Delivering the value of planning: new report says stronger planning authorities will create better places

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This month, the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has published a significant report suggesting ways in which good planning can deliver sustainable economic growth and tackle the country’s housing shortage.

Delivering the Value of Planning argues that properly resourcing councils’ planning teams, improving respect for planners and strengthening their influence, will lead to more and better development.

The challenges facing planners

The report contends that thirty years of almost continual changes in planning policy and regulation, along with cuts to local government budgets, has left the UK “incapable of consistently delivering good quality new places.”

The researchers also express concern about the widespread perception that planners act as a brake on new housing, economic growth and entrepreneurial activity:

Many changes have been informed by the flawed notion that planning has held back an otherwise efficient, self-regulating market that, if increasingly freed from its constraints, would be able to more rapidly deliver development.”

The impact of these challenges on planners themselves may be seen in the results of an RTPI survey, which found that:

  • nearly three-quarters (73%) think that constant changes to planning have hindered their ability to deliver good places;
  • more than half (53%) think that these changes have hindered housing development;
  • nearly 70% think that they are less able to deliver the benefits of planning compared to 10 years ago.

The report’s focus is on England, and the authors note that the policy debate around planning in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has generally been more positive and constructive. But they observe that here too planning in many ways “remains under valued, under resourced and under used as a positive enabler and facilitator for development.”

Where planning works well

Throughout the report, the authors argue that effective and proactive planning can deliver considerable economic, social and environmental benefits for society, including:

  • providing clarity and confidence for investments;
  • improving the quantity and quality of land for development and construction;
  • delivering more and better housing development;
  • lowering the cost of overall development and opening up opportunities for new development.

To demonstrate the contribution of planning to the creation of successful places, the report showcases five award-winning developments in the UK:

  • Cranbrook in East Devon – a new community created by proactive planning set to provide 7,500 homes over the next 20 years;
  • Brindleyplace in Birmingham – an urban renewal development which has preserved the area’s heritage whilst revitalising it to attract new business and leisure uses;
  • Upton in Northampton – a high quality urban extension comprising 1,350 homes, with a commitment to exemplary urban design and environmental sustainability;
  • Norwich Riverside – a large regeneration project which has transformed a former industrial site into a successful major residential, retail and leisure development;
  • Fairfield Park in Bedfordshire – where the local authority has played a crucial role in shaping a high quality, attractive development with a strong sense of community and good facilities.

Rising to the challenge: what needs to be done

Delivering the Value of Planning says there is an urgent need to take stock of the UK’s planning systems, and to debate alternative futures that might produce better results. It advocates three key steps in this direction:

  • planners need to raise greater awareness about how better economic as well as social and environmental outcomes can be delivered through well-planned development;
  • national and local government needs to consider the particular powers, resources and expertise that planning services require;
  • in both research and policy, the value of planning needs to be analysed to understand how its economic, social and environmental benefits can be maximised.

The report argues that planning authorities are in a good position to exercise leadership, and to think about places in ways that the private sector often cannot:

  • bringing together agencies, government bodies and service providers, to identify and deliver the best long-term outcomes across different policy areas;
  • setting and enforcing high standards of building design;
  • providing for public and green spaces to enhance the attractiveness of an area to residents, businesses and visitors;
  • removing risks and obstacles to development, such as contaminated land.

In the midst of a national housing shortage, the report calls for a stronger role for public sector-led developments, pointing to examples of good practice in Manchester, Norwich and Birmingham which have delivered more and better housing and development.

Realising the potential of planning

The RTPI report reinforces the planning profession’s strong conviction that planning is a solution, rather than a problem.

 “If the full benefits of planning are truly to be realised, we need reforms that exploit its true potential to reconcile economic, social and environmental challenges through positive and collective action, and which confront those sectoral interests that seek only short-term, self-interested solutions.”


Idox continues to support council planning departments through its land and property solutions.

We are also sponsoring three of the RTPI’s Awards for Research Excellence this year – the Sir Peter Hall award for Wider Engagement, the Planning Consultancy award and the Student award. The results will be announced on Wednesday 7 September 2016.

English Planning in Crisis: new ideas to recapture the purpose of planning in England

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“Essentially, the values of planning have been stood on their head, to the point where we have to ask whether the system remains fit for purpose.”

This is the stark assessment from the authors of a new book from Policy Press. In English Planning in Crisis, Hugh Ellison and Kate Henderson reflect on planning reforms since 2010, and argue that “the rich Utopian tradition that underpinned the town planning movement in England is dead, and needs wholesale recreation.”

The importance of planning

English Planning in Crisis highlights how essential planning is to the quality of life, noting that some of its key achievements have included securing mixed-use developments, the provision of social and genuinely affordable homes and protecting some of England’s most important landscapes. At its best, the authors contend, planning can provide for rich habitats and green space, good quality design, inclusion and resilience. But now, they argue, the once visionary town planning movement has become “little more than a residual form of land licensing.”

Reform and decline

The authors acknowledge that the decline of planning in England did not start in 2010. But they reserve particular criticism for the deregulation of policy on planning, housing and the built environment introduced under the coalition and Conservative governments.

Among the reforms in their sights are the withdrawal of the Code for Sustainable Homes, which had allowed councils to adopt their own sustainability levels as a planning requirement for new residential development, and the Deregulation Act 2015, which removed local planning authorities’ powers concerning construction, layout or energy performance of new dwellings.

