Thursday, 9 November 2017

Annual Midlands Development Management Conference

Landmark Planning 's 19th annual event was, I am pretty sure,voted a success by the 150 who were there. Next year's RTPI President, John Acres, opened proceedings with an insightful shifting of the gaze from the coal face; but delegates seemed most interested in the substantive content on how to do their job better. 

Alfreton Rd Nottingham, Major scheme by Hodders -
Gail Stoten assessment of harm to heritage assets was very well received while the role play (based upon North Kesteven's Planning Committee model) was not only enjoyable, but also very educational. The fact that the audience came to a very different conclusion than the Blaby Committee who actually had to determine the application was instructive to say the least. Ian Davies, the real life  Development Manager gave the post decisions consequences, which highlighted that we are in the real world making real decisions that affect people' lives. 

And that is why Development Management  is so important. The other joy is our advocates Hugh Richards and Simon Stanion who always ham their roles up to be parodies of objectors and supporters. Good on you guys.

This year we concluded the day with the legal updates from Hugh and James Burcher, which worked well. As they had been on opposite sides in the first Supreme Court case on the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) (five years after it was issued) brought a real insight into where we stand at the moment.The primacy of the Development Plan and where a Council cannot demonstrate a five year housing land supply then the 'tilted' balance of NPPF para 14 and sustainable development is only then engaged is fundamental. 

By next year in time, for our 20th anniversary event, hopefully more can be known and explained about how we actually define this housing need. Not before time I hear you say. Book early as we were sold out this time and had an unfulfilled waiting list.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Housing Need and Finance: Many Challenges but Cautious Optimism.

Last Monday night saw the latest of Landmark's free development seminars at the Parcel Yard. Held for an hour or so after work, followed by retiring to the bar seems a great way to have some very genuine CPD and hear the views of other professionals from a variety of disciplines.
This time we ran with three speakers, not two, with Pat Willoughby (Strategic Planning Manager, Leicester & Leicestershire); Grant Butterworth (Head of Planning, Leicester) and Mike Kirsopp (CEO Cambridge and Counties Bank).
Pat ran through where we are in terms of assessing housing need, following the completion of the HEDNA (Housing & Economic Development Needs Assessment).  This is assuming the Government don’t change the assessment method! That is we know the need, but it has not been agreed how to allocate it across the County.
Grant demonstrated current Leicester trends and policy responses, particularly on the new frontier of the Waterside, namely lower height and density than recent student and more general flat development. This led wonderfully into what are the current trends and opportunities to finance the undoubted need.
Mike talked through emerging sources of finance, especially from abroad and then went on to look how political interference so affected the market. However, his most interesting comments were saved for the broader investment classes that are emerging, post the student market explosion of the last 10 years. 
While the housing crisis will not be solved through the commercial markets alone, cultural shifts from increased large scale, private sector rent (PRS) development to different financial products (e.g. multi-generational mortgages) and modular factory production to deal with skill shortages, speed development and reduce costs are the ways forward. Added together, this gives me grounds for cautious optimism.
And very interestingly the speakers all agreed that a new paradigm is opening up inside our cities, where the greatest opportunities and growth could occur. Greenfield development, especially in sustainable urban extensions (SUEs) is becoming increasingly difficult for a plethora of reasons and will not solve our housing crisis. Cautious optimism, with different solutions and tools, including greater public/private partnerships to what has been the tradition of the last 60 years, will be the way forward.
What a stimulating evening!

Thursday, 6 April 2017

From Planetary to Provincial Gentrification: Lessons for Leicester.

 This was the second of Leicester’s Urban Observatory Talks on key issues relevant to the growth of the City.

The Observatory itself is a collaboration between the County’s three universities and the City Council. The intention is to bring together the local wealth of expertise in urban studies, architecture and planning history and open up an informed debate on urban planning with the wider community.

It is a superb initiative already securing a steady following. I think it would benefit if a way could be found to broaden its audience to involve more of the key development decision makers both public and private.

This second talk was given by Professor Loretta Lees of the University of Leicester and based upon her book “Planetary Gentrification” and subsequent work. I will immediately confess that I have not read the book and rely on her presentation.

The basic premise, as I read it, is that gentrification in major cities such as London has negative consequences, particularly in displacing and marginalising the poor from the heart of our urban communities. These people are then pushed out to the fringes and separated from each other, so that their family and friend support networks are broken. And this leads to poorer lives for those for whom help is most needed.
Urban Regeneration in Leicester City Centre on New Walk

I do not and could not disagree with her sentiment in any way, but I just cannot see it happening in provincial cities like Leicester anytime soon.

Using Leicester as an example, I can accept that in the comprehensive slum clearances from the 1920’s to early 1970’s this will have happened.

However, there has been no such activity since that time other than the demolition of some major tower blocks built in the ‘60s and ‘70s. These were blighted with such physical fabric and social problems that very few would defend their retention.

Instead I would argue that one of the City’s principal problems since the 1920’s has been the flight of the affluent and wealth creators to the surrounding countryside. This substantial disconnect continues to exist with, for example, one of the continuing challenges for our major regional shopping centre (Highcross) is how to attract into the City the wealthier shopper, who can have a major input into the City’s economy.

Meanwhile Leicester’s urban regeneration continues apace. Much of the City centre has been revitalised. I do not have the figures, but my guess is that the residential population has multiplied five fold this century. No one has been displaced.

Equally, if one looks at the wider Waterside area of the City where much of the urban regeneration of the next 10 years must be concentrated, it is very largely empty spaces or still redundant commercial premises. There are very few, if any, residential properties. If you look at these areas carefully (because most is hidden from the main routes) it is amazing the space available. How to get these areas developed, with socially mixed communities, including gentrification, is the real challenge. 

The lessons we should be learning (good and bad, but mostly good), is from such developments as the successful City Challenge Urban regeneration of Bede Island etc. of the 1990’s. Gentrification in Leicester, I would suggest, is a side issue at best.

Urban regeneration is multifaceted. What is happening in Leicester and other similar cities include a whole range of new housing types from major student housing schemes to privately rented schemes (PRS), often in large discrete blocks. What we want to learn more about is how to encourage redevelopment, but at the same time maintain the uniqueness and enhance the quality of development, plus continue the place for all social classes in our City.

Being unashamedly a practitioner, I always feel it is easy for academics to look at one particular issue. The real challenge is how to blend all the competing objectives into a successful vibrant and inclusive City. Now that is where I would like to see academic research concentrated.

Peter Wilkinson