'for a better York'

Geoff Beacon's York Archive

"I moved to York over thirty years ago and commented on planning in York from the beginning. I am taking this opportunity as Editor of York.Townplan.Org to create a web archive of my personal papers. At least now I will know where to find them."

1972a: Evidence to the Inner Ring Road Inquiry.

The main paragraphs of evidence given to the Public Inquiry on the York Inner Ring Road in 1972 are found here. Here are some excerpts:

1.0 In the discussion of these proposals for increasing York's internal Road Capacity, much has been said about the expected increase in the demands on the road system. My purpose in coming here is to point ... indicate why I think there may be a strong case for drastic traffic suppression in York.

3.4 Some possibilities for the design of low vehicle use areas are the following:-

  • Speed ramps every twenty yards on side roads.
  • Bus, taxis and accredited delivery vans given lane priority.
  • Closed roads and play streets.
  • Planning restrictions on parking and garaging.
  • Parking charges with revenue providing for local facilities
  • Nursery, Infant & Junior schools in site area.
  • Encouragement of rationalised delivery service.
  • Bicycle ways
  • New transport technology

3.5 Possibilities for the design of the joint facilities are:-

  • Car parks on outer ring road with rapid bus or new technology transport to centre.
  • Restricted high cost parking in centre.
  • Road tolls.

3.6 High vehicle use facilities such as suburban office blocks and hyper markets should possibly be developed near the outer ring road car parks to give facilities to the high vehicle use groups. Development would be cheaper here and possibly prevent the necessity of a large scale motor car orientated redevelopment of the centre of York with all its inconveniences, architectural problems, future shock and expense.

Note: Although the inspector approved the plan for the Inner Ring Road, he did say in his report

"At the inquiry I have heard no objector put forward any
workable alternative bar that of drastic traffic suppression"
"Drastic traffic suppression" clearly referred to this evidence.

... and the Secretary of State for the Environment, Anthony Crossland, rejected the York Inner Ring Road scheme in favour of traffic restraint.

(See also York's car wars by Chris Titley of the York Evening Press.)

1976a: Geoff Beacon: Newsletter of the Rents, Service Payments
and Covenants Association.

This was an entry to a planning ideas competition. Although it forsees ideas that are now becoming fashionable, in 1976 it was thought to be a bit barmy. Perhaps it was. At present it is only available as rather large scanned images. There may be some delay as the images download.(You really need broadband for these.)

Click here for page 1
Click here for page 2
Click here for page 3
Click here for page 4

27jan92a: GeoffBeacon: First Proposals on York Central.

In late 1991 I attending a public meeting about the Draft Planning Brief for the Redevelopment of land at Toft Green. This was a site inside York City Walls opposite York Railway Station and was part of the land occupied by the original station inside the walls.

Subsequently I proposed an use for part of the site as a node in a pedestrian network to link York Railway station, the Forsselius garage site, Toft Green, Micklegate and the City Walls. I felt this would enhance the value of the site and enhance the city. I suggested it could

encourage access to York City centre by pedestrians while discouraging the entry of private cars.
and also
link several sites to allow greater flexibility in their development, greatly enhancing the value of these sites.
I also identified various areas that could be significantly enhanced by enhanced pedestrian access including the "teardrop site" behind the Station now know as the site for the York Central development. For this site I suggesteed the following possibilities:
  • Urban Village Housing
  • Office Development
  • Theme park
  • Shops
  • Hotels
  • A Technology Park
  • Car Parking near the ring road (Park-and-Train to the centre)

For the railway station itself I suggested that the station be both a pedestrian spine and contain commercial development:

The space that the station covers is no longer completely used as part of the railway business. For example, there are platforms next to the Royal Station Hotel which are unused and derelict. The opportunity that the station offers one is reminded of the Covent Garden site in London, which has become an extremely successful commercial enterprise. Covent Garden has showed how it is possible to successfully change the use of a beautiful building and its surroundings. This success has been built on a mixture of different activities. Covent Garden and its surroundings contains shops, offices, entertainment facilities, hotels and residential accommodation. Its success has depended on its accessibility.

