John Walls, RTPI Scotland Executive Committee Member, discusses an RTPI fringe event at the Liberal Democrats Conference
The above subject was addressed by a panel of Liberal Democrat politicians and planning professionals at a successful fringe event organized by the RTPI while the Lib Dem Conference was in Glasgow.
The Lib Dem representatives set out their stall illustrated their interest in housing with regard the housing needs and situations in each of their localities. Craig McLaren, Director of RTPI Scotland, explained the planning context observing on the differences between Scottish and English practices including a reference to the 3rd National Planning Framework (NPF3) – the novel feature being that the Scottish Parliament was more favourable to planning than is true South of the border. This was a revelation to our English visitors.
Cllr Keith House’s (Leader of Eastleigh Borough Council) contribution was perhaps the most interesting, in that at the time of the by-election triggered by Chris Huhne’s resignation, Eastleigh Borough Council had two major housing applications in front of them. The Council made the difficult choice of not postponing them and to confront the issues which could have de-railed Lib Dem’s chance of winning the local seat. He also gave his perspective on the challenges facing housing and planning as the planning representative of the Local Government Association.
The following question and answer session revealed a broad spectrum of issues. This ranged from the need for sensitive, good quality, ‘good neighbour’ housing development in smaller communities to strategic policy issues ranging from the intelligibility of Housing Needs and Demand Assessments and whether the market could ever be relied on to provide the houses the country needs – an implicit government policy assumption.
John Walls was passionate about the fact that the market would always fail to provide the country’s housing needs for commercial reasons (ie to maintain price levels, profitability, etc). In his view, the politicians should be considering charging the planning system with the responsibility to deliver the country’s housing needs. They should be asking what planning powers and resources ware needed to deliver this housing? The post war New Towns, the Urban Regeneration Companies and English Partnerships (who inherited the New Town residual land and property portfolios) had all demonstrated that the public sector in collaboration with the private sector could deliver successful balanced development.
Kevin Murray, Chair of the Academy of Urbanism, then went on to eloquently talk about the challenges facing the delivery of housing and regeneration based on his experiences across the length and breadth of the UK. These included NIMBYism, xenophobia for foreigners, ethnic groups, providing for mixed communities not to mention meeting affordable housing needs as well as the lack of incentives and powers to deliver the desired change. Craig McLaren observed that the Scottish Government are pushing the use of CPOs. However, local authorities haven’t used them much in recent years and are slow to take the powers up. Is this lack of practice, lack of confidence or lack of resources or all three? Of course, as Lord Greave observed, the use of CPOs had to be for a purpose and this was not always effectively defined in our plans. This could undermine positive action.
While it is difficult to assess how the politicians took these points on board, one would like to think that seeds were sown that the planning system could deliver more if asked to do so.
The panel comprised Cllr Ashay Ghai, Depute Leader of East Dunbartonshire Council, Cllr Keith House, Leader of Eastleigh Council (Chris Huhne’s constituency area), Baron Greaves, or as he preferred for the night, Cllr Greaves of Pendle Borough Council and Craig McLaren, Director RTPI. The evnt was sponsored by Savills and Local Dialogue.