Memorandum from Bristol Friends of the
Earth (ARSS 83)|
Bristol Friends of the Earth is a local branch of
the national pressure group Friends of the Earth. We are activists
involved in local planning and transport issues in Bristol and
the surrounding countryside of the West of England. We work with
local green organisations including South West Save our Green
We would be happy to attend a hearing of the committee
if appropriate. Living in Bristol (a vibrant city aspiring to
be a Green Capital) we have the benefit of close proximity to
attractive countryside. This has helped us see the vital links
between town and country and the need for joined up planning,
housing and transport policy which meets the future needs of both.
Below are our answers to the Inquiry's questions followed by the
three economic standpoints informing our views and our three guiding
principles of "Small, Green and Local".
The implications of the abolition of regional
house building targets for levels of housing development
The SWRSS and its housing targets were only ever
projections bearing no relation to the real economics of the South
West. There was some public rejoicing when both were abolished.
Having reacted to the public disquiet at the previous
Government's system of centrally imposed housing targets, the
current Government risks going to the other extreme of giving
local councils and parishes the responsibility for new housing
construction without either the tools or funding to create the
sustainable communities and quality housing to which our planning
system should aspire. The Government appears to share a similar
view to the previous one that providing new housing is the main
issue whereas the allocation of social housing, the operation
of the existing housing market and affordability have a far greater
impact on meeting housing needs.
The likely effectiveness of the Government's plan
to incentivise local communities to accept housing development,
and the nature of level of the incentives which will need to be
put in place to ensure an adequate long term supply of housing
FOE believes that decentralisation and local involvement
are vital to success in planning but not on the cheap. If the
Government has less money for rural housing that it would wish,
it should fund less housing of a better quality and abandon targets
altogether. It should use current funding to achieve 1. Good practice
models for new housing and employment in rural communities 2.
New forms of local funding and community investment and new bank
lending to rural enterprises and small businesses and then 3.
Use 1 and 2 to encourage a more widespread take up of the successful
models across the UK.
The Government wishes to release community enterprise
and energy. Here in Bristol, the voluntary sector is strong and
there are a string of voluntary sector organisations that have
been set up locally and have transformed the national scene for
example Sustrans in cycling and the Soil Association in organic
agriculture. Members of the Bristol Food Network are creating
Community Supported Agriculture schemes to cut out the supermarkets
and connect farmers direct to customers.
Local residents are fed up with a planning system
which allows supermarket chains to foist unwanted new supermarkets
on local communities and local councils who simply want to protect
their local shops and resist more traffic. Communities and councils
have to spend time and money opposing supermarkets who come back
when they are refused planning permission in the hope that their
cash and superior strength in the planning system will finally
beat local residents and councillors into submission.
The Government should announce a nationwide scheme
of funding rural housing in 20 localities and ask villages to
bid for funding in a similar fashion to the Cycling City/Cycling
towns bidding process overseen by Cycling England three years
ago. This could be overseen by the Homes and Communities Agency
. A new housing scheme should meet the five principles outlined
by the Rural Coalition in their "The rural Challenge"
document along with a travel plan agreed with local transport
officers to outline how car use could be minimised.
We also support the Planning Officers Society's proposal
that both the Local Planning Authority and Parish council need
to be involved in the planning of new settlements. Planning and
transport officers need to adapt to meet the needs of a new more
community minded planning system including employment and transport
The Committee understands that the Government
intends to announce further details of its plans for incentives
"shortly" and would welcome comments on the adequacy
and appropriateness of those incentives when the details are available
Incentives for communities
The Community Right to Build would allow those communities
who want to increase their village by up 10% to do so more easily
within the planning system. While this is welcome, it doesn't
get round the major problem of how to fund the new building and
the amount of professional advice and expertise required by local
residents to achieve it. Only a small number of rural residents
have the drive, inclination and long term stamina to undertake
the arduous job of planning new housing in their community and
getting local agreement. This may involve paying someone with
local knowledge to co-ordinate a project of several years duration.
However, the right person in the job could achieve far more than
local housing. The right mixed development could transform a village.
Villages often rely on local farmers to give land
free or cheaply which is an act of generosity to the community.
A fair trade off is for some of the housing to be allocated to
those who work or wish to work on the land or in vital local services/
businesses and for it to be affordable for local people in perpetuity
.In addition the Government should offer to fund new model developments
to the tune of 95% to make sure they happen.
Incentives for Councils
We understand that the Treasury are already concerned
that the cost of the New Homes Bonus to be given to local councils
would be too high. We consider that the sums involved are far
too small to persuade a reluctant council to embark of allowing
planning permission. It appears to be a dangerous precedent that
smacks of the selling of planning permission.
