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Government confirms two new unitary authorities for Northamptonshire

A plan for two new unitary authorities to replace six current district and one county authority in Northamptonshire has been announced by the Communities Secretary James Brokenshire.

The new authorities will not be in operation until 1 April 2021, a year later than originally planned.

The current Northamptonshire County Council has been beset by management and financial problems over the past decade.

Brokenshire has said that two shadow authorities will be set up in 2020 during a transition period and local elections to the new councils will then take place in May next year.

As well as two new unitary councils, a children's trust will also be established to deliver children’s services on behalf of both of the two new authorities.

Housing Associations should be seen as key partners

The government has said housing associations are a key partner when it comes to driving forward new housing developments. It expects the sector to step up and increase delivery of new homes and move away from a reliance on Section 106 homes.

Working in partnership with the private sector could unlock many acres of land across the country – in both rural and urban areas. Housing Associations are often major landowners looking for deals to bring new schemes forward – including mixed-use as well as pure residential projects.

A mixture of housing need and a relaxation of government rules governing housing association’s spending means the sector is set to play an even more significant role in housing supply in the years ahead.

Garden Town for Otterpool

Folkestone & Hythe Council and Cozumel Estates have submitted an application for outline planning for a new garden town of over 8,000 homes at Otterpool Park.

In February MHCLG announced £9 million funding to help pay for master-planning and technical studies for 21 new garden towns and villages across England. This included £1.2 million for Otterpool Park which will be built to the west of Folkestone, close to the M20, rail links and the Kent coast.

This is all part of the government’s national garden communities programme to deliver 200,000 properties by 2050.

The outline Otterpool Park planning application proposes a range of housing types, both market and affordable, up to 9,000 new jobs, a health centre, nursery, primary and secondary schools. There will be 50% green space in the new town as well as the potential for it to grow to 10,000 homes.

Homes will be located within walking distance of shops, local amenities and services and with connections by bus and rail to the wider area there will be excellent transport links. Enhanced heritage and landscape features and a 20% biodiversity net gain across the whole site is also envisaged.

Find out more

Nearly £250 million of housing deals approved

Nearly £250 million of housing deals will deliver almost 25,000 more homes, the Communities Secretary James Brokenshire announced in February.

As part of this, the government will invest £157 million in infrastructure such as building roads and putting natural green space alongside developments to encourage and support private investment.

A new partnership has also been struck by the government’s housing accelerator Homes England to build over 10,000 properties on Ministry of Defence land on 7 military bases across the country.

Neighbourhood plans face referendum rejection

The local referendum for Middlewich Neighbourhood Plan took place on the 14 March and 1,085 residents voted against while 1,063 voted for, on a turnout of 18.9%.

The result followed a successful campaign led by local Labour councillors, one of whom said, “There were too many open-ended issues within this plan which would have been bad for our town.” 

Swanwick, in Derbyshire, and Thornton, in Hull, had previously rejected their Neighbourhood Plans in local referenda as well. Cheshire East has made 22 neighbourhood plans to date.

With a population of 14,000, Middlewich was by far the largest settlement to vote against a plan; it identified sites for up to 1,950 homes allocated by Cheshire East Council.

Frank Jordan, Cheshire East Council’s executive director for place, said: “The council continues to be an enthusiastic supporter of plan making in communities across the borough and has resources to advise and support the development of plans by town and parish councils. Should Middlewich Town Council wish to pursue the neighbourhood plan project further, resource and advice remain available from the planning authority.”

East Midlands Development Corporation launched

The government has signed off £2 million in funds towards establishing an East Midlands Development Corporation.

Chancellor Philip Hammond first announced the funding at the Conservative Party Conference last year. Since then, business and civic leaders have worked together on an action plan for the development corporation that includes a large number of employment and residential opportunities.

A statement from regional transport body Midlands Connect says the focus should be on maximising and accelerating development opportunities and strategic transport connectivity across the East Midlands to help bring increased growth to the region.

