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UK PM Truss Told The Burbs They Could Be Beautiful: Why Out-Of-Town Is Back In Fashion


The burbs could offer a generational opportunity, according to a long-range study of government policy on suburban planning and development.

Ministers should grab a generational chance to capitalise on the potential of the suburbs, the panel of parliamentarians and experts has concluded. But they need to be aware of tipping points and dangers that will damage communities — and to abandon a sometimes condescending view of suburban life.

The report appears as newly installed Prime Minister Liz Truss appoints a new Levelling Up Secretary, and reconsiders how best to tackle planning and economic growth. The emphasis is expected to be more on expansion of the economy as a whole than on efforts to achieve distributional growth among regions or sectors.

The Suburban Taskforce, which was established in 2020 with support from the All-Party Parliamentary Group for London’s Planning and Built Environment, points to the pressures on suburbs, but also on the potential for change.

The Taskforce was formed at the invitation of then-minister for the Northern Powerhouse, Jake Berry MP, who committed the government to considering the recommendations of the report in Parliament. Berry is now tipped for a senior position in Truss’ administration.

This means the suburbs are now the challenge of our generation, according to The Suburban Taskforce’s co-chair, Rupa Huq MP. The report aims to identify and secure the clear, long-term and properly resourced policies needed to support thriving, sustainable and inclusive suburban areas. 

The main conclusions include the possibility that all suburbs should not be treated in the same way for the purposes of growth and change. A spectrum approach would allow some to see more development than others. The report shows how some suburbs are already established business centres, commercial hubs and facilities, and that the idea that all suburbs are dormitories is mistaken. Three of the report’s five suburban typologies have significant commercial elements. In London that adds up to around one-fifth of all suburban wards.

The report also points to the opportunities that exist for an evolution in the nature of local employment as a result of changes to working practices during the  coronavirus pandemic.

However, the report has less warm words for single-person occupancy, whether student accommodation or the division of larger houses into flats. “The built form of the area doesn’t change, but the pressure on local infrastructure and services increases. The intensity of use changes. The social and cultural make-up of the community can also shift, depending on who is moving into and out of an area,” the report said, adding that a change of this kind can be a tipping point for a local community.

But it counsels against using permitted development rights to help solve housing problems in the suburbs, and it warns that suburban communities could reach 'tipping points' beyond which the community is no longer sustainable. The report calls for national policy guidance on the key principles for handling small scale applications in suburban locations.