Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence

Memorandum by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) (DHB 29)


  1.  The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) is a professional body representing over 18,000 chartered town planners and is a learned, and learning, society. It has recently merged with ROOM, the National Council for Housing and Planning in order to create a more inclusive, outward looking, informed and interventionist body. As part of this radical evolution the Institute and ROOM@RTPI will be taking a more direct interest in housing issues and, in particular, the relationships between policies and practice in housing with those in planning and regeneration. It is on this aspect that we focus this evidence.

  2.  First, the RTPI commends the ODPM and the Select Committee for engaging in such a potentially constructive period of consultation and scrutiny in advance of the Bill entering Parliament. The RTPI would urge the ODPM, and other Government Departments, to adopt this practice more comprehensively. We feel, for example, that the provisions in the current Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill could have been further improved if similar consultation had been undertaken.

  3.  Overall, the RTPI welcomes the majority of the provisions in the Bill including, in particular, the licensing of houses in multiple occupation, something for which ROOM and its predecessor bodies have consistently campaigned, and the extension of licensing to form part of a strategy for declining or low demand areas. We also particularly welcome the provisions relating to the Right to Buy, including the right to acquire, in so far as they demonstrate a willingness to examine the retention of affordable stock as well as concentrating on the supply of market and affordable housing through the planning system.

  3.  The RTPI wishes to restrict its comments to the need for a more comprehensive framework within which the initiatives in the Bill—and all the other initiatives in housing policy—should be set and co-ordinated.


  4.  In making these comments on the Bill, the RTPI is mindful of the Committee's willingness to discuss the interrelationships between this and other legislation. We share the Committee's apparent concern that the legislative provisions which relate to the preparation of strategies for housing and for planning are spread amongst too many pieces of legislation. A good current example is provided by the Local Government Bill which in Part 7, on Housing Finance Etc, contains provisions to "require a local housing authority to have a strategy in respect of such matters relating to housing as the appropriate person may specify," [87(1)(a)]. This may have been better contained within the Housing Bill or, even, the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill. This contains new Regional Spatial Strategies and a new development planning system at the local level including local development frameworks and action plans.

  5.  To this needs to be added such strategies as the Regional Housing Strategy, which should inform the work of the new Regional Housing Board and the Regional Economic Strategy, which should contain elements relating to housing, prepared under the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998. The spreading of such strategies amongst different pieces of legislation and bodies must lead to a lack of the necessary integration and co-ordination which is vital if housing conditions and availability are to be improved.

  6.  The need for a strategic framework and for different legislation to be linked is shown clearly in the provisions relating to the Right to Buy. The Government has already announced the 42 areas in which the discount would be restricted. Six of these have asked to be excluded from the list and twelve additional authorities have asked to be added. Whilst this has been done on the basis of national indicators of housing stress, the RTPI would argue that such decisions would better be taken through a local planning process which allowed local housing authorities to identify areas in which discount might be restricted or, even, the right to buy or acquire be withdrawn. This decision could be made on the basis of, for example, future plans for regeneration and redevelopment, local housing markets and demographic factors.

  7.  Such decisions could be made within the local housing strategy or within the local development framework. Better, however, would be a situation in which the local housing strategy under the Local Government Bill also fulfilled the statutory purpose of an Action Plan under the Planning and Compensation Bill.

  8.  The RTPI realises that this evidence strays beyond comment on the particular clauses in the draft Bill. We are, however, concerned that, as successive pieces of housing, planning and local government legislation are brought forward, the opportunity is being lost to provide an integrated strategic framework that is embedded in legislation in a clear and comprehendable way.

  9.  For this reason, the RTPI suggests that the opportunity should be taken in this Bill to seek to bring together some of the different strategies that are relevant to housing. This could be done initially, for example, by inserting a clause in the Bill which requires Regional housing Bodies to demonstrate that they have had regard to Regional Spatial Strategies in fulfilling the functions in respect of the allocation of financial resources.

  10.  The Royal Town Planning Institute would be pleased to discuss with the Committee the matters raised in this Memorandum.

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