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Themes, Quotes and Links from the Decent Homes and Liveable Places #2 online event

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This is a summary of the main points from our second "How do we create decent homes and liveable places for all in West Yorkshire?" online event that continued the housing and planning strand of AMP West Yorkshire.

Unfortunately we don't have the full video recording of the session as it starts about 15 minutes in during Huw Jones presentation but you can watch most of the discussion here on YouTube

Discussion topics are summarised into themes.

Jump to themes:
RESET AND COLLABORATIVE VISION FOR HOUSING AND PLACES IN WEST YORKSHIRE

Huw Jones reflected on his experience of working in housing policy strategy and provision for over 30 years, and called on the future Mayor to collaborate on a coherent and radical vision, resetting how policy and strategy for housing and places is thought about and developed.

"What I see today is a thoroughly dysfunctional system unable to meet the needs, requirements and aspirations of all parts of the community"

"There is a need for a reset in the way that policy and strategy relating to housing and placemaking is thought about and developed."

"To achieve the reset needed, the West Yorkshire Mayor needs a coherent and radical vision for housing and places that can provide the basis for robust lobbying for Government support and private investment. It is crucial that this vision has the support of communities and providing organisations across the housing system (local authorities, tenants/residents and community groups, housebuilders willing to innovate and provide affordable options, housing renovators and retrofitters, housing managers and landlords and specialist housing support services, and it needs to involve academics and policy researchers and draw upon ideas from inside and outside of the UK."

Huw has written a full blog post about these ideas in more detail.

Phil Bixby asked Huw whether there are any UK-specific examples of such a reset to housing policy but there were no suggestions in the session. A recent discussion hosted by Breaking Ground explored what Bristol City Council are doing to promote a different approach to housing, linking it with their social value policy and facilitating community-led affordable housing.

CREATING A FEMINIST REGION

Jessica Spencer, co-founder @urbanistasNW, challenged the typical white middle-class male heavy dialogue within the architectural profession and called for a light to be shone on under-represented people and ideas.

Jessica asked "How would you create a feminist region?"

"Our built environment is designed and structured around default assumptions of a typical citizen – man, bread winning husband and father, able-bodied, heterosexual, white and cisgender. The default is this man travels into the city to work each day whilst his wife undertakes a double shift of paid and unpaid work with little support strategies in place to help. We need to un-weave the policies, practice and assumptions to accommodate all those that fall outside – women, young people, the elderly, disabled people and more"

Jess drew on the influential book 'Invisible Women' by Caroline Criado Perez to highlight gender inequality in design and cited Sweden's approach to gender mainstreaming as an example to learn from.

To begin discussion about creating a feminist region, Jess posed questions to reflect on:

"What informal spaces of resistance already exist in the region that we should support and champion?"

"Is everyone accounted for in the discussion?"

"How can we challenge the domain between public and private to support and alleviate unpaid work undertaken?"

"How can we create a space where everyone feels safe to go?"

Responding to a question by Tabassum Ahmed, Jess argued that it is important to understand the informal networks that exist in the region, what is going on, and from this you can work out how to provide for them. This is the first step, and doing a mapping exercise would be a great way of starting this and it would also facilitate connecting different groups together

VALUES AND NOT JUST VALUE OF HOUSING

Quintin Bradley, Lecturer at Leeds Beckett University, called for us to reflect on what we value and want from housing and for us to engage collectively in changing the current system that prioritises the value of money.

He highlighted that many of things we value in society, e.g. the care workers who keep us alive, food production and distribution, are not recognised as being fundamentally important in our system of value, which measures things in market cost and price.

"The things that attract the lowest market price are often those we need the most."

Quintin used social housing as an example. The rent in social housing is low, so by default it has a low market value. Yet we desperately need social housing. There are 4 million households in England in housing need. Social housing is the only housing that would address this need yet we are only building 6,000 social houses a year. Quintin noted that when it comes to decide if it's worth repairing, improving or investing in social housing, Local Authorities are bound to question whether they will get a better return on their money by demolishing homes, selling land to developer and getting a higher market value for it. It is being bulldozed en masse because of its low market value and not being valued.

"Land owners are under a moral duty to develop land so that it reaches its highest value. But if all the landowners want the highest market value for their land, to sell that land for the highest price, no one is going to make land available for the things that don't generate money – for our social needs, things like hospitals, schools, social housing."

