With the coronavirus pandemic continuing to dominate the agenda, it’s easy to forget one of the biggest domestic priorities for the public sector and Government: delivering more homes alongside sustainable growth.
The planning for the future White Paper seeks to address fundamental issues in delivering this agenda – an aim that will be lauded by county authorities whose residents face some of the highest house prices in the country outside London.
However, it is vital that an infrastructure-first approach is embedded within whatever system is created so the end result of development delivers the infrastructure that makes places work. With the pandemic forcing us to reimagine how we work and travel, the imperative to deliver future-focused, robust infrastructure to support housing growth has never been greater.
Rebalancing the focus of the planning system to deliver this infrastructure more effectively will depend on its ability to enable strategic spatial planning. It must bring county and district councils together, alongside business, health and environmental stakeholders to set a long-term vision for an area where growth should be prioritised, key infrastructure is needed, and how these aims can be achieved in an environmentally and financially sustainable way.
The duty to co-operate was the last bastion of strategic planning left in the system, but the County Councils’ Network (CCN) has long argued it was a blunt instrument without a formal role for councils. The White Paper proposes to end it, but offers no alternative.
The model set out in Catriona Riddell Associate’s report, Planning Reforms and the Role of Strategic Planning, commissioned by the CCN, provides a set of proposals that taken together, offer the critical missing piece of the puzzle, including the creation of strategic planning advisory bodies.
These would be made up of all local authorities and key partners within an area, which would create integrated strategic frameworks for growth in those areas, along with 10-year delivery plans – thereby keeping Local Plans ‘local’, while creating the framework to unlock infrastructure investment. Put simply, if we are to build better places for our communities, we need a renaissance in strategic planning.
Joanna Killian is lead adviser, planning and infrastructure, Association of County Chief Executives