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To build or not to build? Christine Murray joins Battle of Ideas debate

AJ editor Christine Murray will join London mayoral advisor Daniel Moylan and CPRE’s Paul Miner in debate over the UK housing crisis, planning reform and other construction woes

The discussion on Sunday 21 October at the Barbican in London, is part of the annual Battle of Ideas festival which is this year themed around urban living.

Participants will include: Christine Murray, London mayoral advisor Daniel Moylan, CPRE senior planning officer Paul Miner, Urban Initiatives managing director Kelvin Campbell and Penny Lewis of the Scott Sutherland School of Architecture.

The event is chaired by Michael Owens, director of Michael Owens Associates and former head of development policy at the defunct London Development Agency.

Now in its eighth year, the Institute of Ideas-backed festival is expected to include 80 sessions and more than 2,000 delegates

Tickets for the full 20 to 21 October weekend event are £27.50 for full time university students. School students may receive free single-say passes.


Debate: To build or not to build?

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?


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