Mass house building in rural areas blamed for heaping pressure on schools and hospitals

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Over half of homes built in England since 2010 are in shire and rural counties - Flyfoto / Alamy Stock Photo
Over half of homes built in England since 2010 are in shire and rural counties - Flyfoto / Alamy Stock Photo

Most rural councils believe that housing development has put schools, roads and hospitals under “excessive” pressure, according to a survey.

Overly dense house building has disproportionately hit infrastructure and public services in shire and rural counties, where more than half of homes in England have been built in the last decade, the analysis found.

The County Councils Network (CCN), the largest organisation representing rural and county local authorities, polled its members this month and found that every council that responded warned of pressures because of new development. The negative impact was branded “excessive” by 58 per cent.

The survey found that there was insufficient funding to go alongside new development, but also identified the disjointed nature of the planning system in many areas as a problem. Three quarters of those local authorities surveyed said their local infrastructure funding gap was “severe”.

The CCN is calling on Michael Gove, the Levelling Up Secretary, to introduce a more “strategic” model for planning when he unveils reforms in legislation next year. The organisation suggested these could form part of devolution deals offered by central government to county councils, akin to devolution schemes previously rolled out to city regions.

It came as a CCN analysis showed that 51 per cent of the 2 million new homes delivered in England since 2010 have been built in county and rural areas.

In most of these areas planning functions are split between a county council responsible for infrastructure and health, and several district councils responsible for housing and planning.

Mere 'duty to cooperate' amongst councils to be scrapped

There is currently no formal legislative mechanism to ensure housing and infrastructure are delivered in tandem between the different councils beyond a “duty to cooperate”, which the CCN warned will be scrapped under proposals put forward by ministers.

It called for a more robust mechanism to replace this duty, positing the idea of “accountable strategic planning bodies” to assist the Government in so-called levelling up efforts but also to ensure plans for new housing do not overburden local infrastructure.

The organisation proposed appointing senior councillors and business, climate and health leaders to these bodies to devise long term visions for their areas.

Cllr Tim Oliver, chairman of the CCN, said: “The present fragmented system not only makes it more difficult to build the right homes in the right places, but it does not allow us to properly plan for, and finance, infrastructure. As a result, many of us are facing severe pressure on our roads, health services, and schools because of development.”

Urging ministers to implement reforms to support strategic planning, he warned that “failure to do so” could “only intensify the pressures” on infrastructure in rural areas.

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