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

Written evidence from the North West Regional Leaders and the North West Regional Development Agency (ARSS 152)

This is a joint submission from the North West Regional Leaders Board (formerly known as 4NW until the end of September 2010) and the North West Regional Development Agency.

From the outset, North West Regional Leaders Board and the North West Regional Development Agency wish to make it clear that they are not advocating the reinvention of Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS) and related processes by the backdoor. However, by focussing this response on the practical steps we are taking already here in the North West, to ensure that the evidence and integrated priorities are not lost to LEPs, as well as considering how we can ensure that a wider perspective is provided on planning proposals with impacts beyond local boundaries, we are able to provide useful information for the Committee to consider within the context of the inquiry parameters.


Essentially there has been no major disagreement in the North West in relation to the housing figures identified in RSS. Following the revocation of RSS, North West Regional Leaders Board published a note outlining what the "option 1" housing figures were for each local authority. This note can be downloaded at http://www.4nw.org.uk/downloads/documents/aug_10/4nw_1281103278_Option_1_housing_figures.pdf.

The revocation of RSS has also resulted in some authorities now finding it difficult to continue to pursue the levels previously envisaged, despite continued need to provide affordable housing to support the region's growing communities and economic ambitions. As a consequence some are now reviewing their figures as part of the Local development Framework process. The Select Committee is reminded that a crucial difference between the North West and the South is that many in the North West want more new houses, provided they support economic and other priorities, so it is more about location than numbers.

Arrangements which should be put in place to ensure appropriate cooperation between local planning authorities on matters formerly covered by regional spatial strategies

The abolition of Regional Strategies has generated a diverse range of reactions of both support and opposition from right across the political, professional, business, social and environmental spectrum, particularly with regard to housing numbers. However Regional Strategies were not just about housing numbers.

When the Secretary of State published his "Guidance for Local Planning Authorities following the revocation of Regional Strategies", he acknowledged a need for cooperation across local authorities on a number of topics. The direct implications for the changes now being made to North West Regional Leaders Board, coupled with the recent announcements about the abolition of Government Offices and Regional Development Agencies has significant implications in terms of loss, or potential loss, of existing expertise and capacity to undertake this work.

There is a need for arrangements to be put in place to ensure appropriate cooperation between local planning authorities and emerging LEPs on matters formerly covered by RSS and setting out some suggested ways forward—we don't think there is a need to cover every specific topic individually, however we have identified the key areas below. Linked to this is the need for local authorities to understand what is required of them in terms of the proposed duty to cooperate. The real issue is the need to assemble some sort of credible strategic planning process, to provide private sector confidence, and the key to this is putting flesh on the bones of the duty to cooperate.

(a)  Cooperation to Identify Shared Priorities

Here in the North West pioneering work has already being undertaken, which resulted in the publication in August 2010 of "Future North West: Our Shared Priorities". This non-statutory framework to guide Local Authorities and others in the new LEP-based world on an integrated set of priorities which cross Local Authority boundaries and can only be addressed via collaboration at higher spatial scales (see http://www.4nw.org.uk/whatwedo/?page_id=759).

This builds on a substantial programme of work by private, public and third sector partners from the length and breadth of the North West. This work was originally undertaken to support the development of the North West Regional Strategy (RS2010) but now underpins "Future North West". It is based on a sound and comprehensive evidence base. In this context, arrangements have been put into place in the North West to make the Regional Strategy evidence base available to local authorities and one of the regional transitional project boards is considering future arrangements to consider how best to review the evidence It has also benefited from a sustainability assessment and an analysis of the North West's environmental limits as well as extensive stakeholder engagement and public consultation.

The challenge now is how private, public and third sector partners can take forward the vision, themes, outcomes and objectives of "Future North West" and in particular the 12 "big ticket" issues to be addressed across the North West.

1.  Develop the enterprise capabilities of our people through education and skills.

2.  Develop our world-leading advanced manufacturing, biomedical and digital and creative industries.

3.  Develop our world-class research, science and innovation capability, particularly at Daresbury.

4.  Develop our low carbon energy offer, especially in nuclear and marine renewables, for example through the Energy Coast initiative.

5.  Develop Next Generation Access digital connectivity.

6.  Improve rail connectivity across the North West and tackle transport pinch points, especially the Northern Hub and securing High Speed Rail access.

