Archive for the 'Planning and housing' Category

Can academics help cities innovate?

Robin Hambleton portrait pic

Robin Hambleton

Robin Hambleton, author of Leading the Inclusive City, reports on how Bristol’s innovations in city governance are seen abroad and on how academic analysis can contribute to policy-making.

In the summer the City of Bristol was shortlisted for the International Award of European Capital of Innovation 2018.  The iCapital award goes, in theory at least, to the city within Europe that is considered by international experts to be the most innovative.  The winner of this competition will be announced on 6 November.

The European iCapital award emulates, in many ways, the European Green Capital Award . This international prize, which recognises the important role of local authorities and local stakeholders in improving the environment, has now reached its tenth birthday.  Bristol won this accolade in 2015, and the Bristol iCapital bid sought to build on this achievement.

Are these international awards important?  In an era of rampant, self-serving, city promotion, or ‘city boosterism’ as it is known in the USA, it can be argued that these awards might be in danger of rewarding cities with effective marketing departments, rather than substantive achievements.

Moreover, critics argue that international competition between cities can distort local decision-making. They claim that city leaders pursuing these prizes can lose touch with the need to focus on the effective local delivery of vital public services for local communities.

There is force in these arguments. Much depends on the rigour deployed by the organisations making these awards and on the way individual cities approach the bid process, should they choose to compete.

In the case of European iCapital the EU operates a pretty sturdy evaluation process.  It requires all applicant cities to submit fairly detailed bids. An independent, international jury assesses these bids against specified criteria. Shortlisted cities are then required to send a team of representatives to Brussels to present their proposal to the jury in person, and the team is then cross-examined on the content of their bid.

I should declare an interest.  Ideas set out in my book, Leading the Inclusive City on how to develop place-based leadership, have contributed to the development of the One City Approach to city governance now being implemented in Bristol. These ideas featured quite boldly in the iCapital bid and Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, invited me to join his team presenting the Bristol bid to the jury of evaluators in Brussels last month.  This was a nerve-racking but rewarding experience.

This year Bristol was the only UK city to make it into the group of twelve ‘finalist’ cities. An announcement by the EU last week indicated that Bristol has not made it into the last six cities. This latest news is  disappointing for those who worked on the bid.

However, there are, perhaps, three main reasons why participating in respected, international competitions of this kind is a good idea for cities.

First, the process of preparing and delivering a good submission can, in itself, help civic leaders clarify their thinking, improve their ideas and develop their strategies. Second, raising the visibility of your city in national and international circles is now recognised as an important task for modern city leadership.  This is not just because a good reputation can attract potential investors and talented people, it can also raise local confidence and self-esteem.  Third, some cities actually win these awards, and the funds can be used to enhance the quality of life of those living in the winning cities.

The Bristol iCapital bid places the city in a small group of cities within Europe that are seen, by independent experts, as highly innovative. In my view, to reach the final stage of this international competition reflects well on the city.

But allow me to raise a broader question.  Should academics participate in initiatives of this kind? Some scholars will feel that it is inappropriate to become closely associated with specific policy initiatives. They will argue, and it is an intellectually coherent argument, that academics should observe, analyse and reflect, not act in an explicit way as policy advisers.

A contrary view, and one that enlightens the shift to ‘engaged scholarship’ now visible in many countries is that, while scholars must, of course, retain their independence, scholarship can be improved and advanced by contributing directly to public policy debates and community-based campaigns.

 

Leading the inclusive city [FC] 4webLeading the inclusive city by Robin Hambleton is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £20.79.

Find out more about impact, influence and engagement at Policy Press here.

Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount – sign up here.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Feature Image from Bristol City Council.

 

How to build houses AND save the countryside

How to build houses and save the countryside [FC]On 5th March the UK Government announced a major overhaul of the National Planning Policy Framework, stating that it will “deliver the homes the country needs”. Shaun Spiers, author of How to build houses and save the countryside, out today, argues that although well intentioned, the measures don’t go far enough.

There was much to admire in the prime minister’s recent speech on housing. Theresa May called homelessness in our rich country “a source of national shame” and she is right. She pledged to increase house building, but to do so without “destroying the country we love”. And she attacked big developers for gaming the system and putting dividends and executive pay before building more homes. As I read the speech, I mentally ticked off many of the arguments in my new book, How to build houses and save the countryside.

As a country, we have managed to pull off the difficult trick of building too few homes while losing too much countryside. Unfortunately, however, the policy changes announced by the PM are unlikely to change this. They are well-intentioned, but they do not go far enough. How can we do better?

