Category Archives: Design

 

From London to Brazil

 

Brazil … where the city meets the sea.

A country that is famous for its natural beauty, carnivals, beaches and rainforests. It is the largest country in South America with 4655 miles of coastline. Brazil boasts seaside splendour, vibrant culture and a wide range of tropical and subtropical landscapes.

Urbanissta’s Legal Beagle, Farhana Hussain has journeyed through parts of Brazil. Visiting places such as Recife – situated in an impressive coastal setting with an intriguing historic centre. Followed by Sao Paolo – an urban area full of high rises, crowded commercial spaces and thundering traffic.

Read on to find out more about Farhana’s journey in association with the University of Westminster.

It’s all about the experience. It’s an education, an observation of the governance, inefficiency, opportunities, developments and constraints.

Brazil … a place where serious planning and strategies are needed.

Fahrana was accompanied by others who were organized into multidisciplinary groups boasting knowledge from architecture, planning, governance, urban design and law.

Farhana’s notes…

16th May – 3rd June 2017

It’s been roughly one month since I returned back from a 2 week trip to Brazil – where the sun shines on the wealth, the poverty and the potential.

It was an experience that I will never forget, organised by the University of Westminster. My colleagues and I worked with INCITI and proposed a master plan to the NGO with our vision in transforming Recife into a sustainable City. Going beyond the boundaries of science and business to include human development, values and different culture.

We travelled to Recife, Olinda and Sao Paulo with our sketch books in hand and explored the culture, food and architecture to get an insight on the challenges and opportunities faced by the coastal city.

Recife

Recife, a beautiful coastal city sits between two rivers, Beberibe and Capibaribe. We stayed in a hotel by the coast with a view of the city from a distance. Upon arrival, I wondered why Recife looked like it was stuck in the past, lagging behind its sister cities, Sao Paulo and Rio who were well advanced, cosmopolitan and vibrant. But somehow, Recife had an undeniable charm which I had not seen in any other city – it embraced and worked with this quirk.

I came to learn that the same charming city has a slightly darker history which has contributed to its character and eerily quiet streets. The historic city is characterised by listed buildings protected by the Protection of the Historic Heritage (DPH), most of which are vacant due to the high costs involved in maintaining and renovating them. Unfortunately, there are no policies imposing taxes on vacant buildings or offering incentives to rent out the properties which in effect leave them neglected. Further research showed that these million dollar buildings are owned by politicians – the same people who create the laws and policies.

It became evident as to why the middle/lower class were being priced out. Strangely enough – there isn’t a housing crisis in Recife, there appears to be a political battle and a desperate need for policy reform and governmental restructure.

History

Recife Antigo consists of the initial Portuguese settlement in the 16th century around the port. Sugar cane production from Pernambuco was delivered to Portugal through Recife’s port. While Recife had port functions, Olinda was the capital. In 1630, the Dutch invaded Pernambuco, set Olinda partially on fire and Recife became the seat of the Dutch government. Count John Maurice of Nassau-Siegen became Governor General of the Dutch colony and built a new town on a neighbouring island. This city was named Mauritsstadt and the Palacio do Campo das Princesas, seat of the State of Pernambuco government, is built on its ruins.

The Dutch were forced out in 1654 of a Recife with good infrastructure, for they had built canals and improved the port and the defences of it. A flourishing Jewish community lived in Recife under them and they had to leave it because of the Portuguese Inquisition. Thus, a group of 24 Portuguese Jews who had previously migrated from Portugal to the Netherlands because of antisemitism, headed further North with the Dutch, where New Amsterdam –present-day Manhattan– was founded. The first Synagogue built in the Americas, the Kahal Zur Israel Synagogue, is located in Recife Antigo, on Rua do Bom Jesus, formerly Rua dos Judeus, or Street of the Jews. The Portuguese synagogue was founded in lower Manhattan and it is located on Central Park West in Manhattan nowadays under the name Portuguese & Spanish synagogue.

Week 1 – Week one involved exploring Recife. We walked around the bustling markets – unlike the markets found in London, the market in Recife was unregulated and organic which offered a great spot for the locals to get together and socialise. I immediately noticed the divide in rich and poor after witnessing high levels homelessness.

