Proposal to impose minimum housing densities threatens to split design watchdog as landmark report is finalised

CABE is to hold a summit next month to debate whether housing density levels should be standardised across the country.

The meeting will look at whether the soon-to-be-published Planning Policy Statement 3 (Housing) ought to include a national minimum density or if there ought to be room to vary it.

It will also examine whether the benchmark, based on the number of dwellings per hectare, is the best way of measuring density.

The summit will be addressed by Patrick Clarke, a partner in Llewelyn Davies Yeang, Esther Kirtland, CABE’s housing policy officer and Gideon Amos, director of the Town and Country Planning Association.

The issue has threatened to split Lord Rogers’ reconvened urban taskforce, which is finalising the follow-up to its landmark 1999 report.

Members met last week to decide the final draft of their report. It was originally due last month, but will instead be published in the next two to three weeks, ahead of chancellor Gordon Brown’s pre-Budget report. Rogers met deputy prime minister John Prescott this week to sound him out about the group’s conclusions.

It is understood that town planner Sir Peter Hall has succeeded in watering down proposals in the draft report to increase minimum housing density and brownfield land development targets and get rid of the growth areas.

Hall indicated that he was not prepared to sign a report including hardline recommendations such the stipulation that the proportion of development on brownfield land must be increased to 75%.

In a recent article in the journal Town and Country Planning, Hall criticised supporters of much higher density housing in towns and cities.

He wrote: “They’re out now on a truly fundamentalist crusade to cut greenfield development, shrink the growth corridors and pack people into the cities Hong Kong style.”

John Slaughter, the head of external affairs at the Home Builders Federation, welcomed the summit as evidence that CABE has listened to criticism of its backing of high density development and its approach to planning.

He said: “If the objective is sustainable and mixed communities, density will not work everywhere at the same level.”