Housing Market Areas and the Strategic Planning of Housing in England

By Hincks, Stephen; Baker, Mark | The Town Planning Review, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Housing Market Areas and the Strategic Planning of Housing in England


Hincks, Stephen, Baker, Mark, The Town Planning Review


This article examines the experience of operationalising the housing market area (HMA) framework in England and reflects on the value of adopting HMAs in strategic planning of housing. The paper argues that the operationalisation of HMAs in the English regions has been a challenging exercise, but that HMAs have the potential to frame the development of housing market intelligence and to underpin the analysis of housing market functionality at sub-national level. The challenge for policy and practice lies in harnessing this evidence-framing and analytical potential more effectively than has been the case to date.

Keywords: housing, markets, strategic, spatial planning, regions

Strategic planning of housing has a long and well-established history in England. However, the politicised nature of the process means that this history is a turbulent one. The Thatcher Government's market-orientated approach to planning resulted in the almost complete abandonment of (strategic) regional planning activity in England from the late-1970s through the 1980s (Breheny, 1991). It was not until the implementation of regional planning guidance (RPG) in the early 1990s (DOE, 1992) that strategic planning of housing regained something of a foothold in formal planning debates in England. This foothold was significantly strengthened in the period after 2001 following the publication of the Planning Green Paper (DTLR, 2001), which set out a blueprint for the modernisation of the English planning system. As part of this agenda, the then Labour Government commissioned a study which explored the relationship between planning, housing and the wider economy (Barker, 2004) and which was swiftly followed by a review of the land-use planning system itself (Barker, 2006). Crucially, the first Barker review argued that planning at the local level tended to ignore wider pressures within the housing system and that regional and sub-regional planning needed to be harnessed to create a strategic planning and governance architecture that could more effectively respond to market signals (Barker, 2004).

Subsequently, following a period of extensive review - as part of a wider process of local government modernisation - the English land-use planning system was replaced in 2004 by a new spatial planning system. The reformed system was intended to deliver a radical new approach to planning and the development of spatial rather than purely land-use plans. The new system was expected to 'go beyond traditional land-use planning to bring together and integrate policies for the development and use of land with other policies and programmes which influence the nature of places and how they function' (ODPM, 2005, paragraph 30). This conceptual remodelling of planning brought about a number of changes to strategic-level planning in England (see Nadin, 2007). At national level, Planning Policy Guidance Notes (PPGs), which had offered advice and regulatory information on national planning priorities and requirements, were replaced by new Planning Policy Statements (PPSs), which were developed to guide the practical implementation and delivery of spatial planning. The 2004 reforms also strengthened strategic regional planning. The Regional Planning Guidance (RPG) framework was replaced with a set of new statutory Regional Spatial Strategies (RSSs) which were produced by regional planning bodies. In addition, sub-regional planning - previously undertaken as part of the structure planning process by County Councils - was integrated within the new Regional Spatial Strategy framework.

As part of the English spatial planning experiment, the strategic planning of housing was to be underpinned by more sophisticated market-informed and spatial analytical thinking, and more effective collaborative institutional and governance arrangements at the regional scale (Baker and Wong, 2006; Ferrari et al., 2011). The shiftin emphasis towards a strategic market-informed perspective was essentially driven by a political consensus that a more effective policy mechanism was needed to address inadequacies in housing supply and market volatility, particularly within the private sector (Barker, 2004). …

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