Careers Advice: Qualities you need for making the duty to co-operate work

Written by: Liz Hobden
Published On: 8 Sep 2017

Brighton

Brighton & Hove presents huge challenges for a policy planner attempting to put a robust and sound development plan in place. (I’m very glad to say we adopted our City Plan in March 2016).

What are some of these challenges?

  • The city needs to meet high housing and employment space needs. For example, the 2030 requirement for housing over the 5 years the plan was prepared increased from 16,000 to over 30,000 new homes whilst capacity could only be found for 11,400 new homes (at submission).

  • Constraints to growth are the sea to the south (though there have been suggestions that we could extend into the sea!) and the South Downs National Park to the north and east.

  • There are competing development pressures for land between housing, employment space, purpose built student accommodation, hotels and leisure development.

  • Brighton & Hove is politically complex. The City Plan was prepared over the life of three different minority administrations (Labour, Conservative and Green).  

Alert to the need to demonstrate that we’d looked at all options to meet our objectively-assessed housing needs, we undertook pro-active of work with our neighbours (duty to co-operate). This initially started with holding cross-authority meetings, requesting assistance with our housing shortfall, entering into statements of common ground; and building on existing partnerships.

The most effective joint authority measure has been joint working. Brighton & Hove and Lewes District joined the Coastal West Sussex Strategic Planning Board in 2012. This has been a successful partnership willing to work together to commission joint evidence and prepare Local Strategic Statements (LSSs) to assist with plan-making. Although the LSS doesn’t go beyond existing plan allocations, and the Strategic Planning Board is not decision-making, this is a significant step towards effective cross-boundary working. It has given the authorities a level of strategic thinking which is particularly helpful in bidding for strategic infrastructure funds and promoting economic growth. The key challenge of meeting unmet housing needs, however, remains insoluble and is likely to remain so under the duty to co-operate.

In terms of the City Plan, the good news was that the City Plan planning inspector accepted that BHCC had met the duty to cooperate test. However, she needed further convincing that the city had genuinely ‘looked under every stone’ to meet housing needs. This led to a further study to look for housing sites in the urban fringe. Though the study found a potential 39 sites this only added up 1,000 additional units (a fraction of the identified need) across 11 different wards. Ultimately the agreement to this required a brave and difficult decision by BHCC councillors (particularly in an election year). Ultimately the plan was found sound with only 47 per cent of OAHN being met.

So, looking at my experience of duty to co-operate in Sussex and Greater Brighton I have the following 5 top tips for success:

  1. Use existing partnerships- build on existing partnerships and joint working in your area. BHCC already had a history of close working with East Sussex County Council; we were able to build on planning work with West Sussex authorities (Shoreham Harbour), and use the work of the Greater Brighton Economic Board.

  2. Collaborative working – you, as planners in different authorities, need to build links and be aware of the political interests of each other’s authorities. For example, in many cases housing growth may not be a vote winner for local councillors whilst economic growth and new jobs are.

  3. Resilience – in duty to co-operate and plan-making as a rule you need to be able to roll with the punches. Remain patient, calm and flexible as you see national policy rules change before your eyes and your housing requirements escalate.

  4. Collect and log evidence continuously – log all of your evidence of duty to co-operate as you go along – meetings, letters, agreements and statements of common ground etc. This will underpin the duty to cooperate statement for your Examination Hearing.

  5. Duty to co-operate is not a duty to agree – as confirmed by the recent St Albans High Court decision. Although it is essential that you make all efforts to work positively and effectively through duty to co-operate, it may not be possible to resolve the trickiest of planning issues in your area.

Liz Hobden is head of planning, city development and regeneration at Brighton & Hove City Council.