Evolution or revolution?

I dont read long blogs, so I wont expect you to either.

So here’s an idea – from a spark of creative thinking at a discussion between a bunch of planners – this idea has intrigued and me ever since.

The theory goes like this. Big developers have lots of staff to call on to provide professional advice and talent. They need to sell their houses and are dependent for their success (especially now) on how the market rates their product.
Therefore, what would happen if having given permission for a major housing proposal, the planning authority didn’t impose conditions to regulate the detailed design and arrangement beyond that shown in the application submission and the design and access statement.  Instead, the Council (having given very good development management advice and plenty of well written supplementary planning guidance to help set the expectations) comes along at the completion of the development and gives a rating report evaluating the development as it has been been built out.
The planning system thus would become less regulatory and more an evaluating. Developers would perhaps become more self challenging in order to achieve better ratings.  Buyers would be guided by the evaluation.
Of course this would not work for all developers – in most cases the companies simply dont make use of expertise or won’t resource good design skills relying on off the shelf products and low standard plans.  Maybe ambitious house builders could apply to a local authority to become part of such a scheme and go through an accreditation process so that the Local authoity has confidence in them.

What it would do is shed a load of work on approving details conditions that is both a bugbear to developers and a resource hungry process for LPAs.



3 thoughts on “Evolution or revolution?

  1. Interesting proposal. At the risk of exposing my ignorance (it shouldn’t be that difficult), I have a few questions.

    -By what criteria would the LPA evaluate developments?

    -Would a rating given by an LPA be enough of an incentive? Judging by the success of other rating systems by national/internationally recognised bodies, I wonder how easy it would be to set up a system whereby developers put weight on an evaluation by an LPA. (for example, BREEAM)

    -If the LPA doesn’t impose conditions in this approach, would they depend on the developer to decide exactly what is important in that location for the community? In this case, couldn’t the developer skimp on some design elements and boost up other cheaper aspects but still get a high rating (for example less on the climate change adaptation/mitigation stuff and more on accessible design or something).

    Just trying to get to the bottom of what you’re suggesting…

  2. Interesting idea that I would love to think could work, but I think there is a basic difficulty. As long as Income:Price ratios are as they are there will be a strong temptation for developers to build down to a price rather than up to a standard. For years the products of certain national house builders were regarded in the same light as those of eastern European car manufacturers – but they kept selling because people could afford them.

    Furthermore it is an error to think of “the developer” as a single entity. The architects, planning consultants, development managers and others in for the long haul are frequently amenable to building high quality product that they can be proud of in the long term. Add into the mix the accountants, bankers and shareholders and the picture changes dramatically.

    I’ve worked with the architects and planners of a major developer to get their board to sanction a development to the standards I wanted by use of the “it’s cheaper to agree and get a consent than to get a refusal and have to go to appeal”. There were lots of conditions, materials approvals etc. to get through, but at least we don’t have another bland formulaic development that fails to inspire. I feel it was worth the effort.

  3. In some ways it is possible to do the evaluation now through Cabe’s buildings for life.
    The current system has failed to demand a high enough design standard in the past. When you see the results of the Cabe survey some of it is a shocking example of what the industry thinks is acceptable ( and that received planning consent). I think we need to raise the standards through raising public expectations, good guidance and clear decisions. But I think there need to be the element of compulsion to ensure the bean counters do not win out and those that push for high quality design be that architects, urban designers, planners or local politicians do.

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