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RTPI proposes fresh approach to ‘unlock’ large-scale housing

Words: Huw Morris

The scenario seen in many communities is often one where developers want to build lots of homes and local people put up a big fight to stop it happening, writes Huw Morris.

Two entrenched positions are taken as both sides slug it out until one wins and either the homes are built or the community celebrates a victory for their local area. In the meantime we risk failing to identify the sites for large scale development needed to ensure housing supply is sufficient.
Is there another way, where the community works with developers and the government to find suitable locations for new homes? Can local people be persuaded that homes must be found for their children and grandchildren?
A new Royal Town Planning Institute report suggests there are ways of breaking down the confrontations that often occur. Delivering Large Scale Housing: Unlocking Schemes and Sites to Help Meet the UK’s Housing Needs proposes a more rounded approach to local planning, with 15 recommendations for action.
The report stresses, for example, that if the voice of the silent majority of local people heard as clearly as that of protestors, then local authority planning decisions will be more reflective of the wishes and needs of the community.
Planning professionals can take on a more strategic role, using their expertise to greater effect, the report says. They can support local leaders, such as senior councillors and officers, to give direction and ensure communities face the challenges of housing supply.
The report also addresses the question of how we can ensure development is “locally-inspired” and not piecemeal. A Scottish perspective offers a contrast to the experience in England, with attention given to Scotland's regional Strategic Development Plans and planning hierarchy that distinguishes between local, major and national development.
The central problem is that supply is not meeting demand and hasn’t done for many years, the report notes. There is a backlog of two million homes needed, which pushes the annual figure of new homes required from 265,000 up to 300-330,0001.
Richard Blyth, RTPI head of policy, practice and research, and a co-author of the report, said the recession is not a major factor in the problems of housing supply, and that there was a serious issue before it began.
There is also no one simple solution to the issue and several different things need to be done at the same time. “There is no silver bullet,” he said, “Things need to happen in parallel.”
The government is concentrating on boosting demand through assisting more mortgages, Blyth added. “We think it is more important to look at a supply guarantee.”

"We have spent an awful lot of time proving the case for this"

The report’s 15 recommendations fall under five broad headings: community engagement, land, infrastructure, finance and leadership/governance.
Among the recommendations are the suggestion that central government should offer incentives for local authorities to plan larger developments over a longer period of forward planning, beyond five-year plans.
The report also proposes that resources could be pooled between local authorities, infrastructure providers and government agencies, to facilitate investment in large scale schemes.
Furthermore, central government could consider underwriting some building to lessen the risk of schemes stalling short of new infrastructure projects as developers are concerned about covering their contribution.
The report also recommends that spending on new infrastructure needs to be linked up more effectively with housing and planning policies. This approach can unlock large sites and lower the risk for developers.
There are some quick wins that could help progress towards producing large sites for development, according to the report. One would be to share risks of future uplifts in land values evenly between councils, developers and landowners. A landowner would then be less inclined to hold onto land waiting for prices to rise.
The first recommendation, however, is a message to politicians, campaign groups and planners, calling on them to make the case for large scale developments. Everyone needs to realise the consequences of not building enough houses, and that large scale sites are needed, the report stresses.
Blyth said: “In the national media we hear it said that ministers should come in and solve the problem, but it is about winning hearts and minds.”
Perhaps a new approach from everyone involved in planning new homes would avoid the old problems we are so familiar with.
Delivering Large Scale Housing has 15 recommendations to enable land to be released for major housing development. They fall under five themed headings:
Community engagement
Informing communities about the case for development
Removing barriers around land availability
Resolving infrastructure funding stalemates
Ideas to access funding and de-risk development
Leadership and governance
Improving political leadership to ensure informed decisions