The North needs ‘transformational vision’ on housing

New report pitches potential for alternative planning models.

Angel of the North

The North needs a “transformational vision” for housing delivery that builds on collaboration and innovation in identifying strategic opportunities for new settlements.

A new report pitches potential for alternative models of collaborative brownfield/ greenfield planning to stimulate urban regeneration across the region and boost the delivery of affordable homes – with an emphasis on affordable housing in and around rural and coastal locations.

Ambitions for the North, launched by the Royal Town Planning Institute(RTPI), says not enough housing is being planned for in the North under the Standard Methodology, which is out of step with the transformational economic agenda.

This, the report says, could lead to “profound” social and economic consequences if left unchecked.

It recommends a more strategic approach to the location of new housing is required that needs to move away from a ‘five-year supply’ numbers exercise to integrated planning for housing, economic development and infrastructure.

The report recognises the North as a “very affordable place to live” but where young people don’t have sufficient options for living in rural areas.

More new homes are needed, in locations where people want to live and at a price that residents can afford, the report says.

Urban “liveability”, diversification of housing, quality of place, place-making and re-use of brownfield land are acknowledged as increasingly important drivers of change.

Where the North has a large number of towns and cities with high quality historic centres, the report says these can be adapted to cater for this growing trend – with the potential for declining centres to be re-imagined.

However, social infrastructure is identified as “often poor” in the North’s secondary towns, with limited investment – adding to a perception that these places are declining or run down.

As such, the report says investment in place making should be a key part of future plans.

Land values are generally lower in the North, and the cost of regenerating ‘difficult’ urban sites identified for housing is high, making viability a real barrier to delivering new homes away from higher value locations, the report says.

Ian Tant, President of the RTPI, said: “At a time when the North looks set to receive unprecedented levels of investment, we must think hard about how to capitalise on this to ensure that change benefits everyone over the long term.

“Entrenched ways of delivering housing and infrastructure through silo working will only repeat mistakes of the past.

“This is the moment to reinvest in good planning – from the most local level to strategically across boundaries – to create not only a prosperous North but greener, healthier, more inclusive and sustainable places that people proudly call home.”

Several government departments, Transport for the North, NP11, combined authorities and other bodies are recognised as having together made significant progress in driving forward the Northern Powerhouse.

But the report says their individual plans need to be knitted together into a coherent whole that would direct development and regeneration strategically to break with unsustainable patterns of land use, road-based housing development and city-oriented investment and help to rebalance the North.

It calls for an overarching spatial vision for the whole of the North of England, supported by strategies similar to the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework for each functional area.

These would allow the North to respond better to social, economic and climatic changes and address the needs of settlements outside the influence of HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, such as coastal towns and deep rural areas.

This kind of pan-North collaborative planning is essential for understanding the impact of major investment and development on people and the environment, and for communities’ views to be taken into account before decisions are made, it says.

Ambitions for the North

The report was commissioned by the RTPI to explore how to transform the North through better planning across the whole region.

It distils the views of over 120 individuals representing business, academia, planning and development and civic interest, gathered in a series of roundtable discussions held last year.

The report calls for prevailing Northern Powerhouse concerns about economic growth and infrastructure to encompass inequalities within the North, high-street decline and neglected towns, public health and the quality of life of all its citizens.

Distinctive northern assets such as heritage in town centres and national parks and Areas of Outstanding Beauty should also be better used and integrated with the overall spatial vision, the report says.

Key recommendations include:

  • A strategic review of housing in the North with which provides an alternative to the government’s numbers-driven “standard methodology” and aligns more closely with the North’s growth strategy
  • A Ports, Logistics, Airports and Industrial Strategy for the North
  • An overarching spatial vision for the North of England built around sustainable modes of transport, supported by spatial strategies for each functional area similar to the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework
  • Spatial plans for National Parks and AoNBs with the same status as the above plans and integrated with them
  • A single platform of open data to facilitate better collaborative planning

The report has been undertaken by Peter Brett Associates and the University of Newcastle, on behalf of the RTPI and is  part of the Great North Plan project that that RTPI and IPPR North initiated in 2015.

This established, through a call for evidence, roundtable discussions and a Northern Summit in 2016, an overwhelming support for a Great North Plan (93% of respondents).

Since then a Strategic Transport Plan from TfN, a Northern Energy Strategy from IPPR, and a wealth of economic data and evidence has gone public.

The spatial framework launched today focuses on place-making and quality of life and argues how more coordinated strategic planning can help make the North more sustainable, resilient and inclusive.