Strategic planning reforms needed for county housing

The County Councils Network is urging the Housing Secretary to strengthen reforms to the planning system in rural areas to help fight rising prices in English counties.

The network’s call, which coincides with news that house prices in England’s counties rose at triple the rate of London last year, says that a lack of ‘strategic planning’ is ‘compounding a growing affordability crisis’ outside of the large towns and cities, with house prices nine times average annual earnings and as high as 12 times in southern counties.

The latest Housing Price Index reveals that county house prices rose 5.9 per cent in 2017, compared to just two per cent in London and 4.9 per cent in metropolitan areas and cities, with the average county house price now standing at £262,390. The sharpest increases have been in Leicestershire (8.9 per cent), Northamptonshire (8.8 per cent) and Gloucestershire (8.5 per cent).

Only five of the 27 county shires have experienced below national average price increases. The CCN argues that the current two-tier planning system is fragmented as district councils are responsible for planning while the county council delivers infrastructure, such as roads, roundabouts, schools, and other community health facilities.

The Housing White paper, published last year, set out that a ‘Statement of Common Ground’ (SoCG) would be introduced, which would require groups of neighbouring authorities to sign up to, to come together and plan for homes and infrastructure in an area. However, the CCN says that it does not go far enough in re-writing strategic planning back into the system and joining up local plans and infrastructure provision.

Philip Atkins, CCN spokesman on Housing, Planning & Infrastructure, said: “These latest figures reinforce our concerns that housing in shire counties is now becoming increasingly unaffordable to millions of people. It is only by building more homes, more quickly, that we can address the affordability challenge. To address this, the government have rightly prioritised infrastructure investment and planning reform, but in shire counties these reforms don’t go far enough.”