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28/04/2016

Learning lessons on both sides of the pond

California planner Linda M Wheaton has been participating in a planner exchange with a UK counterpart. She shares her relfections on the similarities - and differences - between planning in the USA and the UK.

Strategies for increasing housing supply, addressing housing affordability and acceptance of infill development, regeneration, and integrating transit and mixed-use development are common to planners in the US and the UK.

I had the chance to compare how planners are meeting these challenges in the UK and California in late 2015 via an exchange sponsored by the American Planning Association and the RTPI. I learned about the broad spectrum of stakeholders focused on the need to increase the UK’s housing supply.

Although I heard planning processes being blamed in part for the housing crisis, it was reassuring to see groups like Shelter countering with analysis identifying the influence of multiple factors and illustrating alternative growth options.

The interest in increasing England’s private rental sector is exemplified by new joint ventures such as Argent Related, pairing an English and American company. Both have strong reputations in placemaking through their real estate and investment businesses and work involving planners. There is potential for US firms to learn from the success of developments such as the St Pancras International-Kings Cross Station, while sharing their expertise operating within the multifamily rental sector of the US in developing areas such as Brent Cross South.

"Joint development ventures in the public sector are of growing importance"

Joint ventures in the public sector are of growing importance. In 2015, while Transport for London announced plans to build 10,000 homes in London over the next decade, two of California’s transit agencies, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Bay

Area Rapid Transit, both adopted policies facilitating housing development on transit agency land.

These plans include provision for affordable homes (‘inclusionary provisions’ – akin to Section 106 requirements, but without the statutory foundation). The less complicated financing structures for affordable housing here would be envied by US developers, especially in California, where multiple subsidy layers are common.

Our exchange experience reinforced that, despite different political and organisational structures, we have many common planning objectives, providing rich opportunity for reaching across the pond.

Linda was involved in an exchange with Jamie Ratcliff of the Greater London Authority. We’ll see Jamie’s thoughts on US planning in a future issue. Find out about planning exchanges here.

Linda M Wheaton is assistant director of intergovernmental affairs at the California Department of Housing and Community Development

Image credit | Shuttershock

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