The history of Old Recife shows that the invasion of the Dutch in 1630 –is when Recife developed its first urban plan. This explained the Dutch influenced architecture. Unlike the UK, who places great importance on preserving the character of a designated area – Recife was characterised by old 18th century buildings adjacent to modern buildings. The juxtaposition added character.

Having explored old Recife and carried out some research, we came across three areas of concern:

  • Governance
  • Movement
  • Social (and economic)

Week 2 –The second week revolved around preparing the presentation for INCITI. We were organized into multidisciplinary groups boasting knowledge from architecture, planning, governance, urban design and law. It was interesting to share knowledge and plug in gaps using knowledge from others. I was allocated a role in governance. My role included researching the governance system in Recife. The following were identified:

Governance:

  • Legal instruments – IPHAN Institute of National Historical and Artistic Heritage is a federal institution created in 1937
  • Monitoring and control system-completely absent from planning activities from municipalities
  • Community articipatory system restricted- developer dominant – institutional structures don’t change due to politicians not willing to give up their positions
  • NGOs and academics usually the only ones to react to directives imposed in respect of the built environment
  • Built environment – conservation area – most of the historic buildings along the water front are privately owned – these are large assets worth millions of dollars (expensive rent and maintenance)

The following key stakeholders and their roles were identified:

In order to tackle the issues found, the following were proposed:

  • Set up inter-governmental forum
  • Monitoring and evaluation system (early warning system – pilot projects)
  • Community based strategy (activation)
  • Improve accountability transparency
  • Ensure transparency and equal distribution of rights and privileges

A greater number of potential competitors lead to a greater possibility that the economic conditions stemming from competition are more advantageous to users.

  • Capacity building – education
  • Penalty system for tax dodgers
  • Revenue collections
  • Community and trust – housing benefits
  • Reforming of conservation policies

We came to the conclusion that the above could be achieved using the following strategy:

  • Pilot project
  • Public/private partnership
  • Participatory budgeting / compulsory purchasing
  • Community consultation prior to implementation
  • Devolution of powers

The second area of concern surrounded movement.

Transport and Movement:

The following observations were noted during our stay:

The following opportunities and constraints were identified:

Opportunities:

  • Promote tourism in the area
  • Increase permeability to Estelita
  • Better integration between metro, BRT, buses, bicycles and water bus
  • More bicycles hubs and cycle paths
  • Use the water ways
  • Produce a bus map for tourists
  • Separate lanes for bus, bicycles and cars
  • Fix the drains and pavements
  • Develop a pedestrian area around the market
  • Constraints: Main avenue divides east and west
  • Poor access to waterfront at Estelita
  • Concentration of buses in the north
  • Lack of dedicated cycle paths
  • High cost of public transport with poor connections
  • BRT operates only in the north of the island
  • Historic urban fabric

Having identified the opportunities and constraints, the following suggestions were made:

  • Maintain and improve the existing infrastructure
  • Fix the drains
  • Repair the pavements and roads
  • Dedicated cycle path along waterfront
  • Move the existing BRT station, connect to the metro, extend to Estelita
  • Water bus and terminal
  • Rehabilitate the tram for tourists
  • Make Estelita permeable
  • Remove the market from Danta Barreto and create a green boulevard
  • Adjust ticket pricing to allow changing mode of transport

Opportunities:

  • It has architectural assets
  • Social interactions
  • Big space for movement
  • It has well established grid
  • River can be utilised
  • Lively street activities (street vendors)

Constraints:

  • Underused public space
  • State of the road
  • Land use zoning
  • Priority have been given to cars
  • Lack of green open space
  • Poor maintenance old buildings
  • Lack of housing

Strategy – Public realm

  • Improve the pedestrian pathways (Shade, continuity, material, greeneries)
  • Maintenance of sewage systems
  • Improve the public spaces
  • Dedicated bicycle and bus lanes
  • Provide more street elements (bench, trash bin, etc.)

Tenure and building typology:

  • Shopkeepers mainly own their narrow frontage multi storey properties and live elsewhere
  • Upper floors underused as storage space
  • No vertical mixed use (see also regeneration of Recife Antigo)
  • Unable to afford upkeep of historic building fabric (Catholic church as well it seems)
  • Only Chinese traders live above their shop
  • Potential for comprehensive upgrading of paved areas/public realm

Plans: Plan for Novo Recife rejected by popular protest

Redesign to allow connection on the boulevard to Boa viagem.

