Planning, Housing Supply and Affordable Provision in Britain

There are a number of reasons for looking at the British experience of planning for housing, from a wider international perspective. Firstly, Britain may be characterised as having a relatively ‘mature’, well-established planning system. However, notwithstanding the intellectual influence of British planning on other countries, the British approach to planning is somewhat distinct from that in many other countries, as explained in Chap. 2. Its distinctiveness rests within two key features: the discretionary nature of local planning approval and the policy-led approach. These features affect the bargaining power and nature of the game played out between local planning authorities and private landowners/developers, in a way that contrasts markedly with countries (such as the USA and Australia) where the system is more characterised by zoning and associated legal rights to develop land. We argue that the British approach has two main kinds of effect relevant to the central themes of this book: on the one hand, a tendency to restrict the level and responsiveness of overall housing supply, but on the other a greatly enhanced capacity and actually realised experience in delivering affordable housing alongside market housing.

© The Author(s) 2017

N. Gurran, G. Bramley, Urban Planning and the Housing Market, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-46403-3_5

The first of these effects is not new (Hall et al. 1973), but arguably became more chronic in the last decade or so, partly because of the challenge of enormously increased demographic growth (Bramley 2015; ONS 2014) and partly because of the policy turn towards ‘environmental sustainability’ since the early 1990s (Adams and Watkins 2002; Gallent and Tewdwr-Jones 2007; Rydin 2003; Cullingworth and Nadin 1994). The second effect is, as we shall show, contingent upon the British approach to planning, but also reflects a tradition of having a relatively large public/ social housing sector and local authorities which played a key role in developing and managing this housing (Monk 2010). One can also point now to the existence of a well-established sector of non-profit third sector providers of social and affordable housing, more highly developed than in many other countries, as a vehicle to deliver and manage such housing.

In this chapter, we first review relevant features of the planning system and assess some significant changes instituted over the last decade or so. Secondly, we offer a critique of the system as it has operated in practice, particularly from the viewpoint of delivering an enhanced overall supply of housing. Thirdly, we describe and assess the way in which affordable housing is delivered, and particularly the growing extent to which this has entailed the use of planning powers and mechanisms. Whilst offering a positive example, in conclusion, we recognise current and recent policy changes which position social and affordable housing at something of a crossroads in Austerity Britain’, with a less certain future. Whilst the main focus is upon England, rightly because this is the main focus of both housing pressures and policy innovation, we do refer from time to time to differences in the devolved countries’ arrangements, particularly Scotland (Pawson and Davidson 2008).

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