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Is Britain’s countryside at risk? Anger over ‘developers’ charter’ planning reforms

Voice Of EU



A bid to deliver 300,000 homes a year in England by 2025 under proposed planning reforms has raised the ire of at least 90 Tory MPs, including Theresa May.

Under the blueprint for change, which has been dubbed a ‘developers’ charter’, planning permission for ‘substantial development’ would automatically be given in certain areas.

The discontent cost the Government the Chesham and Amersham by-election last month. The Lib Dems, who took the seat, exploited the proposals to raise concerns over construction in the Chilterns. 

Reforms: Under the blueprint for change, dubbed a 'developers' charter', planning permission for 'substantial development' would automatically be given in certain areas

Reforms: Under the blueprint for change, dubbed a ‘developers’ charter’, planning permission for ‘substantial development’ would automatically be given in certain areas

Meanwhile, environmental groups fear the relaxation of the system risks the loss of natural habitats, and archaeologists say the new regime would not allow sufficient time to excavate on building sites, meaning fewer historical treasures would be unearthed.

How could the new system change things?

The new system would require local authorities to draw up ten-year plans, in which land in their district would be classified as ‘protected, for ‘renewal’ or ‘growth’.

Protected zones, such as areas of Green Belt, natural beauty or at risk of flooding would be restricted.

Councils would be required to look favourably on development in ‘renewal areas’. These are places in towns and cities that have already been built on, or strips of land in or at the edge of villages.

Automatic initial planning consent would be given on ‘growth areas’; the most contentious aspect of the proposed relaxation.

Despite the bill being extended to the whole of the UK, the majority of changes will only apply to England.

Why does the Government want these reforms?

Under the current rules which date back to 1947, permission for development is made on a case-by-case basis.

These arrangements are considered cumbersome and a significant bar to home ownership among the members of Generation Rent who Boris Johnson wants to turn into Generation Buy.

The Prime Minister takes issue with aspects of the existing system, including the attention paid to protected species such as the great crested newt, whose discovery on a site can delay construction.

He said: ‘The newt-counting delays in our system are a massive drag on the productivity and prosperity of this country.’

Going for growth: Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, aims to increase the number of new homes that are built every year from about 240,000 to 300,000

Going for growth: Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, aims to increase the number of new homes that are built every year from about 240,000 to 300,000

Does this mean we have no say in our neighbourhood?

The Government says that making the planning system digital (at present, it’s document-based) will make it easier for locals to get engaged in development in their area and they should be able to become involved in the compilation of the ten-year plans.

At present, only about 3 per cent of the population participates in planning —which rather gives the lie to the assertion that we are a nation of Nimbys.

But people would have far less freedom than before, if any, to make known their views on individual planning applications — which some say makes the new system significantly less democratic.

Will there be any quality or design standards?

The basis of the objection to many new developments is the look of the scheme. 

Some housebuilders will reflect local ‘vernacular’ architectural styles and materials in the design of their homes; others rely on standard models not adapted to their setting.

A National Model Design Code is to be published in the autumn, setting out guidelines on such things as ‘the arrangement and proportions of streets and urban blocks, successful parking arrangements and the placement of street trees’.

The Code will lay down design principles that councils must observe when giving consent to developments.

But it’s not clear how these criteria will achieve the top quality homes that we need, or avoid a repeat of the cladding scandal that’s blighting the lives of the owners of some new-build properties.

How soon will the system be put in place?

The changes are not yet law. David Bainbridge, a director of planning at Savills, says that the Planning Bill which will contain the proposals has not yet appeared and that it will face a stormy time in its passage through Parliament.

This week, Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, promised that the Bill would be published later this year.

He will not wish to be swayed in his aim to increase the number of new homes that are built every year from about 240,000 to 300,000. 

But Mr Bainbridge makes the point this could start to be achieved if, for example, schemes that now have planning permission are obliged to go ahead.

Will the Government listen to the protesters?

The proposals are regarded by some as ‘electorally toxic’ despite the early abandonment of the plan to use a computer algorithm to determine how many homes ought to be absorbed in an area. This risked ‘concreting over’ wide swathes of southern England.

