contains everything you need to know about producing an Action Plan. The resounding message for me is to make sure the Action Plan is a useful tool for yourselves and written for the right audience. Make it useful not useless!

Action plans take a while to take effect. The HDT 2019 measurement was announced in February this year with a six month deadline of August yet in a matter of months, 3 to be precise, the 2020 HDT measurement is expected. That’s certainly not enough time for actions to ‘bed in’ and take effect unless they were already in train. So what’s the answer – make them an iterative process and do them even when you don’t need to. Producing an Action Plan makes you really reflect on why undelivery is occurring, how significant it is, whether it’s a long term trend or whether the current strategy is fit for purpose. We should be doing this all the time as a matter of best practice; knowing what in the delivery pipeline and what’s happening on the ground are the cornerstones of good monitoring of plans. It’s a practice we should all be getting into as it looks like the HDT is here to stay.

The future looks a bit uncertain for delivery, in particular the requirements of the HDT policy are due to change this November with the presumption of sustainable development being applied to those measuring under 75% in the HDT as opposed to 45% this year, which is a significant jump. This is likely to mean the number of councils facing presumption will increase for 2020 and 2021. Whatever the future holds I’m looking forward to helping councils navigate their journey through producing an Action Plan that works for them.

Weeknotes 10

w/e 17/07/2020

Release the albatross. 

What are you thinking about?

I’m thinking about infrastructure. Still. And programme management. I might change this opening question as I don’t think I change what I think about often enough to sound cosmopolitan and interesting. 

Who did you talk to outside of your organisation?

I spoke to a peer team about a job we’re doing next week. It’s the second time we’re working on something that might appear in Private Eye. Brings a certain frisson. 

What did you learn / read this week?
I learned that Singapore have got a really groovy bunch of people doing their digital planning work. It was amazing, and showed what was possible if you have a Venn diagram of
* a zonal system of controlling land use
* a one-stop-shop of government
* seemingly POTS of money and lots of talented people, which may demonstrate
* a seriousness about the future and how to make land work hard
Very very impressive. When a feedback loop appears on the first handful of slides you know it’s going to be good. 

I also got a lot out of a post from our one-time buddies dxw. There is a lot going on just under the radar at the moment, with both “devo” and “planning” likely to get a thorough shakedown. There is lots of organisational girding of loins – with some of the opening positions being published and mutually supported. Uncharitably some of it looks like defending the status quo, which I don’t think is a great look. Interestingly it is dxw (a private outfit) that in my view does a better job of showing the problem with centralisation and makes the case for diversity and local accountability. And listening. 

What did you make / achieve?
I made a trading account for our consultancy business, which isn’t very exciting but a necessary part of keeping the show on the road. Repeat after me: a job cannot make any money until it is invoiced. 

I have also taken a big step forward on an old stinky project. I have worked out where the friction points are, and started the process of minimising the grief that is going to come along with it when we do finally publish our updated guide. 

What are you looking forward to next week?

I’m looking forward to finding out just how well peer work can be delivered via skype. I’m sure we’ll do something good enough, but interviewing people (especially agitated people in groups) is hard and relies on a whole range of perceptions that probably don’t work very well down a tiny screen. Learning by doing. 

I’m also going to need to set out my stall for the IFS work, which is going to be a squeeze but the conversations I’ve been having in small groups need to be constructed into something and shared more widely. 

Weeknotes 9

w/e 03/07/2020
Raining. Thinking. Being proud of the team. 

What are you thinking about?
I am thinking about what we learned over the course of last year, and what might be just around the corner in this one: 

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Who did you talk to outside of your organisation?
This week was the big set-piece review of 2019-20 in front of our sponsors. Inevitably it felt slightly overtaken by events, but it is one of those rare opportunities to speak truth to power. We were offered (and took) a couple of moments to tell them how we might change things to make the planning system slightly fairer and less friction-y. 

I also spoke to a couple of punters about what they need from us (calmness and structured approaches mainly). 

Lastly I spoke to a group of our suppliers about how we might package and define the work we want to procure over the next chunk of the PAS programme. I’m not sure I know all the answer yet but I think I feel less worried and more confident that this disruption represents an opportunity to be more creative and free. I’m almost looking forward to procurement – and I don’t think I’ve ever said that before. 

What did you learn / read this week?
I had the pleasure of dipping my toes into neighbourhood CIL this week. It’s amazing how something that should be fairly obvious can become byzantine and faintly dodgy with the application of forms, process and ill-judged paternalism. 

What did you make / achieve?
With the help of my lovely team we made a slightly dry round-up of the year and a more zingy presentation of 2019-20. I also made my first two baby steps helping advise people with their s106 / CIL work. 

Oh yes, and I completed couch to 5k. I now need to work out whether I enjoy running enough to continue. 

