Sheffield’s Chief Executive, John Mothersole gives an excellent and realistic outline of the challenges facing cities as the supply of housing land shrinks, forcing down new-build completions and pushing up prices for buyers and tenants alike.
This will be a difficult issue to move forward with the inherent conflict between the need to build and the natural tendency we all have towards NIMBYism on our doorstep. Politics (or at least the need for politicians to keep voters voting for them) constantly gets in the way and while we all understand that our young people are finding it harder than ever to set up home, we don’t like the impact that means to our neighbourhood if it’s one that will see new homes.
Planning policy needs reform, but in the meantime we’ll need a shift towards reordering sectors of cities so that zones reflect the local needs today rather than the historic grain. We tend to stay within our comfort zones, only thinking of what an area is or has been, whereas we have got to remove the familiarity from the decision making process to see what somewhere can be soon.
That’s not a clear nod towards for brownfield development, since without the extensive and unpopular use of compulsory purchase powers the difficulties of site assembly will prolong matters by decades. Whilst initially attractive as a soundbite, brownfield development brings lots of problems, both technical and social, and most brownfield sites have a direct impact on more people than even a rural development does.
Alternatively, selective greenfield consents which complement adjacent brownfield sites can bring together usefully sized development plots that can deliver new homes over the next two to five years. These sites exist both on the edges of town and in the very heart of the urban grain, but it takes market expertise and a canny eye to see the potential that extends beyond an easily identifiable site. Council planners don’t tend to be very good at this due to the many constraints that they have to work under, but there are others out there who are expert at knitting together these schemes and they need an open mind and support from Town Halls.
With shortfall of hundreds of thousands of homes per year being built we really can’t afford to wait until community sensibility catches up. It’s impossible to pickle a community in a moment in time (and it’s a fallacy to imagine that even the prettiest village has existed forever) so the load needs to be shared. In doing so, it’s vital that people are involved and engaged in the process so that they clearly understand the issues and can be a part of the decision making process.
Multi-agency approach is vital so long as the overseers (especially planning committees) take on an enabling function rather than their traditional and control blocking functions. If we can achieve that we can provide decent and affordable homes for everyone.