The "York Central" site that I identified was much larger than the current one, which is some 70 acres. I identified an area nearer 200 acres, which included the "triangle site", north of Water End (Clifton Bridge). Unfortunately a comprehensive look at this whole area has not been possible and even south of Water End, comprehensive development of the site has been compromised by two large housing schemes. If only ...

The text of my 1992 note to various officers and councillors can be found here.

12nov94a: Cooperative Neighbourhoods Forum: More Proposals on York Central.

In 1994, I was a founding member of a small group in York to promote the ideas of Cooperative Neighbourhoods. One of the documents we produced was a short note on the York Station site. This is it:

York Station And Its Surroundings
An Important Development Site

A Big Idea

York needs another big idea to ensure a prosperous future. We believe the development of the York Station site is that big idea. It can further focus attention on York as a model for urban and suburban living, promoting new wealth creating opportunities with new jobs as well as securing existing ones.

Extent of Site

From York City Walls to the Outer Ring Road the site is bordered on the west by Poppleton Road and on the east by the River Ouse. Its area is over 200 hectares.

Development Potential

The potential of the site comes from the following:

  • Good accessibility especially by rail to most major UK urban centres
  • Proximity to one of the most important historic and tourist centres in Europe
  • Potential accessibility to surrounding areas in Greater York

Our Aim

Our aim is to see the site identified as one of national and international importance. The importance of the site justifies a parliamentary bill should ownership or planning obstacles arise.

Preliminary Ideas

Some preliminary ideas:

  • A national centrepiece project such as the proposed Centre for Human Achievement
  • Sustainable urban residential neighbourhoods, including low-cost housing
  • Pedestrian links to York Station, Railway Museum and City Centre
  • Trams/ light railway connecting new/existing developments in Greater York
  • Commercial and hotel development

Existing Users

The site contains:

  • York Station
  • The National Railway Museum
  • ABB Carriageworks
  • York Waterworks
  • Existing housing, mostly smaller terraces

However, most of the site is currently unused or underused, with low-value activities.


Several bodies are obvious potential partners in the development:

  • York City Council
  • ABB and its workforce
  • Railtrack, Eastcoast Main Line, BR Property
  • The Science Museum (National Railway Museum)
  • North Yorkshire County Council
  • York Waterworks

Clearly the correct form of community involvement is essential. There are other, less obvious potential partners such as the University of York and other Museums. Indeed, Dr Jones the well-known local archaeologist is making a proposal for a Centre for Human Achievement to be built on the site with the backing of the Millennium Fund. Appropriate financial backing is clearly necessary.

The Immediate Task

Our immediate goal is to canvass a wide range of potential participants to ensure a sufficiently serious initial appraisal.

Cooperative Neighbourhoods Forum, 12 November 1994

13nov97a: Geoff Beacon: Lifestyles, Quality Of Life And Sustainability.

A Contribution to "Developing an Integrated Transport Policy (DETR)

Lifestyle research is an essential addition to the factual background in the development of an integrated transport policy. The average behaviour of the whole population is not detailed enough to understand the behaviour of the different lifestyles that comprise to the whole population.

Consider some example households in or near York (these are illustrative pending further research):

A. Flat in central York: Young couple, no children

B. Terraced house in inner suburbs: two parents and two children

C. Semi detached in outer suburbs: two parents and three children

D. Rented house on peripheral council estate: divorced mother of four

E: Cottage in country park: two parents and two children

The transport system affects their lifestyles in different ways.

Household A uses the transport system sparingly. They both walk short distances to work and have no car. They occasionally use the train to visit friends and relatives in other towns. Most of their income is spent in the city centre.

