To build or not to build?

Sunday 21 October, 3.15pm until 4.45pm, Fountain Room

From Boris Island to the Dale Farm gypsies, no building project seems too big or small to fall foul of the UK’s notoriously stringent planning laws, which sometimes seem to exist to prevent development rather than manage it. In contrast to China, which delivers new development equivalent to a country the size of Greece every six months, the UK planning system seems to be in a permanent state of denial. The Thames Gateway, High Speed Rail 2, Heathrow’s third runway, Battersea Power Station redux, Green Belt housing and even Eco-Towns have all run up against a wall. Perhaps the biggest issue is in housing, where building languishes at the lowest levels since the First World War. By some estimates, five million people are waiting on housing registers. According to Shelter, the younger generation bears the brunt with a fifth of 18- to 34-year-olds living with their parents because they can’t afford to rent or buy a home.

At Inside Housing, Colin Wiles argues the need to build three million new homes on greenfield land in the next 20 years. But few others seem willing to countenance actually increasing housing stock. The charity Intergenerational Foundation argues the problem is ‘under-occupation’ and that elderly people should be encouraged to move out of their ‘big houses’ to make room for larger families. Eight ‘radical solutions’ to the housing crisis discussed on the BBC News website included curbing population growth, forcing landlords to sell or let empty properties, and banning second homes. Meanwhile, the likes of the National Trust, the Countryside Alliance and the Campaign to Protect Rural England campaign against any liberalisation of planning. More broadly, many people distrust developers, fearing they will scar the countryside and destroy our architectural heritage.

Some ask why has planning lost its way and what happened to the big visionary plans of the past. David Cameron wants us to rediscover how ‘to build for the future with as much confidence and ambition as the Victorians once did’. But will cutting ‘red tape’ and simplifying the system be enough? Does the new ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ merely reinforce the ‘green tape’ that is already a barrier to development? What are the smart ways to deliver good urban development? Is the solution better top-down planning, more bottom-up planning, or something else altogether?

Listen to session audio:


Download mp3 (Right-click and choose “Save link as”)

Professor Kelvin Campbell
managing director, Urban Initiatives; author, Massive Small: the operating system for smart urbanism

Penny Lewis
lecturer, Scott Sutherland School of Architecture, Robert Gordon University; co-founder, AE Foundation

Paul Miner
senior planning officer, Campaign to Protect Rural England

Daniel Moylan
former deputy chairman of Transport for London; Conservative Councillor; co-chairman, Urban Design London

Christine Murray
editor in chief, The Architects' Journal and The Architectural Review; founder, Women in Architecture Awards

Michael Owens
commercial director, Bow Arts Trust; owner, London Urban Visits; formerly, head of development policy, London Development Agency

Produced by
Michael Owens commercial director, Bow Arts Trust; owner, London Urban Visits; formerly, head of development policy, London Development Agency
Recommended readings
Getting planners off our backs

When planners view their mission as a civilising one, then the aim of building public space must be to eradicate behaviour that doesn't accord with perceived civic values.

Alastair Donald, Future Cities Project, 22 September 2012

Anne Power and Claire Fox: is this the end of social housing?

The National Housing Federation conference ends with a debate on the biggest question of them all – are housing professionals facing the demise of the sector?

Hannah Fearn, Guardian, 19 September 2012

Time to come clean on planning

As the LGA feigns outrage at the Government’s accusation that town halls have blocked development, Claire Fox asks if the sector is being a little disingenuous

Claire Fox, MJ, 13 September 2012

Rising to the Capital's Housing Challenge

How did housing become so difficult? Our basic instinct is to create shelter, but today we seem unable to do so. We have a massive problem and things are not getting better.

Smart Urbanism, 9 August 2012

London's Social Cleansing

Unscrupulous landlords are forcing poorer tenants out of their London homes, freeing them up to rent out to visitors to the Olympics this summer, according to the housing charity Shelter.

James Heartfield, newgeography, 14 May 2012

Hands Off Our Land: Enough 'brownfield land' to build 1.5million new homes, CPRE claims

The amount of previously developed land is growing at a faster rate than it is being used up, according to a report published today.

Christopher Hope, Daily Telegraph, 12 November 2011

Remembering Jane Jacobs

Jacobs stood in that great American tradition of celebrating the freedom on the individual, the right to privacy and the capacity of autonomous individuals to get along together as part of city life.

Penny Lewis, Foundation for Architecture and Education, September 2011

The rise of the clicktivists: will the revolution be digitised?

"The Battle of Ideas is quite simply the single most impressive and intellectually challenging event I have ever attended."
Professor Neil McKeganey, director, Centre for Drug Misuse Research

follow the Academy of Ideas