Callcutt review unveils strategy to solve country's housing crisis

Another week and yet another review tackling the country's housing crisis is unveiled.

But instead of an intellectual debate, this time we have something a little more pragmatic. The Callcutt review is squaring an almost impossible circle - how to manage a huge house building drive without adding to urban sprawl, while bringing on board hitherto unviable sites, raising the profile of design and delivering zero carbon development.

To give the Callcutt team its due, it has made a fair fist of it. With much of the house building industry morphing into land speculators, the review tacitly acknowledges that the more outrageous examples of land banking must be tackled. Giving developers three years to "use it or lose it" should put a stop to some of the worst abuses. Ministers would do well to heed this recommendation.

There is a misguided school of thought that blames the planning system not just for housing shortages but almost every problem under the sun. The review cuts through this nonsense by suggesting that everyone has a role in solving the crisis. Getting local authorities to lead partnerships with developers to turn round previously unattractive sites is an idea whose time has come.

Look at it a different way. Public bodies steering the private sector on development is another application of spatial planning. If local authorities can avoid a rash of appeals by pursuing this route, that alone will be quite an incentive. Radically, the idea of an independent design body to support local authorities will be music to the ears of anyone who holds quality close to heart. Perhaps it will help tackle some elements among the nimbyists.

The review also throws further light on the skills challenges facing the professions, with a major emphasis on partnership working and development economics. Yet the elephant in the room in all this is the usual one. Many of these ideas will at the very least require substantial resources. The design body alone is well beyond the current wherewithal of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment and will need a sizeable budget if it is to do its job properly.

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