Posts Tagged 'planning'

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.

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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’

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.


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’

Pick ‘n’ mix housing policy?

Tessa Coombe’s reflection at the end of the party conference season is that once more politicians have failed to grasp the magnitude of the housing problem we face in the UK. She welcomes the enthusiasm of Policy Press authors Hugh Ellis and Kate Henderson and their timely reminder of what is possible with a ‘passionate ambition’ in their book “Rebuilding Britain: Planning for a better future”, as well as looking at the more direct criticism featured in Kate Barker’s latest book “Housing: where’s the plan”. Enjoy…


380451857_ce9bad11e3_zAs party conference season draws to a close are we any closer to knowing how to deal with the housing crisis? Housing has certainly featured on the agenda and been the subject of much discussion at many fringe meetings, but have any of the parties come close to a comprehensive policy approach? Sadly, my initial conclusion would be that once more politicians have failed to grasp the magnitude of the problem and have instead come up with a whole load of ‘initiatives’ that play at the edges of the issue rather than provide a strategic, co-ordinated and coherent plan. We continue along the lines of a “pick ‘n’ mix” approach to housing policy, where pet projects and short term ‘solutions’ are promoted for electoral gain – appealing to target groups rather than providing solutions for those most in need.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some decent proposals and some…

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New directions in research and policy ‘with’ and ‘for’ Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities

Andrew Ryder

Andrew Ryder, co-editor of Gypsies and Travellers: Empowerment and inclusion in British society

by Andrew Ryder, co-editor of Gypsies and Travellers: Empowerment and inclusion in British society, School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol

In the past, academia and Gypsy Lorists have conducted research ‘on’ rather than ‘for’ and ‘with’ Gypsy, Roma Traveller communities. Since Acton’s groundbreaking publication Gypsy Politics and Social Change in 1974, there has been a growing movement away from such hierarchical approaches. The publication of Gypsies and Travellers: Empowerment and inclusion in British society provides a platform for current UK ‘voice scholarship’ on Gypsy, Roma Traveller issues.

Many of the book’s authors have fused research with practice and activism. The book demonstrates the values of such emerging research approaches and their validity in policy formation at a national and European level. Such processes are, in theory at least, set to be given greater impetus through the establishment by the European Union of a Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies. The EU Roma Framework places an emphasis on engagement and deliberation with Roma communities, within which inclusive forms of research can play a pivotal role in facilitating dialogue, policy design and measuring progress.

Another point of importance is that academia in this field is coalescing within the European Academic Network on Romani Studies . This is being sponsored by the EU and Council of Europe and aims to “…facilitate intercultural dialogue and support efforts towards the social inclusion of Romani citizens in Europe. The project raises the visibility of existing research and fosters cooperation with policymakers, by providing evidence for better conceived policy initiatives”. Gypsies and Travellers: Empowerment and inclusion in British Society seeks to achieve similar objectives not just in reviewing the progress of social inclusion agendas at a UK and European level but also in adopting an intercultural approach facilitating debates on identity and diversity.

The book argues that inclusion may necessitate a paradigm shift in the UK and Europe from neoliberalism, and from what has been described as the ‘race to the bottom’. This is where nation states reduce welfare and intervention to make themselves more competitive and attractive to investors but where, through notions of the ‘small state’, they increasingly stand on the ‘sidelines’ and fail to intervene or challenge inequality. Evidence suggests that the adoption of neoliberal economic policies has come at a high price for Roma communities now confronted with the legacy of deindustrialisation, namely mass unemployment but also the role of scapegoat.

An alternative is presented in ‘global responsibility’, which is embedded in social justice and human rights. It is a worldview that seeks to promote responsible citizenship worldwide, based on the principles of solidarity and the dignity of the human person and the common good, and offers a global counter-hegemonic discourse.

Gypsies and Travellers: Empowerment and inclusion in British society, edited by Joanna Richardson and Andrew Ryder, published on 12 September 2012 and can be ordered now at 20% discount from the Policy Press website.

Are Gypsies and Travellers likely to be more included in local communities following the introduction of new planning policy by the Government?

Gypsies and travellers book cover

‘Gypsies and travellers’, published this week

By Joanna Richardson, co-editor of Gypsies and Travellers and Principal Lecturer in housing at De Montfort University, Leicester.

Councils across England are looking at the impact of new planning policy introduced earlier this year by the Government. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and its accompanying document the new Planning Policy for Traveller Sites requires local authorities to have an up-to-date body of evidence on need for Gypsy and Traveller sites and also to have identified a rolling five-year supply of land that could help in the deliverability of sites.

A decision made by the Planning Inspectorate in Hull that, due to a lack of up-to-date evidence, the development strategy was ‘unsound’, as reported by Inside Housing, has already created some anxiety amongst those councils who have not updated their Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessments, or identified land to include in core strategies. There is nervousness that planning decisions will be appealed in the future unless updated evidence is included in strategies now.

It is right that local authorities should concern themselves with planning and deliverability of sites, as the NPPF does create this impetus to ensure evidence on accommodation need and land supply is included in strategies. However, the challenge does not stop here; there is a need for councils to be concerned about actually delivering sites; and not just private sites but also affordable sites too.  Deliverability of sites is a hugely contentious issue as I found in my Joseph Rowntree Foundation research back in 2007 and this has not eased much since then.

However, there are many more issues facing Gypsy and Traveller communities which flow out of a lack of accommodation, not least the seeming hostility to Gypsies and Traveller in many communities. There are health problems, challenges in accessing education and employment and seeming tensions in the justice system played out to the world during the eviction at Dale Farm. The media and politicians have a role too and the discourse in our newspapers, television and online has not got any more responsible and balanced than examples demonstrated for some original research I carried out for my book The Gypsy Debate published in 2006.

