KEY TAKEAWAYS REPORT – Roundtable: Meeting Housing Demand in Kent & Medway
Roundtable: Meeting Housing Demand in Kent & Medway – tools and priorities
Thursday 24 March 2022
Across Kent & Medway, councils are facing huge demand for new housing against the backdrop of uncertainty in planning reform. Drawing on the findings of the recent House of Lords report, Meeting Housing Demand, this Roundtable discussion was a chance to debate and share knowledge about what tools are needed to deliver on housing targets and ensure high quality design. The roundtable was chaired by Director of Design South East, Chris Lamb, using the Chatham House rule. The discussion opened with a short talk by Hilary Satchwell, Director of Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design and trustee of Design South East.
The Roundtable was chaired by Design South East Director, Chris Lamb, using the Chatham House rule.
The weight given to design and beauty in national policy is not reflected in local planning decisions
Recently updated working in the NPPF gives additional weight to design quality and beauty, stating that bad design should be refused. However, this has not percolated down to local decision making across Kent, where it is felt that considerations around housing, carbon emissions, parking and transport are often given more weight in the planning balance. Particularly if Councils do not have a five year land supply, design considerations take a back seat to the need for housing.
Planning is political, which can hamper housing delivery
Meeting Housing Demand does not capture the fact that planning is inherently political. If local communities and councillors are opposed to development, it is difficult to deliver even much needed housing. However, when Councillors buy into the need for growth in well-designed places, they can become valued advocates and help to achieve better outcomes. Whatever planning reforms come to fruition, there will be a need for better relations between planning officers and councillors to work together on common goals. This might involve training for Councillors, and for planners to better communicate the complexities of planning decisions.
Design codes have a role to play, but are no replacement for local authority design officers
Design codes are a useful tool for specific sites but they risk becoming too generic if applied to an entire local authority area. Perhaps a more effective way of ensuring appropriate design is for each local authority to have a design officer. Developers appreciate the local knowledge and clarity of design expectations that a design officer brings. However, resourcing is a constant issue and authorities that do have a design officer find that they are overstretched. Therefore, design training for planning officers and Councillors is also needed. As one attendee put it, “good design tends to be driven forward by individuals”, rather than by codes and guides.
SME housebuilders are welcomed but are not accommodated in the planning system
SME housebuilders, which are championed in the Meeting Housing Demand, are generally welcomed by local authorities because of their attention to detail and sensitive design response on small sites. However, these SMEs risk being pushed out of the planning system because Local Plans generally focus on allocating large sites, which are brought forward by volume housebuilders. SMEs also struggle to compete with larger developers for tier 1 sites. This means they are more likely to develop in more peripheral locations, which are deemed “less sustainable” by planning authorities. These systemic barriers are preventing SME housebuilders from growing their market share.
Alan Wright, BPTW / Andrew Wilford, Esquire Developments Ltd. / Chris Johnson, Barratt David Wilson Homes / Chris Lamb, Design South East/ David Maher, Barton Wilmore / Hillary Satchwell, Tibbalds / Karen Britton, Canterbury City Council / Marion Geary, Maidstone Borough Council / Nick Fenton, Kent Housing & Development Group / Ross O’Ceallaigh, Design South East / Tim Bailey, Folkestone & Hythe District Council / Wendy Lane, Gravesham Borough Council