& Transport

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The County Councils Network manifesto proposals for housing, infrastructure and transport outline the need for a long-term plan to create sustainable and thriving communities. This plan should encompass planning reform to provide stability and certainty to help deliver housing across all tenures to meet local needs, a new approach reforming infrastructure funding and supporting the return of statutory strategic planning. This manifesto also puts forward proposals to revive county bus services, support authorities to better maintain local roads, and roll out the necessary infrastructure to deliver the net-zero transition.    

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the cost of housing in counties is over 11 times annual average incomes, with the average house price now
at £309,000
homes delivered in county areas between 2018 and 2023
fewer bus journeys in
county areas in 2022 compared to 2010
of county authorities describe their infrastructure funding gap as ‘excessive’
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Our priorities

Our vision

County Council Network members want counties to be inclusive places, offering homes of all tenures and sizes so that there is a place for everyone to call home. Through a fully resourced, stable, and effective planning system, councils can deliver more affordable and private housing that tackles unaffordability, homelessness and reliance on temporary accommodation. Councils’ housing and planning services can also help ensure that all housing is of high quality and strives to meet net-zero goals.

At the heart of this should be sustainable placemaking. Thriving communities need new housing development with the right infrastructure to help people get to and from work, to support growth, and facilitate leisure and recreation activity, while road networks need to be well maintained and invested in to ease the burden on existing infrastructure.

Alongside this, sustainable waste services and transport networks should be at the heart of our areas. Reliable and affordable bus services connects people and places, supporting positive economic and social outcomes, while helping to achieve net-zero targets. Tackling climate change also requires investment - both public and private - to support the rollout of electric vehicles to encourage more people to make the move to electric vehicles by giving them the confidence that they are able to charge their vehicles wherever they go.

Priority 1


It is widely acknowledged that the country remains in the grips of an acute housing crisis. Increasingly unaffordability, as a result of a lack of supply, has led to a dramatic change in housing tenure. Housing in counties is the most unaffordable in England outside of London, with the average house price now £309,000 – over 11 times average annual earnings. As a result, between 2011 and 2021, the number of renters in county areas grew by over 500,000 (19%), while the number accessing homeownership fell by 200,000.

The increase in private renting is causing instability and uncertainty for residents, with short contracts and landlords able to evict tenants with little justification, while a shortage of social and affordable housing means has led to a rapid rise in homelessness and use of temporary accommodation. Since 2021, 18% more households were assessed as homeless in county areas – while temporary accommodation use is up 52% in county areas over the last five years. This is causing significant financial pressure for councils with housing responsibilities.

The challenges of housing an increasingly ageing population, alongside improving housing standards and climate considerations, are also playing out in county areas. Older people are often staying in unsuitable housing and more needs to be done to meet the demand of the growing market for specialist accommodation. Housing is also key contributor to carbon emissions, with around 17% of the UK’s Co2 emissions coming from heating our homes and high levels of housing stock that  needs to be retrofitted.

The focus of government policy recently has been increasing pathways into home ownership which has been undertaken through a variety of demand-side policies, including Help to Buy. However, whilst these products do assist some in gaining their first steps on the housing ladder, they can also have the effect of increasing demand and pushing up prices - while also not meeting more pressing housing need, such as social rent. Moreover, while the sector has widely welcomed the Renters Reform Act to strengthen tenants rights, there is frustration that provisions to scrap Section 21 'no fault evictions' were removed at the last-minute meaning that the rental sector remains unreliable for tenants.

The County Councils Network proposals below set out how counties can work with an incoming government to tackle the housing crisis. This includes working with councils to deliver more genuinely affordable homes and socially rented properties, reviewing the right to buy, resetting housing benefit subsidy rates and increasing Homeless Prevention Grant funding. Alongside this, it needs to amended planning policy to allow councils to set more ambitious environmental standards for new housing, tackle overcrowding and improve tenants’ protections within the private rented sector.


Priority 2

Planning & infrastructure

Planning reform has been at the forefront of the domestic policy agenda in recent years, with an under resourced system in a constant state of flux due to a variety of incremental reforms. This has led to delays with local plan production, whilst authorities understandably pause for additional certainty and an increased trend of planning by appeal for sites that are less sustainable or able to gain community support. Compounding this has been an over reliance on extending permitted development rights to increase supply, which can have a negative impact on rural communities, be poorly designed, and lack supporting infrastructure.

