Deprivation, employment and the effect of Arena siting on Lawrence Hill residents

Statement to Extraordinary Full Council meeting, Monday 3rd September 2018
Deprivation, employment and the effect of Arena siting on Lawrence Hill residents

Multiple deprivations in Lawrence Hill and lack of employment opportunity

As a resident of Lawrence Hill ward, I am particularly concerned by the missed opportunity building the Arena in the centre of Bristol will have on communities here.

Lawrence Hill has, according to Bristol City Council’s own Deprivation in Bristol 2015 report, five Lower Super Output Areas in the top 20 most deprived in Bristol (Easton Road, Stapleton Road, St Philips, Cabot Circus and Barton Hill). All LSOAs in Lawrence Hill ward are within the most deprived 10% nationally. Overall, the ward is the fourth most deprived and has the second highest percentage of people who are employment-deprived in Bristol, with 3,240 (25% of the population). More than a third of people in Lawrence Hill are income deprived (7,060, or 36%). Almost half of all children live in income deprived households (2,235, or 46%)

I do not believe that the siting of an Arena is a panacea for this deprivation and the wider income inequalities in Bristol and the UK. However, if we think for just a few seconds about the kind of work that will be made available by this development – regular work in the service and hospitality industry – this is exactly the kind of role suitable for people who are long-term unemployed and with skills and education deprivation.

Journey times for Lawrence Hill residents to Temple Meads quicker and cheaper than to Brabazon Hangar

The siting of the Arena is a factor on people within Lawrence Hill accessing the Arena’s jobs. The route connections from our area of the city to the Filton area are poor. Even from the most northerly point of Lawrence Hill (where the M32 intersects with the railway line), the minimum journey times to the Brabazon Hangar are currently:

Walking: 1 hour 30 minutes
Cycling: 30 minutes
Bus: 50 minutes (with at least one change of bus)
Train: 54 minutes (requires a change to bus)

For comparison, here are the journey times to Bristol Temple Meads, adjacent to Arena Island:

Walking: 34 minutes
Cycling: 11 minutes
Bus: 22 minutes (includes 12 minutes’ walk)
Train: 13 minutes (direct train)

This shows that the siting of the Arena will have a substantial and direct impact on the cost and desirability for Lawrence Hill residents taking jobs at the Arena. Additionally, the anti-social hours that employees of an Arena may need to hold are not necessarily conducive to the use of public transport.

Conclusion

The Arena Island site represents a substantial opportunity for residents in deprived areas like Lawrence Hill (as well as other areas of inner city Bristol, both north and south of the river) to access good-quality jobs within walking, cycling and public transport distance. I hope that the Labour Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, considers the people who need jobs most before he decides to move the Arena project away from these employment-deprived areas.

Rob Bryher
Lawrence Hill resident

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My views on the EU, Brexit, democracy, neoliberal economics, Corbynism and Labour

In the 2014 European elections (they seem an age ago now), I subscribed to the policy platform of the Green Party – “three Yeses”.

1. Yes to reform of Europe
2. Yes to a referendum on whether the UK should stay in the EU
3. Yes to staying in Europe

I will use these statements as starting points for explaining my views.

1. Yes to reform of Europe

Out of the three, I was and still am most interested in the first yes. The European Union – in line with the global economic system – is a neoliberal institution that too closely aligns national governments within and into this orthodoxy. The reforms necessary to shift the EU and its institutions towards a radical progressive platform with redistributive tackling of inequality at its heart are sizeable, and I understand the scepticism of some about the ability of nation states, political blocs within the European Parliament and individual MEPs, never mind national polities (e.g. the UK public), to enact radical reform easily.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that the alternative to this priority – giving up on the European project in its institutional/democratic spheres as a lost cause – is so much worse, particularly for a country with the colonial history and isolationist tendencies of the UK that has still sat in a prominent place within European politics.

It is not just the economic settlement where I would like to see reform. I think the democratic understanding of most people in the United Kingdom of the procedures and processes of the European Parliament is poor to non-existent. I see the need for legislation in the UK Parliament (perhaps in reform of the BBC charter and the way the media works generally) to ensure that EP sessions are included regularly on national media and on channels such as BBC Parliament for people to understand how democracy works in the European system. The European Parliament – on paper at least, if not in its perceived distance from the UK public – is a MORE democratic institution than the UK Parliament in pretty much every single way. This diagram explains this better than I can.

EU democracy

So, yes to reform of Europe, with UK MEPs and the people playing a strong, organised role in pushing for reform. This is what, I hope, would have happened if the referendum had gone a different way. It’s to the referendum that I now turn.

2. Yes to a referendum on whether the UK should stay in the EU

Ironically, given the current positions of both parties, the Labour Party was not offering a referendum on our membership of the EU heading into the 2014 European elections and the 2015 General Election and the Green Party was. At the time, the Labour policy struck me as being quite anti-democratic. My view then was that: a) people who had never had a say on our membership (i.e. who weren’t alive or old enough to vote in the 1975 membership referendum) should be able to have a say on it now and b) that if the vote – as I think most people expected – returned a Remain vote, that that would put the issue to bed for another generation, which in my eyes would mean we could focus more closely on more important things – like campaigning for EU reform, introducing proportional representation, taking bold steps to fight against climate change, and tackling income inequality and the housing crisis.

I can already hear people screaming “hypocrisy!” at me. How can I be in favour of the result putting the issue to bed if it went the way I wanted it, but not be willing to accept the result if it went the other way?

It’s a fair criticism, I suppose. At the same time, if people in UKIP (and eurosceptics in Labour and the Tories) had continued to campaign against our membership of the European Union after a Remain vote, I would not have thought that was anti-democratic or poor form, just a bit eccentric. That is completely up to them and it is a vital aspect of our democracy that people believe strongly in something (however much I think it is unimportant or settled) to continue to campaign for what they believe in. I would of course have supported the UK government (ugh!) in (presumably?) ignoring their pleas.

And so now that we have had a Leave vote, there is nothing to stop Remainers from continuing to call for what they want: to Remain in the European Union and for a referendum on the terms of the negotiated deal.

There are also numerous more reasons to question the referendum itself:

a)  The referendum question was a simple yes/no question, which does not lead to a firm conclusion as to the method of the UK leaving the EU.
b) The referendum was not legally binding in the same way as the Scottish Independence referendum was. This means that although different sides would need to accept the stated democratic will of the vote, the final settlement of the exact kind of exit from the EU was not clear. This calls into question whether the vote can be meaningfully called a democratic expression of the will of the people, as there was not a detailed picture of what leaving the EU would mean in practical outcome for the UK.
c) The Electoral Commission has ruled that the Leave campaign broke electoral law. This casts doubt over the whole referendum as a democratic procedure.
d) As there was a previous referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU in 1975, there was now a precedent set constitutionally that the UK does not see membership of the EU as a “once and for all” vote, allowing subsequent votes.
e) The circumstances and specific content of the terms of UK exit are yet to be decided and, democratically speaking, if the public has had a say over WHETHER the UK should leave, it should also get a say over HOW the UK leaves, given the numerous options (no deal, hard, soft and remain after all) that will present themselves when the Government finally reveals the deal it has got with the EU.

3. Yes to staying in Europe

My priority in politics reads thus: what position and politics will lead us – at the local, regional, national, continental and global stages – to tackle climate change and social inequality effectively?

I do not believe that the UK can tackle climate change without cooperation, dialogue and international working as part of the EU. I also trust the European Parliament and EU to bring in strong legislation on climate change more than I trust the current UK government to do similar. Other European democracies have a better record than the UK does on this. We need a seat at the table and to be able to use our voice for change in that institution. As a cooperative, democratic institution, the UK is a vital peace project. Some of its economic and social policies are downright terrible – on Greece, or on the refugee crisis, for instance – but I believe the sum total of our collective wisdom needs to be supported in its institutional form, even while we criticise and attempt to reform its flaws.

