Abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies: a planning vacuum? - Communities and Local Government Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Views of regional spatial strategies

1.  The Government must ensure that the beneficial and positive aspects of RSSs, in particular for integrating infrastructure, economic development, housing, data collection and environment protection, are not swept away, but are retained in any new planning framework. (Paragraph 13)

Implications of the abolition of regional spatial strategies

2.  The High Court ruling against the attempted revocation of regional spatial strategies means that there is time to think through appropriate transitional arrangements before RSSs are abolished. We recommend that the Government adopt a more evidence-based and consultative approach to policy making in the future, especially in an area such as planning, where pragmatism and consensus are valuable assets in securing active rather than reluctant consent to new approaches to local involvement in decisions affecting people's everyday lives. (Paragraph 19)

3.   The peremptory abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies has created a hiatus in the planning framework, which risks producing a damaging inertia. We recommend that the Government issue guidance, as soon as possible, compliant with the existing law, to assist local authorities and others on how to address the important strategic planning issues covered by RSSs and how to continue work on Local Development Frameworks. When the law changes, there will be a need for formal transitional arrangements, and the Localism Bill should clarify those arrangements to explain how the current planning system will be enabled to continue to guide development after the Localism Bill becomes law until the new arrangements are up and running. (Paragraph 27)

Strategic planning

4.   We recommend that the Government include effective strategic planning arrangements in the Localism Bill, and that it work with all sectors to devise and promulgate an agreed approach to larger-than-local planning across a number of authorities. The Government needs to ensure a biting obligation on local authorities to have regard to the evidence and to meet identified needs. This obligation should be specified in national policy and in particular, the tests of soundness for local development frameworks. In each case, national policy should highlight the objective, the data sources or assessment mechanisms used to identify the need, and the mechanism for ensuring that each local planning authority makes an appropriate contribution to meeting the need identified (reflecting different environmental constraints, policy objectives or other practical considerations). The Planning Inspectorate should implement these requirements to ensure a consistent basis for assessing plans brought forward at the local level. (Paragraph 43)

Controversial strategic issues

5.  The supply of aggregate minerals and planning for waste will, for the time being, remain within local planning authorities. These are matters that reside well with upper tier authorities, although there should also be guidance to them from the strategic level. We are concerned that the confusion that arose in evidence over whether the function might move to the Planning Inspectorate (as successor to the Infrastructure Planning Commission) shows again the unduly hasty approach to reform of RSSs. A body of skill and experience has built up over the years, in partnership forums, to shape planning for both aggregate minerals and waste planning. We urge the Government to retain these arrangements, which have shown themselves to be advantageous, cheap and a means of keeping the anxiety over these difficult planning issues to a minimum. (Paragraph 48)

6.   We support the continuation of the CLG Gypsy and Traveller Forum, but see the need for urgent guidance to local authorities to support them in their new role following the abolition of planning for Gypsies and Travellers at the regional level. (Paragraph 57)

7.   We recommend that the Government ensure that a new strategic framework is developed to incorporate the environmental aspects of planning; that framework should be included in the Localism Bill. National targets on environmental issues such as renewable energy will need to be distributed to each local authority preparing a local development framework, following a period of consultation and engagement with interested parties. (Paragraph 60)

Local authorities' 'duty to co-operate'

8.  We look forward to the Government bringing forward amendments to the Localism Bill which will provide a framework for local authorities to work within, outlining what actions local authorities should take in their duty to cooperate, how they measure success or failure, how parties may insist on the delivery of what has been agreed, and default options if there is inadequate cooperation. (Paragraph 72)

Local Enterprise Partnerships

9.  We support the concept of local partnership arrangements to which local enterprise partnerships are giving effect. Nevertheless, we are pleased that the Government has not advocated giving planning powers to LEPs. LEPs are not under any compulsion to consider environmental or social issues or to consider the multitude of interests that concern planning. Their primary purpose is 'enterprise', which as an advocacy function cannot sit comfortably with statutory democratic regulation. Local authorities and others need to work with LEPs, and to have regard to them in preparing their local development frameworks and when deciding planning applications; for their part, LEPs should demonstrate a responsibility for achieving sustainable development. However, LEPs are not a suitable vehicle for strategic planning. (Paragraph 81)

10.  We recommend, in line with our earlier recommendations about the framework for 'larger-than-local' planning, that the Government ensure that a robust mechanism is in place to assess, and ensure that each local authority plays its part in meeting, wider housing need. (Paragraph 101)

Housing targets

11.  We welcome the Government's recognition of the need for more homes. We especially welcome its intention of ensuring that more homes are built in total than were built immediately before the recession, and of building 150,000 affordable homes over the next four years (although this is not an exceptional number by historic standards). However, we question whether either of these aspirations will be achievable under the Government's current proposals for the planning system. With the figures for new house building contained in local authorities' plans already estimated to have reduced by 200,000 following the announcement of the abolition of RSSs, we conclude that the Government may well be faced with a stark choice in deciding whether to compromise either on its intention to build more homes than the previous Government, or on its desire to promote localism in decisions of this kind. No evidence was produced to support the Government's view that local authorities will achieve comparable rates of house building to those in the past, let alone an increase. If the evidence of success fails to materialise very quickly, the Government is going to have to review its selection of levers of influence. We recommend that the Government report back to the House in two years' time on the extent to which the measures it is taking are achieving the aim of increasing the rates of building of both affordable and market homes. (Paragraph 102)

New Homes Bonus

12.  We recommend that the Government ensure that the New Homes Bonus scheme keeps the local development plan at its heart, where planning decisions are based on sound evidence and judged against criteria which include issues of sustainability. It should do so by explicitly linking the Bonus to homes provided for in the local plan following robust assessments of housing need. We agree that it should be paid only when those homes are actually built. (Paragraph 132)

13.  We recommend that the Government redesign the New Homes Bonus so that it better rewards the meeting of demonstrable need for affordable housing. (Paragraph 133)

Evidence and monitoring

14.   We recommend that the Government bring forward proposals which will ensure that robust and consistent evidence to support local development plans is produced and regularly updated in the most effective and efficient manner. It is not acceptable for Ministers to abdicate their responsibilities in this regard by leaving all the responsibility with under-resourced and under-skilled local planning authorities. (Paragraph 143)

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