Building better places Contents

Summary of Conclusions and Recommendations

Chapter Two: The built environment: recent trends and emerging challenges

1.We broadly welcome and support the Government’s focus on increasing and speeding up the supply of housing. We discuss specific initiatives and proposals intended to further this aim in Chapter Five of this report. (Paragraph 58)

2.We are concerned, however, that the focus on quantity of housing must not work to the long-term detriment of planning for the whole of the built environment and the delivery of high quality development. Moves towards deregulation of the planning system, coupled with an intensification of housebuilding, have the potential to exert significant enduring impacts upon the built environment in England. A consistent theme across much of the remainder of this report is the need for quality, as well as quantity, and the need to think about long-term implications for ‘place’, as well as the important and more immediate need for more housing. (Paragraph 59)

Chapter Three: Creating better places: design, quality and standards

3.We believe that, as a nation, we need to recognise the power of place and to be much more ambitious when planning, designing, constructing and maintaining our built environment. Failure to do so will result in significant long-term costs. We now set out some of the important measures that need to be taken to achieve this aim. (Paragraph 64)

4.There are two critical elements currently missing in national policy for the built environment. There is an urgent need for much greater co-ordination and integration across the multiple Government departments that effect and respond to the built environment. There is also a need for a national organisation with the capacity to undertake research, develop guidance and build the networks necessary to raise standards and drive better performance. Solving the first of these problems requires access to Government, while delivering against the second objective requires a degree of independence from it. (Paragraph 78)

5.The built environment cuts across a number of central Government departments and our evidence has demonstrated that integration of policy is sadly lacking. We believe that the Cabinet Office should initially play a greater role in addressing policy coordination in this field, by reviewing areas of policy overlap between different departments and publishing definitive guidance on the division of responsibilities. (Paragraph 83)

6.To deliver longer-term coordination we recommend the appointment of a Chief Built Environment Adviser, a recognised expert appointed from within the sector to lead this work at an official level. The role of the Chief Built Environment Adviser would be to co-ordinate relevant policy across central Government departments, to act as a champion for higher standards and to promote good practice across and beyond Government. The status and reporting arrangements of the Chief Built Environment Adviser should be broadly equivalent to those of the Government Chief Scientific Adviser. (Paragraph 84)

7.In addition, we believe that some of the key functions carried out by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment have been lost. This is to the long-term detriment of the built environment. We recommend that the Government should establish and fund a small, strategic unit to conduct, commission and disseminate research and guidance on architecture and design within the built environment. This new unit should be led by the Chief Built Environment Adviser, and should have access to expertise, research and insight from across and beyond Government. (Paragraph 85)

8.We recommend that the Chief Built Environment Adviser should produce an annual report providing high-level monitoring of quality and delivery within the built environment, and establishing priorities for research, policy and action. The annual reports should be laid before Parliament as Command Papers. (Paragraph 86)

9.We believe it is important that the Government sets high standards for the built environment, and provides the vision, aspiration and leadership to enable others to deliver against those standards. We recommend that the Government should publish, consult on and adopt a high level policy for architecture and place quality in England. Following adoption, the policy should be monitored and reviewed at regular intervals. Publication of this policy should be an early priority for the Chief Built Environment Adviser who should, thereafter, keep it under review. (Paragraph 89)

10.We believe that the Government, and other major public sector commissioners, must lead by example and set the highest possible standards in major construction projects. We recommend that the Government Construction Strategy should be reviewed. This review should acknowledge and emphasise the Government’s leadership role in these matters, and set out measures and mechanisms for implementing high standards of public procurement in construction projects, seeking to balance place and quality with value. (Paragraph 93)

11.It is important that planners and all policy makers, including those working in housing, take account of the health impacts of their decisions; failure to do so will lead to significant long-term costs. We welcome the inclusion of specific health policies within the National Planning Policy Framework, but there is much work still to be done to encourage proper integration between planning and health. Health and Wellbeing Boards need to play a more proactive role in developing links, across different local authority structures, to encourage greater integration. (Paragraph 99)

