You will not have heard of Nansledan, but it might be an answer to Britain’s housing crisis.
The development on the edge of Newquay was planned as the kind of scheme which NIMBY residents are supposed to oppose vociferously: an urban extension of one thousand new houses.
Over the last seven years, the opposite has happened. Instead of building a thousand new homes as originally proposed, the local community now supports four times that number in a mixed-use scheme that will increase the size of the town by 20 per cent.
As a result, the development will serve Newquay’s housing needs for not just five but the next fifty years.
Nansledan turned NIMBYs into YIMBYs by doing something that should be unremarkable but is in fact revolutionary in Britain’s adversarial planning system. They worked with local people to ensure that the development met their needs, not just the short-term interests of developers and landowners.
Instead of imposing plans on the community, the landowner undertook a detailed engagement process with residents. They discovered that local people wanted good design and local jobs. This led to a co-design approach that meant terraced seaside streets planned with the community and its own high street, church, school, and public spaces.
On top of that, the community will create 4,000 jobs for local building and trade firms. It is, as the Director of Planning for Cornwall County Council remarked, about “a comprehensive new place rather than just building houses”.
Nansledan is the exception rather than the rule. True, it has advantages that other sites do not – not least, in the Duchy of Cornwall, a long-term landowner focused squarely on sustainable development. But it nevertheless shows that with the right engagement and a long-term approach, we can build the homes we need and simultaneously improve local trust in the housing market. We must create communities, not just build homes.
Thankfully, the Government is already singing from this hymn sheet. In the reforms to the National Planning Policy Framework set out last year, much greater weight was given to planning by consent and design-led development. The recently announced Building Better, Building Beautiful commission, led by Sir Roger Scruton, will set out ways to go even further. The Secretary of State, who will lead an Onward and Create Streets conference today, talks openly of “ensuring the homes communities need are built, accepted and loved by those who live in and near them”.
The reality is that NIMBYism is more myth than reality. Local communities are objecting to lack of engagement, not the issue of development. A poll last week for Number Cruncher Politics found that 62 per cent of people support building more housing in their local area, double the proportion (30 per cent) who oppose it.
Of those that do oppose, their two biggest concerns were not their views or the impact on green spaces, but related to infrastructure: 47 per cent of people said they worried about increased demands on local services and 45 per cent said increased traffic.
This speaks to one of the greatest problems in our housing and planning system: that we too often fail to use the value generated by planning permission to invest in communities. We currently let 75 per cent of the gains from land value, around £10 billion a year, accrue to landowners and developers. That is money that could be partly used to build local infrastructure like schools, doctors’ surgeries, roads and green parks.
Section 106 and the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) are woefully insufficient: Onward has found that last year more than a quarter of developments between 100 and 999 homes, and seven per cent of developments of over 1,000 homes, paid no Section 106 or Community Infrastructure Levy at all.
Reform would deliver the homes that Britain needs and the communities to support them. A new approach put forward by Onward last year would refocus the plan-making process away from its current passive and sequential approach – in which landowners choose which land to bring forward, usually on the edge of existing settlements – towards an active policy that starts from the question of which land would be most acceptable to local residents and best for new development for the local area.
This kind of master-planning, which is common in Europe but rare in Britain, would likely favour standalone settlements over piecemeal development on the edge of existing towns and villages, and allow for infrastructure to be installed before new homes. The Netherlands, which takes this approach, captures around 90 per cent of land gains in some cases.
Since the end of the New Towns programme and Docklands Development Corporations, Britain built no significant planned communities. In the last few years, local and central government have started to consider new planned communities, including garden towns and villages across the country, but the sites are still relatively small in number.
This Government has presided over a house-building revolution for which it does not get enough credit. Net housing additions are now at 222,000 – around 100,000 more than the level inherited in 2010-11 – but 78,000 fewer than the Government’s target of 300,000 homes. The vast majority of those are houses not flats, and new builds not conversions. Supply is rising and prices are stabilising.
But in doing this we must ensure that new homes are high quality, that they are loved by their communities, and that they have the infrastructure to make them sustainable for the long-term.