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Presidents Piece November 2016

Date: 25/11/2016

So it all started with the release of the National Infrastructure Commission interim report on the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge growth corridor. The report went far beyond the oft reported benefits of the key infrastructure projects required to link the growth corridor. Few could argue with the merit of the funding in the Autumn Statement to improve east-west road and rail links.  Of greater significance to the planning profession, however, were the recommendations regarding plan making and housing delivery.

The interim report surmised that housing delivery is the current barrier to growth throughout the corridor and recommended joined up planning as the best way of delivering the necessary housing, jobs and infrastructure. This begins to provide the direction that POS has been seeking since the LPEG recommendations were published.

The interim report supports the LPEG recommendation for a standardised methodology for calculating housing numbers. There is no doubt that the discussions around housing numbers and 5YHLS delay both plan-making and delivery of allocated sites. A consistent approach would speed up the planning process, enable housing delivery and save costs on appeals and examinations.

In addition to providing funding to deliver the east-west rail and road links, the Autumn Statement also launched a number of packages to speed up housing delivery. There is a continued focus on funding infrastructure that unlocks housing sites, funding for the provision of affordable housing and also a kick start to the delivery of housing on public sector land.

There is continued support for devolution in the Autumn Statement, so much so that I see a danger here that the focus on devolution will detract from the benefits of joined up planning and that rather than thinking strategically it will lead areas to think solely financially. Unless devolving powers explicitly links to joined up planning and the delivery of housing, jobs and infrastructure there is a risk that the governments funding and focus is not directed to the areas of either greatest delivery or greatest need.

Missing so far from the announcements and recommendations is the long awaited freedoms that the POS has been asking for around resourcing of planning services. I remain concerned that planning services are being put under considerable pressure from budget rounds and increased workloads. We have seen the publication of the new performance targets and yet still there is no flexibility to set planning fees at the level that would cover the cost of processing through to decisions and delivery on sites. It is widely recognised that resourcing in local planning authorities is a cause of delay so we need these freedoms introducing quickly if we are to fulfil our roles fully.

Much of the detail that I seek could come through the housing white paper. So what would be a good outcome in the housing white paper?

Top of my list is the recognition that Duty to Cooperate is a poor substitute for strategic planning. The introduction of a strategic spatial plan into the plan-making system would be a good thing.

We desperately need a standardised approach to assessing housing needs. So much time is spent discussing housing numbers that could be better spent on the quality of development.

Linked to this is the time spent evidencing a 5YHLS. I would like to see a recognition of the time it takes to deliver strategic sites that have been allocated in plans. To encourage plan making, decision taking and the delivery of quality developments there should be a period of time following adoption where it would not be acceptable to bring forward a site on the basis of a lack of 5YHLS.

There should be an end to the pooling restriction on s.106 contributions. There is not only one way of funding infrastructure and this restriction prevents authorities from working with the development industry and communities to identify and fund the infrastructure necessary for their local area.

Finally, local authorities need to be able to resource their planning teams. This government has been clear about the need to increase housing delivery. The route to this is currently partially blocked by a lack of professional capacity in planning services. Championing planners and encouraging better performance through local fee setting would be the change that leads to the housing delivery.

Anna Rose, President 2016/17

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