Malakoff Tower, in Recife Antigo

Recife Antigo (Old Recife) is the historical section of central Recife, Brazil. It is located on the Island of Recife, near the Recife harbor. This historic area has been recently recovered and now holds several clubs, bars and a high-tech center called Porto Digital.

Sao Paolo

The last 3 days were spent in Sao Paulo – a vibrant city compared to sleepy Recife. Despite the 36 degree weather and its metropolitan atmosphere – it seemed dark. I noticed numerous high rise buildings, of all shapes and sizes cramped together in the city center hub. They created visual interest but seemed to block out the sun which caused a shadow above the city. Despite this, the city was buzzing, unlike Recife. The streets were filled after midnight with office workers going out for after work drinks.

In a way, it reminded me of London.

My travels came to an end. I made many discoveries and I hope that the battle against corruption in the allocation of public sector engineering and infrastructure projects are successful.

 

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The Housing White Paper 2017 – round three

 

Part 3: Diversifying the market

Ding, ding… round 3 of 4!

So, what else are people saying about the Housing White Paper which was presented to Parliament on the 7th February 2017?

The good…

“The White Paper represents a sensible smoothing of the rough edges of the planning system.”

Matthew Spry

Senior director and head of economics at planning consultancy Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners

The bad…

“Traditional methods of construction can no longer deliver the modern housing the UK needs. Our industry must radically transform.”

Andrew Richards

Managing director of Laing O’Rourke’s residential arm Explore Living

And the ugly…

“The modest proposals in the white paper will do little to address the housing crisis which has grown exponentially in the last few years.”

Jeremy Beecham

Labour, House of Lords

How are the government proposing to diversify the housing market?

Here it is in a nutshell…

A – Backing small and medium-sized builders to grow, including through the Home Building Fund:

  • Not to introduce a requirement for local authorities to keep a small sites register at this time, following the consultation last year
  • Launched the £3 billion Home Building Fund
  • New Accelerated Construction programme will support us in diversifying the market through partnering with small and medium-sized rms and others as development partners and contractors
  • Publicise our Help to Buy equity loan scheme to small and medium-sized builders
  • Promote the National Custom and Self Build Association’s portal for Right to Build, ensure the exemption from the Community Infrastructure Levy for self build remains
  • Support custom build through our Accelerated Construction programme
  • Work with lenders crease their lending in line with consumer demand. We are delighted that Virgin Money plans to start lending on custom build projects in the summer

B – Supporting custom-build homes with greater access to land and finance, giving more people more choice over the design of their home:

  • Change the National Planning Policy Framework so authorities know they should plan proactively for Build to Rent where there is a need, and to make it easier for Build to Rent developers to offer affordable private rental homes instead of other types of affordable housing
  • Ensure that family-friendly tenancies of three or more years are available

C – Bringing in new contractors through our Accelerated Construction programme that can build homes more quickly than traditional builders:

  • Set out, in due course, a rent policy for social housing landlords (housing associations
    and local authority landlords) for the period beyond 2020 to help them to borrow against future income, and will undertake further discussions with the sector before doing so

D – Encouraging more institutional investors into housing, including for building more homes for private rent, and encouraging family friendly tenancies:

  • Put social housing regulation on a more independent footing
  • Housing associations belong in the private sector
  • Urge housing associations to explore every avenue for building more homes
  • Expect housing associations to make every effort to improve their efficiency, in order
    to release additional resources for house- building

E – Supporting housing associations and local authorities to build more homes:

  • With local authorities to understand all the options for increasing the supply of affordable housing
  • explore scope for bespoke housing deals with authorities in high demand areas, which have a genuine ambition
  • The Homes and Communities Agency will be relaunched as Homes England

F – Boosting productivity and innovation by encouraging modern methods of construction in house building:

  • Stimulate the growth of this sector through our Accelerated Construction programme and the Home Builders’ Fund.
  • Support a joint working group with lenders, valuers and the industry
  • Consider how the operation of the planning system is working for modern methods of construction (MMC) developments
  • Work with local areas
  • Alongside the Home Building Fund, consider the opportunities for offsite rms to access innovation and growth funding and support for them to grow

Affordable Housing Proposals:

  • Introduce a household income eligibility cap of £80,000 (£90,000 for London) on starter homes
  • Introduce a definition of affordable private rented housing
  • We intend to publish a revised definition of affordable housing
  • Make it clear in national planning policy that local authorities should seek to ensure that a minimum of 10% of all homes on individual sites are affordable home ownership products
  • Whether these or any other types of residential development should be exempt from this policy

What did the HBF have to say about the Housing White Paper?

