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President's Piece November 2014

Date: 21/11/2014

"On Monday I attended a reception at Poundbury hosted by HRH Prince of Wales for the Mexican Ambassador and other guests which was also attended by Brandon Lewis the Housing and Planning Minister. This was the first time Brandon had visited Poundbury and it was a pleasure to show him around the new development. During the tour we had a most interesting discussion about why the public are so opposed to new development and how this makes the job of promoting growth through the planning system that much more difficult. We agreed that part of the problem is that much new housing development produced by some of the volume builders is of poor quality and takes the form of "anywhere" housing estates dropped on to existing communities without the necessary infrastructure.

Brendan explained that part of the Governments response is to encourage new entrants into the housing market. In particular they wish to encourage more local small and medium size builders to provide housing. Certainly in our area we have some excellent local house builders who realise the importance of meaningful community engagement, providing community facilities alongside housing and deliver a quality design which fits well into the local area. Their schemes generally have a much smoother ride with the public and with the Planning Committee. Many towns and villages are proud of their new developments.

But this still leaves the volume house builders who have a different model. A few weeks ago at Taunton we had a meeting of the POS South West Branch at which colleagues from the Police Crime Prevention team gave an interesting presentation on designing out crime. Much of their presentation was made up of pictures of large new housing schemes and illustrated the problems of lack of surveillance of the public realm; distributor roads fronted by close boarded fences with no frontage development; large parking courts; poor lighting; narrow alley ways; unsupervised play areas etc. But looking at the hundred or so pictures I think we were all also appalled by the poor quality and bland appearance of much of the development. Is this really what we have been working so hard to achieve?

This issue has been picked up in the recent Lyons review of Housing. There is a clear recognition that as a nation we need to do much more to improve the quality and standard of our new housing stock or we will be creating major problems for future generations to deal with. At the last POS Forum meeting Steve Quartermain, the DCLG Chief Planner, issued a challenge to us all. How can we better promote the work of the public sector planner and demonstrate the benefits of good planning to our local communities so that we change the public's antipathy to planning and new development? I thought that this would be a good subject for discussion at our next forum meeting at Westminster City Hall at 2.30pm on 5th December. To stimulate debate I am delighted that Ben Marshall, Research Director for Housing, Planning and Development at Ipsos MORI, has agreed to come and speak to the Forum. He tells me he thinks this is a most interesting brief and he has some research which may help us better understand the issues from the public's perspective.

And on a similar theme, Malcolm Sharp, past President and a member of the Lyons Commission, has kindly agreed to give us a presentation on the recommendations of the Commission to help us formulate the Society's response. As I mentioned in my last Blog, I think the report is an excellent, well researched piece of work and I believe the Society can have a useful role in helping deliver some of the recommendations as they affect the planning system.

This promises to be another interesting Forum Meeting with some excellent speakers and an opportunity for discussion. I am grateful to Westminster City Council for offering to host the event and I hope to see as many of you as possible at the meeting."

David Evans POS President 2014/15 



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