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Party Conference round-up: design and planning on the agenda again

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The importance of design and the future of planning were key issues at this year’s party conferences

The RIBA’s head of policy and public affairs, Anna Scott-Marshall reported that ministers at the Conservative conference were ‘keen to reiterate’ that they would not ‘concrete over every blade of grass’.

She said: ‘‘Planning for once was a big issue at [all] the party conferences against the background noise of the National Trust campaign [demanding changes to the proposed National planning Policy Framework(NPPF)].

Housing and planning were definitely moving up the political agenda

‘Conservative MPs said they wanted good design and not Legotowns.’

She added: ‘There were also announcements by the Conservatives on Right to Buy, sale of public land for housing, council tax freeze, and hints that they would move on transitional arrangements for the NPPF, brownfield land and possibly strengthening the duty to cooperate between local authorities.’

Chris Brown, of developer Igloo, also picked up on the ‘strong consensus’ on design among Tories. He said: ‘Ideas doing the rounds included neighbourhood design panels; developer league tables based on corporate responsibility around design quality, sustainability, local labour and community engagement; and reduced weighting for financial receipts in public land developer procurements.’

He added: ‘The Tories were very exercised by the NPPF debate but there were clear signs of a movement towards compromise - although there was also some cynicism expressed by others about whether this was just for appearances.’

With regards to the other party conferences Brown said: ‘Labour were on the lookout for good ideas and particularly focussed on practical financial ways to deliver more housing, recognising that the planning system was not the issue at the moment.’

Tom Bloxham of Urban Splash, who was also at the conferences, said: ‘Housing and planning were definitely moving up the political agenda. That’s partly due to the Daily Telegraph and [their Hands off our land campaign].

‘We’ve seen a long period of urban regeneration and the rebirth of the cities. But it fell off the agenda and [in recent years] there was little talk about architecture, design and regeneration [in political circles].’

With regards to the current planning debate, Bloxham said: ‘The Conservatives seem determined to move the NPPF forward and this is positive for architects and development.

‘But planning is not the [real] issue and is not stopping developers moving schemes forward. The issue is money.

‘The difference between now and [after the war] when science was seen as being able to solve everything [and development was happening] is confidence. There is no confidence now, nor in the ability of architecture to improve life.’

‘The mood is one of wariness about the Euro zone and further public spending cuts.’

At the Liberal Democrat conference, communities minister Andrew Stunell said the coalition was on course to build 170,000 affordable homes in the next four years.


Among those seen at ‘packed public debates’ on ‘Legoland homes’ were: Ken Livingstone, Labour candidate for Mayor of London; Merrick Cockell, chairman of the Local Government Association; Jack Dromey, the Shadow Minister for Communities and Local Government; Andrew Stunell the Communities Minister; Richard Kemp, Vice Chairman of the Local Government Association, Nick Watt, the Chief Political Correspondent of the Guardian; and Grant Shapps



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