The arrangements which should be put in place
to ensure appropriate cooperation between planning authorities
on matters formerly covered by regional spatial strategies(eg
waste, minerals, flooding, the natural environment, renewable
Producing a South West strategy for housing and the
above matters for an area from Gloucester and Wiltshire down to
the tip of Cornwall was never going to achieve effective decision
Planning, transport, waste etc are much more local
issues and a more local grouping on a county or group of counties
or travel to work area would be more sensible on an adhoc basis
for each subject. In Bristol, we expect that the current West
of England Partnership (the four authorities that used to be Avon
County Council) will put itself forward as the Local Entreprise
The adequacy of proposals already put forward
by the Government, including a proposed duty to co-operate and
the suggestion that Local Entreprise Partnerships may fulfil a
We have not heard anything in the press about a proposed
duty to co-operate so we are not sure what it is. We assume that
the Government will not create any more quangos/ bodies due to
the cost and that the Local Entreprise Partnerships will comprise
the same councillors, officers and representatives of local business
already involved in local partnership working (here the West of
England Partnership). We are not happy with our current West of
England Partnership as the three non-Bristol Executive members,
disagree with our view that Greater Bristol needs an Integrated
Transport Authority to improve our public transport system. However,
joining strategic planning and transport in an ITA would seem
to us to be a sensible move.
How the data and research collated by the Regional
Local Authority Leaders' Boards should be made available to local
authorities and what arrangements should be put in place to ensure
effective updating of that research and collection of further
research on matters crossing local authority boundaries
We are not aware of what detailed research was undertaken
which would be of use to local councils. Very little of the public
information produced regionally we have read would appear to be
relevant as it was based on predictions now shown to be incorrect.
Sharing of information should be undertaken on a case by case
basis when it is useful to local councils. A final report outlining
the achievements of the South West Regional Assembly and the South
West Development Agency might help to inform future decision making.
Our standpoint 1. The primary purpose of farmland/countryside
is for food production not the building of large new housing estates
Green land is our ultimate finite resource and due
to erosion of soil, desertification, expansion of cities and climate
change, land for agriculture is reducing everywhere including
the UK while population expands. The UK is only fed because other
countries produce the bulk of our food .Our balance of trade will
get worse as the prices of imported food,oil and raw materials
rise.We can either develop a long term strategy for more food
self sufficiency and more jobs in a less oil dependent agriculture
or carry on in the hope that increased income from manufacturing
exports and other services will somehow meet the increasing costs
of imports of raw materials and food.
We consider that it is time for the Government to
declare all farmland off limits for future housing development
subject to exceptions of proven need where the expansion will
create a "more sustainable" village or locality in terms
of 1. services, 2. housing for a wider range of folk (particularly
the young, old or those involved in rural employment particularly
agriculture), 3. transport or 4. jobs.
These four critieria along with an assessment of
the quality of the design and a micro-generation assessment could
form a complete package for new model rural communities to be
funded by the Government.
A blanket ban on housing development on farmland
would force a rethink of our assessment and use of brownfield
land in towns. There is a need for an urgent debate on the definition
and use of brownfield land and how to achieve quality housing
development at a higher density. A longer term assessment of economic
trends in our towns and cities would enable us to identify potential
brownfield earlier and plan local development better.
Our stand point 2. Volume house building is
no longer deliverable at previous prices as the price of new housing
will increase sharply in the next decade. New models of housing
development need to be adopted by the building, development and
planning professions which uses brownfield land more efficiently
and promotes mixed development
The future capacity of the building industry is limited
by the cost and availability of building materials many of which
are imported particularly steel, timber and concrete. All are
affected by rising oil and transport costs.
The building and development industries needs clear
Government policy and support to re-orient itself away from volume
house building towards smaller quality developments using less
land, housing renewal, repair and micro-generation in new and
existing homes. Away from monolithic single use developments to
more energy and land efficient mixed developments particularly
in towns and towards car free housing developments which increase
the patronage of local shops and local transport.
The previous Government set up a "Zero Carbon
by 2016" mantra for the building industry with no clear and
reasoned timetable of how to get to 2016 and no definition of
the milestones for the industry to follow allowing it to train
its workforce to meet that target. Setting carbon targets for
an industry that has no way of tracking carbon imbedded in its
imported materials is a nonsense. The only tracking/sustainability
system that so far exists for our building industry is FSC timber
promoted initially by the voluntary sector.
In Bristol previously a hotbed of development, all
major development projects have now ground to a halt. Planning
applications now proceeding are likely to be land grabbing of
agricultural land in the event of a future economic upturn or
by those who have the ready cash to fund development (the supermarkets)
and don't have to borrow from the banks.
Our stand point 3. We (the UK) have reached
"peak everything". Those trends used by Government to
indicate "economic growth (and health)" will be now
be on downward curve due to lack of finance (Government and household)
So planning and transport policy needs to adapt to the change
and new indicators of a "sustainable and healthy" society
It is clear to a growing number of professionals
and members of the public that the "usual" indicators
of economic growth/health are now on a downward trend. Jobs, car
ownership, car use, home ownership and house prices, personal
spending on travel and recreation and non-essential goods are
all affected by the economic downturn.
Shortage of capital and bank lending has led to stagnation
in the housing construction industry. Funding for big Government
capital projects for school, hospitals and transport are coming
to an end. We need a new set of guiding principles for planning
and transport for recessionary times to come up with integrated
policies to use the best of our now limited resources.
Our three guiding principles are "SMALL,
GREEN and LOCAL" all principles which fit well with the
Coalition's Government Big Society theme and spending limits.
These principles can be used in a city like London or in the South
West's towns and countryside to allocate scarce resources. The
Bristol public are fed up with the pressures of constant development
and threats to green spaces. A longer term, more organic, better
informed approach with emphasis on quality and community involvement
will benefit both town and country.