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Planners disagree over new housing guidance

Housing experts have criticised the government's new planning guidance for being too low in density requirements and lacking detail on its 'sequential approach' to new homes.

The draft consultation document Planning Policy Guidance 3 calls on local planners to rule out low densities of less than 20-25 per hectare, though it supports 50 plus in inner cities. But planning leaders said this still fell way short of need. John Lett, assistant chief planner at lpac, said: 'We encourage smaller houses across London, which would come to 60 to 75 homes per hectare with a minimum of 50. However, we would like to go up to 700 habitable rooms per hectare, which is around 230 dwellings.'

He was also surprised at what seemed a big shift in government priority, in its promotion of mixed-use developments. Lett said: 'The detr seems to give more priority to mixed housing than to density levels. Prescott needs to think of mechanisms for securing mixed communities. We would need advice on our existing concentrations of tenures. Do we have to go to a wider distribution of tenure type, and what role will the gla and Housing Corporation play? We are talking about existing as well as new communities, which will complicate things.'

Lett said the sequential approach to choosing sites, with priority going to previously developed land above greenfield sites, should be applied at regional as well as local level to make the market more responsive to brownfield sites. 'This comes to phasing, and if Lord Rogers' task force is to make the most of this, it needs much more detail.'

The government's target of 1.5-2 car-parking spaces per home was also at odds with London planning. 'We are trying to get boroughs to prohibit car-parking spaces. The figure should be an exception rather than the average.'

riba planning expert Roger Shrimplin said: 'The densities seem low, but the trouble with going high is you have to design very carefully and to a high standard. Since there is a reluctance to use architects it can be problematic. There is very little emphasis on design quality; it is too flimsy.'

Neil Sinden, head of planning at the Council for the Protection of Rural England, welcomed the paper, but added: 'It needs strengthening. The big issue now is how councils deal with the huge overhang of greenfield land allocated for development. The government's policy may take five years to get going, and there is nothing new on affordable housing.'

The sting in the tail was ppg3's requirement for new settlements to be agreed by councils, according to the Town and Country Planning Association. 'The 1940s and 50s new towns would never have been built if that was the case then because councils often don't agree,' said policy officer Miles Gibson. 'There needs to be a higher, regional level to stop Nimbyism. The sequential approach is also too unsophisitated. Planners need to offfer developers a portfolio of sites. Around 2 million new homes are to go outside of towns, so putting new towns at the bottom of this sequentail approach is wrong.'

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