Europe Makes History With First Ever Comet Landing
The UK Space Agency and UK scientists involved in Europe’s Rosetta mission are celebrating as the mission’s Philae lander has today (12 November 2014) made the first ever landing on a comet, opening a new chapter in Solar System exploration. Read more…
Developers will be able to create two flats instead of one above retail premises without planning permission
Developers will be allowed to create two flats instead of just one above shops without planning permission, the communities secretary, Eric Pickles, will announce on Saturday.
As the government prepares for a major new initiative on housing next week, Pickles will say that the “commonsense” reform, designed to increase the number of homes in town centres, will be in place by 1 October.
Under current regulations, only one flat can be created above a shop without planning permission. This will be increased to two flats above shops and financial and professional services premises.
The change is part of the government’s response to the review of high streets by the retail guru Mary Portas.
Grant Shapps, the housing minister, said in March he would go further than the Portas review to relax the one-flat rule to help make town centres more vibrant.
Pickles said: “These are commonsense planning reforms that will deliver more affordable homes in areas where there are good transport links whilst ensuring better use of existing developed land.
“Cutting this red tape should be a shot in the arm for the high street, increasing footfall and providing a boost to regeneration.”
Greg Clark, the planning minister, said: “The government is determined to make the very best use of existing buildings to provide more homes as quickly and simply as possible.
“Ensuring unused space above shops can be used in a better way is one of the many changes the government has introduced to streamline the planning system and to cut unnecessary bureaucracy.”
In her review, Portas wrote: “I believe that our high streets have reached a crisis point. I believe that unless urgent action is taken much of Britain will lose, irretrievably, something that is fundamental to our society.
“Something that has real social and well as economic worth to our communities and that, after many years of erosion, neglect and mismanagement, something I felt was destined to disappear forever.”
Ministers set to unveil ‘unprecedented’ devolution of power to England’s cities
Ministers will announce an “un precedented” devolution of power from Whitehall next week in an attempt to usher in a renaissance in England’s major cities and reinvigorate the government’s localism agenda.
Greg Clark, the minister for cities, is expected to reveal details of the deals he has struck to give extra powers to eight of England’s largest cities. The move is also an attempt to rescue the coalition’s drive for more localism, dismissed by some as incoherent, after the disappointment of the mayoral referendums, when nine cities voted against the proposals. Powers will include control over the welfare system, minor crime, youth unemployment and local transport.
The Observer understands that Clark, a Tory MP, is about to sign off on the creation of a new Leeds city-region super-authority. It will take control of a £1bn transport fund from Whitehall along with a £220m investment pot to revitalise local business.It will also have control over the train service. In return, the Observer believes that the city has pledged to turn Leeds into an area where no young person is a Neet (“not in employment, education or training”).
By handing local politicians in Leeds extra money, ministers expect they will be able to attract further funds from businesses in the area.
In a separate deal, Birmingham is expected to receive control over a £1.5bn investment fund to allow it to pursue its goal of becoming a world centre for life sciences. The city intends to build a £25m medical research centre, called the Institute of Translational Medicine, creating more than 2,000 jobs. It also wants to establish a programme to create 3,500 apprenticeships by 2015 in response to the skills shortage blighting the area, where 16% of working-age people have no formal qualifications.
The announcements will come after months of negotiation between Clark and representatives from some of England’s biggest cities, including Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Bristol, Newcastle and Nottingham, who are estimated to be responsible for 27% of the UK’s economic output – more than London. The agenda was outlined in the coalition’s first year and was fleshed out in December, but it is understood ministers have struggled to win over senior civil servants in Whitehall who have had misgivings about the scale of the proposals.Critics were handed further ammunition when the goal of establishing elected “Boris-style” mayors across Britain was thwarted after voters in nine English cities rejected the idea by referendum.
Turn-out was also low for the votes with less than one in four voting at all in Manchester and Nottingham.
However Leicester, Liverpool and Salford city councils are now run by mayors, and Bristol is set to join them in November.
Clark, a Tory MP, told a recent local government conference: “Sometimes change comes step by step through demonstration rather than revolution. Those four cities will prosper and be examples of what can be achieved and others will watch with great interest and will have a chance to join them in the future, either with city mayors or metro mayors.”
Meanwhile, communities minister Andrew Stunell told the Observer that he intended to push on with Liberal Democrat plans for localism, including more pilots of local “community” panels who bring the victims and perpetrators of minor crime together.
In Somerset, where the first panel was established, over the total of 875 cases processed to date, recidivism rates have been just 3-5%. Stunell said: “This is localism mark two. There are a lot of us who don’t think this process has gone fast enough”.
