New look

I got bored with the old theme, so decided to try a new one. I’ve been checking it in different browsers, but please let me know if you find any problems with it, or just if something’s missing that used to be there. For those of you interested in such things, the new theme is RedLine, and the old one was Librio.

Boris is wrong. Again.

It’s amazing how far you can go with funny hair and the ability to say ‘cripes!’ isn’t it? For a start, you can get straight past the Telegraph sub-editors and fact-checkers and bring out this little nugget of non-information:

a new building like the Shard needs four times as much juice as the entire town of Colchester

Yes, that’s right. According to the Mayor of London, who’d you expect to know even a vague something about these things, the Shard – a building that will hold around 8,000 residents and workers when it’s full – needs four times as much power to run as Colchester – a town of 100,000+ inhabitants that includes one of the Army’s largest garrisons. Bur according to Boris, the Shard needs 4 times that much power, which means that every person who uses it would be using 50 times as much power as their equivalent here in Colchester.

Somehow, unless the Shard was the winner of the little-publicised ‘build the least energy-efficient building in the history of humanity’ contest, this doesn’t seem very likely. Let’s see what Renzo Piano, the building’s architect, has to say about how much power it will use:

“It’s a very old dream of mine, this idea of making a building like a little town,” Piano says. “So when people say, oh but it’s going to use up so much energy, it’s not true. An actual town of 8,000 people [the Shard’s projected number of occupants] would use up five times as much energy. This is why the Shard is the shape it is. The higher up you go, so the functions change, and you need less floor space, until you get to the very top, and there I just wanted the building to kind of mingle in the air. It’s important that it breathes up there – that it breathes in the clouds.”

So, Boris is not just wrong, he’s wrong by a factor of 250. Rather than use fifty times the power of the average Colcestrian, a person in the Shard will be using about one-fifth.

Now, this might seem just like Boris getting his hyperbole wrong again and I shouldn’t worry about it because he’s got funny hair, but this non-factoid is in the first paragraph of his Telegraph piece for a reason. Because of the huge demand for power he says there’ll be from buildings like the Shard, we have to abandon all our scruples and join the fracking dash for gas. There’s no time to worry about the potential impacts of extracting shale gas – or even whether it’s techologically or economically viable – we have to be rushing to feed the beast of reckless consumption, even if it doesn’t actually exist.

In his rush to grab evidence to try and bolster a weak argument, Boris has failed to notice that the Shard actually punctures it. Renzo Piano has designed a building that anticipates energy shortages by using less power, rather than cracking up the juice on everything and hoping that the payment cheque will clear before the building’s inundated by rising sea levels. Surely the Mayor of London should be trumpeting how forward-looking his city is to create such an efficient building, rather than making up figures to argue for pumping even more CO2 into the atmosphere?

(Original links from Zelo Street, who also point out the flaws in the arguments Boris makes for shale gas and fracking)

Worth Reading 85: Tie your tie

Do Not Hire John Brown Advertising – Andrew Hickey gets plagiarised. Plagiarist turns up in the comments to provide a great example of chutzpah.
It’s Official: Austerity Economics Doesn’t Work – “Having adopted the policies of Keynes in response to a calamitous recession, the United States has grown more than twice as fast during the past three years as Britain, which adopted the economics of Hoover”
We are all Alliance now – Spineless Liberal responds to the threats against Alliance politicians in Northern Ireland.
502: French conservatives temporarily unavailable – Alex Harrowell explains at A Fistful Of Euros how a close leadership election has split the French right.
Why we are calling for an end to the war on drugs – Julian Huppert explains the position of the Home Affairs Select Committee.

And don’t miss this special message from Alan Partridge:

Some notes on planning

I thought it might be useful if I wrote a post to explain some of the ways in which planning and development control work – at least, how they do in Colchester – in an effort to give people a bit more insight into the way the system works, and the role councillors like me have in it. I think some – though not all – of the issues people have with planning come from not understanding how the system works, and how much councillors can and can’t achieve.