The politics at play right now

It is clear that the Conservative Party is split on the EU still, and continues to procrastinate, argue and muddle through. MPs who campaigned to Remain are now adamantly for the hardest of Brexits because they are scared of the 10% or so they gained from UKIP in 2017 going back to them and stopping them from being the largest party at a subsequent general election. Irrespective of this, the Tories are in a bind anyway as, if the economy collapses if we leave the EU (whether no deal, hard or soft), it will be them who will be clearly shown to be terrible at handling the economy.

The Labour Party is also split on the EU, but their muddle-through is slightly easier because they are in opposition, they improved their position in the 2017 general election, and their party leader is seen as at best a “soft remainer” and at worst an “ardent Eurosceptic Brexiteer”. The difficulty they have is there are a majority of Labour Party members – on the left, centre, right, and wherever else – who are intelligent, see the EU as an important institution for the aims of international social democracy and solidarity, and have noticed that the polls show regret over the Leave vote (see image below), with the majority of Labour-held constituencies now being in favour of Remain.

Brexit mind change

This means that Jeremy Corbyn, who – if you remember – immediately called for the triggering of Article 50 on the day after the referendum in June 2016, finds himself on the wrong side of his party membership, the voters he needs to convince to continue voting Labour at the next general election, and the public at large. Refusing to support a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal may not ultimately prove to be his undoing, due to the weak, divided leadership of the Tories, the economy cratering and – to be honest – a bunch of people who will vote Labour whatever, whether out of fear of the Tories, support of a local candidate, or as “the only progressive option”. This is what Corbyn supporters perceive as “playing the long game” in terms of strategy.

The difficulty with this strategy is clear. Firstly, Corbyn will continue to be attacked on three fronts: by the Conservatives and other parties, by non-Corbynist MPs and members in his party, and by influential media sources who support the continuation of Conservative government. On the first, he may develop some good lines and play the same timid game Labour always plays in opposition of slowly winning trust in the country (this is for people who don’t realise or understand what a calamity Brexit would be). On the second, he will struggle – as we have seen with the anti-Semitism row. And on the third, he will without the tabloid press (and, let’s be frank, a positive media profile and perception that he is a moderate) find it hard to win over that extra 3-5% in the so-called centre ground of British politics that saw Tony Blair deliver two landslide election victories. Even as a leftist, I do not believe that the Labour Party just serves people who have leftwing politics. It reaches parts of the country my own party cannot yet hope to reach and we need it to continue to do so, at least for the timebeing.

As a Green, I find it more and more perturbing how easily some of Corbyn’s supporters gloss over the gap between Corbyn’s “straight-talking, honest politics” and the fact he doesn’t have straightforward answers on whether the UK will be better off economically outside the EU. We won’t be. Even the Government’s own forecasts show we won’t be under three different exit scenarios.
UK Brexit economy forecasts

If Corbyn is such a change from the norm, why can’t he just say “the forecasts show that we might not be better off, but if we are elected after Brexit has occurred, we will have to do our best with the situation we have inherited from the Tories”? Why is such an idealistic movement as Momentum prepared to put up with such a lack of idealism and leadership? And how will this help Labour’s electoral chances if they enable the Tories in pushing through whatever Brexit they negotiate without a chance for the public to say “nope, this will make things worse in every way”?

So, in summary (and quite obviously), I support a People’s Vote, I think the Labour Party needs to support it, I think Labour should have a strong Remainer who is on the left or soft left of the party as their leader, and I think only these outcomes will potentially stop economic catastrophe, further years of even worse Tory austerity and even more time wasted in tackling climate change and the unequal economic settlement that Corbyn and his supporters say they want to radically reform.

Rob Bryher
Wednesday 22nd August 2018

Crime and justice (4/34): assessing the Green Party of England and Wales’ policies

Image result for crime and justice

This is part four of a continuing blog series aimed at noticing amendments that may be useful to the Green Party of England and Wales’ main public-facing document, the Policies for a Sustainable Society (PfSS). The full set of 34 policy chapters can be found here.

Starting opinions and personal thoughts before reading the chapter
Protection of the public from physical and mental harm is a crucial element to creating happy, sustainable communities. Too often, progressive politicians, movements and parties have been seen as unthinkingly “anti-police” without any nuance. Greens should champion the good that the police can do and question the cuts to funding that affect their ability to properly and fully tackle the root causes of crime. Nevertheless, the institutional racism or police forces, the erosion of civil liberties and warped policing priorities need to be called into question in order for root and branch reform of the police and the justice system to gain traction in the public’s imagination.

Most important thing I learned
There is an organisation that provides companions for pregnant women who are in prison.

