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AJ April 2006 by Brian Waters

Consultation on the draft PPS3 – Housing is in full swing. PPG3 has had a dramatic impact on the ground and expectations for the new guidance is running high. The draft nevertheless omits some key passages of PPG3, particularly regarding design, and these will be missed if not reinstated in the final version notwithstanding the strengthening of PPS1 on design issues.
The other key areas which have surfaced in discussions are density and parking. There is also concern at an emphasis on new development and the relative neglect of the need to plan for changes in the numerically vastly more important existing stock of homes. The draft introduces the idea of ranges of densities which could usefully be applied to both.
As CABE says in its initial response: “At the heart of PPG3 has been a debate about density. Policies on density fundamentally influence what gets built and where. But we must remember that density is just a numerical tool. Good planning is not about number crunching, and there is no necessary correlation between density and design quality.”
Widely accepted is the need to make better use of land and the helpful effect the minimum density policies of PPG3 have had, but there is a need for more pragmatic application through local Framework Plans. Discussion immediately turns to the measure of density and the need to make it more sophisticated on two levels.
First, at the level of the neighbourhood, a measure of gross site density is needed, difficult though this may sometimes be: the land taken not just by surrounding roads but also community facilities and infrastructure. This would balance the advantage of net site measurements which for small sites largely ignore all this while large estates have to embrace at least their own road circulation. Even net site density needs to put pressure on the need for tighter road designs and to take good account of and encourage more dual use of land by people and vehicles.
On this CABE says pointedly: “We need to fast track the Manual for Streets. Every extra month we have to live with Design Bulletin 32 means more new homes and neighbourhoods that fail the people who live in them, and fail to deliver in terms of sustainability.”
Second is the well-worn issue of residential density. The negotiation of section 106 Agreements for affordable housing has added to an exaggeration of the importance of units-per-hectare which has tended to reduce the average dwelling size. Further, the absence of minimum floorspace standards for dwellings in the private sector will lead to tiny flats becoming less valuable that RSL-driven ‘affordable’ homes as they age. Parker-Morris standards live on but not in the minds of estate agents!
This may be about to change with next year’s introduction of the ‘Homebuyers’ Pack’ which will have to describe properties in terms of floor area, as they often already are in central London thanks to the influence of overseas buyers. Thus policy needs to consider density in terms of dwellings per hectare, floor area per hectare and dwelling mix together. Though with the caveat that policies need to be sensitive to ‘market signals’ and policy should not be so rigid as to try to force the building of dwelling types and sizes for which there is little demand in the location at the time.
CABE concludes: “We need a national baseline for housing densities – to make sure that every local planning authority is working with the same strategic intent. But we also need to deal with density in detail at the regional and local level. This could be achieved through target ranges embedded in sub-regional spatial plans and through specific thresholds defined in local development frameworks.”
The ghost at the party is ‘form’, the variable which architects uniquely understand as being the mediator between density and quality. By Design is the companion guide to PPS1 and sets out national design objectives. It has provided significant support to planners and developers working to create better places and CABE recognises that it should now be updated to reflect the new planning system and deal better with density and parking issues.

Brian Waters is principal of the Boisot Waters Cohen partnership, see www.bwcp.co.uk

ends

 

 

Planning for housing
Consultation on the draft PPS3 – Housing is in full swing. PPG3 has had a dramatic impact on the ground and expectations for the new guidance is running high. The draft nevertheless omits some key passages of PPG3, particularly regarding design, and these will be missed if not reinstated in the final version notwithstanding the strengthening of PPS1 on design issues.
The other key areas which have surfaced in discussions are density and parking. There is also concern at an emphasis on new development and the relative neglect of the need to plan for changes in the numerically vastly more important existing stock of homes. The draft introduces the idea of ranges of densities which could usefully be applied to both.
As CABE says in its initial response: “At the heart of PPG3 has been a debate about density. Policies on density fundamentally influence what gets built and where. But we must remember that density is just a numerical tool. Good planning is not about number crunching, and there is no necessary correlation between density and design quality.”
Widely accepted is the need to make better use of land and the helpful effect the minimum density policies of PPG3 have had, but there is a need for more pragmatic application through local Framework Plans. Discussion immediately turns to the measure of density and the need to make it more sophisticated on two levels.
First, at the level of the neighbourhood, a measure of gross site density is needed, difficult though this may sometimes be: the land taken not just by surrounding roads but also community facilities and infrastructure. This would balance the advantage of net site measurements which for small sites largely ignore all this while large estates have to embrace at least their own road circulation. Even net site density needs to put pressure on the need for tighter road designs and to take good account of and encourage more dual use of land by people and vehicles.
On this CABE says pointedly: “We need to fast track the Manual for Streets. Every extra month we have to live with Design Bulletin 32 means more new homes and neighbourhoods that fail the people who live in them, and fail to deliver in terms of sustainability.”
Second is the well-worn issue of residential density. The negotiation of section 106 Agreements for affordable housing has added to an exaggeration of the importance of units-per-hectare which has tended to reduce the average dwelling size. Further, the absence of minimum floorspace standards for dwellings in the private sector will lead to tiny flats becoming less valuable that RSL-driven ‘affordable’ homes as they age. Parker-Morris standards live on but not in the minds of estate agents!
This may be about to change with next year’s introduction of the ‘Homebuyers’ Pack’ which will have to describe properties in terms of floor area, as they often already are in central London thanks to the influence of overseas buyers. Thus policy needs to consider density in terms of dwellings per hectare, floor area per hectare and dwelling mix together. Though with the caveat that policies need to be sensitive to ‘market signals’ and policy should not be so rigid as to try to force the building of dwelling types and sizes for which there is little demand in the location at the time.
CABE concludes: “We need a national baseline for housing densities – to make sure that every local planning authority is working with the same strategic intent. But we also need to deal with density in detail at the regional and local level. This could be achieved through target ranges embedded in sub-regional spatial plans and through specific thresholds defined in local development frameworks.”
The ghost at the party is ‘form’, the variable which architects uniquely understand as being the mediator between density and quality. By Design is the companion guide to PPS1 and sets out national design objectives. It has provided significant support to planners and developers working to create better places and CABE recognises that it should now be updated to reflect the new planning system and deal better with density and parking issues.

Brian Waters is principal of the Boisot Waters Cohen partnership, see www.bwcp.co.uk