In November 2015, having won £75,000 from HEIF, the Director of Planning Studies, Dr Nancy Holman, launched LSE London’s new HEIF5 knowledge-exchange project: “Accelerating Housing Production in London“. The project gathers together a small group of experts from the private sector, public sector and academia to better understand the key barriers to accelerating residential development in the capital. The group started with some concerns identified by their earlier project, “Uncertainties in Planning”, regarding the role of small- and medium-sized builders; housing zones; mayoral powers and financing issues in the provision of residential development. Thus far, the conversation has focused mainly on the uncertainties introduced by the planning negotiation process, the need to increase the number of sites under development (especially smaller sites), and the potential role of Housing Zones. The group has also explored some of the unintended consequences of office-to-residential conversions under permitted development rights. “Without funding from HEIF and other similar bodies, it would be almost impossible to bring this quality of experts to one table”, said Dr Holman. “To exchange knowledge in this way can help us understand what is needed to set the foundations for a brighter future for housing in London.”
The second project, which won £53,000 from HEIF, is led by Assistant Professor of Regional and Urban Planning, Dr Alan Mace, and draws together academic and practice views on the purpose and future form of the Metropolitan Green Belt (MGB). The Project promotes constructive debate regarding the MGB in the context of contemporary housing need and urban development planning in the region. In an era of localism, it also asks how collaboration can effectively be pursued between different scales and authorities when reviewing the MGB, which covers a large part of the Greater South East. “A major problem is that the Metropolitan Green Belt is a blunt policy instrument that ensures a high degree of enforcement and produces a range of unintended consequences”, said Dr Mace, “and too often this has led to polarised positions. Its defenders argue for ‘no change’ believing that any revision will be the ‘thin end of the wedge’ leading to its eventual demise. Its opponents see a failure to address the consequences flowing from a long term restriction of land supply and point out that the world has changed since the MGB was conceived”. Importantly, the MGB raises questions about the scale of planning. At the local level, the development of local plans can include a review of the MGB, but this does not take place in a strategic context, whilst at the national level, policy largely favours the status quo. Such an apparent stale mate can have significant consequences for housing and development needs, particularly where cross boundary considerations between London and its neighbouring authorities are limited. “We are seeking to identify the possibility of a more flexible yet coordinated approach to the Metropolitan Green Belt”, said Dr. Mace, “one that supports a clear purpose but which recognises the need for flexibility given the complex and changing needs of London and the wider South East”. Dr. Mace and his team will be seeking further funding towards the end of 2016.