Back in 2013 I wrote a blog suggesting we need to introduce a 5% rule in relation to housing. In short every community should been able to build 5% more houses as windfall sites and with it a streamlined planning process. By every community I meant cities, towns villages and no limitations due to designations such as Conservation Areas. I still like the idea.
Everyone accepts there is a housing shortfall, land prices are very high, the planning process is slow, the strategic planning process even slower. We know there are few large volume house builders and there are shortages of trades, and sometimes materials to build them. Collectively all these separate factors mean that UK plc are pretty slow and getting anything built except for COVID 19 Hospitals. Infrastructure is partcularly bad and there are numerous examples. I will add HS2 to the list, already way over budget anyway. The only project I am aware of recently is the A14 Improvement Scheme which did open early and I understand within/under budget. Maybe this says more about the "management" of these schemes than anything else.
Back to housing. My biggest concern is the lack of quality and design. You only have to drive around any number of large scale developments and urban extensions and many are so bland. I appreciate that this has in part come about over time and the result of the overall process but are these places where people will want to live in time to come? Many are completely devoid of any character, they are intensively developed sites with little open space and worse of all "uniform". We are not creating communities.
As I drive around I do take some time to have a look around new developments and some simply are bad. I took this photo yesterday of a new build near Stoke on Trent. I am sure someone likes it but to me it was a development of unispiring homes. This one didn't have a side door off the drive so the meters are by the front door. The window proportions look all wrong and the dormer windows look like an after thought. The side elevations were just as bad.
I do like schemes which have variety. We need different house types and importantly use different building materials. I know quite a few surveyors more experienced than myself who can be parachuted into any development and they will tell you in a blink who built it. We need variety.
I have been working on two larger developments, New Lubbesthorpe (nr Leicester) and Houlton (Nr Rugby) which are both large schemes where the benefit of "Master Planning" is evident. Both of these schemes have wider boulevards connecting different parts of the development and more open space. Both have schools built and will seen local centres developed. As yet neither scheme has incorporated employment land and I still hope that we can build communities where people can easily walk/cycle to work. Maybe this will be one of the benefits of "COVID" as well as working from home.
Probably all of us working in the development sector would welcome change, it needs to be radical and actually happen. What I do fear is yet another Government White Paper on reforming the planning system which in itself would takes years to complete. Boris should (1) stop moving Ministers around (2) resource planning departments and agencies properly and get rid of the red tape within these organisations. A particular gripe I have is planning authorities who are reluctant to hold face to face (or Zoom) meetings and some agencies who simply think any form of meeting isn't necessary. At an early satge in the application process all parties should come together to work through the scheme. Why not on a major application use the "Charettes" method and over 2 to 3 days work through the scheme and agree the way ahead? Minerals and waste application are particularly bad for delays (some take years to determine) which isn't acceptable.
I leave you with a recent image of New Lubbesthorpe which I have been filming now for 4 years. It is exciting to watch a development grow and it is still at a relatively early stage.
Maybe one day I will see a pub and a corner shop built into a new development? Possibly also an office hub, a bakers, butchers, veg shop, a quirky coffee shop.............. village forge...........probably a step too far!