Specific Planning System Critiques

We would argue that there is some merit in these alternative perspectives and that the planning system should not get all of the blame. At the same time, there is evidence that the planning system, allied to public attitudes, has been a problem. Bramley (2007) presented evidence from monitoring stocks and flows of consents that there was a sustained fall in land availability in the period 1993-2003, coinciding with the period of preBarker stagnant output despite rising prices and a favourable economy. This was attributed to the excessive, almost obsessional focus on ‘urban renaissance’ and ‘brownfield land’, which led to the effective abandonment of conventional land availability monitoring for a period.

The techniques used to quantify requirements for new housing, reviewed more fully in Chap. 10, can actually become stuck in a negative, self-reinforcing cycle (Bramley and Watkins 1995, 2014, 2016). If we do not build much housing, not many households appear, so the trend-based projections give a low figure for future need. The procedures entailed in local plan preparation and adoption are complex and timeconsuming, including processes of ‘sustainability appraisal’ and processes of consultation, with both the general public and also the agencies responsible for infrastructure provision, environment or heritage. This, together with the drastic cut in staff resources available to local authorities, contribute to the continuing situation where many local authorities do not have an up-to-date local plan adopted[1].

Ultimately more important than procedures is the local political will, or lack of it. Local councillors will be sensitive to local sentiment when voting on local plan allocations and specific development proposals for housing. They may indulge in ‘non-decision-making’ when confronted with a conflict between professional and policy advice on the one hand, and negative local resident sentiment on the other. There is evidence, reviewed in Bramley (2012) and Bramley, Matthews and Hastings (2014) from the British Social Attitudes Survey that a majority of people in Britain (by a margin of 3:2 amongst those with a view, and 3:1 of those with a strong view) did not favour additional new housebuilding in their area. Opposition was stronger amongst homeowners (2:1), in the south of England, and in suburbs and accessible small towns. These patterns reinforce the negative impact because these groups are more likely to vote and participate in local politics and these areas are more important target areas for increasing housing supply.

This data suggested that the move to ‘localism’ in planning after 2010, would reduce planned housing output in the southern regions whilst output would increase slightly in the north (Bramley and Watkins 2016). This pattern was in fact found to be the case in changes in local plan housing numbers between 2010 and 2012 (Tetlow King 2012).

There are two counters to this negative story. One is that a partial repeat of the survey questions in later years of the BSAS suggested a general softening of attitudes, in the direction of a more positive stance towards housing (DCLG 2014; Dunning et al. 2014). It is not clear how real or enduring this is, but it may reflect some rising media and cultural awareness of the chronic housing crisis facing Britain, for example, in stories about ‘Generation Rent’ and vanishing aspirations of home ownership, as well as some response to financial crisis and recession. Nevertheless, even if the general level of support for housing rises, the balance between opposition and support is still very skewed, so that for example in areas that would be key targets for growth in the south of England there would still be likely to be majorities opposed. The other counter is the evidence within the survey that people would be more willing to support new housing if they believed it would bring with it improvements to local employment opportunities, greenspace and parks, transport links, schools, leisure facilities and shops. This underlines the importance of wider ‘sustainable communities’ arguments about the quality and servicing of new developments, and of having proper mechanisms in place to deliver these as discussed earlier.

Finally, one issue which links substantive policy and public sentiment in an arguably unhelpful way is the role of ‘green belts’, the highly symbolic expression of Britain’s long commitment to ‘urban containment’. Many argue that there is a serious need to review and redesign green belt for the twenty-first century if adequate housing supply is to be delivered to support economic and population growth in a sustainable way (Barker 2004, 2006; Bramley et al. 2004; Prior and Raemaekers 2007; Andre

2011; Lyons 2014, p. 21; Cheshire et al. 2014). The undoubted political popularity of defending the ‘green belt’ probably stems from a serious misconception about (a) the existing extent of ‘urban sprawl’ and (b) the actual purpose and character of the green belt.

  • [1] At July 2014 57% of authorities in England had an adopted local plan with 73 % having published and submitted one — Lyons 2014, Table 1.
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