The White Paper reflects the key role private house builders have in addressing the broken housing market. They believe measures in the White Paper to ensure Local Authorities abide by responsibilities to bring greater volumes of land for development forward more quickly and to assist SME builders, could tackle some of the biggest barriers to further increasing housing supply.

Stewart Baseley, executive chairman of the Home Builders Federation made the following key comments:

“The White Paper recognises that the private sector house building industry is key to addressing the chronic housing shortage we face and outlines steps to assist it deliver more homes. The industry is a major part of the solution and is committed to continued growth.”

“Huge progress has been made in recent years in terms of increasing housing supply. If we are to build more homes and meet the country’s acute needs, all parties involved in housing supply must up their game.”

“The industry is determined to meet the challenges laid down by Government and help deliver more homes more quickly. We will look to work with Government on the detail of the measures announced today to ensure they will lead to many more new homes being built in the coming years.”

“Plans to speed up the planning process, bring forward more developable land and make Local Authorities abide by their responsibilities are key. If we are to build more homes, we need more land coming through the system more quickly. Measures that will allow SME builders to build more homes will increase the capacity of the industry and result in increases in overall supply.”

Read the full article here

What are your thoughts? Have your say…

The consultation will begin on 7th February 2017. The consultation will run for 12 weeks and will close on 2 May 2017. All responses should be received by no later than 23:45 on 2 May 2017.

This consultation is open to everyone. The government are keen to hear from a wide range of interested parties from across the public and private sectors, as well as from the general public.

During the consultation, if you have any enquiries, please contact: planningpolicyconsultation@communities.gsi.gov.uk

You may respond by completing an online survey here

Alternatively you can email your response to the questions in this consultation to: planningpolicyconsultation@communities.gsi.gov.uk

If you are responding in writing, please make it clear which questions you are responding to. Written responses should be sent to: Planning Policy Consultation Team Department for Communities and Local Government Third Floor, South East Fry Building 2 Marsham Street SW1P 4DF

When you reply it would be very useful if you confirm whether you are replying as an individual or submitting an official response on behalf of an organisation and include:

  • Your name
  • Your position (if applicable)
  • The name of organisation (if applicable)
  • An address (including post-code)
  • An email address
  • A contact telephone number

Question 31

Do you agree with our proposals to: 018)?

  1. Amend national policy to revise the definition of affordable housing as set out in Box 4?
  2. Introduce an income cap for starter homes?
  3. Incorporate a definition of affordable private rent housing?
  4. Allow for a transitional period that aligns with other proposals in the White Paper (April 2

Question 32

Do you agree that:

  1. National planning policy should expect local planning authorities to seek a minimum of 10% of all homes on individual sites for affordable home ownership products?
  2. That this policy should only apply to developments of over 10 units or 0.5ha?

Question 33

Should any particular types of residential development be excluded from this policy?

Further questions relating to parts 4 will be issued for your consideration so hold your response until you have reviewed all the questions. Use this opportunity to have your say.

Tomorrow we will return to Part: 4 of our review of the Housing White Paper 2017…

The fourth proposal – ‘Helping people now’.

Read the full Housing White Paper 2017 here.

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The examination of local planning

 

 

St. Albans is in Chaos!  Archaic plans, political challenges and excruciating progress.

This article provides an insight into Local Plans progress – or lack of it!. Our case study reveals just how things don’t always go to plan when you haven’t got a good plan in place!

We start with the preparation, process and progress of planning…

A Local Plan defines local planning policies and identifies how land is used, determining what will be built and where. The Planning Inspectorate supports the Government’s goal for every area in England to have an adopted Local Plan. Adopted Local Plans create the framework for development across England. The views of the local people are vital in shaping a Local Plan, helping to decide how their community develops. Development should be consistent with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

Local Plans have to be positively prepared, justified, effective and consistent with National Policy in accordance with section 20 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (as amended). The NPPF gives guidance to local authorities in drawing up their Local Plans. The Examining Development Plan Documents: Procedural Guidance published in December 2013 has been updated to take account of more recent refinements in practice and the update to the Planning Practice Guidance published on 19 May 2016.

