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Why we should not blame councils for housing crisis | Housing

The latest attack on our planning system is misguided (Michael Gove threatens action against English councils over housing plans, 19 December). Michael Gove misses the real reason why the UK lags so far behind other parts of Europe. For decades, governments have relied on housebuilders, who want to make money quickly. At the same time, it has cut the capacity of local authorities to be more than regulators.

Even in popular areas with agreed plans, such as Northstowe in Cambridge, Southall in west London, or around Gloucester, building is grinding to a halt as confidence dissolves. The results are congestion, pollution and stress for local communities.

The government needs to rebuild capacity to deliver from the bottom up. New towns provide inspiration, but development must be joined up with existing infrastructure capacity, especially local rail. Our Wolfson prize-winning plan for Uxcester Garden City showed how mid-sized cities such as Oxford or York could be doubled in size through a visionary spatial plan. Yet the proposal was blocked by a previous housing minister, apparently because it would extend a tightly bounded city into Tory strongholds.

Good strategic planning requires the use of compulsory purchase powers to assemble land in the right locations at existing use values with long-term loans from pension funds and insurance companies for the foundations. Delivery should be through small builders, including cooperatives (as in the Netherlands or Germany) to create neighbourhoods where people on a range of incomes want to live.

The government needs to resource strategic planning properly rather than continually attacking councils for what is not their fault.
Dr Nicholas Falk
Executive director, the Urbed Trust

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