How Councils can settle a new housing target now the regional plan is dead

As someone who welcomes the end of much regional government in general, and the termination of regional plans and top down housing targets in particular, it is time to ask how should Councils use their freedom?

Councillors under the new regime can set their own policy. Of course it needs to be well based on objective considerations. I suggest a way of deriving a sensible housing target figure below for an area which has faced a lot of recent development and feels under too much pressure:

Introduce or strengthen the Green Belt and green gaps between settlements policy. Councillors can define the areas of our landscape that need to be kept free of new development to preserve the structure of settlements.
Have a policy of not building on floodplain. Some of the worst government Inspector decisions of recent years entailed building on areas subject to flooding, with bad results as we have seen. The Environment Agency would welcome a tougher approach to protecting floodplain.
Revise the density targets to reflect the suburban and rural style of most areas. Authorities outside main towns and cities should not be building at central urban densities.
Ensure sufficient land is demarked for leisure and recreation use.
Protect higher grade agricultural land for farming
Put in an infrastructure link – you could say that substantial new settlement construction needs investment in new highway and schools capacity to make it successful. Planning permission would not be granted for such development until contracts have been exchanged and the money found to build the infrastructure needed.

When your planners have included all these priorities into your plan or map, you can then see how much land remains which might be considered for housing. Then you can consider “housing need”. The past practise of expensive surveys asking each of us if we have people in our households who might want to form a new household in the years ahead is not a good way to identify local housing need. Housing need should be related to employment growth and decisions on commercial and industrial space locally. You can then calculate both how much housing you might “need” and how much space remains after the other policy requirements for land use.

For Councils that welcome more development and wish to encourage growth they can design a strategy which identifies more land for development and offers full collaboration by directing their capital spend to support the chosen areas for growth. Even Councils that wish to be mroe restrictive will probably have preferred areas for growth and brownfield sites for redevelopment.

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7 Comments

  1. Posted July 9, 2010 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    Reduce the pressures of an ever increasing demand would be a good move. Sadly yet to see happening but I am hopeful!

  2. Posted July 9, 2010 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    Sensible strategy. Now if we could just convince Wokingham Borough Council that they should not be building at near central urban densities on green fields across the borough, then I'd be happy.

  3. Berkshire resident
    Posted July 9, 2010 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    The countryside should stay the countryside. We should not be increasing the amount of dwellings in small villages by double, treble or more in order to meet council's targets for housing, and fill their desperate need for improvements to roads and schools via developer funding at no cost to the council.

  4. Posted July 9, 2010 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    Also, a neat way of using the markets to correct imbalance would be to end all travel subsidies. When people have to pay the real cost of their train journeys, for instance, they will seek to live nearer their workplace. Also, firms might be tempted to move out of London and into areas where workers are cheaper and more plentiful. Hence we reduce the need to build housing in the south east and take jobs to other areas of the country where land is cheaper and new houses will be more affordable. We might even find a council that is prepared not to build on a flood plain – or, indeed create one downstream of a new town….

  5. Posted July 10, 2010 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    The AG-RAG welcomes the new government's abolition of the old RSSs and WBC's (belated) decision to defer acceptance of the Master Plans and SDLs. WBC now has the opportunity to fully and properly consult with local residents on where new houses should be built and in what numbers. But the consultation from WBC needs to be real – not just paying lip service or going through the motions having already decided their policy.

    Judging by some of the comments being made by senior WBC councillors in terms of housing numbers they want to see in Arborfield, and that the Arborfield SDL is "all or nothing", the AG-RAG remains concerned that the peaceful and semi-rural nature of Arborfield is still under severe threat from WBC!

  6. Matt
    Posted July 10, 2010 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    The removal of regional government as a policy setting body does seem to make sense. Wokingham's core strategy already meets all of the criteria you've set out and so I assume you are supporting it.

    The government still seems to be shying away from a truly market led housing policy. As such it will end up overseeing some form of compromise that will neither deliver what the country needs (market led) nor appease the NIMBYs (strict planning control).

  7. Posted July 11, 2010 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    Just a terrible and shocking shame that Conservative voters in London have been exempted from this and are stuck with Ken Livingstone's housing targets. How can something be right for the rest of the country but not if you live in London. I really don't understand the logic…

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    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, He graduated from Magdalen College Oxford, has a DPhil and is a fellow of All Souls College. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.

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