Memorandum by Torbay Council (RG 90)
1.1 To inform the Group Leaders about the
possible reorganisation of local and regional government in England.
2.1 All Corporate objectives would be affected
by the reorganisation of local government. Most directly, it would
affect corporate improvement and the efficient delivery of services.
2.2 Strategic planning is currently carried
out by the Regional Assembly, which prepares the Regional Spatial
Strategy (RSS). This has a significant effect on all corporate
priorities that involve the use of land, (eg improving Torbay's
economy, improving access to affordable housing, valuing our environment
and creating sustainable communities).
3.1 That the Council makes representations
to the ODPM Commons Select Committee supporting the principle
of devolution of powers from regional assemblies to enlarged unitary
4. REASON FOR
4.1 Effective local government reorganisation
would help Torbay meet its Corporate Objectives more effectively
and improve service delivery.
4.2 There is an increased emphasis on city
regions and sub-regions as a unit of planning. These reflect housing
markets, travel to work areas, retail and school catchment areas.
Structuring local government to reflect how localities function
would assist good governance.
5. KEY RISKS
5.1 There would be no immediate impact on
Torbay of not making comments on the ODPM Committee. However in
the longer term, reorganisation represents a significant opportunity
to improve local government structures. It is appropriate for
Torbay to have an input into the process.
6.1 The Council does not need to comment,
in which case its view would not be considered. However, it is
important that the views and needs of smaller authorities are
considered, as well as the large metropolitan areas, who stand
to gain most from becoming city regions
71. Lyons Review. The Government
has also commissioned Sir Michael Lyons to inquire into funding
of Local Government. In September 2005 it broadened the terms
of reference to cover the role of government and scope for devolution.
An interim progress report has been published and recommendations
will be made in late 2006. The Lyons Inquiry will feed into a
White Paper, also expected in late 2006.
7.2 Comments and Relevant to Torbay.
It would appear that reorganisation may be some way off and is
tied up with the difficult issue of local government finance.
In addition it may be influenced by political and governance considerations.
Many observers consider that the concept of the "city region"
is an appropriate model for governance. but this could change.
A common criticism of Regional Government is that it is distance
and there is a democratic deficit. Major strategic decisions affecting
Torbay are made in Taunton by a combination of unelected and indirectly
elected decision makers.
7.3 However, if Torbay Council does not
engage with the Regional Assembly and other regional bodies, it
will lose investment and other input into addressing regeneration,
housing, infrastructure and other needs.
7.4 Regional Spatial Strategy and Joint
Study Area. Torbay's spatial planning policy is affected by
the Regional Assembly in various ways. Under the Planning and
Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 the Regional Assembly is charged
with preparing the Regional Spatial Strategy for the South West.
This is part of the development plan and sets strategic matters,
such has housing numbers to 2026. The Act and accompanying guidance
require sub-regional studies to be prepared to feed into RSS.
7.5 The Torbay and South Devon Sub-Regional
Study has informed the RSS preparation. This has involved extensive
sub-regional work with neighbouring authorities. In addition,
planning is increasingly reflecting housing market and travel
to work areas, rather than district boundaries. There would, however,
be a number of significant issues to be resolved in relation to
formalising the Torbay and South Devon Sub Region. In particular
Teignbridge sees itself as gravitating towards Exeter, whilst
some people consider Marldon to be an entirely self-contained
settlement. However the sub regional work, which was led by Torbay,
points to the close links areas such as employment, health and
housing between Torbay and the rest of the South Devon area. There
are also links between the Torbay and South Devon and the Exeter
7.6 Draft Planning Policy Statement 3 requires
local planning authorities to prepare joint housing market area
studies (HMAS) and housing land availability studies (HLAS). These
will assess the demand and supply of housing on a sub-regional
basis. Torbay, Exeter and other Devon authorities are currently
preparing a sub-regional market area study. This will examine
housing need and demand in the various housing markets across
7.7 Suggested Response on Behalf of Torbay
Council. Although the 23 January deadline has passed, It would
be appropriate to make a representation to the ODPM Select Committee
setting out the following broad points:
The principle of devolving power
to local authorities is supported, in line with the principle
of subsidiarity. Regional Assemblies have tended to take powers
up from County level (eg Strategic Planning) rather than devolve
them down from Central Government.
Local Authorities must be properly
funded to carry out the functions that Central Government requires.
As long as Councils are supplicants of Central Government, they
will never have autonomy. This is currently being investigated
by the Lyons Inquiry.
Councils should have greater
autonomy in spending revenues arising in their area. For example
any Planning Gain Supplement (PGS) should be ring fenced to the
area that it arises in to meet the need to create sustainable
communities. Otherwise there is a danger that it could disappear
into Government's general spending.
Regional spatial strategies
are an appropriate planning tool to set a strategic framework,
so long as they are properly informed by sub-regional studies.
Now that (county wide) structure plans have been abolished, it
makes more sense to base sub-regional strategies on housing market
areas and travel to work areas.
There will need to be a regional
level planning body, with responsibility for RSS preparation.
In the absence of a fully democratic regional assembly, the option
of transferring their role (and staff) government regional offices
would reduce duplication. This should be accompanied by a strengthened
role for 4(4) structure plan authorities. This would build on
the Government's reforms to the planning system in the Planning
and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 and help to focus further the
role of the planning system on delivering sustainable development.
It would also enhance the role of government offices for the regions
and help ensure the compliance of RSS with Government Policy.
There could be a conflict of interest between Government Regional
Offices as purveyors of Government policy and as a regional planning
body. This would need to be considered carefully.
There is a role for larger unitary
authorities in city regions, particularly where this relates to
housing market or travel to work areas.
The non-city region hinterland
will need to be considered carefully. Any system needs to ensure
that their requirements are met and they are not treated as a
"rural rump". However, there are successful Unitary
Authorities in rural areas.
Exeter is likely to be the "economic
power house" and principal growth area in Devon. There is
therefore logic in an Exeter City Region.
Torbay is already a Unitary
Authority and a principal urban area. However, the travel to work
area and housing market area extend beyond the local authority
boundary and include areas of the South Hams and Teignbridge.
Therefore it would be appropriate for the Torbay and South Devon
Sub Region to encompass parts of the neighbouring areas, including
part of the area of overlap with the Exeter Sub Region.
It is desirable that some form
of County identity remains, due to their historic and cultural
importance. However, this does no necessarily have to be invested
in formal county councils.