Friday, 15 December 2017

Plans for Port Royal: a set of information sheets available > press report

The 3Rs campaign has released a series of 'information sheets' on Port Royal and Eastern Town:
Futures Forum: Plans for Port Royal: a set of information sheets available > 'to help more people know the facts and understand aspects of the potential redevelopment of Port Royal and Eastern Town'

The Herald reports today:

Sidmouth and Ottery breaking news and sport - Sidmouth Herald

A solution to our housing problems: scrap viability assessments

Viability assessments are very useful indeed:
Futures Forum: ‘Viability assessments’ allow developers to drop affordable housing

Especially if you don't want to build stuff with low profit margins:
Futures Forum: How to avoid affordable housing
Futures Forum: S106 Management - or how developers avoid affordable housing

Last month, Shelter brought out a report on the issues:

In England, we aren’t building enough homes – and particularly enough affordable homes for people who cannot afford to rent or buy at market prices. The reasons for this undersupply of affordable homes go back decades. But since 2012, national planning rules have made the problem worse by enabling the widespread use and abuse of viability assessments. By amending the National Planning Policy Framework and National Planning Practice Guidance to shut down the viability loophole, the government can maximise developer contributions to affordable housing and other community benefits, with knock-on positive effects for overall housing supply, build out rates and community support for new housing.

Report: Slipping through the loophole: How viability assessments are reducing affordable housing supply in England - Shelter England

It was widely reported at the time:
Loophole that allows developers to avoid building affordable homes leads to huge shortfall - Telegraph
Ministers must tackle the corrosive impact of viability appraisal concerns, by Jamie Carpenter | Planning Resource
Legal loophole results in loss of affordable homes, says Shelter | The Planner

Here's a blog piece from Shelter:

The high cost of viability assessments: 

2,500 affordable homes lost in just one year

1 Nov 2017

Over the last year, we’ve blogged many times about viability assessments, their role in cutting affordable homes, and the lack of transparency around how developers use them.

New research from Shelter shines a light on just how much damage this legal loophole is doing. Eleven councils covering nine English cities lost 2,500 affordable homes in just one year on schemes where developers used viability assessments. That’s equivalent to a 79% cut in desperately needed affordable homes to rent or buy.

It’s essential that the government follows through on plans to shut down this legal loophole and turn affordable housing policies into cast iron pledges. Here’s why.

Viability assessments are financial appraisals of the amount of profit a developer can expect to make on a scheme. If expected profits are below 20%, the number of affordable homes the developer is required to build under Section 106 agreements can be knocked down, according to the government’s planning rules. The same is true for transport and infrastructure, quality design, the sizes of new homes – or anything else the local community might have expected from the development. They all get squeezed by viability assessments.

This viability loophole provides a safety net for developers, who can overpay for land to guarantee they win sites, safe in the knowledge they will be able to argue down community benefits to make their money back later. In this way, the current system rewards developers who overpay for land and works against those who try to pay the right price for land to deliver affordable housing policies. As a result, land prices have shot up, while communities have lost out on thousands of affordable homes every year since the loophole was introduced in 2012.

The role of viability assessments in pushing down affordable housing delivery is well known throughout the planning and housebuilding industries. However, the scale and geographical spread of the problem has remained largely hidden until now.

To address this evidence gap, Shelter has undertaken research across eleven local authorities, covering nine of England’s biggest cities, to reveal the impact of viability assessments in urban areas across the country in 2015–16. The findings – featured on Newsnight last night (28:30) and detailed in our report out today – are damning.

Developers have successfully slashed affordable housing numbers using viability assessments

Where viability assessments were used, new housing sites achieved just 7% affordable housing. This is far below the affordable housing policies of the local authorities in this study, which on average require that 28% of new homes built should be affordable homes.

This amounts to 2,500 affordable homes lost in just one year on schemes where developers submitted viability assessments, equivalent to a 79% reduction in affordable housing compared to the levels required by council policies. This is happening in some of the country’s least affordable areas, where these homes are most needed.

Viability assessments have become the norm

Viability assessments were used to negotiate down affordable housing provision on 44% of new developments in the study, rising as high as 77% in Kensington and Chelsea.

