Tuesday 12 June 2012

DIY Planning Authority and other answers to rogue development

Development gets a bad rap these days.  And when you consider what utterly atrocious development has happened in the last sixty or so years, I'm not at all surprised.  Ever since the second world war, development has been out to get us, destroying community left right and centre, aptly demonstrated in this documentary from the BBC.

Who decided that it was a good idea to stack houses on top of each other, resulting in accommodation with no gardens and plenty of dingy semi-private corridors for people to pee in? (Answers will be given at the end of the blog post) What made people decide that spreading out communities over vast areas only traversable by car would help them live better lives? That's what has happened, and now we don't seem to be able to stop.

Unite D'habitation, Marseilles

There seems to be some automatic assumption on the part of modern planners that we need more vast housing estates and more "executive apartments" (which really just means tower blocks that are faced with brick rather than concrete) that flies in the face of all evidence.

If you're reading this, them I'm sure you're already aware of some of this evidence - how commuter car use is destroying the planet, how local shops are being driven (excuse the pun) out of town by chain supermarkets, how deprived areas fall into a spiral of decline because they desperately lack access to green space, community facilities and other opportunities to thrive.

It's fair to say that there are a lot of factors which got us into the position that we are now in: the blame rests on many many shoulders.

But lets not dwell on that.  The question is how do we get out of this mess?  How do we stop runaway development destroying our towns and smothering our villages?

There is an answer!

I love this inspiring flashy video, but of course it does beg the question, "how?"

Well, I'd be quite happy if the rest of my career was to be spent answering that question, but for the moment I'll give just a few thoughts of current relevance.

New legislation is your friend

The first draft of the National Planning Policy Framework (the national policy that governs how planning authorities devise local plans and make planning decisions) was widely criticised in that anything that could be justified in terms of economic growth would be given instant planning permission.  The published version, however, was cleaned up, and is much much better, but it still relies on one thing, and that is for you to be its friend.

The new legislation explicitly gives support to "the transition to a low carbon future in a changing climate", and has many other clauses that support the need for "ensuring the vitality of town centres", "promoting sustainable transport" and "promoting healthy communities" to name but a few, but all these mean nothing if they are ignored, and no one is held accountable to upholding them. At 50 pages, its very manageable, but if you don't feel like reading government legislation today, you might still want to urge your local councillor to read it, so that they can put pressure on the planning department to make sure these clauses are taken seriously.

Be the planning authority

Under the National Planning Policy Framework, "parishes and neighbourhood forums can use neighbourhood planning to set planning policies through neighbourhood plans to determine decisions on planning applications; and grant planning permission through Neighbourhood Development Orders and Community Right to Build Orders for specific development which complies with the order" (Clause 183).  This means that you can actually set planning policy, as long as you work with your neighbourhood to do so.

Work with developers

Developer Beyond Green operated
consultations in Broadland last year
to get early opinions on what people
want in their local area.
As John said yesterday, talking to developer's is often seen as bedding with the devil, but I totally disagree with this notion.  Developers generally want to make great places as much as you want to live in them, but are limited by bureaucracy and procedure.  If developers can save money in fighting planning appeals and redesign by providing what the community want first time, they will be happy and you will be happy, so make sure they know what you want.  Encourage developers who consult communities early in the process by going to consultations, and giving them constructive ideas about what you'd like to see in your local area.

So in conclusion...

Not all development is bad, but I'm afraid some of the responsibility for creating the good development in your area lies on your shoulders. When you work as a team with your local community, the force of the law is behind you, but yes, it might take some work!

Answers: Le corbusier was responsible for the popularisation of housing blocks: he thought that buildings ought to work more like machines. The American Dream (and all the advertising that was pumped into post-war America) was responsible for the explosion in suburbia.

Images: Le Corbusier's Unite D'habitation in Marseilles; a text cloud from the NPPF; beyondgreen.co.uk .

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