Economic growth does not happen in the abstract – it happens in particular places where existing employers expand their production or new firms are attracted to locate for the first time.
Britain is one the most urban countries in the world. So, unless our cities are places which foster and attract enterprise , investment and job creation then Britain itself will not return to growth with the strength that is needed.
That is why we have joined forces – a Conservative Minister and a Labour Mayor – to represent the UK at the New Cities Summit in Paris this week. We are meeting, together, potential investors of global significance, and the leaders of cities around the world with a successful track record of attracting international investment.
Our united message is that Liverpool isn’t just open for business, but is committed to a course that will restore its position as a world-beating centre of trade, culture and innovation. It is an ambition that begins at the top, with a UK mayor who will provide the primary point of contact for inward investors, and the political leadership needed to unlock each and every barrier to growth.
This is not solely out of faith in the enterprising potential of the city – it is also a matter of practicality. These are tough times and the days when we could just rely on an ever-expanding public sector to provide jobs are over. The same goes for the old culture of debt-fuelled consumerism and destructive speculation.
The cold, hard reality is that Britain – and each of its cities – has to earn its way. Moreover, we must do so sustainably. Other parts of the world may compete by exploiting their people and their environment, but to maintain our standard of living and our quality of life, we must compete on what makes us great as a nation: our inventiveness, our creativity, our cultural vitality.
These resources are at their most concentrated in our cities. The challenge is to make the most of them. In the past, it is a task in which we have sometimes failed as a nation. Worse still, we have drawn the wrong lessons from each setback, by depriving our cities of the confident self-governance that made them so great in the first place.
There is perhaps no clearer example than Liverpool. Few would claim that, in the era of Militant, the city showed its best side to the world. However, those events were a trigger for a mistake on the side of the political divide: a further wave of centralisation in which power was locked away in Westminster and Whitehall, adding to the steady accumulation of top-down government control.
And, yet, Liverpool is also where the tide of centralisation began to turn. Michael Heseltine – an early advocate for decentralisation and now a proud Freeman of the City of Liverpool – helped Liverpool find its way back from the brink. Looking back, we can the see the groundbreaking regeneration projects of that time as a milestone in the long revival of our cities.
Now the time has come to move into a higher gear. We need to rebalance the economy away from the public sector and towards the private sector – and away from high finance and towards a much broader range of activities in which all our cities can excel. In pursuing this goal, policy makers must remember that we are not job creators – at least, not directly. Rather, our task is to provide the best possible conditions for those who are – the entrepreneurs who create jobs on the basis of productivity not subsidy.
For cities, the highest priority must be to attract these entrepreneurs. To become the place where the most mobile and dynamic people in the world choose to live and work. Doing this successfully surely requires an in-depth knowledge of the people and places each city brings together. That is why policies for growth cannot be, and have never been, exclusively led by the centre. Cities themselves must take the lead. And for this they need leaders with power and authority.
As Labour Mayor and Conservative Minister, we are working together through the City Deals programme to negotiate the return of power to local people. Liverpool was, in fact, the first City Deal to be announced, but this is just the start of a process that will be widened and deepened in the months ahead. Not least, in Liverpool itself.
Reversing decades of centralisation and driving growth in our cities is not easy – but, for urban Britain, it is essential. Our needs are too great – and our hope are too high – to tolerate the status quo.
Greg Clark is Conservative MP for Tunbridge Wells Minister of State for Cities and Decentralisation. Joe Anderson was the Labour leader of Liverpool city council from 2010 until earlier this month when he won a landslide victory to become the city’s first directly elected Mayor.
The final draft of the government’s revised planning framework is certainly an improvement on the version put out last summer
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty told Alice, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” So too with the government’s revised planning framework. The final draft published on Tuesday is certainly an improvement on the version put out last summer. But it is unclear how much better, largely because too much of the wording is so vague. The result is a document more pleasing to more constituencies, but not wholly convincing to any. And it turns what was once justly described as a charter for property developers into a treasure trove for lawyers.
First, though, it should be acknowledged that the government has made a smart change of approach. It was smart to have planning minister Greg Clark fronting the framework rather than his boss. Eric Pickles long ago established himself as the Marmite politician of this government, being someone voters either love or hate. Second, it is clear that the outside consultations and the select committee recommendations have been taken on board. The first draft of the planning framework effectively only recognised the intrinsic value of the English countryside when it was in a national park or the green belt, or enjoyed some other designation. Under that restrictive definition, the majority of the countryside had no intrinsic value – no matter how well-loved by residents or visitors. This time around, the core planning principles recognise “the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside”.
