After an absence of many years I have just renewed my membership of the TCPA hoping that this august organisation will prove more conducive to my thoughts about the current state of the planning system. However, the TCPA is grounded in the garden cities movement and, not surprisingly, feels that the political climate (reflecting concerns on the quantitative shortage of housing) is looking at the prospect of building new settlements. this position is not very far removed from that of the Royal Town Planning Institute that has recently produced its document on Large Scale Housing. Readers of my blog will know that my strong preference is to use new housing as a driver of change in existing settlements; primarily balancing the size of housing with the size of households. I also believe that in terms of scale, building onto existing settlements and meeting the housing needs would be a quicker way of meeting the quantitative shortage of suitable housing. I am very unconvinced by the argument that NIMBYs are responsible for preventing this form of growth. The problem is that developers are not responding to the real housing needs of the individual settlements and bolting on discredited forms of suburban sprawl.
On 29 January I braved the elements and went to the TCPA conference on “The economic impact of housing". I thought I would share a couple of comments made by the consultant responsible for the building of a new settlement (in Scotland). My impression from the presentation was that emphasis was being given to the appearance of the buildings and spaces (a matter on which the planner said that our profession should be generally ashamed in contrast to the last RTPI President call to be “proud of planning"). This was somewhat ironic, given that I believe his consultancy was associated elsewhere with the development described by the current planning Minister as one of the worst he has ever seen! Whilst it would be stupid of me to be critical of designs of buildings and spaces that looked very attractive and appealed to my sense of aesthetic, I was keen to drill down into the other ways in which this new housing differed from what has been built across the country in the last 60 years. The response to my question about self-build/finish and co-housing was that no provision had yet been made for these “slightly alternative" forms of housing. Given the extraordinary level of control over this new settlement (predominantly in the ownership of one enlightened landlord) it seems to me that this is precisely the kind of opportunity for moving alternative forms of development into the mainstream - if not there, then where?
The previous week I had the pleasure of meeting a senior NHS manager with responsibility for commissioning care for the elderly and the county council officer with similar responsibilities. It was deeply depressing to find such significant support for cohousing from people in senior positions who are having such difficulty in finding any form of purchase or acceptance within the planning system. I have produced a Viewpoint for Housing LIN (an organisation dedicated to the issue of housing for the elderly) where the necessary reforms to the planning system are described.
So coming back to the TCPA, I look forward to the next 12 months to see whether it can objectively re-examine the housing needs and consider how these could be met without necessarily being married to the concept of garden cities that is such a significant part of the organisation's heritage.