Saturday, December 30, 2017

The obsession with the car and road building

In the tradition of DanthePlan attention is being drawn to a Government consultation: Proposals for the Creation of a Major Road Network (MRN) Consultation;  Moving Britain Ahead
to which replies should be submitted by 19 March 2018.
Responses are requested on the online form of pre-set questions.  However, these do not deal with the assumptions behind the funding of major roads. 

The Consultation says that, “Road schemes can create new links between communities and workplaces to deepen local labour markets, connect housing developments to the network, provide new routes on city and commuter networks or contribute to creating places that promote wellbeing through the management of congestion or provision for public transport.”  However, the MRN proposals are clearly very partial, and alterations to the road system can only be properly assessed on a systems-wide basis, including all other modes.  While public transport competes for both funds and for passengers/users, funding for bus/coach services is ruled out by the eligibility criteria. The MRN proposals are also very uncertain in the context of imminent changes to the road transport system relating to electrification and automation.  Other than the fact that these technological changes are likely to be very disruptive there is no consensus as to what they will mean for the transport system as a whole. Part of this uncertainty is created by the Government not being pro-active in seeking to ensure that the changes to be implemented will be positive (in terms of accessibility, fairness, and carbon reduction/elimination) and, instead, is pursuing a private transport/road-building agenda which is likely to frustrate positive changes or reduce their effectiveness.
The MRN is all about road transport without any mention of carbon reduction targets where the transport sector is a laggard due mainly to car traffic (although road freight is also very significant). There is no analysis of how road building will help to make the transport system carbon neutral by 2040?   Given the close correlation between deadly levels of air quality and road traffic it is hard to support major road schemes which would exacerbate the medical, moral and legal issues being faced. Reducing congestion could reduce emissions until, as the NIC points out (see below), the extra traffic being encouraged by the road building recreates the same congestion but with more vehicles involved.
In ‘Congestion, capacity and carbon 2017’ the NIC stated, “It is possible, though expensive, to build more capacity on longer distance roads on the outskirts of cities, unlike in the city centre. But any such new capacity is still unlikely to solve the congestion challenge. Instead, it enables people to make different choices about where to live and work, and when and how to travel, which generate benefits for those individuals, but quickly fill up the new road space."  The MRN is being specifically promoted as building capacity in a way that the NIC has explained would be self-defeating.
A systemic approach is necessary to know whether any MRN scheme would meet the overriding objectives to, ‘reduce congestion, support economic growth and regional rebalancing, support housing delivery, support all road users, support the SRN’.  Increasing capacity on a major road will often increase traffic on the SRN that in many areas is also at capacity, and would actually increase congestion. Similarly a major road scheme could attract passengers away from public transport.
            Local authorities are experiencing real problems in maintaining their existing roads (a very significant issue for cyclists as road margins erode).  Most if not all subsidised bus services have been lost (leaving pensioners with freedom passes with no services).  But filling potholes and public transport enhancements are specifically excluded from this scheme.  In fact bus lanes and gates could be the only road ‘improvements’ that should be funded.
The technical as opposed to political response to congestion is a lower national speed limit. As the VIBAT study demonstrated this would be a necessary if not sufficient measure to reduce carbon emissions from transport. The reference to variable speed message signs shows an awareness that part of the carbon saving from lower speeds would be due to reduced congestion, but the modal and power shifts necessary to a low carbon transport system would not occur.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Clean Growth Strategy

