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Infrastructure blog

Ensuring a more strategic approach to planning infrastructure and housing

04 November 2020

ICE recently made a response to the government’s planning white paper, setting out the interventions required for better integrating the planning and delivery of housing and infrastructure.

Ensuring a more strategic approach to planning infrastructure and housing
UK housing development. Image credit: Shutterstock

The government’s Planning for the Future paper proposes far-reaching changes to the current planning system.

While some proposals are on the right track and recognise the challenges that have to be addressed, there are some noticeable gaps.

The role of regional planning

While not in any way ruled out, strategic planning across local authority boundaries seems to have a less, rather than more, prominent role via the proposals in the paper.

This includes the proposed removal of the Duty to Cooperate without a named replacement, and recognition of the need for a more strategic approach but without any proposed solutions.

It is here that ICE’s response looks to fill in the gaps. For example, by creating integrated regional housing and infrastructure strategies that are evidence-based, have cross-authority agreement and go beyond individual political cycles, infrastructure for housing could be planned in a far more strategic way than at present.

Such strategies could be developed by widening the remit of the current - and potential future - subnational transport bodies to include all economic infrastructure sectors. We recognise that each regional infrastructure strategy will be different and, depending on geography, have a multitude of stakeholders to engage. This would include, but not be limited to, local authorities, combined authorities, regulators, local businesses, Local Enterprise Partnerships, community groups, national and local delivery bodies, and central government departments.

Each strategy would identify the provision of infrastructure and housing required in a given region, while taking into consideration the priorities set out in the government’s forthcoming National Infrastructure Strategy to ensure that joined-up planning takes place at regional and national scales.

This creates a high-level overview for each region without outlining painstaking levels of detail. Local authorities can then use this to prepare corresponding and aligned Local Plans reflecting the context of each council area.

It is also vital that this approach has alignment with the ongoing devolution work that is progressing within government.

Is the Infrastructure Levy appropriate for all projects?

One of the proposals is for developer contributions, in the form of section 106 agreements and the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), to be replaced with a new Infrastructure Levy. This levy will be a fixed proportion of the value of the development paid at the end of the process, with local authorities able to borrow against Infrastructure Levy revenues to forward fund infrastructure and speed up delivery further.

There is no doubt that there is merit in a nationally established levy for infrastructure, which could more accurately capture land value and result in greater transparency. However, the proposed Infrastructure Levy has a number of shortfalls. Notably, it does not appear appropriate for use on major infrastructure projects.

Without the upfront payment available to mitigate the impacts on communities that major projects inevitably have, investment would have to come from somewhere else and projects could see public backlash against them. It would seem that either some form of section 106 will have to remain for larger projects delivered via Development Consent Orders, or exceptions to the levy would have to apply to those projects in order to mitigate development impacts.

Large-scale new settlements

One of the most encouraging parts of the paper is that the government plans to explore whether the DCO regime can be effectively applied to large-scale housing developments.

ICE has previously recommended that the government should amend the DCO process to enable large-scale housing developments to be delivered under it.

This is important as DCOs could, in one fell swoop, secure all necessary powers and primary consents for all parts of the entire scheme – more than just planning permission – and ensure that all elements of a planning decision can be considered at the same time. In turn, new towns and similar developments could be delivered more efficiently and help to address the shortfall in housing.

Of course, there are challenges to overcome before this can ever become realised. If it is to apply to large-scale new settlements, the process must have a strong balance between detail and flexibility and also more suitably integrate with existing spatial planning processes.

The role of regional infrastructure strategies in effectively identifying a spatial approach is important, as they can recognise the areas suitable for this kind of development. One of the most important aspects is ensuring effective community engagement and a locally led approach so that the public do not feel developments are being imposed on them.

This is where the role of development corporations with a long-term interest in the prosperity of a site, particularly locally led ones that include local authority partnerships, is vital.

Read the Policy paper here

  • David Hawkes, head of policy at ICE