I’ve just finished a small job for Fife Council Development Services as part of a team with TPS Planning, summarising and analysing the consultation responses to the initial ‘Issues and Options’ consultation stage on the Kirkcaldy and Mid Fife Local Plan, published in July 2007.
Reading, summarising and analysing the consultation responses for the Council was fascinating in many ways – too many to go into in this short feature. For me as a planner, one of the interesting aspects was looking forwards to how the twin national imperatives of housing and economic growth will play out over the next few years.
The Council’s consultation document takes a mature, responsible attitude towards the need to provide both houses and jobs. This means releasing land for development – and lots of it. Whilst the aspirations in Fife Council’s Structure Plan for release of housing land may have taken a battering from certain local communities and the press in recent weeks, they are really just a response to the Scottish Government’s agenda to build more homes over the coming years – an agenda which, in turn, reflects the wish of many Scots to make housing more affordable.
But I digress. The responses to the Local Plan consultation on providing more jobs and housing were very telling. There was widespread support for the strategy of economic development and housing-led growth from all types of respondent. Developers and landowners, however, only seemed to want to build houses rather than see their land turned over to employment uses – understandably, because land values for housing are higher than for employment land, so they will make more profit.
This means that getting developers to supply enough housing doesn’t seem to be a problem (although individual settlements and sites may of course have local concerns and other planning constraints). But where will the jobs come from if all the new development is housing? As some of the individual respondents pointed out, building a lot of new houses without any jobs isn’t really the aim of the Council’s strategy – it will just result in a lot more commuting.
Resolving this conundrum must be one of the current holy grails of planning in the UK. Short of subsidizing the market value of employment land so that it becomes as lucrative for developers as housing land, what can local authorities do to ensure that job creation keeps pace with housing development?
If we are to achieve the Scottish Government’s target of 35,000 new houses a year, a lot more public effort – and investment – will need to go into creating sustainable, local employment.
We know from decades of experience with Scottish Enterprise, the SDA and numerous initiatives that managing and directing the spatial distribution of employment growth does not come cheaply. But the price of not doing so will be high too – continuing rises in commuting, traffic growth and unsustainable land use patterns.
The government really needs to think carefully about how it links the growth in housing construction with employment land. Planners and local authorities have their part to play – but the lead must come from the government.