The Procedural Practice in the Examination of Local Plans sets out what happens once a Local Plan has been submitted for Examination, including information about estimated timelines and delivery of the inspector’s final report. It includes advice for local planning authorities about how to carry out a fast track review of specific policies within their Local Plan. Policies include, for example, car parking standards or provision of open space and recreation, larger issues such as housing or employment strategies are not covered by the fast track procedure. The fast track procedure takes around six months. There are costs, fees and Planning Inspectors who play an important role in examining Local Plans impartially and publicly. They look at all Local Plan documents that local authorities in England prepare for an Examination. They decide whether a plan is sound or not.

Considering the above it is vital that there are good planning resources. The lack of those resources is a topic Jo discusses in her article, Step Into My Office.

 

The case study

St. Albans Plan in Chaos…

On the 22nd August 2016, an inspector was appointed to examine the Strategic Local Plan (2011-2031) for St. Albans. A historical Roman City in Hertfordshire. We know St. Albans well and will use it as a prime example where an inspector has expressed a series of concerns.

The St. Albans current local plan is pretty archaic being based upon saved policies of the District Local Plan Reviews of 1994 and from experience, when seeking to secure permission for minor works (albeit in an Article 4 area to a listed building) the Authority moved at an excruciating snail’s pace.

The Planning Inspector (David Hogger) found in relation to the St. Albans plan that:

  • At this early stage in the Examination process, there was a significant issue relating to legal compliance and the duty to co-operate that needed to be addressed immediately. He indicated that it was questionable as to whether the duty had been met and whether it was based on an inappropriate assessment of cross-boundary issues not least regarding overall housing (and jobs) provision
  • Effective cooperation was considered essential via sustained joint working with actual actions and outcomes identified. He indicated Examination evidence should be robust, providing details as to who the authority cooperated with, the nature and timing of co-operation and how it had influenced the plan formulation. He noted that this was not evident from the St. Albans submissions
  • Hogger indicated that if an authority could not demonstrate that it had fully exercised its duty to cooperate that is should not proceed further with Examination and that a Local Plan should be withdrawn
  • He also noted that whilst the duty to cooperate was largely separate from Local Plan requirements regarding soundness, the two were considered to be related because cooperation was needed for a number of strategic matters, including homes and jobs and the provision of infrastructure
  • To be sound, a plan should be based on effective joint working on cross- boundary strategic priorities, it should provide clear policies against which a decision can be taken and provide adequate information and he therefore indicated that it was reasonable to highlight initial concerns about soundness at this early stage
  • Finally with regards to overall housing provision, the reasons for identifying a housing figure of 436 dwelling a year, the relationship between that figure and the full objectively assessed housing need and the value of the Strategic Housing Market Assessment were all similarly questioned

St Albans Council is not the first and will not be the last authority which had failed to rigorously pursue its duty to cooperate and ‘under deliver’ in terms of the required housing (and jobs) targets. The question that we consistently ask ourselves, in relation to many authority areas, is when will our planning system ensure that we start adequately planning where cross boundary considerations need to be addressed, to ensure that we deliver houses and jobs much needed to support our social and economic needs. It is now a well-known fact that for decades (since 1924) we have been planning for the lowest common denominator in many Authority areas – St.  Albans not having prepared a plan since 1994! Yes, that’s 22 years in case you were wondering. This is a perfect case in point, not only do we wonder what the Authority has been doing for all those years, but more widely, we wonder how we manage to plan positively for the need of existing and our future generations.

Really, these issues are not hard to address technically by a suitably qualified planner. We appreciate that planning resources are tight (the subject of our next blog post where we also make reference to St. Albans). However they are of course often eternally politically challenging. There are sufficient good examples of positively prepared, sound plans, even with extensive cross-boundary considerations. We just wonder about what will happen in our rather sleepy Local Authority area and in areas such as Birmingham and Bradford where Local Plan holding directions are in place, due to MP interventions which now places even the more proactive of authorities, in limbo.

Anyway, hopefully before another 22 years pass, St. Albans will get a sound new Local Plan in place, or if not, maybe we will have retired to somewhere in the sunshine and it won’t seem so bad.

Find out more about the background of the St. Albans Strategic Local Plan 2016 here

Want to know more about the beautiful city of St. Albans? Visit: www.allaboutstalbans.com

 

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