12.If built environment policies are to take account of health impacts it is essential that they are informed by a robust evidence base. Local authorities should be proactive in undertaking monitoring of the health outcomes and impacts of planning decisions. We recommend that the Government should, within the National Planning Practice Guidance, set out a common framework of health indicators for local planning authorities to monitor. (Paragraph 104)

13.We welcome recent moves towards the adoption and use of health impact assessments in decision making on major planning applications. We call upon the Government to support such initiatives, and to examine ways in which health impact assessments could be more closely integrated into development management processes. (Paragraph 105)

14.Decisions regarding streets and highways have a major impact upon the built environment, as well as on air quality and pedestrian safety. Those decisions should be made in accordance with existing best practice guidance. We recommend that local authorities—including authorities with highways responsibilities—should fully adopt Manual for Streets and should adhere to the policies contained within it. (Paragraph 110)

15.Interventions in the public realm are frequently uncoordinated, and suffer from a lack of accountable leadership. All too often the poor quality of the public realm proves detrimental to the built environment and to those people who live within it. We recommend that local authorities should give one Cabinet Member (or senior officer) responsibility for coordinating services which impact upon street quality and the public realm. Such services have a major impact upon the wellbeing of local people and communities. (Paragraph 114)

16.We welcome the establishment of the National Infrastructure Commission and the capacity that it should provide to take a longer-term view of infrastructure needs. We believe, however, that transport infrastructure in particular needs to be properly integrated into its local surroundings, in order to deliver full economic and social benefits, and an appropriate return on investment. The knowledge required to support this integration is often held by local stakeholders and communities. (Paragraph 122)

17.While the Commission is tasked with considering national priorities, the effects of its proposals and projects will often be local in nature. The Commission will need to develop an approach to engaging with local communities, and mechanisms to encourage community support for projects. We note that the Commission is currently undertaking a consultation on its structures and operating practices. As part of its response to that consultation we recommend that the Commission should consider, and publicise its approach to:

18.We welcome the emphasis placed on design review in the National Planning Policy Framework. Design review has the potential to deliver significant improvements to planning proposals, thereby raising standards and encouraging community acceptance of development. It can, therefore, help to speed up the process of securing planning permission. (Paragraph 129)

19.We note, however, that the current provision of such services is disjointed and fragmented. In some places, there are issues of funding and quality. In part, this is a result of the voluntary nature of design review; an insufficient number of applications are going through the process to justify wider investment. The Government should make design review mandatory for all major planning applications; major applications have major impacts on the communities in which they take place. (Paragraph 130)

20.The Government has stated its intention to make permanent the change in office to residential permitted development rights. It is clear, however, that in some parts of the country this change could be detrimental to the built environment. There are concerns regarding the design quality and suitability of some of the housing that is being provided through these conversions. In addition, concerns have been expressed regarding the loss of local character and important employment sites, posing a threat to the mix of uses required to deliver sustainable places. (Paragraph 139)

21.Local authorities are well placed to understand whether an increase in office to residential conversions will be appropriate for their area. We believe that, when changing permitted development rights, the Government must also make it easier for local authorities to respond to local circumstances. We recommend that the Government should review and remove some of the restrictions that currently prevent more widespread use of Article 4 directions by local authorities. One such result might be the removal of the current 12 month period of notice that councils are required to observe in order to avoid liability for compensation payments. (Paragraph 140)

22.We are anxious to ensure that moves towards a permission in principle do not undermine the capacity of local authorities to develop, design and integrate key sites in a way that ensures that they function effectively and respond to local needs and aspirations. The relationship between principle and detail is important in the planning system. We recommend that the Government should carefully consider the impact its reforms could have upon this relationship. As a minimum, it is important that the process of granting permission in principle and Technical Details Consent should give due regard to design quality, sustainability, archaeology, heritage and all the other key components of place-making that would normally be required for the granting of planning permission. (Paragraph 148)

Chapter Four: Building for the long-term: sustainability and resilience

23.We call on the Government to examine ways in which the provision of specialist retirement housing can be incentivised and increased. We recommend that the Government should examine and review the case for exempting such housing from Section 106 and Community Infrastructure Levy payments. (Paragraph 155)

