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  • Writer's pictureTown and Country Planning Association

Living Locally: The role of housing and planning within local councils

A new report highlights that local living needs national backing:



Despite clear evidence of the benefits of complete, compact and connected communities, local councils are unable to implement all of the necessary policy measures without government backing, from across all UK administrations. The warning comes in a wide-ranging report published by the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) and researched and written by the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA)


The report focuses on the housing and planning roles undertaken by local councils and adds to growing calls for local government to be properly resourced if it is to carry out its planning function effectively.

Local living – or the idea that people should be able to meet their everyday needs within a short walk or cycle – has been gaining international momentum under the various names of 15-minute cities and 20-minute Neighbourhoods. This approach to shaping towns and neighbourhoods is associated with multiple benefits, including boosting local economies, improving people’s health and wellbeing, increasing social connections in communities and tackling climate change.


The report, which was informed by of the findings of a survey with 245 responses from councillors and local government officers from across the UK, also draws on four case studies.


Despite the majority of respondents claiming that complete, compact and connected communities were a priority in their area, 63% said that lack of funding was the most significant barrier to delivering these policies. In addition, the need for affordable housing in their area was cited as ’severe‘ by 67% of respondents, an overall rise from 58% in 2016. The report recommends that:

  1. Local councils need to be properly resourced and supported to enable them to maximise the effectiveness of their planning function

  2. England, Wales and Northern Ireland should follow the Scottish Government’s lead and amend their national planning guidance and frameworks to embed the concept of local living or complete, compact and connected communities. Establishing this priority at the national level would also make sure that the Planning Inspectorate for England and Wales and the Planning Appeals Commission in Northern Ireland place weight on the policy in decisions and in examining plans

  3. To succeed, there needs to be cross-government support for creating complete, compact and connected communities through place-based interventions.

  4. Governments need to support the implementation of complete, compact and connected communities through enabling consistent and easy access to data.

  5. Governments need to better support the delivery of social housing through a fully funded, long-term programme.

Mo Baines, Chief Executive of the Association for Public Service Excellence, said: “The UK faces health, housing, climate and nature crisis. Whilst we need international and national action and leadership, the role of local councils is also critically important. The contribution of well-planned and designed neighbourhoods in tackling these huge issues is often overlooked – but creating sustainable communities is essential for both people and the planet.


“This latest report from the collaboration between APSE and the TCPA once again highlights the important work being driven by local councils. But, it is clear, that with more resources and the right policy frameworks, they could be doing even more to help tackle health inequalities, reduce carbon emissions, and support local economies.”


Fiona Howie, Chief Executive of the Town and Country Planning Association said: “While we know there has been controversy around the concept of 20-minute neighbourhoods and 15-minute cities a key message from the research has been that the concept is a starting point, not a rigid framework to be imposed on local communities. Engaging people in discussions about their local area, whether that area is urban, peri-urban or rural, what facilities or services they cannot currently access that they wish to, or exist but are poor quality, can help inform a vision for the regeneration of the local area.


“Supporting people to access most of their daily needs locally has multiple benefits. However, the research highlighted that local councils do not believe that the planning frameworks in place are supporting them to drive this work forward. Too often, good practice is being seen despite the system, not because of it.”


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