Using the planning system to effectively deliver the right social and physical infrastructure is one of the biggest challenges to housing delivery, with a lack of faith that the system will deliver adequate improvements to already over-burdened infrastructure alongside new development. A County Councils Network survey in late 2021 showed every county authority faced pressure on their local infrastructure, with 58% of authorities describing this as excessive. The current government has attempted to improve the system of developer contributions by legislating for a new Infrastructure Levy, however there are widespread fears the levy would  raise less, not more, funding for vital infrastructure.

Overlaying this is a lack of joined-up strategic planning,  particularly in two-tier areas. Since 2010, when strategic planning at the county scale was removed, county councils - who are responsible for services such as education, transport, waste disposal and social care – have had no statutory involvement in the planning system. A lack of strategic planning outside of metropolitan areas hampers growth and has resulted in an un-coordinated approach to development in more rural areas. Moreover, recent proposed reforms to waste collection and disposal have left county, district and unitary authorities concerned over how they will be practically implemented and the funding available.

The County Councils Network proposals below sets out that an incoming  government should undergo an extensive engagement exercise with the wider sector to establish a planning system that works on the base of experience, and to an agreed set of principles. Other reforms should also include giving  planning authorities more control over the implementation of permitted development rights, while getting to grips with the resourcing and capacity of planning departments. Alongside this, an incoming government must put  forward proposals for mandating the return of statutory strategic planning at the county scale across already recognised county boundaries to deliver the right homes, in the right places, connected with the necessarily social and physical infrastructure.

Priority 3


The last decade has seen a marked decline in the availability of public transport in county areas. The County Councils Network’s recent research revealed that bus journeys in county areas are at an all-time low, with one in four services in these areas vanishing and 344 million fewer journeys in 2022 compared to 2010.  

Bus services have therefore been a major focus over the last Parliament, with the launch of the National Bus Strategy which promised enhanced bus services across the country. Despite the clear challenges in county areas, County Councils Network research showed that  these areas received just a third of the funding available through the National Bus Strategy. Moreover, while some progress has been achieved on supporting to counties to adopt ‘Enhanced Partnerships’, much of the focus and policy initiatives contained in the strategy were urban focused.

While reviving public transport options is critical, county roads remain England’s arteries and are vital to boosting national productivity. However, achieving a well-maintained network has become an increasing challenge for county and unitary councils owing to budget pressures, whilst inflation has dramatically driven up the cost of major capital schemes for resurfacing and improvements. Around 13,000 miles in county areas have been identified as needing maintenance, while councils continue to lack the powers to ensure utility companies do not undermine council efforts to maintain their local road network in the best condition possible.

Recognising that many people will continue to use private transport to get around – particularly in rural counties - it is important that adequate investment is also made to supporting electric vehicle charging. County Councils Network research has shown that while there has been a 560% increase in plug-in vehicles in counties, the number of publicly available charging points in county areas is lagging far behind the number available in urban areas; with just one every  9.5 miles.

The County Councils Network proposals below sets out that an incoming government should continue to focus on reviving bus services but do so in a way that targets policies tailored to the needs of county areas through a dedicated County Bus Services Strategy. The same bus franchising powers for Mayoral Combined Authorities should be extended to counties, while funding should be allocated on need, rather than a competitive basis. Alongside this, a comprehensive investment programme in local roads is needed and new powers should be granted to intervene with utility companies. Our proposals also set out the need to improve the rollout of EV infrastructure in rural areas.

