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

Written evidence from Kilbride Four Ashes (ARSS 155)

In response to your enquiry into the abolition of the Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS), Kilbride would like to make a number of points that reflect wide spread concerns about the impact on economic development.

Kilbride Four Ashes LLP is promoting a Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) at Four Ashes in South Staffordshire through the planning system, which will address clear demand established through the West Midlands Regional Freight Study.

The development of a large 60 hectare plus intermodal rail freight facility and associated warehousing will have a clear benefit on the local and regional economy and will make a significant impact on removing lorry movements from the roads, by helping retailers and manufacturers to switch more freight onto rail.

The benefits of these type of projects to the national economy have been recognised in the Planning Act 2008, which introduced SRFI's as a category of nationally significant infrastructure in setting up the Infrastructure Planning Commission structure (IPC).

The subsequent changes to the IPC have not altered this view of the importance of nationally significant infrastructure, but the removal of RSS processes will remove a method of establishing the location for such large scale developments and will therefore impact adversely on the ability of such projects to be delivered. By way of example, the West Midlands RSS specifically recognised, through Policy PA9, the need for Regional Logistics Sites. The policy identified potential locations and priorities, and established a set of criteria together with a mechanism for assessing and bringing forward suitable sites. This policy framework has now been lost.

By their nature, nationally significant infrastructure projects are large in scale and are therefore rarely supported by the immediate local community or planning authority. In the absence of any regional planning system the Secretary of State is likely to give considerable weight to the Local Planning Authority view of the proposed development, providing opportunities to block development but no process to allow for proper promotion that reflects the regional/sub regional level.

The abolition of the RSS will also remove the mechanism for delivering strategic planning policy when neighbouring planning authorities disagree over where regional and sub regional development needs to be located. Such disagreements are not unusual when urban areas lack suitable locations for strategic infrastructure and adjoining rural authorities are reluctant to accommodate sub regional or regional requirements. Yet these types of project are vital to regional economic development.

Kilbride propose in the wake of abolition of the RSS structure, that space is still found in the planning system to allow strategic planning processes to be developed, and would recommend that the Local Enterprise Partnerships and Local Authorities have an obligation to take into account clearly identified regional economic development and infrastructure requirements. Where several LEPs are being promoted to cover a large conurbation and its hinterland, as is the case in the West Midlands, then that obligation must extend to all the relevant LEPs and Local Authorities within the catchment of a strategic proposal to ensure identified national and regional infrastructure needs are met.

September 2010

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