Skip to content

More joined up planning needed for UK towns and cities, says new report

A failure to adopt a more joined-up approach to planning the UK’s towns and cities will make it impossible to meet the challenges of climate change, population growth and environmental risks over the coming decades, according to planners.

A new report from the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) highlights the complex and fragmented approaches to planning infrastructure such as transport, energy, water, schools and hospitals.

The report calls on the Government to devolve powers and funding for infrastructure and recommends that local authorities establish dedicated teams focused solely on infrastructure coordination.

The study, carried out by the University of the West of England in partnership with Peter Brett Associates (now part of Stantec), comes as the issue of sustainable infrastructure was championed at the UN Climate Action summit in New York this week.

Earlier this month, Chancellor Sajid Javid announced more than £600 million of new infrastructure funding in his Spending Review, but James Harris, policy and networks manager at the RTPI, pointed out that while the funding is welcome, politicians need to focus on more joined-up planning to integrate this into villages, towns and cities.

‘There is an urgent need to upgrade much of the country’s existing infrastructure so we can reach net zero carbon, respond to growing environment risks such as flooding and overheating, accommodate population and demographic change and enable sustainable development of residential, commercial and industrial space,’ he said.

‘The priorities of Government and infrastructure providers are currently too focused on service delivery rather than addressing strategic and place based challenges,’ he added.

The research focused on three case studies, Staffordshire County Council, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority and Glasgow City Council, accompanied by a national online survey.

It identified key barriers to effective infrastructure planning, including a lack of leadership at the national level on the direction of strategic spatial planning, and complex multi-level governance of infrastructure, with multiple providers operating across different geographies, timescales and regulatory regimes.

It also says that there is a lack of stable long term funding for local authorities, coupled with a dependence on competitive funding pots and developer contributions and a tendency to prioritise short term project delivery over place based objectives.

‘Central government needs to show greater leadership by setting a strategic direction for infrastructure and addressing the negative impacts of a deal based approach to infrastructure funding. It should also examine how early engagement between local authorities, providers and other stakeholders can be facilitated, to ensure that infrastructure and land use is effectively planned,’ said Hannah Hickman, senior research Fellow at the University of the West of England.

According to Philip Atkins, housing and planning spokesman for the County Councils Network and leader of Staffordshire County Council, the report makes a comprehensive case for strategic planning to help align development with infrastructure, with county authorities playing a formal and important role, in tandem with district councils.

‘Many county areas project infrastructure funding gaps mounting to billions. This means that new development lacks the necessary roads, schools, health centres, and other public amenities. By closer aligning planning and infrastructure, giving counties a clear role, and by reforming funding, we can build genuine communities that work for residents – and stop delivering planning by numbers,’ he explained.

The report is part of the RTPI’s smart city regions programme, which examines how innovations in data, technology and governance can drive a new wave of strategic planning at the city-region and county scale.