Housing secretary Robert Jenrick’s recent planning reforms have introduced some of the most sweeping changes to the system in decades. Among the most radical are proposals to adopt zonal planning that will see land categorised as ‘growth’, ‘renewal’ or ‘protection’ sites, defined by new fast-tracked local plans.
But the decision to automatically award planning permission and permission in principle to ‘growth’ and ‘renewal’ sites respectively has sparked concern. While the ultimate driver is to accelerate the UK’s recovery from COVID-19, there are fears that local oversight over development will be significantly reduced.
There is no doubt that championing infrastructure development and housebuilding is key to boosting economic growth and solving the on-going housing crisis. But a more centralised system that prioritises development based on UK-wide concerns could diminish the ability of councils to influence the planning process, giving them little control over what projects are progressed once land is allocated.
Councils must now use their local knowledge to zone land in a way that brings forward projects that will deliver maximum public value to the communities they serve. And earmarking transport-linked sites as ‘growth’ or ‘renewal’ zones could help them achieve this.
Our own experience has shown that the regeneration of transport-linked land is one of the biggest drivers of economic and social benefits for local communities. Boasting unrivalled connectivity, development of these sites naturally provides residents with excellent access to key amenities and transport links.
The challenge is that they are notoriously complex to develop and often have piecemeal ownership structures, blending public, private and transport sector stakeholders. But a holistic vision, and the support of a partner with the expertise to unlock the potential for development, can transform these underutilised brownfield sites into top quality community assets.
You only need to look to the success of high-profile developments such as our regeneration of International Quarter London to understand the extent to which careful planning and strategic investment in transport hubs can benefit their surrounding areas. But these successes can be achieved on virtually any scale – and local authority engagement is key.
Location is critical, too. In areas such as Wessex, Sussex and Kent, relocation costs are notoriously high. But there is also strong local authority land availability, creating a significant opportunity to make the housing market there much more accessible. Similarly, in principal locations along the proposed HS2 route, increasing housing stock will play a role in creating maximum economic benefit from new development. This is the case in Sheffield and Leeds where we are helping deliver upgrades to each mainline station and surrounding public realm in collaboration with local authorities and transport bodies, ensuring that the delivery of new homes is central to any proposals.
Placemaking in practice
Executed well, transport-focused regeneration can not only help accelerate the provision of new homes and jobs but can act as a catalyst for wider investment to boost the prosperity of regional economies. And we’ve seen the impact of this approach to development first-hand.
Our focus on facilitating the delivery of tens of thousands of new homes, supporting the levelling up of the UK economy, is championing this approach. By collaborating with key partners across the public, private, rail and real estate sectors, we are championing complex sites that would typically be overlooked for development, helping them achieve their full potential and driving maximum value.
An example is our work with the Greater Manchester Station Alliance, a collaboration between Transport for Greater Manchester, Network Rail, key regional rail providers and LCR. By working closely with councils across the region, the group is currently on track to identify a series of improvement projects for local rail stations.
To date, more than 20 sites have been earmarked for development. These projects alone have the potential to create over 3,000 new homes.
One current project is Rochdale town centre, where a new masterplan with the station at its heart is set to introduce a new public square, enhance pedestrian and cycle links, and enable the Borough Council’s wider vision to bring forward thousands of new homes.
Carefully crafted local plans that champion transport hubs will be key to driving maximum benefit from new planning regulations, as the UK focuses on ‘building back better’. Early collaboration with an expert partner to develop a bespoke masterplan for underutilised brownfield assets, bringing together all relevant stakeholders to unlock the potential of these strategic sites, is set to become a crucial driver of regional growth.
Ensuring that every destination can reach its full potential in this way will not only guarantee that community needs remain front and centre of every planning decision – it will help to drive public and economic value for the long-term.
Nick Markham is chair of commercial developer and regeneration expert LCR