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24/04/2015

Rethinking housing infrastructure

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Allocating housing land won't increase supply / Shutterstock_141093886

High-quality housing is about creating neighbourhoods - and that means making infrastructure a key part of planning permissions, says Places for People chief executive David Cowans

David Cowans of Places for PeopleTalk about housing and you have to talk about infrastructure. As obvious as that sounds, many objections to new housing schemes are often centred on the fear that the surrounding roads won’t cope, schools will be over-subscribed and there won’t be enough facilities to cater for additional residents.

In some cases such fears are justified. To overcome this we need infrastructure to go hand in hand with housing. That means moving it further up the planning and scheme delivery agenda.

High-quality housing isn’t just about design and architecture, it’s about creating neighbourhoods. New homes have to be supported by facilities that make people’s lives easier and more fulfilling, helping to attract and retain people and investment that will make communities, villages and towns prosper.

This requires change. We need to recast planning policy so that infrastructure provision forms a key part of the permission. Any plans for new housing developments must include a range of services and facilities to help that development thrive and make it attractive to existing communities. And those benefits need to be tabled and debated right at the start of the process, helping to engage more people and overcome objections to new development.

"Large scale housing should be considered 'nationally significant'"

Any form of planning gain must be specific to a particular scheme. That way, local people can see what infrastructure is being proposed for their area from the start. This would offer a more effective incentive than just the possibility of new homes, as well as a transparent mechanism for delivering infrastructure and responding to residents’ concerns.

If we strengthen the connection between homes and infrastructure large-scale housing could then be considered as ‘nationally significant’ in the same way as large developments in the transport, waste and water sectors. Housing could then be added to the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project process and determined by PINS rather than local councils.

Limited investment has been a major block to financing new developments and settlements, but there are signs that this is changing, with institutions such as Legal & General announcing new investments to help solve the UK’s housing and infrastructure crisis.

Changes to the planning system won’t happen overnight, but we will strive for it. Marrying infrastructure with new housing, stimulating investment and giving more people a voice could result in changes that will benefit existing communities and future generations.

David Cowans is chief executive of Places for People, one of the UK's largest development, regeneration, and property and leisure management companies.

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