Clean Growth Strategy (CGS): Published 12 October 2017

All planners would know that the Foreword to the NPPF states that  ‘The purpose of planning is to help achieve sustainable development….Sustainable means ensuring that better lives for ourselves don’t mean worse lives for future generations’. Greg Clark who wrote that is now Business Secretary responsible for the Clean Growth Strategy.  Readers of this blog will also be familiar with  Planning to reduce carbon emissions 2 that suggests that planning  for the use of land and building could reduce emissions by 50%.  It is very disappointing that the CGS barely mentions land use planning.
By painting an overly positive picture (the successes amount to low hanging fruit - closing of coal burning power stations and exporting manufacturing emissions.), the CGS underestimates the scale of the challenges being faced, in particular the de-coupling of GDP and carbon emissions.
The  CGS is not pretending that emissions from aviation will reduce (ie no questioning of the building of more runways) but seeks to rely on ‘flexibilities’ which are actually carbon offsets which it  might be necessary to reserve for more essential services than aviation, which is largely a luxury.
Global temperatures are already 1degree above the agreed datum and the agreed target is now 1.5degree that is half the increase of 3 degrees which is predicted to result from the current budgets. Worse, the investments already made in energy infrastructure would use up the world carbon allowance by 2050. In order to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets (covering the periods 2023-2027 and  2028-2032) the CGS accepts that there will need to be a significant acceleration in the  pace of decarbonisation. The Committee on Climate Change gets a mention but the requirement for it to take cost effectiveness into account in making its recommendations is left out. This is a major constraint on its ‘objectivity’ and reliability in advising Government.
It can only be for ideological reasons that the CGS relies on market signals and subsidies (grants) as the main agents for change.  There are areas where regulations (eg  planning controls and lower speed limits) should be considered as more likely to trigger the systemic changes that are needed.
It is interesting to see agriculture (UNCTAD estimate responsibility for up to 50% of global emissions) occupying a prominent part in the CGS.  “To support greater productivity of agricultural land, …use precision farming technologies on smaller scale farms, … and investigate methods to improve soil health and carbon stocks...Emissions from land use and agriculture falling by 26 per cent on today’s levels. This could mean that woodland cover (over 11 million trees) increases by up to 16 per cent and the emissions intensity of agricultural outputs could improve by 27 per cent.” The Government should be looking to the land use planning system to deliver these reductions but in more holistic and socially beneficial ways; forest gardening would offer some of the answers.
For housing the proposals are very disappointing, relying on building regulations and not planning.  The report at deserves a blog to itself but shows how the RICS is ahead of the RTPI in addressing climate change in its area of influence.  The RICS is also doing further work on setting benchmarks for the carbon targets to be met by development through planning requirements.  BEIS may be regretting  the damage done by the last Government and the Housing Standards Review and might be working its (and DCLG’s ) way back into carbon saving mode.  This is where the RTPI and planning lobby (such that it is) should be helping.
Under-occupation is not recognized as a problem, ‘consequential improvements’ are specifically rejected and cusping has not appeared on the radar.   Reliance is being placed on innovative construction methods including factory production and off-site manufacturing. It is unclear whether the CGS is up to date on the promise of biogas and syngas  and replacing gas boilers would be unnecessary if only consuming ‘green gas’ (and not fracked and fossil gas).
On transport (seen to be responsible for 24% of emissions)  there is a wait for more efficient vehicles and driving behaviour without any recommendations as to the regulations that would help (ie lower national speed limits). As David MacKay said in ‘Sustainable energy without the hot air’, a reduced speed limit would reduce carbon emissions at the twiddle of a knob (ie it could be immediate, equitable,  and at no pubic expense).

These are just a of the few points that could picked up from the CGS by those interested in helping the Government  create a regulatory framework that would have a reasonable chance of reducing carbon emissions in line with domestic and internationally agreed targets. 

Friday, November 24, 2017

Putting faith in planning

I have just attended two conferences looking at the future.  The SE EcoConnect event was about retrofitting about 20million homes by 2050 without adding to this liability.  A number of speakers introduced ‘elephants’ to the room (skills shortages, the privately rented sector, the wealthy owner occupier, condensation/ventilation, the extreme urgency of reducing emissions), such that the land use planners in the room (ie just me) were seriously outnumbered by the gathering herd.  This was just one more example of a conversation where the planning system might be key to the transition to a low carbon and sustainable future  (see Planning to reduce carbon emissions 2) but are being (self) excluded from the conversation – others being local/regional food, the health of soils, flood alleviation, mental health, social care, low carbon transport. I introduced the concept of custom-splitting (see previous posts) as a way to improve the balance between the size of houses and the size of households so that we get to a place where we insulate and heat the spaces we actually occupy.  I can’t say that this was greeted by as much interest as skills shortages, the performance gap between specification and implementation etc.

The second conference was organized by the TCPA on the day after a Budget that included no measures designed to reduce carbon emissions.  In this event the planners significantly outnumbered the elephants (actually under-occupation in Harlow not so New Town threatened to fill the room for a few minutes) but came up with more questions (and frustrations) than answers.  My suggestion that custom-splitting  dropped into the pond with no ripples apart from a private conversation revealing that the occupiers of a garden suburb in Bristol is looking at a Local Development Order to make subdivisions permitted development (together with detached dwellings/annexes at the end of the generous gardens) subject to some detailed design guidance. 