Household B live in a street where half the households have a car, but some have two or even three. The mother uses her car for work. The father cycles into work in central York. One son cycles out of town to school, the other gets lifts from fellow students to the sixth-form college which is located two miles out of the centre. They visit friends and relatives by car or camper van. Most of their shopping comes from a branch of Sainsburys just outside the centre.

Household C live in a recent outer suburb. The father works in the centre of Leeds and drives his car to Garforth to park and finishes his journey by train. The mother drives her car to work in the centre of York after dropping the children off at their schools. They mostly shop out of town at Tesco.

Household D is on an estate with some shops and a reasonable bus service. They have no car. The mother walks the younger children to school, the elder ones go to the local secondary school on their bikes.

Household E live in the country. The father works as a country park warden and driving is part of his job. The mother is a teacher and travels 20 miles to work. Their children must be delivered 5 miles to school. Any substantial shopping requires a ten mile round trip. They mostly shop out of town.

The households outlined above have very different transport requirements and have very different environmental (local and global) impact. They also suffer side effects of other people's transport in different ways. The inner urban households, for example, suffer more from air pollution, congestion and the physical dangers of traffic.

An important side effect is "missing demand". This is particularly damaging for the lifestyles of the rural non-motorist. Because many of their neighbours withdraw their support for public transport, the services decline and disappear. To a lesser extent, similar difficulties are felt by city dwellers.

A good lifestyle analysis could also help another aspect of the current problem: urban and rural patterns of traffic generators and attractors. This is moving on from the pure transport question "How do we fulfil people's transport requirements so they can get efficiently from A to B?" It is addressing the questions "How can we help people to live in places which enable them to get to their required destinations easily?", and "How do we encourage the location of jobs, shops and leisure facilities to control the environmental impact of traffic?"

One purpose of lifestyle analysis in the current context is as a heuristic to generate new policy ideas.

Our experience strongly suggests that data and techniques are available which can help inform policy makers and planners. A more detailed study can reveal patterns of behaviour which are masked when taking a broader view.

(Update August 2002: John Barratt from the Stockholm Institute at the University of York is the author of a report "" which looks at the "ecogical footprint" of York Citizens. This results from a detailed study of materials flow in York. See www.yorkfootprint.org. This shows the impact York's citizens have on the rest of the world, including a brief investigation of the impact of different lifestyles.)

09aug99a: Geoff Beacon: Designing for local food distribution and production.

A proposal for action research

The food distribution chain is getting longer and food production is becoming more industrialised. The food we eat travels further from the grower to the consumer and goes through more stages of processing.

This distribution chain is an increasing source of global pollution and modern food production has dietary dangers. Both, however, have great advantages to the consumer: convenience. This is common with market driven activity: the immediate benefits to the paying customer are paramount but longer-term problems and detrimental effects caused to non-customers (external costs) are given less consideration, usually left to consumer education or the less reactive regulatory system.

There is a DIY alternative to global food distribution and manufacture: gardening and home cooking. This alternative creates less pollution and, in general, produces healthier diets. And the market activity that supports DIY food (cooking apparatus and garden utensils, books, magazines and TV programmes) is relatively free from environmental problems and increases consumer knowledge.

Thus proposal is to look for possibilities for using the buying power of the consumer on a more local level. The object is to find a place in the market for environmentally friendly and healthier alternatives to the global food delivery system, which deliver convenience as well.

Because of economics of scale, market driven economic activity has been able to plan a distribution and manufacturing infrastructure, which delivers the goods. This proposal is for action research to see if a more local approach to food consumption can be planned into new built housing allowing for the creation of local economic activity that will bring to the consumer good quality food through a much shorter distribution chain.

Planning for food distribution and production on a local scale has been successful in the past. The gardeners, cooks and servants working the gardens, kitchens and dining rooms on large country estates were an economic unit that delivered good food through a short distribution chain. But this involved a co-ordinated approach to designing the physical structures (gardens and buildings) and planning and managing the workforce (gardeners, cooks and servants).

