22 May 2018

Planning needs to offer beauty and choice if it wants to re-engage with people

Planning needs to offer beauty and choice if it wants to re-engage with people

Are you a BANANA or a CAVE? Or maybe you’re a BIMBY? These whimsical acronyms feature in Create Streets’ paper from NIMBY to YIMBY: How to win votes by building more homes

Quite simply:
NIMBY – Not in My Back Yard
YIMBY – Yes in My Back Yard
BIMBY – Beauty in My Back Yard
CAVE – Citizens Against Virtually Everything
BANANA – Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone

Among other things, the paper looks at how people perceive the risks around new development and the reasons behind NIMBYism, something it maintains is rarely examined.

The report identifies a major distinction about the English planning system compared to our European neighbours, namely that our planning system is not rules based (click here for more). Essentially, instead of working on a set of clear parameters, our system operates on a far more ephemeral case-by-case basis.

“Controversy and political debate therefore tends to be at the level of each individual decision, rather than when setting the local spatial and building plan,” writes report author Nicholas Boys-Smith.

This, he point out, leads to uncertainty and a lack of clarity, and importantly, is not typically a feature of prosperous planning systems in other countries.

“This increases planning risk, pushes up land prices, when planning is secured, acts as a major barrier to entry (above all for self-build and small developers) and lowers public support for new building, by increasing risk over what will be built (which is crucial in understanding why people oppose new homes).

“It is no coincidence that the UK market is one of the most concentrated, with one of the lowest proportion of self-builders.”

Interestingly, the experience of Custom Build on large sites that have outline planning in place with a Design Code/Plot Passport approach seems to indicate that building under a set of rules works well in the English context.

Graven Hill is proof of this, with its fast-track approach to individual planning permissions, which seems to be working well.

Perhaps this supports an argument for Scotland’s trial Simplified Planning Zones to be replicated and tested south of the border for fixed areas of large, new development, such as Garden Communities.

Raynsford Review

This month also saw the publication of the Interim Report of the TCPA’s Raynsford Review, which comes to a similar conclusion about planning, stating that people no longer trust the planning process to do what it’s supposed to.

Raynsford paints a depressing picture of a cumbersome system that fails to engage with community. One of the words he uses to describe what planning should deliver is ‘beauty’ – which I can’t imagine many people associate with planning currently.

But this should be a benchmark for planning, in addition to better homes, places and communities. Intrinsically, planning should relate to people and communities, as it contributes to our social, economic and cultural wellbeing, as Raynsford comments.

This is even more pertinent as recent research shows that we are all staying in our homes far longer than we used to do. This may be to do with the cost of moving or a lack of anything suitable to move into due to the dominance of the volume builders and their limited housing supply models – something that Custom Build can help alleviate.

Property pundits now frequently comment about the demise of the housing ladder, as people up and down the chain get stuck in their home.

And this seems to be a trend from higher-value homes right down to social housing, with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation recently referring to people on low incomes being stuck on a housing treadmill as opposed to a ladder. These members of society are stuck living in unsuitable accommodation that does not reflect their needs.

Even the much maligned Baby Boomers have been hard hit – at least those stuck renting. The National Housing Federation recently reporting that more than two fifths of private renters in England aged 50 and over – almost 500,000 people – were forced to make “potentially drastic decisions to cover the cost of their rent, including borrowing money from their own children, taking out loans and cutting down on food and heating”.

What’s more, the research indicates that the rising number of old people in the private rented sector could more than double the housing benefit bill for pensioners by 2060 from £6bn today to £16bn.

These bleak findings point to how vital it is that we work to get planning right now, so that the future generations have access to a housing supply market that’s evolved and kept pace with our changing society.

Custom Build has huge potential to feed into this as it offers diversity in type of home – the lack of which Letwin sees as a limiting factor in our housing supply market. But it also seems to have huge appeal with communities when tied with affordability and local connections.

Anecdotal evidence would suggest that this form of development is far more palatable locally, and can work well with regeneration as well, such as at Swan’s Housing Association’s Beechwood West, where customisation is able to offer up to a million choices on homes in the Craywood Estate Regeneration.

Custom Build and community-led housing is driving innovation in housing, with some of the smallest groups, such as OWCH, doing such amazing things that they are inundated with press attention. And yet it still feels like there’s such a long way to go for this innovation to feed into the wider housing and planning debate.

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