Community developer partnerships warrant further investigation, by Chris Brown

Think tank Demos launched a report recently, funded by Nationwide Building Society, entitled People Powered Planning. There was some interesting core research which provided statistical evidence that older, male, homeowners are by far the most likely demographic to engage with the planning system.

I can hear you muttering – ‘tell us something we don’t know’ – which of course is correct, but I’m always interested to see our prejudices confirmed, or not, by some good quantitative research.

This research also suggested that almost twice as many people support new housing being built in their area than oppose it, which perhaps isn’t what we were expecting to hear.

In the debate that followed at the launch event, it was pointed out that there were some places in the country – East Surrey was specifically mentioned, but the same phenomenon is also happening around the country in places like the Wirral for example – where, when local authorities try to promote new homes, councillors lose their seats, often to independents.

I don’t know all the examples but my impression of some of these places is that councillors, in some cases almost forced by Government policy, have been trying to support housing in some pretty inappropriate places and that the electoral response isn’t necessarily an entirely irrational NIMBY reaction.

But that wasn’t what caught my eye.

Demos made a policy proposal in the report for something they called Community-Developer Partnerships.

Relating this idea to the concept of putting workers on company boards, they suggested the idea of creating boards to be in charge of housing developments, with community representatives sitting alongside representatives from the developer.

They suggested the board could be formed before the developer makes a planning application and, if the application was granted, it would become a community-development board with a mandate to oversee the delivery of new homes.

They positioned this in the space between community led development, something Demos have previously espoused, and developer led development. They pitched it as combining the developer’s financial resource and technical expertise, with the community’s local representation and legitimacy.

Many will dismiss this as a ludicrous idea but Demos are, at this stage, simply suggesting that it is worthy of further investigation by all those potentially involved.

Its potential linkage with neighbourhood planning and neighbourhood development orders is interesting for example. It does seem to give us a different way of thinking about the way we currently do these things, and we know that the current way is pretty dysfunctional.

Given that research undertaken for Grosvenor suggested that only 2% of the population trust developers and that 75% think property developers only care about making money Demos’s idea at least feels worthy of further development.

It might be a better alternative to the one Grosvenor are currently using on their Biscuit Factory scheme in Bermondsey in London, where negotiations over the project are happening between GLA and developer without community involvement and with the likely outcome being even less trust in both developers and planners.

Chris Brown is executive chairman of Igloo Regeneration


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