There isn’t much that everyone agrees on in today’s turbulent and divided political times, but the one thing that gets closest to it is the pressing need for more housing. Almost everyone agrees that there aren’t enough, and that we need to build more. High housing costs are widely recognised as a major drain on disposable income and standard of living, particularly for younger generations. Unfortunately, that’s more or less where the near-consensus ends, and there are generally strong disagreements about the role of affordable housing and state and private agents.
The attribution of blame for the housing shortfall particularly plays out in a rather unsatisfying debate between the 'it's all planning' versus the 'it's all developers' schools of thought. Of course, urban development involves a series of trade-offs between different stakeholders with different interests. But plenty of other countries have the same tensions, yet cope rather better. Our research at Create Streets (as well as the research of others) has shown that the UK has an increasingly more concentrated development sector with a systemically lower proportion of self-build and SMEs than most countries. Compared with other European countries, we rank towards the bottom for ‘homes per household’ and the percentage growth in our housing stock in recent decades relative to population growth.
With that in mind, Create Streets are trying to move the debate a little further. We've recently kicked off a new project, Planning 3.0. This asks how we can improve the planning system to deliver more homes with popular consent. It asks what planning should look like in 2030. The aim, as we see it, is neither to 'rip it all up' nor 'turn back the clock' to 1947. (For one thing, we’ve uncovered plenty of evidence of building regulations and planning in the UK stretching back centuries.)
In mid-May, we held a roundtable, kindly hosted by the RSA, where we and a series of planning experts, from housing charities to developers and lawyers to planning consultants, sat down and discussed both the barriers to new housing that exist now and also what we could do to make sure we build more in the future with popular consent and in a framework that would be acceptable both to the centre right and the centre left.
As part of our research, we are issuing a call for evidence, and this is partly the reason for this blog. There is one very simple way you can get involved. We’re running a survey on British planning, development and design systems and are inviting people to spend five minutes filling in our quick survey on the issue. There’s a version for planning professionals, which you can find here, and a version for interested members of the general public here (essentially anyone who doesn’t work in planning/development etc). We’d love it if you were able to fill it in and share too. As a ‘thank you’, everyone who fills in the survey will be going into a competition to win one of our books.
We’ll be continuing our research in the coming months, taking into account the survey responses, and the expertise shared by our roundtable at the RSA. However, if you’d like to help us out further by pointing us in the direction of useful research or sources of evidence, then please do email my colleague Kieran Toms on firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d be very grateful for your ideas and expertise.
Nicholas Boys Smith FRSA is the founding director of Create Streets.