This week saw an important report published by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Wellbeing. Despite being limited in scope, the inquiry considered how policy could enhance wellbeing without increasing public spending, it made some strong recommendations in relation to the planning system.
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I’ve spent some more time this week with people trying to innovate in the built environment. The UKGBC did some great work a couple of years ago as part of an ongoing encouragement to the industry to build a culture to innovate solutions to the pressing problems of our time.
This week it was organisations like the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills on behalf of the Construction Industry Council and Innovate UK with the Future Cities Catapult who were pursuing a similar course.
I had a fascinating conversation recently with two of the leading academics in the field of development appraisal, and in particular its application in the planning system, Pete Wyatt and Pat McAllister.
The Labour Party conference this week had a strangely subdued atmosphere for the last one before a General Election. It probably didn’t help being sandwiched between the Scottish Referendum result and the recall of Parliament to take us to war again.
I had a really interesting discussion with an innovative London local authority and two innovators in the world of housing recently. We were discussing how best to do estate regeneration given the considerable difficulties with, and community opposition to, the current prevalent practice of the top down, developer or housing association led approach.
To my shame, and despite an upbringing which involved spending time across the Tay in Fife, until last week I had never been to Dundee. This is particularly bad because Dundee has the look of one of the most successful regeneration, place making and city building projects in the UK in the last decade.
Call me sad but I spent part of the holidays reading some of the work of Ha Joon Chang, one of my favourite economists. His work on infant industry protection has enormous resonance with what Government is currently trying to do to encourage the emergence of a Custom Build and an institutionally funded new build private rented sector (PRS) in the UK. The Government’s objective is to diversify the supplier base of new housing in order to increase the pace of supply of new homes as the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) historically recommended.
The culture in the UK real estate industry has always been deeply conservative and resistant to change. The number of people who will tell you why something can’t be done differently is massively greater than the number of people trying to find better ways to do things.
The free market cheer leaders for more housing are starting, rightly, to become more focussed in demanding more housing, not everywhere, but in the economically growing places like Bristol, Oxford, Cambridge, London (and recognising that the problems, or rather the solutions, are different in other parts of the country where environmentally sustainable brownfield development capacity is substantially more obvious).
I took part in a proper debate, on green field development, organised by the real estate related professions in Leeds last week. I’m not an experienced debater and came away mainly with the realisation that it isn’t really surprising that life long politicians who do this stuff from school age become flexible with the truth. It is great practice for telling people what you think they want to hear in order to win votes rather than exposing truth by forensic interrogation.