How we did it: Building a framework for county growth

A South East county has produced a single document that maps out the infrastructure required to meet its countywide growth agenda. Winnie Agbonlahor reports.

Growth strategy: Kent County Council director of environment, planning and enforcement Katie Stewart and council leader Paul Carter
Growth strategy: Kent County Council director of environment, planning and enforcement Katie Stewart and council leader Paul Carter

Project: Kent and Medway Growth and Infrastructure Framework

Key organisations: Kent County Council, AECOM

Larger-than-local strategic planning is embedded in Greater London, where the 32 boroughs' local plans have to conform to the mayor's overarching citywide London Plan. Outside the capital, the strategic planning picture is very different.

"Within London, you have a very joined-up approach to strategic planning and infrastructure provision, but as soon as you get outside the Greater London Authority boundary, local authorities are expected to work a bit more on their own," says Tom Venables, director for design and planning at consultancy AECOM.

After AECOM produced its manifesto for London in March 2015, a document aiming to address the city-region's long-term challenges in housing, infrastructure, planning and transport, it was approached by Kent County Council for help in mapping out the county's own infrastructure challenges.

After three months, AECOM produced an initial draft, which it and the county council presented to the county's 12 district authorities and Medway Council, a unitary authority. "The leaders then went back to their chief executives and heads of planning and encouraged them to participate in the project," says Matthew Pell, AECOM's associate director for design and planning. This interest from the very top, he says, "made a big difference" and ensured "buy-in" from the councils involved.

AECOM and the county council then held a series of meetings with each district and borough council to discuss and refine those parts of the document relevant to them. The Kent Growth and Infrastructure Framework (GIF) was published in November 2015, seeking to provide planners, developers and local and central government with a comprehensive picture of growth and infrastructure at a strategic level across Kent and Medway.

The document outlines levels of growth between 2011 and 2031 and the infrastructure needed to support them. It anticipates that 158,500 new homes and 135,800 new jobs will be needed across the county during this period, with £6.74 billion required for the necessary infrastructure.

The rationale behind this exercise was to get a sense of "what we're up against in terms of providing infrastructure across the area", says Paul Carter, Kent County Council's leader. He adds: "We felt there was a need to draw together information for the whole of Kent and Medway for the necessary transport and utility infrastructure, the schools and health programme, in one document, looking at the totality and the scale of the infrastructure need and demand against that growth agenda."

The Kent GIF "is becoming useful to local authorities in the process of doing their local plan", explains Katie Stewart, Kent's director of environment, planning and enforcement. The document has also provided the county council with a concrete basis for approaching the utilities to ensure their planned provisions for the area match the projected growth, she adds.

The team's research found that secured and expected infrastructure funding amounted to £4.73 billion, leaving a gap of £2 billion against the amount needed to serve anticipated growth. But, as Stewart explains, the GIF wasn't meant to be a one-off piece of research that would just gather dust.

The framework sets out a ten-point action plan grouped around four themes, she says, raising awareness of the infrastructure challenge in delivering growth; attracting investment from a range of sources, including the private sector; using the GIF to identify infrastructure priorities; and "introducing innovation in public service delivery".

While progress has already been made towards a lot of points on the action plan, Stewart says, the county council is now working with AECOM and the other local authorities to produce an "interim refresh" of the GIF, which is due to be completed within the next couple of months.

Unimplemented planning permissions, changes in health and social care and further details of London's impact on Kent are among elements that will feed into this iteration, Stewart says. However, she is not sure if it will present a solution to the funding gap because of the multiple factors involved.

By early next year, Stewart wants the GIF, which is currently administered by the county council, to be "fully web accessible and updatable" so that each local authority and every county council team can "take ownership" of the parts that are relevant to them. Moving forward, the plan is to update the GIF every six months, "so that the data included within it becomes more accurate," says Carter. Stewart adds: "We will get more sophisticated as we move on."

Other councils have started to follow Kent's lead. Pell says AECOM has been commissioned by Surrey and West Sussex County Councils to produce similar countywide infrastructure studies, which will "mirror the structure and approach of the Kent project".

The document can be read here. 

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