There is also concern about extending the Right to Buy to 1.3 million housing association tenants, which the authors say has the potential “to transform socially and economically diverse communities into exclusively wealthy ones.” Similarly, they contend that the Conservative government’s Starter Homes policy (offering new-build houses at a price below their market value) will largely be of help to high earners.

Taken together, according to the book’s authors, reforms introduced since 2010 have resulted in a planning system that delivers poor-quality places, badly-designed dwellings, houses that are affordable only to middle and high-income earners, and ignores the challenges of climate change and an ageing population.

Planning beyond England

Before putting forward their ideas for rethinking the planning system in England, the authors look at planning systems elsewhere. They suggest that approaches adopted in Wales and Scotland provide pointers to how the English planning system can get back on track. They are particularly complimentary about Scotland’s framework for the spatial development of the country as a whole, which they suggest provides certainty and long-term thinking about planning. The authors also praise two regeneration initiatives in the city of Hamburg which have transformed derelict land into sources of renewable energy.

Ten steps to rebuild planning

The second half of English Planning in Crisis sets out a collection of evidence-based ideas for rebuilding England’s planning system. These include:

  • Replacing the current fragmented approach to planning for the future with a clear vision
  • Establishing a government department for spatial planning
  • Engaging with communities and individuals to develop solutions to the nation’s problems
  • Transforming the planning profession from an “old boys club” into a new generation of diverse and inclusive placemakers
  • Reform of planning education
  • A framework of equal rights in planning decisions
  • A national debate on house-building
  • Ensuring new homes are accessible for the elderly and disabled
  • Delivering sustainable homes, including a new zero-carbon policy
  • Fair taxation of land values.

The authors stress that these proposals are underpinned by the values of the Utopian tradition that inspired examples of planning at its best, including garden cities and the 1947 Town Planning Act. These values include social justice, fair rights to participate in decisions, and the fair distribution of resources arising from the development of land and primary resources.

In conclusion, the authors of English Planning in Crisis argue that only by reclaiming those essential values can England’s planning system recapture its purpose:

“Our future depends on the discovery of those democratic and altruistic qualities that once formed the ethos of town planning.”


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Starter Homes: affordable housing at an unaffordable cost?

By James Carson

A report from homelessness charity Shelter has suggested that one of the UK government’s key affordable homes initiatives will be out of reach for many people on average incomes.

The ‘Starter Homes’ initiative was launched in December 2014, offering first time buyers under the age of 40 in England a discount of up to 20% off the normal price of new homes built on brownfield land. During the general election campaign, David Cameron promised that by 2020 200,000 Starter Homes would be built by private builders and sold for no more than £450,000 in London and £250,000 in the rest of England.

The government has claimed that first-time buyers paying an average of £218,000 for a home would save £43,000 under the Starter Homes scheme.

However, analysis of the programme by Shelter suggests that it will not help the majority of people on the new National Living Wage or average wages into home-ownership in England by 2020.

Cheaper homes but not cheap enough

Shelter looked at three typical household formations in each local authority in England earning a range of different salaries to assess whether they were likely to be able to afford to buy a Starter Home. The study found that:

  • Starter Homes for families earning average wages will be unaffordable in over half of local authorities across England in 2020.
  • Families on the National Living Wage will only be able to afford a Starter Home in 2% of local authorities.
  • Single people on low or average wages will struggle to afford a Starter Home in 2020 in the majority of local authorities.
  • London, the South East and the East have the lowest number of areas where affordable Starter Homes under the schemes threshold could be built, despite high demand in these areas.

The scheme is being funded by changes to the planning system, exempting developers from their obligations to include affordable housing in building schemes. The government says that these ‘Section 106’ obligations typically add £15,000 to the cost of each new home being built.

However, even before its latest analysis, Shelter was expressing concerns that the removal of these requirements would lead to Starter Homes ‘cannibalising’ genuinely affordable housing. There are also questions about whether the homes will come with the necessary infrastructure in place.

Government pressing ahead

Nevertheless, the government is pressing ahead with the programme and extending its scope. In August, chancellor George Osborne announced that the Starter Homes scheme would be extended to some villages as part of the government’s rural productivity plan. At the same time, some of England’s major house builders have pledged their support for the scheme, including Barratt, Cala and Taylor Wimpey.

Even if it meets the target of 200,000 new homes by 2020, the Starter Homes scheme on its own will not solve the national housing shortage. Around 250,000 homes need to be built each year to keep up with demand, but in 2014 fewer than 119,000 homes were built in England. As the Shelter report concludes, the Starter Homes programme is no silver bullet for the housing crisis:

“Starter Homes would primarily help those on very high salaries or couples without children, but they are not a good replacement for other forms of affordable housing and will not help the majority of people on average wages struggling to get an affordable, decent home. The government needs to look very closely at this policy before going down the wrong track.”


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The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of further information on housing; to find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Further reading*

The home front (interview with Brandon Lewis outlining plans for housing)

Building to order (development on brownfield sites)

A living countryside: responding to the challenges of providing affordable rural housing (CPRE Housing foresight paper no 5)

Housing summary measures analysis

Tackling our housing crisis: why building more houses will not solve the problem

*Some resources may only be available to members of the Idox Information Service