City mayors should produce integrated transport and housing plans, says national infrastructure assessment

City leaders and metro mayors should develop and implement "integrated strategies for transport, employment and housing" and be granted greater planning decision-making powers by 2021, the government's infrastructure adviser has called for in its first long-term national assessment.

New transport should be better aligned with new housing, says NIA
New transport should be better aligned with new housing, says NIA

The National Infrastructure Commission’s (NIC)’s first ever national infrastructure assessment (NIA), which was published this morning, also calls for councils to be allowed greater powers to capture any uplift in land value arising from planning and infrastructure decisions.

The NIA aims to analyse the UK’s long-term infrastructure needs, outline a strategic vision over the next 30 years and set out recommendations for how the identified needs should be met.

If backed by the government, the NIA's recommendations will become "endorsed recommendations" and, according to the Treasury, are "likely" to be material considerations in planning decisions.

One of its recommendations on transport and housing says that the government and city leaders "need to act now to ensure that space in cities is used effectively, with room allocated for fast, frequent public transport systems, well-connected and affordable housing, and pleasant public spaces".

This would require "a new approach to governance, strategy and funding", it states, and urges "planning and funding for urban infrastructure" to be devolved to all cities.

The report says: "To deliver thriving cities, metro mayors and other city leaders should develop integrated strategies for transport, employment and housing. Housing and infrastructure should be planned together: new housing requires new infrastructure."

It goes on to say that "linking transport enhancements to housing growth is essential to get the most value from investment".

These "integrated strategies" should be supported by "substantial, devolved funding", it adds. 

Recent government policy on devolution "has meant cities increasingly have the right powers and governance to tackle these issues, particularly in cities with mayors". But the report says there is a lack of integrated decision making and calls for greater powers for city leaders, particularly in their relationships with local authorities.

It states: "Currently, leaders in large cities need unanimous approval from individual districts to all aspects of any integrated development plan, limiting the level of ambition. This needs to be addressed to maximise the value from new urban transport infrastructure."

The NIA says that the "long term integrated strategies for transport, employment and housing" should be developed and implemented by 2021.

By the same year, the government should also "ensure city leaders have the right powers to deliver these integrated strategies, including the power for metro mayors to make decisions on major housing development sites".

Elsewhere, the NIA calls for improvements to the way local infrastructure is funded, stating that "local authorities should be given further powers to capture a fair proportion of increases in the value of land from planning and infrastructure provision".

This should include giving local authorities "powers to levy zonal precepts on council tax, where public investments in infrastructure drive up surrounding property values by 2021".

It also calls for the removal of all section 106 pooling restrictions by 2020 to allow local authorities to use the planning gain mechanism "more effectively".

Another recommendation is for the country’s electricity system to be running on at least 50 per cent renewable generation by 2030. To support this, the NIA calls for a greater focus on renewable and low-carbon sources like wind and solar and says the government "should not agree support for more than one nuclear power station beyond Hinkley Point C before 2025".

In addition, all nationally significant infrastructure projects should have a "board level design champion", and use a design panel to maximise the project's value. This will be informed by a new set of design principles that will be drawn up by a new national infrastructure design group and published by 2019.

A further recommendation is a long term strategy for flood protection, which should include the prevention of "inappropriate housing development". The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and planning authorities "should ensure that from 2019 all new development is resilient to flooding", the NIA says.

Other recommendations include:

  • stronger government support for electric and driverless vehicles, including a "core network of fast or rapid chargers" to be "installed in visible locations across the UK"

  • the government to develop a "framework" to assess the "potential impacts" of autonomous vehicles

  • the government to put in place a "national broadband plan" by the end of this year with the aim of providing nationwide "full fibre" connectivity by 2033.

However, there is no mention in the final NIA of a conclusion in last October’s draft version of the document, which called for the government to allow "some degree" of high-density development around infrastructure hubs in the green belt.

The NIA states: "These recommendations will enable the UK to have a thriving digital economy, a low cost, low carbon energy and waste network, clean air, successful cities, and resilience to extreme weather."

According to the document, the government has committed to laying the NIA before parliament and to respond to its recommendations within six months, with a final deadline of a year.  

The NIA can be found here.

NOTE: this article was updated at 10am on Tuesday 10 July to add further details from the NIA on the recommendations around transport and housing in cities, land value capture, design of infrastructure and dealing with flooding.

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