I was reminded yesterday at the Town and Country Planning Association’s annual conference, themed Rebuilding Britain, that the housing strategy is two years old this week. It lead me to considering what’s changed in the intervening period.
We’ve seen the new NPPF and, more recently, NPPG and some settling down of the new planning system. We've seen a return to a significant degree of planning by appeal, or “planning by surrender” as I heard it called yesterday – local planning authorities throwing in the towel at appeal. Then there's the new neighbourhood planning process. And, of course, CIL - although curiously not one mention was made of it yesterday. So, lots new.
The Planning Minister, Nick Boles MP gave the key note ministerial speech yesterday. He believes that the planning process should be capable of delivering the new, large-scale development required to address the chronic housing shortage. He’s an advocate of the garden cities principles of development, and so in that respect he was well received by the audience. He understands the need for good stewardship of new communities to ensure the creation and maintenance over the long-term of high quality places. He also wants to see if neighbourhood planning-lite can be introduced with reforms to the current system to speed it up and make it less cumbersome.
We also heard from Labour’s shadow planning minister, Emma Reynolds MP, proposing a new programme of new towns and garden cities for building at the scale required to achieve Ed Milliband’s ambition of 200,000 houses per annum by 2020.
But Nick Boles and his colleagues, and those who will come after him, have to address the challenge posed yesterday afternoon by Mary Parsons of Places for People: how to change the mind-set of middle England which is so often firmly against new development? As other speakers suggested, we have to take the fear out of new development by ensuring that, according to the old spelling rule “i” before “e”, infrastructure is delivered before expansion. And then we must be committed not to the building of new housing estates, but to the creation of high quality new communities, creating beautiful and long lasting places.