It may not seem like it – with the daily challenges of not only suppressing the virus but helping to roll out our salvation in the form of vaccinations – but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
If the Government fulfils its aim of having every adult vaccinated by the autumn, we can start to see a time when life will begin to resume some sense of normality. That is why it is critical local leadership focuses on what life will look like after the virus. This is especially true in planning policy, an agenda for which the Government is proposing substantial reform.
The pandemic has brought into sharp focus the need to provide individuals and families with adequate housing and the infrastructure to support it, and the requirement that economic growth is more distributed across the country.
Simply viewing homes – and housing reform – through the prism of increasing numbers is short-sighted. Instead, we must think about planning for places more holistically; not only buildings, but the elements that make up communities: infrastructure, health and the environment.
Strategic planning provides the ability to do this. We have an opportune few weeks to press our case to Government, as any replacement to the duty to co-operate remains an open-ended question.
Catriona Riddell’s report last year sets out a workable solution: strategic planning advisory bodies, which would come forward locally, be formally ratified by the Government and comprise all local authorities in an area that would set out their shared vision and objectives for housing, infrastructure and growth.
These would develop a ten-year strategic delivery plan, setting out what is needed to make this vision a reality and enabling the prioritisation and unlocking of infrastructure investment. They would align national and local priorities, providing a jointly-agreed framework to guide local plans.
The pandemic has shown close collaboration between county and district councils yields results – a collaboration that must also be capable of coming together to create the step change we need in how we turn housing numbers into communities.
Joanna Killian is lead adviser for planning and infrastructure at the Association of County Chief Executives