A tragic example of what Quintin explains is unfolding in West Yorkshire, to the families of Wordsworth Drive and Sugar Hill Close in Leeds. The 70 existing homes are threatened with demolition by the landlord, Pemberstone, to be redeveloped with 60 market-rate homes and 11 affordable homes. The existing homes were originally state-owned but sold to a private developer in the 1980s. Despite all of the homes currently providing affordable tenancies, only 12 are 'regulated' and 'assured' tenants and are given legal protection that requires them to be re-housed. The rest of the families will be displaced. The developer could have decided to invest and improve the homes or, better still, enable the families to take collective ownership and look after the homes themselves. However, what is happening instead is the developer is taking an opportunity to realise the market value of their ownership of the land by building new homes, to make a financial profit. The result is a traumatic and destructive loss of socially valuable homes.

Quintin ended by calling for a prioritisation of the things we truly value.

"We need to identify land not by whether it's developable, or whether it can legitimately be allocated for housing but by whether it's the right land in the right place for the right use. We need to build an embedded value system, identifying what things matter to us in West Yorkshire and take an inventory of that because it is the essential step to changing the legislative system that imposes market value on us."

PEOPLE FRIENDLY AND LIVEABLE PLACES

Hannah Beard and Alex De Little explained their collaborative approach that is emerging for the East Side Leeds.

"Our aim is to inspire people to take bold moves and to image what we could achieve if we took a step back to look at the area in a holistic way without any site boundaries and by prioritising people and nature first."

"Leeds city region is developing faster than ever at the moment. I believe that without bold approaches to design and imaginative approaches to community engagement new development will just reinforce existing problems such as the dominance of roads, the detachment of areas from the city centre and the absence of community ownership of public spaces"

"How much do we need to know before we can start acting? I think the answer so far is… a lot"

Hannah and Alex are formulating an alternative approach to how we observe (eyes and ears!), analyse and collectively bring about change in our built environment. They are inspired by permaculture design which stresses the importance of observing a site for one whole year before you design anything. This idea of fully understanding a place, how it is already used, before changing it might sound common sense but is so far away from how most design processes currently operate. They highlight that by taking the time to properly observe a space and by sparking conversations, you can bring together demographics that might not normally encounter one another.

Importantly, they are clear they do not know what will emerge from their ideas and are avoiding imposing a fixed design/masterplan. This is the whole point of co-producing, being open to discussing ideas and for things to emerge by engaging different people as the project progresses. They stress the importance of process and not just outcomes in order to re-imagine how we use places.

They call for this approach to pausing, observing, listening to one another be adopted and used across West Yorkshire.

LINKING THINGS TOGETHER – WHAT THE MAYOR CAN DO

Linking the 4 presentations by the speakers together, we start to see a clear call for the future West Yorkshire Mayor.

Using Hannah Beard and Alex De Little's approach to patiently listening, observing, and engaging in conversations we can involve the diverse perspectives that are currently not included in design discussions, as highlighted by Jess Spencer. Through these conversations, we can talk about what we value in our current environments but also what we want to see change and improve and to work towards changing our value system, called for by Quintin Bradley. By spreading this out across West Yorkshire, connecting various voices, we can collectively devise policy and strategy and formulate a housing vision, and achieve the reset that Huw Jones argued is so desperately needed.

SUPPORTING SMALLER DEVELOPERS AND ARCHITECTS

Phoebe Nickols asked the speakers for views on how to challenge the power of major housebuilders in land development and housebuilding, bringing smaller developers and architects into process and employing more designers in Council departments (e.g. Croydon Council).

Quintin Bradley argued that the planning system in England should be based around locating communities in the most sustainable locations – where existing transport links are, where there are jobs, where there are facilities and services. We have a tradition in England with the New Town Development Corporations in the 1940s-1980s that was world-leading in creating new communities. They didn't wait for a landowner but found locations, compulsory purchased the land at existing use value and they kept ownership of the land and reinvested the uplift in value back into the community. Quintin noted that some of the Development Corporations paid back loans within 30 years and with interest.

This provides a useful reference for West Yorkshire which will have new powers to set up Mayoral Development Corporations and designate Mayoral Development Areas. We have previously commented that these powers must be used to generate community wealth, achieve social justice, improve the quality of environments and pursue zero-carbon placemaking.

