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Plan better with Communities in mind

Communities should be put at the heart of the government’s proposed planning reforms to build new developments that are more affordable, more beautiful, greener and more likely to endure for generations, the think-tank Localis has argued.

Localis is an independent think-tank dedicated to issues related to politics, public service reform and localism. We carry out innovative research, hold events and facilitate an ever growing network of members to stimulate and challenge the current orthodoxy of the governance of the UK.

In a report published today entitled Building Communities: planning for a clean and good growth futurethe place experts in conjunction with mixed tenure developer Countryside, outline how genuine community engagement through better neighbourhood plans, the use of new design codes, as well as better digital channels of communication between councils and residents, will be vital to achieving national housing targets.

Among its key recommendations, Localis calls for the widespread development of a stewardship model for the long-term investment in areas where new communities will be established, to ensure the continued provision of both physical and social infrastructure for future generations.

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Key report recommendations

If we are to succeed in building communities for the long-term, each principal actor, central government, local authorities, developers and our communities alike, will have their unique part to play in planning for and realising a good and clean growth future.

Recommendations for central government

Make planning underscore good and green growth: Some kind of national effort to collect and pool funding is necessary for the state to take its fair share of the burden towards affordable, mixed-tenure and sustainable housebuilding in the age of Net Zero.

What this spells out is the need for a new route forward, to the evolution of a balanced system in which the planning of new developments unlocks the release of sufficient and fair funding to bolster sustainable growth in new homes across varied tenures.

To this end, Localis recommends the setting up of separate funds as follows, overseen at national level and to address the challenges of generating popular consent for local housing growth and making new developments both sustainable and commercially viable:

  • a Capacity Fund for neighbourhood planning
  • a Carbon Offsetting Fund for development
    • Amend Infrastructure Levy to be paid at the point of commencement on site and to include a ringfenced proportion for affordable housing provision.
    • Include Health Impact Assessments as a requirement in the National Planning Policy Framework.
    • Define and protect social infrastructure through the National Planning Policy Framework.
    • Work to develop a centralised portal where residents can access development plans and decisions for their area, in their entirety and in one place.
    • Acknowledge the need for a regional approach to new building – from garden cities in the South East to greater vertical development in major cities – through the creation of new boards for regional spatial planning.

Stewardship model: a strategic framework

  • Local government should:
    • Produce community value charters to provide a transparent picture of how procurement around development is benefiting the local area.
  • Work with communities to embed local design codes into neighbourhood plans.
  • Produce cultural statements for new developments containing the provision and protection of cultural assets and ACVs.
  • Commit to a hybrid model of community engagement around local plan-making with digital outreach combined with more extensive physical events.
  • Organise developers forums to bridge the gap between developers and communities around new development.
  • Communities should be encouraged and supported to:
    • Produce neighbourhood plans through statutory bodies (parish councils and neighbourhood forums) which do not undercut government housing targets
  • Developers should be encouraged to:
    • Attend and actively contribute to developer’s forums in support of strong collective place leadership and strategic planning.
  • Agree productivity deals with local authorities:
    • Local labour market uplift: skills and wages
  • For long-running developments of over 200 dwellings, run a local growth board to oversee the productivity deal.

Other report recommendations include calls to:

  • amend Infrastructure Levy to be paid at the point of commencement on site and to include a ringfenced proportion for affordable housing provision;
  • work to develop a centralised portal where residents can access development plans and decisions for their area, in their entirety and in one place;
  • acknowledge the need for a regional approach to new building – from garden cities in the South East to greater vertical development in major cities – through the creation of new boards for regional spatial planning.

Localis chief executive, Jonathan Werran, said: “Whatever appears in the final planning bill, we have to increase trust and generate genuinely popular consent for local housing growth. This is to ensure that the abundant build out of affordable new homes of mixed tenure, and with it the creation of lasting new communities, remains a sustainable, place-sensitive and commercially viable process.

“Each actor – central government, our councils, our communities and developers – will have their part to play in reforming the planning process so that it finally delivers at the required pace and scale the new developments that are both wanted and attainable, and which suit their local culture, economy and environment.

“To this end, Localis’s report recommends the setting up of two separate national funds to provide firstly greater capacity for neighbourhood planning and the roll out of new design codes, to ensure homes are beautiful and locally popular, and, secondly, to pay for carbon offsetting to deliver green homes fit for the age of net zero.”

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Andrew Taylor, Group Planning Director, Countryside, said: “We are delighted to have worked with Localis on this report in supporting the pledge to keep communities at the heart of planning.

“With community-based participation at its centre, an effective placemaking process can capitalise on a local community’s assets, inspiration, and potential. This results in the creation of quality public spaces that contribute to people’s health, happiness, and well-being.”

Countryside is the UK’s leading mixed-tenure developer with over 60 years’ experience, creating places people love, with sustainable communities built to last. In March 2021, it was awarded the 5 Star Rating by the Home Builders Federation again following the latest home building industry’s Customer Satisfaction Survey.

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