Ian Tant asks if it is right for the government to promote its ambitions for large scale developments?

The government’s Laying the Foundations – a Housing Strategy for England includes an intriguing four paragraphs lauding the benefits of large scale development. Coming from a ministerial team at the Communities Department, which has on several occasions expressed its distaste for some of the more substantial urban extensions that emerged through the older Structure Plan and Regional Plan processes, this is a surprise. However, in the context of the aims of the strategy, it is entirely right to promote major schemes.

The strategy aims to secure a long-term stable and increased supply of new housing, lifting us out of the protracted slump in building and maintaining consistency of housing delivery. From a national perspective, the logic is clear: plan more bigger developments that will last several years and you’ll underpin a more regular flow of new housing.

Simply larger scale developments deliver more. Not just more housing, but more facilities to support that housing

From a local level, however, there is an even stronger logic - simply larger scale developments deliver more. Not just more housing, but more facilities to support that housing. They can justify requiring the development to fund and deliver new schools, shopping centres, green spaces.

Moreover, such major schemes provide the local council with greater certainty in its own funding; the New Homes Bonus becomes more predictable with a larger scale development that can deliver over several years. The large scale development – be it an urban extension or a new village or New Market Town – can firmly anchor the planned housing supply over a plan period and beyond.

Substantial developments are not the whole solution to increasing supply. It has to be recognised that they take time to start up and to reach the dependable level of delivery. The peak levels of completions should not be over-estimated. Except in stronger market years, the completions per developer per outlet (phase) of the scheme may still be relatively modest, perhaps 30 – 50 dwellings per year. Yet they are an essential component of planned housing supply.  

Government ministers will no doubt point to one essential difference in the strategy from previous planning approaches: that large development must be “locally planned”. And that’s the key - local authorities should look carefully in bringing forward their new plans, not relying on the happenstance of small or “windfall” sites but to do their planning responsibly and include large scale developments where there is a clear role for them to play.

Ian Tant is senior partner at Barton Willmore