RIGHT TO REGENERATE

Following the discussion Geoff Hughes asked the speakers for their views of the 'Right to Regenerate' consultation which proposes community purchase of unused public spaces.

"I think a number of last week's meeting participants associated public ownership with automatic public good and public benefit, whereas my experience and observation on the ground suggests this may not always be the case.

Having seen the success of small traders in regenerating markets such as Altrincham, it is strange to observe Kirklees Council's various grand plans, for instance in citing its music-regeneration theme in moving traders out of the Queensgate market to tout the market hall as a future music venue… …perhaps forgetting the success of that building's architects in producing a design with acoustics intended to muffle noisy market traders. I also doubt that crowds will flock to a future rugby league museum, the only committed end product from considerable Council expenditure at Huddersfield's historic and listed George Hotel. And I fume at Kirklees Council's history around the old Kirklees College site where, after nine years of dereliction and vandalism since selling on a prime site around fine listed 1830s buildings, it granted effective permission last week for a large 'shed' supermarket so that the owning property asset management company could then 'sell on' the rest of the site with OPP for hideous blocks of flats that would dominate a whole Conservation Area.

My hope is that 'Right to Regenerate' will lead to small organisations – of various types – taking on manageable projects which they can actually deliver. And I don't mind if they make a bob or two from offering me a cappuccino as I walk past!" [Geoff Hughes]

Quintin Bradley said:

"it was vague about whether this right applied to individuals or only specific groups, for what use the land could be put if acquired, and that, as you say, it contributed to an agenda of land privatisation. Why is it restricted to land owned by local authorities and town and parish councils since I would imagine the issue is more __relevant to privately owned land. What we need is a community right to buy land on the Scottish model."

Neil McKenna said:

"I can understand the driving need to strengthen the 2014 'right to contest' given the number of refused applications simply because it wasn't clear whether or not the Council had an intended use for the land. It would be great if councils took a pro-active role in mapping and strengthening knowledge of opportunities for accessing land to bring forward publicly beneficial proposals. It seems like a useful right, however it must be seen in the context of on-going public land disposal (very well covered by Brett Christophers book 'The New Enclosure'). I would like to see the state retaining freehold, whilst groups are the leaseholder. Whilst the proposed right to first refusal is great, I think it is also really important that the land is not just sold at market value (e.g. see example from Bristol on social value land transfer), and that the purpose/aim of the proposed use is taken into account when considering who has the 'right to regenerate'. The planning system is not discerning enough when it comes to this question of ownership and purpose of development (this point is made by Bob Colenutt in 'The Property Lobby') and what the broader social, economic and environmental benefits are. Teasing out publicly beneficial projects from private profit motivated projects is key.

COMPULSORY PURCHASE ORDERS AND APPROACH TO PLANNING

Tim Reid asked whether to address the market focus of the current system if there is a need for a compulsory purchase order approach to planning for housing. This would involve Local Authorities taking a sustainable approach to getting development to happen, prioritise social housing in sufficient numbers and in the right places.

Huw Jones argued that compulsory purchase orders might be a good idea but brought the focus back a step and questioned the obsession with owner occupied housing and what sort of housing we want in the first place. He felt that the promise of home ownership to future generations is breaking down. This challenges the current housing system, which is based on selling new homes and subsequently trading up the property ladder. How we think about accessing housing and paying for it needs to be reset as we cannot sustain ever increasing prices, the first rung of the ladder getting further and further away.

THE HIDDEN COST OF NOT PROVIDING SOCIAL HOUSING

Paola Zanotta argued that not providing social housing and giving people the chance to live in decent homes actually has a cost. Paola asked whether we can map and measure this cost and connect it up with the people who will eventually have to pay for it, such as the NHS having to give more assistance to people who live in unsafe and unhealthy homes.

In response, work by Client Earth was cited as an example of looking at different valuation models. Looking at natural capital, social capital, and intellectual capital etc. Yorkshire Water's property arm are promoting the '6 capitals valuation' and ARUP have a 'total valuation model' which tries to capture social cost of not doing things a certain way.

Tim Reid offered that different approaches to valuation might help challenge the dominance of land development by major housing developers, who are currently able to out-compete other people and organisations that might want to provide affordable housing. Measuring social value could address the dominance of financial value in the land development process.

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