We are missing out on affordable homes all over the country because of viability assessments

So far, there has been more research into the role of viability assessments in reducing affordable housing numbers in London than elsewhere. But this study reveals drastic reductions in cities all over England. In just one year, sites where developers submitted viability assessments saw:

1,003 affordable homes lost in Birmingham
472 affordable homes lost in Manchester
338 affordable homes lost in Leeds
196 affordable homes lost in Bristol

Won’t closing the viability loophole make it harder to build homes?

The benefits of closing the viability loophole for affordable housing are obvious. But it would also bring broader benefits. The decision to relax planning obligations through viability was taken to boost sluggish markets for land and housing following the last recession, with the aim of driving up overall supply. In fact, organisations like the Chartered Institute of Housing have pointed out that viability assessments are now hampering overall supply, by exacerbating an over-reliance on a small number of developers and contributing to a lack of diversity in housing output.

A housebuilding system which is over-dependent on housing for private sale to make up overall numbers will find itself unduly constrained by natural limits to demand. Developers can only build homes for sale as fast as they can sell them – and there is only so much money chasing homes for sale. That’s why private development on its own has never come close to delivering the 250,000+ homes a year we need to keep up with demand.

By contrast, there is a guaranteed and instant market for affordable homes for rent, helping to de-risk development and getting sales receipts in quickly. Research from planning consultants Lichfields shows that large sites delivering 30%+ affordable housing have build out rates 40% higher than those of large sites delivering only 10-19% affordable housing.

This should not surprise us. When developers have certainty about the number of affordable homes to build, this will be part of the normal cost of doing business. They will no longer need to overpay for land to stay competitive in the first place. Developers playing by these new rules will still be able to make good returns, while providing their share of the affordable homes the country desperately needs.

What next?

We now have an opportunity to close the viability loophole for good. The government is gathering views on the future of viability assessments in its ‘Planning for the right homes in the right places‘ consultation, which closes next week, and has made clear its intention to scrap the current rules around viability assessments. Shelter’s new research should be the final nail in the coffin for this legal loophole. Instead, we can create a system that is limited, fair and transparent:

Recommendation 1: Strengthen Local Plans – so they make it absolutely clear what local communities expect to get from development

Recommendation 2: Limit the use of site-level viability assessments to a strictly-defined set of exceptional circumstances – so the Local Plan policies (like affordable housing) are the default, not something to be routinely negotiated away

Recommendation 3: Incentivise policy-compliant schemes – by fast-tracking them through the planning process

Recommendation 4: Redefine and clearly justify the level of returns to be supported by the planning system – so that developer returns are more appropriate to the level of risk they are taking

Recommendation 5: Where site-level viability assessments are used, make all evidence fully transparent – so that local communities can scrutinise the numbers and hold developers and councils to account

For full findings from the research and more on how to close the viability loophole, read our report.

The high cost of viability assessments: 2,500 affordable homes lost in just one year | Shelter blog

See also:
Futures Forum: A solution to our housing problems >>> stop the Big Four developers from land banking and claiming that each and every development will not be viable >>> and encourage small-and-medium-sized builders

Knowle relocation project: PegausLife application to pull down century-old hotel refused > in the New Forest

A story forwarded today by the Sid Vale Association 
- and commented on by the East Devon Watch blog:


15 DEC 2017

Just one note: where PegasusLife bemoans the fact that they are being prevented from building “housing for older people” it should in Owl’s opinion read: “housing for very, very rich old people”.

A grudging offer of 15 “affordable homes” in the second application should be seen for what it is – an attempt to get their own way by any possible means with as little outlay as possible. Owl imagines – as is usual in these circumstances – that there would eventually be a “viability assessment” that rendered the affordable homes “uneconomic” after construction of the non-affordable properties was well underway.

As an aside: isn’t it time these so-called “viability assessments” were banned by the government and developers forced to sink or swim on their original costings? Imagine buying a house and, just before exchange of contracts, the buyer says: “Sorry, I’ve done a viability assessment of my (unchanged or even improved ) finances and you will have to accept a cut of 30% of the agreed price
 – and the seller being forced to accept!

