It’s not controversial to say that the planning process should be better and faster. It’s at the heart of our economic recovery and a number of aspects could be tightened up to help get people back to work and meet a longstanding housing shortfall, but is a ‘radical’ shake up required?
From the perspective of many of our clients undertaking regeneration projects directly, some parts of July’s update as trailed yesterday will be a concern even if others don’t go far enough. In particular, the loosening of restrictions on conversions from retail to residential in an area where land assembly is already one of the more complex issues to contend with.
Local authorities and their partners are increasingly setting visions and putting in place long term plans to help town centres and the businesses within them attract more people and thrive.
It’s right to say that town centres need more homes and active, vibrant frontages increase the appeal of local streets, but successful housing is more than a repurposed shop in a good location.
Regeneration schemes that can make a meaningful difference are complex and time-consuming to bring forward. They need more resources and a commitment from Government to help expedite them. Height, massing, affordable housing, transport arrangements and the balance between retail and a more experiential offer all need to come into play alongside funding and delivery. High design standards and a wider contribution to the local economy are also needed to work. Even so, planning is less of a barrier than viability in many towns where half the shops can be shut and piecemeal development both prevents wider improvements and creates poor quality housing stock. Individual changes of use because of short term voids will be counterproductive.
This is big picture, forward thinking work – and this is the level the government should be thinking at when it unveils the planning system shake-up in July. The revised NPPF has already taken decision-making to a local level and now it needs to be properly supported rather moving to a more granular, individual approach that is not focussed enough on what communities need.