For years, debates on housing and planning have been largely shaped by free market think-tanks arguing for planning liberalisation: ‘Free up the Green Belt, let builders build, and the houses will come.’ Much of my time as chief executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) from 2004 to 2017 was spent reacting to some half-baked report from Policy Exchange or the Adam Smith Institute (Alan Bennett’s ‘Adam Smith Institute for the Criminally Insane’). As Keynes almost said, ‘madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some think-tank scribbler of a few years back’.

“the principal cause of our failure to build enough new homes is not planning restrictions, but the fact that the state more or less stopped building houses 40 years ago.”

The anti-planning think-tanks have succeeded in weakening the planning system, but successive reforms over the last 15 years have had little impact on housing supply. This is because the principal cause of our failure to build enough new homes is not planning restrictions, but the fact that the state more or less stopped building houses 40 years ago. It is extraordinary that so many clever people could look at our failure to build enough homes and conclude that planning, rather than the collapse in council house building, must be to blame.

The advocates of planning liberalisation ignor the fact that for 30 years after the Second World War, when more than 200,000 homes were built every year in the UK, local authorities built at least 100,000 of them. Between 1951 and 1979, 48% of new homes were built for social rent. After 1979, local authorities virtually ceased to build and neither the private nor housing association sectors increased their output enough to make up the shortfall. Thus the housing crisis.

“Where the planning system can be blamed for our failure to build enough houses is in its failure to control rising land prices. This is down to its weakness: what is needed is more planning, not less.”

Where the planning system can be blamed for our failure to build enough houses is in its failure to control rising land prices. This is down to its weakness: what is needed is more planning, not less. The 1947 planning settlement had two sides. Its role in constraining development is well known and explains why it is under attack in some quarters. But it also ensured a plentiful supply of development land at reasonable prices.

Between 1946 and 1970, work started on 32 new towns; these are now home to 2.76 million people, 4.3% of UK households. It was possible to create new towns because development corporations were given the power to buy land at agricultural prices, using the uplift in value that came with planning permission to fund the development. When work started on developing Milton Keynes, land contributed only around 1% of the cost of a new home. It now accounts for over half the cost of most new homes. The same principle can, of course, be used for sustainable urban extensions.

We must also do much more to use the plentiful supply of previously developed land within towns and cities. There is enough suitable brownfield land in England to build at least a million new homes, and the supply is constantly replenished. Developers prefer to build on virgin green field sites as they are easier to develop and more lucrative, and the current system allows them to do so. Sajid Javid, the housing minister, has promised a more ‘muscular’ state, but he appears to be more eager to take on ‘nimby’ protestors than to foster some serious competition to the few volume house builders who currently dominate the market.

What is needed is new housing providers, and the state – what Green Alliance trustee Mariana Mazzucato calls the entrepreneurial state – should be fostering them. However much the government pokes and cajoles them, the big builders have neither the means nor desire to build on the scale needed. We need new private sector providers – SMEs, custom builders, factory built homes – and fostering them requires concerted government action. The government should also support a serious programme of council house building – many Conservative councils are calling for the right to build – and fund housing associations to build social housing, so that they can recover their social mission. There is nothing un-Tory about this programme: Conservative governments built plenty of houses before 1979.

As for the so-called NIMBYs, those fighting to protect the countryside from more executive homes and anodyne, anywhere-housing estates have nothing to be ashamed of. My book makes the case for some new housing on greenfield sites, but if we are to lose countryside, let’s make sure we lose it to beautiful, well-thought out developments that do something to help those in housing need. That shouldn’t be too much to ask, should it?

How to build houses and save the countryside, by Shaun Spiers is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for just £7.99.

Find out more about impact, influence and engagement at Policy Press here.

Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount – sign up here.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Election focus: Housing policy predictions & radical solutions

In the run up to the General Election we will be bringing you insightful pieces from our authors on policy-relevant subjects, including housing, health, welfare and, underpinning it all, increasing social inequality.

Let’s look beneath the distraction of Brexit and Labour’s disarray and examine the issues we really need to be thinking about as we put our cross in the box on the 8th June.

DB pic

Duncan Bowie

In this piece, Duncan Bowie, author of Radical solutions to the housing supply crisis looks at what housing policies may be included in the party manifestos and explains the radical solutions we need.

“The focus on Brexit and the negotiations on withdrawal from the European Union has meant that housing has not, at least as yet, become the key issue in the election campaign that perhaps would have been expected had the referendum not taken place.