7.  Improve international connectivity via Manchester Airport and Liverpool Superport.

8.  Reduce levels of ill-health, health inequalities, poverty and worklessness.

9.  Increase the number, and quality, of private and third sector jobs and social enterprises.

10.  Develop our sport, culture and quality of place offer, based on our world-famous places, heritage and environmental assets, particularly Manchester, Liverpool, Chester and the Lake District.

11.  Enhance our natural environment and resolve emerging pinch points in our critical (utilities) and green infrastructure.

12.  Ensure high-quality, energy efficient and affordable housing in the right locations.

(b)  Establishing the need for minerals and aggregates supply

Minerals planning authorities will have responsibility for continuing to plan for a steady and adequate supply of aggregate minerals to support economic growth. They will need to do this within the longstanding arrangements for minerals planning. Currently technical advice is provided by the Regional Aggregate Working Parties (RAWP), including their current ongoing work in sub-apportioning the CLG guidelines for 2005-2020 to planning authority level—North West Regional Leaders Board has been working with the RAWP secretariat (Cheshire West and Chester Council) to deliver this in recent months.

(c)  Establishing the need for waste management

Planning Authorities will need to continue to press ahead with their waste plans, and provide enough land for waste management facilities to support the sustainable management of waste (including the move away from disposal of waste by landfill). Data and information prepared by partners will continue to assist in this process. For the transitional period this will continue to be the data and information which has been collated by the local authority and industry and other public bodies who currently form the Regional Waste Technical Advisory Body (RTAB). Up until now the secretariat function for the RTAB had been provided by NWRLB and regular monitoring reports have been published (see http://www.4nw.org.uk/downloads/documents/apr_09/nwra_1238757545_RTAB_Waste_Report_March_2009.pdf). In the longer term it is unclear how the Government intend for this function to be transferred to local authorities, though already Local authorities are cooperating to ensure that the RTAB continues to function.

(d)  Regional policies on the natural environment

The Government is encouraging local authorities to continue to work together, and with communities, on conservation, restoration and enhancement of the natural environment—including biodiversity, geo-diversity and landscape interests. It expects local authorities to continue to draw on available information, including data from partners, to address cross boundary issues such as the provision of green infrastructure and wildlife corridors. In the North West, a lot of very successful work has taken place on Green Infrastructure including award winning work by North West Regional Leaders Board and partners on the North West Green Infrastructure Guide (see http://www.4nw.org.uk/documents/?page_id=4&category_id=266).

(e)  Regional policies on flooding and coastal change

Local authorities will need to continue to work together across administrative boundaries to plan development that addresses flooding and coastal change. For flooding matters local authorities already have a duty to co-operate under the Floods and Water Management Act. The Environment Agency will continue to work with local authorities individually and/or jointly to provide technical support on these matters. The Coalition agreement is clear that we should prevent unnecessary building in areas of high flood risk. In this respect North West Regional Leaders Board has recently undertaken work with the Environment Agency to update the Regional Strategic Flood Risk Appraisal (see http://www.4nw.org.uk/documents/?page_id=4&category_id=320).

(f)  Regional policies on renewable and low carbon energy

The Government expects that through their Local Development Frameworks, local authorities will contribute to the move to a low carbon economy, cut greenhouse gas emissions, help secure more renewable and low carbon energy to meet national targets, and to adapt to the impacts arising from climate change. In doing so, the Government has indicated that planning authorities may find it useful to draw on data that was collected by the Regional Leaders' Boards and more recent work, including assessments of the potential for renewable and low carbon energy. In this respect North West Regional Leaders Board has already made all such information it holds available via the website (see http://www.4nw.org.uk/documents/?page_id=4&category_id=16). In addition further research is currently being undertaken by the Northwest Regional Development Agency on the topic.

(g)  Regional policies on transport

Local authorities will need to continue to ensure their land use and local transport plans are mutually consistent, and deliver the most effective and sustainable development for their area. The Government expects local authorities to work with each other and with businesses and communities to consider strategic transport priorities and cross boundary issues. Here in the North West we have achieved a lot on delivering transport priorities through the RFA process and providing a non-statutory high level strategic framework via the recently published "Future North West" (see http://www.4nw.org.uk/whatwedo/?page_id=759).

