Strategic Planning is Key to Economic Growth

Apex Strategic Planning Infrastructure

Following the announcement of a new planning and infrastructure bill, county councils have called for a return to strategic planning…

Strategic Planning

The County Councils Network (CCN) is advocating a return to strategic planning in a bid to boost housebuilding and economic growth. The call comes following the announcement of a new planning and infrastructure bill.

Strategic planning was scrapped during the late 2010s, but the CCN argues that in order to get more homes built and create better infrastructure and investment zones, the change is vital.

It states that the fragmentation of the planning system has not allowed infrastructure to keep pace with development, leading to a lack of public services and overcrowded roads. In a CCN survey last year, 96% of CCN members said that they supported new homes in their area if they are in the right places, support local housing needs and were accompanied by supporting infrastructure.

However, 58% said the pressure on local infrastructure was ‘excessive’ as a result of housing development – and worse, 73% described the infrastructure funding gap in their areas as ‘severe’.

The CCN said a reintroduction of a requirement for strategic planning would “ensure that county councils, which are responsible for transport, infrastructure and the delivery of investment zones, work more collaboratively with district councils in their areas, which are responsible for housing and planning”.

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill

At the moment, the reforms for the planning system are contained within the levelling up and regeneration bill, which is currently going through Parliament. However, the CCN believes these should instead be reformatted and included in the planning and infrastructure bill, which has recently been announced.

Paul Smith at Apex Planning is pleased to see this recommendation. He says: “We used to have Regional Plans that provided housing numbers for areas and now they are locally derived. The problem is that LPAs (local planning authorities) will naturally try to limit the number of houses they are expected to see built. This panders to the NIMBY (not in my back yard) element, which was recently bolstered by Liz Truss saying she would remove top down planning and imposition of housing requirements, but I hope this will be reined in by Rishi Sunak. Mind you, his comments about protecting Green Belt land at all costs means I am rolling my eyes!

“Strategic planning is fantastic because it gives everyone certainty about what is expected, this includes LPAs and developers. Without it we have found ourselves in a vacuum and I blame Eric Pickles, because it was him that abolished Regional Planning.”

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill is currently going through Parliament. It contains a series of planning reforms such as an infrastructure levy to replace section 106 payments.

The CCN, however, thinks the planning reforms should be removed from that bill and reshaped proposals – as well as strategic planning in county areas – included in the recently announced planning and infrastructure bill.

Five Point Plan for County and Unitary Councils

The CCN makes a number of proposals in its Five Point Plan for County and Unitary Councils.

It believes that giving counties back power through strategic planning would enable effective cross-boundary working, which would offer strategic infrastructure and unlock growth.

It also believed the proposed developer levy system should ensure that county councils have a statutory duty to work with district and borough to set rates and negotiate contributions, so that more funding would be spent on vital infrastructure.

Any future capital funding for infrastructure projects should be amalgamated into a single pot, rather than local authorities bidding on individual pots.

Cllr Roger Gough, Planning and Infrastructure Spokesperson for the County Councils Network said: “We welcome the prospect of the government bringing forward new proposals to reform the planning system in a forthcoming Planning and Infrastructure Bill. Over a number of years there has been far too much focus on headline house building numbers, rather than on planning as a whole, and on the infrastructure that is needed to make developments viable in the long-term.

“The new bill should contain a power to reintroduce strategic planning into the system, which would be a win-win for a government looking to build more homes and generate economic growth. By giving county councils a renewed role to work collaboratively with district councils in their area, we can come together to plan for houses in the right areas, backed by the necessary infrastructure, and ensure that investment zones get off the ground quickly.

“The County Councils Network has long argued for a collaborative model of strategic planning and form reforms to the developer contributions system. Taken together, these easily implementable reforms could yield significant results in creating better communities and unlocking development.”

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