The TCPA inspired Raynsford Review is looking at the whole planning system and finding that nobody seems to agree with anybody else about what is to be done.  My suggestion was that taking a transition to zero carbon Britain by 2050 as a ‘given’ and an organizing principle could enable the Review to concentrate on those changes consistent with this energy/emissions descent and reject those that would not be.  This might concentrate minds and expedite the process.

Finally, I should mention two other events.  Peter Head (formerly of ARUP) gave the Nathaniel Litchfield lecture to the RTPI describing a collaborative planning process within which us land use planners might play a minor role.  His optimism was based on the extent that faith leaders had bought into the environmental agenda
This was followed by an Oxford Martin talk describing price signals that would direct multi national corporations along a low energy path.  For those of us not in the 80% who subscribe to a world religion, or believe that the capitalist system will necessarily save itself, and us with it, there is less cause for hope.

But we should not need ‘hope’ as a motivation for concerted action; ‘conviction’ should be sufficient.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Automated and electric vehicles bill

You wait for one post and along come two.  Not only can you comment to the NIC on Congestion, Capacity and Carbon, but comments on the Automated and electric vehicles bill can be submitted to by 16 November 2017.  Review the Bill at

This Bill gives the impression that autonomous vehicles are very close to be introduced onto our road system and seeks to remove the obstacle of what party would be liable for accidents and damage.  It then conflates these difficult problems with the 'range anxiety' faced by users  and prospective purchasers of electric vehicles. This is to be dealt with by requiring petrol stations to install charging points.

For those who believe that EVs should be encouraged and that the land use planning system should be used to speed up this process Parliament could be advised that there are more effective ways of bringing this about ie ensuring that new residential and commercial developments only or mostly have space for EVs (and associated charging points), that EVs are privileged in their use of parking at workplaces, recreation and retail and on lanes on motorways and trunk roads.  There would be no need for an expensive scrappage scheme if people traded there dirty internal combustion engine powered cars  (with pollution from tyres, brakes and road as well as from burning fuel) for freedoms allocated and limited to lighter and cleaner vehicles.  The Mayor of London might think that it is okay to be paid a fee to allow drivers to reduce the lives of those in central London and to allow the poisoning of the lungs and brains of children to continue.   Figures are being quoted that equate to the Battle of the Somme and the damage to young brains might not be reversible.

So Parliament could be told not to conflate autonomy with electrification and to concentrate on expediting the latter through intelligent use of the planning system (in which case further legislation might not be necessary).

Congestion, capacity and carbon

This is an alert for those interested in the provision of infrastructure in the UK.   At   you will find the proposals from the National Infrastructure Commission with an invitation to comment by 12 January 2018.

With 200 pages to digest and respond to it is only practical to provide a few prompts for those who might be motivated to respond. 
One of the interesting statements is the claim that. "It is not possible for the UK to build its way out of congestion. … The most effective strategy to manage congestion is pricing.”  The case against road building is very welcome but there is no evidence that pricing is a more effective demand management tool than lower speed limits (which would be systemic, immediately available, fair and at virtually no public cost).  A brief comparison has been carried out by GreenSpeed at  in the absence of the SEA that should have carried out.  As described, road pricing would be regressive (ie roads for the rich to drive larger vehicles further and faster), technology dependent and intrusive.  I  fact the GreenSpeed report  could have been titled 'congestion, capacity and carbon' as lower speed limits are targeted to effectively address those three issues.  The NIC refer to the 'knowledge corridor' between Oxford and Cambridge but encouragingly only mentions East West rail and not the Expressway (ie a road link that it says would just fill up with vehicles).

On other matters the NIC report seems to have overlooked gas from fracking and concentrates on how the whole energy supply system could be electrified.  It seems that  the supposed need for a bridging fuel is no longer necessary given the advances in efficiency and cost of solar, wind and batteries (or other storage).  Unfortunately Hinkley C is not described as the expensive white elephant it is now destined to be but taken as a given without criticism.

There seems to be an awakening to the advantages of express coaches but not yet to the extent that they might provide the capacity for commuting into London in a more flexible way than HS2, which will require the area around Euston to cope with about an extra 30,000 people per hour.  Saving a few minutes in the journey from Birmingham/the North will not seem so worthwhile when the station is closed due to dangerous overcrowding.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Planning for the right homes in the right places

Responses to the government's consultation 'Planning for the right homes in the right places' have to be in by 9 November. This consultation arises from the White (and green) Paper of Feb 2017

There is an assumption that changes to the National Planning Policy Framework are necessary instead of ensuring that the existing (2012) version is applied accurately and consistently.

