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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Black

Love thy Neighbour – Will Street Votes Work?

So today in the Queen's Speech we were given a teaser by Prince Charles that the planning systems will be reformed to give residents more involvement in local development. We can take this to mean 'Street Votes' which Gove previously said were a great idea. But what are they, how will they work, and will they actually deliver?

The idea of community led regeneration has been around for some time and there are a handful of examples around. However, the idea of a street vote was more recently put down on paper in the Strong Suburbs Paper (Enabling streets to control their own development) which was produced by the Policy Exchange last year. If you didn’t know better and didn’t bother to read it, you might be forgiven in thinking it was some sort of nimby charter giving third party rights to appeal (remember that squeaky bum moment a few years back?). It is instead a quite radical proposal for how residents could drive a significant change and uplift in housing numbers in their own street.

First of all, the list of acknowledgements at the start of the paper is somewhat of a who’s who of planning so it clearly has some gravitas as a concept. The review of the reasons for UK housing shortage as set out within the paper are spot on. The next thing you notice is the pretty bold claim that the policy could deliver 110,000 homes a year for the next 15 years (7,333 homes a year).

It is clear that the concept of Street Votes must be led by the local community in the first place and the initial proposal must be submitted to the Local Authority by 20% of the residents in the street. Even in a pretty average cul-de-sac of 40 houses then you need 8 people to even get a proposal off the starting blocks. I note there is no fee attached to a Street Vote proposal and not much detail on who within a Local Authority would be responsible for determining whether a proposal is acceptable or not, only that the actual cost of holding the vote will be reimbursed to local councils by the treasury.

A street plan is only adopted if at least 60% of votes cast are in favour. Back to that example of a street with 40 houses, then 24 would need to vote in favour. Logic would suggest that a vote is only going to be passed if it is a well run campaign which clearly outlines the potential gain for everyone involved and that is something which will need some real imagination. Essentially it needs someone with flair, drive and more importantly time to do all this.

The idea within the Policy Exchange Paper was that if the vote was passed then the street would be designated as a Renewal Area as outlined in the Planning White Paper but that isnt going to happen now that the government is walking away from those proposals. The other idea is that a street will create a Local Development Order which automatically grants permission for developments which comply with the approved street plan. For that to happen the proposals must set out a design code which details on plot heights, plot widths and example elevations (perhaps through the use of a design competition).

The paper sets out some thoughts on caps for building heights dependent on existing inhabitants per hectare. Also, further info on rights to light, privacy, building lines, maximum ceiling heights, plot use limits, infrastructure, tenant protection, compensation for neighbours on other streets, sustainability, public space, parking and lots of other things.

Its certainly a well written paper and they have certainly thought it through. I would never want to criticise radical thinking and maybe this would work really well in some streets but I just think that in most instances people just wont be motivated to do it, particularly as most families are more concerned with the cost of living crisis rather than the development potential of their whole street. I have to say as concepts go, I’m really struggling with this one.

It will be really interesting to see how Gove sets this out in forthcoming announcements and what additional support might be offered. Even if it were, 110,000 homes in the next 15 years? I’m very happy to be convinced otherwise but I’m afraid I just cant see it.

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