Tammy Swift-Adams: Beyond the Planning Bill – planning for housing delivery

Tammy Swift-Adams, director of planning at Homes for Scotland, outlines why Scotland’s housing crisis should be a ‘call to arms’ to everyone who has a role to play in building more homes.

Tammy Swift-Adams: Beyond the Planning Bill – planning for housing delivery

Tammy Swift-Adams

Scotland’s planning authorities play an integral role in the delivery of new homes and there is much they do to support this. There are also things they can do to frustrate it. That’s why I am very encouraged to see CaCHE and RTPI Scotland taking the time to assemble planners with different perspectives to discuss our role in overcoming Scotland’s housing crisis. Only through collaborating, and challenging our own and others’ viewpoints, can we expect to make progress.

Scotland’s stock of homes is insufficient. So is the number of new homes being built. A wide range of factors contributes to this – as described in Homes for Scotland’s 2018 Barriers and Solutions Paper and recent CaCHE research.

Ask a home builder directly, and you will likely find that planning is felt to be the biggest constraint to housing delivery. This is backed up by conversations in our boardroom as well as by the annual House Builders’ Survey undertaken by the Federation of Master Builders. So it does make me despondent if I hear a public sector planner, in a position of influence, saying planning isn’t an issue.

It can, of course, be a solution.

Mainstreaming the mindset that Scotland’s home builders – existing and aspiring – are agents of delivery, and can be worked with on a partnership basis, would be a really positive shift in culture and is something that could perhaps be encouraged through the profession itself.

I think Scotland’s housing crisis should be a call to arms to everyone who has even the most nominal of roles in ensuring more homes can be built. It should be a particular motivator for our planning authorities. If it changed the way we think about using policy and other planning tools, we could set the best possible scene for sustainable home building at a scale that helps reduce the supply gap and keeps house prices at a level growing families and young people can better afford.

There are a number of opportunities for planning authorities to achieve this, by making more determined use of tools already embedded in the system.

  • Housing Need and Demand Assessment, intended to be objective, should not underestimate unmet need and demand, and they should be accompanied by survey work to quantify hidden households, e.g. adults living with parents through necessity not choice.
  • Housing Supply Targets could fully reflect the evidenced need and demand for new homes. If they aim for an undersupply of affordable homes because it is feared the true need can’t realistically be met, then fear of ‘failure’ trumps the need to maximise opportunities for providing the homes that are needed. This issue has been much-debated in relation to SESplan2. An ambitious target will at least avoid a ‘planning to fail’ scenario.
  • National policy suggests a generous land supply is put in place – up to 20% more than is needed in capacity terms, because not all sites will come to fruition. Seldom, at the end of a plan period, has the number of real homes built been close to 80% of the target set, but this tool is definitely underused. Using clearer policy and guidance to encourage more planning authorities to apply the 20% generosity allowance would be a good and easy move for the Scottish Government.
  • The consultation and examination processes allow stakeholders like Homes for Scotland (HFS) to comment on the housing delivery potential of a plan before it is adopted. In recent years reporters have seen a succession of plans making too little provision for new homes – a shortfall of several thousand homes isn’t uncommon. There is nothing in the system now that can address that – but the shortfalls can be avoided if information from stakeholders is actively used, for example, if land that has little prospect of delivering homes is replaced with land that does. This is surely better all-round, especially as it would reduce the extent to which a planning authority has to rely on windfall sites to provide many of the homes that are needed.

It must be said – some of Scotland’s planning authorities clearly work hard to ensure their plans are as deliverable as possible so that what happens on the ground resembles the plan (crucial for public faith in the system) and that barriers to development that fall within the sphere of planning – and allied local authority regimes such as roads – are overcome. Dundee, Perth and Kinross, North Ayrshire and East Lothian are regularly commended.

The Planning Bill might address some of the system’s current weaknesses. The real change, though, will come from planners themselves working collaboratively, and open-mindedly, with communities, home builders, infrastructure providers and other stakeholders. As fairness in planning is rooted in the positive outcomes of a plan, its performance should perhaps be judged on that basis. Real homes built. New families enabled to move into an area. Right-sizing facilitated. Not just how quickly a decision to grant or refuse planning permission is made, or how many homes could, in theory, be built on sites listed in the latest housing land audit.

More round-table discussions, like the one organised by CaCHE and RTPI Scotland last week, can only help.

  • Tammy Swift-Adams is director of planning at Homes for Scotland and member of the Royal Town Planning Institute.

This is the final post in our blog series reflecting on a recent roundtable discussion co-organised by the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE) and members of the Scotland Knowledge Exchange Hub, and hosted by RTPI. This article was originally published on the CaCHE website.

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