The Foreword states that the "root cause” of the dysfunctional housing market is “very simple… ",  and justifies changing policies to increase supply. In fact, the root causes will not be fixed unless until Government understands that the true causes are not as stated in the consultation but a combination of;

a) the unequal distribution of the housing resource,

b) the mismatch between the type of houses and the needs of smaller households, and

c) government funded financial incentives and stimuli on the ‘demand’ side (eg Help to Buy, Housing Benefit, equity sharing) and the bank of mum and dad.

The Independent and the Daily Mail came out against the PMs conference pledge to provide £10 billion  more to Help to Buy pointing out that this maintains or inflates house prices disadvantaging all those not on the housing ladder.

The Government is convinced that "…much-needed new homes should be built. In doing so it will help to tackle the lack of affordability of housing in this country.".   refusing to grasp that this will have minimal impact on affordability see Oxford Economics and Redfern Review (  This is actually a convenient truth given the extreme difficulty in increasing supply sufficiently to impact on price.  Further evidence for a disconnect between supply and price can be found in All That Is Solid: How the Great Housing Disaster Defines Our Times, and What We Can Do About It (Penguin 2014) by Danny Dorling. A report prepared without a better understanding of the housing markets will not be a robust starting point for making important policy decisions. Recognition in later sections of the consultation that housing supply is not just about numbers does not appear to have resulted in the analysis accepting that increasing supply should not be the main objective or the finding the ‘root causes’ of the housing problem.

The belief that Help to Buy is a 'good thing' is shared by the Home Builders Federation a report that pleads for an extension beyond 2021.  In fact the subsidy for home buyers goes into the pockets of landowners as developers continue to pay inflated price for development land in the expectation of being able to sell at inflated prices.  The HBF should be arguing to discontinue Help to Buy as lower prices would actually widen the market.

The consultation is an opportunity to explain why a Government concerned about affordability should privilege the role of Community Land Trusts. It  is irrational for anybody concerned about property prices not to utilise the resource of CLTs which are designed specifically to keep housing at affordable levels.

It has become clear that SHMAs have not been the 'objective assessments of need' required by the NPPF. The Oxfordshire SHMA conflated 'need' with' requirements', and 'demands'.  It made no assessment of the scale of under-occupation.  It projected overall need as what number of dwellings would enable a level of affordable housing to be provided (at 35% of the total) or to accommodate a level of job growth described by the Local Enterprise Partnership.  It had no methodology to deal with the substantial growth of elderly households. Despite these failings it was taken to be the OAN by local plan inspectors and, 5 years later, is only now being accepted by Government as having exaggerated the quantitative need by about a third!  The new methodology described in this consultation will repeat these profound mistakes if it is based on the same or similar wrong assumptions.

There is little prospect of the new methodology representing an improvement if based on the assumption at para13(c) "…The affordability of new homes is the best evidence that supply is not keeping up with demand.".  The best evidence (see Oxford Economics) is that increasing supply has very limited impact on price. (eg the problem with market signals acknowledged in the consultation at para 19).  The fact that supply has little influence over price is not overcome by using 'median affordability ratios'. These might be used to justify an increase in supply, but prices (including or especially  rents) will still not fall.  The consultation repeats the fallacy (eg para 24 "There is considerable economic evidence that demonstrates that growth in house prices (and therefore worsening affordability) is inversely related to the level of house building." – from the Barker Review ) when  a genuine concern about affordability would suggest support for CLTs.

The 'limited grounds' for a, "47…. plan-making body" to adopt a different figure of need based on an, " …evidence base [which] is robust and based on realistic assumptions, and that they have clearly set out how they have demonstrated joint working.", is very likely to include measures of under-occupation which would be likely to justify the building of a very much lower number of dwellings, but of the size to meet the real needs of both new and aging households, taking into account the impact of down/right sizing (and custom splitting).

Problems of achieving cooperation between councils will arise from some LPAs adopting the simplistic approach based on 'median affordability ratios' and neighbouring councils that understand the qualitative aspects driving the different housing markets.  The Government could review the justification for removing the regional planning level and have this reinstated to overcome all the complicated arrangements being described in this consultation.

