Written evidence from Worcestershire County
Council (ARSS 141)|
We must find new ways to match investment certainty
with locally-driven strategies. The County Council will support
local decision making with our expertise in demographic analysis
It will be essential to get a complete understanding
of local perceptions of housing needs. The County Council has
particular expertise in opinion polling cross sections of the
population and of focus groups which can be used.
The ability of the Homes and Communities Agency to
continue to deliver affordable housing funding is critical to
meeting local need.
We welcome the proposed New Homes Bonus which will
need to be shared between the collecting district councils and
the County Council which provides such key infrastructure as roads
and schools to support new housing.
Strategic infrastructure will however still be needed
in advance of housing development. Through our Local Strategic
Partnership and the proposed Local Enterprise Partnership we will
gear up to bid for all available sources of funding.
We will take the Government's new localism agenda
as an impetus to strengthen the bottom up review of the Sustainable
Community Strategy to provide a framework for local housing initiatives.
We will make arrangements to deliver a "Total
Place" approach through the Worcestershire Partnership ensuring
that the Local Enterprise Partnership is fully integrated and
not operating in parallel.
We are concerned to see that there are collective
West Midlands resources to continue preparation of an annual monitoring
report to replace that formerly required for the RSS. This provides
information on development patterns down to district level and
is essential if we are to see if the localism agenda is being
2. "The implications of the abolition
of regional house building targets for levels of housing development"
Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS) targets provided
certainty but were not universally welcomed at local level. They
did, however provide a level of certainty developers and house
builders to invest, assemble land and build. We must now find
new ways of matching investment certainty with locally-driven
strategies. The proposed Local Enterprise Partnerships may provide
a means of doing this. The County Council sees its role as informing
a local evidence base that will address both need and opportunity,
thus facilitating locally based decision making on housing type,
location and quantity. We will do this to support the district
councils in their Strategic Housing Land Assessments and by making
available our expertise in demographic analysis and forecasting.
It will be essential to get a complete understanding
of local perceptions of housing needs and the geographic definitions
of local communities for the purposes of surveying those perceptions.
In rural areas, this work will often be based on parishes, but
in towns the perception of "what is my community?" will
be more complex. The County Council has particular expertise in
opinion polling, for example, via the "Worcestershire Viewpoint"
electronic surveying of a representative cross-section of the
population, or through electronic voting at focus groups or other
local meetings. Now that housing targets are to be determined
locally, it is essential that the evidence base for this is as
informed, timely and representative as possible.
The Government has confirmed that meeting the Nation's
housing needs is a high priority. We look to the forthcoming National
Planning Policy Statement to articulate what that need is so that
communities can be certain what contribution they are making.
There will need to be a clear expectation that local housing provision
is balanced by the necessary infrastructure and is associated
with local employment opportunities so that growth occurs in a
balanced and sustainable way at appropriate locations.
There is a particular issue with regard to affordable
housing. The former RSS Phase 2 Revision included indicative affordable
housing targets for the four strategic housing market areas. This
provided a reference point for local authorities in reviewing
their own affordable housing needs. These arrangements have been
superseded, not only by the RSS abolition, but also by the Homes
and Communities Agency's (HCA) "Single Conversation"
direct with local housing authorities. The ability of the HCA
to continue to deliver affordable housing funding is critical
to meeting local need, particularly during the current recession
when delivery through S106 Agreements with commercial house builders
is at a very low ebb.
"The likely effectiveness of the Government's
plan to incentivise local communities to accept new housing development
and the nature and level of the incentives which will need to
be put in place to ensure and adequate long-term supply of housing."
The County Council welcomes the proposals to introduce
a New Homes Bonus. Receipts will need to be appropriately shared
between the districts (who will collect) and the County Council
which has key responsibilities for providing roads, supported
public transport, schools, social care, libraries and countryside
recreation services to support growth. County and district councils
will need to put robust monitoring systems in place to demonstrate
to local communities how that money collected has been spent so
they can judge whether value for money has been achieved.
