‘Pink planning’ offers a new way to accelerate housing growth

Britain’s stymied housing sector is finally showing signs of life. After years of paralysis, there are encouraging indicators of a new willingness to build homes to meet years of pent-up demand.

As we point out in our new Pointmaker, A Convergence of Interests, published by the Centre for Policy Studies, only 136,000 homes were completed in England last year, way short of the 250,000 new homes a year required to meet the Government’s target of one million new homes by 2020.

But many local authorities are busy reviewing their policies for authorising new housing, not least because central government will do it for them if they fail to pass a Local Plan by the beginning of next year. The Local Plan sets out local authorities’ strategy for meeting identified housing need. In some parts of the country, this will inevitably mean reassessing green belt boundaries. Yet a significant part of the green belt is not particularly green and there is a lot of it: few people realise it has more than doubled since 1979, although no new town has been built since Milton Keynes.

Surrey is a telling example. More land is devoted to golf courses than housing in this county; in East Surrey no less than 77.8% of the area is classified as greenbelt. However, if the local authority is to comply with its responsibility to agree a Local Plan which meets housing demand, it follows that some parts of it will need to be redesignated for the creation of new homes. And about time, too, since some parts of the green belt could – at best – be described as amber.

Clearly, we are witnessing a redefinition of the green belt. Greater Manchester’s Combined Authority (GMCA) is currently conducting the first such review in 30 years while Basildon, Coventry and St Albans among others are undertaking similar reviews.

Our Pink Planning model, pink since it denotes a dilution of unwieldy red tape regulation, outlines a toolkit which enables a coalition of interests, drawn from local authorities, landowners, developers, builders, employers, and local community groups and civil society, to come together and adopt a special purpose vehicle (SPV) to shorten the planning process and create attractive new communities with appropriate physical and social infrastructure.

In the last half century, we appear to have lost the knack for creating a place where people want to live. Pink Planning offers a model for rediscovering this lost art.

Significantly, there is growing interest from institutional capital – what might be referred to as patient capital – to fund housing schemes and mixed use developments with appropriate infrastructure support. Hermes, the primary manager of the BT Pension Scheme and one of the biggest UK institutional asset managers with £21bn assets under management, has already publicly stated its commitment to the idea of building more new communities while Legal & General PLC, Britain’s largest institutional shareholder, has done likewise and is currently funding new housing and industrial sites across the country.

Our Pink Planning model is a consensual initiative aimed at mobilising sufficient funding to create and develop new communities and urban extensions to provide housing for Britain’s rapidly growing population, underpinned as it is by fresh demand from immigration flows from the EU and further afield. Our recommended SPV does not require legislation to be established – it could take a number of existing forms including a trust or a company limited by guarantee – but it will need legislation to recognise it and grant it special status (as has been done, for example, in the case of community land trusts).

One of the SPV’s primary attractions is that it can employed to manage shared community facilities. In creating such a framework, the SPV ensures that all stakeholders are equally represented and they all have a role in initiating, delivering and maintaining the new community, with housing, infrastructure and employment opportunities.

Our Victorian and Edwardian forefathers built many attractive suburbs and new communities, boasting extensive parks, communal services and sports recreation facilities. In the last half century, we appear to have lost the knack for creating a place where people want to live. Pink Planning offers a model for rediscovering this lost art.

Photo by tsbl2000

Keith Boyfield

Keith Boyfield

Research fellow, Centre for Policy Studies

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