The advice at para 89 to meet different housing needs is welcome but no change to the NPPF would be desirable or necessary in light of the existing and adequate advice at para 50 of the 2012 NPPF.  LPAs (and inspectors considering development plans and deciding appeals) should simply be reminded by the SoS that assessments of different needs must be carried out and be relied on as the number of houses would be significantly affected (ie reduced) by balancing the size of households and the size of houses. It is possible (but untried) to influence the price of a relatively discrete sector (eg small houses) were supply to be concentrated and significantly increased (see para 88).  However, the Government must be prepared to meet resistance from housebuilders to any measure that would cause a reduction in price.   Their business models rely on house price inflation that directly conflict with the need for affordable housing.

There is a mass of evidence from the APPG on the Housing and Care of the Elderly, HAPPI, and Housing LIN on the housing needs of the elderly that have been downplayed or ignored.  The needs of this sector probably exceed the capacity of the whole housebuilding industry to provide housing.  But, if addressed (including custom splitting) would meet all other housing needs.  No (re)definition for 'old people' is required in light of the understanding that most if not all new housing should simply be focused on small households – regardless of age.

It is important that housing allocations or policies provided within NDPs are within a range consistent with local plans – but also of the type required. The SoS needs to clarify the point about 'positive planning' that has been taken to mean that NDPs cannot be proscriptive.  What should be made clear is that so long as the NDP is consistent with the strategic policies of the local plan and likely to be ‘net positive’ it can seek to prevent development. 

Most of the made NDPs and those being prepared are in rural areas.  80% of people living in villages express a wish to move within the village compared to about 20% in towns/cities.   In these circumstances the SoS should make it clearer (than it already is) that phasing policies are appropriate.  Currently, allocations in villages are being developed in the early years of the NDPs so that more development would be required to meet local needs arising in the later years of the plan.

The problems arising from the issue of 'viability' could be sorted by relying on 'existing use value' as the starting point.  There should be very little disagreement about that, unlike the uncertainty caused by what was actually paid – which should be immaterial. Reasonable levels of profits for landowners and developers could be specified.  There should be limited scope for disagreement about what is 'necessary' infrastructure’  (including genuinely affordable housing at levels specified in development plans) to be provided in order for new development to fully mitigate its potential environmental and social impacts.   There is an urgent need to improve the energy efficiency of all new buildings which could have limited cost implications.  These are assumptions that can be relied upon in the public interest without the need to increase transparency and expose the particular circumstances (and financial models) of the parties.  The pressure placed on infrastructure is not linear, in the sense that it increases with each individual additional house or job.  There will be thresholds that new development will have to negotiate by making higher contributions to avoid an area becoming less sustainable for both new and existing residents and businesses. There was and remains no justification to remove the liability for infrastructure payments from smaller developments. Housing markets vary across the country but the objective should be for all necessary costs to be covered (or planning permission refused) which might not result in financial windfalls from s106.  Windfalls from inflated land values would only arise from inflated house prices.

Bearing in mind that a substantial proportion of the planning application fees are actually being paid to benefit the council tax payer and other agencies to participate in commenting and often objecting to the proposals, rather than the developer, who has invested in the preparation of plans most likely to meet the examination under s38(6), the SoS should exercise caution before allowing any increase. Developers already pay separately for pre-application consultations that assist in shaping proposals in the way preferred by the LPA.

The root of the problem of delayed  'build out' has been that housebuilders over pay for land/sites and rely on house price inflation to enhance profits. The Government has expressed a desire to see the rates of self and custom building to rise from about 7% of 150,000 to 20% of over 200,000.  This system of delivery through self building conflates supply and demand so that all permissions are closely followed by implementation (even if some projects take some time to reach the final completion).  Self and custom building can also provide affordable housing (ie less than 80% of the market price for an equivalent property). As long as this sector is free of CIL and other payments (ie 106) it should fall within the definition of affordable housing that is also exempt so that the LPA does not suffer a double loss.  Custom splitting would be an even quicker to increase the supply of houses of the right type and in the right place. LPAs should be expected to have Local Development Orders setting out the terms on which custom splitting would be permitted development (eg energy efficiency refit).

LPAs should be told to reserve land from both allocations and permitted sites for custom building by individuals and associations of individuals and community led housing.  LPAs that do not reserve land from larger sites or vigorously promote custom splitting (eg through policies and LDOs) have little or no chance of meeting their legal obligation to provide serviced plots to those on the registers (a rural district has offered 6 plots to the 256 households on its badly advertised register and a London borough has not been able to offer any plots to the 400 on its register).  The SoS should take this opportunity to avoid the likely failure of LPAs to meet the registered demand that would result in appeals or even mandatory injunctions.   It is foreseeable that without encouragement (ie for custom splitting and reserved sites) the Government might have to repeal the legislation and accept the abysmally low rates of self and custom building.

