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

Written evidence from the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) (ARSS 145)


1.1  This short paper sets out CABE's response to the CLG Select Committee inquiry on the abolition of regional spatial strategies (RSS's). Before addressing the specific questions asked by the Committee, we have briefly set out CABE's role and experience in this area.

1.1  The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) is the successor of the Royal Fine Arts Commission and was established in 1999. CABE champions well-designed buildings and public space, providing expert, practical advice. We work directly with planners, designers, clients and architects, offering them guidance on projects that will shape all our lives. CABE is a statutory executive non-departmental public body, sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), and funded by DCMS and the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG).

1.2  CABE has worked with all the RDAs and the Regional Centres of Excellence they fund. In particular, to improve the quality of the built environment, providing specific advice and support to enable this in each region, through the use of architecture centres, and working with the network of design review panels.

1.3  CABE recently published online advice on Large Scale Urban Design for local decision makers seeking to address issues which cross governance boundaries. In particular it:

Reinforces the rationale for adopting a new, place-focused approach to cross-boundary planning and delivering the transformation of places in England and to show how it can be done (through literature and case study review).

Defines a methodology for the preparation of large scale spatial frameworks and strategies (through research, work with expert panel and pilot projects) including the publication of a practical guide.


2.1  Strategic planning has an important role in addressing challenges that exist across spatial scales, such as national and regional infrastructure, climate change, housing, waste and minerals. There needs to be an integrated response to these challenges that have a strong spatial expression when dealing with the provisions of economic, social and environmental infrastructure. Regional planning through RSSs was intended to provide this important function. It has been argued however, that it became too focused on housing and job allocations imposed centrally onto local authorities, with very little local input. To the extent that this happened, it has been argued that it was at the expense of delivering quality places. Without this regional strategic planning function well intentioned local plans will find it difficult to address sub-regional, regional and national priorities, and will fail to deliver well-designed places. The opportunity should be taken to retain coordination of planning at a larger-than-local scales that meets shared priorities, but with a focus on high quality and sustainable places and not housing numbers. This should be done on the basis of locally organised groups of local authorities, businesses and communities coming together to deal with the issues that cross boundaries.

2.2  Following the abolition of regional spatial strategies, cross boundary cooperation presents a vital opportunity to ensure appropriate cooperation between local planning authorities on matters formerly covered by regional spatial strategies. For this reason we are encouraged by the creation of Local Enterprise Partnerships but see this as just one way of encouraging cross boundary working.

2.3  CABE's experience has been that when decisions of larger than local significance on housing, planning, transport and infrastructure, have been taken at a multi authority level this has tended to produce better outcomes. Decisions taken in partnership by authorities can be beneficial to more than one local authority area either economically, socially or environmentally, or directly where sites are on boundaries.


3.1  Incentives for housing development need to be at such a level that neighbourhoods choose to welcome growth. CABE's experience shows that a key incentive for the acceptance of new housing development is the quality of the housing and the wider places they create. Previously communities have resisted development as they assumed, in a lot of cases quite rightly, that what would be built would be of low quality and scar their local area.[185]

3.2  In order to deliver the number of houses that we need, communities need to see new development as an asset to their area. Recent research by Communities and Local Government shows that the design and quality of new development is important to community support for new development, "Just under three out of four (73%) said they would support more homes if they were well designed and in keeping with the local area. "[186] This demonstrates that quality and quantity are intrinsically linked.

3.3  Incentives have to be of real benefit to communities. Local acceptance of housing growth results from being able to see how the wider local community are benefiting from new homes. Well designed new development attracts wider investment to an area bringing new facilities and an increase in local economic activity, an incentive that local communities can see across their local area.


Importance of planning functions at a larger than local level

4.1  In CABE's experience, planning functions are needed at the larger than local level because of the need to develop places in a sustainable way and meet not just local, but national and global priorities, such as addressing climate change, promoting economic growth and delivering affordable housing.

4.2  One of the most dramatic changes to affect planning and urban design has been the growth of the area within which people live their lives, or what economists and planners call "functional spatial areas". People now have communities of work and communities of interest and networks of friends, customers, shops, leisure facilities and suppliers which go well beyond the immediately local.

4.3  These extended areas form the scale at which economic and housing markets now operate, and correspond to the catchment areas of large retail centres, major hospitals, leisure facilities or higher education institutions. Housing and job markets do not observe local authority boundary "red lines" on a map. Nor do people notice red lines when they are crossing them in the car or on the train.