There may be more emphasis now on development on already built-on brownfield sites in urban locations.

Yet the dismay caused by this threat to the countryside has coloured the perception of all of the reforms.

The latest source of dissent is the lack of assurance of about how many affordable homes will be produced by the system.

How can the upheaval be justified if it does not help a significant number of first-time buyers onto the ladder?

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Facebook admits high-profile users are treated differently

Voice Of EU



Facebook’s oversight board said the social media company hadn’t been “fully forthcoming” about internal rules that allowed some high-profile users to be exempt from content restrictions and said it will make recommendations on how to change the system.

In the first of its quarterly transparency reports published Thursday, the board said that on some occasions, Facebook “failed to provide relevant information to the board,” and in other instances the information it did provide was incomplete.

For example, when Facebook referred the case involving former US president Donald Trump to the board, it didn’t mention its internal “cross-check system” that allowed for a different set of rules for high-profile users.

Facebook only mentioned cross-check, or XCheck, to the board when asked whether Trump’s page or account had been subject to ordinary content moderation processes.

The cross-check system was disclosed in recent reporting by the Wall Street Journal, based in part on documents from a whistle-blower.

The journal described how the cross-check system, originally intended to be a quality-control measure for a select few high-profile users and designed to avoid public relations backlash over famous people who mistakenly have their posts taken down, had ballooned to include millions of accounts.

The oversight board said it will undertake a review of the cross-check system and make suggestions on how to improve it.

As part of the process, Facebook has agreed to share with the board relevant documents about the cross-check system as reported in the Wall Street Journal. – Bloomberg

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Green mortgages may leave owners of older homes unable to sell

Voice Of EU



Estate agents warn owners of older homes, rural houses and listed properties could struggle to sell under green mortgage plans

  • Boris Johnson has unveiled his plans for turning Britain green by 2050 
  • The plans include proposals on how to make the housing stock greener 
  • The plans would see lenders disclose the energy performance of properties

Homeowners living in older, rural and even listed properties risk being unable to sell if strict green finance targets are introduced, estate agents have warned.

The warning comes after Boris Johnson unveiled his plan for turning Britain green by 2050 this week, with mortgage lenders having targets for the energy performance of properties in their portfolio.

A body that represents estate agents across Britain claimed that the property market could be distorted as a result of the measures and called for Britain’s historic housing stock to be taken into account.

Boris Johnson revealed proposals on how to make the housing stock greener this week

Boris Johnson revealed proposals on how to make the housing stock greener this week

Timothy Douglas, of Propertymark, said: ‘Incentivising green improvements to properties via lending creates risks of trapping homeowners with older properties, those who live in rural areas, listed buildings or conservation areas, making their homes difficult to sell and therefore reducing the value.’

Propertymark said that those living in older properties could be left with homes that they could not sell if buyers were unable to secure finance on them due to their lower energy efficiencies.

The effect would be likely to be felt more by less wealthy owners, as deep-pocketed buyers would be more able to overlook mortgage restrictions and high-end older homes would continue to be desirable.

Mr Douglas said: ‘The use of targets could distort the market and sway lenders towards preferential, newer homes in order to improve the rating of their portfolio.

‘Stopping a large portion of housing stock from being able to enter the market could cause havoc for home buying and selling as well as the wider economy.’ 

He added that improving the energy efficiency of homes should be reliant on consumer choice and not something enforced by mortgage lenders, with all the knock-on effects this could entail.

He said: ‘We would be concerned if lenders raise rates and limit products because fundamentally, improving the energy performance of a property is reliant on consumer choice and it is not the core business of mortgage lenders.’

Mark Harris, of mortgage broker SPF Private Clients, said: ‘The green agenda is not new but there is increasing impetus behind it. There are more green mortgage products aimed at those purchasing more energy-efficient properties – A-C rated, and not just from specialist lenders but the high street banks too.

‘However, there is a real danger that green initiatives could create the next round of mortgage prisoners if homeowners are trapped in older homes that can’t be improved, so they can’t move because they can’t sell them on.

