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4.0 Key topics for planning research

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4.1 Housing
4.2 Climate change and mitigation
4.3 Spatial governance and infrastructure planning
4.4 EU Withdrawal and the future of environmental regulation
4.5 Health, inclusive planning and ageing
4.6 Planning and the public sector
4.7 Planning education and the planning profession
4.8 Urban planning and the future of cities
4.9 Rural planning
4.10 Community planning
4.11 Planning and the economy
4.12 Technology & horizon scanning
4.13 Poverty and inequality
4.14 International research

In almost every discussion, members and key stakeholders were most interested in the topics our research should consider. This chapter explores some of the main broad topics that came up, along with the various different focuses which were proposed for each. We hope it will be useful not just to RTPI but to the wider planning research community.

4.1 Housing

Housing affordability was a main focus of the 2015-18 research programme. It also took second and third place in the member survey of priority topics, with 25% supporting work on housing land supply and 22% housing affordability. It came up as a priority across the RTPI Regions and Nations and in stakeholder interviews.

Housing is a very broad issue with many dimensions relating to planning. In terms of the research programme it might even be possible to have more than one strand related to different elements of housing, or to recognise that some of these issues do not just impact housing. However we have included them together here as they are clearly all important to housing and planning. The following are some of the main issues identified by members:

  • Affordability: this was considered the highest priority by several groups. Aspects included:
    • Need to consider affordability needs over housing supply per se including how this could be done in housing needs assessments and how that might translate into plans, decisions, enforcement, inspections, and appeals.
    • How planning can enable social rather than just 'affordable' housing.
    • How changing ways of working affect affordability (e.g. remote working, new economic centres).
  • Local authority housebuilding: the role of planning in promoting public-sector led housebuilding and land assembly.
  • Housing land supply: Identifying large sites, making best use of small sites.
  • Under-occupation: Household life cycles, issues around downsizing.
  • Design: Appropriate density, quality and standards as well as ways of promoting these and systematically measuring the impact and cost of good design. Also:
    • Co-design of place.
    • Design in relation to particular types of development e.g. urban extensions.
    • Sustainability and environmental standards in planning for housing.
    • Influence of design policies & evidence for this (e.g. post-occupancy evaluation).
  • Permitted Development: in the survey this was a top issue for 10% of members. Groups discussed the adverse environmental and social impacts of deregulation, especially PD.
  • Development finance & viability: 6th most important issue to members in 2017 survey. Both how to make more projects viable and how to make viability work for public sector.
  • Green Belt: this came up in several groups and was also felt to be of high public interest.
    • In which cases should there be strategic GB review and how to go about it.
    • Key debates e.g. environmental considerations and trade-offs; transit-oriented development; greenfield vs brownfield/ compaction/ densification.
    • What is GB for? Purpose, quality and amenity value.
    • Improving GB e.g. for amenity value using new subsidies system.
  • Diversity of housebuilders: How to tackle oligopolistic practices and support SMEs.
  • Community-led housing: how planning can support CLTs, co-housing, coops, and alternative approaches to housing.
  • Environmental standards: Sustainability and innovation for Planning and house building. Low impact developments.
  • The land market, land reform and land value capture: 13% of members raised this as a key issue in the membership survey 2017, whilst 4% raised land ownership in particular, and it was noted to have major communications potential. Aspects include:
    • How to induce development without relying on expensive CPO powers.
    • Evaluating and exploring reforms for developer contributions (e.g. to capture more uplift, facilitate more social homes, meet special needs, and secure infrastructure). Understanding land value uplift and what happens to that uplift. Regional and national nuances in land value capture.
    • New or more comprehensive approaches to land value capture or taxation.
    • Impacts of concentration of land ownership and dominance of large developers on land release and quantity, quality and affordability of new development.
    • International land reforms – impact on local actors, legal status of land tenure, urbanisation patters, concept of the peri-urban.
  • Location of development: building on previous RTPI research and linking to GNP and Transport for the North – need to take into account location of new housing and proximity to key infrastructure and jobs. Also:
    • Tackling centralisation on London
    • Evaluating locational sustainability – layout, connectivity, settlement capacity etc.

How to approach housing research:

Participants also gave feedback on how we should approach research on housing. In particular there was a strong message that a regional analysis of housing is crucial.

  • Affordability focus: As reported above there was widespread support for the idea of focusing on affordability rather than housing supply per se.
  • Regional dimension to housing: For example, affordability and land value capture were not felt to be major issues in Northern Ireland, nor was land supply in the North East of England.
  • Needs of diverse groups: we heard that it is important to look not at overall supply or need but at learning about and reacting to the specific needs of diverse groups (e.g. concealed households, young people, and older people).
  • Linking housing to other areas of planning: Finally we also received a message that an excessive focus on housing could lead to gaps elsewhere. For example some groups discussed issues with loss of employment land when searching for new housing.

Finally, some participants noted that whilst housing research is important, it should not be too dominant in the overall programme.

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