Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 620 - 639)



  Q620  Joan Walley: Into what?

  Sir John Egan: The urban design coding that you specify to your developers about what you will or will not give planning permission to; that is one of the real keys that you should have and absolutely insist that they achieve the BRE standards in order that at least we have a standard system in place.

  Q621  Joan Walley: How would that be enforced? Would it be enforced through self-certification?

  Sir John Egan: You would not get planning permission until you did and that answer is "yes".

  Q622  Joan Walley: It certainly seemed to be a problem in Aberdeen.

  Sir John Egan: The answer is that you would have to have some way of policing it and I am sure that there is a way but that is a service you would have to buy from BRE.

  Q623  Joan Walley: So, you think that the companies you would bring in to do it would be better at doing that than the existing housing companies?

  Sir John Egan: I have to say that I am very disappointed that these very sensible BRE standards have not been adopted by all the housing industry. I am very disappointed and I am disappointed that, when I suggested that that be put into my report, everybody moaned and whined at me that it was not possible. So, I was disappointed.

  Q624  Joan Walley: What has the ODPM's response to that been?

  Sir John Egan: We passed our report on to the taskforce dealing with this and hoped that they would set the standards. On the other hand, there is no point setting the standards unless somebody is there making sure that they have them and the key is not to give planning permission until those standards are at least detected.

  Q625  Joan Walley: The fear is on the ground when you have local authorities really wanting to see a brownfield site developed, often they are just glad to have anybody rather than to stick out for the better design standards.

  Sir John Egan: I know, it is a shame and I think we should be sticking out for those higher standards. By the way, they are not difficult. These are not in the slightest bit difficult.

  Q626  Chairman: I think I am right in saying that if local authorities wanted to make these sorts of standards of requirements, they are quite at liberty to do so. Woking, for example, has.

  Sir John Egan: Yes, they can. It is perfectly within the local authorities' remit to do it. I have to make it clear—and I have made it clear in the report—that the key to doing this is leadership of the local authority. If they really want to do these things, they can. They can bend the rules, they can bend the guidelines, they can do all things to achieve these standards and I think those great cities up in the north have demonstrated how to do it and we really have to make sure that this great growth that we have to get going in the south east happens and we get leaders like those in the north to actually get up and do it and get on with it.

  Q627  Mr Challen: You have chosen 50 indicators of sustainable communities; how did you choose those 50 out of the 400-or-so that were available?

  Sir John Egan: We looked at the magnificent seven and then we looked at what we would have to add in key performance indicators to achieve each one. We obviously were a limited time taskforce. We felt as though we had done the best we could within a limited period of time and our hope is that the national centre that we have asked to be created will take our work and make it more operational, but these key performance indicators are not necessarily the whole story. What we also have to do is to get the local authority audited on the key performance indicators as a group, so that, when they are audited, you do not have one department of Central Government auditing one lot and another department another lot. The whole lot have to be audited as a sweep in order that we can see progress over time collectively and not paying off Peter to pay Paul.

  Q628  Mr Challen: But the whole 50 would have to be audited?

  Sir John Egan: Yes.

  Q629  Mr Challen: For every local authority?

  Sir John Egan: Yes. It is 400 or 500 right now, so at least it is cutting down to 50, so it would be less work.

  Q630  Mr Challen: You have said that you would have a well-balanced menu. Would all authorities have to go by the 50 or would they actually be able to pick and choose year on year?

  Sir John Egan: No. This is where I am not sure that I saw eye to eye with the Government. I think that you cannot pick and choose them, they have to be core ones and they have to be the ones that everybody uses. I think there was a general view that, okay, we can pick and choose for a little while, but, after we settle down, you would have to have the whole lot.

  Q631  Mr Challen: Do you think it makes sense to have subjective indicators and objective indicators also mixed into this listing?

  Sir John Egan: Sometimes you cannot get at it very   easily with absolutely objective measures. Sometimes you can only have the subjective measures that you have asked people.

  Q632  Mr Challen: You can look at the environmental indicators that you put in the list and, out of the 50, there are nine environmental ones, seven out of which are objective. If you compare that to the social and cultural ones, seven indicators of which six are subjective. I just put an example to you perhaps that sometimes these things are going to be clearly in conflict. If you look at connectivity in a broad sense, about 75% of us have mobile phones but, as we MPs sitting around this table all know, mobile phone masts are not very popular in local residential areas. So, you have two things pitted against each other: a desire for something, what you describe as finding out what people want, and then local authorities, through the planning system, having to deliver it and these things are pitted against each other. So, the indicators do not always lead to a very clear conclusion, do they?

  Sir John Egan: I did not say life was easy, did I? You have to make compromises.

  Q633  Mr Challen: To have meaningful indicators, you want them to be understood.

  Sir John Egan: Yes. We are always going to have compromises and we have to have people who are big enough to understand the compromises they are going to make in order to make their community work.

  Q634  Mr Challen: If we want to convey that complex equation to people in order that they can cope with stress and strains—

  Sir John Egan: Fifty key performance indicators is not all that complex. To run a car company, you need far more than that. It is not all that complicated.

  Q635  Mr Challen: I am not sure that that is true, speaking as an elected representative. I think it is enormously complicated because people want the kind of things that you have described. You have said that one of the basic components of your thinking is to achieve—and maybe I have written this down slightly wrongly—that people can live anywhere and to work anywhere.

  Sir John Egan: No, I said in London.

  Q636  Mr Challen: Just in London?

  Sir John Egan: Yes. For London to be a world-class city, I said that had to be achieved. I did not mean that, for Britain to be a world-class place, you should be able to live anywhere and work anywhere, no. For London to be a world-class city, I think that we have to have huge ability to get people from A to B.

  Q637  Mr Challen: So, the massive increases in mobility which, as Mr Francois has suggested, will lead to massive dissatisfaction with commuter services and the inevitable lateness of delivery of transport and congestion.

  Sir John Egan: I suggest you are being overcomplicated. I think we have to make many improvements and I think that people are pragmatic enough to understand when, in the round, improvements are being made. It is absolutely for the points you are raising that I say you have to audit the whole 50 of them in order that we understand how a local authority is moving the whole shift of what it is doing and is not just picking and choosing the easiest ones for it to do.

  Q638  Chairman: Sir John, one of the difficulties here is that running the Government is not the same as running a car company, to state the obvious. The moment the public sector touches anything, it automatically becomes much more complicated than you can possibly imagine.

  Sir John Egan: I think not to listen to the people at all and to shove planning down their throats in the way we have been doing over the last 30 or 40 years is a preposterous way to behave and what we have been doing is mostly uncomplicated. We have been doing the most awful things. I suggest that we listen to the people and I think it is not so complicated. People are much less complicated than you think. When we looked at the evidence that we had as to what the people wanted, they were absolutely as clear as crystal as to what they were looking for and that is absolutely what we were not providing them with and absolutely what we were not doing.

  Q639  Mr Chaytor: If I could come back on to a point you were discussing a moment ago in respect of this total mobility within the heart of the capital city, what are the models elsewhere in the world? Which are the best cities in the world that already have this total mobility and what should London be aspiring to?

  Sir John Egan: I think this is a tough one. I think that London is probably the most successful city in the world anyway. It has all kinds of imperfections but, all in all, in the round, it probably is the best city in the world.

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