In the past few weeks we've seen plenty in politics commenting on planning and how we should solve the housing crisis.
Labour have published their policy paper "Land for the Many", which includes amongst other things the easy target of "planning jury service"*&. The Tories are again, on the look for a leader, and planning for housing gets an occasional mention.*! Also on the hunt for a leader are the Lib Dems whose website has a petition to end the housing crisis - not sure how this will come to formulate policy in the long run. Even the outgoing PM has attempted to stir up a legacy on design and space standards.
Cynicism aside, the sunny weather meant I could actually take a coffee and the Times on the patio this weekend where I learnt that Prince Charles was going to "solve the housing crisis one cottage at a time".*%$ What's this I thought? Isn't this the same Prince famous for talking to his plants?*"
It turns out Prince Charles, through the good people at the Princes Trust have put together some great ideas and policies that would, in places, embarrass the big political parties. The full paper is here but the 14 point call to action is as follows: -
- Controlling land, capture value. Oh good lord I thought when it started here - Prince Charles wouldn't endorse the same king of value capture those promoting CPO for agricultural land value returns only are doing would he? No - it talks of front loading the plan led system with more detail on "quality place-making" at plan stage - insisting on quality at detailed planning is always too late (presumably from the recognition that land value has now been agreed).
- Making public spaces and places. Clearly defined public and private realms are important for security but well designed public space adds values - closer considerations is required for its long term management.
- Blending business with housing. Small medium and large employment space should be integrated with the larger plots (with greater traffic demand) on the outskirts. Small employment spaces should have flats above them and be encouraged in local centres and along main movement routes. These businesses (often start ups) should be encouraged with lower rent and rates*!".
- Designing streets for people not cars. By creating an "event" (public space or break in the building line) every 60-80 metres cars are naturally discouraged from getting above 20 mph. (Other texts I have read recently provide support for the claim that cities have been redesigned to suit the vehicle in the last 100 years and car free days have benefits far beyond the emissions drop).
- Making popular and beautiful buildings. Collaborative design exercises using local people and local experts. (Ok this sounds a little bit like Labours "planning jury"...). The difference here is a repeated stress on this being earlier in the process - a "local" pattern book or housing manual - in fairness to the planning system, this is often done, particularly by SPG for key development quarters and conservation areas.
- Enabling long-term stewardship. Recognising that the landowner is the most important decision making - he/she should be incentivised to choose sympathetic developers and builders. It is unclear how this can effectively come into fruition and in my experience landowners who intend to stay local are often quite good at maintaining this control however the idea that public sector land can be used to provide exemplar models is key to progressing this.
- Diversifying the Housing Market. Small to Medium sized developers as well as different investors are key to delivering mixed use communities. Incentives are needed early in the planning process to allow small builders access to development oppurtunities.
- Getting the best from big builders. Recognising that big developers work on (and budget on) certainty in the system - where they can find - the report recommends that quality controls and design standards are front loaded so they are fully costed into a competitive bid process for land.
- Breathing life into Heritage. Prioritising re-use and re-purposing of historic assets as historic buildings are important to communities and a sense of place. Strong local partnerships are required - though I would comment so is access to grant or other funding as some of these "assets" are simply liabilities when viewed on a balance sheet.
- The rise of the Mansion Block. Some of the most attractive places in London are mid-rise Mansion blocks but in this form they would breach modern build regulations. Work is required to the existing system of regulation.
- Social housing and the city fabric. Here they look at estate regeneration, but in a far cry from the headline projects where current residents are displaced looks at full public engagement and ascertaining how many residents want to remain and planning at the outset to give those residents the right to remain on completion.
- Remediation of brown field land. Effective public / private partnerships given the complex land ownership around such sites. Local people and businesses should be involved at the outset and the exercise to create any "vision" should remain flexible throughout.
- Combining fast and slow track methods. Can building cores be made on mass somewhere centrally with a "local render" applied by a local craftsman on site. If they - how is this done safely and with longevity and how do building regulations respond?
- Enhancing well-being with nature. Access to nature enhances physical and mental health however just building over green fields leads to a biodiversity drop. Creating networks of green corridors through a site is just as important as the amount of green space. Perhaps this is one for those dealing with Local Plans and their application to address - quantity over quality - don't assess a site on are of ground covered by something green with a commuted sum for any areas below the policy minimum but assess those policies in terms of the quality of the spaces created.
All of these ideas come from the Poundbury extension to Dorchester, built on land owned by the Prince's estate and the policy "magazine" shows them succeeding in action over the last 30 years. It turns out, if he weren't born to be the next in line to the thrown, he might've made a pretty good Housing Minister, imho
*& - I will give it a full read and give a full summary soon but I'm principally a bit scared to really turn those pages.
*! - it is unfortunately so occasional I cannot find a useful soundbite to hyperlink.
*%$ - the populist press would no doubt argue that this is better than his son spending cash payers money on his new pad - I would likely have some slightly more controversial comments to make here in defense of preserving listed buildings.
*" cue clip art spurious link - yay!
*!" - because the non planning article I read looked again at the death of the high street but from the perspective of business rates - much in need of reform and effecting large and small business.
"We must consign the monocultural housing estate to the past and now build beautiful, mixed-use, walkable places of which future generations will be proud" - HRH the Prince of Wales