Planning experts: Use council estates to help solve housing crisis
Planning experts: Use council estates to help solve housing crisis

Press Release: 24.01.17

One of the UK’s most influential planning experts is calling on central Government and newly elected Mayoral offices to work with local authorities, house builders, local residents and social housing providers to regenerate ‘lost estates’ in a bid to help solve the growing housing crisis.

On the back of a report into Estate Regeneration in London, to be released on Tuesday 24January 2017, Faraz Baber, director of design and planning consultancy Terence O’Rourke, believes that the opportunity exists to deliver social and physical regeneration by making the bold decision to, in some cases, knock down large council housing estates and start again.

The report, ‘Estate Regeneration: More and better homes for London’, commissioned by London First and Winkworth Sherwood, alongside Terence O’Rourke, exposes the need for a new approach to estate regeneration in the Capital, making recommendations such as capitalising on building on disused space - something it claims has the potential to create an additional 8000 new homes a year for London - along with the complete regeneration of estates where it is viable. It also calls on estate regeneration to be treated differently to brownfield development and for a change in housing and planning policy to create more certainty around the long term development plans.

Baber, who previously headed up planning policy lobbying for London First and London Councils, says: “We seem to be awash with proposed planning and housing policies, all at various stages of approval, but sometimes the best planning solutions are found by looking at what already exists. Council estates are often sprawling areas of badly designed housing and public space. They can be as valuable in providing land for delivering large numbers of different housing tenures as redundant brownfield sites.

“Estates regeneration is not a new idea, but undertaking it has always been challenging and time consuming, which often leads developers to shy away from it. Proposals often face massive public opposition by residents who think they are going to end up worse off and local authorities that deem it too politically sensitive.”

At the core of the recommendations made for changing public policy on estate regeneration, is the need to include existing communities and empower them as an important part of the planning and design process.

Other recommendations for changes to existing public policy include:

Reducing or removing the Community Infrastructure Levy for estate regeneration schemes, especially where large schemes are providing new public facilities

Increasing the financial flexibility for Local Authorities to borrow against its existing stock and pooling different funding sources in order to help fund regeneration

Exempting estate regeneration projects from needing to meet national Starter Home criteria in order to make sites more commercially viable for developers

Including specific estate regeneration policies in Local Development Plans when set by local authorities and elected city mayors

Baber adds: “There are some very good recent examples from outside London - such as the transformation of the Lee Bank Estate in Birmingham by Birmingham City Council, Crest Nicholson and Optima Housing - where estate regeneration has successfully delivered significant numbers of mixed tenure homes, whilst also breathing much needed new life to an area and encouraging social sustainability. These schemes have been proven to deliver commercially sound projects, unite communities, encourage social mobility, create employment and maximise the number of homes that can be delivered.

“We need to see central Government and the soon to be elected city mayors utilise devolved fiscal and planning powers to encourage local authorities to look at the estates they have and make it easy for them to form partnerships with developers and local residents to regenerate them, whether that means adding new stock to what is already there, or knocking down and starting again.”

As well as looking at planning policy, the report also makes some key recommendations surrounding the creation of a framework that will work to provide security to long term d
evelopment partners through changes to the procurement process. On this, Roger Fitton, managing partner and co-head of real estate at Winckworth Sherwood, said: “The world never remains static, which is why these contracts – which can span a decade or more – need to have inbuilt flexibility. This is not just to take into account shifting economic cycles, but innovation in construction methods, new models of delivery and changing social context.  Being brave in adopting new procurement processes is something hard-pressed local authorities are often hesitant to do, even though they could provide far better outcomes.  In these cash-strapped times it’s difficult to take a leap of faith, but thinking outside the box is going to be essential to provide the homes London so desperately needs.”