But in other cases, the acknowledgments and concessions have led to policy that seems more inclusive, but is really just more muddy. To take the most important example, “the presumption in favour of sustainable development”, which caused such great fuss last year, stays in – indeed, it runs through the framework like “a golden thread”, says the government – but it has now been qualified and better defined, and so made slightly less worrisome to environmentalists. Except the definition refers to five principles – including the environment, economics, social justice, good governance and “sound science”. The document then claims the “three dimensions to sustainable development” are economic, social and environmental, and that they are “mutually dependent”. This is, to be frank, gobbledegook. A third runway at Heathrow (to take one argument that is surely brewing, both within the coalition and between the government and big business) could be both disastrous for the environment and a boost to the economy (all those jobs, all that infrastructure). But it is unlikely to tick both boxes at once. What this amounts to, then, is a field day for lawyers, who will be able to argue out the merits of big housing and retail developments for as long as their retainers sustain them.
All this matters, because one iron rule of development is that those parties who can afford the flintiest lawyers and the cosiest relations with those in government tend to get their way. Indeed, the planning system in its ideal, Platonic form is meant to afford some protection to local residents, and other concerned citizens, against those with more money. In other words, it is a check on untrammelled market forces. Except that in the form it was in yesterday, these convoluted and qualified planning laws will become another aid to the big-money lawyers. There are other disappointments too, principally over brownfield sites. One of Labour’s most significant achievements in this area was to require property developers and others to build on industrial and brownfield sites first. The coalition has now watered that down to an encouragement.
Planning laws never make anything happen, but they can shape how and where new developments appear. Yesterday’s document provides plenty of inducements for property developers but not enough constraints on them to build the homes Britain surely needs, where it needs them and at a decent price. And it sets its sights on economic growth, without considering what kind of growth is desirable.
Slimmed-down national planning policy framework met with far more support than last year’s draft version
The biggest shakeup of the planning system for more than half a century was unveiled on Tuesday when the government published dramatically slimmed-down guidance in the hope of kickstarting more house-building and other development to create jobs.
The reforms take effect immediately, but councils have a year to prepare the local plans that will be the “keystone” of the new system by setting out where development can and should not take place in line with the government’s guidelines, said Greg Clark, the planning minister.
The national planning policy framework was met with far more support than the draft version, released last year, which provoked an almost united front of opposition across the conservation and environment movement due to fears it would lead to the loss of countryside.
The 50-page document retained a presumption in favour of “sustainable development” but addressed campaigners’ concerns by providing a definition of what sustainability should encompass.
Other changes included guidance that brownfield sites should usually be developed ahead of greenfield sites, a recognition of the “intrinsic value and beauty” of the wider countryside, specific protection for playing fields and a bar on “garden grabbing” for development.
However there remain criticisms of the framework. In particular there was concern about how effective the definitions of sustainable development would be in protecting areas with environmental or heritage importance.
The framework said the definition rested on that of the United Nations and on the UK government’s “five ‘guiding principles’ of sustainable development”, which encompass environmental limits, a “strong, healthy and just society”, a sustainable economy, good governance and good science. The remainder of the document should be taken as a view of what the government meant by sustainable development “in practice”, it said.
Eleanor Besley, policy adviser at the sustainable transport lobby group Sustrans, said the government’s reliance on the planning guidance itself to help define sustainable development created a self-reinforcing situation where “essentially, the document enforces its own assumptions. As such, the presumption in favour of sustainable development actually means a presumption in favour of development”.
Joan Walley, the Labour chair of the environmental audit committee, said: “The definition of sustainable development will now have to be tested in the courts and it remains to be seen whether the new planning rules will prevent developments that are unsustainable in the way they use water, encourage car use or impact on biodiversity.”
The Countryside Alliance, which broadly welcomed the revised document, warned there was no clear way for communities to object to developments that were not covered by their local plans.
“Local councils will say this is what we need and this is the way we want to do it, but if something comes up which falls outside that framework then it goes to consultation: if they don’t have the guidance in place then there’s the potential for their concerns to not be taken into account,” it said.
Caroline Lucas, the Green party leader, raised concerns about the ability of councils to prepare sufficiently robust local plans. “At a time of deep cuts to council budgets, we also need to ensure that local authorities have the resources and capacity they need to put in place adequate protection measures throughout the transition period and beyond,” she said.
In perhaps the most important declaration of support for the framework, the National Trust – which organised a petition with nearly a quarter of a million signatures against the draft – said it welcome the improvements.
“All these changes improve the document and give it a better tone and balance,” said Dame Fiona Reynolds, the charity’s director general. “Now the serious business of planning begins. The country needs huge effort at a local level to get plans in place that properly reflect the integration of social, economic and environmental goals, and protect places people value.”
