England’s largest councils are calling on the Housing Secretary to strengthen reforms to the planning system in rural areas as it emerged that house prices in England’s counties rose at triple the rate of London last year.
The latest Housing Price Index reveals that county house prices rose 5.9% in 2017, compared to just 2% in London and 4.9% in metropolitan areas and cities. The average county house price now stands at £262,390; some £100,000 more than in the cities, and is rising at a faster rate.
The County Councils Network (CCN), which represents all of England’s county councils, warn that a lack of ‘strategic planning’ is contributing to rising prices in those areas. This 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.
But the latest price increases are occurring mostly outside of the southeast, with the sharpest increase in Leicestershire (8.9%), Northamptonshire (8.8%) and Gloucestershire (8.5%). Only five of the 27 county shires have experienced below national average price increases.
Latest figures also show that the percentage of affordable homes delivered in shire counties is failing to keep pace with other parts of the country. Since 2011, on average 26% of all net additional homes in counties have been classified as affordable. This compares to 44% in London, and 34% in urban metropolitan areas.
CCN says 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. These 27 two-tier county areas span over two thirds of England.
Download the full The Housing Challenge in Counties infographic here.
Cllr 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.”
Under the Coalition in 2012, strategic planning was all but abolished when regional spatial strategies were scrapped, placing much looser requirements on councils to collaborate over planning and infrastructure.
Government have signalled that they wish to move away from this approach and encourage councils to join up local plans and infrastructure provision on a larger scale.
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, CCN argues this new mechanism, currently in draft form, does not go far enough in re-writing strategic planning back into the system and joining up local plans and infrastructure provision. Instead, 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.
CCN also believe that Government should indicate that a SoCG be made over a county geography, giving district councils the capacity to plan for homes over larger area, and the county the ability to plan for infrastructure and service provision for the entire area it is responsible for.
Cllr Philip Atkins, added:
“We want to work with district councils to deliver the homes this country desperately needs, but this requires a more collaborative approach. Moving towards strategic planning and coordinated infrastructure provision on the county scale will enable us to overcome the current fragmented approach to housing and planning in rural areas.”
CCN also argues that infrastructure funding is disproportionately skewed towards urban areas and the system of developer contributions – which funds affordable homes and infrastructure – isn’t fit for purpose. County councils have no powers over funding streams such as the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) and Section 106 agreements, which are meant to contribute towards new affordable housing and the construction of roads, schools and community facilities.
This is leaving counties with less affordable homes and facing a short fall of billions in what is needed to fund local infrastructure to support sustainable development. In turn, this leads to communities opposing new housing over fears that development will lead to unsustainable demand on local public services.
In addressing this, they argue government must be more radical in reforming developer contributions, removing restrictions on pooling Section 106 funds and providing county councils with powers to levy a ‘strategic CIL’; a power held by the Greater London Authority and will be extended to urban elected mayors via a strategic infrastructure levy
Cllr Philip Atkins, added:
“County councils are doing all they can deliver vital infrastructure at a time of severe financial restraint but we face billions in infrastructure gaps. The current system of CIL and section 106, alongside a prioritisation of infrastructure investment in urban areas, is driving up house prices in shire counties and leading to unsuitable development.
“Winning local support for new homes to provide a place to live, a place to raise a family, a place to raise living standards will only be achieved by the providing the right infrastructure in the right places. By fundamentally reforming the way councils can harness developer contributions and empowering county authorities, this major barrier to housing growth could be removed.”
Notes to Editor
 The draft statement of common ground was set out in Planning for the right homes in the right places: consultation proposals https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/planning-for-the-right-homes-in-the-right-places-consultation-proposals