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Simon Prescott (Barton Willmore)

In his article, Barton Willmore Partner, Simon Prescott shares his thoughts and observations on SWO's Housing, Planning and the Economy event and argues that addressing the delivery of housing is a moral issue for planners, LEPs and local communities.

See Simon's Presentation (below)
Arriving a little late to the South West Observatory’s recent Housing, Planning and the Economy event at UWE last month I was thrown straight into Professor Glen Bramley’s excellent critique of the housing crisis and the impact that the planning system is having on exacerbating this. The Professor noted how many of “the downshifters” (authorities who have reduced their housing targets below former RSS requirements) are areas formerly known as significant growth locations. In Bristol and the West of England he also noted that affordability is getting worse in some way due to the fact that “…Local Authorities have cut provision by 35% relative to RSS when they removed urban extension proposals in 2010”. 

Delightfully Prof. Bramley was building up a good head of steam just as Nick Boles arrived, and observed that whilst these urban extensions are inevitably the most sustainable location for development they will require significant redrawing of the Green Belt. Given that the Planning Minister had just come from the Inspectorate, the Professor’s last bullet point was a perfect conclusion before he handed over, and the political nature of the issue was not lost on the Minister, when he observed that the Professor had clearly never stood for election! 

The Minister’s presentation offered a passionate and very personal critique of the acute housing shortage, the effect it was having in terms of affordability and the very real impact this was having on those not lucky enough to own their own homes. He put into words something that I have been thinking for some time, “…it is a moral issue”.  As a profession we need to point out the moral impact of housing underprovision. It is unacceptable that homeownership is a luxury for the over-forties or those with rich parents. The lack of homes impacts on us socially and restricts us economically.

I could not stop myself asking a question of the Minister about the contrast between the Core Strategies proposals in the West of England and either the RSS or the latest household projections, and in particular the absence of urban extensions to accommodate growth. Again, I thought his understanding of the issue was spot on as he stated “I think in Bristol and surrounding Authorities a process is no doubt exploring, in painful detail, the duty to cooperate and, at the end of that process, it will be very interesting to see if they reveal that some of the ideas previously floated were actually good ones.  What I accept and am very worried about, is that this transition costs time, and that every year that goes by without building houses, we need more and we still have not built the ones we should have built in the last three years.” 

This was an aspect I sought to explore in my presentation. The evidence is there to support the need for urban extensions to Bristol, but the tensions built in to the cross-boundary plan making process raise difficult issues that are still being played out. It goes back to the point discussed at the Planning Inspectorate earlier in the morning; Policy in the NPPF is now so short that each and every part of it counts, that includes the part about ensuring that Local Plans meet “the full, objectively assessed needs for market and affordable housing”

I am not in the school of thought that believes localism is doomed for failure.  I can see how it can work, but it needs both sides to play by the rules. The moral argument in favour of new housebuilding demands that. As I said in my presentation, I always viewed localism as a pact with communities: if you help plan enough homes, you can shape where they go and what they look like, but you need to plan for enough homes if you want that power. I gave an example of the neighbourhood forum that I belong to and how we are doing just that. I also suggested how the LEP could help create a stronger framework for strategic planning in the area.

In conclusion the message is one of strategic planning that advocates the merits of housebuilding to support economic growth, facilitates collaboration and, more fundamentally, delivers in our duty to support the economic future of our City and wider region.

Localism and the Duty to Cooperate: Working together to deliver sufficient housing in the right locations

Simon Prescott

Read other comments and observations from the event:

Prof Martin Boddy (UWE / SWO)

Nick Boles MP (Planning Minister)

Prof Glen Bramley (Heriot Watt)

Paul Swinney (Centre for Cities)

Karuna Tharmananthar (West of England)