When it comes to housing it is often said its ‘location, location, location’ that counts. Well, yes, to a certain extent that’s true as people do choose somewhere to live, work and raise families based on where the home is, but I think the ‘location’ debate has moved on now to ‘Place’ – which is the discussion about the human and physical characteristics of a location, or put simply – what you want your community to look and feel like. Though ‘place, place, place’ doesn’t quite roll off the tongue as easily.
What has Place got to do with housing policy, and the Government’s target of building 300,000 new homes every year? The answer is everything. Place is really about asking the fundamental questions about what sort of community we want to live in, how we want it to look and feel and what public and private services and infrastructure are required for it to succeed. Place is the umbrella for policy discussions on the future of the built environment.
One of the key lessons from the Grenfell tragedy was the fact that residents and community leaders felt they were ignored. The Government is keen to improve tenant and resident rights, giving residents more ownership of their local environment. This was the main thrust of the Social Housing Green Paper, released in the summer. This is also partly why the Government set up the Building Beautiful Commission, chaired by the ever-enigmatic Sir Roger Scruton. The Labour Party have moved to address this with their flagship policy of estate regeneration ballots for major developments. It was Sir Oliver Letwin who was perhaps the first politician in recent years to put some thoughts on paper on how to legislate better for Place when he wrote his Independent report on build out rates – the speed by which house builders actually build houses once planning permission is granted, but even that has come into some criticism for not going far enough.
If the Building Beautiful Commission does their job correctly, it will identify detailed improvements in the planning system to democratise it further. This may be further demands on developers and architects to do more to ‘bring the community’ with them when they submit planning applications for major regeneration schemes, or it could be further guidance for local authorities to employ a local master planner. The commission could also look at technology for planners and builders, as improvements in house building technology mean we are on the brink of finally seeing whole streets of homes built off site, where homes can be designed any number of ways. We may see more custom and self-build as well as an increase in local authorities applying technology to the planning process. This could improve the application process further as our knowledge base of what is achievable with land improves.
All of these taken together present more opportunities for those that specialise in strategies for community engagement and housing policy, like we do at our place, iNHouse. One thing’s for sure – it’s an exciting time to be involved.