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Councils can build, conference told

Words: Laura Edgar
The RTPI's Mike Harris speaking at PIPA

Speakers at the RTPI Politicians in Planning Association (PIPA) Conference stressed the importance of spatial planning and placemaking - and that councils can build homes.

At the conference, held at the NEC in Birmingham, councillors heard speakers discuss how to deliver large-scale housing and leadership in planning.

With the government committed to increasing housing supply, Keith House, deputy chair of the Local Government Association for environment, economy, housing and transport, said councils needed to think about how their patch would cope with the increase.

“Councils can build homes,” House stressed. “Councils can borrow more cheaply than builders and councils don't need to ask goverment for permission.”

He concluded: “Councils who build houses can help shape their own destiny and their community's, rather than just leaving it to the government."

Sandra Ford, spatial planning manager at ATLAS (Advisory Team for Large Applications), cited two examples as she highlighted the importance of placemaking and having a “spatial vision”.

Delivering large-scale housing is not just about the numbers, said Ford. “People care about quality of environment.”

Upton, Northamptonshire, is a “successful” urban extension that comprises a diverse range of housing types within “unified public realm”. Ford also referenced Allerton Bywater in West Yorkshire. The borough council ensured that the development had “adequate commercial space for employment near housing”.

Richard Cowell, development and planning manager at Birmingham City Council, discussed how infrastructure needed to be linked to communities and jobs. It should be “woven into the fabric”, he said.

“Having a clear spatial vision is important – a statement of ambition” - Ford

RTPI research has found that there has been a 35 per cent cut to planning staff. Mike Harris, deputy head of policy at the institute, said planning has been one of the “hardest-hit areas in local authorities”.

“Planners need to argue planning’s revenue-raising ability, which should be reinvested into the service.”

Referring to research published last week, Planning As ‘Market Maker’: How Planning Is Used To Stimulate Development In France, Germany And The Netherlands, Harris added: “We must learn from our European counterparts who are delivering more dwellings per person than the UK.”

Paul Barnard, assistant director of development at Plymouth Council, argued the case for interactive planning and community engagement.

“Strategic documents shouldn't just sit on the shelf. Ours is interactive - it’s shared on social media so it feels alive.”

The Planning Advisory Service sponsored the event.

More information about PIPA can be found here.

Image credit | RTPI