Tim Stansfeld

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Reforming Planning – lessons from history

As parliament reassembles after its summer break, Planning reform is once again set to dominate the agenda.  After all the problems the Government had from the heritage lobby over the wording of the National Planning Policy Framework, I understand that George Osborne has decided that “if you can’t beat them join them”, and has asked for ideas from the History departments of all the Russell Group universities about how to free up Planning, and get the housing market working again.

A  mole inside Whitehall has passed me the Confidential Executive Summary of the Universities’ joint report, and here, exclusively, are some of the proposals.

Olympic Park – After the Goldrush

“Yes! Got it!”

Like many of us I’ve watched hours of the Olympics on TV. Frankly I’ve been getting behind Team GB and getting behind with everything else in equal measure. But this time my cheer wasn’t for another success in the Gold rush. On this occasion I had finally managed to get a ticket via the London 2012 website for an event in the Olympic Park.

It’s funny – only half the team’s Golds have come from events in Stratford, but it is clearly the epicentre of activity, and I wanted to see the Park before the games ended. So a ticket for the women’s handball quarter final match in the Copper Box between Spain and Croatia was perfect.

Survival of the fittest in our National Parks

“It’s 50-50 at the moment.  The skipper’s just gone down to have a look at the sea conditions.  Can you ring back in 15 minutes?”  The woman with the Staffordshire accent put the phone down and looked about her.  There had been too many days like that this summer.

Privatised open space – tragedy of the commons or common sense?

It’s more than 15 years since Jarvis Cocker began Pulp’s Common People, a 4 minute polemic on the challenges of delivering social mobility, with the lines:

She came from Greece she had a thirst for knowledge,

She studied sculpture at St Martin’s College,

That’s where I    (de-de-de-de-de-de-de-de-de-de) 

Caught her eye…

Images of Britain in a thousand and one stories

How do places make you feel?  Which ones would you really fight to preserve? And how many of those feelings come as much from the stories you have read throughout your life as from the places themselves?  Last week I went along to the British Library’s summer exhibition – “Writing Britain – Wastelands to Wonderlands”, with its manuscripts, recordings and first editions of everything from Chaucer on the Pilgrims Way to Iain Sinclair on the M25, to try and find out.

Two cheers for the Portas Pilots

Over 200 years ago Napoleon Bonaparte famously described England as a nation of shopkeepers.  And today we remain deeply attached to the success of our town centres.  The current handwringing about their future, and the massive popularity of the bidding process for the “Portas Pilots”, is proof of this.  The £100,000 that Mary Queen of Shops persuaded the Government to offer to the 6 winning town centres, together with some mentoring from the great guru herself, attracted some 370 bidders.  So popular was it in fact that while the original six winners should be announced in the next week or so, a further six will be chosen in June.

Mary Portas’ report itself is a heady mix of nostalgia and commercialism.  Bemoaning the demise of self-contained neighbourhood centres by quoting from Jane Jacobs’ classic “Death and Life of Great American Cities” one moment, and describing London’s two Westfield malls as “successful, immersive 21st century urban entertainment centres” the next,  she never quite seems to know which she prefers.  And of course in that she is no different from the rest of us.

Ostriches, superlambananas and local distinctiveness

“So what’s with the multi-coloured ostriches?” I asked my hosts in the Romanian city of Bistrița. Dotted around the historic heart of this Transylvanian regional centre are several of these birds, each brightly coloured, life size and with a horseshoe in its beak, and also (dramatically larger than life size) some of their eggs. Apparently they appear on Bistrița’s historic coat of arms, dating, along with its charter fair, from the 14th century. They are a fun feature of the city, but not uniformly popular. For many residents the “official” logo, featuring the spire of the Evangelical Church and some of the courtyard arches of the merchants’ houses, is a better example of local distinctiveness.

Green living in the Black Forest

“Atomkraft? Nein danke.”  For the fashionable environmentalist of thirty years ago there were few more evocative slogans.   No battered Citroen 2CV was complete without a sticker to the effect in the rear window.  The more prosaic “Nuclear Power?  No thanks.” didn’t do the job at all.  And if you could add the faint aroma of patchouli oil to suggest that your gorgeous companion had only recently vacated the passenger seat, then better still.

National Planning Policy Framework – pass or fail?

Year 11 at The Whinings Technology College filed nervously into the room.  As the last students took their seats the invigilator started to speak.  “Welcome to this GCSE English Language examination.  As you know, after complaints that papers have become progressively easier, there are some changes to the syllabus this year.  Good luck everybody – you may turn over your papers and begin.”

Gasps were heard above the rustling of papers and scraping of chairs as the pupils read the instructions:

Question 1.  Read the following 1000 pages of Government planning guidance carefully.  When you have finished, précis it into no more than 50 pages, keeping all the salient points and providing a definition of sustainable development.  Time allowed:  21 months – including a period of public consultation.

Time for a Green New Deal

The wind power industry could employ over 200,000 people in Britain in forty years time. And one of the biggest opportunities comes from actually getting the equipment made here. So while arguments go on about wind farms, for many commentators they are a vital part of a Green New Deal.