24.We believe that the Lifetime Homes standard can play a key part in addressing the demographic challenge facing our housing stock. We recommend that local authorities should be required, within their local planning policies, to set appropriately ambitious targets for the delivery of Lifetime Homes. (Paragraph 161)

25.We believe that accessibility in the built environment is of vital importance; improving the standard of accessibility is essential if we are to address the long-term demographic changes that are projected to take place. (Paragraph 166)

26.We recommend that the Government should set an appropriately high standard in this regard, and should provide guidance drawn from best practice examples such as the Olympic Park. Local authorities and their partners must give this an appropriate degree of priority, and should look to develop and apply ‘lifetime neighbourhood’ principles within their local planning policies. (Paragraph 167)

27.Changing technologies and patterns of retail behaviour are posing a significant challenge to our high streets. There is a threat to the long-term resilience of our town centres and the vitality of the urban built environment. We believe that local leadership is central in addressing this challenge. (Paragraph 174)

28.Planners should continue to encourage retail development into existing town centres. They must also begin to think more proactively, and creatively, about other ways to stimulate additional activity and footfall. Additional residential development may help to deliver this, but must be implemented with due regard for design quality, living standards, a diverse and sustainable mix of uses and the overall cohesion of the built environment. A wide range of services, alongside retail, can help to drive footfall. These include leisure, culture, sports, health, education and small scale manufacturing. Local authorities should use their multiple resources and responsibilities to proactively shape their town centres and positively plan for their future. (Paragraph 175)

29.England lacks a proactive, long-term national strategy for managing our historic environment, as part of planning for the future of the built environment. We believe that such a strategy, which would recognise the full value of our built heritage as a unique national and local asset, central to place-making, should be articulated for the future. (Paragraph 180)

30.Both DCMS and DCLG are responsible, in different ways, for heritage policy and the way in which these policies impact upon the built environment. We do not support the calls for ministerial responsibility for heritage to move from DCMS to DCLG. We would like, however, to see evidence of more joint leadership and proactive joint working between the departments in developing policies, for example, for heritage and regeneration, and across joint policy areas such as the protection of World Heritage Sites. (Paragraph 181)

31.The National Planning Policy Framework seeks to balance heritage protection and development policies. We believe that it is essential that this balance is sustained, enhanced and delivered. We recommend that planning and development policy and practice should reflect more explicitly the fact that our historic environment is a cultural and economic asset rather than an obstacle to successful future developments—whether in urban or rural areas—and can contribute, uniquely, to the highest standards of design and the quality of community life. (Paragraph 183)

32.At present, VAT is charged at a rate of 20% on repairs and maintenance to existing buildings, while VAT on much new-build construction is zero-rated. This provides a perverse disincentive to the retention, restoration and revitalisation of historic buildings, and works to prevent owners from looking after them properly. We recommend that the Government should review the rates of VAT charged on repairs to listed buildings, and examine the economic rationale for reducing the rate. (Paragraph 187)

33.We recommend that the Government takes a more proactive approach to the provision of Sustainable Drainage Systems. The Government should consider whether to introduce a separate approval regime, as was envisaged in the Flood and Water Management Act 2010, or whether to upgrade the status of Sustainable Drainage Systems to critical infrastructure. (Paragraph 199)

34.Further efforts need to be made to increase flood resilience in the built environment. This would include taking steps to reduce the number of new properties built in areas of flood risk against Environment Agency advice. In addition, there should be a requirement for all new properties in flood risk areas to have flood resilience measures built in. Government should also promote a co-ordinated programme of retrofit for the growing number of existing properties in such areas. (Paragraph 200)

35.The Government should reverse its decision to remove the requirement for new homes to generate no net carbon emissions (known as the “zero carbon homes” policy) and its decision to remove the Code for Sustainable Homes. The Government must set out and implement a viable trajectory towards energy efficiency and carbon reduction in new homes. (Paragraph 207)