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our proposals

Housing, Infrastructure & transport

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Planning reform
Providing stability in the planning system, alongside the reintroduction of strategic planning at the county scale
  • Provide stability in the planning system through an extensive programme of engagement with the local government sector before implementing major reforms.
  • Mandate strategic planning across county areas to unlock growth and ensure that housing and infrastructure are planned together. The new government should build on proposals outlined in the report by the County Councils Network (see here).  
  • Provide adequate protections to existing local plans whilst planning authorities are preparing new local plans. This should include working closely with unitary authorities to agree a longer timeframe for getting new local plans in place which cover larger geographies and entail greater complexity.
  • Planning authorities should be granted more control over the implementation of Permitted Development Rights, including greater autonomy over where they apply across their areas.
  • Work with planning authorities to understand their resourcing and capacity challenges and provide a sustainable financial settlement and greater freedom to set planning fees locally.
  • Require existing short-term lets to apply for planning permission for a change of use, and implement a licensing scheme for all holiday lets.
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Reforming the existing system of developer contributions to achieve an infrastructure-first approach
  • An incoming government should not proceed with the implementation of the infrastructure levy. Instead, it should work with local authorities to improve the existing system of developer contributions through reforming S106 and the Community Infrastructure Levy.
  • Through the reintroduction of strategic planning, local authorities should be given a new duty to jointly identify strategic infrastructure requirements that would support growth across multiple areas.
  • The new government should explore the benefits of pooling developer contributions, allowing areas to deliver strategic projects more quickly.
  • The National Infrastructure Commission should establish a board of rural commissioners to examine the needs of rural areas and putting forward recommendations as part of the National Infrastructure Assessment.
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housing needs & homelessness
Supporting the delivery of housing across all tenures & tackling homelessness
  • National planning policy should promote the delivery of a mix of tenures, particularly on large sites, building on the recommendations of the Letwin Review.  
  • Drive the supply of genuinely affordable housing across the sector that meets local need, including an ambitious programme to deliver more socially rented homes. Government should continue to provide funding through the Affordable Homes Programme to support a wide range of genuinely affordable housing, but this should focus on homes for social rent where there is a high need.
  • Reset housing benefit subsidy rates to 90% of current market rates, in addition to increasing Homeless Prevention Grant funding to support temporary accommodation pressures.
  • Review Local Housing Allowance Rates to ensure that they are keeping pace with market rates and thereby providing tenants with increased housing security.
  • Commit to undertaking a review of the Right to Buy in the context of a need to drastically increase the number of homes available for social rent.
  • Introduce a new planning use class (C2R) to encourage the development of retirement communities.
County Bus Services
Powers and funding to revive county bus networks, while supporting on-demand services
  • Commit to a long-term revenue funding settlement for bus services at the 2024 Spending Review and move away from competitive bidding processes to allocate funding for improving bus services based on need.  
  • The newly launched Bus Centre for Excellence should work with County Councils’ Network members on a dedicated County Bus Service support package that recognises the unique challenges and opportunities faced across county areas. A new government should use this to inform a future dedicated County Bus Strategy.
  • Government should make the fare cap scheme permanent, amending it to a ‘journey scheme’ allowing passengers to make one interchange on a bus journey, and consider new freedoms and flexibilities for local transport authorities to help bridge the gap between funding and expenditure of concessionary fares.
  • The same bus franchising powers and process on offer to Mayoral areas should be given to all Local Transport Authorities, enabling them to establish franchising more quickly in their areas.
  • Support county authorities to consider the benefits of a regional approach to the commissioning and delivery of Demand-Responsive Transport.
  • Work with operators and transport authorities to roll out the infrastructure required to support environmentally sustainable bus fleets.
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Housing standards
Improving standards and rights in private and social renting
  • Seek to remove Section 21 'no fault evictions' as quickly as possible to increase protection for tenants in the private rented sector.  
  • Introduce a statutory decent homes standard to apply in the private rented sector.
  • Work with the sector on a new strategy to reduce and prevent overcrowding.
  • Mandate that homes delivered through Permitted Development Rights should contribute to local infrastructure through the developer contributions system.
  • Government should commit a core funding stream to local government to assist them in meeting their net-zero goals and retrofit housing stocks.
  • The National Planning Policy Framework should be amended to allow local authorities to set more ambitious environmental standards for new development through their local plans.
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Green Infrastructure
Supporting the comprehensive roll-out of electric vehicle and active-travel infrastructure in rural areas
  • There should be further rounds of Local Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (LEVI) funding in the final five years of the decade. This should follow the needs-based formula of the current LEVI fund distribution, and proportionate focus must be given to county areas.  
  • Set out an ambitious target for electrical vehicle infrastructure across every county area by 2030, such as one charge point for every mile, and set out practical steps for how to achieve this.
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Waste & recycling
Ensuring a sustainable and fair waste system that works for all
  • Government needs to provide certainty to both waste collection and disposal authorities in relation to the ongoing waste reforms, working with councils and producers to implement proposals successfully and in a coordinated way.  
  • Work with waste authorities on the statutory instruments behind the waste reforms to ensure they lead to a coherent and workable system that produces better outcomes, reducing waste and increasing reuse and recycling.
  • Work with authorities to reduce the financial risk of waste reform and commit to funding new costs waste collection and disposal to ensure that all elements of the system are funded.
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Roads & highways
New powers for councils to improve local roads and intervene with utility companies
  • Provide adequate capital funding to allow county authorities to sufficiently maintain their road networks. Regional funding recently outlined as part of the Network North Plan should be maintained but the allocations should be bought forward to allow sustained investment and improvements over the next three years.  
  • In line with this manifesto’s policy proposals on devolution and local growth, government should aim to provide county authorities and Combined County Authorities with a consolidated long-term capital budget as part of Level 3 devolution deals.
  • Ensure that county authorities continue to receive a fair share of roads maintenance funding. This should be primary distributed in line with the road miles maintained by each local authority but also recognise other factors such as congestion and usage.
  • Consult on a package of new powers for councils to intervene with utility companies where road works overrun and ensure councils can better maintain their roads network. This should include increasing fines for overrunning works, extending the warranty of period of works from two to five years, and reducing the temporary reinstatement period to at least three months.

