Written evidence from Localise West Midlands
1.1 This report sets out the views of Localise
West Midlands, a not for profit organisation which believes that
economic development and government are inextricably linked and
that decisions in both areas are best taken at as local a level
as possible by citizens or by their democratically accountable
representatives. For further information about LWM, its objectives
and activities see its website at www.localisewestmidlands.org.uk.
1.2 LWM welcomes the Committee's decision to
undertake an Inquiry into the revocation and abolition of Regional
Spatial Strategies. It notes the Committee will be focusing on
the implications of this decision for house building; what
arrangements should be put in place to ensure cooperation between
local planning authorities on matters formerly covered by Regional
Spatial Stategies; the adequacy of the Government's proposals
including a duty to cooperate; the suggestion that Local Enterprise
Partnerships have a Planning Function and the provision
of Regional Data and Research services.
1.3 The response focuses on the West Midlands
Region and draws on LWM, s works in the Region. It has also considered
the proposals in the context of its approach to making Government
work for all local communities in the region and the region as
We have also taken into account observations we made on the previous
Governments proposals for Sub National Government in England 
and proposals submitted to the Government about establishing Local
Enterprise Partnerships in the West Midlands Region.
1.4 The Key Points we wish to make are set out
in Section 2. Further supporting arguments for our position are
set out in Section 3.
2. KEY POINTS
2.1 LWM is concerned that the abolition of Regional
Spatial Strategies and related regional institutional infrastructure
Ignore the long history of Regional Working in the
West Midlands Region and disadvantage the region compared to other
parts of the UK which benefit from devolved democratically accountable
Result in a policy vacuum to be filled by a return
to and increase to ad hoc decisions being taken at Westminster
and in Whitehall with inadequate understanding of the issues,
and little or no ownership of them in the Regions. The hasty abolition
of regional planning could leave a vacuum in terms of the policy
resulting in an uncertain environment in which to take the major
Lead to uncoordinated planning and friction especially
at boundaries between Local Enterprise Partnerships and individual
Deny that there is much more to the RSS than housing
including Economic Development, Biodiversity, Climate Change,
both adaptation and mitigation, resource use and waste, transport,
air quality, minerals, general infrastructure, flooding and renewables.
Undermine the joined up coherent approach which is
required to promote Sustainable development. Such an approach
is impossible at the National level at which policy is driven
by the silo cultures of Central Government.
Emphasise the National and Global to the detriment
of moves, which have been starting to take place to support a
more localised and therefore sustainable approach to economic
Mean progress on developing Green Infrastructure
could be halted as new relationships and understandings have to
be established. In recent years there have been ongoing reviews
of the West Midlands RSS where all those involved had to address
important strategic decision making and engage in a process where
everybody was not going to get everything that they wanted. This
was a hard learning process for many BUT mutual respect and relationships
were developed along with a wider understanding of what needs
to be done.
Exclude from decisions a wide range of views in the
region outside the political and business elites. While not as
fully democratic and locally accountable as is desirable the RSSs,
s processes and supporting institutional infrastructure did engage
a range of partners.The consultation and examination process was
open transparent and allowed many views to be aired. Although
the Regional Assemblies were not fully democratic they did engage
a wide range of bodies and views in a way that might not have
been to everyone's liking BUT did at least ensure that there was
a much more grounded understanding of the reasons as to why decisions
had to be taken.
"As not only an organisation which took up
a seat on the Assembly BUT one which engaged actively in the RSS
process we also tried to enable as many community groups as possible
to engage and make their views heard. Indeed as a result of this
many local communities did actively engage in the process. By
doing so they not only made their views know in consultations
but also took up the opportunity to
speak at the public examination."
Friends of the Earth, West Midlands Region
Ignore much regional data and evidence-based work
generated by the RSS process covering a whole spectrum of local
and regional planning policies. There is likely to be a loss of
data and information, which could otherwise be shared and coordinated
when policy decisions are made. The RSS process and the establishment
of various regional bodies enabled the evidence to be collated
and shared across the region in a way that made best use of very
limited spcialist resources. It also informed policy decisions
across the region including those of planning inspectors determining
2.2 LWM believes that the Committee needs to
recommend to Parliament that:
Regionally based and owned Strategic Planning inform
policy making both nationally and Locally. It is vital to have
a level of strategic planning between local councils and national
government to ensure proper coordination across council and other
instiutional boundaries and to create a degree of certainty on
which to base investment decisions.
Communities need some level of strategic thinking
beyond the local level to deliver many of the things they want,
such as hospitals, transport links, waste management and flood
protection. The most pressing issues facing the nation, for example,
such as the housing crisis, economic recovery, climate change
and biodiversity loss, cannot be dealt with solely at the level
of local authorities, the proposed LEPs, or nationally.