Bulletpoint policies

  • Introduction of two departments at every level of government: Departments of Crime Prevention – including social crime prevention (i.e. reducing social pressures that are/likely to be conducive to crime) and promoting education around communication, cooprtation and problem solving skills – and Departments of Justice – combining current functions of the Lord Chancellor’s Department and the Home Office in relation to the administration of justice, including responsibility for the judicial system, sentencing policy and practice, and sponsoring services such as assistance to victims and dispute resolution initiatives.
  • Ensure universal access to high quality youth facilities and open spaces.
  • Improve street lighting and ensure people-friendly street design.
  • Ensure prompt repairs of public amenities and spaces.
  • Increase resources for caretakers, attendants and staff on estates, railway stations, parks and other public areas.
  • Tackle drug related crime by pursuing measures such as better-funded health education/service and free counselling and advice, especially to children and young people, and establishment of appropriate drug-use clinics and needle exchange schemes, and other harm minimisation strategies
  • Support for police forces being supervised and accountable to elected local government.
  • Support for an independent approach to investigations of police criminality and corruption, incorporating transparency in ensuring police are charged and investigated in the same manner as all other citizens of the UK.
  • Support for the appointment of more community and part-time police.
  • Support for recruitment to police forces emphasising selection of candidates with previous experience in other walks of life.
  • Support for an emphasis on crime prevention.
  • Support for thorough anti-racism and equalities training for all staff working in the police and related services, full implementation of all Lawrence inquiry report recommendations, and requiring all police forces to have equality and diversity liaison officers whose remit is to support and educate colleagues and ensure that incidents and hate crimes which target LGBTIQA+ people, people from black and ethnic minorities (including refugees and asylum seekers) and disabled people are thoroughly investigated and where appropriate, prosecuted, and that preventive action is taken.
  • Support for strong, democratic community policing committees in every neighbourhood.
  • Support for more local police stations.
  • Support for greater emphasis on ensuring diversity in all levels of policing
  • Commitment to fully independent inquiries into deaths in police custody and the police shooting of civilians
  • Commitment at local level of government for the setting up of Local Mediation Centres and funding of their running.
  • Commitment for re-targeting of resources towards enhancing co-operation between the police, the Prosecution Service, defence services, mediation services and courts and towards providing all parties involved in the justice process with sufficient means to reach fair decisions through transparent due process.
  • A detailed conception of the use and process of restorative justice and mediation for victim and offender
  • Commitment to significantly reducing the prison population.
  • Introduction of new principles giving Courts the duty to sentence to ensure reparation to the victim/community, then persuade and enable the offender to become a law-abiding member of the community.
  • Take into account any completed reparations before sentencing.
  • Replace fines with measures which make reparation for the harm/ inconvenience caused.
  • Support for vulnerable people to reduce likelihood of offending.
  • A commitment to constant monitoring of sentencing practice.
  • Commitment to a comprehensive strategy to tackle, significantly reduce and ultimately end hate crime.
  • Commitment to end the disproportionate targeting of ethnic minorities through stop and search.
  • Commitment to provide relationship education in schools and other appropriate environments to inculcate values of respect for others and respect for difference
  • Introduction of training programmes for key frontline staff to recognise signs of domestic abuse and to be able to provide pathways of escape for victims, with encouragement of peer support networks, with appropriate training and support.
  • Commitment to expand access to counselling for all those affected by domestic abuse, the victims, the witnesses and the perpetrators.
  • A commitment to permanent guaranteed funding for refuges, future housing and safety measures for victims of domestic abuse.
  • Commitment to essential services for all victims to help them through the trauma and difficulties to escape abuse, including help with housing, legal costs, etc. Provision of appropriate resources to the court system to ensure that the needs of victims of abuse are recognised, both in hearings related to their case and other matters.
  • Commitment for every police force to have a dedicated Wildlife and Animal Crimes Unit, which will work in liaison with local/regional Animal Rights Officers
  • Commitment to a separate code dealing with motoring and road traffic offences.
  • Call for the repeal of the Vagrancy Act 1824 because it is open to abuse by police and government, discriminates against homeless people and wrongly labels them as criminals.
  • Statement that only the Crown Court will have the power to order detention and only when it is satisfied that the public must be protected because there is a substantial risk of a further grave crime, or that the offences have caused such public alarm that the offenders presence in the community would constitute a threat to his/her own safety.
  • Commitment to a maximum duration of detention, with parole or early release subject to Department of Justice executive review with a right of appeal to a judicial forum.
  • Commitment to prisoners’ right to vote. (Any decision to deny a prisoner the vote will be taken only by a judge, taking into account the particular circumstances of his/her case.)
  • Commitment to community payback for inability of individuals to make financial reparations.
  • Commitment that no person in contempt of court will be detained until an opportunity for non-custodial means of purging the contempt has been offered.
  • Improvement of the physical and social standards of prisoners so that as far as possible the only limitation on the dignity of their lives will be the denial of freedom of movement outside the prison. (This includes having their own room, facilities for communication and association with family and friends, unsupervised visits and as far as possible detention near their family and home community.)
  • Statement that the only women who should be in custody are those very few that commit serious and violent crimes and who present a threat to the public
  • Ensure community sentences are designed to take account of women’s particular vulnerabilities and domestic and childcare commitments, and increase flexibility of the restrictions placed on sentencers around breaches of community orders.
  • Replace existing women’s prisons with suitable geographically dispersed, small, multi-functional custodial centres.
  • Provide more supported accommodation for women on release to break the cycle of repeat offending and custody.
  • Extend the scheme for pregnant prisoners provided by the charity Birth Companions to all women who wish to use it, with government funding
  • Improve prisoners’ access to meaningful activities, particularly real work and education and artistic and creative facilities and ensure all prisoners attain levels of literacy sufficient to allow them to function effectively in modern society.
  • Offer counselling and appropriate assistance to prisoners to overcome the root cause of their offences and reduce the likelihood of re-offending.
  • Commitment to seek innovative schemes (such as offering training in construction skills that prisoners can use to restore dilapidated housing that they can then inhabit) to help deal with homeless on release from prison.
  • Ensure prisoners rights are legally enforceable, including grievance procedures, a prisoners’ complaints commission, a prison ombudsperson, regular spot inspections by lay visitors and Department of Justice inspectors, step up of suicide prevention efforts and strongly encourage ‘Buddy schemes’.
  • Incorporate the Prison Medical Service into an improved National Health Service, with access to complementary health care, health education and the provision of counselling as well as the direct medication care of prisoners.
  • Apply the Health and Safety Acts and Factories Acts, the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Unfitness provisions of the Housing Act 1985 to prisons, and absolish Crown Immunity in relation to prisons.
  • End custody of those under the age of 18, with Social Services Departments being responsible for establishing and running a range of small secure residential homes to cater for the needs of particular types of young people with special needs, with safeguards built in to the system.
  • Provide adequate facilities and a suitable environment to allow a young child to stay or live with their parent or guardian in custody when this is considered to be in the best interests of the child.
  • Opposition to privatisation, use of PFI and any creeping or part privatisation of prisons and the prison service.
  • Commitment to strengthen the right to bail for suspects, only being withheld when the court has strong grounds for believing that a suspect must be separated from the public until the trial for the same reasons as apply to the power to order detention, or if the suspect has failed to honour bail commitments. Ensure that special arrangements are made to ensure that the trial of such suspects will normally be held within six weeks from the time of arrest.
  • Remand in custody will only be used for offences and offenders where detention after sentence is permitted, with a strict limit to the length of the remand.
  • Ensure a high level of gun control,  as well as addressing the social factors which contribute to people committing crimes with guns.
  • Commitment to define quantitively the lethality of a gun in law, thereby covering new weapons resulting from developments in firearms technology.
  • Prohibit the most dangerous weapons in law, with a complete ban on the private ownership/possession of all automatic and semi-automatic firearms.
  • Constitute a Gun Safety Advisory Committee to regularly review which weapons are prohibited.
  • Treat deactivated weapons as the same as activated weapons in licensing and prohibition terms.
  • Establish a single rigorous licensing system, based on public safety not the convenience of shooters.
  • Require firearms users for sporting or agricultural purposes to demonstrate their competence in handling firearms and satisfy the authorities of their mental and emotional stability, including obtaining the signature of a number of citizens to vouch for their good character, with any medical and psychological test costs being borne by the applicant.
  • Introduction of a new annual fee for firearms users which is sufficient to repay the economic damage – to police, court and NHS – inflicted on it by the abuse of guns generally.
  • Require firearms licence holders to renew their applications on an annual basis, with individuals whose licence application is rejected being required to wait at least two years before re-applying.
  • Commitment to a complete ban on the manufacture, sale and import of imitation weapons (replica guns and blank firers) and a ban on their public possession, with licenses for imitation weapons used for film/theatrical purposes, and legislation to ensure toy guns are highly distinct in appearance, probably by being made of clear/translucent plastic.
  • Abolition of the death penalty in all countries, and support of instruments and campaigns at national and international level which seek its global abolition.
  • Commitment to legislate to provide for the proper and robust prosecution of those who commit financial sector and banking fraud and participate in the mis-selling of financial products.

What I need to find out more about
Birth Companions
Crown Immunity

What I disagree with
Nothing major, except phrasing.

What I think needs amending or adding

  • CJ360-361 is too vague. It alludes to a “strengthening of legislation” around “environmental problems”, but doesn’t state to what it refers or what specifically would be strengthened.
  • The section on gun control (CJ500) is poorly phrased, and implies that the costs of medical/psychological tests for potential firearms license holders should be “borne by the applicant”, which is contradictory of Green principles of an NHS free at the point of use. Suggest removal of “the cost of medical and psychological tests must be borne by the applicant” in Licensing (Part iv, paragraph b).
  • Is it a good idea to use the term “loners” in a policy document? (CJ500)

The policy that I think needs most pushing publicly
Ending the disproportionate targeting of ethnic minorities through stop and search.

Next up: Chapter 5 (Culture, Media and Sports)

Countryside (3/34): assessing the Green Party of England and Wales’ policies

Image result for english countryside

This is part three of a continuing blog series aimed at noticing amendments that may be useful to the Green Party of England and Wales’ main public-facing document, the Policies for a Sustainable Society (PfSS). The full set of 34 policy chapters can be found here.

Starting opinions and personal thoughts before reading the chapter
With the majority of the human population of the planet now living in urban or peri-urban areas, the countryside as a protected geographical area is under threat from further urbanisation and loss of biodiversity and green spaces for recreational enjoyment. The challenges of people living sustainably in the countryside are many, not least in terms of transport-based emissions. Too little farming is involved in food production to lessen food miles and provide an alternative to intensive factory farming. I will admit that I am less concerned about the countryside than I am about making cities sustainable, and also quite ignorant of what the countryside chapter includes.

Most important thing I learned
Many European countries have banned snaring, but the UK hasn’t.