Custom splitting provides the ‘right homes in the right places’ that is the purpose of this consultation.  The resultant homes and gardens would fit the space requirements  of the two (or more) households involved. The homes would be where there are existing services and facilities.  If the permission to subdivide (express or deemed through LDO) is subject to an energy efficiency upgrade then the chances of fuel poverty is reduced.  The works can also upgrade accessibility for the disabled and elderly.  The financial arrangements can include sale, rent or rent to buy (as a form of equity release).

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Climate Breakdown Plan

The Government had 'promised' an emissions reduction plan (ERP) pursuant to the agreement by the Cameron Government to comply with the agreements in Paris to limit  global warming to 2 degrees (whilst seeking to achieve a 1.5degreee limit).   The post on 4/12/17 or 4 April 2017 provided a link to Planning to Reduce Carbon Emissions ( that explains how the land use planning system could be used to reduce emissions by about 50%.  Before the 2017 election the Government announced that the ERP would be issued in the autumn and would take the form of a Clean Growth Plan (CGP).  Would it be too cynical to believe that this suggests a watering down of the commitments that  were seen  as necessary to this country's contribution to the achievement of the Paris COP?
Hopefully there are NGOs ready to challenge the CGP if it can be seen to be an inadequate just as Client Earth managed to force the Government to improve the air quality improvement strategy (which will still prove to be inadequate and result in legal challenges).  For those who remember that the 'bedroom tax' was a tag given to the 'spare room subsidy', it would seem to be sensible to label the Clean Growth Plan as a Climate Breakdown Plan that would be closer to its real effects.  The actual wording should be attributed to George Monbiot (column in The Guardian 30 August) who was asking for the use of some honest language in the debate about 'climate change' and regarded both that term and 'global warming' as inadequate and misleading.
Putting a shot across the bows can be a sign of weakness, signalling impatience or a concern that the Government might actually come up to the mark.  However, in a case where the Government is wedded to GDP as a measure of its performance, and no convincing plan for 'clean growth' has been produced that would achieve the carbon reductions required by the Paris COP, it seems to be reasonable to get the retaliation in first and prepare to unpack and challenge the Climate Breakdown Plan when it eventually emerges.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Migrating to a problematic future

In the Go-Between (1953) LP Hartley suggested that, 'The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there'.  It is equally true that the future will be a foreign country where things will be done differently.  In that sense we are all migrants from an uncertain present to a  future that we hope will include answers to our various problems and crises.  I hope that both cynics and sceptics will show some patience and give cusping a chance and this is why...
As the idea of custom splitting is discussed, the benefits and challenges both become clearer.  This is the latest description - with apologies to those readers who would like to hear something completely different.

All parties with an interest in how the planning system works (from the Chancellor of the Exchequer down to the rough sleeper in the shop doorway) should be looking for ways of sharing out the existing stock of housing before simply adding to the supply.  Until ways to re-distribute this scarce resource have been fully explored the need for new housing cannot be objectively assessed or known.   

The case for custom splitting

Over the years houses have been subdivided in a number of ways to form self-contained accommodation[1].  A divorced couple introduced a horizontal division to a four storey terrace.  A bungalow was extended upwards and divided into a pair of semis for a couple to live in close proximity.  Rear extensions have been added to a detached house providing extended accommodation to enable its division for a daughter to live next to her father.  Converting and renting out a semi basement has allowed a couple to stay in the family home. Etc etc.
The idea of 'custom splitting' (cusping) has been out there for long enough to know that it can meet individual circumstances and add to the overall housing stock with minimal building works involved.   However, there are a growing number of reasons to believe that local planning authorities should be encouraging cusping in order to move it into the mainstream in the provision of ‘new’ housing. 

The fact that one local planning authority has been able to offer just 6 serviced plots to the 253 people on its Register in just the first year of it seeking to discharge its duty under the Housing and Planning Act 2016[2]  is probably quite typical, and suggests that a  radical change will be required if the legislation is to retain its credibility.  The problem is likely to be most acute in larger urban areas.  Will LPAs increase the difficulty in joining the registers to avoid being faced with applications and appeals on land being proposed by prospective self/custom builders arguing that the LPA has failed in its duty – a corollary of the argument successfully used by developers on appeal that a 5 years housing land supply is not being maintained? LPAs are expected only to cover their reasonable costs, and eligibility criteria can lead to two tier registers but not seen to completely exclude interested households.
Planners should be addressing the challenge of finding ways to house people in existing urban areas and closer to existing facilities and services than on peripheral estates.[3] Matthew Carmona (Thinking small to think big TCPA August 2017) was arguing for an increase in urban densities by building on small sites and adding storeys in order to meet the need for new housing in London, describing a process of ‘proactive densification’ as a ‘generational challenge’, and one with the co-benefit of helping smaller builders.  These are important matters but barely touch on the full range of benefits that could be derived from a concerted attempt to systematize custom splitting.  