Housing Polices especially New House Building have
to be sustainble which requires they be shaped by the Regional
and the Local taking into account a whole range of factors including
employment,the character of our town and country, climate change,
resource use and waste, transport, general infrastructure, flooding
RSSs were useful in that they provided the much-needed
direction on how national targets were to be met and a body of
knowledge that often underpinned local authority and other decision-making.
In putting forward an application for a particular development
local authorities and developers could successfully argue that
such a scheme is needed if regional targets are to be met.
Strategic Policy making both regionally and Sub Regionally
including Local Enterprise and other Partnership approaches must
be inclusive, transparent.
Resourced opportunities are required to maximise
the participation in Regional, and Sub regional Planning and other
policy making of the Voluntary, and Community Sectors as well
as Local Government and the Business Communities.
Regional Strategic planning has helped ensure local
authorities make consistent decisions on development across their
boundaries, including affordable housing, public transport and
waste provision. These developments need a high level of cross-authority
working and the Government will need to outline a credible alternative
to fill this void.
Decisions should be made at the lowest practical
level and democratically accountable representatives must hold
the responsibility for those decisions and the authority to take
them at the same level.
Therefore Local Enterprise Partnerships should not
have any Statutory Planning Function.
Local choice and therefore diversity must be recognised
as a positive; the system must be simple enough for those engaged
in or with it to be able to identify who is responsible for what
decision; democratic accountabilities and responsibility need
to be maximised so as to be strong enough to resist the return
to the slow and hideous growth of centralisation.
The way regional development including it's economy
is managed and governed needs to be tailored to the experience
and needs of each region and not dictated by the centre. There
needs to be a dramatic curtailing of the role at the regional
and local levels of Central Government Departments, their executive
agencies and remaining quangos.
The financial independence of the different tiers
of government needs to be maximised. The only role for central
government should be distributing and equalising resources in
relation to need. This must be formula based and accepted that
it gives a higher tier of government no right whatsoever to even
try and influence how that funding is spent.
If the higher tier of government wishes to see a
different provision of services from the choice of the democratically
elected lower tier then it must fund, manage it and win a local
Each tier of democratic accountable government should
have a duty to fully consult and involve other stakeholders and
the general public.
A new green approach to the Region's economy.
A stronger, more inclusive and democratically accountable
A stronger more inclusive and independent Regional
Stakeholder and Civic Society Organisation.
A really local local government.
3. OTHER SUPPORTING
Cooperation-Regional Working in the West Midlands
3.1 There has been a long history of Regional
Working in the West Midlands going back at least to the 1940,s.
Despite challenges driven by successive Governments and at times
by individual Local Authorities support for a joint approach to
the needs of the region have been sustained. This approach and
the benefits it has produced are now at great risk of being lost.
3.2 A coordinated regional approach emerged in
the 1950s, in response to the then pressures of economic and population
growth. This followed repeated failed attempts by Birmingham City
Council to force on the Shire areas new housing and ad hoc
decisions taken by successive Government Ministers in London.
Eventually all the Local Authorities recognised that they needed
to work together across their boundaries to agree how they jointly
would manage the needs of the region in a balanced way which was
3.3 Regional Working in the West Midlands has
in many ways shaped the region of today. It has brought forward
and supported the successful New and Expanded Towns, the maintenance
of the Green Belts, Urban and Rural regeneration, responded to
the major challenges faced by the region's economy in the 1970s,
80s, 90s, and the impact of the recent credit crisis.
3.4 In the early 1990,s the EU insisted that
a prerequisite for accessing EU Regional Development Investment
was Regionally produced Regional Strategies and Development Programmes
a requirement that was met in the West Midlands by LA led Regional
Planning. This initiative was closely related and drew on the
Local Authority led Regional Planning Guidance work the forerunner
of Regional Spatial Strategies. Previously Central Government
had produced in London Regional Development plans and programmes
for the English Regions all of which were virtually identical
apart from name changes!
3.5 The Local Authorities and other interests
have worked to support a strong regional voice, focusing on regional
needs, collaboration, local action and mobilising support from
within the region, the UK. Government and beyond. Now they have
been forced in a matter of months to deny all that has gone before
and to compete with each other for patronage from Westminster
3.6 Regional Stakeholders have been actively
engaged in regional policy, strategy, and scrutiny. These stakeholders
brought forward alternative, non-parochial and party political
views from across the region, challenging the views of Central
and local government. Those directly involved in Regional decision-making
have invariably seen these contributions as a real strength.
3.7 Conversely, stakeholders involved in the
Regional Assemblies were frustrated by the adoption of local government
committee procedures when the regional arena was seen as presenting
an opportunity to introduce more efficient and streamlined forms
There have also been real tensions between Local Government and
Stakeholders about the legitimacy of non-elected stakeholder participation
in the work of the existing Regional Assemblies.
