With the support of Michael Gove, Secretary of State at the new Department for Levelling Up Housing and Communities (DLUHC), under its belt, the idea of Street Votes is fast gaining credence in planning circles as the next big thing in community-led planning. The Street Votes report by Policy Exchange, available to view here, outlines the idea of providing residents with the opportunity to hold referendums on regenerating their street. Should residents vote in favour of the idea, they would be given the power to create a design code, which would include parameters for the height and footprint of development.
The street votes idea is born from the desire to provide a way to intensify existing development in the suburbs, to provide more architecturally appealing street scenes, as well as additional units on brownfield land to help combat the housing crisis.
The report outlines that a large amount of community objection is fuelled by the fact that much new development has a negative effect on existing communities. This impact is felt most prevalently in the form of additional pressure to local infrastructure, with additional cars on the roads, children at schools and patients for doctors to see. With many of these services already stretched.
The lack of perceived benefits for the community, combined with this additional pressure on infrastructure provides the perfect conditions for a resident objection storm. Why is this important? Well, community buy in for proposals can often be a prerequisite for political support. In many cases members are perhaps able to see the advantages of the proposals, but they feel unable to support development, given the large objection from their constituents. Street votes look to increase this community buy in, in turn providing political support.
The monetary gain residents could achieve from the concept is one of the main reasons for confidence over resident support. The report suggests that, on average, residents involved could make £900,000 – certainly not a figure to be taken lightly.
There are of course caveats, street votes can only take place in areas with good access to facilities and transport links, cannot be implemented on any pre-1920 building, or on any streets with a listed property. Perhaps helping to hone the focus to areas of urban sprawl near to main service centres.
Intensification of the suburbs to provide properties more akin in style to Victorian / Georgian terrace housing should in theory gather support for the street in favour of the development. However, this does not automatically mean that there will be no issues. As with all planning matters, it will still be important to consult from an early stage.
Localised planning is of course not a new concept, and Neighbourhood Plans have provided a mechanism for grass roots representatives to have a real influence on the future planning and design of new homes in their area. This alongside the increasing chatter of devolution, could help to give real credence to the idea of a more localised approach.
The idea of street votes does divide opinion, with one colleague pointing out, and rightly so, that this kind of incremental planning doesn’t provide the proper infrastructure needed to support further residents in the same way that a large-scale development can.
However, if we are truly to revolutionise the planning system and provide the homes that people need, there needs to be a place for these ‘big ideas’. Particularly those that help to regenerate and provide a method for densification of existing stock in the suburbs, catered for within existing planning mechanisms. Provision within Local Plans or, perhaps more appropriately, Neighbourhood Plans could be a worthy solution. Could this then work? Perhaps, but the key in all of this is if the monetary gain will be enough to build advocacy, and for me the Jury is out on that one. It will of course succeed with the few who look to gain, but as with any development, there are likely to be those impacted without the resulting benefits, and this is always where objection occurs.
Whilst there is clear merit in the introduction of a system that provides an opportunity for greater community benefit, and support, there will be a very prevalent need for early engagement with neighbours and surrounding areas with regards to emerging proposals. Advocacy isn’t achieved overnight, and what is good for some is never good for all, so open honest communication will be key, as always, to the support of these schemes.
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