PLANNING FOR HOUSING
WHERE SHALL WE LIVE?
The Green Paper gave great emphasis to the need to preserve the countryside and to maximise the use of existing urban and developed land, by increasing densities and reviewing parking standards. It pointed out that a proportion of the growth rate in number of dwellings needed, comes about as a result of high divorce rates - one household splitting and now needing two homes. It also touched on 'new households forming unnecessarily'.
The ACPA Planning Theory Working Party therefore made a short submission, concentrating only on those matters of principle in respect of which a specifically Christian comment could be made. The Working Party then made a revised 'stand alone' submission to the new Secretary of State in the Labour Government and his new team at the Department of the Environment, Transport and Regions. The following is an edited version.
Planning for Housing
The Christian Faith enables us to identify Basic Principles which should guide Policy and Practice -
1. The decent housing of the people is one of the basic moral duties of a nation -
it is immoral to suppress household formation or housing standards
we must therefore plan properly to meet the need fully
we must also provide homes of a type and size that will enable the people to fulfil their roles in family and society
and we must finance social housing for those who cannot afford to buy
2. Housing must be located where it is best for people to live -
God gave us the land to meet all our needs - including attractive sites to live on
so houses should be located where the best living environment can be achieved in both City and Country
not in response to the preservation lobby or commercial interests
3. Towns and Cities must be enhanced for the benefit of the majority of the people
not "town-crammed" in order to preserve the environment of the affluent who live elsewhere
with more "urban green space" rather than less
and housing should therefore be located where it can bring benefits to existing urban areas.
Building on the Moral High Ground
We have no moral right to suppress household formation, or decent living standards, in order to "preserve the countryside". It is immoral to plan, in effect, for hardship, by not providing enough dwellings. If housing provision is restricted, it is those at the bottom of the social ladder who suffer.
We also have no moral right to insist that others live where we are not prepared to live ourselves, or to tell others they must live in smaller dwellings than those to which we ourselves aspire.
It would be morally wrong to say we want Cities to be good places to live in, and use Planning Policy to encourage more people to do so, without undertaking the action and finance needed to make then decent places within which to live.
If we clamp down on new "green field" developments, the Planning system may well work in favour of sectional interests rather than the public interest. The affluent would still be able to compete financially for a house in or next to the countryside. The majority would be increasingly squeezed into high-density development with no countryside access.
Meeting the Needs
Inadequate housing, or the financial pressures that can arise from housing, can often contribute towards the breakdown of a marriage. Adequate housing at an affordable price is an essential contribution to maintaining family life.
As Christians, we deeply regret divorce and single parenthood because they are far from God's ideal - not because they have a knock-on effect on the need for housing land.
We accept that divorce is one reason why more dwellings may be needed over the next 25 years. We hope that the effects of the Decade of Evangelism, with current cross-denominational moves on public and private morality, may combine to reduce divorce levels. However, those same influences may also bring about a significant reduction in the current levels of abortions, currently running at about 200,000 p. a.
Thus changes in public attitudes towards the morality of divorce and abortion may well balance each other out, and we should plan for the full requirement currently projected.
As Christians we are against pigeon-holing people into categories such as "small-dwelling-dwellers". Single people, for example, may have guests, may need space to store the boat or a caravan, to grow vegetables, or to host a Church house-group or a club committee meeting.
Not only must we provide the number of homes needed but these homes must be of a type and size that will enable the occupants to fulfil their role in society.
Our Land: A gift from God.
The land has been given by God as a resource for all our needs. It follows that "green field" development to meet those needs is not necessarily morally wrong. Our practical needs are food, water, clothing and shelter.
But just as 'man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God' (Matt 4 v 4) so also we do not live by meeting our practical needs alone, but also by the mental and spiritual refreshment that proceeds from the scenery and wildlife He created. Thus National Parks, 'Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty', 'Sites of Special Scientific Interest' and locally-identified high-quality landscape, all help meet an important fifth need.
Men and Women in their God-given role of stewards of Creation should conserve the best landscape and wildlife habitats which have been created by God (and by men and women using God-given skills)
But government statistics show that there is still enough land for housing. If we believe He created land for growing food, and scenery for mental and spiritual refreshment, we can also believe that God created enough attractive sites for humankind (whom he also created) on which to live.
