We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

I am a radical on Town & Country planning as on other economic issues. I would abolish it. To me it is offensive that the value of a man’s land is stripped from him by laws that deny him the right to put it to its highest and best use without grovelling to local politicians in thrall to his envious neighbours.

‘Tom Paine’

29 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Ian

    Sadly, one of the biggest problems with the Town and Country Planning Act 1947 (and later legislation) is that it has artificially created pockets of high-value land (e.g., parts of rural Kent) which would, were the relevant Acts to be repealed, immediately be swamped with new-build properties and changed beyond all recognition in a manner horrifying and costly to the current land- and property-owners in those regions.

    Similarly, low-value and low-rent land (e.g., outlying areas of Hull) is simply not worth building upon, largely because planning restrictions have artificially restricted the growth of cities (i.e., commercial/industrial buildings) and therefore the demand for new residential housing.

    Related legislation has added to the problem, in particular the Housing Act 1985 which enabled councils to impose restrictive covenants allowing only “affordable housing” or “local occupancy”. Time after time, these provisions turn fantastic proposed development opportunities into losing propositions and scupper attempts to re-purpose existing properties or brownfield land.

    Ultimately, the various pieces of legislation comprise a form of socialised property rights, producing a shortage of supply of property. So much, so obvious. However, repealing the relevant legislation would also have unintended short-term consequences.

    As a general principle, I think that repealing bad socialist legislation shouldn’t be done without considering the fact that it necessarily results in the short-term destruction of capital. In other words, in the same way that the introduction of such legislation negatively affects capital and property rights (that the owners hithertofore depended upon) in an arbitrary, capricious and unpredictable way, so also does the repeal — even if that repeal leads to a normalization that would in the long term be beneficial.

    “Tread lightly…”

  • Sadly one of the biggest problems with the Town and Country Planning Act 1947 (and later legislation) is that it has artificially created pockets of high-value land (e.g., parts of rural Kent) which would, were the relevant Acts to be repealed, immediately be swamped with new-build properties and changed beyond all recognition in a manner horrifying and costly to the current land- and property-owners in those regions.

    I am TOTALLY in favour of paving Kent over between Croydon and Dover. That would be the end of London’s low-to-middle property problem right there.

  • Ian

    I am TOTALLY in favour of paving Kent over between Croydon and Dover. That would be the end of London’s low-to-middle property problem right there.

    I don’t exactly disagree, in fact what has happened to this region is my favourite example in support of my objections to the T&C Planning Act 1947. However, don’t you think it an affront to the rule of law that governments should be able, arbitrarily, to change the conditions and benefits appurtenant to land ownership?

    Sometimes it seems that libertarians are as keen on the destruction of capital (even be they in effect “vested interests” supported by government legislation) as socialists. What is the difference between government enacting contrary legislation significantly affecting land ownership by a vote in the Commons every five years and a tyrant doing so on a whim? Doesn’t the investment of capital in property depend upon stable conditions?

  • bobby b

    “I am a radical on Town & Country planning as on other economic issues. I would abolish it.”

    The man has obviously never lived downwind of a hog feedlot.

    Planning has its place. It’s currently massively overdone, and done for the wrong (and too often venal) reasons, but there is a nugget in there worth preserving.

  • JohnW

    The man has obviously never lived downwind of a hog feedlot.

    Precedence would solve that – which came first, the home or the hog farm? Nuisance case law is the best way of resolving hard cases – not some committee pursuing the ‘general good.’

  • bobby b

    “Precedence would solve that – which came first, the home or the hog farm? Nuisance case law is the best way of resolving hard cases – not some committee pursuing the ‘general good.’”

    Precedence doesn’t always work. I watched a guy transform his small farm at the edge of South Dakota town into a feedlot in the absence of zoning, and in the absence of sufficient nuisance regs such that it was entirely possible for him to do that.

    You can write nuisance law so that you can’t bring horrid odors or thousands of squealing pigs or poop-covered roads or contaminated water tables into an existing neighborhood, or you can write a reg that says “no feedlots here” – is there really any difference? Some uses are going to be nuisances no matter how they’re managed.

  • Ian

    I’m still not sure why the case to which you refer is not a tort.

  • bobby b

    Because, in many places – most places – “tort” has been codified and taken out of the old common-law model where you merely have to allege wrongful behavior and resultant damage.