One of the first points to understand is that there are two parts to the planning process. Planning applications aren’t decided within a vacuum, but in the light of various policies and plans. There are lots of different things that make up planning policy in its totality, but the key ones are the National Planning Policy Framework and the Colchester Local Development Framework (currently turning into the Local Plan, as renamed by the NPPF). These set out the broad strokes of what can and can’t be done, and the LDF/Local Plan is particularly responsible for allocating different areas for different types of development.

Strategic planning like this isn’t dealt with by the Planning Committee. Rather, it’s the remit of the Local Plan Committee, the Cabinet and the Council to decide on what goes into the Local Plan, and that plan then has to be approved by a Government-appointed planning inspector before it can be properly adopted. For instance, changing the Plan to include the Tiptree Jam Factory proposals had to go through an inspection before it could be allowed.

So it’s within these frameworks that planning applications are submitted and decided on. When an application is submitted to the Council, it has to be judged against the rules, not just arbitrarily judged according to whatever criteria someone wishes to apply at the time. If an application is to be refused, it has to be for distinct and justifiable reasons on planning grounds, not whatever personal or political fiat seems a good idea.

As you can see from my planning update posts, or from looking at the list of applications on the Council website, many planning applications are submitted to the Council every week, but only a few come before the Planning Committee. This is because the bulk of applications that come into the Council are relatively uncontroversial and can be decided on by the planning officers with powers that are delegated to them. In certain cases – for instance, on a major application with objections from the public – an application will automatically go to the committee, but otherwise it has to be called in by a councillor to appear before the committee.

This is why most applications that appear before the committee come with a recommendation of approval. On minor applications, ones that are recommended for refusal are rarely called before the committee, and for major applications, much work takes place between the applicants and the council planners to come up with an application that can be recommended for approval. Large applications that are recommended for refusal are normally withdrawn and resubmitted in amended form before they can come to the committee.

The Planning Committee itself is what’s referred to in local government circles as a ‘quasi-judicial’ committee. This doesn’t mean we get to dress and up and pretend to be judges – or even quasi-judges – but that applications have to be decided on based on evidence and policy, not personal bias. This is why members of the committee can’t announce before a meeting how they’re going to vote on an application, as that would be to pre-judge their decision before they’ve heard and seen all the evidence.

This means that if the committee want to reject an application, it has to be done on planning grounds. These grounds, referred to as material planning considerations (click on the link for a list) are the valid grounds on which the Council can refuse an application and one or more of them must be cited in any rejection of an application. Other reasons outside of the list can be stated, but these can’t be the grounds on which the application is rejected.

“Ah,” you might think, “surely if the Council decides it wants to reject something, it can go ahead and do it on whatever grounds it wants?” Well, it can do, but if someone has an application rejected, they can appeal that decision to the Planning Inspectorate. Note though, that only a rejected application can be appealed – if one is granted, objectors can’t appeal that decision, though they could seek a Judicial Review of the application if they so wished. Granted applications can also be sent to the Inspectorate if the Secretary of State (at present, Eric Pickles, in the Department for Communities and Local Government) requests it to be sent there.

The appeal determines whether the right decision was made by the Council in rejecting the application and whether the grounds on which it was rejected are sound. There are many ways in which the Inspectorate can conduct an appeal, from assessing it purely on written submission, all the way up to a full multiple-day public inquiry into the application. At the end of the process, the inspector will issue an opinion that either upholds or overturns the original decision, and can also award costs against one side or the other if they feel the case justifies it. For instance, if a Council’s original decision to reject an application was regarded as not being based on sound reasons, it would likely have to pay the costs of the appellant. This is one reason why the planning committee needs to find sound reasons to object, otherwise the costs of a protracted case could cost the council thousands of pounds to unsuccessfully defend.

I hope that’s given some insight into how the planning process without going into the specifics of any particular application. It’s a complicated system that I hope I’ve shed some light on.