3.8 Local Government involvement of the local,
and other regional stakeholders in regional decision-making has
been poor and limited at best. Local Government has done little
to involve local people in regional decision-making and the wider
devolution agenda. As a consequence there has been very little
reporting of these issues by the local press and broadcasters
and therefore very limited appreciation of the issues by the public.
It is relevant that none of the bids submitted to Government for
LEPs, has been subject to any public and wider stakeholder consultation
let alone make reference to how the proposers intend to engage
3.9 Despite these problems LWM believes there
is a need to build on rather than discard regional working in
the West Midlands, and to strengthen civic society involvement
in it as an important counterbalance to a single powerful institutional
voice. Local Government does not have the monopoly of truth about
the region. Indeed it was not designed to operate at the regional
3.10 The local government electorate process
inevitably leads to a local authority and party political focus
often at some distance from the really local. This makes it is
difficult for local government leaders to always take a regional
view. The experience of the Regional Assembly showed that when
this happened regional stakeholders outside local government were
able to challenge municipal parochialism and encourage the development
of a new vision.
3.11 It needs to be recognised that with the
exception of the private sector, most regional stakeholders in
the non-local government bloc cannot afford to resource themselves
their engagement in regional or sub regional work having relied
largely in the past on support from the now abolished Regional
3.12 In contrast arrangements are in place in
Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Greater London to facilitate
the element of stakeholder and civic society participation in
the work of the Assemblies and the Scottish Parliament. At present
stakeholders and Civic Society in the English regions appear to
be very significantly disadvantaged compared to other parts of
3.13 Decision-making will be seriously flawed
without strong engagement of non-local government regional stakeholder.
A collective regional stakeholder voice needs to be maintained.
Central government needs to provide finance to run a stakeholder
office and some technical support to foster a strong an effective
stakeholder participation in all aspects of Regional and Sub Regional
decision-making and Governance.
3.12 Recent events have confirmed our view that
a focus on global economic competitiveness and credit-driven economic
growth is not sustainable and very high risk in terms of social,
economic and territorial cohesion across regions. Of particular
concern is the impact of this approach for employment. In 2008
we argued that a global as well as a British downturn appeared
likely given the nexus of problems such as the credit crunch,
energy and food shortages, hence price rises and the fall in property
values and consumer demand.
3.13 The idea that we can out-compete China and
India in future high tech markets is a delusion. While they have
and will continue to have far cheaper wage rates, they are already
developing very large graduate workforces, and are increasingly
we are seeing many higher skilled jobs moving to these and other
countries with their workers able to effectively deliver many
professional and administrative services via the Internet.
3.14 The way out of these problems is to decentralise
fiscal and monetary policies so as to connect them more closely
to the local and to focus on bringing together the demand and
supply of goods and services so as to strengthen social, economic
and territorial cohesion. Interest rates need to more accurately
reflect local and regional inflationary pressures .New sources
of finance such as local and regional bonds need to be promoted
to finance local and regional investment, including housing, which
could generate a huge number of hi and lower tech jobs, substantial
new businesses. Most importantly regional and local action has
to tackle climate change by cutting carbon emissions.
3.15 This new "Green Deal" could begin
by funding decentralised energy production, storage, distribution
and conservation. Such a programme would ensure high standards
of insulation, extensive use of combined heat and power programmes.
It would encourage the use of renewable to meet a new goal of
every building being its own power station.
3.16 It is this fundamentally different approach
to the Region's economy that needs to underpin how we approach
it's future development .The LEP bids from the West Midlands region
touch on the need for Green Initiatives, but they are still rooted
in an outdated economic development paradigm which accepts dependence
on London patronage and focuses on global competitiveness and
Supply side economics.
3.17 The LEP bids by focusing on journey to work/Labour
markets take a far too narrow view of what constitutes a regional
economic entity. Much more attention needs to be paid to the flows
of goods and services between different localities and the potential
to increase them as part of a strategy to strengthen localisation
and therefore greater self-sufficiency and sustainability.
3.18 Such a radical new approach to the economy
needs an equally radical approach to decision making; there needs
to be a real transfer from London to the local and the region,
of public and private decisions, leadership and resources.
179 Making Government Work for Local Communties: LWM
Policy Statement No.1, 2006. Back
LWM Response to the Government's Consultation About "Prosperous
Places: Taking Forward the Review of Sub National Economic Development
and Regereration"; June 2008 Back
See West Midlands Councils, Web Site at www.wmleadersboard.gov.uk Back
SnapeS and Mawson J (2005) The role of Regional Assembly Members.
ERN-Warwick University. Back
Snape and Mawson J (2005) Policy and Decsion Making in Regional
Assemblies. ERN-Warwick Univesity. Back
Seeing Off the Credit Crunch with a Green New Deal; Colin
Hines, Localise WM: Birmingham Post article Feb 2008. Back