(h)  Changes to Green Belt

The Government has made clear it is committed to the protection of the Green Belt and it believes the revocation of Regional Strategies will prevent top-down pressure to reduce the Green Belt protection. Local Planning Authorities will continue to apply the national policies as set out in PPG2. As part of their preparation or revision of Local Development Frameworks, the Government recognises that planning authorities will need to consider the desirability of new Green Belt or adjustment of an existing Green Belt boundary, working with other local planning authorities as appropriate. In the past North West Regional Leaders Board's predecessors, the North West Regional Assembly and 4NW have played a key coordinating role to ensure joint working in sub regions eg the Merseyside Green Belt Study in 2004.

How the data and research collated by the now-abolished Regional Local Authority Leaders' Boards should be made available to local authorities, and what arrangements should be put in place to ensure effective updating of that research and collection of further research on matters crossing local authority boundaries?

Throughout its existence, North West Regional Leaders Board has always sought to be open and transparent in ensuring that all research and evidence that was collected during the Regional Spatial Strategy/Regional Strategies processes. To this end published evidence has been made available via the North West Regional Leaders Board and Northwest Regional Development Agency websites. This has recently being revamped to reflect the changed circumstances with dedicated pages being established for documents (see http://www.4nw.org.uk/documents/?page_id=4) and the Regional Strategy evidence base (see http://www.4nw.org.uk/whatwedo/?page_id=761). Ultimately the content of these web pages will be transferred to a publicly accessible archived website. Once established, the archived website will be transferred to the server of St Helens MBC in order to prevent any ongoing costs associated with hosting and ensure that its long term availability is maintained.

Looking towards the future it will be necessary to determine arrangements for how Local Authorities and the emerging LEP's access the intelligence and research they will need to be able to keep under review the performance of the regional economy and the definition of priorities going forward. There are also likely to be specific requirements for research from time to time.

A good example of this is the work on Regional Economic Forecasting (see http://www.nwriu.co.uk/about_us/working_with/regional_economic_forecasting.aspx). Until now the Northwest Regional Development Agency via the Research & Intelligence Unit has commissioned the Regional Economic forecasting panel to provide a baseline forecast for the region which has provided a direct input to the development of the Regional Strategy/Future North West. In the past a number of different forecasts had been used in different regional and sub regional the strategies and this has led to inconsistencies, double counting and a degree of confusion. Without sacrificing any of its independence, the Panel has produced on a regular basis a single set of forecasts to underpin the Regional Strategy and other work in the region. In doing so, it has drawn for the first time on the work of not just one forecasting house, but three, before making its own judgements on the most likely long-term outcome for the region. This base forecast for the North West as a whole is an essential prerequisite to the subsequent discussions on the aspirations of the region and its five sub-regions. However the unresolved question now is how will this activity be funded and who will undertake it?

Work being undertaken in the North West on transitional arrangements

To complement the formulation and submission of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEP) bids from the North West, ongoing collaborative work is being undertaken by Local Authorities, North West Regional Leaders Board, Northwest Regional Development Agency and representatives from Social, Economic and environmental partners to facilitate the development of key principles, capacity and management arrangements for future functional priorities, which are considered crucial to promote the orderly and structured transition to new arrangements, as a consequence of the abolition of both the Northwest Regional Development Agency and GONW. A series of Task and Finish Groups have been set up for specific work areas covering a diverse range of issues including some directly relevant to the terms of this inquiry:

Planning: evaluate what if any role there should be for providing advice up from sub regions/regions on planning applications referred to the Secretary of State under section 77 of Town & Country Planning Act 1990. [Otherwise we risk these matters being determined centrally without any input on what are seen to be regional or local economic priorities]. The Task & Finish Group is also considering looking at what (if any) role there should be for brokering between national, sub regional and local interests in providing a clear united, rather than fragmented, North West view on a number of national planning and infrastructure initiatives which have a substantial impact across local boundaries. These could include:

nationally significant infrastructure projects dealt with by the PINS major infrastructure unit (which will replace the Infrastructure Planning Commission);

transport infrastructure including high speed rail, airport and port developments;

proposed national planning framework and policy statements;

marine plans and consents to marine activities dealt with by Marine Management Organisation; and

future energy supply generation.

  • Research and Intelligence: as outlined above, it will be necessary to determine future arrangements to ensure access to up to date intelligence and research is available, providing a robust evidence base which underpins policy development at sub regional and local level, Whilst at the same time ensuring that such work keeps under review the performance of the regional economy and the definition of priorities going forward.

October 2010

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