Planning for housing in Bristol and the West of England

The Publication Version of the West of England Draft Joint Spatial Plan (JSP) was agreed by the leaders of the Combined Authority, on 30 October, to be recommended to the member councils (Bristol, Bath and North Somerset, South Gloucestershire and North Somerset).  A second key document for future housing delivery in the region, the Draft Bristol City Council Urban Living SPD, is due to be issued for public consultation this autumn, with adoption anticipated in September 2018.

The decision to recommend the JSP kicks off a train of events intended to lead to adoption of the JSP as a statutory Development Plan Document which will guide the four Councils in the development of their Local Plans.  The programme currently anticipates public consultation of the Draft Plan until 10th January 2018. If the plan is ready, and subject to any minor modifications, it will then be submitted to the Secretary of State in March 2018 for a proposed Examination in Public (EiP) mid-2018, with adoption in late 2018.

The Joint Spatial Plan (JSP) is intended to deliver a coordinated approach to accommodating new homes, jobs, and infrastructure across the West of England region, which spans the four district boundaries, while maintaining environmental assets and quality, for the period 2016-2036.

The JSP approach and timetable is ambitious, proposing to deliver 105,000 new homes within the Plan period.  Whilst much of the proposed new housing is directed towards existing towns and villages, the JSP tackles the thorny issue of improving housing supply by proposing development of a number of new ‘garden villages’ in rural areas beyond the Bristol – Bath Greenbelt, where housing will be delivered at higher than normal rates.  In Bristol, the Draft SPD envisages delivery of higher density, higher rise capacity. The challenge in Bristol is the existing low skyline, and aspirations are therefore modest, for 5 – 8 storeys in urban opportunity areas, and 3 – 5 storeys in suburban opportunity areas.

Delivering large scale housing schemes

The Publication Version of the Draft Plan was launched virtually in tandem with a research report by the RTPI in South West England on delivering large scale housing schemes. The report, drawn from investigation of six case studies of large scale developments in the region, pointed to the need for strong strategic planning to direct new housing development to areas where there is robust evidence of capacity to absorb development, including the infrastructure needed to ensure sustainability.  It cited the time taken for large scale developments to get off the ground as, on average, some 10 years from the point at which schemes were identified until development began.  It further pointed out that large-scale developments do not immediately lead to lower house prices – new build sales in the case study sites tending to be above the median level for the local housing market.

Lessons for masterplanning

New and enlarged settlements, and high rise buildings, do not have time to grow organically into sustainable mixed communities, and a strong design led approach is as critical to longer term commercial receipt as to quality of life for residents.  If the approach to delivery is misjudged, it can constrain market and affordable housing delivery. What is needed is to bring forward high quality development is planning certainty and consistency. Notwithstanding this, it still takes time for the public and private sectors to work together to ensure that planning principles and design quality are built out as intended.  Dedicated skilled resources are also needed for the authority to deal with the scale of development outside its standard development management route.  Above all, the RTPI report demonstrates that planning and delivery of major housing development must be founded on good planning if it is to hope to achieve sustainable levels of growth in sustainable locations.

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