What is the Planning Gap how how to Fix it?

In my previous piece I looked at the top 10 causes of the gap between what we need to build to hit the national 300k target and what we are planning for and building.

I’ll call this the ‘planning gap’, planning here having a dual meaning both town planning and programme planning by developers.

As a number of commentators pointed out these problems are largely due to the introduction of a neo-liberal philosophy dismantling planning institutions, and a failed attempt to bridge the gap with systems of ‘spontanious order’ such as the NPPF presumption. I use the term neo-liberal normatively only to describe an institutional ideology.

As a dominant force Neoliberalism is weakened, especially by the increased intervention produced by Covid.

Where preceding waves of neoliberalization resulted in the limitation of democratic control over economic policymaking, the present nationalist wave captained by Donald Trump and his copycats is defined by efforts of political illiberalization, brazenly seeking to undo the institutional setup of liberal-democratic checks and balances, seeing legislative and judicial branches of government subjected to a power-hungry executive.

This is not confined to one party. The most striking development is English local politics has been the rise of Advocado Nimbyism (green on outside brown on inside) , equally amongst Lib-Dems, Greens, independents conservatives and any Labour group in opposition to a conservative Group proposing Green Belt release. The enemy of planning here is a retreat to the local and a denial of the ability of increased supply to meet need.

Hence despite history disproving the Neo-liberal hypothesis government has been thrashing around for institutional solutions to meeting national objectives. Part of this is seen in bodies such as the Policy Exchange, Centre for Cities and Create Streets backing zoning. If done well it would help, but there is no sign of it being done well because of an almost complete lack of analysis of the ‘planning gap’ and how to fix it, what are the institutional barriers to delivery and how to fix them.

If you are to rebuild planning from its ruins I suggest the following.

Looks at housing need (national uncapped) functional region (travel to work area) and determine what are the key issues and risks. This is the approach adopted in project/programme management. You look at your targets (project controls) and look at the systematic risks from worst to least and tackle the root causes of the risks. Such an approach requires collaboration between Central and Local Government and should I suggest be led by Homes England. Looking at West Yorkshire for example we have key risks such as a weak market, with oversupply of apartments able to be absorbed by the market, constrained urban areas to the North and West, weak transport connections in many areas etc. The gap issues will be very different than Oxford say where there is uncertainty over employment growth, the number of overspill houses from London, water supply and rail investment. Doing such an exercise would give some spatial awareness to Government and stopping it persuing impossible policies, such as increasing housing targets for Brighton by 35% whereas it can can only meet 1/3rd of its current target by being surrounded by a National Park. It would also see potential synergies and solutions between subregions

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