PegasusLife’s second attempt to demolish New Forest heritage property thwarted | East Devon Watch

Here's the piece from yesterday's Mail:

Heritage experts win campaign to Sherlock Holmes author (and lesser known architect) Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s only surviving building

  • A second application to bulldoze Lyndhurst Park Hotel has been rejected
  • The hotel is the last standing building designed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • He redesigned the hotel, adding a third storey, after staying there in March 1912 
  • Property developers PegasusLife who submitted the application said the building is a heritage asset of 'minor significance'
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's only surviving building has been saved by a campaign run by heritage experts. The legendary author is best known for creating the world's most famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, but Conan Doyle also designed houses and even a golf course.
After the fiction writer stayed at the Lyndhurst Park Hotel in March 1912, he sketched designs for a third storey extension and redesigned the front of the building. The hotel sits in the heart of the pretty New Forest, Hants, just miles from his home, and though it has been vacant since 2014 the building is considered 'highly historically significant' thanks to his designs.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's only surviving building Lyndhurst Park Hotel in the New Forest has been saved by heritage experts
A controversial application to demolish the property and replace it with flats and affordable homes threatened the site and heritage charity The Victorian Society stepped in to criticise the plans. The building was originally built as an early 19th century mansion known as 'Glasshayes House' but was transformed into a hotel in 1895.
Conan Doyle was a regular at the hotel in the late 19th and early 20th century

Conan Doyle, who lived in the New Forest's Brook, was a regular at the hotel in the late 19th century and early 20th century. By the autumn of 1912 it was given a major face-lift based on ideas submitted by the world famous writer after he visited with his family earlier that year. He designed the entire third floor extension as well as the new facade and it is his only surviving building.
Property developers PegasusLife have now submitted two applications to bulldoze the site, with both being rejected.
Their first application to build 74 homes for the elderly was declined in December 2016, and their latest attempt to create 75 new houses has also been turned down.
The new application included plans to replace the hotel with 75 flats and 15 affordable homes. In a report on the bid, the New Forest National Park Authority 'little consideration' had been given by the developers to the 'very cramped' development.

After the fiction writer stayed at the Lyndhurst Park Hotel in March 1912, he sketched designs for a third storey extension and redesigned the front of the building
It said: 'Little consideration has been given to integrating the affordable housing element within the scene as a whole. It demonstrates a very cramped form of development set around a courtyard dominated by parking with little in the way of amenity space.'
Despite its historic significance, the building is unlisted and therefore unprotected. Conservationists The Victorian Society say it is of 'paramount importance' it is saved

'The fact that Glasshayes House is thought to be the last remaining building designed by Arthur Conan Doyle makes it unique, and therefore highly historically significant and certainly worthy of reassessment. In addition, no justification has been submitted to support its complete demolition.'
Speaking when the application was made, Tom Taylor, from The Victorian Society, said: 'It is now of paramount importance that the building be reconsidered for listing, as that would offer it valuable protection against demolition and insensitive redevelopment. A spokesman added: [Conan Doyle's] ambitious redesign transformed the building into what you see today, the building as it currently stands is a near perfect expression of Doyle's plans.

Both planning applications submitted by property developers PegasusLife to bulldoze the site and build affordable housing have been rejected
'Time is swiftly running out for Glasshayes House, and the risk that it may be lost forever to be replaced with a run-of-the-mill block of flats is becoming ever more real.'
In the planning application by property developers PegasusLife, it said the building is a heritage asset of 'minor significance'. 
PegasusLife planning director Guy Flintoft said the company was 'disappointed' with the decision to reject a second application to redevelop Lyndhurst Park Hotel. He said: 'We are disappointed with the National Park Authority's decision. The rejected application included 15 affordable homes, which we would have delivered with our partners at Sovereign Housing Association, a respected provider working in the area. It is disheartening that the provision of housing for older people is so often disregarded.
'It is disappointing that this amendment to our application has been largely ignored by campaigners - despite being raised by locals as a key reason for the original refusal earlier this year. We will now take some time to consider our next steps.'  
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's only surviving building saved | Daily Mail Online

Brexit: and sea bass quotas

Fishing is very much about quotas:
Futures Forum: Brexit: and 'looking to get increases in fishing quotas'

The problem is that Westminster has never seen fishing as much of a priority - and has sold the UK industry down the river as it were:
Futures Forum: Brexit: and betraying the UK's fishing industry

