Arcadia for all?*

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Arcadia for all?*

Altair challenges the planning element of the Localism Act – will it deliver more housing where it’s needed?

Ever since I worked for an inner London Borough in the development control section of the planning department – incidentally assessing property conversions for what is now a large regional association – I’ve had more than a passing interest in planning: I qualified as a town planner before becoming a housing manager.

Town planning has an idealistic streak: think of town planners like Sir Patrick Geddes who thought that by changing spatial form it was possible to change social structure as well, or Ebenezer Howard, whose work led to the garden city movement. Today this is framed in words like ‘strong, vibrant and healthy communities, supporting health and well-being’.

In practice, will the changes lead to more and better homes for people, or longer delays to the planning approval process? The decision to do away with regional spatial strategies earlier this year (ahead of the Localism Act changes ) has led to a hiatus in approving new housing and other schemes. This should change as there will be a presumption in favour of sustainable development. The intent is that where a development is in line with the Local Plan it should be approved. The presumption is also intended to enable development where local plans are not up-to-date or there is no clear basis for decisions.

The Act also proposes more local decision-making and control, apart from major infrastructure schemes. There will be referenda for neighbourhood plans, and neighbourhood development orders to approve developments without normal planning consent. This could be a great opportunity for local engagement and decision-making.

Affordable housing is also mentioned in the consultation paper on reform of the Community Infrastructure Levy. The government is seeking views on whether some of the revenue from developers should be used for affordable housing. The National Housing Federation has already raised concerns that this will lead to less affordable housing secured through Section 106 agreements.

It remains to be seen whether the Localism Act will speed up the planning process and make it easier to obtain permissions when still required. It is essential that housing and planning experts and local communities work together to avoid some of the conflicts that have dogged developments in the past.

Judy Wayne is an Altair Director.

*Arcadia for All, Colin Ward and Dennis Hardy, 1984, a history of self-help housing on plotlands in the first 40 years of the twentieth century.