Good news for the NIMBYs?

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Let’s face it, most of us are NIMBYs at heart. We know we need more housing and we know we should welcome housebuilding in our back yard but dislike the ‘sameness’ look of the new housing that is seemingly springing up everywhere.  In cities these days it’s all about high density build-to-rent blocks and out of town, from Bognor to Berwick-on-Tweed, we are faced with housing schemes that all look, well, pretty similar really.

For years now it seems as if new housing has simply been a numbers game. In the rush for local authorities to prove they are doing their bit to deliver new homes to meet the promises of their local plans, quality and design often seem to be the last consideration.  Early prototypes of modular houses similarly seem to have missed the opportunity to enable homes to have their exteriors dressed creatively.  Yes we live indoors, but is not the principle of the UK planning system that the community owns the streetscape?

We are pleased to see that at last someone appears to be listening to the concerns of communities around the country, which are often resistant to new build housing. This week, Housing Secretary James Brokenshire launched a commission to promote better design in the new build sector. This aims to put forward practical measures to make sure that new developments meet the needs and expectations of communities, so housebuilding is more likely to be welcomed than resisted.  We feel this commission can only lead to better quality stock, less local resistance, more homes built faster.  A win-win all round.

The revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) includes measures to strengthen design quality and community engagement, with the character of the area to be given more consideration.

As The Planner revealed this week, the ‘Building Better, Building Beautiful’ Commission will expand on the ways the planning system can encourage and incentivise a greater emphasis on design, style and community consent. It has three aims:

  • To promote better design and style of homes, villages, towns and high streets, to reflect what communities want, building on the knowledge and tradition of what they know works for their area.
  • To explore how new settlements can be developed with greater community consent.
  • To make the planning system work in support of better design and style, not against it.

The minister rightly says that many people feel new homes in their area aren’t up to scratch. “Part of making the housing market work for everyone is helping to ensure that what we build is built to last. That it respects the integrity of our existing towns, villages and cities,” he said.

We certainly welcome the prospect of kick-starting a debate about the importance of design and style, and if the intention is to launch a consultation on the back of what the commission comes up with, we are keen to contribute to the discussion.

But – and it’s a big but – none of this will go any way towards improving the housing situation in the country if our already underfunded and under-resourced planning departments are given even more hoops to jump through before they can give schemes the go-ahead. Developers, housebuilders and – arguably most important – architects, all have to be on board to ensure that schemes are build-ready and will gain the consent of local planning offices and the communities they serve. As the minister says, new housing should help “grow a sense of place, not undermine it”.