Leading a balanced way forward through the new reality

This is the final article in the series by Keith Mitchell, Chairman of Peter Brett Associates.  In previous articles he has set out

So far, we have examined the interlinked issues of planning policy, localism, infrastructure delivery, and the need for sustainable economic growth. Faced with this new reality, who is going to lead the way, and how?

Balancing Economic Growth and Sustainable Development:

Many accuse the NPPF of being set up solely to achieve economic growth at all costs, but it is possible to create sustainable economic growth if practitioners take a responsible approach to the promotion of regeneration schemes.

A key requirement of this approach will be a reconsideration of the balance between provision of physical infrastructure and the need to reduce consumption and demand. We need to focus on delivering quality of life for the future residents and occupiers of our developments, rather than providing costly infrastructure that allows demand and consumption to increase without constraint. We need to advocate sustainable solutions – not accept them as an unwelcome necessity. We need to adopt a flexible approach to implementation that is resilient to change, but that bases its plans on reinforcing and achieving sustainable outcomes.

We also need to be more open minded about new infrastructure delivery models and the need for long term stewardship. Gone are the days when we should assume that providing infrastructure up front is a cost effective way of proceeding. There are now opportunities to partner with providers and local communities to create long term revenue streams and reduce up front cost. These arrangements can also provide mechanisms through which sustainable behaviours can be encouraged and targets met.

At the heart of this, schemes must be viable. The regular occurrence of schemes having to shoulder a heavy infrastructure burden and failing to deliver, suggests that there does need to be a new understanding about the appraisal of viability – what is possible and what is not. How can appraisals take account of short term and long term value creation? How do those taking risk and creating value generate an appropriate profit from their efforts, but avoid projects dying from a thousand cuts.  Does it need to be open book, or are there other ways of agreeing what is achievable and reasonable and what is not? I am not qualified to tell, but we are all losers if we continue to allow schemes spend years in planning, only to fall at the next hurdle.

Balancing Economic Growth and Localism:

Many fear that the Localism Act will create impediments to development and economic growth, but it can provide a voice for those who are crying out for investment and change if we commit to early and meaningfully engagement with local communities.

Often, schemes in already deprived areas with poor economic performance falter because they can’t attract investment. Great design can create great places and deliver value, but it can’t overcome inherently weak demand. Schemes must be therefore designed to address the underlying causes of market failure and provide conditions in which greater prosperity can be fostered. What are the characteristics of the local community? Where can future demand be stimulated? How can space be effectively and flexibly used to provide for what is needed?

Development can provide facilities needed by local communities to engage their young people, can provide access to jobs and training, and can create decent homes and living environments that are affordable, attractive and respected by their communities. But can we identify the stewardship proposals that can help to deliver these, and engage local communities in the long term leadership and management required to derive the benefit?

And if we are to avoid infrastructure delivery constraining development, it is essential that there is early and detailed consideration of infrastructure requirements, how it will get paid for, and how it will get delivered. There is a serious risk that CIL will fail to deliver the infrastructure requirements needed by development and the affected local communities, and that S106 will fail to provide for these needs either. The devil will be in the detail, and the balance between what is on the 123 list, and what is in S106 agreements, could be a real factor in being able to deliver schemes and not being able to do so.

Early engagement with Local Authorities is therefore important, especially as they develop their Development Plans and associated proposals for CIL.

Leadership needed in both the public and private sector

There are some very knotty topics tucked away in here. Perhaps the establishment of a heavyweight taskforce will help to identify some of the answers, such as those established by Boris Johnson, with Sir Stuart Lipton and Julian Metcalf taking the lead? Perhaps it needs some more adventurous and radical thinking by both public and private sector alike, opening a realistic dialogue about making regeneration happen. Whatever the process, we must radically improve the way in which the economic and social benefits of regeneration are articulated, so ensure that we attract a greater share of available investment.

Ultimately, leadership needs to come from practitioners by demonstrating that it is possible to create sustainable economic growth by taking a responsible approach to delivering sustainable outcomes, and engaging early with local communities and stakeholders to ensure their views are properly taken in to account, and plans from all sides aligned with common goals.

Government is now looking to practitioners to help to identify the essential guidance which will sit outside the NPPF, but which will provide the guidance within which  development should be promoted. We must engage in this process, and take the lead in showing how regeneration can be delivered that promotes both economic growth and sustainable outcomes.

Keith Mitchell


Chairman, Peter Brett Associates.