Planning for Housing

How will government, national and local, deliver 'greener' housing in the years ahead?What advantages (and drawbacks) does a locally negotiated approach have over stricter regulation, and vice versa?

In order to appropriately address the question one first needs to understand some of the detailed history behind housing delivery, politics and technical capacity at different spatial scales and the interplay between the philosophies of the two dominant political parties as their influence has ebbed and flowed between the post-war years. Having explored these complex and evolving relationships it will then be possible to make the link between housing delivery and the delivery of 'greener' housing which forms, if you like, the latest chapter in the ongoing discourse on how to meet housing need in the UK. Right at the centre of these processes are the planners who orchestrate and manage the, for want of a better word, 'incoming messages' which need to be decoded/translated and then weighed up against each other before being 'redirected' in the form of local policies, decisions and actions which ultimately manifest themselves in the physical reality which we call 'our environment'.

This essay with therefore give a brief potted history of the 'housing delivery debate' and explore some of its technical, political, economic and social nuances. Once these relationships have been briefly identified and explored in their wider context the focus will then shift to the current emerging/ongoing challenges; which not only involve finding ways to deliver housing in an extremely constrained financial market, but the need to deliver 'greener' housing in an increasingly stressed global environment.

Housing delivery, whilst remaining a constant strategic political objective irrespective of which party is in power, has seen policy swing between what could be described as 'redistributive and prescriptive' and a 'laissez faire, market-oriented approach'. In fact, this shifting balance has become somewhat of a key defining characteristic of the dominant political parties since the Second World War (Conservative and Labour). This has manifested itself in what has been described as the 'plan, monitor and manage' philosophy versus the 'predict and provide' and 'presumption to development' approaches (See Golland and Blake, 2004: 245; Gallent and Tewdwr-Jones, 2007: 86-89). There has been somewhat of a convergence of these two opposing discourses since 1997, with New Labour accepting a market-led approach and the Conservatives not showing signs of wanting to erode advances in the social housing sector and displaying some form of recognition for intervention in the form of affordable provision where market failures persist. "The re-formed political parties see speculative development as playing the key role in new provision, with housing associations providing a fall-back position for those outside the housing market (Golland and Blake, 2004: 343). An interesting 'twist' in this story has recently occurred which will be picked up later on in this essay.

Running almost in parallel to this strategic political debate at the national level, is the almost 'aparty-political' struggle being played out between different scales of governance. Whilst it is true to say that the outlook (balance of power) is not wholly independent of the views of the main political parties, this struggle can be isolated as a more generic issue concerning the decentralisation, devolution and new localism agendas and the tensions between national and local interests. The housing delivery debate has been plagued by the conundrum between the need for clarity, consistency and joined-up thinking on national scale issues versus the reality of the need for sub-national apparatus to address the problem of housing numbers, the scepticism of some over the ability of local bodies (see, for example, Barker Review[1] and accusations of 'parochialism' and the subsequent Planning White Paper[2] and subsequent endorsement of Barkers views in PPS3[3]) and the absence of structures/solutions on the ground. There is, of-course, often important differences in strategic priorities between the national and local scale which continues to plague housing delivery. This schizophrenic struggle can be illustrated through announcements made in various government documents and speeches, for example, in the summer of 2006, the then Minister for Communities, Ruth Kelly, said:

'I want to see local authorities taking an increasingly powerful strategic role on housing across all tenures, putting housing at the heart of economic, social and environmental objectives' (Chartered Institute of Housing, 2007: 11).

The Local Government White Paper[4] in the same year placed housing at the heart of the local authority 'place-shaping' role alongside economic development and planning. Less than a year later the government published the Housing Green Paper[5] (see Table 1) which seemed to contradict this approach:

"Central Government is responsible for setting clear policy and strategic direction and allocating funding to focus delivery on priority programmes. It provides a vision for achieving a range of economic, social and environmental objectives that it helps to deliver by bringing government departments' agendas together to ensure a coherent approach to creating sustainable communities. It is Government's role to set the overall housing ambition (of the) country and for the regions, acting upon the advice of the independent National Housing and Planning Advisory Unit and considering the national interest in the round (DCLG, 2007a:116).

This second main challenge/threat to housing delivery is symptomatic of a whole plethora of related issues over what the balance should be between:

  • Prescription and Flexibility
  • National and Local Priorities
  • Density and Space
  • Innovation and Cost
  • Brownfield and Greenfield Land
  • Facilitation and Enforcement
  • Need and Demand
  • Redistribution (both social and environmental) and Market Viability
  • 'Affordability-led' versus 'Planning-led' Approaches (see, for example, Gallent and Tewdwr-Jones, 2007: 195 & 196-225).

