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21-09-2012  |  SIMON THWAITES

Traffic more important than growth for local government

The Government has put stimulating growth and job creation at the heart of its reforms of the planning system, but it seems that local councillors have a different set of priorities. In our latest omnibus survey of local councillors in England and Wales, we asked them about the importance of a range of factors when considering a new development. Though the creation of jobs, and impact on the local economy ranked a creditable third and fourth, it was traffic and parking that councillors were most likely to consider ‘very important’.

  Proportion answering "very important"
 

Impact on traffic and parking

74%
Impact on green spaces and the environment 66%
Creation of new jobs 49%
Impact on the local economy 44%
Creation of new public services (e.g. schools, or libraries) 43%
Demand for housing 42%
Level of disruption caused by a development 32%
The architectural design 28%
Impact on the cost of living 27%
Competition for local business of retailers 18%

This mirrors a scepticism about the ability of the new planning regime to deliver that growth. When asked if “the NPPF will improve opportunities for growth by stimulating development”, fewer than one in three councillors (31%) agreed.

Councillors are also unconvinced that the NPPF is in keeping with the Government’s aim of localism and community power. They are more likely to disagree than agree (45% to 37%) that the NPPF will allow communities to have a greater voice in the planning process, and more likely to think that local authorities will have less say (45% to 38% agree).

We also asked which types of developments councillors would support or oppose in their local area. The splits in the data by party showed how important the urban/rural divide can be in planning. While Conservative councillors would widely support private housing developments (85% likely to support), Labour and Liberal Democrat Councillors were more likely to favour social housing developments (90% and 91% respectively).

On the thorny issue of wind farms, fewer than one in three Conservative councillors would be happy to have wind energy generated in their local area, compared to more than seven in ten Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors.  Across a range of wind farm issues, Conservatives were massively more negative than their colleagues from other parties.

In the end, what this survey, and our upcoming annual research report The State of Local Government, show is that for all of the rhetoric of localism and devolution, central government has a long way to go in convincing councillors that it is on the side of local communities. 

However, there is also one major opportunity for those looking to engage with local councils to promote new development.   Councillors are overwhelmingly negative about the financial prospects for their council – around eight times more councillors expect their council’s financial situation to worsen over the next twelve months than expect it to improve.  That financial pressure, combined with low expectations about the ability of the current planning regime to deliver economic growth, means that local councillors will be extremely receptive to developments that promise to enhance local economies and that have the support of local communities.

If you would like a copy of The State of Local Government please email Nick Barratt on [email protected].

ComRes interviewed 411 Local Councillors from England and Wales in July 2012. Data were weighted to be representative of all councils in England and Wales. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

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