Better Homes,Greener Cities

I came across an article regarding our use of land and the planning system on the web site

Policy Exchange is an independent research institute whose purpose is to contribute to public understanding of and stimulate wider debate on a broad range of social, economic and political questions. The paper was written by Alan W. Evans, Professor of Economics and Director of the Centre for Spatial and Real Estate Economics at the University of Reading Business School and Dr Oliver Marc Hartwich, a Research Fellow at Policy Exchange carrying out research on planning and housing policy in Britain.

I have just listed a few of the more land orientated sections below, however to do the article full justice; I recommend that you look at the article in its entirety at

The need for change

The planning system should aim to balance people's housing demands against the needs of the environment. By using only a further one or two per cent of the 90 per cent of land that is undeveloped, the quality of British houses and neighbourhoods could be dramatically improved. Yet our system of town and country planning too often imposes the views of politicians, officials and planners on the population at large.We are told we ought to consume less land, to live in flats not houses, but rarely does anyone ask: "how do people themselves want to live?"

House prices and opinion polls clearly show that the British prefer to live in detached homes with gardens in green suburbs, but the planning system restricts this kind of development and instead delivers high-rise living in ever more crowded cities. So despite just ten per cent of the land in the UK being urban, new development takes place on the kinds of green spaces people actually use - like allotments, playing fields, parks and gardens - in order to save agricultural land. Nearly half the UK's playing fields have disappeared in the last fifteen years. Front gardens 22 times the size of Hyde Park have been lost in London alone. Our cities are becoming grey deserts.

This has serious implications for the health of the 50 million Britons who live in urban and suburban areas.

Fewer trees means less oxygen, which inhibits good mental performance. Neighbourhoods with less greenery are associated with lower levels of physical activity, leading to higher obesity rates. Easy access to green space also brings mental health benefits. Reversing the trend of high density development in favour of 'garden city' living is not just what most people want, it is good for us too.

Reforming the planning system

We do not want a development free-for-all, but successful reform of the planning system must ensure that the housing market is flexible enough to respond to local demands and that local residents are compensated for the negative impact of new development. The German and Swiss planning systems offer good examples of how to balance the needs of the environment with the demand for housing, and they both deliver affordable, high quality, spacious homes in green towns and cities.

The current centrally-directed, plan-led system places too much emphasis on trying to predict demand and too little on responding to local market conditions. As a result, the housing boom of the late 1990s led to no increase in the supply of new homes, pushing prices even higher. We propose the following reforms to create more flexibility in the planning system:

  • Abolish the primacy of plan-led development, so that necessary development is possible even when it has not been anticipated.
  • Introduce the presumption of a right to develop, so it is up to local authorities to show why development is undesirable.
  • A greater recognition of the economic benefits of development as a material factor in the planning process.
  • Introduce land buffers, which could be easily activated when more land is required.
  • The planning system should be localised, putting communities in charge of their own development.
  • There should be greater freedoms for property owners to switch between designated uses (commercial, residential etc).

Jul 06

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