A New Homes Bonus carrot was dangled in front of local authorities, and now the Government is getting ready to wield the big stick of league tables, as a way of embarrassing councils into taking often difficult decisions with their Local Plans.
To ensure local authorities put Local Plans in place by a set deadline – to be confirmed before they break for the summer – the Government will be publishing league tables setting out local authorities’ progress.
The Government has also said it will take steps to ensure Local Plans are more responsive to local needs. Given the slow progress of many Kent Local Plans some people might suggest this could hinder, rather than help the process. Let’s face it, how often have you heard communities calling for more housing and development?
Changes to bring forward proposals to significantly streamline the time it takes to adopt a Local Plan have been proposed. The Government has even threatened it might take back control if councils fail to hit the timetable, which hardly suggests it is responding to local needs and circumstances.
Setting league tables certainly hasn't motivated the teaching profession, and I can’t see it working with our colleagues in hard-pressed and under-resourced planning departments, especially where councils are politically very finely balanced.
What’s needed could be to take the conciseness of the NPPF, combined with something akin to the old Structure Plan approach. A county authority, working with local partners, could agree the bigger picture items such as overall housing numbers and employment, matched with infrastructure plans. However, that might not be local enough to appease the Government’s localism agenda, nor those organisations that systematically oppose development.
This certainly seems to be the approach being taken by Kent County Council and its proposed Kent & Medway Infrastructure Growth Plan, which seeks to answer key questions on what its delivery might cost between now and 2031, including:
- Planning housing and jobs to 2031
- Population growth and drivers
- Economic growth and drivers
- Future funding levels
- Infrastructure requirements and costs.
In might not be called a Structure Plan, but, as my Nana used to say: “If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, then it’s a duck”.
Some local authorities will view this move with a little trepidation. The challenge for Kent will be how to bring the county, districts, sub-regional partners, FE and HE colleges and universities and business community to drive forward growth – and it appears the answer lies with the prospect of a Kent &Medway Local Enterprise Partnership being established. More on that soon.