News: 9 February 2017The White Paper and New Settlements

In an emboldening of its policy position in the current NPPF, and on the back of the most recent announcement of new garden towns and villages, Step 1 (bullet 5) of the Housing White Paper states that the Government will make it easier to build new settlements.

As part of a suite of options identified to make more land available for homes, the paper sets out its increasing enthusiasm to bring forward ‘A new generation of new communities’ stating their aim “to make the most of the potential for new settlements alongside developing existing areas”.

Unfortunately, the Paper only just starts to float ideas, but really isn’t offering anything new to the table. It unsurprisingly stresses the importance of new settlements being well-planned, well-designed and supported by the necessary infrastructure, all supported by a plan to legislate for New Town Development Corporations (such as that already established at Ebbsfleet), which enable Local Planning Authorities to take a leading role in delivery. But can this realistically happen, do councils have the appetite and will communities let this happen? In pressing for the faster delivery of housing, the Paper commits to ‘exploring’ opportunities for streamlining the planning process. To that end, the White Paper notes the Centre for Policy Studies’ proposal for ‘pink zones’, which would involve the development of land outside all of the usual planning requirements and processes.  This is where a design code is created collaboratively at an early stage and delivery is coordinated by a Special Purpose Vehicle and, subject to seeing the detail, this could have the potential to create interesting, high quality new developments. We await further detail to understand how this would work in practice.

Although the Paper doesn’t identity any further locations (unsurprising given they only announced the expansion of the programme in January), it does reiterate that the Government is positively in favour of these types of development and wants to see more. This is encouraging to see given the number of further opportunities for new settlements that are waiting for their time across the UK.

The identification of new settlements has traditionally come from the private sector and faced significant opposition from local communities and authorities, normally only becoming accepted and badged as garden towns and villages once permission has been granted. Hopefully, the Paper’s more positive stance will embolden Local Planning Authorities to support, and even champion new settlements sooner in the planning process.

 

We also hope that the Government will be quick to act in exploring how the planning process can be streamlined to shorten delivery timescales that are often associated with larger scale developments, like new settlements. If their delivery can be taken out of the Local Plan process and brought forward locally then new settlements could make an even greater contribution towards increasing housing supply, and sooner than might normally be the case for developments of this kind of scale.

One obvious vehicle for bringing forward the planning and delivery of new settlements would be the updating of the New Towns Act.  The amended Act could be informed by the knowledge gained in the planning and delivery of the current wave of garden towns and villages, and based on Garden City Principles which have been honed for so many years by the TCPA.  An amended Act could see the creation of a new Garden City movement, committed to well-planned, well designed new settlements which are sought after as places to live by the communities into which they are built.  An amended Act could also establish the planning framework which would be necessary in order to streamline the delivery of new garden towns and villages.

Indeed, in our shortlisted entry to the Wolfson prize, we also suggested that new settlements could be delivered expediently by providing plan-making powers to the delivery body and by employing a range of existing planning delivery tools (such as Local Development Orders, Area Action Plans and Enterprise zones) to speed up the process. Finally, we would also hope to see future announcements made by the Government to identify financial resources to support Local Planning Authorities or new Development Corporations. If sufficient financial resources are made available to the public sector then the speed of delivery of new settlements could match the Government’s aspirations.

Given the dominance that New Settlements and Garden Cities have had in the housing crisis rhetoric, it’s surprising and to a certain extent disappointing that in reality the White Paper did little more than float ideas on their role. As more sites come forward and delivery of these settlements take place, we would hope that the Government can gain and build on momentum to make the New Garden City model a reality.

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