Planning and development professionals gathered at the annual RICS Planning and Development Conference in London to hear key sector updates, including best practice examples to keep professionals ahead of the game.
The day, chaired by Paul Collins, was opened by Lord Matthew Taylor who gave a keynote on the progress of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). Although still too early to say if the new NPPF has changed anything, it is recognised that housing is a real issue. His main point was that the five-year period for the housing delivery test is too short and needs a longer perspective. He suggested that local plans and reviews of local plans need to be simplified and sped up and stated that there is insufficient expertise in local authorities about placemaking. Note that it is not just about numbers – quality, diversity of tenure, type, build method are also required.
Jennifer Thomas of MHCLG and James Fennell Chief Executive of Lichfields, who joined Lord Taylor, all agreed that it is still too early to comment on the impact of the revised NPPF. Good design practice continues to be encouraged and we need to plan positively for the long term. The mood was cautiously positive – in general things seem to be moving in the right direction and the panel felt that we need to work through this period of transition and let the policy bed down.
Barry Cummins General Manager Land Acquisitions at Homes England said that bigger, better, faster is one way that Homes England is working to solve the housing crisis. Its aim is to improve affordability and to ensure more homes are built in areas of greatest need.
Further objectives are to unlock public and private land by identifying land that is unattractive to others to develop.
It aims to build faster without eroding value using innovation such as Modern Methods of Construction, not just bricks and mortar solutions, and encourages good quality design and placemaking.
York central, one of largest brownfield sites in UK, is one of its current projects, working in partnership with Network rail, York council and National Railway Museum. Planning was approved in March 2019 for up to 2,500 homes.
It also works in the public sector and with SMEs to help them get a stronger foothold in the market.
Paul Sanderson IPTI, Jonathan Naughton of Urban Futures and Stephen Ashworth of Dentons discussed the need for more housing. All agreed that the political will and clear land and housing strategies from the government were missing.
Jonathan says that despite 50% of net wealth in the UK being in land there is no strategy. He thinks there is definitely a role for RICS professionals, perhaps as 'borough surveyors' for local authorities. Sustainability is key. Land value capture on investment stock is an intractable problem and availability of data is an issue. Stephen Ashworth preferred a right pricing approach, which works well where there is sufficient land value. We need a muscular land assembly, quality of design and planning and to use Community Infrastructure Levy more adventurously and with commitment.
Taran Livingston director of planning at LUC Bristol, Jennifer Peters head of London Plan and Growth strategies, GLA and Michael Braithwaite, town planner, Robert Doughty Consultancy discussed the advantages of regional spatial planning versus the current joint strategic planning approaches. Agreement on major decisions is a big challenge: how much growth there should be and where housing and jobs should go. With 343 local authorities in England each with its own political agenda and willingness to work with neighbouring authorities it is clear that there are lots of different regions all working in different ways. We need to stop repeating history and to simplify.
Daniel Mohamed of Urban Intelligence, planner and tech entrepreneur, believes that planners should be watching trends in the same way that stockbrokers watch the market. Currently planners are using outdated data because datasets are out of date as soon as they are published. One idea is to move away from documents and rely on live database models. Benefits include speed of analysing the data, reduced costs, instant, more realistic policy making and being able to test alt futures.
Duncan Field Partner at Town Legal LLP gave an excellent update on the latest case law relevant to planning and development and Tony Mulhall covered the RICS Financial viability in planning professional statement. Effective from 1 September 2019 professionals will have to comply with its 14 mandatory requirements.
Professor Christine Whitehead, housing economist, discussed international case studies and gave a best practice overview of the global opportunities. She gave an overview of how housing and systems work globally, including the general categories and problems. Key questions included: Are there any data? Is there a political will to provide the housing? Do you have clear legal system that defines property rights? Do you have a regulatory system that enables you to control the infrastructure and growth of the city?
President Chris Brooke FRICS concluded the day by commenting that RICS as a global professional body is collaborating with like-minded institutions to effect positive change in the environment. RICS has a key role in affordable sustainable housing which is a critical issue for many cities. He touched on other themes: urbanisation and climate change, and international cooperation for standards of practice. Emerging markets can learn from others' mistakes. With the rapid growth of the middle class comes increased demand for new property. Government and place makers want to provide homes for this group. The risks of building as fast as possible are that the quality of housing may suffer. RICS can use its global influence to prevent problems.
Journals & Content Editor
Sian edits the Land Journal. She previously worked at RICS on various isurv channels including Planning, APC and Residential as well as professional standards and guidance.