Really enjoyed the Infrastructure Panel discussion at the UK Housing Delivery Summit event recently. At the table were Network Rail, Urban and Civic, Crossrail2, and Arup.
Several things particularly stood out.
Firstly it was tremendous to hear major two major infrastructure providers (David Biggs and Michele Dix) talking about the crucial importance of aligning major infrastructure spend with the planning of major housing land releases. Would never have happened 20 years ago.
The benefits of new housing/infrastructure alignment has clearly spread from town planners to infrastructure providers. And the discussion about the financing of the new Elizabeth Line (Crossrail1) proved there are new and creative ways of creating a financial linkage between housing and infrastructure delivery if everyone thinks positively and creatively.
Urban and Civic (U&C) are perhaps the UKs leading provider of serviced housing sites. They specialise in strtaegic housing projects with Alconbury Weald and Rugby to name but two. On infrastructure James Scott from U&C made an important point about carts and horses. Reminding us that when it comes to building much needed new homes the certainty of infrastructure provision is perhaps more important than the precise delivery at a particular point in time.
As a planner it was frustrating to hear about the early resistance U&C faced at Alconbury Weald in relation to the timing of new housing delivery, despite the absolute financial certainty of early infrastructure provision. A visit now perhaps gives a sense of wishing it could have been delivered even earlier and now be even more advanced. Quality.
The discussion on Water Companies was fascinating, in particular the increasing delays and difficulties faced by LA planners and housebuilders in securing the necessary feedback from Water Companies to enable development to start. The roles and responsibilities in this regard were a major source of debate at the recent Parliamentary Committee on Flood Prevention and no doubt we will hear more from the Government on this subject over the coming months and years. From a Barratt perspective it is clear that many Water Companies have much surplus land and given our growth ambitions are keen to engage with them and local councils on creative models of delivery which could unlock such land for housing.
Finally the discussion turned to land around stations and Arup put forward the idea of Station Development Zones around existing or proposed rail stations whereby:
- in urban areas planning and CPO rules would be geared towards delivery higher density housing, and,
- in suburban/rural areas the designation of a SDZ could be a material planning consideration (confirming the sustainability benefits of new housing close to rail stations) to be balanced against the development restraint policies which tend to apply to land around underused suburban rail stations
As a housebuilder who often gets told that the idea of new homes next to underused stations is ‘unsustainable’ or in conflict with Green Belt policy this certainly strikes me as great idea. If the original purpose of the station was to transport people into the City by rail, then some new housing alongside sounds like a good idea.