There are examples of local food production and distribution that depend on lifestyles that are more or less "alternative"; co-operative housing, hippie communes and kibbutz. But the aim of this proposal is to see if planning and design has a role in "mainstream" residential development in the 21st century.

A extensive research project along these lines is not appropriate for any individual housing scheme. But it is only within a design, build and test context that these issues can be investigated. (The context does, of course, include the local micro-economy.) A sensible start would be to identify those activities related to food distribution and production that are local and market driven (i.e. kept in existence by paying customers). A quick check list includes the following:

  • Market gardens
  • Farm shops
  • Pick your own produce
  • Local greengrocers and food shops
  • Gardeners paid by residents
  • Garden centres
  • Allotments

All of these are activities that are very location dependent, mostly on a scale larger than that of housing development. The questions for this project are: Can these be made to work at a smaller scale and, given the external costs of present global trends in food distribution and production, is there justification for a more favourable economic context.

18mar02a: Geoff Beacon: Planning, Wealth Transfer And Environment

A response to the Green Paper "Planning: Delivering a Fundamental Change"

(The planning system has been responsible for massive transfers of wealth)

For the past four decades at least, the planning system in the UK has been responsible for massive transfers of wealth. This is directly attributable to the manipulation of the market in planning permission. In key areas especially, the value of planning permission has increased enormously so that its value far exceeds the cost of buildings (for which planning permission is required) and the land that they occupy. This affects both commercial and residential development. However, here I concentrate on the domestic market.

Currently, in many places, the market value of a house is several times the cost of new build. I currently live in York. In Barton on Humber, a pleasant place 35 miles from York, a new house costs about £70,000. In York a similar house would be three times more expensive. But the undeveloped value of the land (without planning permission) is little different so two thirds of the value of housing in York now resides in the value of the permission for the house to be there.

This is why land near York without planning permission would be valued at about £10,000 per hectare and the value of the same land with planning permission is £1,000,000 per hectare or one hundred times greater.

I, with my fellow homeowners, am a beneficiary of this system. For the past four or five years the value of my house (or rather the permission I have to maintain a house on the land in my street) has risen by a greater amount than my salary after tax. This has established an enormous future transfer of wealth to me from those that will take over this property when I leave. Much the same story is true for most of the homeowners in the UK.

I additionally have an interest in a house in York that is let. I should benefit from this by increases in the value of the "house with land and planning permission". It is, of course, the value of the planning permission that is rising. I will benefit from this by increased rent or by selling, at the expense of people in the rented sector.

(A transfer of wealth from poor to rich and from young to old ...
and a degredation of the quality of life)

By and large, these processes represent an enormous transfer of wealth from poor to rich and from young to old.

This state of affairs has come about under a mechanism of planning that was meant to benefit the whole of the community and the most vulnerable in particular. A particular milestone in the planning system was the Town and Country Planning Act of 1948. Contemporary literature clearly shows what dreams for clean and pleasant living the architects and planners of that day had. The restrictions on uncontrolled development were meant to encourage clearly defined urban areas with open green areas surrounding them. The undeveloped "green belts" around towns and cities were to combat the smog and grime of the city.

The reality has turned out differently. Whilst there was significant improvements in air quality after the smoke control acts brought in after the smogs of the 1950s, there has more recently been a serious degradation of the quality of life in urban areas due to increases in traffic mostly caused by the motor car.

The changes that mass motorcar use has caused may be to the advantage of individuals (e.g. Shorter journey times) but are to the detriment of society as a whole (e.g. Pollution, loss of local shops, loss of public transport, loss of the street as a comfortable public space etc.). We now recognise, of course, other disadvantages of mass car transport such as climate change and asthma in children living in urban areas.

