At the heart of the housing discussion

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….by Adam Sheppard

On the 14th November UWE Bristol proudly co-hosted the 20th Bristol Planning Law and Policy Conference.  This annual event was designed, as many good ideas are, over a pint of beer in a pub.  The thinking was that many notable events around planning and planning law were focused around London plus locations including Oxford and Birmingham, whilst Bristol, a regional centre and base for much planning and law activity, had little of comparable scale and resonance. The conference is a partnership between UWE Bristol, Clarke Willmott, JLL, and Jan Molyneux (a retired but still very active planning consultant) and has included other notable persons, most recently Bryan Smith (another retired but still very active planning consultant). Always with the intention of ensuring balance and perspective; the conference aims to ensure insights are diverse and embrace contested spaces to create dialogue, debate, and progress.

This year’s event took place in The Passenger Shed in Brunel’s Old Station at Bristol Temple Meads Railway Station. The list of famous people associated with Bristol is as long as it is diverse including, to name just a few, such greats as Sir Bernard Lovell, the bands Portishead and Massive Attack, actors Cary Grant, John Challis, and David Prowse, Damien Hurst, the comedians Russell Howard, Lee Evans, John Cleese (is he still a comedian?), and Stephen Merchant, three(!) actors in a show I have never seen but gather is a big deal called ‘Game of Thrones’ (Maise Williams, Jacob Anderson, and Hannah Murray), medical pioneer Elizabeth Blackwell, James May, Banksy, stars of sport Ian Holloway, Jo Durie and Gary Mabbutt, and not forgetting Laura Crane who, according to my wife, has been on something called ‘Love Island’. Brunel was actually born in Portsmouth but has been adopted by Bristol.  This magnificent venue was built between 1839–41 for the Great Western Railway (GWR) and was designed to accommodate Brunel’s 7 ft broad gauge railway design, typifying both Brunel and Bristol in being innovative, creative, progressive, and different to what is otherwise seen as the norm.

Final preparations for a day of insight and discussion

The 2019 conference was proud to host as speaker Adam Challis (JLL), Kevin Parker (Redrow Homes), Cllr Paul Smith (Bristol City Council), James Maurici QC (Landmark Chambers), Mark Southgate (MOBIE), Mike Grist (Curo), Emma Webster (Lifestory Group), Theo Backhouse (Backhouse Housing), Tom Brewerton (Unite Students), and Lin Cousins (Three Dragons).  The calibre of these speakers is notable of course, but so too was the theme – housing delivery. 

In the UK the housing topic has come to dominate planning in many respects.  The affordability challenge is perhaps most notable for many areas of the UK, and particularly the south.  The delivery of affordable housing, not affordable housing as now defined by Government via a definition as broad as Brunel’s tracks but genuinely affordable housing, is one of the key issues of our time. The challenge arguably still revolves around Thatcher’s Right to Buy policy from 1980 and, in particular, the inability to effectively replace genuine social housing stock ever since.  How we now respond to this challenge is a matter of some debate, but a comprehensive response is certainly needed and hopefully after the next General Election progress can be made on this matter, assuming our nation can otherwise stop imploding and start moving forward again.

Content with currency and pertinence

Affordability is only one issue though. The supply challenge is almost universal. Homeless is unacceptable yet commonplace. Meeting the needs of the elderly and those with particular housing requirements is complex and have their own affordability challenges.  And the market itself presents challenges to all house builders, but particularly the small and medium sized companies.  Our speakers spoke to all these challenges, and more, in a conference with too many highlights to mention. 

After the conference a black tie dinner is held.  This part of the event has become infamous for selling out quicker than Glastonbury as our dinner host, Professor Martin Boddy from UWE Bristol, noted in his address*.  The after dinner speaker this year was the excellent Dr Phil Hammond who managed to be as funny as he was poignant and challenging.

Preparing for an evening of networking in the grandeur of Brunel’s architecture

Having an event in Bristol of this scale and importance only really matters because of what it can achieve; it has no value in being self-serving, the conference must exist to raise challenging subjects and stimulate debate.  In doing this, in some small way, it can help move matters forward in a positive way.  UWE Bristol is proud to be part of this event, and I am personally proud to have represented UWE Bristol on the organising committee these last half dozen years.  As we move forward I am now handing the UWE Bristol baton over to my colleague Nick Smith, meaning we can all rest assured the event will only get bigger and better. Look out for tickets for next year – excitingly involving a new location at Ashton Gate Stadium!

*I am contractually obliged to note that the dinner only exists to further the opportunities for conference discussion and debate…

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