Bulletpoint policies

  • Consolidate and strengthen The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (and related legislation) to remove loopholes and weaknesses that allow further destruction of wildlife and habitats, and resource effective to enforce the legislation
  • Make it a general offence to cause cruelty to wild animals or suffering where it can be practicably avoided
  • Prosecute cruelty to wild animals in the same way as for domestic animals
  • Require humane methods of killing
  • Bring in an outright ban on snaring
  • Work at the European level to strengthen protection of habitats through the Habitats Directive and ensure Pillar 2 of the Common Agricultural Policy continues to provide environmental and habitat protection
  • Support the establishment of Nature 2000 network of special areas of conservation established by the European Habitat Directive and its associated legislation
  • Ensure good quality habitat restoration and avoid the introduction of harmful or invasive non-native plants, review legislation and implement new laws where currently there are only codes of practice and  collaborate at a European level to achieve this, including both live plants and seeds in the review
  • Support measures to introduce a European Wild Plants directive which would give clear labelling on all living wild plant material traded within Europe, license all traders dealing with wild-collected plant material and tighten up
    import and export controls on wild plants
  • Ensure that Ramsar Convention sites (wetlands) remain highly protected and that other designated areas retain a high degree of protection from development
  • Opposition to the relocation of environmentally damaging operations overseas
  • Support shorter supply chains and direct links between producers and consumers to maximise income generation in rural areas and to supply healthier, fresher food
  • Discourage large-scale agribusiness, processors and retailers which take large profit margins, concentrate jobs in urban centres and cause the closure of small, local retailers
  • Discourage the amalgamation of farms, support family farms, improve access to land for new entrants to farming and horticulture and favour the setting up of sustainable, small-scale and labour-intensive enterprises and their associated dwellings
  • Support sustainable diversification and multiple use of agricultural land and buildings, for instance for appropriate renewable energy, tourism, recreational pursuits and low-impact enterprises.
  • Support small-scale, environmentally benign farming systems that protect the soil, biodiversity and water resources, minimise greenhouse gas emissions and pollution, support ‘joined-up’ wildlife habitats and provide secure jobs in rural communities
  • Support farming and land management which conserve and, where appropriate, increase woods, orchards, agroforestry, hedges and other trees
  • Phase out ‘factory farming’ and discourage farming systems highly dependent on fossil fuels and imported feed that have large-scale environmental impacts and tend to reduce rural income and employment.
  • Ensure that all farming and land uses protect and enhance the soil through legislation and support for agri-environment schemes
  • Support a strategy to reduce release of nitrogen compounds and other pollutants, increase monitoring of watercourses and enforce penalties for pollution of watercourses and unsafe or inappropriate use of pesticides.
  • Work towards replacing the Common Agricultural Policy, and while it still exists, support a radical reorientation of the CAP to support sustainable farming systems that protect and enhance wildlife habitats and biodiversity, ensure fair and secure farm incomes, support sustainable and thriving rural communities and promote regional and local self-reliance in food.
  • Support extension and further investment in the concept of agri-environment schemes such as Environmental Stewardship and initiatives such as catchment-sensitive farming to the whole of the countryside
  • Introduce Land Value Taxation, calculated to take into consideration the economic effects of having to conserve wildlife habitats, archaeological sites and other landscape features
  • Ensure that planning for sustainable use of the countryside for multiple purposes is a major and integral part of the Local Development Frameworks to be implemented by all Local Planning Authorities and National Park Authorities, including conversation advice from government and ecological criteria are given full weight in all planning decisions.
  • Ensure that planning decisions are made at the lowest appropriate level
  • Ensure councils have the necessary training and access to knowledge to make appropriate decisions
  • Strengthen independent planning inspectorate so they are competent to take all factors into account
  • Abolish Infrastructure Planning Commission, or any similar separate fast-track body for national infrastructure decisions
  • Review the case for the right to appeal against local planning approvals
  • Strengthen planning controls for large-scale or damaging land-use changes in the countryside, in particular, large-scale farm buildings, new and improvement works by drainage bodies and water authorities, clearances of woodland, works affecting woodland and large-scale afforestation.
  • Introduce legislation to halt and reverse the spread of light pollution in the countryside in order to protect the dark night sky and to minimise disturbance to wildlife from artificial light, and incorporat this into all Local Development Frameworks
  • Require improved lighting design and the use of more efficient lighting in new developments or replacement of existing lighting.
  • Promote energy conservation, including the removal or reduction of unnecessary lighting
  • Retain, strengthen and enforce national policy that encourages local renewable energy installations
  • Endorsement of the extra controls and incentives for specially protected areas and commitment to work to link the current protected areas into a wider network of sites.
  • Encourage Natural England and the Countryside Council for Wales to carry out a thorough review of the complicated system of designated areas.
  • Strengthen and widen the role of National Parks and the Park Authorities by encouraging better democracy in their governance, by addressing the lack of control and investment in species and habitat protection and by encouraging better take-up of renewable energy opportunities.
  • Commitment to press for the earliest withdrawal of inappropriate military training within National Parks.
  • Ensure that the National Planning Policy Framework continues to provide strong policy protection against mineral extraction in National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), encourage local authorities to make a concerted effort to remove the remaining old dormant permissions in these sensitive areas, and oppose all mineral developments in National Parks, other than small-scale operations that produce materials for local traditional building and repair.
  • Halt all damaging road construction within National Parks, in favour of the enhancement of public transport and improved access for walkers and cyclists.
  • Provide adequate funding for the management of designated sites, including Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), National Nature Reserves (NNRs), Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Scheduled Ancient Monuments (SAMs)
  • Give local authorities the power to make Countryside Conservation Orders to protect vulnerable features which require conservation
  • Give Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty comparable status to National Parks.
  • Retain and rigorously strengthen Green Belt legislation as a positive measure to revitalise the countryside, improve quality of life for people in cities and large towns and encourage the extension of ‘green wedges’ into the cities
  • Extend environmental and social impact statements into all areas of decision-making.
  • Ensure that woods are an integral part of Local Development Frameworks, require planning authorities to liaise with the Forestry Commission and other bodies when dealing with the establishment of new woods and the management of existing ones, and rigorously protect the public ownership of and public rights of access to woods and plantations
  • Encourage good management of existing woods, plantations, orchards and hedges, and farmers and landowners to allow new woods to grow and where appropriate to create new plantations, orchards, agroforestry and hedges
  • Prohibit destruction of ancient woodland
  • Extend the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 to provide wider public access such as that granted in Scotland by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 and ensure Access Authorities ensure that the law is properly implemented.
  • Ensure that adequate funding is provided to protect and maintain existing rights of way and to create new ones.
  • Support for the further devolution of powers from central government and higher-tier authorities to lower-tier authorities and a commitment to strengthen the role and responsibilities of Parish and Town Councils
  • A Rural Housing Agency will be established to keep under review the needs of people working in rural areas who might not be able to access homes through traditional routes
  • Support will be given to low-impact living initiatives, particularly where they can meet rural housing need and help with rural economic regeneration, required to follow the principles of sustainability and self-reliance being pioneered by the Transition and Low Carbon Communities movements, including self-build
  • Commitment to enact policies to discourage the speculation in land that pushes up prices beyond the means of the majority rural population and second home ownership
  • Change of planning policy to reflect the need to reverse the trend away from local facilities in favour of centralised, usually town-based developments.
  • Require new housing developments in the countryside to recognise the potential transport needs of residents, providing solutions that do not rely on private car ownership.
  • Development of innovative approaches including shared vehicle ownership, community  transport schemes, multiple-use vehicles such as the alpine-style post bus and locally based and affordable private hire, as well as modern web and phone-based technology to enable more efficient use of available transport
  • Reform and increase the Rural Transport Grant to a level that allows for the costs of delivery of rural transport services
  • Encouragement of innovative solutions to maintain vital local services if necessary, such as post offices relocated into village shops, community halls and pubs, internet access in vilage halls and churches doubling up as meeting rooms and music venues.
  • Ensure Department of Health funding allocation makes sufficient allowance for the higher cost of delivering health services in rural areas, so reversing the trend of closing local facilities and transferring their functions to large urban centres.
  • Ensure that high-speed broadband is available to all rural areas at the same cost as in urban areas, if necessary by adding a small fee for all phone lines.
  • Commitment to seek to ensure that recreation and tourism are sustainable and benefit the economy of the locality where it takes place, and require Local Planning Authorities to consider the sustainability of the enterprise, the quality and permanence of the net employment the applicant claims would be created and its overall landscape and environmental impact, with periodic reviews incorporating an environmental impact assessment and the input of local residents.
  • Encourage the development of multi-purpose facilities, usable throughout the year, to meet the needs of local people as well as visitors, and that they are designed and managed to minimise social and environmental impact

What I need to find out more about
Ramsar Convention
The Common Agricultural Policy

What I disagree with
The section on planning (particularly CY540 and CY541) is not up-to-date and seems to be premised on the view that planning authorities and the planning inspectorate are hostile to ecological principles.