4.4  Planning, for the above issues, therefore needs to operate across boundaries as well. To take advantage of the change from top-down regional strategies, the bigger picture has to be thought about in ways which allow people to work together to find answers to the questions which result from our way of life.

4.5  This means that the way in which we plan and design our towns and cities and rural areas will need to change. A flexible framework is needed to inform decisions on where best to invest limited resources for infrastructure, or where to focus the energies of private developers and public service providers. Those whose lives are directly affected have to be involved in the process.

4.6  CABE recently published online guidance on large scale urban design for local decision makers seeking to address issues which cross governance boundaries.[187]

Ways to cooperate

4.7  CABE has worked with many of the cross-boundary organisations set up to tackle large scale challenges, whether economic, financial or environmental. Our experience of these sub-regional development bodies, joint planning units and regeneration partnerships suggests that appropriate cooperation is already being achieved in a number of ways:

4.8  By the collaboration of local authorities to write joint plans. This has been done in some areas already through joint core strategies. Local authorities could also collaborate and produce the higher level plan, but still produce their own local plan .A good example of this is the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA).[188]

4.9  Cross boundary decision making could also be achieved through the aligning of local plans to ensure strategic objectives are met across wider areas and places are not forced into competition, without having to share a specific plan, such as the Greater Nottingham Aligned Core Strategies.

4.10  However wherever these functions sit there needs to be a consistent approach to ensure no local areas are penalised as a result of inadequate strategic planning. For example in France a new a new generation of sub-regional strategies—SCOTs (Schéma de Cohérence Territoriale) have been developed since 2004. Montpellier SCOT provides a cross-scale and cross-sectoral policy and delivery framework for Montpellier conurbation.[189] There also needs to be careful consideration of what means of cooperation will be available where local authorities do not decide to form LEP's.


5.1  Local Enterprise Partnerships, as locally owned partnerships between local authorities and business, formed to drive economic growth across an economic area, provide another means for appropriate cooperation across boundaries. They will operate at an appropriate spatial scale, and their role in promoting economic growth is intrinsically linked to the outcomes of spatial planning; housing, transport etc.

5.2  The LEP model provides an excellent means to bring real professional expertise and experience in to realising strategic delivery. However, to be truly representative of communities LEP's need to directly involve communities in decision making and represent their views, particularly if they are to take on planning functions. This could be done through voted community representatives on the LEP board, or through regular and wide spread councillor involvement, for example.

5.3  Of course they are not the only method to deliver cross boundary functions. In Cambridge the Cambridge Futures project looked at ways of relieving development pressure in and around Cambridge. A group of local stakeholders, including public and private sector representatives, initiated and managed the project.[190]

5.4  Local authorities will continue to deal with spatial planning and development management under the reformed planning system, through joint or aligned plans. This could form a very efficient partnership to bring forward growth and infrastructure where it is needed: local authorities would retain the impartiality they need to develop a balanced and aspirational vision for their place and ensure that developments are of the good quality they demand as the representatives of their communities; LEP's would ensure that the investment comes forward to deliver that vision and the infrastructure needed to support growth.


6.1  As outlined above cross boundary decision making can and does already exist between local authorities, with many joint core strategies, several joint planning units, and many aligned core strategies in existence. The legislative framework for joint working is already in place.

6.2  However to ensure cooperation is effective, it could be incentivised through greater freedoms, or through greater opportunities to bid for centrally funded infrastructure provision etc. These incentives would best work where they are linked to joint targets and objectives and shared resources.

6.3  Local authorities need to be properly resourced if this is to work well, particularly if they are to effectively undertake neighbourhood planning and articulate this with the cross-boundary strategy. But reduced budgets may encourage some local authorities to start joint working on a more formal basis in order to cut costs and share resources and expertise. For example, joint CEO's and directors of regeneration, and directors of health shared by PCT's and local authorities.

September 2010

185   Housing audit: assessing the design quality of new housing in the East Midlands, West Midlands and the South West (CABE, 2007). Back

186   Public attitudes to housing 2010, (National Housing and Planning Advice Unit, 2010). Back

187   Getting the big picture right: large scale urban design, CABE (2010). Back

188   AGMA, http://www.agma.gov.uk Back

189   Getting the big picture right: large scale urban design, CABE (2010), Pg.18&19. Back

190   Getting the big picture right: large scale urban design, CABE (2010), Pg.20. Back

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Prepared 31 March 2011