All these issues themselves have integral to them the questions over who is best to administer and apply them (i.e. at what strategic, administrative scale?), who is technically capable of applying them (assuming non-alignment of ability and capability), and to what degree should they be applied (achieving a sustainable balance)? The Labour Government, in power since 1997, has been desperate to be seen to be promoting the New Localism Agenda and devolving strategic housing delivery functions to the local level but at the same time has been faced with the national need to maintain housing delivery, consistency and ensure housing is delivered where it is needed most. 'The Government's target would not be satisfied if the new homes were delivered just anywhere. Housing demand and supply are local. There are areas of low housing demand, as well as areas where demand is very high. To meet the target effectively, homes have to be built in the places where they are needed' (DCLG, 2007b: 15). This issue has resulted in government trying various approaches, for example, funding incentives such as the Growth Fund, Housing and Planning Delivery Grant and more hard-line approaches such as strategic housing allocations and eco-towns. "Government is keen to ensure 'local ownership' of figures and targets, but often this ownership is foisted on unwilling local partners (Gallent, 2005: 985).

This catch22 is identified by Gallent (2005: 986) "Government has staked its political future on the success of the Communities Plan, and this plan will need driving from the centre, perhaps rendering its own 'plan, monitor and manage' approach to housing provision even less meaningful in the future than it is today'. This exposes the tensions which exist between a local approach and a regional or national approach. "...government in England is struggling to balance a devolution of power to communities with a need to retain strategic oversight, and to exercise central authority where necessary (Gallent, 2008: 308).

This brings us to the pivotal question to this essay: How will government deliver 'greener' housing in the years ahead? With the wider context and history behind this question out of the way, if in a somewhat succinct fashion, it is possible to appreciate the scale of the challenge and the fact that it permeates through to a wider agenda than perhaps a purely technical or economic one relating purely to 'greener' homes. It is never the less appropriate at this point to briefly discuss the rapidly emerging sustainable development agenda of which 'greener' homes is a significant part.

Starting with Planning for Communities of the Future (DCLG, 1998) in which Labour set out its 'broad vision of the role of planning in providing new homes' (Gallent and Tewdwr-Jones, 2007), carrying through to the Urban Task Force set up upon the request of the ODPM in 1999 which championed the need for 'good urban design', on to PPG3[6] with its 'plan, monitor and manage' approach, and finally on to the Communities Plan[7] which introduced the notion of 'sustainable communities'.

'Greener Homes', if perhaps a little overshadowed until now by the housing delivery and economic/social reform agendas, has recently moved rapidly up the policy agenda. This reflects the sentiment that '...planning that fails to deal with the externalities of development or concern itself with the outcomes will find little support among its users or within society at large' (Gallent and Tewdwr-Jones, 2007: 197). The 2016 Task Force set up by DCLG off the back of the Communities Plan and the Barker Review[8] led in to what would, in 2006, be published as the Code for Sustainable Homes[9]; which, in combination with PPS1 (DCLG, 2005), the Building a Greener Future Policy Statement (DCLG, 2007c) and very latest Zero Carbon Hub publication[10]; form the definitive strategic national policy direction for 'greener' homes which are summed up in the Building a Greener Future Policy Statement: "we proposed to achieve a zero carbon goal in three steps: moving first, in 2010 to a 25 per cent improvement in the energy/carbon performance set in Building Regulations; then second, in 2013, to a 44 per cent improvement; then, finally in 2016, to zero carbon (DCLG, 2007c: 5). This was followed almost immediately by PPS1 Supplement[11] which was intended to enable planning authorities to go even further, where practical, than nationally prescribed standards thereby attempting to introduce an element of 'local ownership' and 'flexibility' (DCLG, 2007d). All this was backed up in law by the Climate Change Act 2008 which sets in place the first legally binding long-term framework to cut carbon emissions in the UK.

Going back momentarily to the 'housing delivery' debate, the publication of the Barker Review (2004) was accompanied by a pamphlet released by Chancellor of the Exchequer and Deputy Prime Minister called 'Extending Home Ownership' which announced: "We will widen the opportunity for people to own their own home... (Prescott and Brown, 2005) which links back nicely to the reference made earlier to an interesting twist in the tail...Despite both leading political parties having been wedded to the principles of a market-led approach and home ownership as the dominant status quo for housing in the UK, a recent presentation by housing minister John Healey MP to the Fabian Society announced that the decline in homeownership since 2005 was 'Not such a bad thing' and he indicated his desire for '...councils to be major builders of public housing again' and wants to '...expand the number of homes built for private rent and improve the quality and security of the private rented sector' (Healey, 2009). This exposes an interesting shift (even u-turn) in New Labour thinking in the run-up to the upcoming elections in 2010, and is no-doubt in reaction to the economic and environmental challenges we face in terms of housing delivery.

This brings us to the crunch point again and the ever present tension between national prescription and the need for local delivery. Whilst the 'greener' homes agenda is clearly articulated at the national level the government is still almost entirely dependent on local delivery apparatus, and especially the private sector.

