England’s Rotten Planning System

March 29, 2017

The DeliveryDemon wanted a brand new shiny kitchen, matched units fitting neatly together, with nice level worksurfaces. Someone suggested looking  at Howdens Joinery offerings.

It was going to take some time so it seemed like a good idea to get some planners in to sort things out. Maybe someone from East Northants Council’s Planning Department. After all, they should have some understanding of how structures are put together.

The units needed to sit on top of a plinth, so 600 millimetres seemed about the right height. Roxhill Joinery said ‘Of course 600 millimetre units is what we will provide’. The DeliveryDemon designed out what was needed, and Howdens Joinery said ‘Of course, that’s what we will create’. The DeliveryDemon briefed the planners from East Northants Planning Department and they took her hard earned money to check that Howdens Joinery actually did what they were supposed to do.

Having done everything necessary, the DeliveryDemon headed off to spend days working long hours to pay for this kitchen (and of course to shell out what the taxman demanded).

Come the day the kitchen was supposed to be ready, the DeliveryDemon  went to look.

At first she could see nothing for the glare. The promised soft downlighting had been replaced with what seemed like searchlights. She asked for an explanation, and the reply was drowned out by a cacophony of beeping reverse alarms and revving HGVs, from vehicles which had ignored gates and warning signs to demolish the garden wall.

Finally she managed to see the promised kitchen. But it wasn’t the promised kitchen. Those 600 millimetre units were not 600 millimetres high. Some were 350 millimetres high, some only 250 millimetres. And some took up only a half or a quarter of their allotted width. The work surfaces had been hacked up and balanced randomly on the mismatched units. Not to put too fine a point on it, the kitchen was a mess.

The DeliveryDemon demanded an explanation from those planners.

‘Howdens Joinery told us 600 was the same as 300 and of course we believed them’ they said.

‘Howdens Joinery told us 600 was the same as 250 and of course we believed them’ they said.

‘Howdens Joinery told us part width was the same as full width and of course we believed them’ they said.

‘All your neighbours offered us tape measures but we decided to ignore them’ they said.

‘We don’t care that your family will have to live with this’ they said.

‘We CBA to give you even vaguely credible responses’ they said.

This is a fable of our times. It exactly mirrors the surreal process we have just been through in East Northants. It started with predatory developer Roxhill, in collusion with Howdens Joinery, ignoring all the suitable industrial sites available because Roxhill thought they could overthrow  the taxpayer funded neighbourhood plans in order to rake in profits at the expense of real people.

Their multitude of planning documents were thrown together to allow planners to tick boxes. And those planners duly ticked their boxes without ever considering the omissions, inconsistencies, and inaccuracies before them. People who actually used their brains pointed out that those documents were entirely unreliable. But the planners had ticked a box saying 600 new jobs and they weren’t going to get off their backsides to perform the most basic level of challenge which due diligence demands.

‘Loadsa jobs’ said East Northants Planning Department.

‘That 600 justifies destroying people’s lives’ said East Northants Planning Department.

The 600 jobs figure was challenged on the basis of inconsistencies too blatant to be ignored.

‘Well maybe it’s only 300’ said Howdens Joinery.

‘Well maybe it’s only 250’ said Howdens Joinery.

‘Well, a lot of those jobs are only seasonal’ said Howdens Joinery.

‘We only have embarrassing answers  to your questions so we refuse to answer them’ said East Northants Planning Department.

‘The answer is always loadsa jobs’ said East Northants Planning Department.

‘We’re not going to consider that a lot of those jobs will be done by robots’ said East Northants Planning Department.

Six doughty councillors toiled tirelessly to put the facts in front of their colleagues. Deaf ears were relentlessly turned. Six eloquent voices could not prevail against that obdurate deafness. Why? I have my views and no doubt you have yours.

And this has made it very clear that our planning system is not fit for purpose. Real people’s hard earned and over-taxed money pays for that planning system. Yet it allows faceless corporates like Howdens Joinery and Roxhill to ignore democratic decisions and ruin lives, all to make themselves a fast buck.

The DeliveryDemon is holds a strong view that this country is overdue for a heavy dose of democracy.

And the DeliveryDemon would advise anyone considering a new kitchen to look for a supplier whose numbers can be relied on.

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Delivering Spurious Accuracy, Demanding Constant Attention

November 10, 2009

The DeliveryDemon did a double-take. The hospital receptionist had actually offered a follow-up appointment time of 8.48 a.m. Not 8.45, not 8.50, 8.48 precisely!

Great efforts were made to get the patient to hospital for the prescribed minute. As the seconds clicked by, the DeliveryDemon gazed at the white blocks on the bilious yellow screen, idly wondering whether the developers were aware that the inability to distinguish between yellow and white is a common form of colour blindness. The clock ticked over to 8.48…… Nothing happened! At 8.55 the appointment pinged up for its allotted 3 seconds then disappeared into the ether, never to re-appear.

There is a huge disconnect between the design of this system and practical reality. The underlying driver may well be a target of fitting 5 x 12 minute appointments into the hour, but that 12 minutes is an average. Pinning appointments to an exact minute means that overruns delay subsequent appointment, but nothing is gained if an appointment finishes early – an approach which increases the likelihood of targets being missed. It also invites mockery.

The mechanism for summoning patients is equally poorly conceived. It relies on the assumption that patients gaze non-stop at the single screen, waiting for their numbers to flash up for those 3 short seconds. In reality, pillars obscure the screen from some seats, and passers-by may obscure it from any position. The area, lacking sound absorption, is noisy, so any audio cue is lost. A patient with poor eyesight may need to move closer to the high-mounted screen to read it, and age or infirmity would make those 3 seconds of visibility completely inadequate. And of course real patients are chatting, reading newpapers, watching the world go by, as the clock edges beyond the allotted minutes of their appointments. That sickly yellow screen is by no means the cynosure of all eyes.

Part of the DeliveryDemon wanted to laugh at the absence of basic common sense in the design. The reason she is not still in giggling thrall to those ridiculous flaws is the context. This was an NHS hospital. Huge sums of taxpayers’ hard-earned money went into the creation of the system. The appalling design is unlikely to result in patient fatality, but the blatant absence of commonsense in a patient-facing system must call into question the quality of other systems which are life-critical.