If these pages seem to be focusing, lately, on housing and the creation of new communities, that’s because there seems to be public and policy fixations on these related and important issues. As we enter 2013, two recent reports add to the housing confusion: one suggested that the abolition of spatial strategies back in 2010 has led to councils radically reducing their housing targets, and argues that the Government should focus on ensuring councils actually deliver the homes their targets propose. In December 2012, the Government suggested that housing planning permissions in England rose 36 per cent in Q3 2012 against the previous quarter, but admitted that the level of homes being delivered is still well below actual needs. It also transpired that two councils are being advised that their draft local plans for housing may not comply with the National Planning Policy Framework’s housing requirements.
The second report from labour union Unison claims that the Government’s New Homes Bonus Scheme is draining resources away from the recession-hit north, for example Newcastle and the north-east, to wealthier parts of the country in the south. Money for the new homes scheme is deducted from local council grants and then redistributed – not on the basis of need or population – but to areas where most new homes are built which largely depends on decisions made by private developers. Building firms meanwhile are unsurprisingly shying away from poorer areas that have been hit hardest by the recession and choosing to build in areas where the profit potential is greatest, suggests the report.
Add to this mix the apparent eagerness on the part of local communities to engage with neighbourhood planning, and we have a potential potboiler on our hands. Surely, what we need is a thorough examination of policy and performance to date, and a will to make space for new delivery community frameworks that are being successfully achieved elsewhere in Europe. Will 2013 be the year to that the UK can boldly go where others are already doing rather nicely, thank you?