I am sorry that the Guardian continues to promote executive mayors with the black-is-white argument that they are about “dismantling centralism” and “empowering local communities” (Editorial, 27 February). It ought to be obvious that taking power from an assembly of ward councillors and putting it into the hands of one person does the opposite.
The obsession with elected mayors among the elite is part of that same belief in the power of super-personalities which leads to the foolishness of celebrity worship and the obscenity of million-pound payments to City fat cats.
The committee system of local government, with wards small enough for personal contact still to be a key aspect of winning, and offering a career path into politics to those who don’t have the fortune to run a city-wide campaign, is a glorious part of Britain’s democratic heritage. Your claim that all power in the hands of one person is more effective than power shared by representatives of various opinions echoes the line used in the last century in favour of a similar system of governance, though at a national rather than local level, that it “makes the trains run on time”.
•?Your leader is wise to note the potential of directly elected mayors to help rejuvenate local leadership and politics as part of a new governing consensus where our major cities regain their position as the driving forces of English economic and social innovation.
In the coming months we will be announcing new “city deals”, designed by the largest conurbations outside London, which are intended to enhance the right of initiative for urban leaders so clearing away Whitehall blockages that constrain local innovation.
Combined with multimillion pound skills and regional growth funds these changes are, as you remark, a moment of huge long-term “opportunity” which should not be spurned.
Greg Clark MP
Minister for cities
•?At no point does your editorial acknowledge that, as Professor George Jones and Professor John Stewart have noted in an article on LocalGov.co.uk, that the Localism Act 2011 “imposes referendums on local people and local authorities, not sought by either”; and “is not based on a logic of localism, but on a logic of centralism”.
On 5 December 2011 cities minister Greg Clark forced Birmingham, Liverpool, Bristol, Bradford, Coventry, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield and Wakefield to hold these referendums. Liverpool has now decided to hold a mayoral election without a referendum. So there are now 10, not 11, imposed referendums. Your editorial is also incorrect to claim that Salford – where only 10% of the electorate on 26 January 2012 voted in a referendum for a US-style executive mayor – skipped the referendum stage.
Moreover, the mayoral system leads to cronyism, patronage and corruption; is the optimal internal management arrangement for privatised local government services; creates an arena focused on personalities, not politics; has not increased turnout; lacks voter support; has an undemocratic voting system; and gives voters no right of recall.
Finally, imposed mayoral referendums are a distraction from the real problems in these conurbations, where 94% of the Tory-led coalition government’s cuts to public services are still to come.
Dr Peter Latham
•?It was very disappointing to see the Guardian swallowing the unsubstantiated arguments for elected mayors. One small test – if government agrees to give all the powers and resources that they have handed over to non-elected, appointed bodies responsible for jobs, skills and economic development, like local enterprise partnerships, to the elected mayor then there might be a small shift in the arguments in favour. But they won’t, not a chance. This is about subverting the process of elected local government and accountability. How can one person with no significant additional resources answer just one of the major questions in our cities, let alone “be the answer to a lot of them”?
Cllr Kevin Maton
Coventry city council
•?The prospect of more elected mayors in the towns and cities of the UK is both a challenge and an opportunity. Strong leadership is a good thing for the local state and the market, and it should also be a very good thing for civil society.
New Labour’s decision to create the Greater London Authority with an elected mayor was a major challenge to the civic leaders of Telco (The east London communities). In 1998 we put plans in place to build a strong and disciplined community organisation, financially independent of the state, but with enough people and enough member institutions to be taken seriously by the new mayor and be powerful enough to expect a seat at the negotiating table on issues which directly affect the interests of civil society. London Citizens’ experience of an elected mayor in London since 2000 has been overwhelmingly positive. It has enhanced the role that Citizens member communities are able to play in the governance of our city and, we hope, has also strengthened the role and significance of the office of mayor.
It has also provided an incentive for the key institutions of civil society in London to bury our differences and concentrate – along with the mayor – on the issues and concerns of the people that our schools, faith groups, union branches and local associations are established to serve.
It has been Citizens UK’s experience over the last 20 years that if you are organised, every political or economic challenge is an opportunity; but if you are not organised, it is a threat and can be a distraction. It is up to the institutions of civil society to rise to this challenge, welcome the proposed new mayors and grasp them with both hands.
•?So the Guardian advocates elected mayors. Like the equivalent of a local US president, once entrenched, it will need a Watergate or a local referendum to unseat the mayor. At least with a leader/prime ministerial system the office holder can be voted out by their rank and file by means of a vote of confidence.