Zooming Out: The Benefits of Strategic Planning

CCN Latest News, CCN News 2021 | 12 March 2021

Today the County Councils Network reiterates its support for the introduction of strategic planning to help create the communities of the future – and sets out a practical way for this to be delivered.

The CCN hosted a webinar today which you can watch here featuring high profile speakers and experts, which will discuss the merits of strategic planning, and has launched a campaign video outlining ‘Strategic Planning Advisory Bodies’ – and how these collaborative groups can plan over a wider scale, encompassing infrastructure and other considerations.

In context of the looming post-pandemic rebuild of the country, and current discussions over reforms of the planning system, CCN believes that strategic planning offers the best solution to deliver the communities of the future, combining housing and infrastructure with other key considerations, such as local economies, the environment, and the health of people.

However these functions are performed by different councils, or groups of councils, in certain areas, alongside differing businesses and health organisations. This is particularly visible in some counties which contain both district councils (responsible for housing and planning) and county councils (responsible for infrastructure, education, and social care).

CCN believes strategic planning could fuse these different considerations together, and our housing spokesperson Cllr Tim Oliver has set out our case in the LGC here.

Collaboration is key: with these Strategic Planning Advisory Bodies delivering strategic planning by bringing together all councils in an area, plus education, health, and business leaders. Together, they would set out ambitious visions for areas, with these bodies sitting between national and local policies.

Watch our video below for an overview on how they would work:

What are Strategic Planning Advisory Bodies?

Strategic Planning Advisory Bodies were a key recommendation of Catriona Riddell’s report for the CCN last autumn, which looked at how strategic planning could be delivered in practice. You can download it here.

These bodies would:

  • Comprise of all council leaders, mayors (where relevant), Local Enterprise Partnerships, Sub-national Transport Bodies and leaders from the health and environment sectors. This would be a statutory responsibility and their geography covered would be agreed first by local councils across an area and approved by the Housing Secretary for the government.
  • Together, all the parties on these bodies would perform a ‘ringmaster’ role for setting out a long-term vision for the area: joining up economic, infrastructure health, and environmental aims with housing. These would pinpoint where growth is to take place and what type employment is needed; playing an enabling role for reshaped town centres and local economies post-Coronavirus, whilst balancing health and environmental factors.
  • They would produce a ‘strategic integrated framework’ – setting out what infrastructure is needed to accompany development in each area, identifying what areas need to be connected to improve growth and create new jobs, alongside addressing climate change issues. These frameworks would then provide a basis for individual councils’ Local Plans.
  • With councils facing huge shortfalls in infrastructure funding set against projected housing development, a ten-year delivery plan should be produced alongside the framework on how to unlock infrastructure funds: this could be a ‘whole is greater than the sum of its parts approach’ by pooling together councils’ resources to unlock large-scale infrastructure projects, whilst enabling more private and public investment due to having a long-term shared vision outlined in each area.

This approach would enable local-decision making to be retained in the form of Local Plans, but provides the opportunity to ‘zoom out’ and asses infrastructure and economic need of a whole area, providing the impetus to unlock it by creating an all-encompassing vision for an area, with frameworks in place to ensure that the advisory bodies are not simply talking shops.

This would mean that there is less chance of Local Plans being delayed: as it would be harder to hold-up a plan that has been produced within a framework as a result of a shared vision for an area: reducing the risk of areas being at the mercy of unsuitable development.

The event today included Onward director Will Tanner, local planning expert Catriona Riddell, and Piers Warburton of Powerhouse One, discussing the merits of strategic planning. Watch it below.

You can download our infographics on the planning system and Strategic Planning Advisory Bodies below.