Christians know that nothing can be preserved for ever, for all Creation will eventually be destroyed and re-created by God. Therefore 'preserving the countryside' cannot be the primary driving force in directing future housing development. In the right locations the unbuilt countryside can rightly be regarded as a God-given resource for housing.
New locations for housing should help to create or maintain patterns of relationships within and between towns which encourage the "Good Stewardship" of the finite resources God has given us, such as hydro carbon fuels.
It is poor stewardship of God-given resources if infrastructure is over burdened in boom towns and under used in dying districts. It is also poor stewardship if the impact of increased population in an area of good-quality environment destroys that quality
Saving Our Cities
In the Bible, cities are centres of God's blessing on Humankind. Traditionally in most cultures, including Christendom, they have been seen as the height of civilisation.
The basic function of our cities should be to provide a good and safe environment in which people can "prosper" - physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, economically and socially.
We believe the increasing failure of many cities to fulfil these functions is offensive to God. Furthermore, where cities are in decline, the remaining inhabitants are left in increasing distress. This is also offensive to God.
We therefore support the principle of improving our cities, but for the positive reasons outlined above, not in order to preserve the countryside. Indeed, we do not believe that "town cramming" benefits cities at all.
Increased densities will mean less Urban green space. The people need green space. Urban green space is much more valuable, hectare for hectare, then rural green space, because each urban green space serves a much larger population.
One of the driving forces behind the present Planning System was the relief of congested and unhealthy housing conditions in industrial cities. To some extent the deliberate planning of the "salubrious suburb" was a response to that.
If, 100 years or more later, we are now to reverse this process, there must be clear evidence that it will not lead again to unsatisfactory urban housing conditions.
God has a special concern for the poor. Whilst the Planning System must provide for all housing needs, there is a special responsibility to ensure rented/shared-equity homes are accessible to the poor and disadvantaged.
Within reason, therefore, it might be right that the Planning Process should include a degree of manipulation towards social housing - through cross-subsidies on new development, "exceptions", sites, etc. However, the system alone cannot actually deliver that housing - the Housing Corporation must be given fully adequate finances.
All are equal before God. Everyone has a potential part to play in His scheme of things. Everyone has a part to play in the community and in society at large. It is important that these truths are reflected by the physical integration of social housing into the fabric of our villages, towns and cities.
A Creative Approach to Housing Provision
The process of planning for housing in the United Kingdom urgently needs to become a much more efficient and effective use of time and skills - more creative - and more visionary - "where the people have no vision, they perish" (Prov 29 v 18). The most important change needed is changed attitudes - of the development industry, elected members of local authorities and professionals in both the public and private sectors.
Creativity and Vision are not incompatible with democracy and accountability. We illustrate by means of examples:
The Welsh Valleys show what can be achieved when Government, Commerce, and professionals work together. They now enjoy attractive scenery again after years of reclamation and regeneration (and offer considerable further scope for development radiating along rail based public transport from Cardiff and Newport).
Creative Operation of the Process. Before drafting the local plan, some Authorities like Bracknell and Test Valley have asked developers and land owners to come forward with development ideas for discussion. Others, such as South Somerset put forward their own radical ideas for public response and debate.
Creative Approach to Housing Location. Hampshire aims to locate urban extensions where they can improve existing urban areas - for example by funding public transport infrastructure.
On a smaller town scale, that is also the principle pursued at South Bridgwater. This project was also an example of positive planning for housing and conservation, because it will also create a large Country Park with a much higher nature habitat value than the fields from which the development will be created.
Once professionals representing land owners, developers, and Local Authorities really begin working together - rather than "fighting their corner" - creative ideas really begin to flow in a very positive way, to mutual public and private benefit.
God gave creative talents and the Planning System fails when they are suppressed rather than released and enabled for mutual good. "Short-Termism" and "Planning by Appeal" are not the answer. Positive planning ahead is the essential basis for achieving creative and imaginative solutions to housing in both Town and Country.
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