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RTPI Planning Convention speakers address the challenge of growth

Words: Laura Edgar

Delegates at this year’s RTPI Planning Convention have heard how planning requires leadership and clarity as well as the importance of strategic planning.

Following an ‘ask the Planning Inspectorate’ session, in which Ben Linscott told the audience to be proactive in contacting PINS, RTPI president Phil Williams introduced the convention by saying the planning profession is one that can “provide leadership, foresight and clarity”.

Alfonso Vegara, founder and honorary president, Fundación Metrópoli, Madrid, discussed why planners should take a holistic approach to ensure sustainable development. He spoke about the Bilbao effect and work being undertaken in Colombia.

He said that “people like to live in a place with an identity”, while cities are becoming more and more important. Furthermore, the development of Bilbao is not just about Bilbao, “it is about the city region”.

Jo Davis, regional senior director, Bilfinger GVA, discussed a report, The Location of Development, carried out on behalf of the RTPI, by Bilfinger GVA. 

The report, Davis said, suggests that there is a “disconnect between homes and job creation”.

She also discussed how homes are delivered against historic allocations, rather than current needs.

However, “government intervention through infrastructure is a game changer for housing”.

Paul Barnard, assistant director of strategic planning and infrastructure, Plymouth City Council, spoke about the value of a plan and Plymouth’s ‘Plan for Homes’. He said don’t leave it to the market to plan for housing, “seize the initiative”.

In a session looking at how we can improve house building, Toby Lloyd of Shelter argued that the land market needed to be addressed in order to better balance the commercial requirements of house builders with housing need. A market dictated by the value of land – which is extremely volatile – would also tend towards low quality housing and too few houses being built.

Analysing historical spikes in house building and how they are getting smaller each time, he said: “If we carry on like this we will literally build ourselves to a standstill where we are building no homes at all.”

Lloyd argued the case for a number of interventions in the housing market aimed at the beginning of the house building process – the purchase of land – rather than the end – support for buyers.

These included subsidies, promotion of a wider range of ownership models and the need to tackle the thorny issue of tax and land: “Tax has a massive impact on land use and how land is brought into the system. How do we incentivise the landowner and developer behaviour that we want to see?”

Labour MP and former planner Helen Hayes said that planning urgently needed to address affordability issues. In particular, the planning system needed to engage much more closely with the communities that are often overlooked – even within existing mechanisms such as neighbourhood planning.

She offered a systematic critique of the housing and planning act, in particular the “emperor’s new clothes” policy of offering permission in principle. Underlying the act, she said, is a “fundamental belief that planning is a constraint. I disagree with that view. I believe it’s so much more than a constraint.”

Hayes went on to call for the planning system to be better resourced and to have “greater local determination” built in. She also said young people needed more information about planning as a career and encouragement to take it up.