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

Written evidence from the Local Government Association (LGA) (ARSS 142)


The Local Government Group has long argued that local people, through their directly-elected councils, should have the power to shape their neighbourhoods, guide local development and growth, and have direct access to the benefits that come from new housing and other developments. The Group therefore supported the principles behind "Open Source Planning" and has welcomed the Government's movements away from regionalised planning targets towards a framework which will allow local people increased say in their local area.

However, there are many unanswered questions on the precise details of the planning system that will replace the now-abolished Regional Spatial Strategies, and how the development of new homes will be encouraged. The Local Government Group is keen to work closely with the Government now on a new system that will allow local people to take charge of their areas while ensuring democratic accountability, strategic direction and expertise through local government leadership.

The New Homes Bonus concept is attractive, though further information on the practicalities of how this will work is needed. On regional planning, Local Enterprise Partnerships can provide a powerful mechanism for strategic direction across local authority boundaries, but they must have the freedoms and flexibilities to cover the full range of inter-linked issues that underpin local economic performance, including planning.


1.  The LGA is a voluntary membership body and our 422 member authorities cover every part of England and Wales. Together they represent over 50 million people and spend around £113 billion a year on local services. They include county councils, metropolitan district councils, English unitary authorities, London boroughs and shire district councils, along with fire authorities, police authorities, national park authorities and integrated transport authorities.

2.  The LG Group supported the principles behind the Conservative Party's "Open Source Planning" document, published in February 2010. The proposals within the document reflect the LGA's fundamental principles that people should have the power to shape the places in which they live, that councils are uniquely positioned as the accountable public body to plan for their communities, and that unlocking councils' potential to play a leadership role is critical to the delivery of housing and other development.

3.  We are keen to ensure that the Government's programme for planning reform genuinely works from the bottom up, with local councils and communities collaborating and setting out their vision and plans.

4.  It is vitally important that the Government recognises that local authorities have been involved in democratically accountable local decision-making for many years, and have the local knowledge and the expertise to act as local leaders in drawing up plans and taking into account the needs of their entire areas.

5.  It is therefore important to for the sector to understand, as soon as possible, what new approaches will be required of them as a result of the Government's new planning system, over and above existing practice. This will allow councils to avoid creating costly duplication or wasting effort.

6.  Strong local plans will set out the needs of communities and local economies, while providing the clarity and clarity that the development industry needs to invest in an area.


7.  The Government has acted quickly on its commitment to reform the planning system to bring decisions on development closer to the communities they affect. Local government has long campaigned for an end to prescriptive central policy on planning which has prevented councils from creating and delivering local visions for how their places should develop.

8.  The abolition of regional house building gives new opportunities to plan proactively and make decisions according to communities' interests and needs.


9.  The Government has proposed replacing housing targets and the pre-existing Housing and Planning Delivery Grant with the New Homes Bonus, an incentive that would match the increase a council receives in council tax receipts for each additional house built for six years (along with a similar proposal for business rates for non residential development). The incentive would be funded through top-slicing general grant funding to local authorities.

10.  Councils support this idea of incentives in principle. Ensuring that the infrastructure, facilities and services will be available to support new housing will help to make new development acceptable to communities. The proposed financial incentives could assist, but it is important that they are sufficient to bring forward the scale of housing development needed in many areas.

11.  We have several concerns about how the New Homes Bonus will work in practice:

(i)  As it is funded from the Revenue Support Grant (RSG), those areas that build less than the national average will see reductions in their grant funding to fund incentive payments for those areas building higher than average numbers of homes. It is vital that the incentives work in all areas of the country, including those areas where poor quality or unwanted housing needs to be replaced to stimulate demand.

(ii)  For the incentives to be effective, councils will need certainty about how much they can expect to gain, but this will depend on understanding the numbers of homes being built in all areas of the country.

(iii)  In addition, it is unclear how the incentive will be calculated on an annual basis if it is funded from a four year grant settlement.

(iv)  The incentives must be put in place quickly and be capable of responding to different housing market conditions if they are to be effective in different local areas.

(v)  Most importantly, the New Homes Bonus should be implemented as part of a coherent package of incentives incorporating local development tariffs and local government's proposals for joining up capital and revenue funding through place-based budgets, so that development brings benefits to communities.


12.  The LG Group supports the principle of responsibility and leadership from the bottom up for "larger than local" planning. Central government, however, will need to ensure councils have all the powers, levers and resources they need to plan strategically and in partnership where appropriate—through Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) or other partnership arrangements

13.  It is vital that Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) are flexible enough to suit other self-determined sub regional partnership arrangements. LEPs should be as broad as councils and local businesses want them to be. Many areas want their LEP to cover the full range of inter-linked issues that underpin local economic performance such as local transport provision and infrastructure investment, housing, regeneration, business support and advice (including better regulation), skills and employment, training provision, or support for individual sectors such as tourism. This may be through direct budget-holding and decision-making, or through taking a strategic role and influencing decisions by councils, businesses and other agencies.

14.  We are already undertaking work with the Planning Advisory Service and the Planning Officers' Society on projects to share examples of collective, cross boundary plan-making and to disseminate examples of good local plans.


15.  The Government's approach to waste planning suggests communities should take responsibility for managing their own waste.

16.  Since the 1990s Waste Technical Advisory Bodies (TABs) have supplied waste planning authorities with data on the need for infrastructure facilities, offering an essential strategic overview.

17.  However with the end of Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS), which TABs used as an integral part of their work, there is now a question as to how planning authorities will have available strategic advice to make informed decisions about the provision of waste facilities, potentially threatening the ability to achieve recycling and landfill targets. Local Enterprise Partnerships could provide this role, but these will not be in place until 2012 and it is for constituent councils to decide their remit.

18.  The POS has suggested that the simplest way would be to continue with the TAB system, with reporting lines directed to the constituent planning authorities, working together through LEPs or other joint arrangements where appropriate. This they argue would save money and allow for better interaction with the industry.

19.  The Local Government Group believes the POS model should be considered, as must any innovative ways developed by authorities to access information previously held regionally. Planning for waste infrastructure requires both strategic and local insight, and local authorities must be empowered with the ability to offer both.


20.  There must be a smooth transition of ownership of valuable regional spatial information. If this process is not managed effectively it could have a knock-on effect on local developments, on community engagement, and infrastructure plans.

21.  Councils have already developed innovative ways to access information that was previously held at the regional level. For example, South West Councils has taken steps to ensure that the evidence base behind the draft RSS, for which the Assembly (as Regional Planning Body) and South West Leaders' Board/SW Councils was responsible, is preserved. Both the Assembly and South West Councils' websites have had a snapshot taken of them by the British Library/National Web Archive. This ensures that the pages and their content are preserved for future use.

22.  The LG Group could offer to develop its long-term planning performance and support programmes for local government. This offer could include supporting local access to, and selective maintenance of, evidence and research previously held at the regional or national level.

September 2010

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Prepared 31 March 2011