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Reports back counties' bid for plan powers

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The County Councils Network has issued two reports that endorse its argument for return to a county-based spatial planning system, similar to the long-defunct structure plans.

CCN said this approach would make it easier to plan more rapidly for increased housebuilding by integrating this with infrastructure planning.

Structure plans were agreed by all councils across one or more counties, setting out where new homes and infrastructure should be built.

They were abolished in 2004 in favour of regional spatial strategies which were in turn scrapped by the coalition government and replaced by local plans at district level.

It is now proposed by the government, as part of the housing white paper, that a statement of common ground’ is added to these plans. This is intended to co-ordinate plans of neighbouring councils after reliance on essentially voluntary co-operation failed in several areas.

County councils were left only with planning responsibility for only waste and minerals following these changes, though they remained highway authorities.

Philip Atkins (Con), CCN spokesman for housing, planning, and infrastructure, said: “Counties have strong concerns over the ability of young people to afford their own homes, which stretches the length and breadth of the country; from Cornwall to Cumbria.

“Whilst counties are taking matters into their own hands, their ambitions remain shackled by planning reforms that do not go far enough, especially on planning on a strategic scale.”

A study by planning consultancy Catriona Riddell Associates called for the revival of county level strategic planning, which it said would more closely align planning and infrastructure and to accelerate housing delivery.

Ms Riddell said: “This research demonstrates clearly that we need to move away from planning by numbers to place-based strategic planning and that, in two tier areas, the counties have a significant role to play alongside the local planning authorities”

The other report, by the Town & Country Planning Association, also called for a stronger role for counties in planning and closer collaboration between councils in two-tier areas.

It said the statements of common ground should give districts the capacity to plan for homes over a larger area and counties the ability to plan infrastructure and service provision.

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