What are you looking forward to next week?
Next week is a short week, as I am shipping the eldest back to university and taking some time out to think through a family investment. 

However I am looking forward to the first meeting (for me) of the POS CIL network, seeing the second cohort of our suppliers and taking to a district council about how we might do some peer work virtually. I am also seeing a slightly different bit of government to see if we can knit together a new alphabet soup of SA and EIA alongside BNG and some new ones I can’t remember in a big environmental package. 

Climate Change Lincoln

I have found it increasingly hard to remember the world in general prior to Covid 19, let alone the planning world and the latest issues and priorities of the day. But as I sit here at home typing away, I am determined to ensure that plan making can not only do its bit to ensure we get back on the road to recovery, but also we can get back to ensure planning is as at the forefront of tackling the most important issues of the day before the world had even heard of Coronavirus.  

Climate Change being the most important issue of our time.  Without wishing to sound too evangelical, we planners have a moral duty of care to our future generations to make sure that our plans take a comprehensive and rounded approach to addressing Climate Change that will make a real difference and not just tick the so called ‘green box’.  Here in the historic city of Lincoln and in Central Lincolnshire where we have joint Local Plan with our neighbours in North Kesteven, West Lindsey and Lincolnshire CC, as officers we have been tasked by our Members with exactly that – what can we do that will make a real difference to addressing Climate Change and is it realistic (possible even), to deliver a Carbon Neutral Local Plan?

Challenge to the Council – planning’s window of opportunity

Following our respective authorities declaring either Climate Change emergencies in 2019 or ambitious carbon target reductions, the review of the Central Lincolnshire Local Plan provided an opportune time to set planning at the heart of how our organisations can deliver on our lofty Climate Change ambitions. 

In our current adopted plan, to be frank we play relative lip service to the green agenda.  It was written at a time when we were effectively hamstrung by national policy in terms of the real teeth we could give to our policies on climate change, low carbon and renewable energy.  Thankfully, it appears we have more power to our respective elbows and through the re-emergence of Climate Change as a world-wide priority, in no small part due to people power (thanks Greta amongst many others) and science (thanks IPCC) now is the time to act decisively and without fear.

Of course we have huge challenges to face. In an area like Central Lincolnshire where land values are low and viability is tight compared to many other parts of the country, delivering a usable Local Plan which makes a significant contribution to mitigating climate change is going to be tall order.  We don’t know many, if any of the answers at this stage about how we are going to do it, but at least we are giving it a go and fair play to our members for asking us officers to try.

Who else is involved?

Lincoln has established a Climate Commission (one of 10 nationally see ) which was originally made up of organisations such as the City of Lincoln Council, Siemens, Transition Lincoln and the University of Lincoln and since then has expanded to include a range of businesses and organisations who want to work collaboratively on climate change. We’re fortunate in having people on the commission who have experience, knowledge and most importantly a real desire to make a meaningful contribution towards tackling Climate Change. 

How far can the plan go?

Earlier in the year when life seemed a lot more straightforward, as officers we were tasked by our members to scope out what role the Local Plan could play in helping address climate change.  We consulted members setting out the policy and legislative context and a range of potential plan options. We are currently in the process of commissioning evidence which explores the climate change related areas of work in detail that could be applied in the new Local Plan and have set out a number of key tasks to explore.  

This includes establishing a position statement to set out the role the Local Plan could play in delivering climate change objectives; identifying what the Plan can and cannot influence in respect of carbon reductions and defining what net zero carbon means for the Plan and what needs to be done to achieve it. 

We also want to undertake an assessment, using reasonable assumptions, of potential carbon implications of options for the spatial strategy for development in Central Lincolnshire e.g. urban, edge of main settlements, villages, new settlements.

Others areas we want to investigate include:

  • Considering whether some types/scales of development could deliver net zero carbon ahead of the 2050 national deadline
  • Considering whether different carbon reduction targets are needed for major/ minor residential development
  • Considering whether an incremental percentage reduction in carbon is needed over the plan period
  • Identifying what net zero will mean for the Local Plan and the options for how the Local Plan might achieve it (including, for example, the role of commercial-scale renewables, such as wind and solar, to balance out the inevitable carbon implications of new development; and the ability of the planning system to facilitate such balancing).


Of course we need to realistic about what we can achieve so we will be exploring the cost implications of carbon related policy requirements including upfront costs for the developer and potential costs savings for future residents, building occupiers and operators.

Ultimately we want to know how high we can push the ‘climate change bar’ in the review of our Local Plan.  It’s exciting but also quite nerve-wracking at the same time as we have been looking around to learn from what others have done in their plans but as yet there doesn’t seem to be much around.

I think it will come down to a certain degree of a ‘leap of faith’ or maybe more accurately a ‘jump into the unknown’ as to how successful we are.

Wish us luck!