Written evidence from West Midlands Regional
Sustainability Forum (ARSS 16)|
In summary we are concerned that there could be a
policy vacuum. We could see uncoordinated planning especially
at boundaries. There is much more to the RSS than housing. While
not fully democratic they did engage a range of partners. The
RSS consultation and examination process was open transparent
and allowed many views to be aired.
We would wish to respond to the decision to abolish
the Regional Spatial Strategies inquiry. While much of the focus
will be on the provision of housing we would wish to stress that
this is throwing out many other policies and evidence based work
which covers a whole spectrum of local and regional planning and
the coordination of that evidence and the data behind it. The
areas with which we are most concerned would include Biodiversity,
Climate Change, (both adaptation and mitigation), resource use
and waste, transport, air quality, minerals, general infrastructure,
flooding and renewables.
The establishment of various regional bodies enabled
the evidence to be collated and shared across the region in a
manner which enabled planning inspectors determine after full
examination a vision for the future of the region to deal with
land use issues over the medium to long term. We are very concerned
that the loss of this coordination will lead to a lack of data
and information which can be shared when policy decisions are
made and the land uses that occur as a result.
The Regional Assemblies were not fully democratic
BUT 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 to enable us all to
deal with longer term land use planning issues.
We are concerned that moving forward these decisions
will be made without this information and that there will be a
lack of policy coordination especially at the "boundaries".
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 do they not only made their views know in consultations
BUT also took up the opportunity to speak at the public examination.
We do wonder what opportunities there will be moving
forward whether through the Core Strategies or the Local Enterprise
It is also important to note that strategic planning
did not begin in 1997, but has been a vital part of our system
for over half a century, indeed the West Midlands have benefitted
from this since the 1950s.
We would argue that it vital to have a level of strategic
planning between local councils and national government to ensure
proper coordination across council boundaries. The hasty abolition
of regional planning could leave a vacuum in terms of the policy
needed to give the certainty to take major investment decisions
that will help get us out of recession.
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 a local
The 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 a local authority's decision
making. In putting forward an application for a particular development
they could successfully argue that such a scheme is needed if
regional targets are to be met.
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.
In recent years there have been ongoing reviews of
the West Midlands RSS where we all had to address important strategic
decision making and engage in a process where we were not going
to get everything that we wanted. This was a hard learning process
for many BUT mutual respect and relationships were developed along
with a wider understanding of what need to be done. One area where
we seemed to be progressing well was on green infrastructure especially
in the Black Country. This could all now be lost.
In terms of moving forward we would urge that whatever
structures emerge that they are open transparent and inclusive.
Plans to incentivise local communities to accept
new housing development should reflect appropriate mechanisms
to ensure that the planning process still provides protection
for irreplaceable natural habitats like ancient woodland. We are
concerned that incentivising housing could lead to houses built
where there is least resistance and where house builders can afford
to provide sweeteners for development rather than in the areas
that are most sustainable and best protect the environment and
the countryside. We are also unclear how incentivisation will
protect environmental and landscape assets or provide for enhancement
of those assets where development happens' which is a slightly
Local community house building incentives should
be coupled with similar local incentives to improve peoples' quality
of life, such as creating new native woods. Environmental improvements
should be planned and coordinated at a "landscape scale".
The positive benefits of sub national level environmental
planning and delivery should be carried forward into the new localism
The Local Enterprise Partnerships should not be given
any planning powers once held by regional and local government
as it risks undermining the notion of a planning system that is
democratically accountable and able to integrate environmental,
social and economic concerns.
All sub-regional data and information needs to be
banked and widely available to all parties. There is an urgent
need to consider at what level future data will be collected,
especially where it is appropriate at a level between the sub-regional
and national level (eg journey to work areas). The concept of
landscape scale has become increasingly important in environmental
policy and data on this will need to be maintained at that level.