The new development corporation will aim to encourage and bring forward the creation of tens of thousands of new jobs and thousands of new homes on sites across the East Midlands.

Read more about the move

Homes England appointments

Homes England has announced Lynda McMullan has been appointed Chief Finance Officer, joining the agency from the Metropolitan Police, where she was Director of Commercial and Finance, having previously held roles at the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, the National Audit Office and in local government.

She will be responsible for shaping the agency’s finance function and managing a net programme budget of £6.5 billion per year, including operational expenditure of £120 million, and a £30 billion balance sheet.

Amy Casterton was confirmed as the permanent Chief of Staff having served as Chief of Staff on an interim basis since October 2017. She will continue to head up the Executive Office.

Casterton had run a private office at the Department for Culture Media and Sport and headed a Government Tailored Review of UK Anti-Doping. She has also been commercial director of a major events company in Brazil and led partnership activations for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as well as acting as the first Head of Public Policy at the Premier League.

Why we need walking and cycling routes more than ever

We are on the cusp of dramatic changes in the way we own, use and power our means of transportation, argues Sustrans CEO Xavier Brice.

The mobility revolution is shifting from an ‘if’ to a ‘where’ and ‘when’, with everyone involved in the built environment desperately trying to work out what that means on both a macro and micro level.

As we move towards a future of autonomous vehicles we need to start with the end result in mind. What type of places do we want to live in? How do we want to relate to each other? How do we want to live? How will not just homes, but streets, towns and cities operate in the future?

No matter how clever the technological interface between autonomous vehicles and people, we will still need dedicated safe space for the public to move under their own power – to walk and cycle – away from vehicles. As a civil society we will need to fight for this to ensure it happens.

And for this reason, the creation of vehicle-free space – a network of walking and cycling paths for everyone, is as important, and as radical, as it has ever been.

To read more on Xavier’s views, go to

Why our cities keep growing

Sometimes overlooked in stories about the UK’s population growth is the importance of our regional cities. While many large towns in the south and east of England are busy becoming small cities in their own right, it is in our established urban conurbations where population growth is arguably having an even more profound effect.

As well as London, our next tier cities – Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds – tell a compelling story of growth.

Birmingham has added more than 50,000 people since 2011 which now puts its city population at 1.15 million, while Manchester has put on 20,000 people since 2011 to bring its city population up to 560,000. Meanwhile, Leeds has put on an extra 33,000 people bringing its city population to 790,000.

Our major cities are growing by up to 3% every year, a remarkable achievement when compared with previous depopulation in the 30 year period up to 2000.

These cities are increasingly popular relocation choices for generations across the spectrum, particularly millennial professionals attracted by the quality of life and value for money the regional capitals represent. 

As our population continues to grow, demand for new homes is something that affects every locality, be it urban, suburban or rural, and crosses right across all demographics and backgrounds. The need for new homes in our cities shows no sign of slowing.

Economic headlines

In March the Bank of England published "Money and Credit", revealing new mortgage lending data for February. It said mortgage approvals for house purchase fell back slightly, to 64,300, also slightly below the average of the previous six months of 65,500.

Approvals for remortgaging, meanwhile, were 47,700, below the 49,500 average of the previous six months. Individuals’ net borrowing through mortgages was slightly weaker, at £3.5 billion, below the £3.8 billion average of the past six months.

In April, the Halifax also published its house price index for March showing that, month on month, house prices fell 1.6%. Quarter by quarter they rose by 1.6% and year on year by 3.2%.

Halifax said: "The 1.6% monthly fall...partly corrects the significant growth seen last month and again demonstrates the risk in focusing too heavily on short-term, volatile measures...the number of mortgages being approved remains around 40% below pre-financial crisis levels, and we know that lower levels of activity can lead to bigger price movements.”

They added: "...The need to build up a deposit before getting a mortgage is still a challenge for many looking to buy a property. However, the combined effect of fewer houses for sale and fewer people looking to buy continues to support prices in the long-term ...we continue to expect subdued price growth for the time being.”