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Mon, 19 October 2020

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We can resolve the housing crisis with a clearer, rules-based planning system

We can resolve the housing crisis with a clearer, rules-based planning system

[Planning system reform] seeks to champion quality through a fast-track system for beautiful buildings utilising local guidance for developers to build and preserve attractive communities, writes Pauline Latham MP. | PA Images

4 min read

The reformed planning system will enable communities to protect their heritage and local green spaces, as well as encourage innovation and increase the quality of homes built.

Those involved in creating our towns and cities - architects, planners, developers and housebuilders - know the current planning system is broken by excess bureaucracy, checking of inappropriate detail and delay.

Planning staff do not have the time to see a vision of a better future. Hence we are served with more of the same ‘anywhere estates’ throughout the country. The system reactively checks whether applications are too bad to refuse rather than seeking to create an upward spiral of quality.

The ‘Planning for the Future’ proposed policy changes seek to address this with a clearer, rules-based system, similar to that used to create exemplary urban development in continental cities.  

It seeks to champion quality through a fast-track system for beautiful buildings utilising local guidance for developers to build and preserve attractive communities.   

Beauty is a practically realisable goal as can be seen from developments that have utilised design panels involving communities to express their vision. But this is only possible with viable investment and, if undertaken online by skilled facilitators, participation by a wide variety of residents.   

This process must challenge and designate areas proposed for development, renewal, or protection, so the community decides for the benefit of all and not just the well-educated and affluent few who want to stop development near them.

We have failed to provide the quantity of housing needed to alleviate the housing crises and the right kinds and amount of social housing

It will enable communities to protect their heritage and local green spaces as if they were mini greenbelts, increase the density of development on brownfield sites and champion street trees.  

Local design codes will need to be created, demanding developments meet or exceed quality thresholds. 

Exploratory work by Yorkshire Forward and the Academy of Urbanism, creating ‘Town Teams’ from local people to lead the development process, illustrates how successful an emphasis upon action and speed can avoid ‘consultation fatigue’ and engender not just support, but eager anticipation of a better future.   

To be achieved, this will require an increased capacity of forward-thinking planners and urbanists at a scale not seen for decades. This is possible but will require national and local government commitment and funding.  

Through successive governments, we have failed to provide the quantity of housing needed to alleviate the housing crises and the right kinds and amount of social housing.   

The proportion devoted to first time homes, shared ownership and social rent is to be largely decided by the local authority.  

The proposal to create a simple national levy, understandable by all, could remove the protracted section 106 negotiations which can delay the start of development not just by months but by years. Again, clarity will reduce costs and increase implementation.

The current development industry, with a few exceptions such as the redevelopment of Kings Cross goods yard, lacks innovation due to its dominance by a few large housebuilders and investment institutions.   

The proposal to support and allocate space specifically for not only more small-to-medium builders, but individual or group self-help housebuilders, will encourage innovation and a competitive increase in quality.  

Living in a carbon-neutral eco-house, I particularly appreciate the proposal that ‘all new homes should be zero carbon ready’

However, this will need to be matched by surveyors representing the financial institutions revising their currently backward view of valuation to support investment in quality and sustainable design rather than just replicating previous outdated and inefficient dwellings.

Living in a carbon-neutral eco-house, I particularly appreciate the proposal that ‘all new homes should be zero carbon ready’ in order to reduce the immense impact the building industry has upon our carbon emissions, though the detail of how to achieve this through enhanced building regulations is yet to be worked out.  

The intended increase in the number of houses to be built each year will have a greater impact upon some areas rather than others.   

This is unavoidable if the Government is to provide sufficient houses where they are most needed - the best way of improving affordability and assisting economic recovery.  

But, better to achieve a resolution to the housing crisis through a modern community-led strategic plan for creating beautiful places to live, than the current incremental method, nibbling away at our countryside by developers providing soulless, standard housing with insufficient infrastructure in places people only move to through lack of choice.

 

Pauline Latham is the Conservative MP for Mid Derbyshire.

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