Achieving good growth requires balance and judgement – unlocking strategic housing in Mid Suffolk

I’ve worked in planning and development for 13 years and one thing that frustrates me most is when people say that planning ‘lacks innovation’.

In some quarters, there’s a pervading view that we in the development community apply conventional approaches, follow a fixed set of rules and lack the adaptability or ingenuity of other sectors. Sure, we may not be a tech disruptor or an app-based start-up here at Ashfield Land but I’d take issue with that view. Innovation comes in many different forms and, sometimes, from unexpected places.

In Mid Suffolk – on a site on the edge of Ipswich – we’ve just secured planning permission for up to 190 new homes adjacent to our Ipswich Business Park scheme, off J53 of the A14. The site has excellent connectivity, is highly sustainable because of the relationship between proposed residential and existing or committed employment land, and is in a location with defined housing need.

But we didn’t succeed with our original planning application. It was a perfectly sound application based on detailed technical assessments and relating to local and national planning policy but it nonetheless didn’t find favour with Mid Suffolk Members. So we had to think again. We had to be adaptable. And we had to be innovative in how we looked afresh at the site, the scheme and the solution.

We found that solution. In this case, by introducing the idea of a split decision into the appeal process. It’s not something we have done before but it was the right approach at the right time to get the site moving.

For me – and at a time when the delivery of new homes is more important than ever – this is a great example of flexibility in the face of frustration. We could have become entrenched in the adversarial nature of the appeal process. Or we could have packed up and walked away, achieving nothing from a site of substantial development potential and doing nothing to meet local housing need.

But instead we came at the problem from a different angle. We re-assessed how we could get to the same objective – ultimately wanting to get consent for new homes – and we worked with planning partners to make it happen.

So at a time when everyone is facing up to the same challenges around building more, building better and building sustainably, I’m uplifted by this small but important success story in Suffolk.

We’re not going to solve the UK’s housing crisis without all players staying flexible and thinking innovatively. From parliament to the land promoters, from the department to the developers, and from councils to communities, we all need to be open-minded and adaptable.

We may be no tech start-up but we have an enduring, necessary and much-needed product to deliver and we are committed to doing that well.