The County Councils Network (CCN) the Home Builders Federation (HBF), the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA), the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation (CIHT), the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning, and Transport (ADEPT), and the Association of County Chief Executives (ACCE), have written to Sajid Javid to say that his government’s proposed Statement of Common Ground (SoCG) is a ‘real opportunity’ to ensure that infrastructure matches housing development in England’s 27 shire counties, to foster job creation and growth.
It comes as the Prime Minister is to announce a set of new housebuilding reforms today (Monday, March 5) under the National Planning Policy Framework.
However, the coalition of organisations argue that another proposed government reform, the draft SoCG is a ‘toothless instrument’ in its current guise and must be strengthened to include a more prominent and formalised role for the county council. This could, in effect, re-write strategic planning back into the system after these type of larger-scale planning strategies were abolished under the Coalition, instead placing much looser requirements for councils to collaborate over planning and infrastructure.
The draft SoCG was announced as part of a package of planning reforms in the Housing White Paper, encouraging county councils (who are responsible for major infrastructure such as roads and schools) to work closely with their local district councils (who are responsible for housing and planning) but the six national organisations argue there is not a strong enough requirement for both sets of councils to formally work together.
The county should be a formal signatory to matters relating to infrastructure, economic growth, education, and social care, and should not be implemented until the county council signs in agreement, the organisations argue.
This would help encourage housing delivery, supported by infrastructure to ensure communities support new development in their areas.
In the letter, signed by Cllr Philip Atkins, vice-chairman of CCN, Kate Henderson, chief executive of the TCPA, Andrew Whitaker, planning director of the HBF, Sue Percy, chief executive of CIHT, Simon Neilson, president of ADEPT, and John Wood, leader advisor on planning and housing at ACCE, the six organisations say:
“The SoCG announced in the Housing White Paper offers a real opportunity to bring together the different district and county council responsibilities.
“We believe that, as currently drafted, the proposed SOCG does not go far enough to mandate joint working across all tiers of local government. This is increasingly important in the context of the Industrial Strategy, focusing on reducing infrastructure gaps and ensuring that everywhere in the country has the same opportunities to encourage more balanced economic growth.
“Promoting the alignment of planning for housing and infrastructure at higher spatial levels will assist in meeting the economic challenges that county areas face, increasing high value jobs and increasing productivity and rebalancing the economy meeting the aims of the government’s Industrial Strategy and promoting sustainable growth across the country.”
They warn there is ‘not enough reason for planning authorities’ in particular to co-operate, and often strong reasons not to’. They call on the government to take a ‘strong stance’ on enhancing the policy.
Unlike the rest of the country, such as in the big cities and towns, where one council is responsible for planning and infrastructure, the planning system has additional complexities that leads to a fragmented approach to development and infrastructure provision in the 27 shire counties.
Earlier this month, the County Councils Network warned that this was contributing to rising house prices in counties, which rose by 5.9% in 2017 – treble the percentage increase of London, whilst there is not enough projected money for infrastructure to match projected housebuilding.
By strengthening the SoCG to impel both sets of councils to work together, and over a whole county instead of over smaller district council boundaries could not only provide a greater scope for building homes in the right places, but it could identify the required infrastructure at the earliest opportunity, to ensure there is a strategy in place to collect developer contributions and to encourage investment for infrastructure in tandem with new development.
Having the right infrastructure in place to support new homes – such as roads, roundabouts, and public amenities – will also provide will provide the impetus for accelerated housing growth to be supported by business growth and job creation – helping to grow local economies.
Cllr Atkins, who is also CCN’s spokesman for housing, planning and infrastructure, said:
“The government’s recognition that the current planning system does not promote collaborative planning is welcome. Counties want to work closely with their district partners, but the proposed reforms do not go far enough.
“In its present format, the draft SoCG is a toothless instrument. It must include a formal role for the county council, to better align and match infrastructure with housing development, so we can grow our economies alongside an increase in housing numbers.”
Andrew Whitaker, planning director at the Home Builders Federation said:
“It is vital that, if we are to create sustainable communities, everyone must be committed to deliver the infrastructure necessary to support housing and employment growth. Including county councils as partners in the SoCG will ensure that infrastructure provision is both planned and provided in the right places and at the right time”.
Kate Henderson, chief executive of the TCPA, said:
“Strategic planning can make all the difference to delivering the kind of affordable and sustainable communities the nation deserves. Wider cooperation can help support local delivery of housing and infrastructure, but like all planning it has to have real weight in decision-making and have people at its heart.
“The process needs to be focused on high quality outcomes for people which promote social justice. Government needs to strengthen Statement of Common Ground to ensure they genuinely reflect housing needs, infrastructure provision and the wider challenges of climate change.”
Sue Percy, chief executive of CIHT, said:
“Well planned integration of transport and planning contributes to the delivery of the Government’s wider economic objectives as well as help to improve quality of life, health and reduce carbon emissions along with enhancing the public realm.
“CIHT believe that a joined up approach to transport and planning should be followed. Planning for housing, business and sustainable communities requires clearer, more specific advice and guidance on the integration of transport.
“The planning regime must acknowledge the important role the UK Transport system plays in economic and social development. Without an integration of planning and transport we run the risk of producing isolated and unconnected communities that exist in an economic vacuum.”
Simon Neilson, president of ADEPT, said:
“To create successful places, the appropriate infrastructure must be put in place alongside housing development to support the economic, environmental and social systems needed to build thriving communities.
“This integrated approach requires strategic planning and meaningful partnership. We ask Government to review the proposed Statement of Common Ground to ensure that joint working and shared decision making are a formalised requirement of the planning process for every housing development.”
Notes to editor