It doesn't really matter what the development is, a wind turbine, HS2, a fracking site, an urban extension or even a new "city" the common reaction is "I am not against growth but I don't think the development is suited here". In most cases it is personal, it is change, it impacts your day to day life, it may reduce the value of your property. I am not going to dwell on this but will say why on earth don't we have an equitable compensation system. In the context of the construction cost for the big infrastructure projects the % of the total property compensation relative to the project cost is low.
Over the past week we have seen the alleged secret report on the proposed two "cities" to be built in the South East. Makes sense as that is where much of the growth is, where the jobs are and if developed on the basis of the former "Garden Cities" could be nice places to live. To my mind they aren't exactly cities, more like large towns so why not push the boat and build something of some scale. In parallel with this and very much across the UK we are told that there are rafts of planning applications being submitted by over zealous and greedy developers. We hear that these applications in many cases are being granted permission due to the fact that many authorities don't have their Core Strategies in place and that their land banks are below 5 years. Whether it is a new city of urban extension these are both of some scale and will help fill the gap in the nations housing shortfall.
We acknowledge that the housing shortfall is a nationwide issue although also accepting that the demand in some area will be greater than others. The traditional method is that planning authorities will through their Core Strategies allocate areas for future development and this process is where the national developers are organised. They have the long term vision, the funds, the wherewithal, the skills to promote sites and provided that scheme complies with the policies, surprise surprise they get planning permission. Seeing that Core Strategies cover periods of upto 15 years it is all long term, orchestrated and lacks flexibility.
I would like to make a case for a further parallel and potentially greater contributor to the housing shortfall. In short every settlement should accommodate a 5% increase per in house numbers as windfall sites. May sound far fetched and risky but why not. It would need some rules and parameters (but have to be simple) and deliver homes we need. My thinking is that most communities could accommodate a small increase in housing numbers without creating the issues and problems often associated with the larger schemes. I am sure many will argue that the incremental or culminative environmental cost and infrastructure impact will be the same but the point is it will be spread much more evenly. To achieve it we would need to relax some rules and policy not least being the war against the car. Get over it, people will always use cars, public transport is never going to replace them. What is more important to me is having work work closer to home.
To get this moving the next thing we need to do is reform the planning process. The only reason planning applications take upto 8 weeks to determine is that legislation says that is how long you need. If legislate said it has to take 2 weeks, guess what, it would take two weeks. There are lots of good planners in the local authorities and equally the numerous agencies and statutory consulters have experienced and skilled staff. They have to comply with the rules and regulations, it's not optional, what they need is greater latitude and direction. If you take the actual amount of hours for a planner or say highways officer to do his work on a residential application we are talking about hours of work, not weeks. It is the over-riding process that takes the time. In my world I would aim to turn around single residential applications in two weeks. You have a weekly meeting with the planners and statutory consultees and the applicant. Issues are resolved there and then. Work on the basis that planning is granted unless there is an over-riding reason why not.
Radical, different and not everyone would be happy. I believe it would work and as a bonus we would see far more interesting houses built. I am an advocate of the self builders but there are also many excellent small builders who would also help to deliver the housing we need. More importantly it would add interest and a diverse range of developments. We are not building communities and housing that have lasting character. We all love and migrate to the old market towns and the thousands of villages which have character, they are not uniform, they have evolved. In 50 years time I can't see dormitory towns or new towns/settlements becoming places to visit. Maybe Poundbury is the exception.
Radical maybe, it won't happen as there isn't the will to take risks and guess what, it will still be the case of "I am not against growth but I don't think the development is suited here".