Viability in Planning, Wednesday 12th September, UCL

Thank you to the 100+ delegates, from within and outside London, who attended our Viability in Planning event at UCL on Wednesday 12th September.

The NPPF makes it clear that “Pursuing sustainable development requires careful attention to viability and costs in plan-making and decision-taking” (paragraph 173). This event aimed to tackle the fundamental question of how planners in the public and private sector should approach contemporary viability issues.

Alongside the NPPF, a range of (sometimes conflicting) guidance is out there including the Local Housing Delivery Group (LDHG)’s Viability Testing Local Plans document (co-authored by the Home Builders Federation and the Local Government Association and supported by the RTPI) and the RICS’ Viability in Planning document published in August.

At the event, our expert speakers helped make sense of the emerging guidance and how to apply it in practice, within the wider context of ‘planning gain’ for social benefit in planning.

Professor Pat McAllister from the Bartlett School of Planning, UCL (formerly of HenleyBusinessSchool, University of Reading) introduced the session by introducing the basic residual land value methodology and findings from recent interviews and research conducted in the field of development viability. McAllister stated that the “single most contested issue is the Threshold Land Value”. McAllister’s presentation can be viewed here.

John Stewart, Director of Economic Affairs at the Home Builders Federation (HBF) put across the point that “viability should be seen simply as a measure, not an outcome”. Stewart also proposed that if a local planning authority’s policies are unaffordable, they should prioritise these policies to ensure that the outcome of sustainable development can be achieved. Stewart’s presentation can be viewed here.

Keith Holland, Assistant Director for Development Plans and Major Casework at the Planning Inspectorate outlined the Inspectorate’s approach to viability and suggested that there may need to be a re-think on whether social infrastructure should be paid for by development or by general taxation, given that development viability has been squeezed since the economic downturn.

Michael Edwards from the Bartlett School of Planning, UCL and Duncan Bowie from the University of Westminster also contributed to the debate by drawing on extensive experience of considering viability assessments and setting out the importance of ensuring that planning outcomes and benefits are not simply disregarded each time viability is questioned to ensure that truly sustainable development is achieved. Edwards and Bowie have contributed to the Highbury Group paper on viability which can be viewed here.

Information on UCL’s planning courses can be found here and on Westminster’s short courses, including an Introduction to Development Finance can be viewed here.

The event was also covered on Twitter, so do feel free to follow up the debate on there: @RTPI_London #viability.

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