RTPI Wider Insights from the Profession - Part 2

Wider insights part II

The RTPI has been continuing to collect experiences of the immediate response to Covid-19 by planners from across every sector and part of the UK and Ireland for a part 2 to this Wider Insights report. The contributors to this paper have particular expertise in various areas of the response and have kindly provided us with their views and analysis on this evolving situation. 

Dr Riëtte Oosthuizen MRTPI, Planning Partner at HTA Design LLP

“As planning professionals, like most people, we might find ourselves somewhat scarred from living intensely with others within restricted spaces since the onset of lockdown. Internal space dimensions have certainly been tested for ability to multifunction, as we vied for it whilst conducting home life, work, and home schooling. 

This pandemic has shone a very bright light on the possible shortcomings with the spaces in which we live. They have become very constrained. Whilst current circumstances might be unusual, this is a good time to reflect on housing and place quality and its very direct impact on wellbeing. The role planners can and should play in this is critical. We should not leave it to others.  Our voice in this debate is necessary.

Housing has crept up the political agenda in recent years. We need to take a closer look at what is being built and at how the planning profession can be better equipped to confidently negotiate higher quality housing outcomes. It is not the domain of design professionals alone. 

Planners are key to the negotiations taking place in determining housing quality during the planning application process. I have seen recent planning application feedback and appeal decisions taking a stronger position on internal daylight distribution, skepticism about height, the general outlook of homes and the ability to access private and public amenity space. Some of this is of course valid, bearing in mind context, but some is driven by local politics. 

We need to get to the bottom of what matters to people in relation to housing. And, what matters to ensure long term well-being. Appearance is important, but as the past three months have taught us other things are even more important: having a place to be able to work; flexibility in housing layout so as to have choice in how to use spaces in times of crisis; noise insulation for when we are all in all the time; access to green space, and; close proximity of opportunities to cycle and walk and buy/grow food. Many more local authorities are now commissioning design guides – this is the opportunity to think about the type of housing necessary to serve the future well. 

Thinking about ways to deliver good quality homes and places has been integral to HTA Design’s work for over 50 years. We live and breathe housing. As a planning consultancy imbedded within a design practice, we have been particularly encouraged to see how local planning authorities have adapted their ways of working during the pandemic to continue processing planning applications. However, the pandemic is having a definite impact on messages coming through in terms of design changes required – some of it justified in policy terms; whilst others require careful thought that they are not knee-jerk decisions steered by local politics. Density should not be a scapegoat – layout of homes needs a finessed approach if it is to cope with intense living, and quality should always be the objective. Sustainable densities are better in dealing with the long terms issue of climate change.  

Aside from the more immediate impact of the pandemic regarding feedback on housing development, we have been really encouraged with how local authority planning functions have adapted to cope with virtual pre-application meetings, committee meetings and community engagement. Despite shortage of resources, which requires urgent attention especially with the expected drastic changes to the planning system expected to be announced, we have been able to keep good momentum with projects.” 

Read full report here.

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