The allocation of land for housing development
The release of land for new housing development represents a primary function of the planning system within the United Kingdom. At the same time, it represents one of the most debated aspects of land use planning. Indeed, on the 5th June 1996, at the annual conference of the Royal Town Planning Institute, the then Secretary of State for the Environment, John Gummer, appealed for a national debate on the provision on new housing. He stressed that the projected growth in housing demand would have severe implications for the environment unless many of the issues associated with the growth were fully and openly discussed. This research explores the allocation of housing land within a high growth area. Using the former Grampian Region (Scotland) as a case study, the research investigates the principal technical and procedural issues associated with the release of land for new housing development. A range of qualitative and quantitative techniques are employed, set within a 'Structure and Agency' framework. The initial quantitative stage includes a detailed analysis of planning applications, appeals and residential development figures for the Aberdeen area. This provides an overview of the location and nature of past housing development and enables the identification of a number of issues pertinent to the release of housing land. These issues are subsequently discussed with the principal agents involved, namely, planners, developers, elected councillors and the general public. The main findings of the study suggest that the scale and location of new housing development, has and will continue to, represent one of the most controversial aspects of land use planning. This controversy has a protracting effect on the preparation of structure and local development plans throughout the United Kingdom. These delays increase the difficulty of maintaining an adequate supply of housing land and consequently expose the system to the appeal process and ultimately, the control of the developer. This undermines the influence of the other agents (planners, councillors and the public) as the system becomes increasingly 'appeal-led' and controlled by central government. At a specific level, the research questions the medium to long-term capacity of the Aberdeen area to accommodate brownfield housing alongside the extent to which the current planning system caters for residential choice. It suggests that further greenfield releases may be necessary at a strategic level in order to provide an adequate supply (and choice) of housing land. The study argues that the current approach towards housing land allocation is overly concerned with releasing a sufficient supply of housing to meet demand and fails to consider the extent to which this land will provide an adequate choice of housing. It is considered that the predominance of flatted accommodation within redeveloped brownfield sites and associated failure to provide an adequate choice of house type, size and location will only exacerbate the public's desire for suburban and rural living. Reservations are also expressed with regard to the current direction of policy thinking on brownfield housing, in particular, the drive towards maximising the density of such housing and corresponding desire for local planning authorities to review industrial land allocations in favour of residential use. The study recommends that further research is required in order to address the issue of housing choice within a brownfield-led strategy. It also recommends that the current level of central government involvement in local decision making requires further investigation. The requirement for planning authorities to provide an adequate and continuous supply of housing land and the extent to which this prevents authorities from fully accounting for windfall sites within their housing land strategies represents another issue upon which future research is required. Above all, the study illustrates the manner in which debate on the issue of housing land has progressed over the last five years. This clearly strengthens its validity as an issue worthy of detailed consideration. In this respect, further research is needed to refine the land use planning system and ensure that the future allocation of housing land can be undertaken more effectively.