But it's not easy being a fisher:
Fishermen demand EU quota change after throwing back sea bass worth £10,000 in ONE CATCH | UK | News | Express.co.uk

Today's news from Plymouth shows the frustration:

Fishermen 'have been forced to thrown £120k of dead fish back in the sea in a week'

Rachael Dodd Reporter - 13 DEC 2017


Fishermen in Plymouth are calling for a change in regulations which currently see bass totalling more than three per cent of their total catch thrown back into the sea. The frustrated fishermen say the rules, which were designed to conserve sea bass numbers, are costing them thousands and the fish often die when they are pulled from the water or soon after being tossed back.

Shane Farrow, vice-chair for Fishermen United said: "Fishermen United is a newly-formed group that consists of fisherman from around the country who are at the end of their tether. Everyone's had enough of the current quota system. French fishermen don't want to throw away perfectly good sea bass any more than we do. They agree with us that something has to change."

Paul Trebilcock, chief executive of the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation, said new rules had to be worked out despite Brexit. Mr Trebilcock said they had support from junior Defra minister and Cornish MP George Eustice who recognised it was "nonsense to waste a valuable resource." 

"As it stands the fishing methods being used can't change to suit the system, but the system could change to suit the fishing methods. We want to try and get to the point where we have a decent conservation level. Sea bass is a by-catch of fishing. Fishermen don't go out to fish sea bass, but they still catch it accidentally. What we want to see is better provision for certain species and perhaps a higher percentage quota to stop the waste of good sea bass."

The government insists stocks of sea bass are in long-term decline but local fishermen say there have been so many recently that catching them has been unavoidable.

A decision on fishing quotas is expected to be taken by all 28 EU fisheries ministers this Wednesday.

Fishermen 'have been forced to thrown £120k of dead fish back in the sea in a week' - Plymouth Herald

Today that decision has been made as the EU's Council agreed to tighten rules around catching sea bass:

Concerning sea bass the Council acknowledged the bad state of stocks in the Celtic Sea, Channel, Irish Sea and southern North Sea and their importance for many countries. 

It consequently decided to make additional efforts by only allowing limited fisheries with certain gears in those areas, while providing for a two months closure to protect spawning aggregations.

Council agreement on 2018 fishing quotas in the Atlantic and North Sea - Consilium

At the other end of the country, there are fears of what the fishing industry will look like post-Brexit:
Grimsby: The town wanting to have its fishcake and eat it - Latest Brexit news and top stories - The New European

Thursday, 14 December 2017

The emerging Sid Valley Neighbourhood Plan > boosting affordable housing > protecting green spaces

The Herald has been featuring pieces on the 'emerging' Neighbourhood Plan - the first focussing on Port Royal and Knowle:
Futures Forum: The emerging Sid Valley Neighbourhood Plan > providing ‘vital data’ to inform the Port Royal scoping study > using evidence collected to submit a ‘substantial objection’ to the Knowle planning inquiry

The second looked at housing and both the built and natural environments:

Sidmouth and Ottery breaking news and sport - Sidmouth Herald

Here is the complete press release from the NP steering group:

Sid Valley Neighbourhood Plan

In this second article, Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group member Peter Murphy talks with colleagues about one of the major points arising from consultations: the housing situation. He notes that Government Guidelines state:

 “Neighbourhood planning gives communities direct power to develop a shared vision for their neighbourhood and shape the development and growth of their local area. They are able to choose where they want new homes, shops and offices to be built, have their say on what those new buildings should look like and what infrastructure should be provided, and grant planning permission for the new buildings they want to see go ahead. Neighbourhood planning provides a powerful set of tools for local people to ensure that they get the right types of development for their community where the ambition of the neighbourhood is aligned with the strategic needs and priorities of the wider local area.”

Reflecting on the difficulty of achieving a balanced housing stock in the valley considering our population balance and constraints on the amount of land available for building, Councillor Michael Earthey who heads up the Housing Theme group had this to say:

“Young people and first-time buyers trying to start family life find it difficult to get the first step onto the property ladder. It’s a national problem but in the Sid Valley there are locally contributing factors – not least the current and forecast demographics of the Valley.  We have a preponderance of people in the age group 60 years and above and forecasts indicate that this will continue to rise.  Let’s face it:  the Sid Valley is a highly desirable place to come and retire and an attractive proposition for those who can sell up where house prices are higher, buy here and have capital left over. Or indeed, to buy a second home or holiday let – both factors which have an influence on the year-round viability of a sustainable local economy.

