Architects’ Journal for February 2007

By Brian Waters

The new Planning Policy Guidance note 3 – Housing published late last year, will have a profound effect on residential development over the next few years. It’s reception so far has been somewhat overshadowed by Kate Barker’s report which suggests a different and contradictory direction for planning. Although a new planning White Paper is in the works and changes will follow, PPS3 is the policy for now.
It differs markedly from last year’s draft which was widely criticised, so contains some surprises and has been particularly badly received by house builders. Roger Humber, adviser to the House Builders Association, says it is much worse than the draft. He focusses on para 22: “Based on the findings of the required Strategic Housing Market Assessment… local planning authorities should set out… the likely profile of household types requiring market housing…” This he says is “no less than the nationalisation of the industry 21st Century style.”
The guidance is based on the assumption that local authorities will, through these Assessments, identify and predict what should be built several years ahead of plans being prepared. Implementing PPS3 is going to be extremely bureaucratic, requiring local authority market assessments and land availability surveys, so slowing down further Local Development Framework plans.
Humber also points out what he calls a ‘subtle double whammy’ which will present builders with another massive problem: in a new definition low-cost market housing no longer qualifies as ‘affordable’.” This and the uncosted burden of ministerial intentions to achieve zero-carbon housing by 2016 could be utterly catastrophic”, he says.
Maybe all a bit over the top, but a far cry from Kate Barker’s call for greater sensitivity to ‘market signals’, which recognises the importance of the ability of builders to judge the market demand for what they build and to respond swiftly, if output is to be maximised and unaffordibility reduced.
Architects are tasked with helping to conceive the appropriate mix and to get schemes through the ever more complex planning system, so an understanding of these issues matters. However our main armoury is design.
CABE’s Esther Kurland writing in Planning in London ( pulls out the design messages for planning authorities from PPS3:
Para 9 – Strategic Housing Policy Objectives
The PPS calls for decent homes, provided where people want to live. The PPS sets two basic tests, the need for a high quality product and the building of it in the right place. Achieving just one of these will not be enough. Both require good design.
Para 10 – Planning for Housing Policy Objectives
Number 1 in the list of the PPS’s planning objectives is: ‘high quality housing that is well-designed and built to a high standard’. Most important are the words ‘well-designed’. This relates to a process not just a product. Achieving good quality homes in good quality neighbourhoods requires a lot of thought, negotiation, balancing and, of course, designing.
Paras 12-19 – Achieving High Quality Housing
Much of this section reiterates PPS1 policy. So once again we are told that proposals should be making places better for people and take opportunities to improve the character, quality and functioning of the area. But PPS3 goes into more detail than PPS1. It promotes sustainable homes, and suggests the use of the Code for Sustainable Homes as a tool, and calls for ‘innovative’ designs to help create better places. PPS3 also lists things to consider when assessing design quality. These are similar, but not identical, to the questions in Building for Life.
Para 20-24 – Achieving a Mix of Housing
In the past it has been assumed that a mix of housing means mixed price and mixed tenure. These are still important, but there is also a requirement for LPAs to set out a profile of housing sizes required, at site and neighbourhood levels (see above). It also reiterates the requirement to spatially mix different housing and tenure types.
Paras 36 and 44 – Providing housing in suitable locations
This section pushes for the reuse of previously developed land, including gardens! It also mentions possible reviews of Greenbelt designations in areas of high demand and need. The PPS is calling for a co-ordinated and forward-thinking approach to infill and backland development and the ‘re-design of existing areas’ (para 38).
Paras 45-51 – Efficient Use of Land
The crude density matrix included in draft PPS3 has been removed. A basic working minimum of 30 dwellings per hectare is retained, although lower levels could be justified. But the big policy is the call for locally set density ranges. London is used to this with the London Plan matrix, but it is a new concept for many areas.
Para 76-77 – Local Monitoring and Review
Alongside the need to monitor housing permissions and completions, etc sits a requirement to monitor and report on design quality objectives where relevant. This means design quality is a serious objective, not an added on luxury and it means we have to find good ways of monitoring quality.
Brian Waters is principal of the Boisot Waters Cohen Partnership, see