What I think needs amending or adding
As a priority, the reference to the National Infrastructure Commission, which was abolished in 2012.
CY503 seems to repeat points made earlier.
References to a “Nature 2000 network” need updating.
Language around Local Development Frameworks needs updating as these are now more commonly called Local Plans.
What does giving ecological criteria “full weight” in planning decisions actually mean?
Remove negativity towards the planning inspectorate (CY540).
Remove the idea of reviewing the ability to appeal planning decisions (CY541).
Revise the tenor of the Green Belt policies to make them more reflective of the need for development on land that doesn’t have special recreational uptake and use within or on the edge of cities (CY562)
“Reduce speculation in land in both urban and rural areas” (CY562) – how?
In my view, this is an incredibly cumbersome chapter and needs heavy revision so that it more succinctly expresses key policies. Many of the policies can be included in other chapters of the PfSS instead of here.

The policy that I think needs most pushing publicly
The introduction of Land Value Taxation and the establishment of a Rural Housing Agency.

Next up: Chapter 4 (Crime & Justice)

Climate Change (2/34): assessing the Green Party of England and Wales’ policies

Image result for climate change
This is part two of a continuing blog series aimed at noticing amendments that may be useful to the Green Party of England and Wales’ main public-facing document, the Policies for a Sustainable Society (PfSS). The full set of 34 policy chapters can be found here.

Starting opinions and personal thoughts before reading the chapter
Climate change is the greatest threat that the human species faces and could result in an extinction level event. The scale of change needed across multiple sectors of public and private life requires rapid implementation of carbon reduction measures from governments at every level – local, regional, national, continental and global. The lens of public focus should be drastically shifted to publicly hold to account those companies and governments contributing the most harm in terms of greenhouse and CO2 emissions. Green policy should present a coherent and powerful worldview that can be utilised by Green administrations, councillors and local parties in their campaigns for a low- or zero-carbon future.

Most important thing I learned
The Green Party policy advocates for greatly increasing the use of electricity. (I also learned that we are in favour of research into artificial meat!)

Bulletpoint policies

  • Support for Paris Agreement 2015, particularly to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels”.
  • Calls for the UK to increase its Paris Agreement commitments on emissions reductions, climate finance, capacity building and technology transfer.
  • Calls for the UK to make the case for compensation for climate-related loss and damage and begin to pay such compensation.
  • Calls for the UK to advocate an emergency international agreement to conserve and enhance carbon sinks and reservoirs including forests, peatfields and coastal and estuarine areas.
  • Calls for the UK to reduce, by international collaboration, the emissions associated with its imports.
  • Calls for the UK to reduce its own emissions to net zero by 2030, through practical action in the UK and not by carbon trading or offsetting
  • Calls for the UK to create an adaptation programme which ensures the safety of its citizens, as well as of key property and infrastructure.
  • Advocates for a centrally-led transformation programme which will involve substantial state funding and require changes in the behaviour of ordinary citizens.
  • Calls on government to conduct a major public education campaign.
  • Advocates for a strengthening of the Climate Change Act to require the Committee on Climate Change to set budgets on the basis of the need to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.
  • Creation of a strategic Climate Change Agency directly responsible to the Prime Minister with veto over any government policies that are inconsistent with climate change targets
  • Require all public bodies and businesses to define their own adaptation plans and Locally-Determined Contributions (LDCs) to climate change mitigation
  • UK policy should encourage small families, a circular economy, less avoidable consumption and a shift to low carbon products, services and processes
  • Advocates for a carbon tax and dividend (on greenhouse gas emissions and with a progressive element), publicity campaigns and possible carbon rationing
  • Require all adverts for high carbon products, including food, to carry an ‘environmental health warning’
  • Invest heavily in energy efficiency in all sectors, especially in housing (including funding for retrofitting), industry and transport
  • Set energy efficiency standards for vehicles, appliances and equipment at the best currently available and tighten them progressively thereafter
  • Advocates for UK to switch its sources of energy system from fossil fuels to renewables by changing incentives and by direct investment
  • Advocates for greatly increasing the use of electricity, expansion of the grid and development of heat networks
  • Advocates for UK to implement interconnectors with overseas electricity systems, a smart grid and a variety of energy storage systems to provide resilience
  • Advocates for UK to convert to less intensive agriculture and convert grassland to forest where possible, with transitional arrangements and compensation for farmers
  • Require full disclosure of the climate-related risks on all investments
  • Require all managers of pension and investment funds based in the UK to divest themselves of holdings in fossil fuel companies, most urgently from coal
  • Advocates for UK development and deployment of systems to remove CO2 and other greenhouse gases from the air and from the exhaust from industrial processes such as cement making, including investment in Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) systems which may also need to be used with some power plants.
  • Advocates for UK funding of R&D and pilot projects in key emerging technologies such as NETs (negative emissions technology), Solar Radiation Management and artificial meat.
  • Advocates for UK to adopt a new approach to planning that places work, living, retail and leisure facilities close together, leading to reductions in travel necessity.

What I need to find out more about
Interconnectors with overseas electricity system
Negative emissions technologies (NETs)
Carbon Capture and Storage
Solar Radiation Management

What I disagree with
I do not agree that an environmental health warning should be carried on adverts for carbon intensive food (CC121).

What I think needs amending or adding
The first bulletpoint of CC110 requires grammatical editing, I think.
“Possible carbon rationing” – vague as to whether we are advocating for it or not in CC121.

The policy that I think needs most pushing publicly
Invest heavily in energy efficiency
in all sectors, especially in housing (including funding for retrofitting), industry and transport and for the UK to switch its sources of energy system from fossil fuels to renewables by changing incentives and by direct investment. (I know I’m cheating, this is two policies!)

Next up: Chapter 3 (Countryside)

Animal Rights (1/34): assessing the Green Party of England and Wales’ policies

Image result for animal rights

This is the first of my blogs aimed at noticing amendments that may be useful to the Green Party of England and Wales’ main public-facing document, the Policies for a Sustainable Society (PfSS). The full set of 34 policy chapters can be found here.

Starting opinions and personal thoughts before reading the chapter
The Green Party and the environmentalist movement in general overemphasises the importance of individuals taking action through lifestyle decisions around diet. The emphasis should more clearly be on the actions of unethical treatment of animals within the meat industry and the emphasis on mass-market meat production rather than localised sustainable and ethically-reared meat. I have no ethical qualms about the killing of certain animals and the eating of meat (this has occurred for millenia for practical survival reasons that I think we should not forget), but I do have concerns about the overall environmental effect of the meat industry, particularly around deforestation to provide grazing land and the effect of methane from grazing stock. Clearly it is also healthier to eat less red meat within diets, but I do not think this is something that should be mandated by the state. My knowledge of other animal rights issues is quite limited and so I am looking forward to reading this chapter to learn some things.

Most important thing I learned
The Five Freedoms of the Animal Welfare Act are:
1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst (by ready access to fresh water and diet to maintain health and vigor).
2. Freedom from Discomfort (by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area).
3. Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease (by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment).
4. Freedom to Express Normal Behavior (by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind).
5. Freedom from Fear and Distress (by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering).