‘Without changes or improvements, lenders may restrict lending to lower loan-to-values, higher pricing, or not lend at all. This could penalise those who are unable to adapt to or adopt new efficient technologies economically.’

A UK Finance spokesperson said: ‘Greening our housing stock is vital if we are to meet our climate change obligations and banks and finance providers are committed to helping achieve this goal and making sure consumers are not left behind.’

Ways to boost energy efficiency  

Propertymark recommends three measures to improve the energy efficiency of homes without negatively impacting the housing market.

1. Improvements linked to an EPC

These include linking a plan for energy efficiency improvements to the recommendations on a property’s Energy Performance Certificate.

It could demonstrate the ‘most suitable route’ to a warmer home, regulatory compliance and zero carbon, according to Propertymark.

2. Tax breaks

It also recommends using tax breaks to incentivise homeowners to finance energy efficiency improvements.

For example, these could include making energy improvements exempt from VAT or offering lower rates of council tax for homes that have been made more energy efficient.

3. Adjustable tax rates

An adjustable rate of property tax that is tied to energy performance is also being recommended by Propertymark.

This could be done in two ways, it suggested. First, by applying the adjustment as a reduction on more energy-efficient properties. And second by offering rebates to buyers if energy efficiency improvements are made to less efficient properties within a certain time period after purchase.

Propertymark said that by linking energy performance with property taxes, this could help introduce increased saleability for more energy-efficient properties. In addition, it suggested that improvements would become standard for homeowners seeking costs and improve the desirability of their homes.


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Johnson rules out face masks as UK’s daily Covid cases rise above 50,000

Voice Of EU



Daily coronavirus cases in Britain have risen above 50,000 for the first time since July, but Boris Johnson said he will not bring back compulsory face coverings or introduce vaccine passports.

Speaking in Northern Ireland, the prime minister said his government was holding firm to its policy of no legal restrictions introduced in July, but was watching the numbers carefully.

“The numbers of infections are high but we are within the parameters of what the predictions were,” he said. “We are sticking with our plan.”

Mr Johnson acknowledged the “patchiness” of Britain’s vaccination programme, urging people to come forward for their booster jabs as soon as they are invited to do so. But Labour leader Keir Starmer said the government should beef up the programme, ensure that more children were vaccinated and aim to deliver half a million jabs a day.

“The government said that the vaccine would be the security wall against the virus and now the government is letting that wall crumble,” he said.

“We’ve seen those that most need it not able to get the jab they need. Only, I think, 17 per cent of children have got the vaccine. And the booster programme has slowed down so much that at this rate we’re not going to complete it until spring of next year. So the government needs to change these, it needs to get a grip. I think it needs to drive those numbers up to at least 500,000 vaccines a day.”

Vaccine passports

The British Medical Association (BMA) accused the government of “wilful negligence” in not bringing back some restrictions, and of failing to learn the lessons of a parliamentary report last week about its handling of the pandemic. The association’s chairman, Chaand Nagpaul, said doctors could say categorically that it was time to bring back compulsory face masks and to introduce vaccine passports.

“By the health secretary’s own admission we could soon see 100,000 cases a day, and we now have the same number of weekly Covid deaths as we had during March, when the country was in lockdown,” he said.

“It is, therefore, incredibly concerning that he is not willing to take immediate action to save lives and protect the NHS. ”

Health secretary Sajid Javid warned this week that some restrictions could be introduced if the public failed to exercise caution and to take up vaccination offers. He acknowledged that Conservative MPs could show an example by wearing masks in the House of Commons, but house leader Jacob Rees-Mogg on Thursday rejected the suggestion.

Crowded spaces

“There is no advice to wear face masks in workplaces. The advice on crowded spaces is with crowded spaces with people that you don’t know. We on this side know each other,” he told the SNP’s Pete Wishart.

“Now, it may be that he doesn’t like mixing with his own side, wants to keep himself in his personal bubble. He may find the other members of the SNP – who I normally find extraordinarily charming…but we on this side have a more convivial fraternal spirit, and for our calling the guidance of her majesty’s government.”

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