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More power to planners will ease Britain's housing woes

Housing development

Planning needs more power to realise plans - and strong advocates, says Shelter's Toby Lloyd

It might disappoint readers of The Planner as much as us at Shelter to know that planning is rarely thought of with much enthusiasm. It’s a legislative hurdle for large developers or a destructive bureaucratic force among Nimbys. Rarely is it thought of as it should be – a chance for civic engagement with a local community to build the towns and cities of the future. 

Despite being the most dominant, groups with a negative perception of planning by no means reflect public sentiment. Our research shows that 69 per cent of the public are positive about having more homes in their area, compared with 11 per cent who strongly oppose development. So why are people who want to block development more effective?

“What’s needed is not less planning, but stronger mechanisms to ensure that what gets planned, gets built”

One reason is that it is far harder for a community to see through an ambitious neighbourhood plan than it is for others to block it. Neighbourhood and local plans carry little legislative clout and are easily overcome by well-equipped legal teams of large developers. Commitments to public space and affordable homes can be circumvented and treated as luxuries instead of necessary elements. 

What’s needed is not less planning, but stronger mechanisms to ensure that what gets planned gets built.

The Neighbourhood Planning Bill going through Parliament could solve such problems by strengthening neighbourhood plans and clarifying the rules on compulsory purchase. The proposals could go further, particularly by giving councils stronger CPO powers to incentivise landowners to release land for development at prices that allow the plan’s vision to be realised. 

Such reforms would allow communities to positively shape the vision. This could help ensure that plans are adhered to and would open up the possibility for the community to capture the uplift in land value to deliver civic value rather than just financial value for the landowner. 

This isn’t ‘pie in the sky’. Nansledan is a 4,000-home urban extension to Newquay (with 30 per cent affordable homes) based on long-term civic goals shared by the community and the landowner (the Duchy of Cornwall). Church Grove in Lewisham has its land held in a trust that has allowed for a focus on affordability and quality. These examples show what can be achieved when good planning is matched with good delivery.

We must continue to speak about planning eloquently and passionately, and encourage people to be romantic about planning and the opportunities it can bring to build affordable homes and communities that work.

Toby Lloyd is head of housing development at the housing charity Shelter 

Photo | Shutterstock


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