How will the Localism Bill affect the planning system and the provision of affordable housing? A high-profile panel including John Prescott and John Gummer, and joined by communities secretary Eric Pickles, tackled the issues at the inaugural Alan Cherry Debate. This is a sponsored feature for Countryside Properties

The Panel

George Alagiah (chair)
Lord Prescott former deputy prime minister
Rt Honourable John Gummer Lord Deben
David Lunts Homes and Communities Agency
Jim Ward Savills

Guest Speaker

Rt Honourable Eric Pickles Department for Communities and Local Government

The Localism Bill is rumbling its way through parliament. Can you dismantle planning regulation, give more power to local communities and still spur economic growth to reduce the deficit? Surely, developers of even the most forward-thinking housing schemes will fall foul of “nimbyism” from well-marshalled local dissenters?

Such questions formed the backbone of the inaugural Alan Cherry Debate, hosted by Building magazine and Countryside Properties and held in memory of the late Countryside founder Alan Cherry.

The debate was introduced by Building brand director Tom Broughton and chaired by the BBC’s George Alagiah. The high-quality panel was made up of former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott; John Gummer, Lord Deben; David Lunts, executive director of the Homes and Communities Agency; Jim Ward, director, residential research at Savills.

“The provision of affordable housing will provide the biggest test yet to David Cameron’s government,” said Alagiah. “How do you resolve the tensions between the needs of society at large and what local people want or don’t want?” Estimates suggest a quarter of a million new homes are required a year, a third of these need to be in the social sector. Clearly, with people living longer, being more active and often living alone, the drivers for demand are even more rigorous than ever.

Localism is about accepting responsibility

Eric Pickles

So how will the fundamental tensions between thegovernment’s growth agenda and localism play out “Localism shifts some of the power to communities but growth and renewal can be compatible provided schemes are thought through in terms of community need and input,” said Lunts. “It will demand better tailored proposals and interventions.”

Lord Prescott was worried about the government’s dismantling of the existing planning framework. “I am concerned that the abolition of regional development agencies will undermine regional planning,” said Prescott. “Nimbyism will be a problem with localism and will undermine the growth agenda.”

Whether localism or growth wins out is a question of political will, thought Jim Ward. “Given the overarching objective is to clear the deficit, it needs growth to generate taxes. A third of growth in 2010 came from construction, so the government has to prioritise development over localism.”

“Localism is necessary because local people are demanding it,” said John Gummer. “We can’t go with what we had before because people are not prepared any longer to allow their communities to be dictated by someone from the government or an architect that says it’s a good idea. They won’t have it.”

Gummer argued for a new approach. “We’ve never met the number of homes that we all need. There is a new selection of suggestions as to what we might do, and I think we have to see if we can make those work and find a new answer.”

Given the state of the economy, what effect will new financing arrangements have on affordable housing? “There will be 75% less grants for affordable housing than in recent years,” said Ward. “The quid pro quo is rising rents. Even if housing targets are hit, there will be fewer affordable homes coming through.”

How do you resolve the needs of society and what local people want

George Alagiah, chair

Lunts questioned whether affordable rent is capable of being a long-term sustainable model. “It will provide a challenge to housing associations, but there are opportunities for new investment models. There’s been a lot of talk about getting institutions to take a longterm interest in funding.”

Jeremy Lewis of Essex council raised the issue of the importance of quality. “There is a place for standards in my view and the mayor is looking at design standards for new homes in London that will come in the next year or so,” said Lunts. “It’s very important in a time of austerity that we continue to build houses of a sufficient quality and standard that they are still going to be beautiful in 30 or 40 years’ time.”

Nick Raynsford, MP for Greenwich and Woolwich, asked whether quality schemes would be possible under the current framework for new development.

“Yes,” said Ward, “but only if local authorities are willing for rents to rise.”

It was left to communities secretary Eric Pickles to sum up the government’s position. “While the Localism Bill passes power down to local communities, when it comes to consideration of something like the High Speed Rail Link, that’s a decision that would remain with the secretary of state and the Commons.”

Referring to the proposed introduction into the planning system of a presumption in favour of sustainable development, Pickles said: “Localism is about accepting responsibility. Where a local plan fails to recognise that it has to provide adequate housing, telephone masts and infrastructure, then that plan is no defence against the presumption in favour of development.

There can be no suggestion of ’nimbyism’ but equally the idea a national body can dictate where houses go in your community is something that we seek to avoid.”

Developers are now awaiting the criteria under which the validity of those plans are judged, expected in the National Planning Framework, to be published shortly.

A debate on such contemporary issues proved a fitting tribute to Alan Cherry. Indeed, housing and planning regulation may prove to be the prism through which the government’s whole localism agenda is judged.

The Alan Cherry Award for Placemaking

Alan Cherry was passionate in his belief in good design, placemaking and environmental quality. The Alan Cherry Award for Placemaking has been established to recognise the contribution that leading figures in the public sector make to the quality of placemaking in their communities.

After much deliberation over many outstanding entries, the judges have given the prize to David Ubaka, head of design (urban realm) at Transport for London. He was given the award by Richard Cherry, deputy chairman at Countryside and son of Alan at the memorial debate.

Ubaka’s work includes the Tokyo-style pedestrian crossing at Oxford Circus, The Cut in Waterloo and London’s cycle hire scheme and cycle superhighways.

His team ensured the inclusion of Better Streets within the draft Mayor’s Transport Strategy. Externally, it is working with London boroughs to create Town Centre Studies that seek to balance transport provision with placemaking.

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