This brings us to the third major area which government, both local and national, will need to jointly address if they intend to successfully deliver 'greener' housing; and that is stimulating/kick-starting the market. Without significant pump-priming there is simply not enough financial incentive to deliver this objective through a market-based approach. Government (in its broadest sense) needs to ensure the appropriate skills and supply-chains are developed to bring this ambition for 'greener' homes to the point where it becomes self-sustaining within the market. This will require significant funding which will mean competing with other planning priorities such as S106, affordable housing etc. which are currently funded through planning gain and are already under significant strain due to present market conditions. Government will also have to balance this against other wider budget pressures and ensure suitable taxes and incentives (subsidies) are introduced/extended to bring about the required response in the market.

Last, but not least, government will need to be far better at bringing the 'general public' on-board and engaging with them to ensure they understand the direction that needs to be taken. The ability to deliver 'greener homes' will ultimately depend on informed individual choice and behaviour; facilitated in the short-medium term by a market supported through public spending.


Barker, K (2006) 'Barker Review of Land Use Planning', at (accessed: 12 December 2009).

DCLG (1998) 'Planning for the communities of the future', at (accessed: 13 December 2009).

DCLG (2000) 'PPG3: Housing', HMSO: London.

DCLG (2005) 'PPS1: Delivering Sustainable Development', at (accessed: 12 December 2009).

DCLG (2006a) 'Strong and Prosperous Communities The Local Government White Paper', at (accessed: 12 December 2009).

DCLG (2006b) 'CSH: A step-change in sustainable building practice', at (accessed: 13 December 2009).

DCLG (2006c) 'Planning Policy Statement 3: Housing', at (accessed: 17 December 2009).

DCLG (2007a) Housing Green Paper 'Homes for the future: more affordable, more sustainable', at (accessed: 13 December 2009).

DCLG (2007b) 'The Callcutt Review of Housebuilding Delivery', at (accessed: 13 December 2009).

DCLG (2007c) 'Building a Greener Future Policy Statement', at (accessed: 13 December 2009).

DCLG (2007d) 'PPS1 Supplement: Planning and Climate Change', at (accessed: 14 December 2009).

Gallent, N (2008) 'Strategic-Local Tensions and the Spatial Planning Approach in England', Planning Theory and Practice 9, 3: 307-323.

Gallent, N (2005) 'Regional Housing Figures in England: Policy, Politics and Ownership', Housing Studies 20, 6: 973-988.

Gallent, N and Tewdwr-Jones, M (2007) Decent Homes for All: Planning's Evolving Role in Housing Provision, Routledge: London.

Golland, A and Blake, R (2004) Housing Development: Theory, process and practice, Routledge: London.

Great Britain (2008) 'Climate Change Act (c. 27)', at (accessed: 15 December 2009).

HM Government (2007) 'Planning for a Sustainable Future', at (accessed: 12 December 2009).

HM Treasury (2004) 'Review of Housing Supply - Delivering Stability: Securing our future housing needs', at (accessed: 12 December 2009).

HM Treasury (2004) 'Extending Home Ownership', at (accessed: 12 December 2009).

Healey, J (2009) 'Housing after the Crunch Speech to the Fabian Society', at (accessed: 12 December 2009).

Malpass, P (2005) Housing and the Welfare State, Palgrave MacMillan: Hampshire.

ODPM (2003) 'Sustainable Communities: Building for the Future', at (accessed: 13 December 2009).

OPSI (2008) 'Climate Change Act 2008', at (accessed: 13 December 2009).

Prescott, J and Brown, G (2005) 'Extending Home Ownership', at (accessed: 12 December 2009).

Simpson, M and Sinn, C (2007) 'Skills for Success: developing proficiency in strategic housing', at (accessed: 12 December 2009).

Zero Carbon Hub (2009) 'Defining a fabric energy efficiency standard for zero carbon homes', at (accessed: 16 December 2009).

[1] Review of Housing Supply: Delivering Stability Securing Our Future Housing Needs, March 2004, HM Treasury

[2] Planning for a Sustainable Future, May 2007, HMSO

[3] PPS3: Housing, November 2006, DCLG

[4] Strong and Prosperous Communities, October 2006, DCLG

[5] Homes for the future: more affordable, more sustainable, July 2007, DCLG.

[6] PPG3: Housing, March 2000, DCLG

[7] Sustainable Communities: Building for the Future, February 2003, ODPM

[8] Review of Housing Supply - Delivering Stability: Securing our future housing needs, March 2004, HMSO

[9] CSH: A step-change in sustainable building practice, December 2006, DCLG

[10] Defining a fabric energy efficiency standard for zero carbon homes, November 2009, Zero Carbon Hub

[11] PPS1 Supplement: Planning and Climate Change, December 2007, DCLG

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