Keith Boyfield: Think pink for the future of housing

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One of the key issues highlighted during the election campaign was the urgent need to build new homes and new communities to house our spiralling population. The Office of National Statistics (ONS) estimates Britain’s population may reach 70 million by 2024, four years earlier than anticipated. Where are they all going to live?

In 2011, only 110,000 new homes were built across the entire country. The rate has edged up in the last few years but it remains well below the annual figure of 200,00 new homes targeted in Labour’s manifesto – the Liberal Democrats were in favour of building 300,000 new homes a year along with 10 new garden cities.

The Conservatives have omitted to mention a target figure but all three parties are committed to building more homes.

Our Pink Planning initiative – promoted by the Centre for Policy Studies – aims to set out a strategy for how the incoming Tory government can deliver on the widely held view that we must build more homes, particularly for younger people and their families.

We envisage the creation of Pink Zones – named pink because they will benefit from a dilution of the present red tape planning controls shackling new, attractive development. In these designated zones, we want to see the creation of new homes to either buy and rent, supported by a raft of social, retail and leisure amenities.

What distinguishes Pink Zones is the fact that they are designed to work from the bottom up – not the top down as with the New Towns built in the 1950s and 1960s – bringing together a range of stakeholders including local residents, landowners, developers and local councils to achieve a consensus view on new development.

If a consensus cannot be reached, Pink Zones will not be built.

But we think that that Pink Zones will provide a useful channel to sidestep the labyrinthine complexity of planning controls that have done so much to push up house prices in this country. Pink Zones will increase competition, bypass many planning regulations and improve design standards by employing a Special Purpose Vehicle as the delivery mechanism.

Policy clearance will come from central government through a permission to apply, thereby encouraging investment in development schemes and offering an element of confidence to potential funders.

The distinctive aspects of our recommended Pink Planning approach are threefold: firstly, incentives are offered for community co-operation, thereby reducing adversarial conflict; secondly, this approach rewards co-operative development with a streamlined procedure; and thirdly, it expands the range of developer’s contributions and involvement beyond infrastructure, to include employment growth and other factors that supply residents’ wider needs and make the developed communities good places to live and work.

The inspiration for this approach stems from Britain’s Victorian and Edwardian history – periods in which we constructed attractive towns and suburbs across the country to house Britain’s rapidly growing population and enable people to live within commuting distance of their workplace. This was the driving impetus behind new communities in Birmingham, Manchester, and, not least, Leeds and towns such as Harrogate. It was in Harrogate, after all, that the Victorian inventor Samson Fox – forebear of the acting dynasty – donated funds to house the poor as well as putting up the money to construct the Royal Hall theatre. His inspiration was typical of the Victorian and Edwardian age, where tycoons and philanthropists such as Lord Leverhulme built fine new communities to accommodate their workforce.

Since the Second World War, Britain seems to have lost the knack to build communities as well as homes. Many of the New Towns built after the war were poorly constructed, lacking both amenities and infrastructure.

Yorkshire is now in a position to lead the way on a new era of enlightened planning. Towns such as Harrogate have been resistant to new building – the planning inspector Phillip Ware told councillors to rethink the town’s local plan last year because its annual target of 390 homes was not even a half of the total which assessors judged was required.

Our latest study suggests that the HS3 rail link offers a great opportunity to build Pink Zones along the route of this proposed arterial transport link. Our Victorian forefathers had the vision to build such communities: it’s time we followed their example.