January has seen the release of two critical reports into the poor quality of Britain’s new housing, raising the question as to how housing and planning may evolve over the coming years.
The Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) published Planning 2020 “One Year On” — 21st Century Slums? – a follow-up to the comprehensive review of the planning system conducted by former Minister, Nick Raynsford.
Amongst other things, the report shines a light on the expansion of controversial permitted development rights and calls on the government to restrict rules that have allowed the conversion of commercial buildings into housing units without any proper safeguards on quality. An issue that has seen widespread media coverage in recent months.
The report highlights how inappropriate developments continue to occur with little or no say from local planning authorities (or communities) over their suitability for the locality or standard of accommodation. Horror stories include converted industrial units with no windows and a host of office block conversions.
The second report, A Housing Design Audit for England, conducted by UCL for the CPRE, concludes that Britain has experienced ‘a decade of disastrous housing design’ and that 75% of the new housing development should not have gone ahead due to ‘mediocre’ or ‘poor’ design.
Deregulation has been an obvious policy response to the considerable delays and sometimes deep reluctance to approve large housing schemes. Both reports point to this, and the pressures faced by local authorities to deliver short-term housing targets, as the root cause of the quality and design issues.
The question is, should the current desperate need for housing in the UK eclipse the longer term consequences of sometimes poor housing and development, especially when it affects the quality of life and wellbeing of the communities who live there?
The answer should clearly be no. But with mounting pressure to accommodate a growing population, a planning system with less control over what is built and where, and little incentive for housebuilders to improve current designs as they continue to pass through the planning process, is it any wonder we are where we are.
Raynsford’s report repeated the call for a new legal duty to focus the planning system on the health, safety and wellbeing of communities. The UCL report said that housebuilders, planning authorities and highways authorities need to significantly raise their game if we are to create the sorts of places that future generations will feel proud to call home.
One thing is for certain, there needs to be greater ambition across the built-environment sector to prioritise the long-term wellbeing of communities. This can have positive implications not just for communities but for developers keen to create lasting social value and, consequently, a positive reputation.
A balance needs to be struck between the provision of high quality sustainable development and meeting the urgent need for housing stock. The outcome for people and the future communities created by new developments must be at the forefront of the planning process, not an afterthought.
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