The 2020 Spending Review saw Chancellor Rishi Sunak outline several major funding commitments aimed at triggering housing growth across the UK.
Although there will inevitably be questions about whether this funding will be enough to make a tangible difference, prioritising investment in infrastructure is a positive step forward for the housing sector and shows the government is serious about helping communities to succeed.
Creating a successful and thriving community requires far more than just homes. Everything that goes into a neighbourhood must add value and that requires well planned infrastructure that provides local communities with what they actually want and need.
If this investment is delivered in the right way, the benefits for local communities and economies are significant. New homes that are supported by facilities that make lives easier and more fulfilling, help to attract and retain people that will make towns, villages and cities prosper.
Infrastructure that is integrated into new housing schemes at an early planning stage can also help to encourage local support, alleviating fears that surrounding roads and facilities won’t be able to cope.
Prioritising infrastructure has been part of our placemaking approach for decades and we have seen the benefits first hand.
For example, over the last 10 years, we have been transforming what was once a large piece of land into our flagship Brooklands scheme in Milton Keynes.
Taking on the role of master developer and following extensive consultation, we worked with the local authority to build a school before we began work on a single house. We were the first in the UK to begin a development in this way; putting the infrastructure in first, rather than waiting until the end of the programme and hoping someone else would deliver it for us.
This paved the way for additional facilities and features, including landscaping, a play area and meadows, which were all in place before people moved in.
As the development has progressed, we have joined forces with major housebuilders to guarantee homes are built quickly and efficiently but have kept control of the masterplan to make sure that quality infrastructure is maintained.
The Chancellor’s renewed focus on infrastructure also provides hope that we can advance a wider policy debate that we have championed for several years. This focuses on bold changes to the planning process which would enable housing to be classed as infrastructure.
If large-scale housing schemes were considered 'nationally significant' in the same way as major developments in the transport, waste and water sectors are, then they could be added to the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project process. They would then be determined by the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) rather than local authorities.
This means that transport requirements for a new housing scheme could, for example, be determined at the same time as the residential element, so considered as a whole rather than separately. Crucially, this would allow developers and local authorities to integrate infrastructure into a development right at the start of the planning process.
The Chancellor’s recent announcements won’t be a silver bullet solution to solving the housing crisis, but they do highlight the vital role infrastructure plays in the delivery of new homes. As a sector, we can all learn a lot from that message. By working with partners and local authorities to focus our efforts on integrating housing and infrastructure, we will be in a stronger position to strengthen local communities and create sustainable places.