    In most such systems, you would need to wait for “damage” to occur, and then start the legal process. (Courts frown on lawsuits over “potential”, future damages.) Given that there has never been a non-odiferous, non-poop-spreading hog feedlot in the history of the world, what is the liberty interest in establishing that feedlot – and the resultant damages – for all the time it takes to get a lawsuit through the courts to a result (which might take years.)

    I agree that planning has turned into “I’d rather not see that near me” and is horribly overused and misused. But it does have a place.

  • Ian

    I agree that the requirement to quantify “loss” (which seems to me to be what you are talking about) is an effectual bar to most tort claims.

    Is that, in itself, an argument for statutory control?

  • pete

    The right to park my car wherever I like is paramount.

  • bobby b

    “Is that, in itself, an argument for statutory control?”

    No, it’s more of a timing issue, actually. Statutory control – zoning regulation – is like a prior restraint on committing nuisance torts.

    Once someone establishes that smelly feedlot next to you, you have recourse to the courts for recompense for your (by then) established damages. If a feedlot aroma has made your home unlivable – and they easily do that – you can then sue and be paid for your loss. Assuming multiple victims, you can get the feedlot shut down.

    Putting this into the form of a land use regulation accomplishes the same result much more easily, cheaply, and efficiently for all involved. The poor schlub who (stupidly) wants to establish the feed lot next to the residential area is shut down before he spends the money doing so. The homeowners are spared the period of years of horrible smells and the cost of litigation. And it gives the same result – no smelly feedlot next to homes.

    It can also act as a shield for people who establish feedlots in places zoned for feedlots. If you are a conforming user – someone who has established a use for your land that conforms to zoning regs – you are generally then protected from lawsuits by people who don’t like the smell. So, through adding predictability, properly crafted zoning regs can add value.

    Again, I think that 75-85% of zoning law is done for improper purposes. But I think Mr. Paine goes too far in calling for its end.

  • Fred Z

    “I am TOTALLY in favour of paving Kent over between Croydon and Dover. That would be the end of London’s low-to-middle property problem right there.”

    Me, I am TOTALLY in favour of property owners doing whatever the fcuk they want, subject only to their extant private contracts with their neighbours and the common law of nuisance.

    Oh, and I am TOTALLY in favour of tarring and feathering lefties and politicians who offer to “serve” more than, say, 2 years.

  • Mr Ed

    One of the worst aspects of planning law is that it has an insidious effect on attitudes, creating a sense of entitlement with regard to decisions over others’ property and so often an attitude of ‘I don’t think that they should get planning permission for that‘ leading to an attitude that there is a right of veto over others property uses and a dilution of any respect for private property, i.e. Planning law is something to be ‘weaponised’. I have seen this in family members, embarking on semi-crazed ‘jihads’ against developments they disapprove of, organising meetings, writing to official bodies (Quangos) with some supposed interest, and looking for any angle to attack private property. Yet the same people would be outraged if someone ordered their house to be demolished (even with compensation) were it to fit a ‘plan’ to destroy that building, or be found to breach a rule.

    Scrap it all, and make the law of nuisance accessible and cheap, with deterrents to the vindictive scum who weaponise law.

  • Scrap it all, and make the law of nuisance accessible and cheap, with deterrents to the vindictive scum who weaponise law.

    This.

  • Brce

    One of the global issues is that of the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) types.

    Luddites, exclusivists; whatever describes them they are a huge problem for REAL PEOPLE.

    I know first hand what living downwind of a large tannery smells like. They DON”T have to smell that way, neither do “feed lots” however, who in their right mind would invest their hard-earned in a property so located and then have the temerity to bitch and moan about the smell? The same sort of arrogant slugs who buy property under approach / take-off paths of airports and then loudly bitch about the noise. See also car race tracks, rifle ranges etc. It is purely and simply “vexatious complaint”, writ large.

    HOWEVER, the toxic slime of the filth column fourth estate go into full “Crusader mode” on “behalf” of these vermin, and do so with apparent legal immunity.

  • Paul Marks

    What I am about to type will not be popular here – but it is the truth.

    When it comes to the building of housing estates the Town and Country Planning Acts do NOT stop them – every member of a local council planning committee (and I have been one in the past) knows the mantra endlessly repeated by local government officers “you have to pass it councillor – otherwise they will go to appeal, the inspector will pass it and the local taxpayers will be saddled with legal costs as well as the horrible housing estate”.

    In short anyone who thinks that the “Planning Laws” are the reason that housing is so expensive in the United Kingdom (especially in the southeast of this island) is just WRONG.

