A new role for county councils in planning could unlock development

CCN Latest News, CCN News 2017 | 21 July 2017

A new role for county councils in planning could help overcome ‘nimbyism’ in local areas, and help rural residents get onto the housing ladder, leaders of England’s largest councils argue.

The County Councils Network (CCN), which represents all 27 county councils in England has called for an increased role for those councils in the planning system in its new publication, A New Deal for Counties’, which sets out policy proposals for the government.

New figures show that the average county house price is now nine times average yearly earnings, rising to 12 times higher in some counties in the south-east, and CCN has backed DCLG’s commitment this week to build 300,000 homes per year.

However CCN argues that the key to unlocking timely and affordable homes was dealing with the concerns that developments have not been supported with the necessary infrastructure and funding that allows public services and communities to deal with growing demand. As a consequence, major developments are unpopular locally, with residents and MPs resisting moves to increase to increase the number of homes to meet with the nation’s growing housing crisis.

CCN is calling for an increased role for the county council in the planning system, to streamline the currently fragmented system that sees district councils oversee housing and counties overseeing infrastructure. By bringing both together in ‘strategic planning’ arrangements, counties and districts can plan for homes over a whole county, rather than the current system being restricted to pockets of areas containing on average 100,000 people.

With planning over larger geographies, councils will be able to pinpoint the most appropriate areas for development, rather than proposing to cram homes into small pockets or build without the corresponding infrastructure, which can lead to local opposition. This view has been echoed by the Communities Secretary Sajid Javid, who recently backed a more ‘strategic’ approach to housing.

Any reform must be backed by fair and adequate funding for infrastructure for county areas, with counties receiving £291 less per person for key services, including money for roads and public services. As a result of years of underinvestment, there are infrastructure gaps amounting to billions in county areas.

CCN’s Plan for Government also calls for a rethink on the workings of the Community Infrastructure Levy, which is being applied differently by different district councils – with some not applying it  at all. At the moment, these vital developer contributions to public services and infrastructure are not being utilised fully in some areas.

Cllr Philip Atkins, vice-chairman of the County Councils Network, said:

“The Government’s commitment to reform planning in a recognition that the system isn’t working is welcomed. However, we must be bold: for years changes to the planning system have tinkered around the edges.

“Our new publication sets out how counties should be empowered to take an active role in planning, working with district partners across a larger geographical area. Strategic planning will allay the considerable fears felt in communities over housebuilding, targeting developments in the most appropriate areas, with joined up plans and financing for these homes allowing the necessary infrastructure to be created so communities do not feel the extra burden on public services.

“The Government must also recognise that long-term underfunding of county areas has led to increased pressures on public services in our communities, creating further consternation when a major development is proposed. The planned review of local government funding must generate a fairer solution for rural areas.”