To build or not to build?

Sunday 21 October, 3.15pm until 4.45pm, Fountain Room

From Boris Island to the Dale Farm gypsies, no building project seems too big or small to fall foul of the UK’s notoriously stringent planning laws, which sometimes seem to exist to prevent development rather than manage it. In contrast to China, which delivers new development equivalent to a country the size of Greece every six months, the UK planning system seems to be in a permanent state of denial. The Thames Gateway, High Speed Rail 2, Heathrow’s third runway, Battersea Power Station redux, Green Belt housing and even Eco-Towns have all run up against a wall. Perhaps the biggest issue is in housing, where building languishes at the lowest levels since the First World War. By some estimates, five million people are waiting on housing registers. According to Shelter, the younger generation bears the brunt with a fifth of 18- to 34-year-olds living with their parents because they can’t afford to rent or buy a home.

At Inside Housing, Colin Wiles argues the need to build three million new homes on greenfield land in the next 20 years. But few others seem willing to countenance actually increasing housing stock. The charity Intergenerational Foundation argues the problem is ‘under-occupation’ and that elderly people should be encouraged to move out of their ‘big houses’ to make room for larger families. Eight ‘radical solutions’ to the housing crisis discussed on the BBC News website included curbing population growth, forcing landlords to sell or let empty properties, and banning second homes. Meanwhile, the likes of the National Trust, the Countryside Alliance and the Campaign to Protect Rural England campaign against any liberalisation of planning. More broadly, many people distrust developers, fearing they will scar the countryside and destroy our architectural heritage.

Some ask why has planning lost its way and what happened to the big visionary plans of the past. David Cameron wants us to rediscover how ‘to build for the future with as much confidence and ambition as the Victorians once did’. But will cutting ‘red tape’ and simplifying the system be enough? Does the new ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ merely reinforce the ‘green tape’ that is already a barrier to development? What are the smart ways to deliver good urban development? Is the solution better top-down planning, more bottom-up planning, or something else altogether?

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Speakers
Professor Kelvin Campbell
managing director, Urban Initiatives; author, Massive Small: the operating system for smart urbanism

Penny Lewis
lecturer, Scott Sutherland School of Architecture, Robert Gordon University; co-founder, AE Foundation

Paul Miner
senior planning officer, Campaign to Protect Rural England

Daniel Moylan
former deputy chairman of Transport for London; Conservative Councillor; co-chairman, Urban Design London

Christine Murray
editor in chief, The Architects' Journal and The Architectural Review; founder, Women in Architecture Awards

Chair:
Michael Owens
commercial director, Bow Arts Trust; owner, London Urban Visits; formerly, head of development policy, London Development Agency

Produced by
Michael Owens commercial director, Bow Arts Trust; owner, London Urban Visits; formerly, head of development policy, London Development Agency
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