36.We believe that the Government must be more proactive in supporting retrofit measures for existing buildings, and should examine financial measures and mechanisms which would allow for more widespread retrofitting to take place. These might include a low-interest retrofit loan programme on the German model, or consideration of a more effective replacement for the Green Deal. The Government should consider promoting a “whole building” approach to retrofit to encourage more context-sensitive retrofitting of traditional buildings, looking beyond the building fabric to consider the energy performance of all parts of the building. (Paragraph 216)

37.The Government must do more to protect and promote Green Infrastructure in national policy and guidance, including setting out its benefits for sustainability. It should also encourage local authorities to set minimum standards for Green Infrastructure provision and management in local plans and in planning decision-making. Within and beyond Government, there must be wider recognition of the fact that Green Infrastructure is an asset, and offers wider economic, health and social benefits. (Paragraph 224)

Chapter Five: Delivering more housing

38.We believe that, in addition to measures to support increased private sector housing development, and to encourage home ownership, there should be renewed focus on how built environment policy can support mixed communities including through the provision of long-term affordable rented housing. (Paragraph 241)

39.This should include supporting housing associations in their aspiration to increase housing supply, including reviewing the impact of financial constraints and changes to Government policy. (Paragraph 242)

40.Local authorities can play an important role in meeting the need for housing, but in recent decades have largely lost their ability to contribute to new supply. While there has been a minor revival of council housebuilding in recent years, borrowing restrictions limit their development capacity, and proposed social rent cuts may threaten the viability of new schemes altogether.(Paragraph 252)

41.In recognition that housing need has rarely been met in England without a significant direct contribution from councils, the Government should take steps to ensure that local authorities are able to fulfil their potential as direct builders of new mixed tenure housing. This should include reviewing the impact of borrowing restrictions and proposed social rent reductions. (Paragraph 253)

42.We believe that smaller housebuilding companies can play a bigger part in addressing the housing shortage. The Government should review the NPPF and NPPG with a view to encouraging local authorities to identify and facilitate development on smaller sites. The Government and local authorities should encourage and enable SME builders to use these sites where appropriate, in order to support diversity in the housebuilding market and to help increase housing supply. (Paragraph 261)

43.We recommend that the Government should identify the barriers to access now facing SME builders and review how access to finance for this sector could be improved. The Government should also continue to review the progress of existing initiatives to support small builders, including the Housing Growth Partnership and Housing Development Fund. (Paragraph 266)

44.We believe the Government should expand its review of compulsory purchase procedure set out in the Housing and Planning Bill to incorporate a wider review of the functioning of compulsory purchase and its role in supporting development. The review should focus on seeking the most appropriate balance between improving neighbourhoods, securing necessary development and ensuring the landowner receives fair compensation. (Paragraph 283)

45.The protections afforded to the Green Belt are important; current NPPF policy on the Green Belt should remain. We recommend, however, that the Government should publish clearer guidance on the definition of the “exceptional circumstances” in which Green Belt boundaries may be revised. (Paragraph 294)

46.The Government should also consider strengthening the priority given to brownfield development, including considering the reintroduction of a “brownfield first” policy at national level. (Paragraph 295)

47.We recommend that, in the light of declining resources, smaller planning authorities should be encouraged to share resources and built environment expertise with neighbouring authorities. (Paragraph 304)

48.The Government should consider the potential for extending the Development Corporation model to other major sites in England, where larger housing sites might benefit from having a single delivery authority with stronger powers and where local authorities are supportive. (Paragraph 311)

49.We believe that the Government must consider measures to help accelerate the delivery of housing on sites with planning permission, such as permitting the charge of equivalent council tax rates when development has not commenced after a specified period of time, subject to safeguards when there are genuine reasons to prevent the development proceeding. (Paragraph 323)

50.The Government should revise the NPPF and NPPG to make clear that the process of viability assessment should not be used to compromise the ability of local authorities to meet housing need, including affordable housing need, as determined through development plans. This will reduce the unreasonable use of viability assessments to avoid funding of affordable housing and infrastructure. (Paragraph 335)

51.The Government should also publish a nationally consistent methodology for viability assessment. This methodology should include standardised guidance on calculation of land values and other inputs, and a recommendation for full disclosure of viability assessments. Local authorities and developers should also have the right to seek arbitration from independent viability consultants where agreement on scheme viability cannot be reached. (Paragraph 336)