A Neighbourhood Plan cannot write policies which will influence or control the existing free housing market where supply and demand determines prices.  But based on analysis of our independently commissioned housing needs survey together with community views, our draft plan - if approved - will include policies which:

·         Impose requirements on the make-up of new-builds including for example for those with more than 10 homes, detailing the percentage mix of affordable, intermediate and open market housing (or other affordable housing which may include ownership solutions such as shared housing or shared equity)

·         Support social housing proposed by developers.

·         Regulate the ownership of second or holiday homes in a manner similar to the St Ives Neighbourhood Plan which has survived legal challenge and is now in statute.

Overall our objective is to ensure that the right housing is built in the right place and the natural beauty of the Valley is not endangered.”

Graham Cooper, who has responsibility for developing the policies which will regulate how our Built and Natural Environments are developed yet remain unspoiled commented:

“For me our main problem will be the risk of settlement creep within the valley because of the demands for housing and employment in the coming years. We are doing what we can within the framework of the Neighbourhood Plan to write policies which may protect us from development encroaching into our green areas.  Another issue facing our environment which we will try to address is loss of tree canopy in new developments.  The concept of Eco-corridors is taking shape however which will contribute to a healthy bio-diversity in the area.”


For further information contact Deirdre Hounsom, Chair, Sid Valley Neighbourhood Plan at d.hounsom@hotmail.com or by phone: 07970 814568

NeighbourHood Plan - Sidmouth Town Council
Sid Valley Neighbourhood Plan – Shaping our Future Together

Knowle relocation project: PegasusLife appeal inquiry >>> decision expected end of January

The decision from the Inspector considering the appeal by the developers at Knowle is expected next month:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: PegasusLife appeal inquiry >>> decision expected soon

This follows on from a site visit:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: PegasusLife appeal inquiry >>> site visit 1.30pm: Tuesday 5th December

A local resident gave his take on the sorry tale:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: PegasusLife appeal inquiry >>> "the Sidmouth community have been badly treated and let down" >>> a summary of the issues

Here is another overview of the current process, posted by Save Our Sidmouth:

Knowle decision to be made known by end of January 2018

December 13, 2017
by sidmouthsidLeave a comment

The Planning Inspectorate has indicated to EDDC that the decision will be issued on or before 31 January 2018.

Many people who couldn’t attend the Inquiry themselves due to work or other commitments, have asked for more information about it. So thank you to the correspondent who sent in this summary of his own experience of the process, and some reflections which we believe are widely shared, on where we are now:

‘The inquiry into the appeal by PegasusLife for their development of the Knowle site, which is supposed to pay for EDDC’s move to Honiton, has concluded with a site visit by the Inspector. The decision will not be known until early in the new year, but it is a good time to reflect on the process.

The overwhelming feeling has been that the Council’s barrister, still a junior in barrister terms, has had to fight against the developer’s QC, clearly one of the most experienced in the field, with one hand tied behind his back. At times it was akin to watching David take on Goliath.

The first obstacle was that the EDDC planning officers went back on their original decision and recommended that the scheme should be approved. Despite the strength of the arguments of local protesters which convinced planning committee rebels to vote against the leadership’s pet project, the developer’s QC kept using the officers’ opinions to chip away the defence.

Although two conservative rebels voted with concerned locals, the leadership of the planning committee managed to restrict the reasons for refusing the plans and this limited the problems the developers had to answer. Arguments about the town needing affordable homes and pressure on local services through even more pensioners moving in did not have to be countered.

Then we had the Council’s own defence which, to be kind, many interested parties regarded as poorly prepared. More than once the developer’s QC was able to exploit wrong information or the wrong document provided to the EDDC barrister.

