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Planning suffers as austerity hits urban areas hardest

Words: Laura Edgar
UK / Shutterstock: 104845301

Cities across the UK have borne the brunt of real-terms local government funding cuts in the past 10 years, and planning suffered some of the deepest cuts.

Cities Outlook 2019 finds that despite being home to just over half (54 per cent) of the population, cities have endured 74 per cent of cuts.

This equates to a reduction of £386 for each city dweller since 2009/10, compared with £172 for those living outside of cities.

The Centre for Cities’ annual economic health check notes that the top five worst affected cities are all in the north of England, with Barnsley the hardest hit. Northern cities saw their average spend drop by 20 per cent compared with those in the South West, South East and East of England, excluding London. It is the cities that have been the hardest hit that are the least equipped to absorb the loss of government funding as they already have weaker economies.

The demand for social care continues to grow, stretching finances in the cities. In 2009/10, four of 62 cities spent most of their budgets on social care – now half of them do.

Although cities have become more efficient as a result, money spent on other services has been cut, with planning and development spending “especially squeezed”, said Andrew Carter, chief executive at Centre for Cities.

“Across English cities spending on these fell by 41 per cent; while in Burnley and Hull, where planning and development were hit particularly hard, spending fell by 70 per cent or more since 2009/10.

“Well-run planning and development services are essential if we are going to build the hundreds of thousands of homes needed to tackle the housing crisis. Therefore, the much-promised ‘end of austerity’ must apply to councils’ services as well as to Whitehall,” he said.

The RTPI has long campaigned for government and local authorities to assign more resources to planning teams, Victoria Hills MRTPI, chief executive at the RTPI, told The Planner. Last year, this campaign resulted in planning fees going up and and the money ring-fenced to planning departments. “However, there’s no doubt that planning in England does continue to face some serious challenges. Our recent study found that planning has been relegated in many local authorities to a largely reactive, regulatory function making it harder to undertake long-term strategic thinking and professional discretion. In these cases, austerity has eroded planning’s ability to serve the public interest."

Hills said the institute will continue to lobby for more resources for planning, as well as campaign for local authorities to put "planning back at the top table of corporate decision-making".

"Places where authorities put planning at the heart of their corporate strategy are successful places to live.”

Affordability and the environment

The report also considers affordability. On average in 2018 house prices in Britain were 9.8 times the annual salary of residents. Oxford was the least affordable city, with house prices being 17.3 times higher than annual earnings. Burnley was the most affordable city, with an affordability ration of 4.3. Just 17 out of 62 cities were less affordable than the British average.

Cities accounted for 53.8 per cent of the UK population in 2016, but emitted only 46.1 per cent of the UK’s total CO2 emissions, which reflects the lower carbon emissions per capita in cities than elsewhere. Additionally, while large cities are significant emitters, they are efficient when emissions are considered on a per capita basis.

The report says London accounted for 10.7 per cent of total UK emissions in 2016, but was 11th lowest out of 63 for per capita emissions, with only 3.8 tonnes emitted for every resident – a drop from the 4.1 tonnes in 2015.

The report can be read here on the Centre for Cities website (pdf).

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