Breakfast Briefing recap – County councils in the spotlight

By Vivienne Shirley, Senior Consultant

Chelgate Local’s latest breakfast briefing went with a bang last month, as keen delegates braved a miserable rainy morning to gather in Hertfordshire over bacon butties and coffee.

Attendees from titans of the property industry including Taylor Wimpey, Linden Homes, Willmott Dixon and Bidwells took their seats as our very own Cllr Michael Hardware, Chelgate’s director of planning and property, kicked off proceedings. He updated the audience on the crisis at Castle Point, what it might mean for Essex County Council, and the role of county councils in planning more generally.

He was followed by Andrew Taylor, head of planning at Countryside, who took to the stage to stress the need for leadership and stability at county council level to deliver more homes. He noted the importance of open, clear discussions between councillors and developers at the early stages, followed by effective delivery and long-term stewardship – the process doesn’t stop at approval. By working together, councils and housebuilders can provide communities with coherent, durable schemes and much-needed green open space.

David Bogle, chief executive at Hightown Housing Association, then seized the mic to offer a perspective from the view of a housing association operating across Herts – working with 10 district councils as well as Hertfordshire County Council. He talked about the important role county councils play in building sustainable communities, which after all largely centre around highways and schools. David noted it takes Hightown up to two years to get planning in Herts – something a Herts-combined authority might accelerate. He concluded that without radical strategic, county-wide rethinks, it’s unlikely the government will achieve the #MoreBetterFaster homes it’s aiming for.

Cllr Chris White, Hertfordshire county councillor and leader of the opposition at St Albans City and District council, stepped up to share his thoughts from the other side of the fence. He took us through the changing relationship between county councils and district councils in recent years, leading to the current system of district council local plans and a duty to co-operate, with county councils being somewhat ‘left out’. With no clear role for infrastructure authorities, the government’s housing figures are somewhat futile, he noted – the perfect springboard for a lively question and answer session.

Despite a range of perspectives from all angles of the planning and development process, overall our speakers were surprisingly in tune – county councils need to take a proactive role in strategic planning if we’re going to get the #MoreBetterFaster homes this county so desperately needs. Luckily it looks like the government was listening, as Housing Minister Kit Malthouse tweeted about our event shortly afterwards!


Click here to register for our next breakfast briefing on the ‘Impact of an Ageing Population on Housing Provision’ to be held in Kent later this month.