Bulletpoint policies

  • Introduce Animal Rights Officers in local authorities
  • Introduce clear labelling on all animal-derived food products stating all facts about animal treatment and method of killing
  • Phase out factory farming in favour of small free-range units
  • When slaughter does take place it is done so as to cause least suffering to the animal
  • Slaughtering to be monitored without prejudice towards minority religious and cultural groups
  • Ban on the use of GMOs in animal feed and all genetic modification of animals
  • Desire for internal rules on import restrictions from country’s with lower animal welfare standards
  • Minimising of live transport of animals
  • Prioritising of smaller, local abattoirs and improve conditions
  • Mandatory CCTV in slaughterhouses
  • Extend the Animal Welfare Act to cover all fishing activities, including an end to overfishing, prohibition of intensive fish farming and restrict the use of fishmeal for animal feed
  • Support for a progressive transition from meat-based diets, and organic and stockfree farming
  • Ensuring that vegetarian and vegan options are widely available in public sector establishments and included in catering certificates and food technology courses
  • Illegal to import or sell foie gras
  • Ban import, export and sale of fur
  • Continue prohibition of ivory, reptile skins and whale oil
  • Ban on all experimentation and research that harms animals and transfer of government research funds to non-animal technologies
  • Replace use of animals and animal material in educational settings, but support for use of animal cadavers/material when these have been ethically sourced
  • Introduction of a two-tier system of dog-licensing [breeding and non-breeding], licensing of all animal breeders and dog owners, subsidised spaying and neutering, implementation of animal warden schemes, and prohibition on import of exotic animals
  • Creation of a national register of convicted animal-cruelty offenders
  • Ban on sale of young puppies and kittens unless the mother is present
  • Animal patents will not be granted
  • “Pest control” redefined to “wildlife management and control” and implementation of a wildlife management and control protocol
  • Extend the 1911 Protection of Animals Act to protect captive and non-captive animals from unnecessary suffering
  • Opposition to all blood-sports
  • Amend Firearms Act to prohibit the use and private ownership of firearms and lethal weapons except on registered premises
  • Prohibition of the import of all animals for circuses and re-homing of all existing circus animals
  • Abolition of zoos and private collections of animals except where they are of benefit to the animal concerned
  • End the exploitation of animals in horse racing, greyhound racing and all situations where animals are commercially raced including immediate ban on the the whip in horse racing and non-linear tracks in greyhound racing
  • Single regulatory authority for each commercial racing sport with strict welfare standards (detailed in the policy)
  • High level of compulsory levy imposed on all betting to be used solely for welfare improvements
  • Endeavour internationally to initiate and develop an Animal Rights Division within the UN
  • Opposition to all lethal and harmful uses and treatments of cetaceans and any move to end the current moratorium on commercial whaling
  • Abolition of research into xenotransplantation

What I need to find more out about
GMOs. I am way too ignorant of this issue.
Xenotransplantation, for the same reason. Will it really unleash “an epidemic amongst the human population”?
Why are we just calling to minimise live export of animals? Can’t it just be banned?

What I disagree with
The vagueness of this in AR411: “The Green Party will support a progressive transition from diets dominated by meat and other animal products to healthier diets based on plant foods, through the use of research, education and economic measures…” What economic measures are these exactly?
AR427 seeks to abolish zoos. I think there is a genuine need for some animals to be homed in zoos and that this policy should be more to do with emphasis. Animals in zoos should be predominantly those that need sanctuary rather than simply those that zoos want to place in captivity for our entertainment or enjoyment.

What I think needs amending or adding
Specifics about what economic measures we would (or wouldn’t) use to transition away from meat-dominated diets. A meat tax? Or something more subtle?
AR418 could be read as contradictory of itself.
AR419 – is there a less cumbersome way of saying “those animals who are chosen as companions to the human race”. It is also unclear which animals this includes and excludes.
I would change AR427 as I think its emphasis is wrong.
I might change the hyperbolic aspects of AR 431 which I think are unnecessary.
A position on lab-grown meat, which could be market-viable in a matter of months.

The policy that I think needs most pushing publicly
Mandatory CCTV in all slaughterhouses.
Next up: Chapter 2 (Climate Change)

The design and application of neighbourhood planning in England acts effectively to constrain local autonomy and inhibit public participation in planning. Discuss.

Introduction

The introduction of neighbourhood planning (NP) has been met with critical discussion both inside and outside of planning literature. I will argue that NP processes have produced some positive participative practice but within a framework that does not allow for local autonomy or inclusive participative practice at the sub-local authority area. I will go on to recommend strategies for reforming the structures that have been put in place.

What is neighbourhood planning?

The Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition Government (2010-15) introduced neighbourhood planning as part of the 2011 Localism Act (DCLG, 2011b). The preamble to the government’s neighbourhood planning guidance claims that NP “gives communities direct power”, allows them to “choose where they want new homes, shops and offices to be built” and provides “a powerful set of tools for local people to ensure that they get the right types of development for their community” (DCLG, 2014). Both academic and non-academic critique often includes the contention that the government has seen NP as a tool to encourage neighbourhoods to accept further development, particularly housing (Parker and Salter, 2017).

In direct practical terms, this new statutory power allows, in coordination with their local authority, any set of 21 citizens to become a “qualifying body”, designate a neighbourhood development plan area, write a neighbourhood development plan (NDP), put this plan out to consultation, have it assessed by an independent examiner, and then ask for the NDP to be approved by the local community through a referendum. NDP policies must conform with the Local Plan and the Government’s newly introduced National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF, 2012). The NDP then becomes a statutory part of the development plan, alongside the Local Plan for the area designated.

Parker et al (2015) suggest that NP is a significant statutory shift that local authorities cannot ignore and is unlikely to be abandoned. The 2011 Act was the culmination of a building political rhetoric around the terms localism and decentralisation for both government parties whilst in opposition, with Copus et al (2017) suggesting the localist political shift may relate to the effect of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish devolution on English provincial thinking. NP represents the first time a statutory right of this kind has been granted to communities at the sub-local authority area, but as we will now discuss is not the first instance of attempts to sub-localise the planning system.

The pre-2010 context of neighbourhood planning

NP was thus a departure from the previous Labour government’s (1997-2010) policies if not its language of ‘new localism’. The unformalised ‘local strategic partnerships’ were the New Labour precursor of sorts to NP. However, specific sub-local authority governance structures such as parish councils and urban-based neighbourhood forums had hitherto not had any planning powers, leading to an unsatisfactory situation where local authorities could choose to adopt or ignore non-statutory sub-local plans (Gallent 2013). Parish Plans, produced since 2000, were an example of community-led planning used regularly prior to 2010, almost exclusively in rural areas. Parker and Murray (2012) state that pre-2010 consultations on these plans would “rarely carry quality criteria which are applied or enforced”. However, in April 2009, the Labour government did introduce a wide-ranging ‘duty to involve’ powers on local authorities (DCLG, 2008) and a Central-Local Concordat in conjunction with the LGA (HM Government and LGA, 2007, cited in Bailey and Elliott, 2009). The Coalition reforms can be said to, at least rhetorically, respond to New Labour’s ‘managerial’ localism (Sturzaker and Gordon, 2017), although Brookfield (2017) argues that the Coalition were echoing the New Labour rhetoric, and adopting a neo-liberal justification for localism.

Local autonomy’s non-existence

Planning literature in the aftermath of the 2011 Act refers largely to decentralisation and localism, rather than autonomy, perhaps for the reason that the former are concepts perceived as less political and more operational in orientation. There is no agreed definition of local autonomy within democratic theory, with Clark (1984) stating that its meaning “remains opaque”. However within the NP context we are clearly discussing any ‘autonomy’ that exists at the sub-local authority (i.e. neighbourhood) level. Internationally, the term ‘local autonomy’ is used synonymously with ‘local self-government’ (i.e. local government) with one 2014 assessment (see Ladner et al, 2016, 344) measuring the UK as 31st out of 39 European countries. Pratchett (2004) makes a strong claim that local autonomy and local democracy are conceptually not the same, with Clark (1984) defining two aspects of autonomy in governance terms. Immunity is “the power of localities to function free from the oversight authority of higher tiers of the state”. Initiative is “the power of localities to legislate and regulate the behaviour of residents”. These aspects are closely mirrored by Pratchett (2004) as “freedom from central interference” and “freedom to effect particular outcomes”, stating a further aspect, “reflection of local identity”, an addition that brings participatory governance into our analysis of autonomy’s definition. It’s clear that a qualifying body could affect particular outcomes in a positive way by delineating land use more specifically than its attendant Local Plan currently does. However, this does not in itself represent an autonomous state of affairs, merely an ability to change some aspects of the local authority’s development planning documentation in line with what already exists or will exist.