(Green Belts benefit the affluent, who are the greatest polluters)

But what has this to do with Green Belts policy? Simply that urban areas are being polluted and damaged by mass car use. Green Belt policy, by restricting the growth of urban areas is thought to be containing the problem. I think this doubtful. The point is that it is the affluent who are the greatest polluters and these are just the group that is being handed vast increases in wealth at the expense of the poor who, by and large, pollute less. This is what economists call moral hazard. It is what I would simply call immoral.

I recognise that to tackle this problem head on is politically unrealistic. Those that pollute most are the affluent majority, but they simply will not admit to the scale of the problem. I wish to suggest a policy of creating of areas of low vehicle use, similar to that which I proposed in the York Inner Ring Road Inquiry of 1973. These would be areas that would have tight restrictions on the pollution they could cause (possibly measured in terms of the emerging concept of "green footprint"). This would mean that the use of private cars would be limited. But these would be areas where local shops, public transport and other facilities appropriate to areas of low vehicle use would be viable.

(Making inner urban areas car free is politically difficult. But ...)

In 1973, I envisaged that these low vehicle use areas would be fashioned from the inner urban areas. I now recognise that this is politically unrealistic. Even at that time it was unrealistic. As Alderman Burke, a very experienced Labour councillor, pointed out, "You can't tell a man in a terrace house he cannot have a car". But I fall back on the alternative I presented then "This [designating inner urban low vehicle use areas], however, should not preclude the building of new housing accommodation designed for a low level of car ownership for those who preferred to spend their money on good housing rather than cars."

This policy could be successful, particularly if the land allocated to "low green footprint" housing were many times the total demand so that the value of the planning permission was kept low. I would make a rule something like this. "If you are intending to build a settlement which has a green footprint which is one third of the national average, you can build almost anywhere you like."

If this spoils the view of the middle class, home owning, car-driving polluter, I would happily say, "so be it". But that is not politically realistic. It could be pointed out, however, that a low green footprint settlement has much more chance of being less obtrusive.

(Increase the supply of planning permission for low green footprint developments...
to dampen down the house price scramble.)

This would be somewhat of a departure from our plan-led system. If you can build anywhere, you don't need a plan. But the plan led system is responsible for much of the inequity in our society. We need to completely rethink it and the way it interacts with our market economy.

The present Green Paper proposals for changing the structure of the planning process can be seen as reducing its democratic content. Frankly, this concerns me little. It is so hard to keep up with the current system. It is complicated and it is increasingly manipulated by officers so that elected officials cannot keep up. Transparency is only available to those with the skills of the private investigator and enough time to crack the case.

What matters more is the results. What we have at the moment is worsening social conditions, an increasing impact on the local and global environment and an enormous transfer of wealth from the have-nots to the haves. By allowing sufficient supply of planning permission for low green footprint developments, we not only create the possibility of market-led, good quality low-cost housing for those who choose to restrict their impact on their surroundings but we also give some mechanism for dampening down the house price scramble in adjacent areas.

Clearly a coordinated approach to public transport is required, particularly when such a policy is applied to our major conurbations. But it is to be remembered that housing and public transport have been seen, in the past, as tandem developments.

From www.ltmuseum.co.uk we see

Uniquely, the Metropolitan Railway set up a subsidiary company, the Metropolitan Railway Country Estates Limited, which was founded in 1919 to buy land and build estates along its line. Thousands of homes were built during the 1920s and 1930s in 'Metro-Land', from Baker Street to Neasden, Wembley and Rickmansworth.

Geoff Beacon geoff.beacon@virgin.net
18 March 2002

15apr02a: Geoff Beacon: Evidence to the Coppergate Riverside Public Inquiry, April 2002

The covering letter says:

"This is a revised version of my previous evidence of 23 August 2001. The evidence I wish to present to this inquiry to determine the Coppergate Riverside planning application relates to the following areas:

  1. The effect on the character of the Conservation Area, the scheduled ancient monument and listed buildings;
  2. traffic generation and air pollution;
  3. extension of retailing to an area outside the traditional shopping centre to a location less well served by public transport;
  4. global warming."

