Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Planning for better times

On Tuesday, the Government published its National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). It is meant to provide a framework within which local people and their councils can produce their own distinctive local and neighbourhood plans, reflecting local needs and priorities. Well, that’s the theory.

Planning is all about balances – economic, social and environmental. One person’s green space is another person’s housing plot. One company’s transport access is another person’s noise from morn ‘til night. One street’s useful, local bus-shelter is, for the home it’s outside, a place for litter and disturbance.

I chaired the all-party Select Committee which, having received vast amounts of evidence and heard many conflicting representations, produced an extremely critical report about the government’s original proposals last December.

In particular, we unanimously said that:
  • sustainable development must take account of environmental and social issues as well as the economic ones that the government had prioritized;
  • the presumption that any planning application should be agreed unless it could be proved that ‘the adverse effects significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits’ was just unacceptable;
  • the priority for development must be brownfield first, not greenfield;
  • shop and office developments need to be concentrated on existing town and district centres, not on out-of-centre sites; and
  • existing sportsfields needed protection.

On a first reading of the final proposals, I’m pleasantly surprised that the government appears to have taken on board a lot of what we said.

The government also appears to have made one very important concession. It has agreed that councils can now make assumptions and take account of expected ‘windfall sites’ becoming available, when it is ensuring that enough development land is available to meet future requirements. This may have the effect of reducing the number of greenfield sites councils are required to identify for future development.

Monday, 26 March 2012

I’m not drinking to this

It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that David Cameron brought forward a statement about a consultation on a new Alcohol Strategy to try to get the media attention off the budget. This was only the fourth time in the last ten years that a government statement had been made on a Friday. The other three occasions had been on the Iraq war, swine flu and Libya.

The budget was presented as ‘fiscally neutral’ – that is, the amount of extra tax being collected from some is the same as that given away to others. Noticeably, the terms ‘we’re all in this together’ and ‘this is fair’ suddenly seemed to have disappeared off the agenda. It’s probably worth reflecting on who won and who lost as, clearly, millionaires won and millions lost. 

First, 14,000 people earning – or, rather, getting paid – more than £1m, or more, all got a tax cut of at least £40,000 a year. 300,000 high earners will gain an average £10,000 a year. Of those, only 4000 households a year will be caught by the increase in stamp duty.

By contrast, a family with children earning £20,000 will loose £253 a year, after the much publicized rise in personal allowances, because of the increase in petrol duty and the cuts in tax credits and child benefit. This will be the outcome for about 70,000 families in Sheffield alone. In addition, the VAT rise will cost the average family £450 a year.

Secondly, there was a £3 billion tax raid on pensioners. The freeze in the personal allowance for pensioners will see 4.5 million pensioners who pay income tax losing an average of £75 per year next April. People who turn 65 next year will lose out by £314.

However, there is a group of families who are really going to get a hammering who were not mentioned in this budget, because the decision to increase the eligibility criterion for working families’ tax credit was made last year, but only comes into effect from April this year. They will be losing up to a massive £728 a year.

In Sheffield alone, this will affect more than 2000 families. Bizarrely, government figures suggest that not a single one of these families live in Nick Clegg’s Sheffield Hallam constituency. No wonder, he felt able to say ‘Every Liberal Democrat can be proud of the Chancellor's Budget.’

Well, I’m not. And, I won’t be drinking to it either. And, it won’t be because of the Alcohol Strategy.