52.The Government should reconsider its proposal to include “starter homes” within the definition of affordable housing. The proposal risks undermining mixed communities and preventing the delivery of genuinely affordable housing for the long term. (Paragraph 344)

53.The Government should revise its proposal to require starter homes on every reasonably sized development site. Local authorities should retain the discretion to prioritise long-term affordable housing over starter homes in the planning system where appropriate. The Government should also reconsider other policies set out in the Housing and Planning Bill, such as the requirement to sell higher value council homes, given that they could undermine the maintenance of mixed communities. (Paragraph 345)

54.Construction skills shortages are acting as a constraint on the delivery of housing. We urge the Government to take measures to remedy this situation. Such measures might include the expansion of apprenticeships, the promotion of construction trades in courses offered by university technical colleges, and increased support for outreach programmes within educational institutions to encourage more young people to enter the industry. (Paragraph 352)

Chapter Six: Local leadership, delivery and skills

55.Proactive local planning can play an important part in defining a ‘vision’ for a local area and improving the built environment. Local authorities should consider mechanisms that would help them to develop the capacity to do this, including the potential for working outside the statutory planning system to raise the status of planning and regeneration in their area. This might include the production of design frameworks, masterplans or strategies. National and local government should also take steps to increase the capacity of the planning sector as a whole, including through educational outreach programmes as well as partnerships with the private sector, universities and neighbouring authorities. (Paragraph 370)

56.We recommend that the Government should consider how best it might support the development of place-making capacity within local authorities. The Government, and local authorities, should consider the merits of supporting the Public Service initiative proposed by the Planning Officers’ Society, and the introduction of bursaries to students of planning in a similar manner to that offered to the teaching profession in order to help attract the best students. (Paragraph 371)

57.We recommend that the Government should explore how a localised fee regime would help local authorities to deliver a more efficient planning service, with less direct public subsidy. In this context, the Government should also explore how local fees might be regulated to ensure that planning applications remain cost-effective for applicants. (Paragraph 383)

58.Meanwhile, national fees should be set at a level which moves closer to “full cost recovery” for local authorities. The Government should also consider a fee uplift to cover the cost of prior approval applications. (Paragraph 384)

59.We also recommend that local authorities should explore the potential for commercial activity and premium planning services such as the fast tracking of applications, in order to increase revenue for their planning departments. (Paragraph 385)

60.The fundamental approach of a plan-led system should remain unaltered, but national and local government should explore opportunities to make local plan-making more dynamic and responsive to changing conditions. The Government should consider the introduction of additional measures to allow for the partial review, or incremental adoption, of local plans, to avoid the need for a lengthy, resource intensive full plan review when underlying circumstances change. (Paragraph 397)

61.We believe that local authorities should explore working together on joint spatial frameworks on the model of Greater Manchester, and that the Government should give them further encouragement to do so. (Paragraph 412)

62.Such approaches may not, however, be suitable in all parts of the country. In these circumstances, the Government should provide stronger incentives and guidance to ensure that local authorities co-operate effectively on cross-boundary planning matters and that the operation of the “duty to co-operate” does not create blockages and delays in the wider planning system. (Paragraph 413)

63.We recommend that the Government should give stronger weight to emerging neighbourhood plans in planning policy, to enable rejection of speculative development which might conflict with the neighbourhood plan. (Paragraph 421)

64.We recommend that the Government, and local authorities, should take measures to streamline and simplify the neighbourhood planning process, and provide resources for promoting the establishment of neighbourhood forums and supporting the neighbourhood planning process in areas where take-up has been low. (Paragraph 422)

65.We recommend that there should be stronger policy support for early community engagement in both local plan making and planning decision-making. The Government, and local authorities, should give consideration to making good community engagement a material consideration in major planning decisions. (Paragraph 425)

66.We believe that the Government should consider the introduction of a community right of appeal in certain specified circumstances, such as when a planning decision conflicts with an emerging neighbourhood plan or deals with a site unallocated by the local plan. This may serve to discourage speculative or unsustainable development. (Paragraph 430)

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