The recent research undertaken as part of writing Gypsies and Travellers: Empowerment and inclusion in British society,  a new book co-edited with Andrew Ryder and including a number of renowned experts including from the Gypsy and Traveller communities, demonstrates that objection to new sites is still strong in many local communities. One co-author, Maggie Smith-Bendell, has lived this experience for decades and provides a compelling first-hand account in the chapter on accommodation needs and planning issues. Another primary eye-witness account from the Gypsy community comes from Richard O’Neill who discusses the challenges he faced in trying to monitor press representation of travelling communities and hold them to account. Other chapters in the book include an examination of health, education, social work and employment issues written by academic experts in their fields. My co-editor and author Andrew Ryder writes with Iulius Rostas on the EU framework for national Roma integration strategies so that the wider view can be taken and reflections made on progress for Gypsies and Traveller empowerment and inclusion in British society.

Our book shows that whilst there have been many changes in the political and economic context for Britain, the challenges faced by Gypsies and Travellers in this country are still severe and action is needed, now.

Gypsies and Travellers: Empowerment and inclusion in British society, edited by Joanna Richardson and Andrew Ryder, is published on 12 September 2012 and can be ordered now at 20% discount from the Policy Press website.

Author interview: Yvonne Rydin

Photo of Yvonne Rydin

Yvonne Rydin, Professor of Planning, Environment and Public Policy at the Bartlett School of Planning, University College London and Director of the UCL Environment Institute, is author of The purpose of planning, published this month. She was kind enough to be the first in our new series of author interviews. Here she answers some questions we put to her:

TPP: How did you come to be interested in planning?

YR: At university I tried out mathematics and then economics before coming across a multi-disciplinary subject called Land Economy. This really appealed to me as it allowed one to think about the environment from the perspectives of law, economic, property theory, planning and so on. I guess I had always been interested in the world immediately around me and this gave me the frameworks to understand why the countryside and our urban areas were the way they were. A spell in a surveying practice saw me working on planning appeals and development proposals. I became fascinated in the way that the planning system actually worked. This led to my first area of research on housing land policy under the Thatcher government of the early 1980s.

TPP: What areas have you been involved in during your career?

YR: I have been in a range of departments: estate or land management, applied economics, geography and then geography & environment, and lastly in planning. In each place I learnt about a different take on planning or, more generally, governing our urban and natural environments. I became particularly interested in the environmental agenda around 1990 and have since then tried to put all my interests together in terms of governing for sustainability, particularly urban sustainability. I have researched a number of different policy domains – housing, retail, transport, water , etc. – but in each case sought to understand what the planning efforts in the broadest sense were achieving.

TPP: Tell us about a typical day in your working life (if there is such a thing!)

YR: I am half-time in the Bartlett School of Planning and half-time Director of the UCL Environment Institute. So a day can combine teaching our MSc students on the MSc Sustainable Urbanism with work to support inter-disciplinary dialogue on environmental topics through the Environment Institute. For example, we are currently organising a two day Anglo-American Symposium on energy management and the built environment, and I am chairing a UCL Commission on Healthy Cities, bringing together colleagues across UCL to tackle the inter-relationship between the built environment and health outcomes. I also run an EPSRC-funded project on urban energy initiatives called CLUES, which is currently collating and analysing a database of such initiatives across the UK.

TPP: What do you think the purpose of planning should be – to preserve historic and interesting buildings, to encourage new builds to accommodate society’s needs of the 21st century, a combination of the two or something else entirely?

YR: The planning system has no choice but to tackle the whole gamut of problems that our urban and natural environments pose. This will involve managing the environments we currently have but also shaping change through new development and resource exploitation. This multi-faceted nature of the planning system creates many complexities for practice but the challenge is to deliver environmental change and conservation in line with public policy goals that carry broad support within society.

TPP: What are the major planning challenges for the 21st century?

YR: Undoubtedly the main challenge that 21st century faces in all policy domains in climate change and the need to restructure our society and economy to deliver carbon reductions within a timescale that will limit climate change. This has implications for the planning system since we will need different towns, cities and countryside once we have weaned ourselves off fossil fuels and developed a better understanding of the carbon implications of our activities.

TPP: How does the recently published Localism bill link to David Cameron’s idea of The Big Society?

YR: The Localism Bill is a fascinating mix of ideas. It proposes Neighbourhood Plans supported by Neighbourhood Development Orders which could give local communities much more say in the planning decisions and vision for their immediate locality. However for this to represent some form of local agreement on environmental conservation and change, there will need to be considerable involvement by local communities in neighbourhood planning rather than the ‘usual suspects’ dominating proceedings. This rather assumes we will be transformed into active citizens. But neighbourhood planning will still need the support of professional planners to give the wider picture, show how local development may have non-local consequences and enable local communities to think of long term consequences as well.

TPP: What do you think of the idea that householders may be allowed to build extensions without planning permission?

YR: In general I think this is a good idea. There is a lot of micro-management within the planning system that consumes considerable time and resources. That said, people often look to the planning systems to resolve neighbourhood disputes over extensions, etc. If this is taken outside the planning system there will be a need for neighbourhood dispute resolution services to be available.

TPP: And finally, have you ever sought planning permission for a project yourself and, if so, how did it feel to be “on the other side” with your knowledge of planning?

YR: Not in my private life but I started out my professional life ‘on the other side’. This gave me a clear understanding of how the economics of the development process is integral to urban change. As a citizen, I have attended public meetings around local development plans and must admit that I have often found them baffling and frustrating. There is a real need to find a way to engage with the public that recognises both what people actually want from planning consultation and how planners are able to use and respond to the fruits of consultation. Easier said than done!

Many thanks Yvonne. If you’d like to know more about Yvonne’s thoughts on planning, her book can be ordered here at 20% discount.

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