Strategic infrastructure will still be needed in
advance of development, to address development impact thresholds,
including that created by the cumulative impact of a number of
smaller, local developments. It is therefore likely that it will
have to be funded other than by developers through such mechanisms
as the Regional Growth Fund. Medium term certainty about the availability
of such funding streams would enable us to commit the substantial
resources required to develop, for example, a major road scheme.
Strategic infrastructure will also have to include Super Fast
Broadband provision. This has become increasingly important and
is often essential to enable home based working. We will ensure
we are fully geared up through our Local Strategic Partnership
and the proposed Local Enterprise Partnership to bid for all available
sources of infrastructure funding, including the Regional Growth
We will need to re-visit our Code of Conduct to safeguard
the position of members and officers involved in planning decisions
for new housing to minimise any public perception of the selling
of planning permissions for financial gain regardless of the proper
planning merits. Whilst residential development is a matter for
district not county councils, many of our councillors serve at
county, district and indeed parish levels. The reputation of local
government as a whole needs to be protected.
3. "The arrangements which should be
put in place to ensure appropriate cooperation between local planning
authorities on matters formerly covered by regional spatial strategies"
Cooperation arrangements in Worcestershire are long
standing as is essential in a two tier local government structure.
The Worcestershire Partnership is our local strategic partnership
at county level and its Sustainable Community Strategy (SCS) is
an established statement of local community priorities. The existing
SCS was refreshed in 2008 using a bottom up approach. We will
take the new localism agenda as an opportunity to strengthen the
bottom up feed of policy and priorities, including in housing.
We will integrate these arrangements with the new Local Enterprise
Partnership which we hope and expect will be based on co-terminus
Worcestershire boundaries. None of this will prevent us co-operating
with neighbouring authorities in Wales and other former regions
when this is appropriate.
The 33 local authorities of the West Midlands have
agreed to continue cooperation through our West Midlands Councils
organisation. This gives us the ability to broker cross boundary
agreements and to share best practice, particularly in the specialist
areas of policy formerly covered by RSS where no one authority
has all the necessary expertise.
4. "The adequacy of proposals already
put forward by the Government, including a proposed duty to co-operate
and the suggestion that Local Enterprise Partnerships may fulfil
a planning function"
We look for more detail from Government regarding
our role in addressing "strategic planning and infrastructure
issues." We have already commenced work on a County wide
Infrastructure Delivery Plan in partnership with our district
councils. We have commenced work on restructuring the Worcestershire
Partnership governance arrangements to ensure we can deliver a
"Total Place" approach and we will ensure that the Local
Enterprise Partnership is fully integrated not operating in parallel.
5. "How the data and research collated
by the now-abolished Regional Local Authority Leaders' Boards
should be made available to local authorities and what arrangements
should be put in place to ensure effective updating of that research
and collection of further research on matters crossing local authority
We would welcome a commitment from Government to
assist West Midlands Councils in maintaining and updating the
"legacy" websites where a great deal of information
is currently housed. This is particularly important given Government
confirmation that the information base on which Regional Spatial
Strategy was prepared is still a material planning consideration.
We understand that West Midlands Councils have given an undertaking
to Government that the RSS evidence base inherited from their
predecessor bodies will be maintained via a spreadsheet hosted
on their website. Where a resource is of particular sub-regional
interest, it will be highlighted. This will be particularly helpful
to local authorities in progressing their Local Development Frameworks.
A particular current concern is to have the collective
resources within the West Midlands (personnel and financial) to
continue the former statutory duty of preparing and publishing
an Annual RSS Monitoring Report. This provides a detailed time
series of development trends down to district council level and
is an essential component of the local planning evidence base.
In the absence of any regional organisations, this report will
also be essential for Ministers to gain an overview of progress
on their localism agenda. The local authorities, including Worcestershire,
are prepared to continue the collection of data for this report
but it will require a collective resource to produce and publish.