Housing our people and providing for the needs of our children have always been amongst our greatest responsibilities. The first Planning Act, the Housing, Town Planning, &c. Act of 1909, compelled local authorities to tackle substandard housing and encouraged them to develop new estates using 'garden city' principles. In the same year Raymond Unwin published his seminal manual for planners "Town Planning in Practice".
A century later we are still grappling with this issue and it is therefore refreshing to read Sir Michel Lyons housing review "Mobilising across the nation to build the homes our children need" published last Thursday. This well researched and thoughtful report sets out a thorough analysis of the current housing crisis - a crisis he describes as of our own making. We currently build about half the number of homes we need each year and the consequence is overcrowding, thwarted ambition, high rents and house price inflation which impacts on the national economy.
The report moves beyond blaming "the planners" and seeks to understand why communities are so resistant to new development. This is to be welcomed as in the past there has been an over simplified public debate about the constraints imposed by the planning system. He sees the public's concern as that houses are often built in the wrong place, for the wrong people and without adequate attention to the pressures created for existing infrastructure. To rectify this the report emphasises the importance of quality places and housing for all. It proposes a new national drive to ensure that the needs of the future are properly reflected in the plans of today and that local communities through local authorities have the power to ensure that homes are appropriate to their needs, built in the right places and that the infrastructure and social housing are in place from the beginning.
Lyons also recognises that we cannot solely rely on the volume house builders. New entrants into house building are required, including more small builders, with landowners and other developers playing a larger part.
The report makes a number of recommendations which concern the planning system. These include increasing land for housing through local plans, the preparation of Strategic Housing Market Plans, simplifying the plan making system by splitting it into two stages, greater use of master planning and performance agreements, local setting of planning fees, a new generation of Garden Cities and a commitment to ensure new homes and places are built to high quality design standards.
Many of these recommendations chime well with the Society's Manifesto that we published in June of this year and are warmly welcomed. Overall I believe that this report makes a significant contribution to finding solutions to the current housing crisis and I hope that politicians from all parties will give it serious consideration. From the Society's perspective we would be pleased to work with politicians from all parties to improve the system. I am delighted that Sir Michael asked Past President, Malcolm Sharp to be a member of the Commission and I know from reading the report that he has had a significant influence over the recommendations. Housing our people and providing for the needs of our children is one of the greatest responsibilities we share. We urgently need to act on this issue.
David Evans, President 2014/15