Debates so far have focused far too much on the contrast between Theresa May’s advocacy of ‘strong and stable leadership’ and whether or not the Labour Party leader is fit to be Prime Minister or the divided Labour Party is ‘fit to govern’. There has been little focus on policy issues, though (at the time of writing), the main party manifestos have not been published.

The political parties, including the Conservatives, were all caught on the hop by the election announcement and consequently the drafting of the various electoral offers have been somewhat of a rushed process. Even a matter of weeks before the election was called, Labour housing spokespersons were reluctant to make any policy statements policy on the basis that it would be premature to give commitments before 2020, even though housing was bound to be a key issue in the local and city region Mayor elections, which were scheduled. Labour was even hesitant to commit to repealing the 2016 Housing and Planning Act, despite the fact they had opposed it in parliament.

Continue reading ‘Election focus: Housing policy predictions & radical solutions’

The perversity in planning

Adam Sheppard, co-author of The essential guide to planning law, discusses planning policy and, in particular, the Prior Approval system and how this affects the delivery of homes in our communities. 

Adam Sheppard

“Planning is attempting to achieve things. It is trying to make things better.

Planning policy, from the national to the local to the neighbourhood is geared around enabling and realising improvement and forward progress. The regulatory decision making construct then provides the system to support the realisation and manifestation of these aspiration. Why then, is planning today steeped in perversity which serves to undermine it?

There is a specific example here that illustrates this point. This involves the Prior Approval approach – in brief, if something needs oversight because of a potential impact a full planning application is required and approval (hopefully) comes via a Planning Permission from the Local Planning Authority, whereas more minor matters can proceed with the benefit of ‘Permitted Development Rights’ and no such approval is required.

Continue reading ‘The perversity in planning’

Tax reform and a Corbyn-led government will save our local services

Peter Latham, author of Who stole the town hall?, argues that the Spring Budget highlighted the Conservative Party’s allegiance to the City of London, not the small businesses, entrepreneurs and self-employed they profess to support.

He says that, to resist Tory-driven austerity policies and save our public services, we need a resurgence of social democracy and a reformed tax system.

“The Chancellor’s decision not to increase self-employed national insurance contributions (NIC) by £2bn, in a U-turn following the Spring Budget on 8th March, showed that the Tory government is ‘imprisoned by a minority of its backbenchers and by the Daily Mail’ according to The Guardian, 16 March 2017.

Moreover, as Aditya Chakrabortty noted, the government’s policies ‘hit the just-about-managing harder than the rich’. For example, the 2016 red book lists reductions to taxes on big businesses worth £18bn over the next five years.

Conversely, Jeremy Corbyn’s devastating assault on the Chancellor’s provision of just £2bn over three years to cover the crisis in social care – just a third of what the Local Government Association calculates is necessary – was slated by the mainstream media for not mentioning the Tory manifesto: even though he attacked the decision to raise the NIC rate.

Many Tory MPs fight shy of acknowledging their party’s first priority to the City of London, preferring to pass themselves off as the voice of small businesses, entrepreneurs and the self-employed. Increasing Class 4 NICs for the self-employed stuck in their craw, leading many party members to inform Philip Hammond and Theresa May that they would not support it.

Continue reading ‘Tax reform and a Corbyn-led government will save our local services’

Why we need radical solutions to our housing supply crisis

There is now a deep crisis in housing supply in many parts of England. In his provocative new book, Duncan Bowie, author of Radical solutions to the housing supply crisis, argues that policy proposals promoted by Government and many commentators are either just tinkering with the problem, or will actually exacerbate the situation.

launch-pic-1_not-blurry

Duncan Bowie

We have not learnt the lessons of the 2008 credit crunch and in fact we have had a housing deficit whether the country has been in boom or bust.

It is time to throw off long held ideological assumptions as to ideal forms of tenure and the relationship of state to market.

There is a systemic problem which cannot be corrected by short term measures and more radical solutions are necessary if the housing market is to be stabilised and the delivery of new homes increased.

“Housing…is now the central component in inequity between households both within and between geographical areas.”

We need to recognise that if we are to tackle inequity in wealth and opportunities, we need to tackle inequity in housing, which is now the central component in inequity between households both within and between geographical areas. It is also central to the growth in inter-generational inequality.

Continue reading ‘Why we need radical solutions to our housing supply crisis’


Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Twitter Updates

Archives

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print.

The work on the Policy Press blog is licensed under a Creative Commons licence.


%d bloggers like this: