Give county councils more influence over planning

Two new reports for the County Councils Network (CCN) have urged for a larger role for county councils in planning to help solve the affordability housing crisis.

With nine in ten counties warning they have a ‘severe’ or ‘moderate’ need for affordable homes, a new study for the CCN from Catriona Riddell Associates has called for a re-introduction of strategic planning to closer align planning and infrastructure and to accelerate housing delivery, arguing that the government’s proposed planning reforms in the National Planning Policy Framework do not go far enough and that the government should consider re-introducing strategic planning to accelerate delivery of homes backed by the correct infrastructure.

The report calls for the introduction of a more formal approach to strategic spatial and infrastructure planning in two tier areas, and for the government to legislate for statutory joint strategic planning, or statutory strategic infrastructure frameworks, which will align housing, infrastructure, and economic priorities. Within these arrangements, there should be joint governance with all local authorities included as equal partners, with the use of joint planning committees wherever possible.

A second report for the CCN, produced by Town and Country Planning Association (TPCA), urged for closer collaboration between the two tiers of council in county areas, giving district councils the capacity to plan for homes over a larger area and the county the ability to plan for infrastructure and service provision, as set out in the Statement for Common Ground.

Including a new that found nine in ten county councils class their need for affordable housing either ‘severe or moderate’, together the CCN and TCPA recommends a clearly defined role for county councils in the strategic planning process, new minimum standards so homes cater for elderly and disabled people, direct government resource to improving this capacity so more counties develop housebuilding initiatives and a clear recognition of the role counties can play in solving the housing affordability crisis in the forthcoming Affordable Housing Green Paper.

Philip Atkins, CCN spokesman for housing, planning, and infrastructure, said: “Today’s research reveals counties have strong concerns over the ability of young people to afford their own homes, which stretches the length and breadth of the country; from Cornwall to Cumbria. Whilst counties are taking matters into their own hands, their ambitions remain shackled by planning reforms that do not go far enough, especially on planning on a strategic scale. These reports today set out a series of recommendations to enable counties to do more to deliver the homes for people of all ages the country desperately needs; properties of the right tenures and in the right places, backed by the necessary infrastructure to ensure that we build sustainable communities, not just simply houses.”

Kate Henderson, chief executive of the TCPA, said: “The research provides valuable insight into what counties are already achieving under their current powers; sets out examples of leadership by pioneering councils who are unlocking the provision of new housing through partnerships and direct delivery; and gives an indication to government of the skills and capacity that counties already have and what more they can do.

“Counties are innovating right across the country, making the most of their assets such as land owned by the council or public sector. The study reveals that counties understand that to realise the true value of land they must do more than just maximise sales receipts. They are aware that they must understand the potential for long-term income streams, have a stake in the quality of the development and secure wider social and economic benefits. Ultimately the report demonstrates that counties are an important part of the solution to the national housing crisis.”

Catriona Riddell, director of Catriona Riddell Associates, added: “The government has recognised the need to have stronger links between building the new homes the country needs and providing the right infrastructure to ensure that development is sustainable. This research demonstrates clearly that we need to move away from planning by numbers to place-based strategic planning and that, in two tier areas, the counties have a significant role to play alongside the local planning authorities.”