County councils have criticised the Government's plans to remove the duty to co-operate between districts and counties on Local Plans.
With the Government's Planning for the future consultation closing on Thursday (29 October), the County Councils' Network (CCN) has warned the removal of the duty to co-operate would mean there is 'no mechanism to compel or encourage those local authorities to work together on planning and infrastructure'.
The Government consultation document states: 'Local Plans should be subject to a single statutory “sustainable development” test, and unnecessary assessments and requirements that cause delay and challenge in the current system should be abolished.
'This would mean replacing the existing tests of soundness, updating requirements for assessments (including on the environment and viability) and abolishing the Duty to Cooperate.'
The changes would also see a fixed, national levy replace Section 106 agreements and councils face sanctions unless they draw up Local Plans within 30 months.
A new report commissioned by CCN, from Catriona Riddell Associates, calls for the creation of strategic planning advisory bodies in all areas, comprising council leaders, mayors (where relevant), Local Enterprise Partnerships, sub-national transport bodies and leaders from the health and environment sectors.
'This would be a statutory responsibility and their geography covered would be agreed first by local councils across an area and approved by the Housing Secretary for the government,' CCN said.
These 'advisory bodies' would perform a ‘ringmaster’ role for setting out a long-term vision for the area, joining up economic, infrastructure health, and environmental aims with housing through a ‘strategic integrated framework’.
These frameworks would then provide a basis for individual councils’ Local Plans.
CCN said that a 10-year delivery plan should be produced alongside the framework on how to unlock infrastructure funds.
'This would mean that there is less chance of Local Plans being delayed: as it would be harder to hold-up a plan that has been produced within a framework as a result of a shared vision for an area: reducing the risk of areas being at the mercy of unsuitable development.'
Catriona Riddell, director of Catriona Riddell Associates, said: 'Strategic planning is about more than just sorting out housing numbers or delivering cross-boundary infrastructure. If it is do an effective job, it needs to provide a mechanism for integrating all the different components that support ‘good’ growth and a clear framework for investment in places.
'The proposals in this report would fill a large void in the current planning system and in the Government’s proposed planning reforms, offering an integrated solution to supporting sustainable development across England.
'But it will only work if there is stronger collaboration between the different tiers of government, across the different functions of government and between the public and private sectors.'
CCN chairman Cllr David Williams said: 'With the government planning to scrap the duty co-operate, and Coronavirus forcing us to think about the recovery and future for our local economies, there has never been a better time to consider a reinvigorated strategic spatial planning system and this report provides much food for thought.'
Jenny Raggett, project co-ordinator at Transport for New Homes, commented: 'Our country needs more homes. What we don't need is more sprawling, car-dependent estates far from town centres and public transport links. Planning reform must take transport into account or it will result in more traffic jams and air pollution, carbon emissions and unhealthy, isolated living.'