    I do not oppose the repeal of the “Planning Laws” (in fact I support their appeal – as they are used to victimise “little people” doing a few barn conversions and so on, people who can not really afford to “go to appeal” or do not really understand that they can), but the idea that getting rid of these laws would really reduce the cost of housing is wrong – just wrong.

    Of course looking at the real reasons for the high costs of housing, post 1960s family breakdown (leading to single people in houses and flats), immigration (mass immigration), and the Bank of England Credit Money bubble (which goes into the property market – not just the stock market), is a bit “problematic”, so people blame the “Planning Laws” – even though getting rid of them would make no great difference to the price of housing.

    By the way the housing estates are subsidised by local and central government – the roads, pavements, drainage….. (and so on) are all defective when built, because the understanding is that government will “adopt” them. If private companies actually had to maintain (in the long term) the “infrastructure” for these housing estates then a lot of them would NOT be built. So “getting government out of it” would actually mean LESS houses being built – which some of us “reactionaries” think would be a Good Thing (TM).

  • In short anyone who thinks that the “Planning Laws” are the reason that housing is so expensive in the United Kingdom (especially in the southeast of this island) is just WRONG.

    The reason I do not agree with you, Paul, can be summed up in two words: Green Belt.

    If private companies actually had to maintain (in the long term) the “infrastructure” for these housing estates then a lot of them would NOT be built.

    It is not easy to do, but that does not mean it cannot be done.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Perry: Fascinating. At once buttresses up and demolishes Richard’s (Epstein’s) arguments against the possibility of providing all “network” mod. cons. privately. Point about large-scale land ownership, made difficult or impossible by current prices, regs, by the successful private-city creator and maintainer seems quite plausible.

    Saved.

    Thank you very much!

  • I am TOTALLY in favour of paving Kent over between Croydon and Dover. That would be the end of London’s low-to-middle property problem right there.

    I’d rather move large swathes of the civil service to shitholes like Hull (I’m assuming that’s the reason it’s awash in low-value land per Ian; substitute a different place if necessary) which would relieve a lot of the population pressure on London.

    This, of course, assumes we can’t just fire the civil service en masse.

  • Ian

    No, it’s more of a timing issue, actually. Statutory control – zoning regulation – is like a prior restraint on committing nuisance torts. Putting this into the form of a land use regulation accomplishes the same result much more easily, cheaply, and efficiently [than suing for nuisance later] for all involved. […] It can also act as a shield for people who establish feedlots in places zoned for feedlots. […]

    I’m not convinced of either of these points. Zoning — or planning, as we call it over here — is itself a hugely complicated process involving all sorts of costs (including opportunity costs) that I think greatly outweigh the potential costs of litigation in respect of nuisance (and who would dare to build a pig farm near residential buildings anyway? but I appreciate this is an extreme case). Also, costly litigation related to planning control is by no means uncommon. Furthermore, your point that planning regulations are greatly over-used or misused seems to defeat the argument you advance.

    It’s impossible to quantify costs here, but I don’t think you’ve made the case that bureaucratic control of land/property development makes the market more efficient.

  • JohnW

    Law vs. Regulation. Law: you may do anything except what is forbidden. Regulation: you may do nothing except what is permitted.

  • Schrodinger's Dog

    Really?

    Does no-one here like the neighbourhood in which he or she lives? None of you would be bothered if its character changed beyond all recognition? Getting away from feed lots, no-one would be concerned about the construction of a skyscraper next door?

    I like the condo (flat, if you’re British) in which I live – that’s why I bought it. But I also love the neighbourhood in which it is located: the architecture here is beautiful. Moving here was pretty much a dream come true for me. Walking through the local avenues makes me feel peaceful inside. And there are local laws which makes significant alterations to that architecture almost impossible – which suits me just fine. I do not doubt that without those laws, all those beautiful buildings would soon be demolished and replaced with high-rise apartments, that being the most efficient – and profitable – use of the very valuable land on which they stand.

    Perry, regarding your comment about building between Croydon and Dover, then what? Everything between Croydon and, say, Basingstoke gets built over?

  • Fraser Orr

    bobby b
    >zoning regulation – is like a prior restraint on committing nuisance torts.

    But it excludes the possibility of eliminating the nuisance in a different way. Imagine if you will that I see a big competitive advantage to building a pig farm in the middle of city (“so fresh they were squeaking ten minutes ago”). I recognize my liability for nuisance, so I keep the pigs in a big cheap building to keep down the sound to a reasonable level, use air filtration systems to prevent the odor escaping, and efficiently manage the poop. Now I am no longer a nuisance, but I still can’t build there.

