The only way to tackle the nimbys and build more homes is through more planning, not less

Ben Derbyshire

Planning is not just about agreeing what goes where. It is also the means by which the majority legitimises (and sometimes compensates) the negative impacts upon individuals when society acts to meet the needs of that majority. Nowhere is this conflict of interest starker than around housing development. But we sure as hell do need more housing, and so by that analysis we also need more planning.

Ed Balls is on the stump making speeches about how a Labour Treasury would put housing supply at the heart of its policy and a Labour government would set up New Town Development Corporations with the ability to plough back the added value of surrounding land they consume. Meanwhile the Wolfson Foundation’s recently announced competition attempts to breathe life into the various failed Coalition attempts to float Eco Towns and Garden Cities.

Localism has brought us new lows of confusion, best illustrated by the grotesque of housing minister Grant Shapps seeing off urban extensions in his new town constituency

The problem with all of these initiatives is the inevitable fire storm of protest anywhere south of a line between Liverpool and Hull that accompanies any attempt to designate the areas where homes are to be built. Localism has brought us new lows of confusion wrought by politicians, best illustrated perhaps by the grotesque of housing minister Grant Shapps seeing off urban extensions in his new town constituency of Welwyn and Hatfield – towns that did not even exist a century ago.

So before we come to rely too heavily on shiny new Garden Cities to save the day, it may be worth recycling the experience of what has worked well in the past to deliver housing supply. I can think of no better example than that provided by planner Peter Studdert, describing his long association with the process of planning the addition of a further 33,000 new homes to fuel the expansion of Cambridge over 15 years.

On a recent GLA fact finding mission Peter described his journey from City Planner in the mid 90s, to working with planning academic Marcial Echenique (who taught me at Cambridge) at Cambridge Futures, where he helped build the consensus for growth, and thence to an appropriate delivery partnership at Cambridgeshire Horizons. It was truly inspiring – he made it sound so easy!  Strikingly, nimby opposition was no less an issue for Peter and his team, but it was consummately handled through the planning process.

Replicating the Cambridge experience depends on collaboration, the collection of evidence in building a strategic vision, thorough consultation to identify a preferred option, nurtured in turn by a cross sector group of influential leaders and finally implemented by a dedicated delivery team. These words have a familiar ring to them but achieving spectacular results as at Cambridge may be no more than following the steps that Peter Studdert has so clearly set out – an ABC for Growth where the A stands for ambition, B for brokerage, and C for continuity.

The ABC of Growth is the subject of a Housing Forum seminar on 16 January – details available here.

Ben Derbyshire is managing partner of HTA Design