Promote placemaking, not just housing quantity, Lords report concludes

The Government should rethink its "short-sighted" focus on housing numbers and ensure the planning system also creates good places for people, a report from the House of Lords has concluded.

Lords call for better built environment policy. Image: Pixabay
Lords call for better built environment policy. Image: Pixabay

The report is the result of months of gathering evidence by the Lords' National Policy for the Built Environment Committee. It outlines the effects of poor-quality environments on everything from biodiversity and climate resilience to health and social cohesion.

Among the changes requested, it calls for Government to make design review mandatory for major planning applications, reverse its decision to do away with the Code for Sustainable Homes - which advocates the use of sustainable drainage measures - and start promoting green infrastructure. It also wants local authority planning departments to be better-resourced and to make health of residents a central focus of planning decisions.

A Government-appointed chief built environment advisor is also recommended to champion placemaking across departments. The appointment, suggested by RIBA, would help fix what the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) called "confusion" around built environment policy between departments. The TCPA told the committee departments are not coordinated, and relationships between some departments on policies such as green infrastructure "appear to be strained or absent".

Chair Baroness O'Cathain said the committee wholeheartedly supports building more houses in England but "if we build those houses in the wrong place, to a poor standard, without the consent of local communities we are only storing up future misery for the people in those houses and others nearby".

Empowering local authorities and spending a little more on design would "avert massive costs" in the long-run, she added.

TCPA chief executive Kate Henderson said she hoped the Government would heed the committee's advice as it consults on details of the Housing and Planning Bill, currently at committee stage in the House of Lords. The bill has been heavily criticised, with many of the proposed measures running counter to the committee's recommendations.

Henderson added: "As the recent effects of climate change have been seen with flooding across the country, it is vital that we adapt the way we build to create more resilient places. We support the committee's recommendation that there needs to be a wider recognition of green infrastructure with regards to economic, health and social benefits."

The report also adopts the TCPA's recommendation that modernised New Towns legislation which is founded on the use of development corporations, helping ensure land is available at the right place and price.

The Parks Alliance welcomed the report's recognition of the role parks play in placemaking and social cohesion.

Chairman Mark Camley said: "We also agree with the committee's call on the government to support initiatives such as health impact assessments being closely integrated into developments, and would encourage greater investment in parks and open spaces as they provide significant physical and mental health benefits; as exemplified by the committee's praise for the Olympic Park and Village as a good, positive example of an accessible and inclusive neighbourhood."

Landscape Institute president Noel Farrer welcomed the committee's promotion of green infrastructure, which he called "the most effective long-term solution to making our towns and cities more resilient".

The committee also took a large amount of evidence on the abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies. But the Government has made it clear that it has no intention of returning to a system of mandatory national or regional spatial frameworks - which Farrer said was "a mistake" and the reason why national planning policy is failing.

"A spatial planning approach is necessary to align all policies that have an impact and in my evidence to the committee, I called for the introduction of the National Character Areas to become the framework for expressing national policy in a locally relevant way.

"Their boundaries follow natural lines in the landscape, rather than artificial administrative boundaries so would tackle large built and semi-natural environmental issues. It would ensure that any proposed developments would be designed to fit in with the unique local landscape character. The public would applaud such clarity because of the importance the public attach to their landscape."

The report is currently awaiting a response from Government.

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