This year’s World Town Planning Day was hosted by Battersea Power Station Development Company, and sponsored by Oyster Partnership. It attracted over 100 delegates with an interest in emerging concepts for dealing with the ever-present housing crisis. The RTPI, NZPI and PIA London branches organised a provocative debate examining the causes for the housing crisis in London. Speakers were asked to present their views on issue and propose solutions, including ideas for the application of innovative housing concepts.
Zoe Green, a representative from RTPI London, set the scene for the evening. She noted that the theme was a timely topic given the Planning & Housing Bill had just undergone its second reading. It features some controversial policies such as permanency of Permitted Development Rights. Zoe stated that “as demand outstrips supply, house prices and rental values are rising rapidly, making homes increasingly overcrowded and unaffordable. A new generation is emerging for whom there seems little point in dreaming of their own London home.”
James Stevens, Strategic Planning for the Home Builders Federation, opened the discussion with a reflection on the comments made by the Planning Inspector. Having recently examined the alterations to the London Plan, they had questioned the Mayor’s ability to guarantee the delivery of the additional housing required each year to meet identified need. James suggested a number of mechanisms which could be applied strategically to unlock housing potential. He proposed that the Mayor could take responsibility for negotiations under the Duty to Cooperate between London boroughs and outer London boroughs. Reference was also made to a recent strategic review of greenbelt undertaken by GL Hearn that suggested that just 4% of greenbelt would be required to meet housing need up to 2050. James then reviewed the positions of the respective mayoral candidates for addressing the housing crisis.
Gordon Adams, Head of Planning at Battersea Power Station Development Company, then provided an insight into the complicated and turbulent history to the Battersea Power Station project. He then talked us through the emerging proposals for the site and the wider Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea Opportunity Area. Gordon emphasises that the key to delivering the objectives of the project was a comprehensive approach to infrastructure which allowed the development potential of the sites to be unlocked. Gordon then spoke about an innovative proposal being explored by the Company in conjunction with a neighbouring waste transfer station, to provide benefits to both parties through a joint venture approach.
Finally the audience heard from Russ Edwards, Design Director at Pocket, who discussed the approach being explored by Pocket in providing an alternative housing product aimed at providing for the “squeezed middle”. Russ explained that Pocket is currently working on 17 projects across 10 London boroughs and has mixed experiences of working with Local Planning Authorities. Russ made it clear that to plan our way out of the housing crisis we need to find mechanisms to avoid investment purchases and subletting. We also need to provide a better business environment for small and medium developers.
Following the presentations, the panel faced some tough questions from delegates who queried whether the solutions offered were “tinkering around the edges of broader issues” and whether any of their purported solutions would have any meaningful effect on the problems faced. In response, the panel agreed that there is a lack of innovative solutions to address the problem at present and that housing policy has been the biggest political failure of the last ten years. The panel suggested that “revolution or reform” are necessary to deal with the current problem and that more certainty needs to be provided to both small and large house builders to reduce the risks, particularly in London.
A lively networking event then followed where the debate continued into the evening. Thank you to all our speakers, sponsors and delegates for taking part in what was an interesting thought provoking debate to celebrate World Town Planning Day 2015.
Review by Sarah Jones, representative from NZPI
If you would like a copy of any/all of the presentations by James, Gordon or Russ, please e-mail Zoe Green: firstname.lastname@example.org