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RTPI ‘bemused’ by PM’s ‘pointless planning rules’ reference

Words: Laura Edgar

The RTPI has welcomed Prime Minister David Cameron’s pledge to improve housing estates, but has been left “bemused” by his reference to “pointless planning rules” as industry professions react to the initiative.

Writing in The Sunday Times, Cameron put forward his plans to regenerate 100 housing estates, including a £140 million fund to start the work. He said that lessons needed to be learnt from past attempts to regenerate them, which failed.

Among other things, Cameron listed “pointless planning rules” as a prevention to progress.

Lack of adequate resources a blockage


Speaking to The Planner, head of policy at the RTPI Richard Blyth said the institute welcomes any attempt to “improve living conditions in the hardest-to-live-in estates” as well as measures to improve housing supply, but to refer to "'pointless planning rules' is bemusing".

Blyth explained: “Planning rules, i.e. laws or policies, are either imposed by the government or voted in by local councils, but only after very careful checking by government inspectors.”

Cameron announced that an Estates Regeneration Strategy would “sweep away” planning blockages and reduce “political and reputational risk for projects’ key decision-makers and investors”.

Blyth said the biggest blockage in the planning system is the “lack of adequate resources within local planning authorities”.

“It is important,” added Blyth, "to ensure that all tenants and leaseholders are able to afford to return to their current locations once regeneration is complete. Good planning is there to ensure that real homes and communities are created or enhanced.”

“Sparkly” new buildings will not solve social ills


Steve Sanham, development director at HUB Residential, a London-based developer, told The Planner that social deprivation, crime and feelings of worthlessness and isolation are “not a phenomenon we can blame on buildings alone”.

Demolishing old housing estates and replacing them with new buildings, “no matter how sparkly and well arranged”, will not on its own “solve any of these social ills”.

According to Sanham, mono-tenure estates that trap people in “hopeless situations” with “little ability to create a self-sustaining life for themselves", result in the "inevitable social ills Cameron is trying to fix here”.

He suggested mixed communities that people can take pride in - with investments made in management, education, job creation, mentoring of young people and outreach to older people as well as quality homes - will go much further than dropping all of the ‘sink estates’ and effectively doing the same again, just in a different built form”.

“Let’s not forget that the sink estates just replaced the slums,” he concluded.

Government right to focus on redevelopment


The government is right to focus on the redevelopment of the country’s “worst” estates, Charles Mills, head of planning at property consultancy Daniel Watney, told The Planner.

“For too long, too many have languished in sub-standard housing, isolated from wider society, and suffered as a result.”

The government, added Mills, is also right to try to harness the power of institutional investors, who are already “delivering thousands of homes across the country, most notably in the form of Build to Rent”.

Referring to Cameron’s plans and Savills’ report Completing London’s Streets, Mills said the model ‘Complete Streets’ “modelled on terraced housing and maisonette living are a welcome alternative to the high-rises and high-density complexes normally proposed for these kind of developments”.

“Providing the new homes are genuinely affordable for residents, this could mark a game-changer for social housing in this country," added Mills.

£140m “a drop in the ocean”


Mark Farmer, co founder and CEO of Cast, a real estate and construction consultancy, said the £140 million earmarked for the initiative, “is a drop in the ocean in terms of the total capital cost of regeneration that we might be looking at here”.

Farmer told The Planner his issue with the initiative is viability.

He said institutional finance is queuing up to enter the UK residential sector, but it is seeking “long-term steady returns and is not necessarily looking to go up the risk curve in terms of development complexity and delivery risk”.

Getting the marriage right between the financing market and the development and construction industry offering an “appropriately de-risked and sufficiently valuable solution for investors will be key here”.

“The so-called low-density ‘Complete Streets’ concept that apparently has informed government thinking is laudable but is it bankable?"

Right to make guarantees for residents


The British Property Federation (BPF) has welcomed the proposals, particularly the binding guarantees that would be put in place for tenants and homeowners to ensure their right to a home is protected.

Ian Fletcher, director of policy (real estate) at the BPF, said: “There are some very old council estates that are in need of regeneration, but that process must treat existing residents fairly. The government is therefore right to put some sorts of guarantees at the forefront of its policy and encourage a partnership approach. There are investors in our membership, pension funds and the like, who will be very interested in how they can contribute to those partnerships.”

Fletcher added that if the government gets the work right, “it could be some of the best use of £140 million it has ever spent”.

Details of Cameron's announcement can be found here.

More information about the Savills report can be found here.

Image credit | Shuttershock