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Nations and regions overview: The South East

Words: The Planner

An overview of planning in the South East of England, looking at key planning themes, regional data and local plans, plus key RTPI information for the region.


Analysis: Natural and national interest

The South East is the most populous of the nine English regions, home to at least 8.5 million people at the time of the 2011 census. It covers a geographical area of 19,096 km2 (7,373 sq mi), wrapping around the west of London from Milton Keynes in the north, down to the south coast cities of Brighton, Portsmouth and Southampton and into Kent.

The region is prosperous, being the second-largest regional economy in the UK after London, valued at £177 billion in 2006. While much of this wealth is attributed to London, sub-regional economies are emerging and demonstrating strong growth. For example, the technology companies clustered along the M3 in Surrey and the M4 in Berkshire, and the new city Milton Keynes, consistently cited by the Centre for Cities as one of the fastest growing and ranked fourth for GVA and average weekly earnings.

Georgraphically, the South East is a region of contrasts, from the South Downs to the Chiltern Hills, the Cotswolds and the Thames Valley. There are two national parks: the New Forest and the South Downs. The green belt covers about 117,928 hectares in total, comprising both the London Metropolitan Green Belt and the Oxford Green Belt. This amounts to just over 3,201 square kilometres or 83 per cent.

While it’s generally a prosperous region, there are also big inequalities. It has some of the highest house prices both in terms of the ability to buy as well as rental costs. The city of Brighton and Hove has the highest number of homeless people outside of London – about one in 69 people is homeless. With the constraints of green belt and its already large population, there is considerable housing pressure throughout the South East. Parts of Surrey, in particular, are struggling to balance the needs to provide housing and employment with the need to conserve the natural and built environment that has proved so attractive to its residents.

'Camkox' - the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford corridor is also a considerable source of debate, with the government having identified this as region that will need to provide one million new homes by 2050 in several new settlements. The Oxfordshire Joint Spatial Plan, agreed in November 2018, has aready seen Oxfordshire’s six councils agree to jointly deliver 100,000 homes in the region in exchange for more than £200m of government infrastructure funding.

Elsewhere, a report commissioned by Kent County Council has identified a £2 billion funding gap for the infrastructure required to support its projected population increase of 40,000 people by 2031. According to the Kent and Medway Growth and Infrastructure Framework, "unprecedented funding challenges" have brought local services across the country to "breaking point". The 98-page report advocates "innovation and a place-based approach" in bridging the funding gap.

Read more: Regional projects and planning insights

Once a year, we produce an update of major projects in the pipeline, alongside a selection of award-winning projects that have been completed. We also interview a key figure from the region for additional insight.

Nations & regions focus: South East 2019

Nations & regions focus: South East 2018

Nations & regions focus: South East 2017

Return to the Nations and regions gateway

    Factfile 2019

    Area: 7,373 square miles

    Population: 8,635,000 (making it the UK’s most heavily populated region outside of London)

    Counties: Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, East Sussex, Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Kent, Oxfordshire, Surrey, West Sussex

    Major population centres:

    • Brighton/Worthing/Littlehampton  (c474,000)
    • Portsmouth  (c461,000)
    • Southampton  (c377,000)
    • Reading (318,000)
    • Milton Keynes (c230,000)
    • Maidstone  (c168,000)
    • Medway Towns (277,600)

    Parliamentary constitutencies: 84 (Conservative 72,  Labour 8, Liberal Democrat 2, Green 1 and the Speaker)

    Planning authorities: 8 county councils, 12 unitary authorities, 53 district councils, 2 national parks

    Local plans latest

    Click on the link to view adopted local plan/core strategy documents and/or updates on emerging local plans.


    Unitary authorities


    Unitary authorities

    Non-metropolitan district councils

    * From April 2020, the four district councils and Buckinghamshire County Council will merge into a single unitary authority.


    East Sussex

    Unitary authority

    Non-metropolitan district councils



    Unitary authorities

    Non-metropolitan district councils


    Isle of Wight

    Unitary authority



    Unitary authority

    Non-metropolitan district councils



    Non-metropolitan district councils



    Non-metropolitan district councils


    West Sussex

    Non-metropolitan district councils


    National Parks

    The RTPI region

    Regional RTPI details

    Photos | Shutterstock