As localism becomes a reality, over 100 leading property professionals, local authority representatives and government officials gathered last week in Cambridge, a renowned planning hot spot, to discuss how this new system will translate on the ground.
The event, sponsored by leading developer and contractor Hill and international architectural firm PRP, was chaired by South Cambridgeshire District Councillor Tim Wotherspoon and featured guest speakers Dr Michael Bingham, Deputy Head of the Development Management Division at the DCLG, Julian Goodban, Director of Planning of PRP, Jamie Hunter, Development Director of Hill, Darren Blake, Development Manager at Circle and Derek McKenzie, Head of Development Services at Fenland District Council.
Dr Bingham, DCLG, commented that the Localism Bill, which “binds the two coalition parties together”, is a “vastly ambitious piece of legislation covering 40 policy areas” and has moved at quite a pace through parliament. He discussed how the government will replace RSS targets with incentives such as the New Homes Bonus (NHB) and Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) and noted that certain safeguards had been put in place to ensure that localism is effective. He concluded that the bill is a “culture change on how the planning system works.”
Derek McKenzie, Fenland District Council, opened his presentation by stating that “the current planning system is overcomplicated” and as a consequence “communities don’t want to engage”. As a result Fenland has “ripped up the guide book” in the hope of creating a planning system which promotes “freedom, flexibility and innovation.” Fenland has replaced the previous lengthy development plan with a 30 page document that only contains 12 policies which will allow community members to digest the information more easily. In reducing the number of layers within the development plan, Fenland believed they saved approximately £250,000.
Julian Goodban, PRP, began his presentation by stating that the bill was far from the NIMBY Charter it was first heralded as. Neighbourhood Plans will only be able to “shape development not block it” and consequently “neighbourhoods could feel just as powerless with localism as they were without it.” He concluded that “there is essentially a conflict between the growth and localism agendas, we therefore need a strong vision from Councillors, planners, developers and architects, in collaboration with the community to deliver successful localist growth.”
Jamie Hunter, Hill, and Darren Blake, Circle Housing Group, presented two joint ventures case studies: Challis Green in Barrington and four sites in South Cambridgeshire. Jamie Hunter highlighted how what has already been done with the local communities is in the spirit of localism and gives experience of how to engage in the new environment. He commented: “there is nothing to fear through consultation and it can considerably assist the planning process especially when working up detailed proposals. It requires ownership by all the stakeholders working in partnership.”
Jamie mentioned that consultation actually changes the perspective of developers for the better and “builds up trust between the parties”. In conclusion it was suggested that new mechanisms for funding must be found as HCA grants might not be there in the future: “We’re currently using different financial models and tenures to facilitate new affordable homes”.
The debate concluded with the overall consensus that localism can be used as a tool for enabling development, at a time when new homes are a priority, however the planning process must be simplified and the community needs to be fully engaged.