Beyond the Planning Bill: How can we deliver more, well-designed homes in the right places?



Craig McLaren summarises the recent UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE) roundtable which looked at the changes to the Planning (Scotland) Bill and explored how new approaches to planning can help us to build more, well-designed homes.

In launching the Planning Review that led to the Planning (Scotland) Bill, Alex Neil MSP, then Cabinet Secretary responsible for planning and housing, said the review would “aim to increase delivery of high-quality housing developments, by delivering a quicker, more accessible and efficient process, and it will reinforce our commitment to a fair and open planning system that works for everyone, especially local communities.” However, some felt that the Bill was a missed opportunity for housing.

Given this, a small expert group with a range of perspectives in planning and housing was convened to explore how best to look beyond the bill and examine three questions:

  • How can planning increase housing supply?
  • Can we better fund and coordinate infrastructure provision to support housing development?
  • What will be the implications of ensuring we have well-designed homes and communities that support given ambitions on quality of architecture, place and low carbon?

The group met for the first time last week and the discussion raised a number of interesting points.

Firstly, it was agreed that each of these issues cannot, and should not, be considered in isolation. There were connections and influences between the need to provide more housing, the quality of design and the provision of infrastructure. There was a definitive view that the outcomes delivered – homes, places and communities – were as important as the number of units completed. However, it was pointed out that this has not always been well articulated in the debate on the ‘housing crisis’.

There was also a general feeling that planning legislation, although important, was by no means the only tool or intervention that can help ensure we deliver a healthy supply of good quality homes in the right places. Secondary legislation, regulation and guidance could help, while the group also considered the many existing mechanisms that are perhaps not being used to best effect. And broader policy initiatives, targets and obligations would have an impact too.

That said, the possible need for system change was also discussed. There was debate as to whether there was a need for a more radical, interventionist approach with a stronger role for central and local government in assembling land, providing upfront infrastructure, de-risking development and sharing benefits. Models like this are used in other parts of Europe, although it was appreciated that there can often be different contexts and circumstances which enable this to happen elsewhere. It was also pointed out that exploring system change should not necessarily focus on the planning system alone. Planning works with, and is dependent upon, a number of other systems and players, especially in regard to funding and financing housing to ensure that planning permissions are actually implemented. Perhaps a whole system approach needs to be recognised, which understands planning’s key role in facilitating and paving the way for development, rather than having full responsibility for delivering it?

In discussing future approaches to funding infrastructure and ensuring that it was better linked to development, the group touched upon land value uplift models and ways of land value sharing. An important point was made that many of these approaches will take time to be developed, agreed, bed-in and then have an impact. It was agreed that there was, therefore, a need to look to more immediate steps that can be taken to break the infrastructure funding deadlock that many were experiencing.

For me the key issue – and one which was a thread throughout the discussion – was the need for a much more collaborative, collegiate and frontloaded approach to decision making on the numbers and location of new homes, and in the delivery models that could move local development plan allocations to planning permissions to development on the ground. It was felt that the relationship between the planning authority and the developer or applicant was crucial but not always constructive. This is not new and is frequently cited as a barrier to development. However, it was agreed that there is a need for a more granular investigation into the reasons for this – is it culture, system, mistrust, resources, governance? How can we develop approaches where developers and local authorities work more strategically to identify opportunities and share the uplift of land value?

The group is looking to explore how the collaborative approach can be facilitated in the future.

  • Craig McLaren is director of Scotland and Ireland in the Royal Town Planning Institute

This is the first in a series of blog posts reflecting on a recent roundtable co-organised by CaCHE and members of the Scotland Knowledge Exchange Hub, and hosted by The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). The discussion centred on opportunities arising from changes to be introduced in the Planning (Scotland) Bill and how new approaches to planning can maximise the provision of quality housing in Scotland. This article was originally published on the CaCHE website.



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