Four out of five councils have affordable housing as one of their priorities in their corporate plans, according to new research.
Professor Janice Morphet, visiting professor at the Bartlett School of Planning, outlined the key findings of new research at the Local Government Association’s virtual conference.
The research, which examined every councils’ corporate plan and will be published in a few weeks time, found 80% had affordable housing as one of their priorities.
She said: ‘We know that councils are doing this in many different ways but over 80% of councils in England are now directly delivering housing, which is a massive increase from when we first started looking at this issue in 2017.’
Professor Morphet also said they had found regeneration strategies and corporate strategies seemed to be sitting slightly separately inside councils, so the push towards 10-20 year plans ‘may be an opportunity to bring these things together’.
She also said the research had highlighted that plans are hindering efforts to tackle climate change. ‘One of the key features of our research this year has been councils telling us across the country that plans just don’t keep up with the requirements they have for achieving net zero,’ she said.
Speaking at the same session, Ojay McDonald, chief executive of the Association of Town & City Management, argued that local authorities need to be at the centre of ‘de-anchoring’ town centres.
Mr McDonald said that town centres need to be reorientated towards health and wellbeing due to the significant decline in high street retail. He said this call is backed up by recent research from PwC and the Local Data Company that showed almost 10,000 multiple retail stores closed last year - the worst annual decline in over a decade.
However, he said that the pandemic alone was not responsible for this situation: ‘The pandemic itself is not the cause of the massive social change we are seeing around us. It is the emergence at a time when technology gives us the tools to do something differently. This is problematic for our town centres. Our understanding of the terms “space” and “place” and being completely re-written due to the revolution in technology we are seeing.’
He said the economic case for gearing town centres around health and wellbeing is ‘pretty strong’ as it reduces costs for businesses, creates a more productive and happier workforce, increases dwell time, puts a greater emphasis on active travel, and supports mental health.
However, he warned ‘proactive planning’ was critical for this. ‘Health and wellbeing can really restore the relevance of town centres. These places have to be oriented around health and wellbeing which can be the new anchor.