Full Steam Ahead for Zoning Based Planning in Budget – Why the Shift is Essential

Im no fan of the Chancellors previously unfocussed let them build where they like approach to planning reform – which clearly failed to produce the number needed.  So the gradual shift towards a zoning based system – signalled in last years housing act – is full steam ahead in the Budget.

more streamlined planning system
Budget 2016 therefore announces:

– the government’s intention to move to a more zonal and ‘red line’ planning approach, where local authorities use their local plans to signal their development strategy from the outset and make maximum use of permission in principle, to give early certainty and reduce the number of stages developers must go through to get planning permission
– measures to speed up the planning system, including minimising the delays caused by planning conditions, and ensuring the delivery of local plans by 2017

-Garden towns, cities, and villages
– The government supports the construction of a new wave of garden towns and
cities across the country, with the potential to deliver over 100,000 homes. The Budget announces that the government will legislate to make it easier for local authorities to work together to create new garden towns, as well as consult on a second wave of Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) reforms with the objective of making the CPO process clearer, fairer and quicker.
-For areas that want to establish smaller settlements, the government will provide technical and financial support to areas that want to establish garden villages and market towns of between 1,500 to 10,000 homes. The government will shortly announce what planning and financial flexibilities will be offered to local authorities that submit proposals for settlements that deliver a significant number of additional houses.

On this blog ive long argued the only logical step for planning reform to uplift delivery and deliver on large scale brownfield and Garden Communities is to shift to a zoning and subdivision based system.

The reason is it is quicker and produces higher quality results.

I know this because this is my day job.  I have for a many years been based outside of the UK, and fully for five years now.  My day job is as principal masterplanner and urban planner for an international firm with over 3,000 employees.  I am typing this from the city with the fastest growth rate in the world, and have been offline on this blog as I have been concentrating on drawing up a ‘form based’ zoning and subdivision plan for 7sq km for the city with the highest land values in the world.  In a couple of weeks i’m off to a country developing over 100 new cities some over 100 Sq km needed to house a workforce growth of 15 million by 2030.  Do you think they achieve this with a handful of planners taking years to prepare a plan  for a few thousand home which doesn’t even get you a permission?

The English obsession with development control and delay as far as possible style local plans is the biggest misdirection of planning talent in the world – developed or undeveloped.  Planners are trained to write reports not to build towns and place.  Reports aimed at wrapping controversy in a comfort blanket of verbiage rather than securing world class sustainable places.   The English planning system has been adrift of best international practice since the early 70s and the NPPF was its deathnell.  Its only hope is to retool around the skills and practice of zoning and subdivision based systems.

Zoning works because it is quicker, for an experienced masterplanner as you design a community you zone for it- testing at the same time for the key environmental and infrastructural parameters, parameters all wildly disconnected in England  where active barriers are placed to solving problems and securing community consent for a large scale proposal through good design.

Indeed it is quicker by a factor, in the last three weeks me and my team have prepared  a masterplan and zoning scheme for a low energy community of nearly 7 sqkm in three weeks, with a traffic model, public facilities and open space networked roads designs, and cut and fill calculations.  Work has even started on grading the site before the plan is finished.   The client is a local authority development corporation  in partnership with investors.  In a few weeks I hop I can show you it and reveal the some of the techniques necessary for planning to keep up with a world urbanising faster than the profession can plan for it.


6 thoughts on “Full Steam Ahead for Zoning Based Planning in Budget – Why the Shift is Essential

  1. “Zoning works because it is quicker, for an experienced masterplanner as you design a community you zone for it”

    Productivism. A “community” emerges. It’s not delivered.

    Zoning presented here as streamlined development. One waits to see the results, with many slips between cup n lip quite certain. Self-made places, or the proper “inaugurating condition” that permits evolution and finessing of place according to individual enterprise, by no means helped.

  2. Zoning and sub-dividing the crap that is currently being built in this country, but at a faster rate than in previous years, what a wonderful idea Andrew.
    Can you offer even a glimmer of hope that this change will be accompanied by any sort of improvement in the quality of design we currently see being thrown up across the country?

    • Good point – if the outcome of redlining is ‘build what you like here’ is the outcome it will make no difference – it will simply give succor to those housebuilders like the one that famously said ‘forget permeability – we can do what we like’ a few months ago. However the hope of the shift is that it gives a window to bringmasterplanning back and BUILD IT IN as policy n development plans If the profession doesn’t take up this opportunity they will only have themselves to blame.

  3. Is this a case of “plan it” and they (your ultimate but unknown clients) will come and sort out how they want to live in it? Decisions taken without consultation, professional scrutiny, bigger picture inputs and economic testing for viability? All this done in a few weeks at most?

    • Yes it can be done. This was a case with
      -A bank running a viability model
      -Strong demands of an elected municipality
      -A context provided by strategic plans running to over 2,000 pages
      -A expert team providing professional scrutiny in turn scrutinised by a joint expert committee of teh municiplaity

      So it can be done if you dont arse about

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