The developer’s QC was backed by a team of expert witnesses who were well rehearsed and difficult to trip up. The Council’s barrister had a planning officer brought in from Cornwall, the EDDC officers were disqualified because they had recommended approval, and a heritage officer. The planning officer didn’t know the area and was playing catch up on the details of a very large and complex development, he didn’t stand much chance against the developers who had devised the scheme. The heritage officer was torn to pieces by the forensic questions of the QC, possibly because she had not had sufficient training in how to present evidence against a barrage of aggressive questioning.

Once again, local people and organisations marshalled arguments to have this gross over-development thrown out. We will have to wait for the outcome. If we have lost, the developer could walk off with massive profits and yet avoid any responsibility to pay an estimated sum of three and a half million pounds towards those affordable homes which East Devon needs so desperately.’

Knowle decision to be made known by end of January 2018 | Save Our Sidmouth

Climate change: learning resources from Sustainability Frontiers

'Sustainability Frontiers is an international alliance of sustainability and global educators', with its main centre in Weston, Sidmouth. It is particularly interested in education issues around climate change. Here are some extracts from its latest newsletter:


Sustainability Frontiers engages in research and innovation in the broad fields of education for sustainability, transformative environmental education and global education, transgressing dominant assumptions and current orthodoxies as it seeks to foster learner empowerment and action. It places particular emphasis on climate change, disaster risk reduction and peacebuilding and their implications for the nature and directions of sustainability education.


Pictured here is a daffodil, potent and heartwarming symbol of English springtime. This daffodil came into bloom just over a week ago, on 27 November 2017. It is being followed by a procession of daffodils in yellow bud. In recent years we in our English south coast clime have seen daffodils in bloom for the Winter Solstice but this, for us, breaks all records. Its appearance elicits conflicting emotions; joy, on the one hand, at seeing a flower of sublime beauty lighting up dark, dank winter days; a sense of dread, on the other, at the creeping advance of climate breakdown.

‘Climate breakdown’ not ‘climate change’ more and more feels the right term. We are facing the dislocation of nature, loss of species and the disruption of ecosystems and of food chains. Human populations in many parts of the world are facing life-threatening food security threats triggering climate migration on a huge scale. Climate change education - aimed at mitigating the drivers of climate change while helping those to adapt who are on the frontline in suffering its effects  – becomes more and more urgent.

Climate Change Learning Resource Review

A new review article by David Selby has just been published in Policy & Practice: A Development Education Review, Autumn 2017. The article reviews the highly innovative Creating Futures: 10 Lessons Inspiring Inquiry, Creativity & Cooperation in Response to Climate Change for Senior Primary Classrooms, jointly published by TrĂ³caire and the Centre for Human Rights and Citizenship Education of Dublin City University in 2016.
For details, click here
For the review, click here.

Teaching Teens About Climate Change

A new Green Teacher (Canada) e-book, Teaching Teens About Climate Change, edited by Tim Grant and Gail Littlejohn has just been published. The publication offers a rich treasure chest of wonderful ideas for climate change learning and teaching. We are delighted that our own article and activities, 'Climate Change Learning: Unleashing Blessed Unrest as the Heating Happens’, as originally published in Green Teacher, Issue 94, Fall 2011, are included in the book (pp. 8-23).
For details of Teaching Teens About Climate Change, click here.
For the original 2011 Green Teacher article, click here.

Place-based Nature Learning: Best Practice Wanted!

The Sustainability Frontiers team of David Selby and Fumiyo Kagawa are in process of researching and authoring a book on place-based nature learning covering the learning of both children and adults.
Varieties of nature learning being covered in the book include: localized nature-connected learning; nature-grounded sustainability learning; localized climate change education; re-wilding learning; localized biodiversity learning; learning alternative life ways; alternative forms of food production; celebration, ritual and symbol in earth-connected learning.
We are also looking for evidence of child disconnection from the natural world and of ways in which teachers and other significant adults are working to overcome that disconnection.
The team, in short, is looking for examples of best practice whether in rural or urban contexts. If you have practice to share do get in touch and let’s have a conversation! To contact the SF team, click here.

Bulletin 20, 11 December 2017

Sustainability Frontiers - ‘Go out on a limb… That’s where the blossom grows’ – Tom Forsyth, Isle of Eigg, Inner Hebrides, Scotland *

The group took part in last year's Climate Week:
Vision Group for Sidmouth - Climate Week in Sidmouth: The Climate Variety Show: update