Opinion - Getting land built out: lessons from abroad
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Development
A new report for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has taken a look at how the planning system is preventing new housing being built.
Here, Sarah Monk, deputy director of the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research, University of Cambridge, and author of the report, investigates how planning issues are approached in other countries and whether or not such methods would work in the UK.
Building enough homes to meet a growing number of households has been an ongoing problem in this country for many decades.
The Barker Review suggested that the problem might lie in the planning system constraining the supply of land for new housing. However, planning permissions even in recession have been holding up – while new housing starts are still 45 percent below their peak in March 2007, with completions down 42 percent. The problem is not just how to get the most appropriate land allocated but particularly how to get that land actually built out.
Our report for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published today looks at what works in other countries and how transferable these different approaches are to the UK context. The three main messages are:
• There is no silver bullet – all countries struggle with balancing the desire to constrain urban sprawl with the need to build sufficient homes to make housing affordable;
• But some countries, while having hot spots, find it reasonably easy to provide adequate levels of new housing outside these high pressure areas;
• Planning instruments in successful countries appears to be used much more pro-actively in the land market than the UK.
Importantly we already have similar mechanisms in place - but often not used positively. So it is mainly about maintaining the same goals – supporting growth, limiting sprawl and providing adequate housing land which meets sustainability objectives - but using the instruments more proactively to create an overall coherent policy where these mechanisms are brought together transparently to achieve agreed goals.
Most successful countries have mechanisms which help local people embrace housing development. Smaller planning units can be more responsive and effective at delivering new homes. Neighbourhood planning in the UK may be a positive step towards this. But one such plan, agreed in Cumbria last week, does not make a summer – and there is inadequate compensation to those who suffer as a result of decisions.
In the Netherlands local authorities purchase land, service it and divide it into smaller parcels. They then sell these on to house builders at a price that covers the infrastructure/servicing costs. It is easier there because many authorities have a history of success – and therefore available funding – but some in the UK have been successful using somewhat similar means. In Cambridge a rolling fund originally enabled by the city’s growth area designation has been used to ‘lend’ developers the money to unlock infrastructure constraints on new housing schemes.
Reforms to the planning system are moving in the direction used by more successful countries with some incentives for development and local involvement. But government, both national and local, needs to be much more pro-active in the land market if it is to turn those planning permissions into homes on the ground. And probably the biggest issue is how much land around urban areas – more than these areas themselves – should be immune from any development whatever the benefits.