Updated Sep 3, 2020

Report on reform to England's planning system calls for major reorganisation of local Government

According to a report, proposals to reform England's planning system calls for a major reorganisation of local Government to introduce more unitary authorities.

In Autumn the Government is set to publish a devolution and local recovery white paper, with ministers signalling they want more unitary councils.

A PWC study for the County Councils Networks (CCN) says proposals to introduce zones will reduce "the discretion of councils in approving individual planning applications," as well as the scrapping of the duty to co-operate, and introducing a new levy against which councils can borrow to fund infrastructure.

The reports states that the proposed changes point towards a system that will place a greater emphasis on the role of planning authorities in strategic place-shaping and housing enablement, rather than focusing on scrutinising individual planning applications.

"Zonal allocations by local authorities will require strategic planning at scale across a much wider geographical footprint, covering multiple housing market areas".

The opportunity to borrow against income for infrastructure will be maximised when organisations stretch across both areas of low and high housing growth. For planning, "a single service could enable a place-based approach, joining up all assets and opportunities rather than working to multiple local and industrial plans".

The study says abolishing 213 districts and replacing them with 25 unitary authorities could save £2.94 billion over five years. A single unitary would give communities a single unified voice to Government, a clear point of contract for residents and businesses, as well as a platform to maximise the benefits of strategic economic growth and housing policy.

CCN chairman David Williams said that in his county of Hertfordshire there are 11 councils: "That means there are 11 chief executives, 526 councillors, 10 planning teams so there is an awful lot of complexity and cost".

Amid speculation that the Government is considering limiting each unitary authority to 600,000 people, the CCN warned ministers against setting an arbitrary population threshold that will cap areas' ambitions, create confusion, costs and complexity while potentially delivering a"postcode lottery for local services and economic recovery".

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