I contend (under the auspices of traditional anarchist thought and the definitions of the aforementioned thinkers) that autonomy only exists independently of prescribed democratic and institutional structures, in arenas where local citizens make their own rules and practices, what Parker and Murray (2012) describe (from a non-anarchist perspective) as a “direct challenge to established decision-making models”. Indeed, Gallent (2013) differentiates democracy as a top-down, “provider-led” approach, and governance as a bottom-up approach (with the crucial caveat that it is liable to myopia and a lack of detail and coordination). The introduction, therefore, of NP can be said to have had a negligible effect on local autonomy, as NDPs are required to be submitted both to the local authority and the planning inspectorate (an executive agency of HM Government) for approval, as well as conforming closely and working within the Local Plan policies and the NPPF (Parker et al, 2015), with no variation on this pattern legally condoned. As local autonomous governance structures are thus only theoretically possible and currently non-existent, it is difficult to say whether “they” are constrained or not. Regardless, this conclusion does not preclude the possibility of improved public participation under NP, a subject to which we now turn.


Public participation in neighbourhood planning

Public participation has been part of planning law since the 1968 Town & Country Planning Act (HM Government, 1968), although it was almost immediately followed by the Skeffington Report (DoE, 1969) which critiqued the Act’s top-down solutions and recommended a far more neighbourhood-orientated approach (recommendations 1 and 2, appendix 1). Today, there are still charges that public participation can be tokenistic, with Parker and Murray (2012) describing participation opportunities as “little more than rhetorical bulwarks used by politicians seeking public support and legitimation for particular policies”. Certainly the Localism Act’s emphasis on delivering growth by a neo-liberal economic model could be characterised this way, but are there opportunities afforded by NP for authentic communicative practice?

Vigar et al (2017) posit two dominant schools of thought within communicative practice – a participative-deliberative tradition and a radical-agonistic one – suggesting that the latter is the dominant contemporary planning paradigm. Forester (1999) recognises the role of emotion in planning but takes the deliberative position, describing planners as crucial to facilitating any “joint gains” that can be made between “conflicting claimants” (p. 12-13).

I agree with Parker et al (2015) that NP presents as a dialogic space (see Wegerif, 2016) of rational actors (see Rydin and Pennington’s (2000) five rational choice questions) but that in reality its public participation remit is limited and the design of its structures preclude agonist practice. Brookfield (2017) notes that planners are not ‘levelled down’ to the status of another stakeholder as is typically an interest of collaborative planning. Also, as Parker and Murray (2012, p.8) note, individuals don’t always act rationally or in some narrow self-interested sense, implying that some people engage if others (and particularly others ‘like them’) engage. Overall, for NP, “the benefits and problems of participation are likely to be mixed and fluid; reflecting the so-called fuzziness of neo-liberal institutions” (Parker et al, 2017). The design of NP, to which we now turn, is also one of the main factors in assessing NP’s public participation credentials.

The design of neighbourhood planning

Neighbourhood planning has been communicated and legislated maximally but resourced minimally. The government’s 200 or so pilot areas each received £20,000 up front (Bailey and Pill, 2015). Up to £9,000 is available to qualifying bodies from DCLG through Locality’s website (2018), a sum which hypothetically allows payment of a living wage to a dedicated planning employee for a little over 27 weeks of full-time employment. The median time for an NDP to progress to referendum is 29 months (Parker and Salter, 2017), which makes it logistically unfeasible to offer anything other than part-time, freelance work to a planning consultant, who may or may not be able to work in the way that conveniences the designated neighbourhood forum (DNF). In one study (Parker et al, 2015), it was found that 69% of NDPs relied on consultant support. Staff resource from local authorities is not specified quantifiably in the legislation, so the DNF must negotiate support resources (DCLG, 2014). The local authority has responsibility for setting timetables and time limits, but the emphasis as regards advice and assistance is on what planning officers “consider appropriate” (which of course could be minimised to solely the aforementioned time factors) (DCLG, 2011b).

The concern expressed by some (e.g. Lord et al, 2017) about the risk of the de-professionalisation of planning comes to the fore in light of this design, with the overall neo-liberal framework not being hidden by the government (Parker et al, 2015) when they state that local authorities will have “more freedom to work with others in new ways to drive down costs” (DCLG, 2011a, p.7). Parker et al (2017) suggest that New Public Management theories lead to a “wider traducement of public sector planning” for a performative end. However, Brookfield (2017) notes two specific benefits for communities after an NDP has been adopted: the retention of 25% (as opposed to the regular 15%) of any Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) raised on local development and (for plans that promote housing development) the New Homes Bonus, an unringfenced grant where government matches the Council Tax raised on each new home for six years. (Both positives are contingent, of course, on the NDP promoting rather than restraining development.) Parker (2017) also notes that local authorities receive a £30,000 ‘burdens’ payment on plan completion.

As regards inter-relational aspects of NP design, Davoudi and Cowie (2013) state that the self-selecting character of NP groups may result in the favouring of better educated, well-off and more vocal social groups who may have the time, capacity and inclination to engage. Although the NDP must go to referendum to be judged by the public, there are questions about the legitimacy of unelected bodies acting on behalf of the wider community before this occurs, particularly as the DNF proposes the extent of the area covered.

Overall, there are some basic problems with NP design and with the necessity to conform to the Local Plan and NPPF, what Bailey and Pill (2015) call ‘framing and constraining’ activity. These tight controls on NDP content ensure that ideas, policies and priorities will be “rescripted” to ensure conformity, with their obligatory passage acting as a means of control on participants (Parker et al, 2015).

The application and practice of neighbourhood planning

The non-compulsory nature of NP will always mean patchwork rather than blanket coverage, with 2,228 projects applied for as of October 2017 and only 349 having been formally adopted into local development plans (Planning Resource, 2017), with only 10% of neighbourhoods who could have initiated NDPs doing so (Parker and Salter, 2017). Reasons for lack of uptake have been variously cited, but government assumptions about willingness and capacity, homogeneity and ability to put aside self-interest may also be a factor. The government’s professed light touch approach may have acted to create a degree of confusion rather than enable or expedite processes.

The government forecasts for overall take-up of NP, but not for regions or wider demographic factors (Parker and Salter, 2017). It is observable that the south (comprising just two of England’s nine regions) accounts for 41% of NP take-up (Parker and Salter, 2017). Only six of the neighbourhood areas to have passed referendum by October 2016 were in the 20% most deprived areas of England with 60.8% of plans being produced by those in the 40% least deprived areas (Parker and Salter, 2017). NP has undoubtedly been taken to more in rural, parished areas, although there are examples of large cities, such as Leeds (see Brookfield, 2017), taking a proactive approach, with council officers recommending to the executive board an overall approach to give equality of opportunity, although even in this instance there were participation challenges.

On the issue of whether NDPs have representational legitimacy, although 21 named local individuals are necessary to become a qualifying body, it has been noted (Parker et al, 2015) that a small group of people usually steer things, not the whole of the qualifying body or larger community. Davoudi and Cowie (2013) suggest that the key assessment criterion of this “symbolic representation” is the extent to which DNFs are accepted among local communities and trusted by them to draw up NDPs, highlighting the poor turnout at referenda as a sign of lack of acceptance, despite the figure (32.4%) being commensurate with local election turnout figures (Carpenter, 2016).

