David Mitchell on planning reforms…

pound shed closing down

You know planning reforms are definitely hitting the news when they come to the attention of  observational comedians. David Mitchell wrote an interesting article in yesterday’s Observer about the possible impact of a proposed relaxation of planning regulations primarily concerning changes of use on our town and city centres.

Is planning really to blame for the malaise on British High Streets and can it possibly provide a solution? Does planning protect our retail centres or does it merely play in to the hand of developers and create artificial ‘retail only’ environments in towns? Could a relaxation of planning regulations make town centres more flexible and more responsive to the needs of their communities?

Whatever your views, David Mitchell’s observations are well worth a read, find them online here.

(cartoon by David Foldari via The Observer)

More community planning resources

“If you want to know how the shoe fits, asks the person who is wearing it, not the person who made it…” (communityplanning.net)


I’ve had some really interesting conversations about community planning this week. I believe it is very important that all communities are encouraged use the tools available to them, to reduce them being used solely for political posturing or just given lip service by developers and decision makers. I thought I would share a couple of very useful links:

CommunityPlanning.net   is a fantastic resource from, amongst others, the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Royal Town Planning Institute (or RTPI, the chartered professional body of planners). Particularly useful pages are a good overview on policy and legislation on community planning in the UK (interesting the site also provides overviews for the Czech Republic, Italy and Slovakia). There is a rather detailed A-Z section on sources and mechanisms for funding for community-led neighbourhood projects. And I found the section on low carbon communities particularly interesting.

If you are in England (outside of London)   Planning Aid England   is run by the RTPI and can give you 15 minutes of  free advice from a chartered town planner and then assess if you are eligible for any further free assistance. Their site includes short guides to aspects of the planning system and a jargon busting section. But the section on Neighbourhood Planning is quite comprehensive (I found the list of where Neighbourhood Plans are currently being developed particularly interested, especially after my post written last year). There are also sites for Planning Aid London (a separate charity run organisation to Planning Aid England), Planning Aid for Scotland and Planning Aid Wales.


If you know of any other useful sites, please let me know and I’ll also add to this list as I find them.

The Folly

Originally posted on 3rd October 2012

As a rather proud (albeit ex-pat) Essex girl, with her heart firmly wedded to the Essex coast, I couldn’t resist reading more in to the reports that Grayson Perry has had planning permission granted for a holiday home in Wrabness, near Harwich. But this proposal appears to be no ordinary holiday home. it is proposed that the house will be an artistic interpretation of Essex culture, depicting the fictional life of one Essex woman called Julie, who eventually found contentment in her house by the coast.

In the most simplistic planning terms, it is important to point out that the proposed house is on the site of existing dilapidated farm house. Therefore it is a replacement dwelling, a normally uncontroversial planning consent, even in a rural location. It is also important to note that North Essex needs its cultural and tourist offer diversified in order to facilitate regeneration and has planning policies to support that. But this proposal seems a lot more romantic than just the standard planning considerations to me. The House of Essex revitalises the lost art of building follies.

A folly is defined, by the oracle known as Wikipedia, as

“a building constructed primarily for decoration, but either suggesting by its appearance some other purpose, or merely so extravagant that it transcends the normal range of garden ornaments or other class of building to which it belongs”. 

And Essex is full of follies and extravagant buildings, like Bateman’s Tower in Brightlingsea or Belchamp Hall Folly in Belchamp Walter. You could even include Layer Marney Tower near Colchester – which was originally built as merely the gatehouse for a dwelling that was meant to rival Hampton Court, but was never finished.

The Essex Coast is a beautiful and dynamic place. It is diverse and it is romantic. It stimulates and its remote location evokes a sense of adventure. People have travelled to the Essex Coast to find contentment for centuries, from the Chapel of St Peters in Bradwell to the Kursaal in Southend. The county of Essex is much maligned and underrated. The building of the House of Essex isn’t necessary, but in a county dominated by building solely to meet housing targets, it is refreshing to see a proposal that is just for its own sake. In my opinion, any opportunity to celebrate, diversity and create new heritage should be wholeheartedly embraced. Even if it is a folly.

All the planning documents for the House of Essex are available to be viewed through the very good (other Local Authorites, please take note) Tendring District Council website.