Archive for November, 2014

From Wasted Space to Living Spaces: new CPRE report

Towards the end of last year, at a fringe meeting at Conservative Party conference, I made a bland point about the desirability of building on brownfield land rather than in the countryside. I said that there was enough brownfield land in England to build 1.5 million new homes, a figure taken from a CPRE report by Green Balance and based on the most recently available government figures.

I thought that figure was uncontroversial, but the then planning minister, Nick Boles disagreed vehemently – I never found out why – and earlier this year the Government quoted a potential figure of 200,000 new homes. There is a big gap between 200,000 and 1.5 million, so CPRE commissioned research from the University of the West of England (UWE) to try to establish a figure on which everyone can agree. Sometimes it is necessary for charities to do the Government’s work for it.

UWE’s report has now been published, co-authored with CPRE’s Paul Miner, and it estimates that there is at least enough suitable brownfield land in England to build 976,000 homes, including 405,000 on land with either outline or detailed planning permission. Continue reading ‘From Wasted Space to Living Spaces: new CPRE report’

A land use strategy for England?

My last blog was about Rebuilding Britain, by Hugh Ellis and Kate Henderson. The book is pretty despairing about the state of planning. There have been three major reforms of the planning system in the last 15 years, but little attempt to consider from first principles what we want to achieve.

‘Failure to agree on a planning system that achieves our desired goals’ was one of three failures of his time in government identified by Gus O’Donnell, former Cabinet Secretary, in a speech in May 2012.

‘Every time there is a recession, or even of a reduction in growth below trend,’ he said, ‘there is a call for more “structural reforms”. Top of the list is always the planning system. It is blamed for holding back growth and development. The problem is, in fact, a classic example of not being clear about the outcome that is desired. If it is to boost GDP, then the answer is simple: concrete over the South East. But of course that’s not what we want…’ Continue reading ‘A land use strategy for England?’

Rebuilding Britain: Planning for a Better Future

If you want to buy a book on planning, you will have more luck in a second hand bookshop than your local Waterstone’s. Enthusiasm for planning better places and (through them) a better society has declined with the ideological shift away from a belief in the state to trust in markets. The legacy of some pretty awful planning decisions has also not helped, leaving us with an unloved planning system and no serious public debate about what we want from it.

So Rebuilding Britain by Hugh Ellis and Kate Henderson of the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) is a very welcome book. It is short, well written and relatively cheap. I have not yet seen it on the best seller lists – perhaps people are waiting for Christmas – but it deserves a wide readership.

The book seeks to recover the utopian roots of planning, ‘a civic art expressed in music and poetry as well as design and architecture…. more than just a way to help you object to your neighbour’s conservatory…. focused not just on where we should live, but on how we should live’. A modest agenda, then. Continue reading ‘Rebuilding Britain: Planning for a Better Future’