Whatever happens in the world of planning and architecture during 2016, nothing will compare with the importance of the likely referendum decision on whether or not to remain in the EU.
Having voted to stay in four decades ago, I for one will welcome the opportunity to ponder whether what the Europhobes said at the time was honest and accurate or whether their warnings have turned out to be justified. Should we leave, the main change in respect of building would be the joy of being free of Official Journal of the European Union procurement procedures, which spawned a pocket industry of consultants explaining why you cannot do what you want where public money is involved.
This year will be a year of significant reductions in the regulations surrounding housing. That, at least, was the promise in the recent Cutting Red Tape review. If you wish to give evidence, it will have to be in by 13 January, so skates on.
The review is intended to improve the planning process by seeking comments from developers to understand the barriers they face. The government will determine where EU and national rules are being too strictly enforced, consider whether the rules are fit for purpose and devise changes to the Construction, Design and Management Regulations.
Talking about national rules, the government is consulting on a slew of proposed changes to the National Planning Policy Framework, which should come into effect this year. These changes include: broadening the definition of affordable housing; increasing the density of development around commuter hubs; supporting sustainable new settlements; helping the delivery of housing allocated in plans; and promoting the delivery of starter homes. The document also sets out the government’s plans to extend the current exception site policy and strengthen the presumption in favour of ‘starter homes’.
Ministers also plan to amend the existing policy test on the impact on the openness of the green belt to make this more flexible to ‘enable suitable redevelopment to come forward’ - another nail in the coffin of localism. All this is in the context of the Housing and Planning Bill.
In the world of architecture, we can predict that Eric Parry will get permission for the City of London’s tallest tower, but Renzo Piano may face more opposition from the west London lobby. He had better come up with a better line than the current one about height providing housing density, as in this case it is clearly nonsense.
The Garden Bridge will make a start this year, thank goodness. Nick Randall’s cycle and pedestrian bridge linking Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf will also get approval. The Commonwealth Institute/Design Museum cultural and residential development will open to huge acclaim, while Nine Elms and Battersea Power Station will impress as construction speeds up.
Construction prices will continue to frighten everyone - but optimists will take this as a sign of a vibrant market, although ‘events’, as Harold Macmillan liked to remind us, could change all that. One event will be the London mayoral election, and its effect on the decision about Heathrow or Gatwick expansion. Since anything recommended by Sir Howard Davies is likely to be a disaster, let’s hope it’s Gatwick.
A final prediction: someone will eventually blame runway delay on the planning system. The reality is that the PM refused to take a decision, delayed it by launching an inquiry and has delayed it again.
Watch out for more Cameronian delaying tactics in 2016. He is not a ditherer; he is a smart politician.
Paul Finch is programme director of the World Architecture Festival