    A better example would be a power plant. If I can build a power plant that deals with the nuisance of pollution and other such things I can have a great advantage — because power transmission lines leak away my hard won electricity, so the closer I am the customers the better. However, zoning laws don’t account for my innovative approach. Maybe I do a deal with the houses in a one mile radius saying “free electricity if you agree to put up with the nuisance.” A win/win potentially for everyone.

    Which is to say, planning laws stifle innovative solutions to nuisance. That innovation might be to sign a contract with local residents for stink rights, or it might be to breed pigs that don’t stink and don’t squeak or a thousand other approaches.

    The law should ban the nuisance not some parametric imagined cause. Even if only for the reason of externality — give legislators the power to zone and you immediately give them power to zone in favor of their friends and cronies. I’d rather smell the stink from pigs than the stink from politicians with their trotters in the trough.

  • Everything between Croydon and, say, Basingstoke gets built over?

    Works for me.

    I like the condo (flat, if you’re British) in which I live – that’s why I bought it. But I also love the neighbourhood in which it is located: the architecture here is beautiful.

    And therefore it is probably also valuable for the owners to keep it, even if they change the interiors. I think you underestimate the market pressures to make things nice and not just ‘profit maximise’ in a crude sense. And London was awesome long before the Town & County Planning Act. Cities need to be able to change.

  • The fundamental economic difference between capitalism and communism is that communism doesn’t allocate resources correctly. Capitalism allocates resources better. The political dimension and the mass graves are not fundamentally economic in nature.

    But just because capitalism is better does not mean that it does not have fundamental economic allocation problems. If you have infrastructure that is accounted wrong, you will get substandard results sometimes no better than the most idiotic of Soviet collective farms. When we started going in for indoor plumbing, electricity, and natural gas distribution systems, we conceptually didn’t do it right and are currently busy painting ourselves into a corner in the US. From this discussion, it’s clear to me that the UK is in the same boat.

    The first step isn’t to wipe out laws. The first step is to conceive of a sustainable method of planning that works well, compare it to the present mess, and only then wipe out the old system with a new replacement to transition too.

    The current system is that a green field is bought, parceled out, and an estate or housing development is planned out. The cost for the infrastructure is shoveled off to the public at large as much as possible and the rest is rolled into the price of the units. The infrastructure’s first generation will last from 5 to 125 years depending. Once the mortgages are paid off, the controlling authority, public or private, borrows money and replaces the infrastructure. Because infrastructure payments have different visibility depending on whether they are first generation or subsequent generation infrastructure, the subsequent generation stuff hurts more and this makes moving out of your older suburb to the new exurb development 10 miles down the road unnaturally attractive.

    There is a better way. For each piece of infrastructure, the best way to proceed is to assess or tax a fraction of the cost every year until you have a nice endowment and then when you actually need to spend the money, it’s already there and hopefully earning interest instead of costing interest. This gives you predictable costs and you don’t have to pay 3% (plus inflation expectation) on bonds plus significant fees to get the money to pay for infrastructure replacement in addition to the actual cost of replacing the pipe, pump, or wire. If you’re prudent, you can actually save a good chunk of money.

    We were too poor to adopt this system in the late 1800s and early 1900s and have rapid rollouts of the new infrastructure systems coming online in that era and since then. The side effect of the system chosen is that it encourages sprawl to the point of choking everybody to death on the overbuilding. How it played out in the UK I am less familiar.

    This is a problem for both government systems and private systems and needs fixing.

  • bobby b

    TMLutas
    May 20, 2018 at 2:53 pm

    “There is a better way. For each piece of infrastructure, the best way to proceed is to assess or tax a fraction of the cost every year until you have a nice endowment and then when you actually need to spend the money, it’s already there and hopefully earning interest instead of costing interest.”

    This would be a great way not only to attack the problem of infrastructure replacement but to smooth out our personal finances as well. But I fear human nature stands in the way.

    I cannot imagine handing to our politician-run government a sum of money in an endowment and asking them not to spend it on immediate desires. Al Gore’s lockbox had a secure lock on top, but no bottom. The government puts money in from the top with great show, but then just picks up the money and pockets it when it hits the floor.

  • Mr Ed

    I cannot imagine handing to our politician-run government a sum of money in an endowment and asking them not to spend it on immediate desires.

    I am reminded that I read somewhere a fine quote to the effect of ‘Expecting politicians to ration taxpayers’ money is like expecting dogs to ration sausages.‘.

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