NEW RESEARCH – Give people power over planning to recover from housebuilding crisis

Giving councils and communities more power to drive new development will finally start to solve a housing crisis made worse by decades of government reform, finds new research.

Housing Beyond Markets and State, by think tank New Local argues that old-fashioned adversarial thinking plagues the current planning system and holds back essential new housing from being built.

It argues that Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) should have their powers extended, making it easier for them to influence and benefit from development, through measures such as a yearly tax on developers sitting on empty land.

The report challenges the assumption that people are intrinsically ‘NIMBY’; fundamentally opposed to new developments. In fact, communities are trapped in an adversarial planning system that makes it easier to simply object than to make a positive input.

Planners should work to involve communities throughout the planning process. Neighbours be able to feed into hyperlocal ‘street plans’, and should gain the power to opt-in to ‘gentle intensification’ and approve infill developments on unused land such as back alleys and empty garages.

A collaborative, ‘community-powered’ approach to the planning system would succeed where decades’ worth of government reforms, targets and high-profile developments have failed, argues the report. It is a crucial response to the UK’s worsening housing crisis, which has seen the country building 44% of the new homes it needs each year, driving up prices for homebuyers. 

The report also calls for more financial freedom for council planners. They should be able to set their own planning application fees; partner more easily with the private sector to build new homes; and choose who to sell sites to – allowing them to prioritise local benefit over the highest price. 

The report contains examples of areas that have benefitted from community-led planning, from local panels overseeing the development of London’s Old Kent Road, to co-created communal housing in Lancashire, to the locally led revival of neglected and derelict streets in Liverpool. 

John Myers, report co-author and co-founder of the YIMBY Alliance, says:

“Rather than yet another top-down set of ‘radical’ planning reforms, a truly radical community-powered approach could change attitudes to development and help spur the large-scale housebuilding boom that the Government desires and this country needs.”

“People aren’t as NIMBY as we lazily assume. Opposing developments is all-too-often a reaction to a system that has excluded communities from important decisions about their place. We’ve got make it easier for people to support – and shape – new homes.”

“The current system makes it too hard for councils and planners to enable win-win outcomes with the local community. We need to remove some of the needless shackles that make every planning decision into a battle.”

Pawda Tjoa, Senior Policy Researcher, New Local, says:

“If we’re ever going to solve the housing crisis the Government needs to come up with a way to free up planners and get communities on board.

“Moving away from the current adversarial system to a new approach that is genuinely community-powered could unleash the potential of places and communities to meet local housing needs.

“Every place is different, so give communities the power to meet their own housing needs.”

Notes to Editors

  • Housing Beyond Markets and State will be available at  www.newlocal.org.uk/research-projects/housing-beyond-the-market-and-state/ from 00.01 on 17 November 2021. It was written by Pawda Tjoa (New Local) and John Myers (YIMBY Alliance).
  • The report was informed by interviews with over 30 different planning professionals and community members across the UK.
  • For all media enquiries please contact Katy Oglethorpe – katy@newlocal.org.uk / 0791 2161 536.
  • New Local is an independent think tank and network of councils, with a mission to transform public services and unlock community power.
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