• Call to cut poverty through planning

Planning has a potentially much larger role to play, in helping to reduce poverty in the UK. And a new era of “place-based” planning is needed to combat poverty and inequality, a new report from the RTPI claims.
The policy paper, Poverty, place and inequality, sets out proposals to help planners intervene more positively in reducing what are considered to be major societal issues. It argues that better planned neighbourhoods, with more joined up thinking around infrastructure, could have a substantial positive impact around the UK.
“Many of the root causes of deprivation and social inequality are bound up in the poor quality of neighbourhoods – places that have no employment and lack community amenities, are poorly connected or simply run down,” said Royal Town Planning Institute chief executive Trudi Elliott. “Good planning is the one tool in our hands that can make places increase people’s opportunities and help lift them from poverty.”
“Devolution in the UK is giving cities and local authorities the opportunity to adopt a more holistic approach to planning and improve the places that people live in. From putting housing in the right location to designing better bus services, we’d like to see planning at city, county and regional levels tackle physical and social deprivation more directly as a core part of housing delivery and growth deals, supported by social services that address local needs.”

While the concept of regenerating sink estates has gathered momentum in recent years, the report suggests there is a need to go further. The UK, and especially England, is suffering from an emphasis on individual factors such as low skills and poor education, ignoring the impact of poor environments. And there is precious little connection between housing and the tackling of deprivation.
The RTPI says local plans fail to address the potential of a more holistic approach. Of those it reviewed, 39% of local authority plans have no mention of poverty, social exclusion and inequality.
Argues the report: “The built environment can have a profound effect on people’s behaviours and opportunities. Alongside conventional ‘people-based’ welfare policies, a much stronger focus on place, in particular on place-based schemes, could do much to reduce poverty, inequality and the social problems that stem from them.”
It recommends wider use of the Place Standard Tool, already used in Scotland, and the MAPS tool designed by the University of York and Loughborough, which help the facilities that locations need to thrive. It says regneration programmes need to include steps to cut unemployment, pointing to the success of Newham’s Workplace scheme ahead of the construction of Olympic facilities. And it points to another London example, the Ocean Estate regeneration in Tower Hamlets, as being a successful example of how improving a location can help increase employment and cut the welfare bill.
Of particular relevance to London is housing costs, which are greater than elsewhere in the UK. Take these into account, and the report suggests just over two million Londoners are living in poverty. Poorly insulated and damp homes also further compromise health.
The report says that exemplars such as the Packington Estate in Islington are unlikely to be replicated, as its £33 million of public subsidy will not be available at a similar level for future projects. Notes the report: “The Government’s estate regeneration needs to go much further
in investment and outlook if it is to be comprehensive, in recognising that estate demolition is not a silver bullet.”
Among case studies cited by the report from around the UK is the Ocean Estate in Stepney. There, a team including architects Levitt Bernstein, Bellway Homes and East Thames Housing Group refurbished 1,200 homes and added 1,000 more, while improving the landscape in a £200 million project. Local residents were heavily involved, with Community Champions developed to improve skills. And the project included new, local community facilities, health services and play areas.

LPA Perspective: The case studies in this paper show what can be done, and how effective the right approach can be, when planning is brought to bear in designing healthier communities.
But the problem is, this is very soft stuff, with no simple template to follow. And while there is a concentration on letting the market deliver, then planners are not encouraged to argue for a better, more inclusive approach.
Here’s hoping that the RTPI’s initiative to get the discussion going, will help improve the focus on the topic. And that, in future, less ghettos for the poor are allowed through the planning system.

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