New London Architecture

An inquiry into the future of the suburbs

Tuesday 06 September 2022

A parliamentary inquiry into the future of the suburbs has found England’s suburbs to be in desperate need of attention, with far greater diversity than is commonly acknowledged and considerable pressures to change; caused in part by increasing tensions in areas being asked to accommodate large amounts of new development and raising concerns around potential ‘tipping points’.

The findings of The Suburban Taskforce, which was established in 2020 with support from the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for London’s Planning and Built Environment, paints a picture of areas rich in heritage and culture but largely unrecognised for their diversity. It also reveals tensions, between local context and strategic priorities, as communities grapple with managing the implications of demographic, technological and climate change.

This means the suburbs are now the challenge of our generation, according to The Suburban Taskforce’s Co-Chair, Rupa Huq MP:

“England’s suburbs have too long been overlooked by policy-makers. Scratch beneath our established stereotypes and you’ll find a diverse mix of places each with rich veins of culture, heritage and local pride. The Taskforce has spent two years painting a picture of England’s suburbs as they are today and it’s clear they unquestionably now deserve to be the focus of our attention.”

Jonathan Manns, Chair of the Advisory Board and Senior Director at property firm JLL, added:

“The work of the Taskforce has involved hundreds of hours of research, interviews and data analysis. This has not only underscored the ongoing importance of many well-established debates, but significantly moved the needle when it comes to the way we think about the types of suburbs which exist and the specific challenges they face. It shows very clearly that one-size does not fit all.” 

The ‘Suburban Taskforce’ was established in March 2020 to understand what ‘suburban’ really means in England today. It is formed by a cross-party group of politicians who have come together with experts from a range of backgrounds to shine a light on the suburbs; to identify and secure the clear, long-term and properly resourced policies needed to support thriving, sustainable and inclusive suburban areas. 

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. 
 
The Taskforce’s key recommendations are that:
 
  • Consideration should be given to a new spectrum model for understanding the suburbs and used by those in research, practice and policy. 
  • Consideration is given to the opportunities which exist for an evolution in the nature of local employment as a result of changes to working practices during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Consideration is given to the use of permitted development rights as a means of delivering new homes and cautions against the use and extension of these.
  • Consideration is given to the potential ‘tipping points’ which exist in our suburban communities and ways that these might be managed.
  • Consideration is given to the scope to increase public engagement in the planning process at the plan-making and decision-taking stages, and to open and incorporate built environment debates into wider public discussions about the future of an area, not least through digital means.
  • Consideration is given to the scope to introduce national policy guidance on the key principles for handling small scale applications in suburban locations.
  • Research is undertaken to explore possible policy solutions to address the challenges identified.

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