The Government and opposition parties appear to be equally concerned about the failure to increase the rate of delivery of new housing.   In support of the legislation adding the duty to provide serviced plots to the requirement to keep registers  of individuals and associations of individuals[4] the Government is making substantial grants available.  However, getting from the current 7.7% of the new  built homes being completed each year (<15,000) to closer to 20% of 300,000 which are said to be required( ie 60,000), is unlikely to happen without a significant level of cusping. The Bacon Review addressed in a 2021 blog is unlikely to move the dial, and does not refer to sub-divisions.

The level of under-occupation of both bedrooms and living areas in the existing housing stock (even in Inner and Outer London) is far greater ie over 50% than the levels of overcrowding ie less than 10%.   The potential of cusping was looked at in 2016 by the Intergenerational Foundation[5] estimating that there could be 4.4million dwellings readily available for sub-division. In 2016 the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Care and Housing of the Elderly received evidence that there could be as many as 8 million households looking to downsize were attractive smaller dwellings made available. This emphasizes the need to increase the supply of housing suitable for the elderly that is unlikely to be met even if all the 200,000 new dwellings that the industry might be capable of providing each year were dedicated to that sector.[6]
The Intergenerational Foundation has revisited the issue of under-occupation in Stockpiling Space

By normalising sub-divisions through custom-splitting an important step would be taken to sub-dividing properties into more 'units' in expanding the choice of co-living in other forms. This could be seen as a form of multi-occupation, but would imply all residents having a share or stake in the property and its equity.
Demand for  renewable electricity from road transport and manufacturing (including MMC for housing)  will increase over the next decade.  This will require the space and fabric of existing housing that is being insulated and heated/cooled to also be occupied to meet genuine housing need and, incidentally, reduce the need for new building with the high levels of embodied carbon and loss of biodiversity and soils. In 2022 the Environment Audit Committee complained that the embodied carbon in new housebuilding is being ignored and  meeting Government new build targets (recently being softened if not reduced) would consume the whole carbon budget for all sectors.

The benefits

The benefits of cusping, some of which have already been touched on, would  include:

-  Reducing unsustainable levels of under-occupation in urban, suburban and rural areas.

- By making energy upgrades a condition of granting planning permissions or Local Development Orders[7], the existing housing stock (excluding registered providers with generally higher standards) of which 80% is currently at the equivalent of EPC D or below could be upgraded to EPC B and above.[8] This would reduce the possibility of either household falling into fuel poverty. Works involved in subdividing properties would be little or no more disruptive than the necessary deep energy refits.

- Cusping would enable older households to downsize-in-place in what could evolve into a Lifetime (or 15min) Neighbourhoods. This could also involve adaptations of all or part of the property to Lifetime Home standards avoiding the perverse incentive to continue to live in an unnecessarily large home.

-  In the choosing of partners and the designing the accommodation, the process of cusping could include the respective households seeking to meet their current and foreseeable needs in terms of caring for children, the sick, disabled or elderly (obviously on the understanding that personal circumstances are subject to change).

- The choice or partners would involve matching financial needs, but also the other resources and skills that could be shared and acquired and contribute to the efficient and cost effective implementation of the sub-division. As with custom-building the principle is in the customised design and...

- However proficient the parties, many projects are likely to create some work for smaller tradesmen and builders (some laid off from the reduced need for new building).

- The parties could negotiate and choose how the garden could be subdivided in the short and longer term (without building on it) allowing ageing households to maintain a larger garden that is normally available with smaller properties and those designed for the elderly. This form of ‘downsizing-in-place’, overcomes the under-estimated problem/excuse of clearing the loft of stuff that can be concentrated at one end.

- Both parties would be able to negotiate and choose between renting and buying all or part of the respective parts, some being intentionally shared (eg accesses, garden areas, garages or sheds). Rent-to-buy could be popular model.

