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Counties call for strategic planning to ease excessive housing development

Words: Huw Morris
Housebuilding / iStock-889654612

Forthcoming government reforms must introduce a strategic planning model to align housebuilding and infrastructure in county areas, according to latest research.

The move comes as levelling-up secretary Michael Gove considers revising planning reforms ahead of legislation next year, with county councils arguing that there has “never been a better time” to reintroduce strategic planning back into the system.

Strategic planning has not been a formal part of England’s planning since the late 2010s; the duty to cooperate is currently the only informal tool to encourage councils to work together, and the government is looking to scrap this under its reform agenda.

A poll by the County Councils Network (CCN) reveals that two-thirds of its members are warning that their infrastructure is groaning under “excessive” pressure from housing development. One million of the two million new homes delivered in England since 2010 have been built in county and rural areas, said the body.

With no replacement for the duty to cooperate mechanism proposed by the government, all bar one council in the survey has voiced concerns that strategic planning was not part of the initial proposals. The network is now urging the government to include this in its revised planning reforms.

Its joint study with Catriona Riddell Associates calls for “accountable strategic planning bodies” to be set up in each county area. These would be composed of senior councillors from all councils in the area, working on a majority voting system, with the chair being either a county authority member or a directly elected leader, if such arrangements are made in specific devolution deals.

The bodies would set out a vision for their areas, including testing locations for housing, economic growth, or larger regeneration while matching these with infrastructure. This “strategic growth plan” would provide a framework but would not supersede individual local plans, the study suggests.

Their proposals would be scrutinised by a “strategic planning advisory body”, including councillors as well as business, health, climate and civic leaders, which would test and advise on whether the shared vision in the strategic growth plan is being delivered. This role would be similar to that of the London Assembly when scrutinising the mayor’s London Plan.

“The present fragmented system not only makes it more difficult to build the right homes in the right places, but it does not allow us to properly plan for and finance infrastructure,” said network chairman Tim Oliver. “As a result, many of us are facing severe pressure on our roads, health services, and schools because of development.

“With the government reconsidering its planning reforms, and ministers looking to agree several county devolutions deals across the country, there has never been a better time to implement strategic planning arrangements. Failure to do so could only intensify the pressures on infrastructure that we are all experiencing in our areas.”

Read the report: The Future of Strategic Planning in England

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