The full text can be found here.

20aug02a: Geoff Beacon: York NIMBYs steal from the poor and destroy the Planet

(A piece for www.faxfn.org )

If the world were populated by York people we'd need three Earth's

A recent report compiled by John Barratt of the Stockholm Institute for Planet York says that an average York resident has an individual green footprint of 6.91 hectares. This report gives a "fair earthshare" footprint as 2.1 hectares so if everybody on Earth lived as the residents of York, we would need three planets like Earth.

(An individual's green footprint is the area of the Earth required to grow food, absorb waste and provide raw materials for consumption. One of the largest elements in the green footprints of the affluent world is the area of land required to absorb greenhouse gasses, particularly Carbon Dioxide from energy generated for heating and cooling buildings, transport and manufacturing products for consumption. See Pippa Langford in the Sustainable Futures section : here)

The rich need more - the poor need less

Planet York's brochure for the launch of this green footprint report shows that some individuals have bigger footprints than others. Some people are the sort that could fit on one planet Earth, others would require five or more planet Earths.

There is, of course, an obvious connection between affluence and consumption so, in general, the rich and affluent are the more polluting.

The Green Belt gives to the affluent and powerful

Property prices are rising in York at over one thousand million pounds a year. This value gives those, who already have their feet on the ladder, an enormous store of wealth, which sooner or later they will spend. Most of this is directly attributable to the manipulation of the market in planning permission by Green Belt policy.

The obvious backers of Green Belt policy are the NIMBYs who gain so much wealth through their houses and some pleasure in driving their cars through the Green Belt. But there are more powerful and well organised interests that benefit from the allocation of planning permission: land owners, property developers and, of course, the University.

Regulating the price. Distributing the spoils

It may not be York Council's intention, but the slow release of planning permission regulates the price of development land more effectively than OPEC regulates the price of oil. The small amounts released keep the value of the NIMBYs' assets rising. This strategy also bestows enormous benefits on those organised enough to understand the system or lucky enough to be able to mask commercial development under the guise of education.

Planning and pollution

It is, of course, one of the objectives of our current planning system to regulate development in order to reduce pollution. Indeed, the Green Belt policy itself is thought of as a "green" policy. But it is clear that this is not the case because it gives wealth to people so that they can increase their consumption and so increase their pollution and green footprint.

A recent "Analysis" program on Radio 4, "Home Economics" made part of the link:

Andrew Henley, Professor of economics, Aberystwyth University said "There is now this phenomenom of housing equity withdrawal that people, ... may well be withdrawing equity to spend on other things. That may typically be to buy new consumer durables - carpets, curtains, furniture - for the next house... Some of it goes into overseas holidays and new cars."

Martin Ellis, Group chief economist, Halifax Building Society said "People have extracted a record amount from the housing equity and that amount is at 18 billion pounds in the first 3 months of this year. That is the highest amount ever and itís one of the reasons why consumer spending is so buoyant at the moment."

If anyone does know of any economist (or anyone) who has done any studies on the demographics of pollution please let us know. But the main point is, of course, obvious: House owners pollute more as their assets inflate. We fly away to our holiday in the sun. We consume more fruit and vegetables flown halway round the world and we buy bigger cars.

Stealing from the young and the poor.

The rise in house (or planning permission) values has established an enormous transfer of wealth to householders from those that buy their houses in the future.

Additionally, with the increase of "buy to let", property owners are now benefiting from increases in the value of the "houses with land and planning permission". It is, of course, the value of the planning permission that is rising. The benefit is in the form of increased rental values, at the expense of people in the rented sector.

The ones that loose out are typically the young and the poor and increasingly the not-so-poor as a recent report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has highlighted ("Land for Housing: Current Practice and Future Options", March 2002, James Barlow).

See also Planning, Wealth Transfer And Environment above.

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