- The original owners could release equity without re-mortgaging or taking out high interest loans – renting out the separated dwelling could provide an income, possibly through rent-to-buy.  This might make custom building (through splitting) accessible to the younger generations which are currently being excluded due to the high upfront costs.

- The density of people (potential custom for local services and facilities) would be increased without building on open land (some brownfield land has become very bio-diverse), including gardens.

- The issues surrounding the non-implementation of planning permissions being experienced in the new-build sector would be avoided as custom building of all types effectively conflates supply and demand.

- The works involved in sub-dividing properties represent a very efficient use of materials and labour that are both increasingly scarce and expensive, especially following Brexit.  It would be more expensive to buy part of an existing plot but should be much cheaper to complete a conversion to self-contained dwellings than to start on a bare site,

- By matching those with spare space that they are willing (and keen) to share with those on the Registers, LPAs would have a reasonable chance of meeting their legal duty to provide serviced plots,

- Cusping at scale would provide a 'realistic alternative' to supply housing that should be fully explored before permitting new building in Green Belts.

- Residential sub-divisions would also reduce the pressure to develop peripheral estates in the open countryside.

- Sub-divisions providing self-contained accommodation would be consistent with the proposal to change the General Permitted Development Order to allow upward extensions without express permission so long as a separate/additional dwelling would be created.

-  The works of sub-dividing a property into two or more self-contained dwellings is subject to a reduced rate of 5% VAT even if not the zero rate applicable to new build.(the Chancellors 2022 Spring Statement reduced the VAT rate on most insulation products).

Some of these 17 potential benefits of cusping at scale; addressing the shortage and/or distribution of housing, increasing energy efficiency of buildings and addressing fuel poverty, potentially providing social care (even if just through good neighbourliness), are non-trivial and represent a form of 'sustainable development', and more so than probably all forms of residential new build.  In the current jargon, custom-splitting should be seen as the ultimate in "co-production" that implies extra challenges but, hopefully, even more benefits and rewards.

Helping it happen

The central government grants available for custom-building should be made available for cusping.  LPAs persuaded of the benefits of cusping should be prepared to make grants available to cover the upfront costs associated with the feasibility, design and/or conversion that could be recovered either on completion of the works or as a charge on the property that would be repaid on its later sale.  Policies in local plans should set out the circumstances when cusping would be supported (or opposed?). This could be greatly simplified through the making of Local Development Orders (eg specifying energy standards and minimum room sizes).  Registers should be kept of property owners wanting to be introduced to those on the custom building registers who should also be asked to include their willingness to engage in the sub-division of an existing property rather than wait for up to three years if they are lucky enough to even receive an offer of a serviced plot at an acceptable location and price.
Those engaged in selling/renting houses should introduce a 'new' service by selling/renting parts of properties. 
Councils and housing associations could designate/reserve houses to act as safe havens while a property was being sub-divided and given a deep retrofit and mobility upgrade. 


Once the planning system has paved the way, the main challenges might be for designers to find efficient ways to meet the access and space requirements of both the original and prospective households, to specify the energy efficiency and noise insulation measures, and to separate the services (ie plumbing, drainage and electrics).  Divisions might be horizontal (ie into flats) or vertical (ie into semis).  Small extensions might be required for additional hallways, stairs/lifts or bathrooms and kitchens.  All these  changes will be in the context of necessary deep energy refitting. There might also be challenges for lawyers and lenders to tailor the legal documents and financial arrangements to the needs of the parties. 


There might be objections from those afraid of increased demand for on- street parking.  This concern should not be allowed to get in the way of a process that would meet so many interests of acknowledged importance, but it would be possible through the use of conditions (or the terms of an LDO) to address this potential impact and even use cusping to encourage the transition to a lower level of car ownership targeted at Zero  Emission Vehicles.

[1] This article is not about HMOs which are probably the most common type of sharing but with less privacy and independence than provided by cusping.

[2] Now Self and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015 (as amended)

[3] It will not help in practice to call a peripheral estate a “sustainable urban extension”

[4] A nod towards the co-housing movement which is also needing help from the planning system

[5] Unlocking England’s Hidden Homes (

[6] (

[7] Local Planning Authorities can adopt Local Development Orders in order to make residential sub-divisions ‘permitted development’ subject to conditions or prior notification including energy standards and minimum space standards

[8] The ‘consequential improvements’ proposed and then withdrawn (when branded a conservatory tax) by the 2010 Coalition Government was the last attempt at maintaining if not upgrading the housing stock