There are also clear examples of inequality of implementation. North Shields Fish Quay in North Tyneside was in 2011 part of the government’s ‘Frontrunner’ programme, but even after spending substantial time and effort on developing an NDP, opted instead to formulate a supplementary planning document as result of delayed guidance from government and the group’s “fatigue” (Parker and Salter, 2017).

More positively, some NDPs have taken the opportunity to advance socially and environmentally sustainable solutions, protect heritage assets, and ensure local housing needs, with slightly more control over the type, mix and location of new development than previously (Parker and Salter, 2017). The example of West Berkshire by Parker and Murray (2012) provides some clues for ensuring success. National funding was granted by the Countryside Agency and action was taken and resources allocated by the local authority chief executive, with the LA enjoying a good pre-existing reputation. This enabled trust to be built between the local authority and participants with a neutral agency (the Rural Community Council) providing a valuable brokering role. There is also evidence that – in contradistinction to my earlier analysis of funding – influence on LAs and a resulting access to resources and networks has emerged, an example of the ‘foot in the door’ thesis and allowing for “some limited orientation” (Parker et al, 2017). A counter-example in Exeter involved the DNF negotiation design changes of a development after their NDP adoption, but this could have been managed without the work going into the NDP, with the DNF opining that NP powers are “not as strong as promoted” (Lord et al, 2017) and that “the council did not have to consult us or check whether we were satisfied with their interpretation of neighbourhood plan policies…and they didn’t” (Sturzaker and Gordon, 2017). Blackpool and Manchester are also given as examples where NP has been said to have had negligible impact (Lord et al, 2017).

Parker et al (2015) report that more than two-thirds of people get involved with NP because they want more influence, greater say and to shape a local vision. By any reading, NP can be seen as a positive development in this regard, even if the process overall may struggle to meet these expectations. Parker et al (2017) show that “known co-production” (i.e. diverse actors working together on NDPs) is actually occurring. More critically, the government’s aim could be seen to be reducing local conflict through this consensus-building in order to increase housing supply (Gallent, 2013), although conversely a report from Turley (2014) found that the key theme of 55% of NDPs was the preservation and protection of what already exists (Lord et al, 2017). This suggests that NP may not currently be meeting government’s expectations.

On one analysis (Parker and Salter, 2015), it was recognised that planning skills were crucial but that for most groups the lack of this expertise delayed but didn’t prove fatal to their NDPs (Parker et al, 2015). The implication is that local authorities were then required to intervene or, for wealthier areas, private resources were utilised to fund a consultant tasked to plan-write. At this stage, community aspirations are likely to be rescripted into ‘planning language’, with some suggesting that this, combined with interactions with the local authority, led to a feeling of lost ownership. This “instruction from authority” and tendency for the instrumental pragmatism of “getting things done” can limit the “imagineering of alternatives” and has an effect on the rational choice realities mentioned earlier leading to a ‘why bother?’ result amongst some groups. Conservatism, self-regulation and self-censorship were observed in particular in the latter stages of the process (Parker et al, 2017).

There are instances where a Neighbourhood Development Plan (NDP) has informed a Local Plan (rather than vice versa), with over 1,138 areas being designated in areas with no up-to-date (post-NPPF) Local Plan (Parker and Salter, 2017). This represents an ability of DNFs to use NDPs to shape policy, and potentially re-opens our whole debate around local autonomy. The government guidance itself states that NDPs “can be developed before or at the same time as the local planning authority is producing its Local Plan”, yet simultaneously a draft NDP “must be in general conformity with the strategic policies of the development plan in force”, with additional guidance that qualifying bodies and local authorities should discuss and aim to agree the relationship between policies (DCLG, 2014). Anecdotally (Parker and Salter, 2017), some forums and parishes have slowed their processes to wait for a Local Plan to be adopted in order to know what policies they should follow. This ambiguity in precedence has been tested at examination, with one examiner comically citing Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialism in defence of allowing an NDP to not conform to a non-existent Local Plan (Sturzaker and Gordon, 2017). In general, though, the LA-DNF relationship is characterised by Parker et al (2017) as a “critical dependency” rather than a “truly co-creative relationship”. Mutual exchange only delivers desired outcomes when there is trust, transparency and accountability and Gallent (2013) suggests that there is a structural hole that needs bridging by incidental mediators, giving the example of Ashford where housing (rather than planning) officers were effective at connecting group members to the local authority.

Superficially, it might be observed that a DNF’s powers can be described thus: “Although it cannot choose what to do, once given a specific task it can implement it in any way thought consistent with its tasks.” (Clark 1984, p. 201). Neighbourhood planning groups do choose what emphasis to take (if not exactly choosing what to do). Nevertheless, this gives the impression that their deliberations have a weight that the Localism Act ill affords them in terms of setting planning policy.

Parker et al’s (2015) assessment of their user experience study with Locality of 120 neighbourhoods uncovered a feeling that a local authority ‘duty to support’ needs to be operationalised through memoranda of understanding, which could set out clearer guidance for how to plan rather than just what to plan. The study also found that managing expectations and investing in the early stages to raise awareness in the community paid dividends. Parker et al (2017) believe the relations, knowledge and understanding built by NP may influence new forms of community engagement. More critically, Davoudi and Cowie (2013) argue that for inclusivity to improve we should consider not just how to incorporate marginal groups, but also how to limit the influence of privileged groups. Parker et al (2015) similarly query how we “proof” neighbourhood planning against dominant actors and a ‘managerialist’ consensus. Agonistic practice may have some of the answers in allowing dissensus to reveal power differences within the process (Vigar et al, 2017), but must be used sensitively by well-trained, ‘bridging’ mediators. The user experience study also noted the challenge of designating NP areas in urban settings, recommending a simplification of the process and more targeted, clear guidance for groups. The study also found that clarity around the referendum rules, consistency around resourcing, and clearer messages around the continuation of DNFs (with the view of reviewing or amending the NDPs) as further ways to practically improve the NP process (Parker et al, 2014).

Conclusion

I have argued that neighbourhood planning does not act to constrict local autonomy, because local autonomy does not exist in the English democratic system at the sub-local authority level. Using Clark’s description of the concept of local autonomy, I have suggested that only a wholesale, near-revolutionary change in the British democratic system would allow for this conception to make sense on its own terms of “local self-rule”. NP is fundamentally a state-led and state-run activity, regardless of how specifically the initial bottom-up inception of processes occurs, as it is limited by both central and local state’s policy framework on what local communities can prescribe in their NDPs. However, this does not in itself preclude the possibility of public participation in NP.

There has been limited research thus far into the comparative uptake of local planning participation before and after the 2011 Act. Nevertheless, I have found substantive examples of neighbourhood planning producing forms of public participation which were hitherto unrealised. Even a mechanism so tightly scripted by state actors has the potential for delivering non-state actors’ priorities into local development schemes. My concerns with these processes are almost wholly to do with who is participating and how NP can be reformed and developed to ensure a greater breadth of uptake amongst diverse communities, urban areas and English “non-southern” regions. The cited example of Leeds gave me some hope that urban areas can respond to the current set-up through strong leadership to encourage a joined-up process at the local authority level.

Thus, I would contend that there is a need to directly link neighbourhood planning to strategic planning timetables, so that Local Plans and NDPs are concurrently produced. This could be linked to a statutory responsibility on all local authorities to review and consult on their Local Plan (a consolidated document covering all local and neighbourhood plans) every five years. This would dispel fears of a lack of consistency in a two-tier system (Lord et al, 2017), potentially widen the breadth of topics found in NDPs, and allow all councils to plan for ‘big bang’ engagement at regular intervals. Needless to say, this would require substantial financial investment and new revenue-raising powers for local authorities. It would be perceived as a retreat from ‘localism’ and a centralisation of power. However, to release greater participation and community dialogue (particularly in deprived areas), it is imperative that neighbourhood planning is well-resourced. This seems to be the only effective way to ensure a coherent planning system that allows local innovation, increased diverse and inclusive participation and outcomes that effectively and fairly balance local and national planning priorities.

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