Our Evidence Base

Research Reports & Key Findings
Housing in counties report cover

CCN Analysis: Housing in Counties

This CCN Analysis report provided an extensive overview of housing trends in counties over the last decade. The study vividly illustrates why the next government should set out a long-term plan for housing, and sets out what this plan should encompass.

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Key findings:

  • Households renting either privately or through a social housing in rural and county areas has increased by 19% between 2011 and 2021, a total of 550,000 extra households.
  • There has been a dramatic rise in private renting in county areas and rural areas, with 450,000 extra households renting in 2021 compared to 2011 – a 31% increase, which is higher than London’s increase of 25%.
  • The average county property price is now 11.1 times higher than average annual wages.
  • County communities face these challenges despite councils in  those county and rural areas overseeing 606,000 extra homes delivered between 2018 and 2023, higher than the rest of the country combined. Of these, 42,000 were affordable homes – more than double than the rest of the country combined.
  • Waiting lists for council housing in those areas has increased by 10% between 2018 and 2023, temporary accommodation use is up by 52% over the last five years and homelessness has risen 18% over the last three years.
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State of County Buses report cover

County Buses: Recovering Services Post Pandemic

This report examines the state of county bus services over the last decade, including analysing service levels in county areas in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent national bus strategy. It put forward detailed recommendations to revive county bus services.    

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Key findings:

  • More than one in every four bus services has vanished in county areas over the last decade. Between 2010-22, vehicle miles reduced by 26.5% in CCN areas, higher than London and metropolitan borough councils.
  • Rural and county areas have witnessed the biggest percentage decline (-44%) with 344 million fewer journeys in 2022 compared to 2010.
  • The number of council-supported bus miles in county areas has fallen dramatically by almost 60%; from 140 million miles a year in 2010 to 58  million miles in 2022. Commercial operators have increasingly stopped services since the onset of the pandemic. The number of services, as measured in miles, has decreased by 15.6% since 2019, a drop of 51.2m miles in county  areas.
  • Areas with the smallest decline in passenger numbers outside of London received the most out of the £1.1bn Bus Service Improvement funding. Metropolitan council areas that saw a 7.4% decline in passenger numbers to 2019 received £739m. The county areas that received no funding from the first round of funding witnessed the biggest decline in passenger numbers: a drop of 16%.
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Improving Infrastructure Funding and Delivery

This report examined in detail the funding and delivery of infrastructure in counties, the developer contributions system and proposals to introduce an Infrastructure Levy. The report put forward wide-ranging recommendation to improve the delivery and funding of infrastructure in counties.    

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Key findings:

  • Infrastructure worth £1.3 trillion could be required over the next fifteen years as a result of projected household growth, but many county areas already have significant infrastructure shortages, putting pressure on public services and roads.  
  • The current system is already heavily skewed towards funding affordable housing. In total, developer contributions funded £4.6bn  in affordable housing – 66% of the total £7bn pot raised. However, just £439m (6%) went to education, £294m (4%) on transport and travel and £219m on community spaces and buildings (3%). In total, £830m (12%) were CIL contributions.
  • There are already significant regional variations in what councils are able to spend on infrastructure as a result of developer contributions. Councils in the South East (£99 per head), London (£82 per head) and the South West (£67 per head) are able to spend considerably more than councils in the North West (£22 per head), Yorkshire and the Humber (£19 per head) and the North East (£13 per person).
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